Wednesday, March 25, 2015

WW II bomber crashes kill 14 near Pendleton, Boise

During World War II, Pendleton was a training site for bomber crews supporting the war effort in the South Pacific. A pair of crashes killed 14 men and injured two more on March 16, 1942, when B-17 Flying Fortress bombers went down between Pendleton and Boise, Idaho, during separate routine night training exercises from the Pendleton air base. A second crash happened just 10 days later, but all 10 crewmen parachuted to safety.

One of the B-17s crashed three miles southwest of Gowen Field, near Boise, at approximately 2:30 a.m. on March 16. Four men were killed in the crash, and two men were seriously injured. One of the flyers killed in the crash was 2nd Lt. Charles Hosford III, of Butler, Pennsylvania, the pilot of the bomber. The 25-year-old Hosford had been married just a month before in the Pendleton base’s chapel to Helen Pruitt of Pendleton, and celebrated his birthday the day before the crash took his life.

The second bomber crashed 20 miles south of Pendleton in the Blue Mountains, and salvage crews struggled through the snow to recover the wreckage and the bodies of the 10 crew members, who all perished instantly in the crash. The wreckage was strewn over a mile-wide area after the plane hit one ridge and then caromed across the canyon to the other side. Only parts of the tail and one wing were found intact.

A third Flying Fortress crashed shortly after takeoff on March 26, landing a half mile from the home of Jack Shafer, who owned a ranch six miles northeast of Pendleton, near Adams. Shafer first caught sight of the plane traveling at about 5,000 feet with smoke trailing from its motors. A few moments later the 10-man crew bailed out and parachuted safely to the ground. The plane then went into a left spiral and crashed to earth “like a ball of flame,” according to Shafer, strewing wreckage over a half-mile area. The first Army men to reach the crash site were six African American privates from an infantry division stationed at Walla Walla, who were en route to Walla Walla from Pendleton when the crash occurred. They took charge of the scene and stood guard duty until the crash crews could arrive from Pendleton Field.

On a lighter note, one of the sergeants involved in the March 26 crash complained, “With all that territory to land in, I had to light on a barbed wire fence and tear my pants.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Shower of rocks baffles police

Pendleton police were baffled when a resident of 1802 West Railroad Street [S.W. Frazer Ave.] reported a rain of rocks, pebbles and sticks falling onto the roof of their house, apparently out of thin air, on April 2, 1915.

The house was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Henderson Crowner, their daughter Helen and Eldon Hutchinson, the 16-year-old cousin of Mrs. Crowner. Sometime during the afternoon of April 2, Mrs. Crowner, Helen and Eldon heard what sounded like stones hitting the roof of the house. When they went outside to investigate, rocks ranging in size from pebbles to boulders were rolling off the slanted roof to the ground. A search turned up no one who could have been throwing rocks on the roof, and the shower continued while the investigation was being made, seemingly coming from all directions.

Alarmed, Mrs. Crowner called the police. Chief Kearney arrived soon afterward, but was unable to locate the cause of the shower. The barrage continued at intervals throughout the evening and the next morning, and the next day the police returned to continue their search for the source of the rocks, to no avail.

A neighbor, Ben Pierce, who lived at 501 Maple Street [S.W. 16th St.], was skeptical about the story until he witnessed it with his own eyes. Pierce described rocks rolling to the ground off both sides of the roof, but said he was unable to see any of the missiles until they were within a few feet of the roof. Sticks were also strewn about the roof. He went inside the house and found stones, chips and a handful of dirt that had come down the chimney. Another neighbor, Thelma Coffman, had a boulder the size of a man’s head land near her feet, but it hardly dented the ground. When another rock hit her in the head she “felt it no more than if it had been a feather bag.”

The house, a small three-bedroom building with no attic, sat by itself in the center of a large lot. High bluffs rose behind it about 50 feet away with several clumps of bushes at the base, but the police beat the bushes and found no one hiding there. According to neighbors, anyone throwing stones from that distance would have cracked the shingles, but no such damage was found on inspection of the roof. And there was no way for anyone to hide on the roof itself.

The incident frightened the house’s occupants so much that they refused to sleep there. A search of the East Oregonian archives did not turn up any information that the mystery was ever solved.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Celilo Canal opening includes wedding, christening

When the Celilo Canal was opened in the spring of 1915, it opened the Pacific Northwest to river shipping from the Pacific Ocean to Spokane, Washington, and Lewiston, Idaho. Prior to the building of the 8.6-mile-long canal and locks, movement of passengers and goods from points east of The Dalles on the Columbia and Snake rivers to Portland was difficult and dangerous, requiring passage over two sets of rapids and Celilo Falls or a tedious portage around them. And any large boat that traversed the dangerous narrows toward the sea had no way to return upstream.

The first steam ships traversed the new passage on April 28, 1915. The “Inland Empire” headed downstream carrying a cargo of 15,000 pounds of wool and the “J.N. Teal” steamed upstream with a load of chartered guests — the first ship ever to navigate that portion of the Columbia from west to east. The two ships passed in the lower lock amid pandemonium as the ships’ passengers and hundreds of others who had arrived by auto and the Portage railway celebrated the momentous occasion.

The steamer “Undine,” which had left April 29 to make the first continuous trip from Portland to Lewiston, arrived there on May 3 for a celebration that included the governors of Oregon, Idaho and Washington, a number of U.S. senators and representatives and many mayors and other local notables. On the return trip the “Undine” stopped at many communities to participate in festivities celebrating the opening of river shipping throughout the Inland Empire.

