History

Train torpedoBy Finn J.D. John
Darkness had fallen in Cow Creek Canyon, in the remote fastness of south Douglas County, on July 1, 1895. It was just after 10 p.m., and the northbound California Express No. 15 was winding its way through the hairpin turns along the mountainside. Suddenly the black night was lit up with a brilliant flash as a big explosion thundered out from beneath the front wheels.

Smithfield plaqueBy Finn J.D. John
Oregon in general, and rural southern Oregon in particular, has been referred to more than once as the “Dixie of the West Coast.”
So perhaps it’s not surprising that the only Confederate flag known to have waved in the northwestern quarter of the continental United States during the Civil War flew proudly over the Beaver State, for a few weeks in 1862.
Now, that “only flag” claim has to be qualified a bit. The entire northwest quarter is rather a large patch, and plenty of emigrant farmers, gold miners and ex-Army ruffians were sympathetic to the South’s cause; surely somebody, somewhere, hoisted the stars and bars over a shoddy Jackson County prospector’s cabin or loathsome San Francisco waterfront flophouse.

Falling SchoolBy Finn J.D. John
For the criminally minded Oregonian of yore, dynamite had much to recommend it. It was relatively easy to buy the stuff, surprisingly easy to steal it from a construction depot, and almost shockingly simple to brew up at home using a few simple, innocuous ingredients from the local drugstore.
Furthermore, when used in a criminal enterprise, dynamite was like a first-class ticket to the front page of the local papers. A lot of crooks really enjoyed the ensuing notoriety.

Cons fightingBy Finn J.D. John
Tips from the pros
In a bit of a break with the usual format of Offbeat Oregon History, today I’m going to share with you the text of a promotional brochure mailed out shortly before the First World War by notorious criminal mastermind/motivational speaker Blackie DuQuesne*:
DYNAMITE-ENHANCED TRAIN ROBBING TECHNIQUES: LEARN THE SECRETS OF THE PROS!

Dear Aspiring Train Robbers:

Dynamite foundBy Finn J.D. John
There was a time, not so many years ago, when every Oregonian over the age of 12 had access to dynamite.
Not that they could simply walk into a hardware store and buy some — although in the early years, they could. But even as late as the 1960s, the laws restricting explosives purchasing were mild enough that it wasn’t uncommon for farmers to buy the stuff for stump removal, or to work a mining claim.

hero clerkBy Finn J.D. John
It was just after 2 a.m., in the wee small hours of the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 24, 1901, and the Oregon and California Fast Express had just left the train depot at Cottage Grove, headed for Portland. Up in the engine, engineer B.L. Lucas and fireman Robert Gittens were looking out ahead into an unusually dark night, illuminated by the carbide lamp on the front of the engine. They were passing through the wooded area north of Cottage Grove, approaching the hamlet of Saginaw.

Douglas Cty CourthouseProbably not what you’re thinking

By Finn J.D. John
It was Christmas Day in 1866. Officially, the Civil War had been over for a year and a half. Unofficially, though, not everybody agreed that its outcome settled things ... especially in Douglas County, Oregon.
At the time, Douglas County was like a microcosm of the United States. There was a Republican majority in the more populous and powerful northern part of the state, which had voted itself into full control of county government, much to the fury of the resentful, disenfranchised Dixie-friendly majority in the south of the state.

SchoonerBy Finn J.D. John
There was a time, a century and a half ago, when Coos Bay was the shipbuilding capital of the entire West Coast.
It all started, as so much West Coast history does, with the Gold Rush. A young apprentice shipbuilder named Asa Mead Simpson, caught up in the excitement, jumped aboard a sailing ship in which he owned a small percentage and headed for the gold fields.

Drunken husbandBy Finn J.D. John

You may have heard of Henderson Luelling - the Quaker nurseryman who founded an Oregon industry when he brought a wagon full of tiny trees out on the Oregon Trail, back in 1847. His story was recently memorialized in a children’s book that won the “Oregon Reads” award for the state sesquicentennial: “Apples to Oregon,” by Deborah Hopkins.
On the trail to Oregon, many of Luelling’s fellow emigrants thought he was crazy. The care he lavished on the trees (even at the expense of his wife and nine children) was, by anyone’s lights, obsessive. But history vindicated Luelling when the few hundred surviving tree slips made him a wealthy man upon his arrival in the Willamette Valley.

Skookum labelBy Finn J.D. John
From time to time, bills come up in the Oregon State Legislature that seek to designate an official language for the state.
Of course, the language they specify is always English, since that’s the dominant language in Oregon today.
But if an official state language is thought of like the official state bird, or state wildflower, or state animal - as a special example of a type that is vital to the very nature of Oregon and that helps provide it with its particular character - there’s really only one legitimate candidate for state language. It’s the Chinook Jargon - more commonly spelled by those who speak it today as “Chinuk.”

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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.