Shipwrecks, Pirates and Treasure on the Oregon Coast

In times past, the Pacific Northwest coast could easily be described as similar in nature to that of a tropical paradise. When the first European explorers appeared, to them the Pacific Coast was in its own way a garden of Eden. "A soft warm breeze fanned us", Canadian George Munro Grant wrote in Ocean to Ocean, in which he describes his voyage through Georgia Strait in the 1870's. ". . . and every mile disclosed new features of scenery, to which snow-clad mountain ranges, wooded plains, and a summer sea enfolding countless promontories and islands, contributed their different forms of beauty. 'The islands are composed of strata of sandstone and conglomerate; the sandstone at the bottom worn at the water line into caves and hollows; the conglomerate above forming lofty cliffs, wooded to the summits, and overhanging winding inlets and straits most tempting to a yachtsman." 

Although, the Pacific coast can certainly flex its muscle and spit out its fair share of strong squalls, robust gales, thick fog, blinding blizzards, and unforgiving  storms -- by and large, this ocean generally offers a favorable and gentle climate, particularly to the southeastern part of it's shore.  So much so that the early British travelers rightly boasted that it resembled southern England. 

While much has been written about the pirates of the "Spanish Main", the lesser known maritime history of Oregon's Pacific Coast is also rife with stories of maritime adventures including: piracy, smuggling, rum-running, mutinies, ghost ships, fur trading and Shanghai (crimping). 

The Number of shipwrecks along the pacific coast number in the thousands.  So many wrecks are not documented off our rugged coastline as wrecks were not officially documented until the 19th century.

There are stories from the Indians of buried treasure in the 1600's, before the arrival of Lewis and Clark.  Fur traders had routes on land and by sea, including the Hudson Bay Company.  In 1998 a burlap bag was found containing over 100 brass Hudson Bay Company coins dated 1670.  They were found up a local river in an abandoned lot.  Where did they come from? (see photos)

Additionally, the Pacific Fur Company traveled from the Oregon Coast and through the Rocky Mountains.  This discovery led to the hundreds of thousands of settlers traveling to Oregon and California.  These routes were later called the "westward expansion trails".

The Pacific Fur Company lost 2 ships laden with supplies - but where?  John Jacob Astor created his enterprise in Oregon, with trade stations along the coast.  Northwest Company was another fur trading company in Oregon that eventually merged with the Hudson Bay Company.

Why are the fur trading companies mentioned in an article about shipwrecks?  The fur companies traded furs for supplies, money, and gold. The fur companies also used ships which sailed up and down the Coastline.  With our strong seas, high winds, fog, and rocky shores, how many of them sank off our unforgiving coast? 

Spanish galleons ~ Up until about 300 years ago the Spanish empire, with the largest ships of its time, ran fleets of Spanish galleons up and down the Pacific Coast.  It was thought until recently that the galleons would follow trade winds up the coastline, then use the Japanese current from Northern California. It turns out that many galleons actually went further north before catching the circular Japanese current.  It wasn’t uncommon for the galleons to run off course by hundreds of miles. 

Just north, Indians witnessed Spaniards unloading treasure and cargo, and burying it in Manzanita on Neahkahnie mountain.  The Spaniards killed a slave and put the body on top of the treasure, knowing the Indians wouldn’t touch a burial site.  The treasure has not been found to this day.  So how often did this happen?  This story is hundreds of years old, before the settlers arrived at the coast. Galleons sank between 1570 and 1815, leaving much treasure on the ocean floor. 

One of the world’s most famous pirates, Sir Francis Drake, roamed the Oregon Coast waters and in 1579 hid out on the Oregon Coast for quite some time.  Sir Francis Drake would raid and plunder Spanish galleons, Sometimes taking a week to unload the treasures from these 2,500 ton, 4 story, 100 gun galleons only to burn it when completely unloaded.  Wikipedia mentions on march 1, 1579, Sir Francis Drake’s English galleon “The Golden Hind”  forced the Spanish galleon “Nuestra Sonora De La Comcepcion”  onto the beach and took six days to unload all its treasures, including 360,000 freshly minted pesos from south American Inca silver mines.   

Sir Francis Drake also beached the “Cacafuego” carrying eighty pounds of gold, thirteen chests of pieces of eight, twenty six tons of silver, jewels, and pearls. 

