Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Blue Mountains may extend to Idaho

A story in the July 9, 1987 East Oregonian speculated that the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon, commonly thought to extend from Dayton, Washington, to John Day, Oregon, may actually extend as far east as Idaho and include some of the state’s most iconic peaks.

The gentle slopes of the Blue Mountains are in stark contrast to the rugged peaks of the Wallowas and Elkhorns in the northeast corner of Oregon. But most geologists and science writers would include the Elkhorns near Baker, the Strawberries near John Day, the Wallowas and even the Seven Devils range in western Idaho as part of the Blues. And it all has to do with plate techtonics, the motion of land masses that move across the globe on a sea of molten lava far beneath the crust.

According to the theory, one of those pieces of the floating shell, the North American plate, has been colliding with and, in places, overriding the heavier Pacific plate for millions of years. The movements of the plates in relation to each other has, in the case of the Elkhorns and Wallowas, created massive mountain ranges where the North American plate has scraped up features from the Pacific plate, a process called accretion. Studies indicate that the Wallowas were at one time volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. Geologists think that the Elkhorns, including the Anthony Lakes area, were pieces of the ocean floor. And as more pieces of the Pacific plate stack up on the North American plate the coastline — once found in western Idaho, then central Oregon — continues to move westward.

The Blues have a more complicated history. As the Pacific plate is driven (subducted) under the North American plate it melts, re-emerging as lava through thousands of fissures and volcanoes. The Columbia River Basalts, lava flows that covered more than 15,000 square miles in only a week, at depths of up to two miles, occurred sometime between six and 16 million years ago. And for reasons as yet unknown to scientists, the basalts folded in places and formed the hills and valleys familiar to Eastern Oregon residents.

Stan Prowant, a geology professor at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton in 1987, suggested that the Blue Mountains actually should be called the “Blue Holes.” Familiar features such as the Blue Mountain Anticline, which extends from central Oregon to the Meacham area, and the smaller Rieth Anticline just west of Pendleton, are examples of the upward folds caused by this geologic action. And Pendleton and Pilot Rock lie along the Agency Syncline, a downward fold in the basalts.

And geologic activity continues in the Blues. Earthquakes shake the area an average of every 15 years, some registering 5 or higher on the Richter scale. And geologist Mark Ferns of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Resources in Baker suggested in the story that future lava flows would not be out of the question. “Troy would be a good place,” Ferns said. “That’s where the most recent flows originated.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Shifting sands reveal giant mastodon near Hermiston

Frank Swaggart, a rancher in the Westland district near Hermiston, unearthed what University of Oregon scientists said was the largest mastodon find in Oregon when shifting sands revealed whitened and fossilized tusks and bones on July 6, 1954.

Swaggart immediately called local amateur paleontologists Bob Buchanan, an insurance salesman; Frank Swayze, a retired banker; Kelly Tiller, a van operator; Walter Hamm, a retired druggist; and Frank Adams, an Arlington businessman, to investigate the find. The ancient creature partially uncovered in Swaggart’s initial diggings indicated a prehistoric pachyderm of massive proportions. One of the tusks measured nearly 8 feet in length, and a bone thought to be a femur, the upper leg bone, measured more than 3 feet long. The men left the find in place and called in scientists from the University of Oregon in Eugene to perform a proper investigation of the site, located about two miles north of the Umatilla ordnance depot.
A mammoth tusk and what is either an upper or lower jaw of a mastodon are studied by Bob Buchanan, Frank Swayze and Frank Swaggart, all of Hermiston, in this July 7, 1954 East Oregonian photo.
 A research trip to the Hermiston library revealed the creature likely grazed the site, a former lake, during the mid-Pliocene era about 5 million years ago. Once Dr. J. Arnold Shotwell, curator of U of O’s museum of natural history, and his assistant Huntley Alvey arrived at the scene on July 22, they verified the mastodon was one of the late-era two-tusk types (mastodons with four tusks also existed during the early Pliocene), and the largest specimen found to date in Oregon. They carefully made plaster casts of the beast’s skull and tusk and employed the help of West End volunteers to remove the remains for study and display in Eugene. Dr. Shotwell and Alvey also unearthed the remains of rhinoceros, camel, ground sloth and three-toed horse, also dating to the mid-Pliocene, near the mastodon find.

At the close of the official dig, the public was invited to visit the area, and encouraged to report any further significant finds.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Roommate argument leads to brutal beating death

A Pendleton man was beaten with an axe by his longtime roommate on their front porch after an argument in August 1930. He died minutes after police arrived.

On the night of August 10, 1930, James Jarnagan walked up to the Pendleton fire chief, W.E. Ringold, and confessed he had just killed his roommate, U.G. “Doc” Ruud. When Ringold brought Jarnagan to the Police Chief Charles Lemons, Jarnagan went on to relate, “He’s not dead yet, but he soon will be.”

