Spooky stories part of area's history
'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' might not hold a candle to some of the stories of the Mount Hood area. Just ask Michael P. Jones.
'The Oregon Trail has a lot of history and folklore,' said Jones, curator of the Cascade Geographic Society. 'There's the normal stuff that takes place, and then there's the not-so-normal. I've learned through oral history that you may give me a story today and 10 years later it turns out to be true.'
As a historian, Jones collects stories of the region, both - in his words - the accepted history (facts and figures) and the unaccepted history, or the folklore. He's even been known to take some brave individuals on tours of some of the area's eeriest places.
And now, with Halloween just around the corner, the region's paranormal history will be on everybody's mind, even if they ignore it the rest of the year.
'There are a lot of stories that you only talk about at Halloween,' Jones said. 'But they also happened during the summer time and winter. It's very convenient for us to talk about hem at Halloween.'
In the spirit of the season, Jones shared with us a story first published in 1940, and one of the most famous ghost stories of the area; the Ghost Treasure of Big Laurel Hill:
When the gold rush hit in 1861, towns literally sprung up overnight and a lot of people flocked here with gold fever. But the people who made money were not the people looking for gold. The prospectors paid big prices for supplies, so the people running the saloons and stores made a killing.
Along with the honest miners and prospectors, there were those who wanted to take advantage of others. This story begins with two outlaws in John Day. One tells his partner to hang back while he went into a saloon to size up a victim, an old-timer who was trying to buy whiskey on credit.
'I've got gold; big nuggets,' the old-timer said. 'I'm going to take it to Portland and sell it.'
The bartender refused, but the outlaw saw his opportunity and called the old-timer over and offered to buy him a drink. At first, the old prospector didn't say much, but four drinks later, his tongue started to loosen. He told the outlaw of two sacks with big gold nuggets, and that he was leaving the next morning, going over Mount Hood to Portland to sell all that he had. He said when he was done, he would buy a big house in the hills and officially retire.
The next morning, when the old-timer came over the hill on a mule with two sacks of gold, there were the two outlaws.
'What are you doing here?' the prospector asked.
'We're here to relieve you of your gold,' the first outlaw said and shot him dead.
The outlaws rounded up the gold and took off. They traveled toward Mount Hood and reached Big Laurel Hill (presently Laurel Hill) and the leader of the two turned to the other outlaw.
'I know we're being followed by a posse,' he said. 'You dig a whole, we'll bury it here.'
The second outlaw complied and started to dig.
'It's got to be deeper,' the first outlaw said.
The second kept digging - 4 feet, 5 feet, and finally hit 6 feet deep.
'That's good,' the first outlaw said. 'Now put the gold in.'
The second outlaw complied, but when he started to get out, the first one stopped him.
'I got to thank you,' the leader said. 'You've been loyal, but we've got a problem. There are two sacks of gold, and I've got two hands. There's nothing left for you.'
'You double-crosser,' the second outlaw shouted.
With the outlaw still in the hole he dug, the leader shot him right between the eyes and buried the gold and the body together.
'If somebody digs,' the outlaw thought, 'they'll find his body and think it's an immigrant and not dig any further.'
With that, the outlaw marked the grave in his mind and traveled on to Portland for a spell. After a couple days, he had just started to relax when an immigrant train arrived and passengers started talking about a lot of excitement on Big Laurel Hill. A number of people saw a guy come running out of the woods screaming about people staying away from the gold, and it looked like he was shot in the head. But it never even occurred to him that it might be his partner.
Another day passes, and the outlaw was just about to leave town when another train came in with passengers telling the same story. Then, a few weeks later, he's ready to get his gold and another train arrives with passengers telling the same story again.
The outlaw kept putting off returning and after a while, he met a lady and they got married and then had a son. Every so often, he'd think about returning to reclaim the gold, but every time he thinks about it, he hears the same story.
Years pass, and on his deathbed, the outlaw tells his son about his former life, the prospector, his partner and where the gold is. When the outlaw died, his son went up to Big Laurel Hill to search for the gold. He dug right where his father told him to and found nothing. He dug again, and found nothing. He continued to dig, but soon winter set in and he decided to return in the spring.
After he left, more people started reporting a crazy man who looked like he was shot running out of the woods screaming about gold. And to this day, people still claim to see the same thing.
Laurel Hill is well known to be a heavily active place for the paranormal, Jones said. He believes it may be linked to the number of deaths that occurred on the Oregon Trail, which could have been as many as one out of every 10 travelers.
'When you go there (Laurel Hill), the paranormal people say that's one of the most haunted places in Mount Hood,' Jones said. 'The wagon-shoot at early evening time, just as it starts to get dark, people see immigrants at the top of the hill, and even wagons crashing down the cliffs and they hear screaming. I get calls from people who claim they saw it. They even moved out of the way, but the wagon disappeared.'
'I believe the ghost stories associated with Mount Hood are better than anything Hollywood could dream up.'
For more information about our area's folklore and paranormal past, please contact the Cascade Geographic Society at 503-622-4798.