The Redmond spokesman. (Redmond, Crook County, Or.) 1910-current, February 24, 2021, Page 5, Image 5

Below is the OCR text representation for this newspapers page. It is also available as plain text as well as XML.

Shipwreck became a massive, drunken looting party
Offbeat Oregon
On the morning of Nov. 5,
1915, at the back of the en-
trance to Coos Bay, a big
steamship could be seen tower-
ing improbably over the beach,
stuck fast in the sand close to
This was the Santa Clara, a
233-foot steamer on the Port-
land-San Francisco run.
The Santa Clara didn’t much
look like the scene of a human-
itarian disaster, jutting out of
the sand nearly plumb and level
and nearly high and dry — but
appearances were deceiving.
Sixteen people died trying
to get ashore when she first
struck, three days before.
Nor did the wreck scene look
like a very likely place for a
massive, boozy free-for-all mob
rampage … but a little later on
that day, after a small army of
looters swarmed aboard and
found she was carrying a cargo
of whiskey, things would be dif-
Here’s how the wreck of the
Santa Clara — arguably the
most tragicomic maritime di-
saster in Oregon history —
went down:
In the afternoon of Nov. 2,
1915, the Santa Clara was on her
regular run from Portland to
San Francisco. She was making
her scheduled stop at Coos Bay,
where a large cargo of shipments
consigned to Marshfield and
North Bend merchants would
be offloaded along with several
dozen of her complement of
about 60 passengers.
But as she made the turn into
the mouth of the bay, some-
thing happened to the steering
gear. Captain August Lofst-
edt had called for a 55 degree
turn, but the best the ship could
do was 15. The ship was now
headed straight for South Spit.
Lofstedt called for full power
astern, hoping to pull the ship
back in time.
He was too late. The ship left
the channel and struck some-
thing hard, evidently an un-
derwater basalt reef — then the
heavy seas lifted her over the
obstacle and she was wallowing
in deeper waters for the mo-
ment, just inside the mouth of
the bay but still in unprotected
Lofstedt called for the power
to be reversed: All ahead full.
Whatever they’d hit was let-
ting a lot of water into the hull,
and it was crystal clear to him
that the ship was doomed.
He wanted her as close to the
beach as he could get her, so the
passengers could be saved.
The big steamer churned up
to the beach and shuddered to
a stop, still outside the line of
breakers. The seas were high
and rough — the waves started
pounding her into the sand.
Things started cracking and
Submitted photo/Coos History Museum
The steamship Santa Clara stands almost high and dry on the beach at the mouth of Coos Bay early in the day on Nov. 5, 1915, surrounded by on-
lookers and would-be looters.
breaking below.
Lofstedt then, in the pressure
of the moment, made what was
almost certainly the worst mis-
take of his life — he gave an or-
der to abandon ship.
What followed was a nearly
unmitigated disaster. The first
lifeboat pulled straight for
the beach, hit a rock, and was
somersaulted over by the next
breaker. Men, women and chil-
dren struggled for life’s breath
in the cold, roiling water. Some
of them made it to shore. Some
of them didn’t.
The other lifeboats made it
through the surf and onto shore,
all except for the last one — the
one into which Lofstedt had
stepped after seeing everyone
off the ship. This lifeboat flipped
over almost immediately after
launch. Lofstedt and the others
struggled around to the lee side
of the wreck and managed to
climb back aboard the hulk.
And there they spent a more
comfortable night than the sur-
vivors on shore did. The spot
where the boats landed was
not far from Marshfield (as the
town of Coos Bay was then
named), but it was very re-
mote, and the road to town was
long, muddy, and awful. Rain
poured down all night long,
and the only shelter available
was a fishing-club cabin with a
tiny, inadequate woodstove and
a single kerosene lantern for
light. Some 45 survivors packed
into it. They brought the bod-
ies of the dead and the uncon-
scious and tried to revive them,
mostly unsuccessfully. Those
close to the outer walls shivered
in the damp cold.
The next day was almost as
bad. The cabin in which the
survivors had taken shelter was
Crossword on Page 2
only accessible by a long, slip-
pery walking trail that led to
a long, slippery, winding dirt
road — 18 miles long — to
Marshfield. And after a night
of heavy November rains, the
road was a bog. At least 20 au-
tomobiles got stuck on it trying
to reach the scene.
Meanwhile, the pound-
ing breakers were driving
the stranded ship higher and
higher on the shore. By the
time they’d finished their work,
the wreck was so high up on
the beach that it was possible to
wade ashore at low tide. Ironi-
cally, if the passengers and crew
had stayed aboard to ride it
out, it’s almost certain that they
would have all been fine. They
might not even have had to get
their feet wet walking ashore.
