Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wily carp turn tables on young fisherman

You just can’t trust those Umatilla County carp.

A young fisherman plying the waters of McKay Reservoir outside of Pendleton was robbed, not once but twice, when he left his gear on the bank during a fishing trip in July 1938.

Craig Orange of Pilot Rock was fishing during an Izaak Walton excursion just before the 4th of July and left his pole on the bank with a baited hook in the water. A large carp grabbed the hook and dragged the boy’s entire setup into the water. Swimming furiously, the carp dragged the pole in a huge circuit around the reservoir, and when the fish dived the pole momentarily stood on end “in amusing periscope fashion.”

When the fish finished its circuit around the lake and swam past where the boy and his father, M.D. Orange, were standing Craig stripped off his clothes, dived in and dragged pole and fish out of the water.

But that wasn’t the end of the fishy tale. Another fish grabbed Craig’s pole when he again left it untended on the bank and dragged it even more vigorously out into the middle of the reservoir. This time, however, the pole disappeared for good.

Craig’s parting comment: “Heck, he was so big I probably couldn’t have held him anyway.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Grave-robbing leads to fears of satanic cult

Workers in a wheat field on Sept. 22, 1992, found a recently disturbed grave at the edge of the abandoned Bowlus Cemetery, less than three miles from Milton-Freewater. Police investigating the report discovered that the shallow grave of Robert Z. Williams, who died in 1929, had been disturbed and Mr. Williams’ skull removed from the grave. Officers believed it was the work of a satanic cult.

According to Capt. John Trumbo, who was Umatilla County undersheriff at the time, evidence of satanic activity had been found in several areas of northern Umatilla County in recent years, and Umatilla County Cpl. Keith Garoutte had identified cult drawings and artifacts and confiscated county property from a site used in satanic ceremonies. Garoutte knew of an active group of Satan worshippers in the Walla Walla area and had heard reports of another in the Weston area. He said rumors of cult activity in the Milton-Freewater area were common, and he knew of activity in both Hermiston and Umatilla.

Anyone can check a book out of the library, Garoutte said, and use what they wish in their own religious ceremony. And self-styled satanists can make it tough to identify a crime as part of satanic religion. Reports of mutilated animals in the 1980s led some to fear a satanic cult was at work in the area; however, since animals that die of natural causes are often mutilated by predators, it is impossible to determine whether the animals were, in fact, part of a ritualistic sacrifice.

Whether the stolen skull was the work of a satanic cult or just some kids messing around in a gruesome fashion was anyone’s guess.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Before it was a pageant, Happy Canyon was a place

The Happy Canyon Indian Pageant and Wild West Show is an integral part of the Pendleton Round-Up. Thousands attend the nightly shows during Round-Up week at the Happy Canyon Arena, tucked behind the Pendleton Convention Center and the Round-Up Grounds. Hundreds of volunteers make it happen, and the roles are frequently handed down through generations of families.

The first iteration of the pageant was written and directed in 1913 by Roy Raley, a local lawyer and cattleman who thought rodeo fans might want something fun to do after the day’s rodeo was done. It was originally a vaudeville-type show, and was held in a temporary pavilion made to look like a frontier town near Main Street; it featured what is now the second act of the famous pageant. The show moved to its first permanent building in 1916, the year Raley and Anna Minthorn Wannassay wrote the pageant as it is now known. It has remained generally the same for the last 98 years.

But before Happy Canyon was a pageant, or even a vaudeville production, it was a well-loved place on the Umatilla River between Echo and Pendleton. According to an article in the Sept. 14, 1914 East Oregonian: “The real ‘Happy Canyon’ is that part of the Umatilla river lying between Barnhart and the old Jack Morton place a mile below Nolin. For a matter of 44 years it has borne that name, which is a monument to the happy times which a settler of that community had in the days when civilization was young here. A. W. Nye, one of the oldest pioneers of this city, is one of the two or three living persons who can tell the story of those happy times and of the christening of the community. The name was attached to the valley in the winter of 1868, according to his story. The settlers up and down the river between the points before mentioned had a dancing club which met each week at one of the houses. One evening at the conclusion of a dance which had been particularly enjoyed, Mr. Nye’s brother-in-law, Mr. Angel, moved that the valley be christened Happy Canyon and the motion carried with a whoop. Ever since then it has borne the name.”

