One Oregon Coast Village Has Gruesome History
(Yachats, Oregon) - These days they call it the "gem of the Oregon coast." And for good reason. This tiny little village sports a bundle of things to do and sights to take in that are some of the more unusual and dramatic for the entire coastline. Massive waves break constantly along its jagged rocky shore, creating an endless variety of wild oceanic moments. The lodgings here can be among the most luxurious in the state, and the culinary fireworks shine brightly here in its eateries and a special mushroom festival in the fall.
It's really quite an amazing, even unusually peaceful town. But it didn't start off that way. In fact, there are rumors to this day of a kind of curse and lingering bad vibes around the central coast, set upon it by local tribes after some horrendous mistreatment. Still, in spite of its roots - perhaps the most horrific of all coastal towns - the place has perhaps been forgiven by its original residents, and the icky ectoplasmic residue from those ancient beings seems to affect the areas north of Yachats (if the legends are to be believed), leaving the town itself unscathed.
Yachats' early history, throughout the early 1800's, is filled with a litany of atrocities against local native tribes who occupied the region originally, such as the Coos, Lower Umpqua and tribes with names similar to Alsea and Yachats. One incarnation garbled through the white tormentors who ruled over them is Ya‘hatc - which likely is closest to the original pronunciation, but the actual name of the tribe is probably lost to history.
One death march after another was enforced on local tribes, driving them from their hunter/gather existence by the sea to places just inland from upper Lane County to around Yachats itself. Numerous records give grim accounts of an endless swath of graves of indigenous people along the way, sometimes in the form of entire villages emptied by white man diseases or forced starvation.
One particularly gruesome tale is of a happy band of original locals who settled just east of town, after at least one death march from their original homeland. They had quite the little farming Eden there, but were then forced by the U.S. government to move again by local government agents who lied and claimed the locals did indeed agree to be relocated (even though all the written testimony indicates otherwise). They were marched elsewhere, beyond their physical capabilities, and over two thirds died along the way, often from starvation.
It turns out the town itself, as well as much of Highway 101 in the area, is one big graveyard of local tribes. All of ithese grounds were disturbed by the making of either the highway or the town – the stuff really terrifying horror movies are made of. One historical account on the city’s website talks about the burial grounds getting uncovered by construction crews.
“Throughout the early 1930s in Yachats, Howard Howell and Chester Hays worked on Highway 101. They recounted skeletons and artifacts being uncovered during the excavation for the highway in Yacahts.”
It goes on to tell how many belongings of the bodies were taken for souvenirs, but most became part of the fill dirt beneath 101. Truly creepy: but it gives tourists yet another reason for pause and maybe even prayer as they amble slowly along the main thoroughfare, perhaps to pay homage to the poor souls whose remains we drive over.
Yachats’ history comes into less depressing territory with the name it initially got in the early 1900’s. Originally, it was called Oceanview. By 1917, it was decided that name was too common among coastal cities and it was renamed Yachats.
By 1905, tourists had begun discovering the place. Some owned cabins near the beach - others camped in the forest. A local warehouse was converted to the first motel that year. And while the place remained incredibly isolated even through the building of 101 in the '30s, a bridge across the Yachats River made life and travel a little easier in 1926.
In 1930, the area got its first water district.
By World War II, Cape Perpetua had lookouts at its top at the famed stone shelter, which was built in the '30s. There are persisting rumors the area was implanted with a radar station and observation site, which included a really big gun and army personnel to man it. This is not true. Ohter rumors include that areas closer to the shore were so populated with army guys in foxholes they actually outnumbered the locals. There were no foxholes. Only the lookout.
In 1954, the first TV service was installed for the area.
In the '70s, the town had a bit more colorful history, although again prejudice reared its ugly head. The bar eventually known as the Landmark Lounge (now defunct) was called Beulah’s, and it brought in a variety of bands like The Drifters, Ink Spots and The Coasters. In the late '70s and early '80s, it was part of a circuit of reunion bands that toured the west coast. There are still some of those posters on the walls of the Landmark to this day.
In the 200's, owner Bruce Olson noted how big name bluesman Terry Evans (Ry Cooder, John Fogarty) showed up to his gig at the then-Landmark and suddenly, gleefully recalled having played this place in its other musical heyday.
Also rather unusual is the lounge’s pre-history of being a gay hotspot at that time as well (as the owners in the '70s and '80s were gay). It would also regularly host transvestite reviews – remarkably progressive for, what was then, a truly redneck-infested area. Unfortunately, the denizens of the less-than-socially-tolerant logger bar up the road would make fairly frequent sojourns to Beulah’s and rough up the clientele.
This building is also rather famous for a wild and crazy story where a car came crashing through the front of the restaurant sometime in the middle part of the century, coming to rest out the other side, with its front end sticking out, precariously balanced some two stories above the ground.
Hilariously, the somewhat cantankerous female owner at the time was asleep in a room just below the melee, and did not hear the crash.
Eventually, Yachats became a bit of a monster in the world of coastal tourism. Certainly by the 90’s it was well discovered.
These days, however, it’s hard to find a more calming place to wander, even with its dichotomous manic wave action. It’s soothing and engaging, nonetheless. While the upper part of Lincoln County may or not be cursed with negative vibes, it’s hard to claim such gloom about this gem.
The 804 Trail is a testament to the positive vibes inherent in this placid place. In the' 70s, a long stretch of oceanfront came under big controversy because of one property owner who intended to cut off access to the Smelt Sands Beach access by keeping their chunk of the land private. Locals discovered a long-hidden county road right-of-way there. Then, after ten or so years in the Supreme Court, this three-quarter-mile stretch of land was handed over to the county, and in the early '90s became this gorgeous, wheelchair-accessible trail.
It now allows easy access to a myriad of tide pools and crazed wave action, including a few blowholes in the basalt rock, which shoot water upwards in intense gushes with consistent surprise.
Some of the more amazing sights are manmade as well, such as the insanely extravagant homes along the path. One looks like a ship from certain angles, while another is covered almost entirely in glass walls along its three stories, giving glimpses of a lush, ultra-modern interior that looks somewhere between a “Sunset Magazine” photo spread and a futuristic, secret CIA experimental lab.
More recent developments in Yachats continue to point to a gleaming, upbeat future. The gigantic mushroom festival every October is put on all over town, and includes loads of party atmosphere, humor and plenty of learning about the funky fungi. There’s a giant classical music festival there every summer, and its “La De Da” festival for the Independence Day holiday stretch is always a riotous mix of fun and goofiness.
While the specter of Yachats’ hideous past wrongs must be acknowledged and its victims respected, neither can you ignore the village’s myriad enticing elements.
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