A day went by. Then word
started getting around that the
Marshfield merchants, who
had initially thought their
shipments were covered by
the steamship’s insurance pol-
icy, were probably completely
out of luck. Naturally, their
thoughts quickly turned to
wondering if they would be
able to salvage any of it from
the stranded ship.
On the beach, the ship was
still being pounded hard by
breakers at high tide. Sooner
or later it would probably
break up — its hull was, after
all, made of wood — and ev-
erything would be gone. But
maybe, they thought, maybe
there was still time to salvage
some of it.
They reached out to the pres-
ident of the shipping line with a
telegram. He didn’t reply.
Meanwhile, Lofstedt and
his officers had moved back
onto the ship. There was about
$50,000 worth of cargo on
board, and if it were fully aban-
doned, it would be vulnerable
to a salvage claim if someone
else managed to take possession
And their fears weren’t un-
justified. Word had gotten
around that the shipwreck was
loaded with valuable cargo,
and there was a large encamp-
ment of local residents nearby
waiting for a chance to get at
it — either by waiting for the
ship to break up and scaveng-
ing goods up off the beach, or
— for the more assertive — by
simply boarding the wreck and
looting it.
Another day went by without
word from the shipping com-
pany, and the business owners
started talking about actually
forcing their way aboard ship to
salvage their cargo.
Finally, on the third day, just
as the business owners had de-
cided to do just that, the own-
ers replied to the telegram:
“Consignees may go aboard
Santa Clara and remove any
cargo that may be saved,” they
wrote. “It will be necessary to
thoroughly guard and prevent
any pilferage by unauthorized
parties. Keep an accurate ac-
count of everything removed
for future adjustment between
the underwriters and the own-
ers. Captain Lofstedt will assist
and represent us.”
Trouble was, it was all well
and good to urge a “thorough
guard” and request an “accurate
account.” Making those things
happen was going to turn out
to be something of a “you and
whose army” kind of propo-
Saturday Vigil 5:00 pm
First Saturday 8:00 am (English)
Sunday 8:00 am, 10:00 am (English)
12:00 noon (Spanish)
Richard Dale Johnson
of Sunriver, OR
St Thomas Roman Catholic
Pastor Duane Pippitt
1720 NW 19th Street
Redmond, Oregon 97756
Father Todd Unger, Pastor
Mass Schedule:
Weekdays 8:00 am
(Except Wednesdays)
Wednesday 6:00 pm
Confessions on Wednesdays
From 5:00 to 5:45 pm and on
Saturdays From 3:00 to 4:30 pm
Highland Baptist Church
3100 SW Highland Ave., Redmond
Barry Campbell, Lead Pastor
Sunday gathering times:
9AM Blended,
10:30AM Contemporary,
6PM Acoustic
Ways you
can support
Thelma’s Place:
• Vehicle donations
• Cash donations
• Sponsorships
• Volunteer
How can hbc pray for you?
For the most current information
for Bible study and worship:
Seventh Day Adventist
945 W. Glacier Ave.,
Redmond, OR
United Church of Christ
All Peoples
United Church Of Christ
Serving all of Central Oregon
We are open and affirming,
and just peace.
All Peoples meets for digital
worship services due to the
Covid-19 viral outbreak.
You are welcome to join us!
See the APUCC website.for details.
Web site: https://www.allpeoples-ucc.
Advertise your worship
listing today!
New advertisers get 2 weeks free.
Your support makes a difference!
Redmond: 541-548-3049
Day Respite and Support Groups
Sabbath School 9:30 am
Worship 10:45 am
Sudoku on Page 2
May 9, 1949 - Feb 11, 2021
Autumn Funerals of Red-
mond is honored to serve
the family. 541-504-9485
Memories and condolenc-
es may be expressed to
the family on our website
A celebration of life will
take place at a later date.
Contributions may be
made to:
Partners in Care Hospice
2075 NE Wyatt Ct., Bend,
OR 97701
Redmond Assembly of God
6:30 p.m.–Worship Service
Adult Classes
Youth–Middle School
Sources: Archives of the Coos Bay Times
and Portland Daily Journal, 03 Nov – 03
Dec 1915;, Law
and Order at the End of the Oregon
Trail, a book by Ken and Kris Bilderback
published in 2015; FBI Law Enforcement
Bulletin, Nov. 1947 and Jul. 1949;
archives of Portland Morning Oregonian
and Portland Journal, 1948-50
Finn J.D. John teaches at Oregon State
University and writes about odd tidbits
of Oregon history. His book, Heroes and
Rascals of Old Oregon, was recently
published by Ouragan House Publishers.