Another article, in the Sept. 24, 1914 edition, has a slightly different story. Nolin was a social center as well as halfway point for freighters traveling from Umatilla Landing and either Pendleton or Pilot Rock. A race track several hundred yards long paralleled the road, separated by a rail fence that terminated near the base of the cliff that faces the river near Nolin. Settlers and freighters alike vied for cash and bragging rights. One particular day the stakes between two prominent stock raisers were quite high (between $40 and $60) and the excitement had been heightened by the addition of a keg of free liquor near the track. Two men began to argue, and the disagreement was punctuated with gunfire. Quite a crowd had gathered when the argument began, but scattered when the guns were displayed. Some people took cover behind the rail fence but a larger group made “an undignified effort to circle the fence in order to get to the bluff.” According to the article, “When pandemonium reigned supreme some individual who had been enjoying the day from the secure cliff top yelled, ‘Hurrah for Happy Canyon!’ From that time on Happy Canyon was the name it was known by.”

Whichever story holds the true origin of the name, Happy Canyon was indeed a memorable place for early settlers. Raley banked on the good memories to support the early show, and Happy Canyon has been as much a part of Round-Up as the famous rodeo ever since.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Cavemen invade Pendleton for bull-riding showdown

Pendleton’s Main Street Cowboys put on a week-long show on four blocks of Main Street during the Pendleton Round-Up each year. Music, comedy and magic fill stages on every block, with something different happening every hour from 2 p.m. through midnight Wednesday through Saturday. These days the Main Street show during Round-Up is a little tamer than it used to be; some residents can remember when the Cowboys staged a mock gunfight on Main Street as part of the show, complete with men falling out of windows and such. The Cowboys also used to greet celebrities and other important visitors throughout the year — sometimes on horseback with guns (loaded with blanks) blazing — as official representatives of the Round-Up City.

As part of the 1957 Round-Up celebration, Pendleton was invaded by a group of cavemen from Grants Pass intent on a bull-riding showdown with the Cowboys. Bill Foster, president of the Main Street Cowboys, received a telegram from the Oregon Cavemen challenging the Cowboys to a bull-riding duel during Round-Up. “Cavemen very disturbed at Main Street Cowboys’ boasting. We riders of the dinosaurs challenge you to a bull ride, bulls being small compared to dinosaurs, thus making this a very safe bet.” The Cavemen wagered a priceless “sabre-tooth tiger skin” against Pendleton’s best spotted calf hide, claiming five to one odds in their favor.

Once the challenge was accepted, the posturing began. Rushing to the aid of the Cowboys were the La Grande Blue Mountain Boys, who offered their squirrel rifles to back up the Cowboys “if the cave critters git out of hand.” When the Cavemen cried foul, the Cowboys countered that they had heard the Cavemen had enlisted the help of the Lone Ranger and a secret weapon (a trained skunk). An attempt by the Cavemen to enlist the help of the Sixth Army Bagpipers was unsuccessful.

The Cavemen’s dinosaur riding champion, Princess Lulu Smith, was kidnapped by the Cowboys prior to the bull-riding battle, allegedly for her own protection. “Any Westerner ought to know a dinosaur is a lazy, half-dead beast and a bull is a high-spirited animal,” said Foster. Cavewomen captured a Cowboy in retaliation, but he was liberated the following night after a rooftop gun battle. The Cavemen were still searching for Princess Lulu as they participated in the Westward Ho! Parade at the wrap-up of the festivities, bashing heads along the way (presumably with foam clubs).

Without their champion, the bull-riding contest was a bust; the Cavemen did, however, take time from their search to visit local service clubs to exchange greetings and mementos between the two cities.

As for the Lone Ranger? Clayton Moore, the man who played the original Lone Ranger on the TV series, was scheduled to appear during the 1957 Round-Up, including an appearance on Main Street. Thousands of youngsters showed up, only to be disappointed when he slipped out the side door of the Temple Hotel in street clothes. When Moore appeared during the televised portion of the finals on Saturday, he was greeted with more boos than cheers, and later apologized for what he called “a horrible misunderstanding.”