Offbeat Oregon History

KKK adBy Finn J,D. John

After the 1922 midterm elections, the Ku Klux Klan in Oregon was riding high. It had won almost every election it had deigned to compete for. It looked to them like they’d been handed a solid mandate to remake Oregon in the image of their ethnocentric social agenda, and they lost no time in getting right to work.
There was a problem, though. Looking back now, we can plainly see that there was one key element that Oregonians found appealing about the Klan’s vision and its leaders — and it wasn’t what those leaders assumed they were.

 

Birth of a Nation posterBy Finn J.D. John

There was something shockingly sudden about the Ku Klux Klan’s virtual seizure of the reins of power in Oregon in 1922.
Within a few months of Klan evangelist Luther Powell’s arrival in southern Oregon, the “invisible empire” had spread through Oregon society like a virus. Tens of thousands of Oregonians had paid their $10 membership fee and had white eyehole-suits hanging in their closets, and tens of thousands more looked upon the secret society as a positive thing.

 

Klan in PortlandBy Finn J.D. John

In early 1921, an outgoing Louisiana salesman named Luther Powell crossed the border from California to Oregon, with business on his mind.
Powell was a “Kleagle.” His job was to recruit new members for the newly resurgent Ku Klux Klan, collecting the $10 membership fee from each.
His commission was a whopping 40 percent. And the Oregon territory was wide open.

Portland dockBy Finn J.D. John

The Portland municipal dock as it appeared around the time of the longshoremen’s strike.

When the gunfire broke out and he heard the bullets sizzling overhead, visiting New York senator Robert Wagner was dumbfounded.
“This can’t be true,” he said.
It was. The bullets had come from four “special police” guards — part of a group of 200 guards hired by the city of Portland to keep the peace on the waterfront during the big longshoremen’s strike. They were not professional cops.

By Finn J.D. John

Portland harborThis hand-tinted postcard, postmarked 1931, shows the newly built Burnside Bridge drawn for shipping to pass through.

Early Portland was a relatively corruption-friendly town. But even the best of us have our limits, as three Multnomah County Commissioners learned the hard way in 1924.
In that year, the Portland area had a serious traffic congestion problem. The main source of the trouble was the Burnside Bridge, a swing-span setup that was at the time only 30 years old. However, it had deteriorated very badly, and was no longer considered safe. A new bridge was desperately needed.

By Finn J.D. John

Lifeboat from S.S. CongressPortland Sunday Oregonian
Passengers in lifeboat from  the burning steamer S.S. Congress

If you’d walked into the town of Marshfield — now called Coos Bay — on the afternoon of September 13, 1916, you probably would have found the streets eerily empty.
Storekeepers, restaurateurs, bank tellers — everybody in town was clustered around the beach south of the harbor opening, watching a 7,985-ton passenger liner belching smoke and flames, and praying the 428 passengers and crew members would be able to get off the ship before the whole thing became engulfed.

USFS trapperBy Finn J,D. John

J.R. Carper, the U.S. Forest Service government trapper, posing on the front porch of a log cabin in 1908 with the skins of a number of predatory animals.

To Dr. W.H. Lytle, Oregon’s state veterinarian, the entire idea was preposterous. A rabies outbreak in northeast Oregon? Bah. Rabies was barely known west of the Rockies.
“However,” he added — no doubt with an exasperated sigh — “we intend to investigate the situation in Wallowa County and ascertain the facts at once.”

Early downtown Portland, ORBy Finn J.D. John

One November evening in 1885, Portland residents walking past a row of tiny houses at Third and Yamhill heard screams coming from one of them.
Bursting in, they found the mutilated and lifeless remains of a 33-year-old French beauty known as Emma Merlotin. Someone had killed her brutally with a hatchet and then slipped away into the night.
Emma, whose real name was Anna DeCoz, was a well-known “nymph du pave,” as the Evening Telegram phrased it — basically, a courtesan. Her clientele included some of the city’s most prominent bigwigs, and it was widely rumored at the time that her death had come at the hands of one of them — although 11 years later, a Canadian drifter confessed to the crime.

Tragic shipwreck was like a concerto of incompetence

Czarina shipwreckBy Finn J.D. John

The night of January 12, 1910, was a long one for a group of women clustered on the storm-swept beach of Coos Bay Spit. They were there watching as their husbands, clinging to the rigging of their foundered ship just a few hundred yards away, fell one by one into the churning sea and drowned.
It was the final act in what had to be the bleakest shipwreck drama in state history. Twenty-three of the 24 men aboard the 216-foot iron steamer Czarina died that day. And they died not from heavy weather, but from a veritable concerto of timidity and incompetence. There were no villains in the tragedy — just a number of people who, when weighed in the balances, were found wanting.
Here’s the story:

Tragic shipwreck was like a concerto of incompetence

Czarina shipwreckBy Finn J.D. John

The night of January 12, 1910, was a long one for a group of women clustered on the storm-swept beach of Coos Bay Spit. They were there watching as their husbands, clinging to the rigging of their foundered ship just a few hundred yards away, fell one by one into the churning sea and drowned.
It was the final act in what had to be the bleakest shipwreck drama in state history. Twenty-three of the 24 men aboard the 216-foot iron steamer Czarina died that day. And they died not from heavy weather, but from a veritable concerto of timidity and incompetence. There were no villains in the tragedy — just a number of people who, when weighed in the balances, were found wanting.
Here’s the story:

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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.