Wednesday, November 30, 2016

December flood inundates Pendleton

The frontier town of Pendleton, first settled in the 1860s and incorporated in 1880, was almost swept away in December 1882 when incessant rains and warmer than usual temperatures created flood conditions that sent the Umatilla River over its banks.

The “sudden and unexpected calamity” began with warm rains early in the week, and by the afternoon of Dec. 13 some of Pendleton’s residents were beginning to worry about the rapid rise of the river. Most, though, expected a small amount of flooding as had happened in previous years. As the evening progressed and the water continued to rise, some families moved to higher ground or into the upper stories of downtown buildings and the Umatilla County Courthouse, while others scoffed and stayed put.

By the early morning hours of Dec. 14, downtown Pendleton was a rushing torrent of water. Townspeople raced frantically about, seeking shelter or trying to help their friends and neighbors. Men on horseback or driving wagon teams ferried goods and people, and those on foot forded streets through sometimes chest-high water. Frightened animals were raising a din, and dozens of drunken men staggered up and down the inundated sidewalks and shouted. The main bridge across the river was swept away by a combination of water, dead and dying animals, farm equipment and the wrecks of houses. One house was reported to have floated down the river with lights still burning inside.

The flood reached its peak at 6 a.m. and remained at that stage for three or four hours, after which it subsided as quickly as it had risen. In the aftermath, it was found that in the parts of town closest to the river only three houses were still on their foundations. And while no lives were lost in the flood, some had close calls. Dr. Aubrey and Fount Perry and their families found themselves afloat, but fortunately the house lodged against a large tree. They cut a hole in the siding and climbed out into the tree, where they were rescued several hours later by men in boats.

Railroad work crews also spent most of two days clinging to the upper branches of trees or, in one case, on the roof of the Bradley residence at Happy Canyon near Nolin. A Chinese labor camp downriver from Pendleton was completely washed away. Railroad tracks and trestle bridges were destroyed, severing communications between Pendleton and its neighbors, and while the O.W.R. & N. Railroad continued to carry passengers and mail on a limited basis, in some areas they had to use boats to skirt washed-out portions of the line.

Looters also took advantage of the chaos and helped themselves to clothing and household items left behind in wrecked homes.

By the following week, after cleanup efforts began, damage estimates ranged from $80,000 to $100,000, or approximately $1.75-$2.2 million in 2016 dollars — considerably less than the original damage estimates by some of up to $1 million in 1882 dollars.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Post-Pearl Harbor blackout practice a success

In the days following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces, tensions were understandably heightened on the Pacific Coast. Even before the fateful attack, cities like Portland staged practice blackouts to prepare citizens for a possible attack on U.S. soil.

Pendleton staged a 15-minute blackout trial run on Dec. 10 to judge the speed at which Pendleton could plunge itself into total darkness. The downtown fire siren and the whistle at Harris Pine Mills gave two five-minute-long blasts at 7:30 p.m. to signal the blackout, and within three minutes virtually 100 percent of the city had gone dark. Mayor C.L. Lieuallen revealed that only 30 people out of a population of about 12,000 had to be warned by wardens to turn out their lights.

From nearby hills, observers commented that the blackout was so quick and complete that it looked as if the city had dropped into an abyss. But cars approaching Pendleton ringed the blacked-out town, and even though drivers were required to turn out their headlights when entering the city limits, officials admitted it was an issue that would require further thought. Blue cellophane placed over headlights did little to mask them, lighting up the street for several blocks, and even a carelessly lit match or the burning end of a cigarette stood out like a beacon.

Pendleton residents took pride in the success of the blackout practice, even chastising their neighbors when lights were not snuffed promptly. And the only two people who gave wardens an argument about turning off their lights were said to be under investigation “to determine whether or not they are good Americans.”

The blackout ended at 7:45 p.m. when street lights were turned on as a signal that the practice run was over.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Milton-Freewater teen reigns as Miss Oregon

Marjean Langley of Milton-Freewater took the crown during the 1968 Miss Oregon Pageant in Seaside, representing Umatilla County. After taking top honors for the state Langley also traveled to Atlantic City, N.J., to compete for the highest honor in American pageantdom, Miss America. She was named third runner-up.

Marjean came away from the Miss America pageant with $3,500 in scholarships, a new wardrobe, and a car donated by Oldsmobile. But the down-to-earth 19-year-old daughter of Gene and Marjorie Langley hadn’t lost her “relax and have fun” philosophy, and was happy to wash off all the makeup required for pageant appearances and photo shoots.

