Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Doolittle’s Raiders lose leader

The leader of a daring daylight bombing raid over Japan on April 18, 1942, that turned the tide of the war in the Pacific during World War II died Sept. 27, 1993, at age 96 at the home of his son in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Ret. Gen. James H. Doolittle is well known in Eastern Oregon as the leader of Doolittle’s Raiders, who trained with their B-52 bombers at Pendleton Field beginning in 1941 after the infamous bombing of Pearl Harbor. Born in Alameda, Calif., Doolittle spent part of his childhood near Nome, Alaska, where his father was a gold miner. He enlisted in the Army in 1917 during World War I, earning his wings in 1918. Following the war, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1922 by flying from Jacksonville, Fla., to Rockwell Field near San Diego in 22 hours and 30 minutes, the first coast-to-coast flight in less than 24 hours.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989 by President Bush, who described him as “the master of the calculated risk.” He was also a recipient of the Medal of Honor and many other awards.

His bombing raid on Japan actually caused little major damage, and a later Naval War College study could find no serious strategic reason for it. But Doolittle’s raid stirred the morale of the American public, and gave notice that Japan was not safe from attacks on their home soil by U.S. air power. Spencer Tracy portrayed Doolittle in a 1944 film about the raid, “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Controversy rages over identity of first Round-Up queen

The world-famous Pendleton Round-Up began in 1910 and continues to be one of the most popular rodeos in the world. Each year a bevy of beauties reigns over the festivities, and the Round-Up queen and her court, along with a pair of Native women representing Happy Canyon, spend 12 months traveling across the country to represent Pendleton and its iconic rodeo.

For 68 years, Laura McKee Thompson was accepted as the first queen of the Pendleton Round-Up, reigning over the 1911 rodeo. But a Sept. 14,1979 East Oregonian article reignited controversy that began in 1978 when Mildred Searcey, an Athena historian, author and former Round-Up Association office manager, declared that Bertha Anger Estes was actually the first Round-Up queen, though she was not elected as such by the Round-Up Association board. And Patty Daly, office manager for the Round-Up Association, said that official Round-Up records list Bertha Estes as the first queen.

In the run-up to the first Round-Up in 1910, local merchants sponsored young ladies who would sell tickets to the rodeo and ride on the business’ float during the Westward Ho! parade. Bertha Anger was sponsored by the People’s Warehouse and rode at the head of the float. After the rodeo was finished and the ticket sales were tabulated, she was declared the winner of the contest. But a search of the East Oregonian archives for 1910 and 1911 uncovered no mention of Miss Anger being the official queen. The only mention of her name was as one of 50 young ladies who were to dress in costume and ride floats in the parade.

Genevieve Clark Tromblay, a member of the 1910 and 1911 courts, said it wasn’t until after the parade that it was suggested they were the first Round-Up court. “They never really got that settled,” she said. “It’s all mixed up and nobody’s left anymore that’s connected with the People’s Warehouse to say.”

Mary Johnson of Hermiston, a family friend and surrogate niece of Laura Thompson, formally challenged the designation of Bertha Anger as the first Round-Up queen. She said it wasn’t until seven years later, in a Sept. 20, 1917 article, that any mention was made of the 1910 court. When Thompson herself was interviewed in 1978, she said she had no doubt that she was the first Round-Up queen, and had been considered so for years. The 1911 East Oregonian made special mention of “Round-Up Queen Laura McKee (later Thompson) surrounded by her maids, Misses Genevieve Clark, Iva Hill, Norma Alloway and Muriel Saling.”

“Aunt Laura has always been accepted as the first queen,” Mary Johnson said. “It was very embarrassing and humiliating for her when they said last year it was Bert Anger. It hurt her.”

So who really deserves the title of first Round-Up queen? The question may never be answered.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Famous sculptor re-emerges from obscurity

After Umatilla County Sheriff Tilman Taylor was killed during a jailbreak in 1920 in Pendleton, the much-loved lawman was immortalized with a statue by renowned sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor, a resident of Pendleton from 1914-1916 whose love for the American West was legendary. More than 50 years later, Proctor’s daughters returned to Pendleton during the 1973 Pendleton Round-Up and talked to the East Oregonian about their famous father, whose name had since faded from the public eye despite a vast body of work in public spaces across the United States.

