Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Search for Birch Creek treasure yields more questions than gold

Tales of buried treasure usually bring images of dashing pirates, tropical islands and gold doubloons. But even in the dusty scrub of Eastern Oregon, the lure of finding a cache of hidden booty has led to myth and legend.

One such story graced the pages of the East Oregonian on April 23, 1906. Local legend in the Pilot Rock area suggested a man had buried a fortune in 1864 while he lived on the Wilson place, formerly the “Skeedaddle” Smith ranch, south of Pilot Rock on Birch Creek. The man kept secret the location of his treasure until his death bed, when he divulged that he had buried an iron box containing $11,000 in gold dust and coins when he lived on the ranch. But because he had lived in several places, all efforts to find the gold came to nothing.

Enter J.H. Anderson, a storekeeper in the tiny town of Monument. Having heard the rumor of buried treasure, the story said, he traveled to Birch Creek and learned of the location of the old house on the Wilson place from Marion Smith, who had formerly lived there. The house had stood where the old emigrant road crossed the creek and, while the house had been gone for more than 20 years, a depression in the ground showed where the cellar had been — and it was there that Anderson started digging.

Anderson turned up in Pilot Rock that evening and at supper seemed very excited, though he didn’t talk about the day’s adventure. He returned home to Monument the next morning. The owner of the ranch, Mr. Wilson, went to the old homesite the next day to see what Anderson was up to. He found an iron box with the lid broken off beside one of three holes dug in the ground where the cellar had been. Locals figured Anderson was successful in his search for the legendary treasure.

But on May 10, the EO followed up the story with a denial by Anderson, who said the box contained nothing but a rusty mule shoe and a corroded ox bell, probably relics of the old emigrant days of 1851. Anderson said the home where the box was found was once the home of his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. J.S. Wilson, and he had spent time there during his boyhood. On one occasion, during the early mining days around 1865, his grandmother sent him to the cellar to level the dirt floor. In one corner Anderson found a spot that was higher than the rest, and he uncovered a large can containing an unknown amount of money. Fearing (as imaginative boys will) that an outlaw might force him to reveal the location of the cache, or kill him if he refused, Anderson reburied the can and told no one of his find.

Anderson said he had often wanted to revisit the old homesite and look for the buried gold, and that he made no secret of his discovery and his wish to return since moving to Monument in 1900.

Did Anderson find the hidden gold? His actions seem to point to his success, though certainly he saved himself some grief by his denial.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Echo cagers return from championship to empty town

The Echo High School boys basketball team emerged victorious in the Oregon State Class B basketball championships on March 14, 1953, beating the Elgin Huskies 67-42 in front of a huge home crowd at Willamette University. So many Echo residents attended the game that when the basketball team rolled back into town Sunday afternoon, the only people there to greet them were a handful of babysitters and Coach George DeLap’s wife.

The coach estimated between 400 and 500 people from Echo (population 457 in the 1950 census) and the surrounding area traveled to Salem to watch the tournament. Echo Mayor Al Swales said the town was as proud as it could be of the team, and related a conversation he overheard at the tournament. One man asked, “Where is this Echo?” A bystander replied, “Three fourths of it is in Salem now.”

The victorious teammates had played basketball together since they were in grade school, except for latecomer Jim Tolan. Bud Graham, Leward Collinsworth and Gary Dorn earned a place on the all-state first team. And Collinsworth was named tourney high scorer with 56 points, 21 of which were scored in the Saturday championship game.

The Echo squad won each game of the tournament decisively, beating Drain 58-42 and Chiloquin 57-36 on the way to the title game, capping their season with 30 consecutive wins. In the final tilt, DeLap pulled the first-stringers in the fourth quarter when the Cougars’ lead was 20 points with a minute to go; the second string widened the lead by 5.

At the end of the game, the team hoisted Coach DeLap on their shoulders, and Echo residents flooded the court in celebration of the first state championship in Umatilla County since Pilot Rock’s six-man football team landed on top of the heap in 1951.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Prankster hoists communist flag over U.S. capitol

A crowd gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., on May 7, 1936, to watch local law enforcement attempt to take down a communist flag that a prankster hosted over the capitol sometime during the previous night. The guard detail assigned to watch the building and a large contingent of metropolitan police struggled for an hour and a half before calling on local firefighters, one of whom teetered atop an extension ladder to torch the offending hammer-and-sickle flag.

It was unknown how the flag had been raised, since a five-man detail was patrolling the area around the 80-foot flagpole throughout the night. Police deduced that the flag had been raised sometime between 4 and 4:20 a.m., and a local newspaper reported receiving a call from an unidentified man shortly after that time reporting that he had seen the flag and asking what it meant.

The halyards securing the flag had been expertly knotted and tangled, and a stone was attached to one of the halyards and hoisted up the pole, where it banged against the metal staff “making a din like a large and very mournful bell.” A copy of the Lampoon, Harvard University’s humor magazine, containing the article “Down With Capitalism” was left at the base of the pole. The government mounted a city-wide hunt for the prankster responsible, without success.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Grapefruit — it's not just for breakfast any more

What's a bridge player to do when the latest fashions bare elbows that are discolored and flaky? Play on — with your elbows in grapefruit, of course.

An article in the Jan. 17, 1923 edition of the East Oregonian dispelled the notion that putting your elbows on the table was poor manners, at least while playing bridge. But women despaired of having their bridge partners see their elbows at anything but their best. The humble grapefruit came to the rescue.

Someone discovered that the juice of grapefruit is softening and bleaching when applied to the elbows, and it worked so well that a new fad started at bridge parties. Each woman was supplied with a grapefruit, cut in half, in which they placed their elbows during the game. Juggling cards with elbows buried in the teetering fruit was a tricky business, but the fad caught on and many women began bringing their own towels and goggles to matches.

Who knew that the delicious breakfast staple could double as a beauty product?