Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Blue Mountains may extend to Idaho

A story in the July 9, 1987 East Oregonian speculated that the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon, commonly thought to extend from Dayton, Washington, to John Day, Oregon, may actually extend as far east as Idaho and include some of the state’s most iconic peaks.

The gentle slopes of the Blue Mountains are in stark contrast to the rugged peaks of the Wallowas and Elkhorns in the northeast corner of Oregon. But most geologists and science writers would include the Elkhorns near Baker, the Strawberries near John Day, the Wallowas and even the Seven Devils range in western Idaho as part of the Blues. And it all has to do with plate techtonics, the motion of land masses that move across the globe on a sea of molten lava far beneath the crust.

According to the theory, one of those pieces of the floating shell, the North American plate, has been colliding with and, in places, overriding the heavier Pacific plate for millions of years. The movements of the plates in relation to each other has, in the case of the Elkhorns and Wallowas, created massive mountain ranges where the North American plate has scraped up features from the Pacific plate, a process called accretion. Studies indicate that the Wallowas were at one time volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. Geologists think that the Elkhorns, including the Anthony Lakes area, were pieces of the ocean floor. And as more pieces of the Pacific plate stack up on the North American plate the coastline — once found in western Idaho, then central Oregon — continues to move westward.

The Blues have a more complicated history. As the Pacific plate is driven (subducted) under the North American plate it melts, re-emerging as lava through thousands of fissures and volcanoes. The Columbia River Basalts, lava flows that covered more than 15,000 square miles in only a week, at depths of up to two miles, occurred sometime between six and 16 million years ago. And for reasons as yet unknown to scientists, the basalts folded in places and formed the hills and valleys familiar to Eastern Oregon residents.

Stan Prowant, a geology professor at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton in 1987, suggested that the Blue Mountains actually should be called the “Blue Holes.” Familiar features such as the Blue Mountain Anticline, which extends from central Oregon to the Meacham area, and the smaller Rieth Anticline just west of Pendleton, are examples of the upward folds caused by this geologic action. And Pendleton and Pilot Rock lie along the Agency Syncline, a downward fold in the basalts.

And geologic activity continues in the Blues. Earthquakes shake the area an average of every 15 years, some registering 5 or higher on the Richter scale. And geologist Mark Ferns of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Resources in Baker suggested in the story that future lava flows would not be out of the question. “Troy would be a good place,” Ferns said. “That’s where the most recent flows originated.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Shifting sands reveal giant mastodon near Hermiston

Frank Swaggart, a rancher in the Westland district near Hermiston, unearthed what University of Oregon scientists said was the largest mastodon find in Oregon when shifting sands revealed whitened and fossilized tusks and bones on July 6, 1954.

Swaggart immediately called local amateur paleontologists Bob Buchanan, an insurance salesman; Frank Swayze, a retired banker; Kelly Tiller, a van operator; Walter Hamm, a retired druggist; and Frank Adams, an Arlington businessman, to investigate the find. The ancient creature partially uncovered in Swaggart’s initial diggings indicated a prehistoric pachyderm of massive proportions. One of the tusks measured nearly 8 feet in length, and a bone thought to be a femur, the upper leg bone, measured more than 3 feet long. The men left the find in place and called in scientists from the University of Oregon in Eugene to perform a proper investigation of the site, located about two miles north of the Umatilla ordnance depot.
A mammoth tusk and what is either an upper or lower jaw of a mastodon are studied by Bob Buchanan, Frank Swayze and Frank Swaggart, all of Hermiston, in this July 7, 1954 East Oregonian photo.
 A research trip to the Hermiston library revealed the creature likely grazed the site, a former lake, during the mid-Pliocene era about 5 million years ago. Once Dr. J. Arnold Shotwell, curator of U of O’s museum of natural history, and his assistant Huntley Alvey arrived at the scene on July 22, they verified the mastodon was one of the late-era two-tusk types (mastodons with four tusks also existed during the early Pliocene), and the largest specimen found to date in Oregon. They carefully made plaster casts of the beast’s skull and tusk and employed the help of West End volunteers to remove the remains for study and display in Eugene. Dr. Shotwell and Alvey also unearthed the remains of rhinoceros, camel, ground sloth and three-toed horse, also dating to the mid-Pliocene, near the mastodon find.

At the close of the official dig, the public was invited to visit the area, and encouraged to report any further significant finds.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Roommate argument leads to brutal beating death

A Pendleton man was beaten with an axe by his longtime roommate on their front porch after an argument in August 1930. He died minutes after police arrived.

On the night of August 10, 1930, James Jarnagan walked up to the Pendleton fire chief, W.E. Ringold, and confessed he had just killed his roommate, U.G. “Doc” Ruud. When Ringold brought Jarnagan to the Police Chief Charles Lemons, Jarnagan went on to relate, “He’s not dead yet, but he soon will be.”

Chief Lemons loaded Jarnagan into a police car and raced to the three-room home Jarnagan, 55, and Ruud, 63, had shared for many years just across the railroad tracks from the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds. They found Ruud sitting in a chair on the front porch, his feet perched on the porch rail, and his still-smoldering pipe beside him on the floor. He was unconscious but still breathing, though barely. An ambulance was called, but before it could arrive Ruud died of his injuries.

Jarnagan told his story the following morning at the police station in front of Chief Lemons and District Attorney C.C. Proebstel. He said he and Ruud were quarreling over cooking and alcohol, and that Ruud had struck him during a struggle. To defend himself, Jarnagan said, he grabbed a heavy axe and struck Ruud in the head several times with the blunt part of the axe head. He was not nervous during questioning and did not seem worried about the outcome of the case, but didn’t seem to remember many details of the incident.

Police were inclined to doubt Jarnagan’s story, however, considering Ruud’s body did not look like it had been involved in a struggle — rather, it looked as though Jarnagan had stolen up behind Ruud and launched a surprise attack while the older man was relaxing on the porch. Officers who guarded the crime scene overnight also discovered a hammer hidden in Jarnagan’s bed. And while Jarnagan claimed he had been drinking the night of the murder, no liquor was found in the house. The owner of the home, Jim Spencer, told authorities that Jarnagan had been told he would have to move out the day before the murder took place.

Jarnagan was charged with first-degree murder, and friends took up a collection to fund his defense. Dr. W.D. McNary, who had observed Jarnagan at the state hospital for a month following the murder, was asked about Jarnagan’s sanity during the trial. Dr. McNary said that while Jarnagan was indeed sane, his mental capacity left him unable to plot and carry out a deliberate murder.

A plea of guilty to second-degree murder was accepted by Judge Fee, and Jarnagan was sentenced to life in an institution.