Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ill-fated barge explodes, workers escape unharmed

One minute they were working as usual. The next minute they were swimming in the frigid waters of the Columbia River near Umatilla. Three men affecting repairs on a river tanker on March 3, 1948, were blown off the deck when the barge exploded for the third time in a year, but all three escaped unscathed except for an icy dunking.

Jack Hinkley, Melvin McCoy and Gene Hiatt, who were working at the opposite end of the barge, were unable to say what caused the explosion that tossed them off the ill-fated “Pendleton,” a 280,000-gallon tanker owned by Tidewater-Shaver Company. Eyewitness George Sawyer, the company’s plant superintendent, reported he saw a reddish-blue flash followed by a series of four explosions. After that he was too busy dodging shrapnel hurled by the exploding craft.

A six-ton portion of the barge’s deck was thrown 500 feet upstream, and another portion, weighing only about four tons, landed about 600 feet downstream. A new 100-ton barge being built on shore about 400 feet from the blast was lifted into the air and moved about two feet. The Captain Al James, a tug that was nearby when the explosion occurred, had all its windows blown out.
A twisted six-ton section of the deck of the "Pendleton" sits 400 feet from the smoking wreckage of the barge after an explosion March 3, 1948, near Umatilla (EO file photo).
The “Pendleton” also was wrecked in June 1948 by a similar blast at the Umatilla facility. And it exploded in Portland earlier that year.
Barge workers (l-r)Jack Hinkley, Melvin McCoy and Gene Hiatt survived the tanker explosion aboard the "Pendleton" that blew them off the deck into the Columbia River (EO file photo).
Hinkley, a tankerman from Umatilla, could only chatter that the water was “damned cold” when he reached shore. McCoy, a welder who also lived in Umatilla, commented that apparently it wasn’t “his time to die.”

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Umatilla County town founded by mistake

The city of Adams, located north of Pendleton in Umatilla County, will celebrate its 125th anniversary on Feb. 23, 2018. But the town was actually founded by mistake, according to a written account by a descendant of the town’s first mayor.

Don Lieuallen was the guest speaker at the town’s 100th anniversary celebration on Feb. 21, 1993. According to Lieuallen’s history, the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company was building track east from Pendleton and reached the present site of Adams in 1882. There construction was halted while railroad officials debated the best way to cross Dry Creek Canyon northeast of Weston. As the discussion dragged on, winter set in and the work crews erected a few shacks for shelter.

Two entrepreneurial men, I.T. Reese and J.T. Redman, built a general store for the railroad workers. Soon a few houses were built, then saloons showed up, and a livery stable, meat market and feed store appeared. The first confectionery, cigar store and menswear establishment was opened by “Cheap Charlie” Hanson. The Adams Real Estate Association formed in 1883, and John F. Adams’ farm, originally settled in 1865 on the banks of Wildhorse Creek, became the basis for the town plat. Adams was incorporated on Feb. 23, 1883, with Thomas A. Lieuallen as mayor.

By 1901 the city had a population of 500, and boasted a newspaper, three general stores, two blacksmith shops, a drug store, two hotels, a livery stable and saloon.

The 100th anniversary celebration included music, an arts and crafts show, and a reader’s theater presentation of “The Crooked Town,” among other attractions. The opening festivities also featured the presentation of a centennial quilt made by Gilberta Lieuallen, which depicts the city seal surrounded by 16 historic photos depicting early Adams. The quilt is on permanent display in the Adams Friendship Center.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Church locked over priest protest

Churchgoers can be very particular about their parish priests, as Pendleton Catholics discovered in March 1893.

Members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Pendleton wended their way to church as usual on March 12, 1893, only to be turned away. The doors were locked. There was nothing they could do but return home.

Though most of the parishioners were reluctant to talk about the incident, it was discovered that Thomas Milarkey, one of two trustees to whom the church property was deeded, and the only keyholder, had taken affront after his favorite priest, Father Hogan, was moved to another parish and a former pastor, Father DeRoo, was re-posted to serve the Pendleton church.

Determined to make his objection known, Milarkey decided that Father DeRoo would not be allowed to enter the church to conduct mass.

Local parishioners decided to let church authorities handle the incident, and Archbishop Gross was due to arrive in Pendleton later in the week to straighten the matter out.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Parking prank puzzles PHS

Pep Week pranksters struck Pendleton High School in February 1981 with a puzzling parking problem.

Students arrived on Monday morning, Feb. 23, 1981, to find a yellow MG Sprite plunked in the middle of the high school library. The car was jacked up and the tires removed and shoved under the car. The pranksters took the lug nuts so the wheels couldn’t be reinstalled. A potted plant perched serenely in the rear seat, and three books were carefully placed alongside: “Fingerprinting,” “Great Adventures in Crime” and “Crime in America.”
Pendleton High School students shared the library with an MG Sprite during a Pep Week prank on Feb. 23, 1981 (EO file photo)
After somehow obtaining a key to the building, the culprits had removed a center post from the library doors and rearranged the furniture. The car was then carefully wheeled in and displayed proudly in the center of the room. The floor was not scratched, no furniture was damaged and no oil leaks were found.