By June 1579, Sir Francis Drake’s ship was full.  Planning on heading back to England, Drake headed north near the Columbia river entrance.  Heavy storms, high seas and tattered sails forced him to turn around.  Drake’s ship returned to a settlement on the Oregon Coast for a month, which he called “New Albion”. No one knows for sure where on the Oregon Coast this exact location is.  The Spanish were looking for Sir Francis Drake at this time.  King Philip II of Spain offered a reward of about two million dollars (by modern standards) for his life. So, did he make it back to England with all the treasure or Did he bury some of it? Sir Francis Drake’s travels in the Northwest were kept a secret as not to officially upset King Phillip II.  All of Drake’s records and exploration diaries were also burned up accidently in the Whitehall Palace fire of 1698.  

Convoys of two to five ships left Acapulco, Mexico, setting sail for the Spanish colony of manila in the Philippines. Three to five million silver pesos were shipped annually to manila.  Silver and gold bought lavish items such as silk stockings, spices, porcelain, opals, amethysts, pearls, jade, ebony and ivory.   

Have you heard of the beeswax wreck of Nehalem Bay?  For years, large pieces of beeswax weighing up to 175 pounds, porcelain and teak have been found washing up on Oregon beaches.  This wreck is shrouded in mystery as the pieces are believed to be washing up from a Spanish manila galleon from the late 1600’s, though no one has ever found this sunken ship full of treasure.  This find alone may have re-written Oregon Coast history.  Statistically, the differences in the teak represent not one shipwreck but two.  Could one of these galleons be the long lost Santo Cristo de Burgos from 1693? 

Next time you’re on the beach, looking at the waves disappear in the distant horizon, imagine the fascination and the mystery shrouded under the deep blue and how much treasure is strewn on the ocean floor from thousands of years, from explorers, navigators and pirates. 

The stories of the Spanish galleons are just a glimpse of the many shipwrecks off the Oregon Coast.  In 2008 Oregon experienced a squall of storms.  These storms changed some of the sands on the beaches uncovering shipwrecks, cannons and ghost forests.  One old ship was found protruding out of the sand just South of Bandon. 

One ship emerged by the north jetty in Coos Bay.  It was identified as the George Olson which ran aground in 1944. Another ship appeared where the Siuslaw River meets the ocean near Florence.  Little is known about the ships and there was not much time to study them before reclaimed by the sands 

If you want to view some shipwreck artifacts, the propeller from the wreck of 1937, wooden steamer "Cottoneva" is available to view at the visitor center in Port Orford.  the Cottoneva was loaded with lumber from a Port Orford mill in February 1937.  Seventy five mile per hour winds pushed the loaded steamer ship to shore.  The boiler is still under the sand at battle rock beach. the large propeller at the visitor center is an interesting sight.  

below is a list of recorded shipwrecks, just off the Southern Oregon Coast, starting from 1849.  The content below is from Wikipedia. 

The next time you want to look for shipwrecks, you can fill your dive tanks at the new fill station at the dock in Port Orford and lodge at a Wildland Properties vacation home