A. Phimister Proctor works on details of the Til Taylor statue in his studio in Belgium in 1927 (EO file photo).
Hester Proctor and Nona Church were in Pendleton to see the Round-Up and visit with Hester’s 1915 classmate, Mrs. H.S. McKenzie. Miss Proctor remembered her father’s fascination with horses and his love for the Round-Up, where he met characters such as Jackson Sundown, whose 1916 championship saddle bronc ride was funded by her father when Proctor put up Sundown’s entry fee. Proctor also spent a summer with Sundown and his family in Cul de Sac, Idaho, taking photos that would serve as models for another of his famous sculptures, “The Warrior.”

Some of Proctor’s other work can also be seen in Oregon. “Pioneer Mother,” whose model was Pendleton’s Elvira Brown Matheny, and “Pioneer Father” are both at the University of Oregon in Eugene, and the UO Art Museum contains “Indian Maid and Fawn,” a copy of which is in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in New York City. A statue of Proctor’s favorite hunting buddy, Teddy Roosevelt, stands in Portland.

Other famous statues include plunging mustangs in front of the University of Texas Memorial Museum in Austin; Gen Robert E. Lee in Dallas; “Pioneer Mother Group” in Kansas City, Mo.; and “On the War Trail” and “Bronco Busters” in Denver. Two of his works grace the nation’s capitol: four 9-foot-high by 18-foot bronze bison, the famed Q Street Buffalo, and two buffalo heads in bas-relief on a fireplace mantle in the White House.

Proctor lived to be 89 years old, and passed away in 1950. As famous as he was during his lifetime, his name slipped into obscurity after his death. A second interview in September 1973 with Kalispell, Mont., art dealer Bernie Kushner and his wife Palma included a handful of the hundreds of photographs taken and collected by Proctor during his time as an artist. The Kushners were traveling through the United States, visiting the sites of Proctor’s most famous sculptures to refresh memories of the sculptor. Kushner had also helped the Proctor family gather many of his original working models from across the country, from which bronze castings were made and sold.

“We want his reputation revived. He was great,” said Bernie Kushner. “There’s nothing obscure about his work.”

Today, the Alexander Phimister Proctor Museum is located in Hansville, Wash., near Seattle, and in 2005 donated approximately 100 original Proctor artworks to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Suspicious fire destroys Round-Up grandstand

A fire thought to be incendiary in nature destroyed the covered wooden grandstand at the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds on Aug. 15, 1940, during the early innings of a softball game between the champion Pendleton Elks and the Sioux City Colored Ghosts.

A crowd of 1,500 people was watching the game when smoke was first detected in the east side of the grandstand. According to reports, the fire started in a storeroom used by the visiting team as a changing room, and was originally thought to have been ignited by a discarded cigarette. But police later learned a young boy came into the Nirschl service station two blocks from the grounds, “unstrung and sobbing,” to report he had seen a man start the fire.

As the fire spread, fans climbed over seat backs and railings to flee across the grass infield, escaping through the gates near the bucking chutes on the north side of the grounds. Many ran for the Umatilla River, wading across and climbing the far bank. Someone also turned a score of riding horses loose from the barns on the property, and the animals ran wild, trampling Clarence Ogren, 25, and knocking down Mrs. W.C. O’Rourke.

Nine people were injured during the fire, though none seriously, including Clarence Horn, blistered badly while carrying his wife, who had fainted in the panic. Joe Caglione, the watchman for the Round-Up Grounds, said he had paused in his security rounds to watch the game when he smelled the smoke. When he investigated, the fire was already well underway, and he rushed to evacuate his wife and daughter from their living quarters just 20 feet from the storeroom where the fire started. Others risked their lives to help evacuate the stands, finally driven out by the intense heat of the fire as the last of the crowd escaped.

Within 15 minutes of the fire bell sounding at 9:30 p.m., a crowd of 5,000 people had arrived to watch the destruction, not only of the grandstand but of the historic stage coaches, covered wagons, buggies, surries, buckboards and prairie schooners stored beneath.
The grandstand at the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds burns on Aug. 15, 1940 (EO file photo)

A man was questioned by police after they were told he had been seen in Pendleton the day prior to the fire, and that he had threatened to burn the grandstand after his request to take part in the Westward Ho! Parade was denied. He was given an alibi by friends, and his name was not released to the media.