Principal Joe Cannon said, “We’ll get it out of here, but I don’t know when.” While the battery and engine were still in the car, it wouldn’t start.

Parking attendant Dave White heard about the incident and gleefully slapped a ticket on the windshield, citing the owner for improper parking, not having a parking sticker and for blocking the aisle.

Once the students had satisfied their curiosity, the prank caused no disruption to classes. “I told you we had a parking problem,” one student commented.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Gambler attempts to 'break' roulette wheel

In January 1905, a Pendleton man took on a roulette wheel with a vow that he would either beat the game or walk away penniless.

The prominent Pendleton farmer, who was not named in the East Oregonian story, was a frequent gambler and was best known at winning at the roulette table. He began his run at the game at a similarly unnamed Main Street saloon at 11 a.m. on Jan. 30, drawing a large crowd to the gambling room to watch his battle. A limit of five chips, except for the center row of numbers on which he could bet $80 at a time, was the only rule.

The farmer’s fortunes varied up and down during the contest, at times having as much as $3,000 on the table, and at other times suffering a profound losing streak, but once he began he did not move from his seat nor even look up from the table. As the battle progressed, the crowds gathered in closer and players from other saloons left their games to watch his progress.

The game ended 14 hours later, at 1 a.m. After contributing $3,700 in gold pieces to the game coffers, the man rose from his chair, picked up his last two twenties and slipped them into his vest pocket, saying, “I still have enough left to start another game on.” He staggered a little as he left, though he had not touched a drop of liquor during the game.

The saloon owners figured they had made enough during the event to even up for the farmer’s past winnings at the game.

Gambling dens were common in Pendleton in the early 1900s, despite a move by law enforcement and the legislature to ban all vice from the state. A lawless faction even sought to retain the flavor of the Old West in early 1905 by proposing an amendment to the Pendleton city charter to set aside the state law regulating gambling, prostitution and other vices and give the matters into the hands of the city council. The proposed amendment was submitted anonymously and was not endorsed by any members of the Pendleton citizenry. It was suggested that the amendment would give the saloon owners, gamblers and other rough elements a chance to stack the election of a mayor and city council that would open the city to vice, in spite of the wishes of the moral element of Pendleton. A similar amendment was proposed in Freewater, and Portland and Astoria also reported similar proposals.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Children die in house fire, father disappears

Three young children died in an early-morning blaze in January 1956 in the tiny town of Rieth, just outside Pendleton. The children’s father disappeared shortly after the fire, setting off a nation-wide search.

The fire broke out at 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 30, 1956, just minutes after Chester O’Neal left with sons Chester Jr., 13, and Stanley, 10, to deliver their newspaper route. A neighbor living directly across the street from the O’Neal family rousted Raymond Long out of bed shortly after 6 a.m., pounding on his door and shouting that the O’Neal home was in flames. Long was unable to enter the front door of the house because it was not in use and had been blocked with a piece of heavy furniture. “I kicked in the front window in the bedroom and the inside seemed to explode,” Long said.

George Powers, the O’Neal children’s grandfather, arrived five minutes later and attempted to enter the house through the back door. The heat was so intense that he burned off the hair from his forehead to his crown.

Neighbors strung garden hoses to the burning house in an attempt to battle the flames. Rieth did not have firefighting equipment or a volunteer fire department, and Pendleton fire crews were unable to respond because Rieth was outside their jurisdiction. The home burned completely; only the steel bed frames, stoves, utensils and the brick chimney were left.

Three of the O’Neals’ 10 children, Phyllis Jean, 8, Carol Jane, 7, and Richard Dennis, 6, died in the fire. O’Neal had wanted the children to accompany him on the paper route, but they wanted to stay home in bed. He banked the fire in a wood-burning heater before leaving with the two older boys. The cause of the fire was undetermined.

O’Neal’s wife Ethylene was in St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, having just given birth to their 10th child. Their one-year-old son David also was in the hospital recovering from pneumonia. The three other O’Neal children, Peggy, 4, Connie, 3, and LeRoy, 2, were staying with an aunt in Adams.

Chester Sr. returned home while the fire was still blazing and, learning that his children had died in the fire, left immediately for the hospital to inform his wife. He was there for about an hour, then left the older boys with relatives in Rieth and took to the highway, disappearing for four days.

While police across the United States were searching for Chester, the Red Cross and the local community banded together to provide for the remaining family. An apartment at Pend-Air was furnished with everything the family would need, including furniture, clothing, utensils, dishes and more. A fund was set up to pay the rent and provide food.

Rumors flew around the community about Chester O’Neal’s disappearance. George Powers reported to state police that Raymond Long had heard a radio broadcast that claimed O’Neal had crashed his car, leaving a note that “life is not worth living,” but none of the local radio stations could verify the report.