To contact him or suggest a topic: finn@ or 541-357-2222.
March 27, 1966 - Feb 5,
Arrangements Entrusted
To: Redmond Memorial
Chapel; 541.548.3219.
Please visit www.redmond- to view full
Obituary when available &/
or leave a thought, mem-
ory, or condolence for the
A Celebration of Life is
planned to be held for
Terry at Highland Baptist
Church, Sat., Feb. 20th,
2021, 1:00PM
Contributions may be
made to:
A local Veteran’s Charity of
your choice
Roman Catholic
7 p.m.–Celebrate Recovery
Celebration Place the Landing
e e
Melody June Harvey
of Redmond, OR
Assembly of God
9:00 & 10:30 a.m.–Morning Worship
6 p.m.–Evening Gathering
Youth–Senior High
Finish this story online at
Terry W. Holmes
of Redmond, OR
Worship Directory
1865 W Antler • Redmond
The businessmen and their
hired helpers chartered a boat
to take them to the scene. They
presented their permission cre-
dentials to the captain, who
stepped aside and let them
come aboard.
When the encamped looters
saw the businessmen and help-
ers being allowed aboard the
ship, they thought this signaled
that the shipping company had
finally given up and was aban-
doning the wreck to its fate. So,
naturally enough, they surged
forward en masse to grab their
share of the loot.
There was probably a mo-
ment at which the captain and
crew could have discouraged
them with a couple of careful
rifle shots, but the attack seems
to have caught them entirely
Soon the ship was full of
men, all strangers to the ship’s
officers, grabbing boxes and
hustling them to the rails and
flinging them into the sea.
Other men and boys were fish-
ing the boxes out and hustling
them up on the beach, mak-
ing little piles of booty watched
over by women and children.
And then … someone found
the whiskey.
Lots of whiskey. Cases and
cases of bonded liquor, no
doubt consigned for some un-
fortunate local merchant. And
after that, there was no shutting
the party down.
“The merchants saved little
of their goods and were soon
forced out of the running by the
pirates,” the Coos Bay Times re-
ported in the next day’s edition.
“All last night the looting went
on in one mad orgy. Case after
case of whiskey was broached
and the beach was covered with
swaying men.”
“At one o’clock it is reported
there was a regular riot on
the sands,” the article contin-
ues (under an eye-catching
sub-headline reading “HAVE
DRUNKEN RIOT”); “and a
hurry call was sent for the Coast
Guard in the hope that they
might be able to still things.”
One might think this was a
situation that would call for a re-
sponse from law enforcement.
The problem was, there was no
law enforcement agency willing
to get involved. The hoped-for
Coast Guard intervention didn’t
happen. The sheriff claimed his
jurisdiction ended at the high-
tide line. Someone sent a plea for
help to the U.S. Marshals Service
in Portland, and the marshals
claimed they didn’t have juris-
diction either, and referred the
increasingly frantic merchants to
the state government. The Ore-
gon State Police did not yet ex-
ist, so there was no help coming
from that quarter either.
Call Rachel Liening
at 541-617-7823
to place your ad today!
March 29, 1939 -
February 17, 2021
Baird Funeral Home of
Bend is honored to serve
the Johnson family. Please
visit our website,, to share
condolences and sign our
online guest book.
A Celebration of Life will
take place at a later date.
Contributions may be
made to:
Bend Humane Society
( or
Deschutes Land Trust
Beatrice “Bea” Mae
of Bend, OR
April 14, 1932 -
February 13, 2021
Baird Funeral Home of
Bend is honored to serve
the King family.
Please visit our website,, to share
condolences and sign our
online guest book.
Carol Jean Moore
of Bend, OR
August 15, 1949 -
February 19, 2021
Baird Funeral Home of
Bend is honored to serve
the Moore family. Please
visit our website,, to share
condolences and sign our
online guest book.
Arthur Norman Gwin
of Redmond, OR
Cameron Michael Petz
of Redmond, OR
Feb 21, 1944 - Feb 15,
Autumn Funerals, Red-
mond 541-504-9485 www.
Services will be held at a
later date.
Feb 14, 1976 - Feb 09,
Autumn Funerals, Red-
mond 541-504-9485 www.
A Celebration of life will be
held at a later date.