Offbeat Oregon History

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;

By Finn J.D. John

Postcard view of Toledo, OregonIn the summer of 1925, an event took place in the Coast Range town of Toledo that would spark widespread outrage and an international incident. The event was, for all practical purposes, a race riot: A mob of hundreds of angry white people attacking and evicting a small group of Japanese workers.

By Finn J.D. John

Spad C.VII Spad C.VII flown by Italian pilot Ernesto Cabruna

The last year of the First World War saw an explosion in Allied aircraft. The forces of Imperial Germany put up the best fight they could, and fielded probably the best aircraft of the war — the Fokker D.VII, which famously could hang on its propeller — but the few they managed to make were overwhelmed by swarms of the latest SPADs, Nieuports and DeHavilands, which were close to equal quality and far more numerous.

By Finn J.D. John

Anti KVEP radio ad

The first radio broadcaster ever to do be sent to prison for cursing on the air was a hard-charging early shock jock known as “The Oregon Wildcat,” who kept the city of Portland and surrounding regions glued to their radio sets every evening for most of the first half of 1930.
Robert Gordon Duncan was his name, and he broadcast his scandalous but highly entertaining tirades every single day over Radio KVEP (K-Voice of East Portland), 1500 AM.

The radio station was originally started in 1927 by William Schaeffer, who ran it in the customary way for several years and achieved a modest popularity with listeners.

By Finn J.D. John

Portland, Oregon grain shipsIn the mid-1890s, ship captains and sailors’ boardinghouse owners were like partners in crime — both busily and happily swindling sailors out of what little money they had and were owed.
But in the mid-1890s, something happened to upset this cozy arrangement: One particular “boarding master” — in one particular West Coast port city — figured out how to double-cross his co-conspirators, and suddenly the ship captains were left out in the cold.

 

Chemawa Indian SchoolBy Finn J.D. John

On the northernmost outskirts of Salem, tucked quietly away on a 275-acre campus between the Interstate 5 freeway and Highway 99, is the oldest continuously operating Native American boarding school in the country.
This is Chemawa Indian School: a place built specifically to suppress Indian culture, which instead became instrumental in preserving it.

Oro fino hallBy Finn J.D. John

Joseph E. Swards was 16 years old when he left his native Philadelphia as a brand-new apprentice seaman on the barque Geo. F. Manson, bound for Astoria and Portland.

Citizens Protective Union outside saloonBy Finn J.D. John
In the last few months of 1882, a group of prominent Prineville-area stockmen were leading a double life: Ranchers by day, and masked outlaw riders by night. They called themselves The Vigilantes.

The Vigilantes, as you’ll likely recall from last week’s article, had formed out of a posse that was assembled to arrest a murderer. They brought him in, but the next morning, the posse members broke into the deputy sheriff’s room, gunned down the murderer, and lynched his hired hand.

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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.