Monday, March 12, 2018

Bank heist foiled by night policeman

A bank robber made a monumental effort to rob a Milton, Ore., bank vault in April of 1929, but a vigilant policeman on the night beat prevented the heist and hauled the battered thief to jail.

A veteran bank robber calling himself S.L. Fisher cased the First National Bank in Milton, Ore., on April 7, 1929, and about 9 o’clock that evening broke into the Knights of Pythias hall above the bank. Using tools appropriated from blacksmith shops in Milton and Freewater, he began cutting a hole through the floor of the hall into the bank vault directly below.

Police officer Walter Woodward, walking the night beat that evening, realized something fishy was going on at the bank building when he noticed the door to the lodge hall had been jimmied. By the time Woodward entered the building to investigate, Fisher had already removed three layers of heavy brickwork over the bank vault and had started sawing and drilling through a layer of railroad iron.

Woodward exited the building and called several people to help, then laid in wait for the thief. Fisher, eventually realizing he had been discovered, tried to escape through a second-story window, swinging out on a rope. The rope broke in mid-swing, and Fisher crashed to the ground, breaking several ribs on landing.

Fisher was arrested and taken to the Pendleton jail by Umatilla County Sheriff Tom Gurdane, where he admitted he had previously served time at Folsom Prison in California.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Heppner ‘gold strike’ creates havoc for landowners

Heppner ranch owners who discovered a cache of gold coins on their property in March 1968 quickly discovered the “strike” was almost more trouble than it was worth.

Mary Colleen Greenup, her sister Ilene Wyman and brother Bob Kilkenny owned a ranch purchased by heir father, John Kilkenny, in 1914 from Preston Thomson. Rumors abounded for years that Thomson had buried money on the place, and a 1968 article in True West magazine brought fortune hunters to the property in droves. Greenup said that many people, from all over the country, phoned for permission to search the ranch and others simply showed up at the door.

Two men from Minnesota who read the article teamed up with Greenup in the first week of March 1968 to search for the buried treasure, first with metal detectors and finally with a bulldozer. A cache of 28 coins was found buried under the ranch’s fish pond, with dates ranging from 1870 to 1896. Fourteen of the coins were $20 gold pieces, nine were $5 coins and five were $10 coins, for a total face value of $375. One of the pieces, with an 1891 mint date, was valued at $500.

And it wasn’t the first find on the ranch. Ten years previously, two grade school boys fishing at the pond found four gold pieces. They kept them, and Greenup at the time didn’t try to recover them.

Greenup split 14 of the new stash between the two men (whose names were not available when the March 9 article was published). An advisor later said the government would require the money to be turned in, the finders receiving only 15 percent. Another said that each member of the family could keep one piece. With three owners and 12 children between them, there weren’t enough coins left to go around.

Considering the two finds, it is reasonable to assume that the hunt for treasure continued.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Long hair defense leads to pink slip

First Amendment rights aside, sometimes speaking your mind has consequences. A Hermiston man paid the price in April of 1972 when his wife took to the opinion page in defense of personal freedom, pitting independent thought against conservative Eastern Oregon values.

Rocky Hays, 23, had worked for Jerry Myers on his Butter Creek farm for 18 months, and his employer was more than satisfied with his job performance. Myers said Hays had come to work for him with little experience, but learned fast. But on April 2, 1972, a letter to the editor in the East Oregonian by Hays’ wife, Kathy, rubbed Myers the wrong way, and a shocked Hays was given his walking papers as a result.

Kathy Hays, an honor student at Hermiston High School and 27 credit hours away from a degree in education from the University of Oregon, penned a defense of long hair after reading two submissions to the EO extolling the short haircuts worn by Future Farmers of America members at a recent convention in Pendleton, arguing that “short hair sometimes means nothing more than the antiquated parental prejudices forced on young people.”
“Ask an FFA member what goes on at FFA conventions,” Kathy wrote. “The answer would probably curl your eyebrows. My husband is now a 23-year-old farmer and he knows those conventions ain’t tame!”

Myers took offense to her inference that “kids at FFA raised hell,” though he agreed that “boys will be boys” when they’re away from home. “I didn’t know the attitude behind the letter,” the conservative farmer said. “They have the new liberal — super ecology — outlook.”

Myers did give Hays $200 severance pay, and said that with his skills and ability to learn quickly, he shouldn’t have any trouble finding another job.

Pendleton attorney Dennis Hachler said Hays likely had no legal recourse, as his firing didn’t fall under the Civil Rights Act of 1873. “There is no constitutional right to work for a man,” Hachler said.

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.