Oregon December 26, 2017
8 Horrifying Oregon Stories You Didn’t Learn About In History Class
Oregon has a long and rich history — no textbook could possibly fit in all of the surprising events and moments that have shaped our state since 1859. While much of our history is relatively tame, there are a few terrible stories that should never be forgotten. From mass shootings to devastating storms, here are eight horrifying stories from the Beaver State’s past that you probably didn’t hear about in history class.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Hells Canyon Massacre
In May 1887, a gang of horse thieves ambushed a group of Chinese gold miners on the banks of the Snake River near Hells Canyon. As many as 34 men were murdered in the attack. Reportedly the horse thieves attacked the miners for their gold; it is estimated that around $50,000 worth of gold was stolen. Despite the fact that the killers were known, and one even confessed, none of the murderers were ever convicted of the crime. Today, a memorial marks the spot where the miners lost their lives.
2. The Shanghai Tunnels
The dark history of Portland's Underground is sure to send a shiver running down your spine. This underground network of tunnels was the epicenter of illegal activity between 1850-1941. They were used primarily for "shanghaiing", the act of kidnapping people and selling them into slavery as crewmen on departing ships. The tunnels are also reported to be one of the most haunted spots in America, but that's another story.
3. The Columbus Day Storm of 1962
On October 12th, one of the deadliest storms in Oregon history swept through the Beaver State. The Columbus Day Storm was a massive windstorm that began as a cyclone over the Pacific Ocean. When it reached the Pacific Northwest, it collapsed houses, knocked down trees, and more. In total, hundreds of people were injured and 46 people lost their lives.
4. Car Chase at Crater Lake
A lot of crazy things have happened at Crater Lake over the years, but few manage to compare to the story of this high-speed car chase. On August 28, 1982 a patrol ranger within Crater Lake National Park attempted to stop a slightly speeding Volvo on the South Entrance Road. After the driver refused to stop, the ranger began to give chase.
As the ranger's vehicle neared the Volvo, a sudden explosion broke out. The Volvo exploded, running off the road and into a nearby embankment. The driver, Amdris Merzejuskis, was killed instantly. It wasn't until the car was later searched by police that the cause of the explosion was determined to have been a military-issue hand grenade. Police also found a knife, a pistol and a rifle within the car. It turned out that car had been stolen from a rental car company in San Diego and that Merzejuskis was wanted in Texas for drug smuggling charges. The park ranger who had been involved in the chase quit her job after the incident to return to her former career: violin making.
5. The Rajneeshee Movement
Did you know that rural Oregon played host to a controversial commune in the 1980s? The Rajneeshees were a spiritual cult that set up residence on a remote eastern Oregon ranch. Soon, tensions began to rise between cult leaders and local governments. After the Rajneesh leaders tried and failed to get past land-use laws, they hatched a plan to commit mass murder. The Rajneeshees contaminated 10 different fast food restaurants in The Dalles with salmonella. 757 people became sick and several dozen were hospitalized. This was, and still is, the largest bioterrorism attack in U.S. history.
6. The Deadly History of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
Built between 1880 and 1881, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse (nicknamed Terrible Tilly) is located about a mile off the Oregon Coast. Even before construction was finished, this lighthouse had earned a reputation for being a place of immense danger. Two ships were devastatingly wrecked before the light tower was completed. Between the two, the only survivor was one captain’s dog. Terrible Tilly was decommissioned in 1957 after 76 years of thunderous storms.
7. The Vanport Flood
In 1948, the Vanport Flood wreaked havoc on Oregon’s second largest city. In the span of just one day, cars were overturned, buildings were knocked down and houses were torn from their foundations. Approximately 15 people died in the flood and almost all of the city's nearly 40,000 residents found themselves without a home. Vanport was never rebuilt. It was located at the present site of Delta Park in North Portland
8. The Great Tsunami of 1964
In the spring of 1964, the most destructive tsunami to ever hit the U.S. tore through the west coast. Washington, Oregon and California were all hit. The tsunami was triggered by a massive 9.2 earthquake off the coast of Anchorage. The disaster killed over 100 people in Alaska, eleven people in Crescent City, California, and four children in Oregon. The devastation to property caused an estimated $27 million in damage.
How many of these stories were you familiar with? Which ones would you add to the list? Share your thoughts and memories with us below.
In the mood for more Beaver State history? Check out these
10 insane things that happened in Oregon.