On Feb. 2, Chester O’Neal walked in to the Red Cross office in Stillwater, Okla., saying he “hadn’t known what he was doing” when he left Pendleton and didn’t realize police were searching for him. He had returned to a farm he owned in Siloam Springs, Ark., where he has family, and spoke to his wife about having the bodies of the children shipped to Arkansas to be buried next to another of their children, a daughter who died nine years previously. Ethylene originally agreed to his request, then changed her mind and had the children buried at Olney Cemetery in Pendleton.

Her husband, Ethylene said, wanted the family to return to Siloam Springs. She moved into their new home at Pend-Air on Feb. 4 with her seven remaining children, saying she and the children planned to remain in Pendleton.

But when O’Neal returned a week later, the family prepared to pack up for a cross-country move. Loan regulations on the farm he was making payments on, he explained, required his presence on the property. “I appreciate everything the folks here did for my wife and family,” O’Neal said, “and I feel sorry we’ve got to leave again. But I would have left here about the first of May if the fire hadn’t happened.”

The tragedy jolted Rieth into action, and plans were soon underway to fund and equip the volunteer firefighting team that had been organized. A committee hoped to secure a $10 pledge from each resident of the tiny town, to be used to buy a second-hand fire engine or a down payment on a new one.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Photo folly leads to murder charge

A group of Umatilla County men on an elk hunting trip near Starkey in the Blue Mountains ended up in the courtroom in January 1935 when one of the party was shot following a photo fracas the previous November.

Dan Bowman, a merchant from Mission on the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton, joined a hunting party Nov. 10, 1934, on the Tony Vey ranch near the border between Umatilla and Union counties near Starkey. Two groups of Umatilla County men, Vey’s friends and a group including Finis and Chester Kirkpatrick, had been hunting on the property since Nov. 5, the beginning of elk season, and on the day in question the only person present at Vey’s cabin when Bowman arrived was Joe Cunha, who invited Bowman into the cabin for drinks. The hunting parties returned to the camp at around 11:30 a.m.

Bowman called to Fred Lampkin, business manager and co-owner of the East Oregonian and a longtime friend, to join him at the cabin. A few minutes later Bowman and Cunha went to the Kirkpatrick camp and were offered more alcohol, which they accepted. When Bowman and Cunha went to return to Vey’s cabin, Cunha vaulted a fence between the two camps. Bowman attempted to repeat the feat but fell, injuring his leg.

Fred Lampkin
 Finis Kirkpatrick went over to help, but also wanted to have some fun at Bowman’s expense. He motioned to his brother to get his camera and take photos of Bowman being helped up; Chester then followed the men to Vey’s porch and took another picture of Cunha rubbing Bowman’s injured leg. Bowman was not pleased with the joke. Planning on leaving Vey’s property anyway, Bowman angrily returned to his car, parked just outside the fence.

The group of men inside the cabin were making lunch, and Lampkin took a sandwich Bowman at his car. Bowman complained about the photos to Lampkin, who tried to soothe his friend’s ruffled feathers, but an argument ensued. Charles Goodyear, who was planning to ride with Bowman upon his departure from the camp, joined the pair at the car but was getting nervous about the argument. He attempted to intervene but was sent away by Bowman, who then grabbed his rifle from the passenger seat of his car and tried to either load or unload it (witness statements varied). Lampkin came around the car and grabbed the gun, which was pointed upward through the open car door, to help the injured Bowman get out. The rifle discharged, and Lampkin fell to the ground dead.

Several of the hunters rushed to the car at the sound of the shot, and though Bowman pleaded with them to leave the scene untouched, Lampkin’s body was moved and then covered with a blanket. The rifle was picked up and set against the fence. Bowman then grabbed his camera and took many photos of the scene in an attempt to capture as much evidence as possible for law enforcement, as it was getting dark.

State police officers William Roach and Frank Perry happened by around 4 p.m. and were waved down by the hunting party. The officers interviewed Bowman and the witnesses, turning the scene over to Deputy Sheriff Hugo Clinghammer and the Union County coroner when they arrived. Roach transported Bowman to the hospital in La Grande, where he was treated for his injured leg.

The prosecutors in the case attempted to show that Bowman shot Lampkin deliberately, citing witnesses who heard the pair arguing. The defense contended that Bowman and Lampkin were the best of friends, and the shooting was unintentional. It was shown during the trial that Bowman had sprained his right ankle in the failed attempt at vaulting the fence, but also had broken his shin bone, which no one at the camp realized. On the stand, still hobbling on crutches, Bowman said his broken leg collapsed when he tried to exit his car, and the gun fired accidentally.

Bowman also testified that someone had once taken a photo of his brother in a state of undress and then shown it to a crowd of people, causing great embarrassment, and he thought the Kirkpatricks might be planning something similar. Usually a light drinker, Bowman was concerned the Kirkpatrick brothers intended to use the photos to spread tales of drunken behavior to discredit him.

After seven days of hearing testimony, the jury took less than three hours to deliver a not guilty verdict, with 10 of 12 jurors voting for acquittal.