South Oregon Coast

Name Date Wrecked Vessel Type Location Notes
Bandon steamship Coos Bay Grounded several times before being sold.
Cohansa Coos Bay No further information.
Echo sternwheeler Bandon Refloated.
Jackson Coos Bay No further information.
New World Coos Bay No further information.
W.L. Hackstaff Aug 1849 schooner Gold Beach Grounded at Rogue River. Survivors marched overland to the Willamette Valley.
Captain Lincoln 30 Dec 1851 schooner Coos Bay Survivors established Camp Castaway.
Anita 1852 barque Port Orford
Chansey May 1854 Coos Bay
Quadratus 1856 schooner Coos Bay
Friendship 1860 barque Sixes River
Baltimore 1861 schooner Coos Bay
Cyclops 1862 schooner Coos Bay
Energy 1862 brig Coos bay One survivor.
Noyo 1868 schooner Coos Bay Burned when her cargo of lime ignited.
D.M. Hall 03 Oct 1868 barque Coos Bay
Alaska Dec 1869 schooner Bandon
Ida D. Rogers 15 Dec 1869 brig Coos Bay
Commodore 1870 steamship Coos Bay
Charles Devans Feb 1870 barque Coos Bay
Occident 3 May 1870 barquentine Bandon
Bunkalation Jul 1870 schooner Cape Blanco
Jenny Thelin 1874 schooner Refloated. Lost for good later at Punta Maria, California.
Laura May 1874 schooner Coos Bay
Northwester 1875 schooner Gold Beach
Mary Schowner 1876 schooner Bandon
Messenger 1876 Sternwheeler Coos Bay
Harriet Rose 28 Jan 1876 schooner Port Orford
Perpetua 24 Oct 1876 brig Coos Bay Foundered in a gale offshore.
Oregonian 16 Jan 1877 schooner Bandon
Esther Colos 21 Oct 1879 schooner Gold Beach
Gussie Telfair 25 Sep 1880 steamship Coos Bay Formerly a Confederate blockade runner named the Gertrude that had been captured.
Victoria 28 Nov 1883 steamship Port Orford / Cape Blanco
Mose 28 Jul 1884 Port Orford
Escort 21 Dec 1886 tugboat Coos Bay Sank in bay when it's boiler exploded.
Dawn 03 Feb 1887 scow Coos Bay Drifted for nine days before being towed into Coos Bay. However, abandoned due to the ship being waterlogged.
Ocean King 26 Dec 1887 cargo ship Cape Blanco Destroyed by on board fire.
Julia H. Ray 26 Jan 1889 schooner Coos Bay
Parkersburg 18 Nov 1889 schooner Bandon Ran aground during storm attempting to enter Coquille River.
Rosalind 18 Feb 1890 schooner Gold Beach
Express 08 Sep 1891 steamship Coos bay Destroyed by fire.
General Butler 08 Dec 1891 barque Coos bay / Cape Blanco Started breaking up 100 miles (160 km) offshore. Part of hull drifted north and ran aground at the Yaquina jetty.
Charles W. Wetmore 08 Sep 1892 steamship Coos Bay Previously ran afoul of Columbia Bar after rudder came loose.[14]
Emily 17 Jul 1893 steam schooner Coos Bay Repaired and renamed the Arago. The re-christened Arago sank at the same location.
T.W. Lucas 24 Oct 1894 brig Port Orford
Bawnmore 28 Aug 1895 steamship Bandon
Ella Laurena 18 Dec 1895 schooner Coos Bay Abandoned by crew during a storm. Found ran aground the next day.
Arago 20 Oct 1896 steamboat Coos Bay Struck bar previously in 1891 at same location.
Cyclone 1897 schooner Destroyed by fire prior to launch.
Moro 06 Dec 1897 gas schooner Bandon
Eureka 30 Nov 1899 schooner Bandon
Monterey 19 May 1900 power schooner Coos Bay Salvaged and converted into a whaler.
Baroda 29 Aug 1901 barque Bandon Refloated. Converted into barge.
South Portland 19 Oct 1903 steamboat Cape Blanco
Fulton 12 Feb 1904 Port Orford
Western Home 13 Nov 1904 schooner Bandon
Del Norte 1905 steam schooner Bandon Collided with the vessel Sea Foam.
Onward 25 Feb 1905 schooner Bandon
Sacramento 15 Oct 1905 schooner Coos Bay
Melanope Dec 1906 barge Cape Blanco Began as a Cape Horn windjammer in 1876, turned into a barge after damage at Cape Blanco in 1906. Sunk to form part of breakwater at Royston, British Columbia in 1946.[15]:14
Daisy 1907 schooner Destroyed by forest fire prior to launch.
Chinook 12 Apr 1907 schooner Coos Bay
Novelty 20 Sep 1907 schooner Coos Bay
Marconi 23 Mar 1909 schooner Coos Bay
Czarina 12 Jan 1910 steamship Bandon
San Buenaventura 14 Jan 1910 schooner Cape Blanco Abandoned. Final resting spot unknown.
Washcalore 21 May 1911 oil schooner Gold Beach
North Star #1 20 Jan 1912 Motor launch Coos Bay
Osprey 01 Nov 1912 gas schooner Coos Bay
