Offbeat Oregon History

Tillamook BurnBy Finn J.D. John
The morning of August 14, 1933, was a morning to break a gyppo logger’s heart.

Grain shipsBy Finn J.D. John
In last week’s article, we talked about the most notorious shanghaiing artist of the old Portland waterfront: Joseph “Bunco” Kelley.
Last week we explored what we actually know about this colorful 1890s evildoer.
In this article, we’ll talk about stories we’re pretty sure are NOT historically accurate — that is, the myths.
Most of those myths come down to us through a series of conversations held in a local watering hole in the early 1930s between legendary Oregon raconteur Stewart Holbrook and an aging waterfront thug named Edward “Spider” Johnson.

"Bunco" KelleyBy Finn J.D. John
In the shadowy world of late-1800s Portland waterfront folklore, there’s nobody who quite cuts the figure of a man named Joseph Kelley — better known by the nickname he carefully cultivated: Bunco Kelley.
Kelley was a crimp — that is, one of those tough waterfront characters involved in the trade of furnishing sailors, willing or not, to ship captains in need of a crew.
Kelley was also an easy and chronic liar with a real flair for a dramatic story — which means it’s often difficult to tell his fact from fiction.
In today’s article, we’ll explore the facts of Bunco Kelley’s life as best we are able to know them. Next week, we’ll turn to the spectacular legends that grew up around this unusually colorful bad guy.

Sub chaserBy Finn J.D. John

Rumors of sunken submarines: The government denies it, but ...
Somewhere on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, rusting away among the rocks by the Oregon Coast, lie the remains of at least five sunken submarines — that is, if you believe the stories.
And who believes the stories? Certainly not the U.S. Government, which places the actual number of Japanese submarine wrecks in Oregon waters at a much more boring number: zero. According to official records of both the U.S. and Japan, not a single Imperial Japanese sub was lost on or near the West Coast of the U.S.

Indian VillageBy Finn J.D. John
Since well before the time of Plato’s story of Atlantis, storytellers all over the world have had a special fondness for legends of cities and civilizations that, at the peak of their prowess, were suddenly lost beneath the waves of the sea, leaving only a misty legend and maybe — if a diver knows just where to look — maybe some ghostly underwater ruins.
Well, Oregon certainly can’t claim to be hiding the lost continent of Lemuria or the lost city of Atlantis beneath the placid surface of Fall Creek Reservoir or something like that.

Chinese druggistBy Finn J.D. John
In the decade or two following the 1849 gold rush, a sort of “bracero” program got started in the western U.S. Chinese laborers — called “coolies” after the Chinese term “ku li,” meaning “muscle strength” — poured across the ocean to the land they called “Gold Mountain,” eager to do the dirty, menial and degrading jobs that were left to be done when all the Euro-Americans were off looking for gold or staking a homestead claim.

Vortex stageBy Finn J.D. John
As the last weekend of August 1970 approached, many Oregonians were sort of holding their breath.
The American Legion was coming to town for its annual convention. The theme was “Victory in Vietnam.” President Richard Nixon would be there. And so would a group of particularly belligerent anti-war activists who had pointedly declined to renounce violence as a tool of protest.
Everyone seemed to be spoiling for a fight: the Legion, the activists, the Portland city police and even President Nixon.

Hitler saluteBy Finn J.D. John
(Editor’s note: This is one of three articles about this event.)
Around midsummer in 1970, Ed Westerdahl finally agreed to talk to the two scruffy hippies who’d been politely pestering him for the previous week.
The hippies — Robert Wehe and Glen Swift — had come to Salem from Portland in an old Opel Kadett. They wanted to talk to the governor, Tom McCall, and Westerdahl was McCall’s chief of staff. Westerdahl had initially blown them off, hoping they’d give up and go away, but they’d shown no sign of doing so. And so, no doubt with a heavy sigh, Westerdahl had them come in to talk to him.

Oyster dredgingBy Finn J.D. John
Like most tourist-friendly destinations on the Oregon Coast, the town of Newport is well stocked with kitschy pirate gear.
Unlike most other spots, though, Newport has a real history involving pirates — specifically, oyster pirates. Most people who have heard of oyster piracy think of the stories of Jack London’s youth, when he borrowed money to buy a small sloop and went into the “business” down in San Francisco Bay. Or they may think of the long and occasionally bloody struggles between oystermen and oyster pirates in Chesapeake Bay, on the East Coast, which were still straggling on as late as the 1950s.

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McKenzie River Reflections is the weekly newspaper serving Oregon's McKenzie River Valley. Available by mail for $23/yr in Lane County, $29/yr outside Lane. Digital subscriptions are $23/yr. Subscribe at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/subscriptions-0. Purchase copies online at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/back-issues-0. Read about area communities including Cedar Flat, Walterville, Camp Creek, Leaburg, Vida, Nimrod, Finn Rock, Blue River, Rainbow and McKenzie Bridge.