Round-Up officials declared the show would go on, despite a time frame of less than a month for rebuildiing. Fundraising efforts raised $23,000 and crews worked day and night for three weeks to build the new 3,000-seat grandstand. Contractors worked at cost, and an architect drew up the plans for free. The Westward Ho! Parade was staged using antique vehicles donated from around the region.

The brand new seating was ready for Round-Up fans just in time for the iconic rodeo’s Sept. 11 opening day.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Local nurse found insane after disappearance

When Nellie Baker of Pendleton left for Portland in June of 1912 to serve as a private nurse, her mother thought nothing of it. Three weeks later, Nellie was found in a padded cell in a Portland jail after she was discovered wandering the streets in a state of insanity.

Nellie Baker was a 26-year-old nurse who periodically performed private nursing duties for Pendleton residents. She told her mother she was approached by a Miss Huntington in June 1912 to accompany her to Portland as a nurse and companion. The two women supposedly left for the city on June 23 and took rooms at a Portland boarding house. Nellie sent several letters to her mother about their trip, but her last communication was received in Pendleton on July 5. At about the same time, the landlady of the Portland boarding house noticed that Nellie had not visited her room for three days, but had left all her personal belongings behind. She immediately called the police.

On July 15, Nellie was identified as an inmate of a padded cell in the Multnomah County jail, where she had been since July 3. She had been found wandering the streets of Portland, completely insane, and was unable, or unwilling, to hear or speak since her incarceration.

Pendleton police began their investigation by attempting to locate the mysterious Miss Huntington, but could locate no one by that name in town. Nellie’s mother insisted that her daughter had received a call from a woman on the north hill and had gone to talk to her. A taxi arrived early the next morning to take Nellie to the train, but no one at the station saw the young nurse in anyone’s company, and the brakeman of the train testified that Nellie traveled to Portland alone. This led investigators to theorize that “Miss Huntington” was a figment of Nellie’s imagination, and that she had already been suffering from some kind of mental breakdown before she left Pendleton. But friends, including a Pendleton doctor, insisted Nellie was perfectly rational when they talked with her prior to her departure for Portland.

Portland police were criticized for not identifying Nellie earlier, as Pendleton police had sent her description and a photo when she disappeared in early July. But in their defense, Portland officers related that when she was picked up Nellie was using the name Gertrude Wilson, and she gave a lurid story of an attempted abduction into white slavery. She told officers that she and her mother had moved from Minnesota to Stanfield several weeks prior to her disappearance, where they had attempted to start a chicken ranch. Their endeavor had failed and they lost all their money, and she had gone to Portland on the promise of a job. When she arrived, Nellie said, she had been met at the train station by the husband of her alleged employer, who had attacked her and attempted to drag her into a taxi. She had escaped from him just before the police spotted her on July 3, she claimed.

Portland police had taken Nellie to Stanfield in an attempt to find her mother. “Gertrude” had told them her mother dressed like a man, and lived in a hut there. When her mother couldn’t be located, Nellie jumped out a second-story window of the hotel where she was staying and hid in the sagebrush, but was soon found. On her return to Portland she was put in a straitjacket and locked in a padded cell at the jail for her own safety.

Nellie’s mother telegraphed Portland authorities that she would travel there to make arrangements for her daughter’s care. On July 17 a letter from Nellie’s sister said that Nellie had regained her powers of speech and had briefly admitted that the Miss Huntington story was a complete fabrication, but later recanted. A piece of clothing known to have been worn by Nellie when she left Pendleton was found, badly torn, but no cause was ever found.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pendleton woman drowned in steamer wreck

A holiday trip ended in tragedy for a Pendleton woman in 1921 when the steamer ship she was sailing on ran aground in dense fog on Blunts Reef off the northern California coast.

Ruth Hart, a telegraph operator for the O.-W. R. & N. Railroad in Pendleton, boarded the steamer Alaska in Portland on Aug. 5, 1921, en route to California for a month-long holiday. The following evening the steamer’s inexperienced crew lost its way in heavy fog off the northern California coast south of Eureka and, though they changed course several times, the steamer was allowed to travel too close to shore. The foghorn near Blunts Reef was heard, but couldn’t be located.