Advent 08 Feb 1913 schooner Coos Bay
Randolph 15 Apr 1915 gas schooner Bandon
Claremont 22 May 1915 steam schooner Coos Bay
Santa Clara 02 Nov 1915 steam schooner Coos Bay Formally named John S. Kimball and then James Dollar.
Fifield 21 Feb 1916 steam schooner Bandon Second ship named Fifield.
Sinaloa 15 Jun 1917 gas schooner Cape Blanco
Wallacut 03 Nov 1918 barge Coos Bay
Rustler 24 Aug 1919 Destroyed by on board fire.
J.A. Chanslor 18 Dec 1919 oiler Cape Blanco
Adel 02 Oct 1920 Coos Bay
Joan of Arc 15 Nov 1920 steamboat Gold Beach
Ozmo 17 May 1922 schooner Port Orford Originally christened as Hugh Hogan
Sea Eagle 20 Nov 1822 tugboat Coos Bay Wrecked while towing the vessel Ecola. The Ecola survived.
Brush 26 Apr 1923 steamship Coos Bay
C.A. Smith 16 Dec 1923 steam schooner Coos Bay
Columbia 17 Feb 1924 steam schooner Coos Bay
Acme 31 Oct 1924 steam schooner Bandon
Admiral Wainright 1927 steamboat Bandon Refloated.
Mary E. Moore 23 Feb 1927 steam schooner Bandon
Sujameco 28 Feb 1929 steamboat Coos Bay Ran aground at Horsfall Beach in heavy fog missing Coos Bay entrance by a few miles. During WWII much of the hull was scrapped for iron. The wreck is partially visible each winter due to seasonal sand movement; more than usual emerged April 2010.[16]
Fort Bragg 14 Sep 1932 steam schooner Coos Bay Hit south jetty and ran aground inland.
E. L. Smith 01 Jan 1936 gas schooner Bandon
Phyllis 09 Mar 1936 steam schooner Port Orford Scuttled by captain after ship sprang a leak.
Golden West 29 Mar 1936 cargo ship Bandon
Golden Bear 1937 cargo ship Coos Bay Superstructure began to fall apart, incapacitating the ship and crew. Towed by the Active and converted into a barge. Now a part of a breakwater in British Columbia.
Cottoneva 10 Feb 1937 steam schooner Port Orford Originally christened as Frank D. Stout
Willapa #2 02 Dec 1941 steam schooner Port Orford Formerly christened Florence Olson. Crew saved by local fishermen.
Camden 04 Oct 1942 oiler Coos Bay Torpedoed off Coos Bay by Japanese submarine I-25. Towed north by tug Kenai to attempt salvage. Sank off Grays Harbor several days later.
Larry Doheny 05 Oct 1942 oiler Gold Beach Torpedoed and sank off Gold Beach by Japanese submarine I-25.
Susan Olson 15 Nov 1942 steam schooner Port Orford Formerly named the Willamette and California.
Y M S #133 21 Feb 1943 minesweeper Coos Bay
George L. Olson 23 Jun 1944 steam schooner Coos Bay Formerly named the Ryder Hanify.
Alvarado 16 Mar 1945 steam schooner Coos Bay
Ida M. 23 Sep 1948 Coos Bay
Alice H. 23 Sep 1950 Port Orford
Helen E. Sep 1951 patrol boat Coos Bay Grounded and burned.
Cynthia Olson 09 Jun 1952 cargo ship Bandon Salvaged by crew of the Salvage Chief and repaired. Sister ship of the Oliver Olson.
Oliver Olson 03 Nov 1953 cargo ship Bandon Filled with rocks and sank as extension of the south Coquille River jetty. Sister ship of the Cynthia Olson.
Port of Pasco #510 12 Dec 1953 barge Coos Bay
Andrew Jackson 05 Mat 1954 Gold Beach
New Carissa 04 Feb 1999 cargo ship Coos Bay After running aground, oil cargo was burned out. Half of the ship remained beached while the other half was taken out to sea and scuttled. Remaining half has since been scrapped.

Oregon rivers[edit]

Bully Washington 12 Dec 1857 steamship Scottsburg Umpqua River Filled in as the foundation of a dock.
Telephone 5 Jan 1892 steamship Scappoose Multnomah Channel / Willamette River Struck the revetment on the eastern shore of Coon Island. Heavy fog prevented the pilot from seeing its red cautionary light. The 80 passengers and 30 crew members were all saved.[17][18]
Regulator 13 Jul 1898 steamship Cascade Locks Columbia River Wrecked on the rocks. The 160 passengers and most of the freight were landed on the Oregon shore.[19] Towed in to drydock at Cascade Locks around September 1. The hull was found to be a "complete wreck."[20]
Gypsy 11 Jun 1900 steamship Independence Willamette River Tore hole in bottom and sank in ten feet of water.[21]
Rogue River 16 Nov 1902 sternwheeler Gold Hill Rogue River Struck a rock at what is now known as either Boiler Rapid or Boiler Riffle.