She returned to Milton-Freewater after the Miss America pageant to prepare for her year representing the state of Oregon. She visited with a crowd of city residents at the Rotary Club meeting to talk about her planned appearances as Miss Oregon, including visits to hospitals, civic groups and high schools, and the possibility to join Miss America and other runners-up on a USO tour. “I’m practicing some soft shoe dance routines for these appearances,” she said. She also stopped by McLoughlin Union High School to tell the student body about her trip, and the First Christian Church, where she had been an active member, to see friends attending a district meeting of the Oregon Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Marjean also expressed her heartfelt thanks to the community that supported her through her pageant run. “You can’t know how much it meant to come in every evening after the events at Atlantic City and find all those heartfelt message, wires, notes, flowers. ... I knew you were all behind me and that I wasn’t ‘on my own.’”

The Langley family planned to find a homelike apartment in Portland for the duration of Marjean’s year as Miss Oregon. Following her reign Marjean planned to return to Linfield College, where she was studying to become social worker for children with physical disabilities.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Stanfield couple’s stolen jewelry mysteriously returned

Longtime Stanfield residents Norman Stewart Jr. and his wife Beverly were understandably distraught when valuable and irreplaceable jewelry was stolen from their home in October of 1991. They were astonished when, less than a month later, the jewelry mysteriously reappeared in the drawer from which it had been taken.

The Stewarts’ story appeared in Al Donnelly’s “Pokin’ Around” column in the Nov. 25, 1991, East Oregonian. The jewelry was taken during a burglary of the Stewart home from a dresser drawer in the couple’s bedroom, where Norman kept his T-shirts. Some of the items were antiques, and irreplaceable. The Stewarts called the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office to report the burglary, and offered a sizeable reward for the return of their property. They also took out display ads in the local newspapers.

Then in mid-November, the Stewarts returned home one evening to find the jewelry had been replaced in Norman’s T-shirt drawer — every single piece.

Beverly Stewart wasn’t quite sure why the thief or thieves brought the jewelry back to them, but she had her suspicions. The sheriff’s office had narrowed a list of suspects to just a few, and were talking about lie detector tests to put pressure on them.

Once an honorary member of the sheriff’s office, Beverly had let her membership lapse over the years. But, she said, “I’ll tell you, I’ll be doing it now.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Coffee lovers buy into Stumbo Strip

A 1956 land feud between Oregon state officials and members of the Stumbo family in Azalea, Ore., in the mid-1950s made local news when a Pendleton coffee klatch bought one of the infamous quit-claim deeds central to the dispute.

The Pendleton Coffee Club, a loose association of some 30 men who met at the Oregon Cafe for many years, came into possession of the deed for a four-square-inch piece of U.S. Highway 99 in Douglas County on Dec. 3, 1956. The deed, one of about 200, cost the club $2.

According to an April 23, 2011, article in the Oregonian by John Terry, the Stumbo clan began its residence in Douglas County in the late 19th century when Samuel Stumbo, a Civil War veteran, claimed a 160-acre plot on the Cow Creek watershed. Stumbo build a sawmill on the property, but had to buy a strip of land 16.5 feet wide across a neighbor’s property to access it. Ownership of the strip eventually passed to his grandsons Bob, Allan and Harry Stumbo and a cousin, Clair. The Stumbos learned in 1956 that when the Oregon Highway Department bought right of way on either side of their property in 1946 during improvements to Highway 99, they had neglected to acquire title to the strip of land. Over a few beers at the Wolf Creek Tavern, the brothers decided on an additional plan of action after receiving a bill of $1.50 for delinquent taxes for the strip.

On Aug. 12, 1956, the “Stumbo Strip,” as it was called, featured a large sign that warned access to the property could be revoked at any time. The brothers then strung a thick rope along the strip — across Highway 99 — which backed up traffic 400 deep on each side. The brothers passed out handbills claiming that, in order to repossess the land, it was necessary to temporarily close the road. They took down the sign and the rope 30 minutes later before state police arrived.

The following day, the Stumbos filed an application with the county to designate the strip a toll road. The state responded by offering the brothers $100 for the strip, plus interest from 1946. The brothers promptly listed the property with a real estate broker, touting the “highway frontage on two sides” and that it was located “at the end of the longest dead-end street in the West.”

When the state threatened to have the property condemned, the Stumbos “subdivided,” selling the four-square-inch sections for $2 each, $1.50 of which would go for the county filing fee and the rest to charity. The brothers reasoned that a bunch of costly condemnation suits would deter the state from acting on the case. The state threw Bob Stumbo in jail overnight for selling subdivision land before the plat was filed. The case was later dismissed.

During the condemnation hearing, where the Stumbos asked for $250,274 for the strip of land, the judge ruled that all the quit-claim deeds could be handled as one and the Douglas County Circuit Court awarded the clan $125. The state got the Stumbo Strip, and the brothers lost their appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The Pendleton Coffee Club hadn’t decided exactly what to do with their new property, but member Red Browns planned to record the deed while visiting Douglas County during the Christmas holidays. It was the first real property owned by the group, whose only other possession consisted of a golf trophy a team of its members won several years before at the Pendleton Country Club.