Chief Lemons loaded Jarnagan into a police car and raced to the three-room home Jarnagan, 55, and Ruud, 63, had shared for many years just across the railroad tracks from the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds. They found Ruud sitting in a chair on the front porch, his feet perched on the porch rail, and his still-smoldering pipe beside him on the floor. He was unconscious but still breathing, though barely. An ambulance was called, but before it could arrive Ruud died of his injuries.

Jarnagan told his story the following morning at the police station in front of Chief Lemons and District Attorney C.C. Proebstel. He said he and Ruud were quarreling over cooking and alcohol, and that Ruud had struck him during a struggle. To defend himself, Jarnagan said, he grabbed a heavy axe and struck Ruud in the head several times with the blunt part of the axe head. He was not nervous during questioning and did not seem worried about the outcome of the case, but didn’t seem to remember many details of the incident.

Police were inclined to doubt Jarnagan’s story, however, considering Ruud’s body did not look like it had been involved in a struggle — rather, it looked as though Jarnagan had stolen up behind Ruud and launched a surprise attack while the older man was relaxing on the porch. Officers who guarded the crime scene overnight also discovered a hammer hidden in Jarnagan’s bed. And while Jarnagan claimed he had been drinking the night of the murder, no liquor was found in the house. The owner of the home, Jim Spencer, told authorities that Jarnagan had been told he would have to move out the day before the murder took place.

Jarnagan was charged with first-degree murder, and friends took up a collection to fund his defense. Dr. W.D. McNary, who had observed Jarnagan at the state hospital for a month following the murder, was asked about Jarnagan’s sanity during the trial. Dr. McNary said that while Jarnagan was indeed sane, his mental capacity left him unable to plot and carry out a deliberate murder.

A plea of guilty to second-degree murder was accepted by Judge Fee, and Jarnagan was sentenced to life in an institution.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pendleton boy shanghaied to England

A Pendleton native was “shanghaied” at the turn of the 20th century by a Portland man and forced to serve on board a ship traveling to England, where he was abandoned.

Ed Bentley, an 18-year-old native of Pendleton, was staying at the Portland Sailor Boarding House when another man forced him aboard the Sofala, a ship heading to Bristol, England, with a group of other young men. The youths were forced to sign as sailors before the mast and then serve aboard ship.

Shanghaiing, or crimping, was a practice of kidnapping people to serve as sailors, and flourished in port cities including Portland in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The practice was driven by a shortage of skilled labor aboard ships on the West Coast due to mass abandonments during the California Gold Rush.

Larry Sullivan, the man behind the forced conscriptions, sent a letter to the East Oregonian protesting that young Bentley had been treated well and paid $20, or 4 British pounds, per month. In reality, according to a March 28, 1900 East Oregonian story, when Bentley arrived in Bristol he was paid $10 per month instead of the promised wage (a total of $50), and was charged $10 by the captain for his board during the voyage. The captain also paid $25 of Bentley’s wages to Sullivan for his “recruitment.” This left Bentley with $15, which was not enough to pay for passage home.

Bentley had also fallen 80 feet from the ship’s royal yard during the voyage, breaking his ankle. Instead of medical attention, the captain gave him a dose of castor oil and a few curses, and Bentley was forced to bind up his ankle himself, which healed badly.

Ed Bentley Sr., of Pendleton, was unaware of his son’s fate until after the ship had already crossed the Columbia River Bar, and sent money for his son’s return to the U.S.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Class project recreates Great Wall

Pilot Rock Elementary School teacher Glen Dyer didn’t mess around when teaching his students about geography. In May of 1995, Dyer’s sixth grade glass finished a recreation of one of the seven modern wonders of the world using a very tasty building material.

Amidst a papier-mâché landscape, students used more than 2,000 sugar cubes to recreate the Great Wall of China in their classroom, and topography challenges abounded. “You have a river right here and a valley right here and you have to build between them,” said Andy Anderson, 11, while pointing out features of the class project, which took almost a year to build. The class was given little more than building materials and a map, and Dyer left the students to suss out dimensions, craft the landscape and glue together thousands of sugar cubes along the humps and bumps of their painted terrain.

Andy Anderson, far right, talks about a class project to recreate the Great Wall of China in this May 24, 1995 East Oregonian photo

Students worked in teams on the eight-foot-long project, assembling the wall in segments before linking them together. At times, they said, it seemed like their structure took as long to build as the Chinese counterpart, which spans 4,000 miles and took 1,200 years to build, beginning in the 5th Century B.C. “If you didn’t get something glued in the right place, you had to tear it all down,” said Jennifer McLean, 12. “It was frustrating at times.”