Pasco and Kennewick, Washington, combined for a celebration on May 4 that included an “allegorical wedding” of the Columbia and Snake rivers, complete with a bride (Kate Williams of Kennewick as “Miss Columbia”), a groom (Frank A. Jones as “Mr. Snake”), bridesmaids and groomsmen representing Spokane, Pendleton, Walla Walla and North Yakima, and Washington Sen. Wesley L. Jones to perform the ceremony. Following a parade in Pasco, the “wedding” was performed in a grove of trees on the Kennewick side of the confluence of the rivers.

Umatilla threw a huge party attended by hundreds of locals including most of the populations of Hermiston, Echo and Stanfield and 200 people who arrived from Pendleton and points east by special train. In addition to an inspection of the “Undine” and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ steamship “Asotin,” the celebration included a recreation of an attack by Indians on Fort Umatilla and an outdoor dance. Every home in Umatilla opened its doors to give beds to strangers attending the festivities. The “Undine” and “Asotin” continued downstream at 5:30 a.m. the next morning on the way to Big Eddy and the Celilo Canal ceremonies.

A highlight of the official opening ceremonies on May 5, attended by a reported 10,000 people, was the christening of the canal with water from cities on the Columbia River and each of its tributaries, including Astoria (Pacific Ocean); Lewiston (Snake); Pasco-Kennewick (Columbia); Pateros, Wash. (Methow); Okanogan, Wash. (Okanogan); Spokane, Wash. (Spokane); Kooskia, Idaho (Clearwater); Whitebird, Idaho (Salmon); Palouse, Wash. (Palouse); Walla Walla (Walla Walla); Pendleton (Umatilla); Bend (Deschutes); Hood River (Hood); Underwood, Wash. (White Salmon); Claskanie, Wash. (Claskanie); Kalama, Wash. (Kalama); Vale (Malheur); Kelso, Wash. (Cowlitz); Owyhee, Ore. (Owyhee); Warrenton (Youngs); Thompson, Mont. (Flathead); Portland (Willamette); John Day (John Day); Eugene (Mackenzie); Corvallis (Mary’s); Albany (Calapooia); Lebanon (Santiam); McMinnville (Yamhill); Oregon City (Clackamas); Willamette (Tualatin); Troutdale (Sandy); Washougal, Wash. (Washougal); Sand Point, Idaho (Pend d’Oreille); Bonners Ferry, Idaho (Kootenai); Buena Vista, Ore. (Luckiamute); and Lyle, Wash. (Klickitat).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Poker Jim outsharked in card game

One of Eastern Oregon’s most well-known Indian leaders, Poker Jim, died March 5, 1936, at his home on the Umatilla Indian Reservation after a cold turned into pneumonia. He was believed to be approximately 93 when he died. Long known as the chief of the Indian encampment at the Pendleton Round-Up from the very beginning, Poker Jim was a proponent of keeping his people’s old ways and was well known for the Fourth of July celebrations on the reservation that featured horse racing, gambling and traditional tribal dances. He was not a tribal chief on the Umatilla reservation but was the father of one of the most famous, Clarence Burke, and a great spiritual leader of his people.

Sap-Ut-Ka-Low-Nee (“White Swan”) was born near Wallula and was affiliated with the Walla Walla tribe. He was old enough to remember the Whitman Massacre, and was part of a group that tried to join Chief Joseph during the Nez Perce war to retain the Wallowa country in the late 1870s. He also served as a scout under Captain Collier during the Bannock Indian War in 1878. He was well known among the settlers in Pendleton and, when the inaugural Round-Up was planned in 1910, city leaders convinced Poker Jim to lead an Indian encampment as part of the festivities, an honor he retained for 25 years until his death.

Most who knew him agreed that before he lost his sight, Poker Jim could fleece just about anyone in a game of cards and it was said that was how he came to have his colorful moniker. One story of an attempted card-sharking appeared in the Sept. 22, 1916, East Oregonian Round-Up souvenir edition, as purportedly told by Colonel John Sims to Col. William Parker.

Col. Sims, no mean card player himself, happened to run into Poker Jim riding along the Snake River between Walla Walla and Asotin, Wash., sometime during the 1870s and was convinced to sit down for a game. Knowing Poker Jim’s reputation as a card player, Col. Sims went into the game vowing to bet carefully, lest he lose more than he could afford.

Poker Jim took a blanket from under the skirts of his saddle and laid it on the ground. When Sims offered his personal deck of cards for the game the Indian insisted on using his own pack that he produced from under the blanket, and to humor him Sims went along. When he looked over the pack, Sims noticed all four aces were in the deck and wondered what Poker Jim could possibly be holding back, since Sims figured there was a secret hand somewhere that would be produced in time for the big reveal. Sims managed to secure all four aces during the early betting stages and as the game wore on the betting went higher, until finally both men had wagered everything in their pockets, and their horses and tack to boot.

When time came for the draw, Sims instead turned over his hand, showing the four aces. Poker Jim glared at the cards, then gathered both hands up with the discard pile, shoved them under the blanket and, with a grunt, started back up the road to Asotin.

“I do not know to this day what the hand was he was prepared to spring on me,” Col. Sims related, “but have always thought it must have been another four aces.” Poker Jim, knowing he was caught if he revealed his hand, had simply acknowledged his loss with the best grace possible. The two never met again, but Sims never failed to chuckle at later stories of men who, thinking they could take advantage of him, were taken themselves by Poker Jim.