When the steamer crashed into the reef, the passengers flooded the decks in an attempt to secure a place on the ship’s lifeboats. But the green crew badly bungled the launch of the loaded boats and two were upset, throwing their passengers into the water. The ship sank in just 30 minutes. Captain Hovey was last seen on the bridge of the steamer with two wireless operators, one of whom bailed into the water just before the steamer went under.

The survivors, clinging to debris from the sunken steamer, floated for hours before the steamer Anyox, alerted by the S.O.S. calls from the Alaska, arrived at the crash site to begin rescue efforts, eventually picking up 166 of the more than 210 passengers and crew. Many of the survivors were covered in fuel oil from the steamer’s ruptured tanks. Residents of Eureka provided, food, clothing and baths for the rescued passengers, most of whom were transported to San Francisco the following evening. Fishing boats from nearby villages had the grim task of hauling the bodies of the dead ashore.

Though accounts of the accident varied, passengers and crew said the wreck would not have occurred if the steamer had not been traveling too fast along the treacherous coastline in an attempt to make up speed. The inexperienced deck crew also took much of the blame, one boatswain stating that only five of the 14 crew members were competent in their duties.

The dead washed ashore for days. On August 10, the body of a girl about 25 years of age wearing a wrist watch bearing the initials R.G.H. and a lapel pin with the letters O.R.T. (Order of Railway Telegraphers) was found. Ruth’s sister, Julia Metzler of La Grande, traveled to Eureka to identify her body and bring it home.

Ruth Hart was laid to rest August 15, 1921, next to her parents at Olney Cemetery in Pendleton.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

1979 total eclipse wows Eastern Oregon

A large portion of the United States is gearing up for a total solar eclipse that will be visible from coast to coast on August 21, 2017. Beginning at 8:46 a.m. at Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport on the Oregon Coast, the eclipse will darken a more than 60-mile-wide swath of the state before moving on across the continent. Most of Central Oregon is in the path of totality, and it is estimated that a million people will travel to Oregon for its cloud-free viewing opportunities. And it will be the last time in our lifetime that Oregonians will be able to watch a total solar eclipse from home — the next one to cross the state won’t happen until June 2169.

The first known documentation of a total solar eclipse was made in China in 2137 B.C. Two Chinese astronomers, named Hi and Ho, were tasked with bringing back the light by banging drums and shooting arrows at the giant serpent they thought was swallowing the sun. However, they lost their focus during an unfortunate bout of heavy drinking, and lost their heads to the royal executioner as a result.

The last time Eastern Oregon was in the path of a total solar eclipse was Feb. 26, 1979. The eclipse began around 7:15 a.m., just as schoolchildren would have been on their way to school, and school districts around the area either delayed opening or opened early so kids would have supervision during the celestial event. Many districts geared the day’s lessons around the eclipse, making homemade viewers to safely view the sun as it was gradually covered by the moon’s shadow. The 1979 event was an annular eclipse, meaning the moon was a little further away and therefore did not completely obscure the sun’s corona, even at totality.

Local pilots loaded friends and family into their planes and took off from regional airports, seeking a vantage point above clouds that threatened to block the view. Hermiston residents cheered when a break in the cloud cover appeared just as totality was imminent. Other residents traveled to the nearest public observatory, in Goldendale, Wash., where more than a thousand people viewed the eclipse from atop a butte above the Columbia River. In Portland, people had to be satisfied with photos taken by others; their view was blocked by overcast skies.

Before 1979, the last total solar eclipse seen in Eastern Oregon occurred on June 8, 1918. And though Pendleton received 99.5 percent totality, many residents traveled south to Pilot Rock and east to Baker City to see the eclipse in its full glory. The naval observatory at Baker City photographed the eclipse using a 65-foot camera, the largest in the area.

Haven’t been able to score a set of eclipse glasses? You can make a homemade viewer with two pieces of cardboard, a piece of aluminum foil and tape. Cut a one-inch-square hole in the center of one sheet of cardboard and tape a piece of foil over the hole. Poke a tiny hole through the center of the foil with a sewing needle. To use the viewer, turn your back to the sun and place the cardboard viewer over your shoulder. Use the other piece of cardboard as a screen, moving it closer and farther away to make the image of the eclipsing sun larger or smaller.

Looking directly at the sun during a total solar eclipse, even for a short time, can permanently damage your eyesight, as 121 people discovered during an eclipse in 1970.