The project was not the first for students of Glen Dyer. Other classes built a replica of the Nile River, and created balloon rockets and water-powered bridges, among other things. “I like to see them discover it on their own,” Dyer said. “I don’t want to give them anything that says, ‘Make it my way.’ There are many ways to do it.”

Along with creativity and construction skills, students used applied math and science to build the wall, and social studies and English while exploring the reasons why the Great Wall was built and writing formal reports on the project.

China’s Great Wall was originally built as a tribute to the country’s strength, but successive generations extended the wall to keep out invaders. The wall is wide enough for 10 people standing shoulder to shoulder or six people on horseback.

“It’s a pretty good idea because it paid off,” Anderson said. “It kept everybody out and kept in their own religion and culture. It kept them from the outside world.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Chicken dinner lures lumber industry to Pilot Rock

Al Moltke, one of the founders of the Pilot Rock Lumber Company, wrote a booklet about the early history of the company for a union get-together in 1954. He told Virgil Rupp of the East Oregonian in a June 1977 interview that it was a chicken dinner in the “wild and wooly cowtown” of Ukiah that brought him, Elmer Kerns and R.B. Fields from Wenatchee, Wash., to Eastern Oregon in 1939.

The three men, who worked for Wenatchee Box Corporation, were looking for a new field of operations because their timber supply was running out. Kerns had already made an initial trip to the area near Pilot Rock, and reported that not only was there a stand of virgin timber worth drooling over, the cattle also roamed the area in grass up to their bellies. Moltke took a look with Kerns in the fall of 1939, and liked what he saw. But it was the 50-cent all-you-can-eat chicken dinners in Ukiah that sealed the deal for Fields.

Moltke was a little disappointed with Pilot Rock at first, however. He was expecting “a picturesque Columbia River port,” not realizing that the rock for which the town was named was a stony butte that had been used as a landmark for early settlers.

But the forests impressed the trio, and Kerns set about tying up 300 million feet of timber that Merritt Griswold and the Eastern Oregon Timber Syndicate had tried to exploit as early as 1906 but gave up on during World War I. And while the 55-mile haul over Battle Mountain was a daunting prospect, Moltke envisioned a day when big diesel trucks and trailers would solve the problem.

The Wenatchee men negotiated with Newt Toyer, Rupe Erwin and George Carnes to develop a mill site in Pilot Rock, which broke ground Feb. 19, 1940, and opened June 19, just four months later. The Kerns Co. remanufacturing plant opened in June 1943 to make ammunition boxes for WWII. It converted to peacetime commodities such as ironing boards and furniture parts at the end of the war in 1945.

The original mill is still in operation today, under the ownership of Louisiana-Pacific Corp.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Weston hotel destroyed in tragic fire

The Hotel Royal in Weston was destroyed April 30, 1911, when a mysterious fire broke out in the early morning hours. Several nearby businesses were damaged in the blaze, and one guest staying at the hotel later died from his injuries.

The owner of the Hotel Royal, J.N. Klein, and his family were asleep in the hotel when the fire started at around 2 a.m. Klein first awoke to the sound of falling glass and rushed to his office, which was totally consumed in flames. After getting his wife and younger son to safety, he stood at the bottom of the staircase and shouted to awake his older son and two guests who were sleeping on the second floor, but they later told him they did not hear him. All three were able to escape the flames, but were injured in the process.

Klein’s son fashioned a rope out of bedsheets and was lowering himself to the ground when the knots slipped and he fell, injuring himself on broken glass. He was also burned on the face and hands. A guest at the hotel, Eph Williams, also attempted to lower himself from a second floor window on a makeshift rope that failed, and he broke his hip when he landed. He also sustained a head injury in the fall, and later died from his injuries. In the excitement, none of the three staying on the second floor made use of ropes left in each of the rooms for the purpose of escaping a fire.

Local fire crews and Weston residents rushed to the scene to help quell the fire, but by the time they arrived the blaze was too well established, and wooden buildings near the hotel also caught fire. The heat was so intense that windows and glass doors were broken on nearby businesses. The Hotel Royal was completely destroyed, and five other businesses were damaged.

The local baseball team was part of the firefighting efforts, and worked until almost prostrate with fatigue to subdue the fire. But when they contacted the Walla Walla team the next morning in an attempt to cancel a planned game, the Walla Walla team refused.

Klein temporarily moved his hotel business a few blocks up the street to the Marshall building, which he had previously leased as an annex to his hotel. Klein rebuilt his hotel, christening it the New Hotel Royal, but sold the business in December 1911 and moved his family to Los Angeles in July of 1912 to work in the brick yard business.