Offbeat Oregon History

Illustrated bank robberyBy Finn J.D. John

When the First National Bank of Joseph, Oregon, picked David Tucker as vice-president in 1928, it didn’t look like a particularly unusual thing to do.
Tucker was a widely respected part of the community in Joseph. A successful stockman, he had, over the previous 20 years, forged a reputation for himself as an honest, trustworthy man — and kind and generous to boot. He was especially effective at taking hotheaded young lads under his wing, helping them out of bad situations and inspiring them to turn their lives around.

Sword ceremonyBy J.D. Finn John

The year was 1961. Nearly 20 years had come and gone since a tiny seaplane, 6,000 miles from home, buzzed over Brookings, Oregon, to bomb the American homeland for the first time in history. The event was still relatively recent, but it was well on its way to being forgotten.

Launch from submarineBy Finn J.D. John

It was a little after 6 a.m. on September 9, 1942. A tiny seaplane with red balls painted on its wings was making its way through the skies over Brookings, Oregon. At the controls was a young man named Nobuo Fujita; behind him, in the observer’s seat, looking intensely at the ground, was another, named Shoji Okuda. The two of them were looking for a good place to initiate the first air strike ever to be made on the continental United States.

By Finn J.D. John

Peyton/Layton crime sceneAs urban legends, go, it’s one of the oldest and scariest: A teenage couple drives to a secluded spot late at night and parks, planning to do some of the usual canoodling. But before they do, a news bulletin interrupts the music on the radio. A psychotic killer has escaped from the asylum, the DJ reports breathlessly. He’s missing his left hand, and wears a steel hook on the stump of his arm as a prosthetic.

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.

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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.