Offbeat Oregon History

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:

For Army, Camp Castaway shipwreck miracle was an inconvenient one

Coos Bay spit, OregonIt was January 3, 1852 — the middle of the night and the middle of winter, just off the middle of the Oregon Coast. The U.S. Army’s schooner Captain Lincoln, carrying a detachment of U.S. Army dragoons and supplies to reinforce a garrison near Port Orford, was getting badly abused by the weather. Wave after massive wave descended on the hapless Captain Lincoln, opening up a thousand little leaks in its hull; the soldiers toiled below decks at the pumps, trying desperately to stay ahead of the rising water in the bilge. Trying — and failing.

By Finn J.D. John

Portland's Stark Street ferryOn the afternoon of Nov. 8, 1858, 48-year-old Danford Balch stood on the deck of the Stark Street Ferry, holding a double-barreled shotgun. Both barrels were still smoking. At his feet in a widening crimson puddle lay the body of his son-in-law, Mortimer Stump.
It was the crime that would lead, early the following year, to the first public execution in Portland’s history. And it happened so long ago — it’s so shrouded in the mists of time and of rough-and-ready frontier recordkeeping — that it’s hard to know exactly what happened, or why.

IWW posterFinn J.D. John

In early 1917, shortly after the U.S. declared war on Germany, the first detachment of U.S. soldiers was dispatched … to the forest of western Oregon.
It turned out the wildest, boldest and (if you were a capitalist) most terrifying labor union in U.S. history had got its hooks deep into the logging business just as demand for timber reached its peak, and as the rest of the country was marching to war, the loggers were marching off the job.
That union was the International Workers of the World — better known as the Wobblies.
The year and a half that followed would be eventful ones in Oregon and Washington. They’d see the U.S. Army actually chartering a labor union of its own;

Pages

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.