Kinzua, Oregon…gone, but not forgotten!

It has been a few years now since I wrote this article for The Prineville Territory magazine. Researching this one really warmed my heart. If you like history, old pictures, memories, or just want to read some truth…read on!

Kinzua, Oregon…Lumber Town, Beginning to End       

Mural_0982

History, corporate and personal, comes together to create a story of a place that is physically gone now. A visit to the site of Kinzua, Oregon will find nothing to hint at the existence of a town. However, the stories live on and they are not ghost stories, but real truth that burns bright in the hearts and minds of those with a connection.

Founding a Lumber Town

In the 1930 Federal Census, Lumberman, Edward D. Wetmore described himself as a capitalist in the lumber industry, living at that time in Warren, Pennsylvania. Wetmore held vast tracts of timber land in Oregon, Washington and Arizona, but he was most proud of those in Wheeler County, Oregon and made that holding the center and hub of his lumber business, founding Kinzua (pronounced Kinzu) in 1927. Wetmore was a product of the Pennsylvania lumber business and the White Pine forests there. He chose the name, originating from the Seneca Indians, meaning land of many fishes.

Originally acquiring the land while travelling from Pennsylvania in 1909, Wetmore held deeds to about 50,000 acres in the west. Classified as land grants, the deeds were signed by President Theodore Roosevelt. The claim of presidential signature is misleading and likely not absolute, as in 1833, Andrew Jackson made the decision that the President would discontinue signing land grants and they would be signed in proxy by a secretary. Land grants are gifts of real estate made by the government to encourage development of unused land, generally in remote and unpopulated areas. Wetmore had big plans for his land in Oregon.

Differing accounts of the actual acquisition of the timber land exist. A publication called The Kinzua Graphic from about 1945, published by the Kinzua Pine Mills Company, states that the timber site was selected in 1905 by E. D. Wetmore, third generation lumberman, in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. Nate Coleman, also with a family history in the business, planned and built the Kinzua modern sawmill and lumber factory. Actual ownership passed from Wetmore to the Coleman Brothers and then to O’Donnell and Son, a group based in Seattle who held ownership until the town was shut down in 1978.

KInzua Mill 1930_0981

From early on, environmentally friendly practices were in place. Trees were only harvested upon reaching maturity and turned into lumber, of which every inch was used or sold. Cutting was on a selective basis, with schedules in place for harvest. The timber was constantly replenished under the Certified Tree Farm Program. Kinzua Pine Mills Company was granted a certificate from the Western Pine Association as a Western Pine Tree Farm for their “sound forestry practices for the continuous production of commercial forest crops in accordance with approved standards”.  The goal was to create a permanent business.

Also of note is the service of Kinzua during World War II. From their small town, they sent 117 men to serve and noted that the women, called “Kinzua girl war-workers”, did an excellent job in maintaining production in the factory during the war. Government war orders had to take precedence in production, but every effort was made to meet regular customer needs, as well. Reaching peacetime, the goal was to re-employ every worker wanting to return to work.

A “company town”, such as Kinzua, is developed specifically for the workers. Everything is owned by the company…all stores and even the houses people live in. By 1965 the town had evolved to include 125 homes, a community hall, church, library, store, service station, post office, hotel, café, phone company, railroad line to Condon and a golf course.

Earl and Opal…a love story in Kinzua

Opal and Earl Williams 1949

Earl and Opal Williams had never met until their paths crossed in Oregon after Earl moved far from home to find work at the Kinzua Pine Mills Company. Though they had lived only about 10 miles from one another, their age difference during the high-school years made their lives very separate back in Kentucky. Opal’s father had also moved to find work in Kinzua and when she visited him, she met Earl and the rest, as they say, is history. Opal stayed and found work in the factory. The couple married on Dec. 22, 1949. Opal calls their courtship pretty “normal”. The Williams’ left Kinzua in 1954. What a distance they traveled to meet, fall in love, marry and then return back to their roots in Kentucky. Call it luck or fate; things seem to have worked out well for Earl and Opal. Opal recalls the freedom and sense of safety in the community. Following is her account of life there…

Kinzua had a population of about three hundred in its prime. People came from all over the country – Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia and other states. Opal says there were hardly any native Oregonians and most everyone worked at the Pine Mill and Factory. When they were there, everything was company owned and was managed by the Coleman family.

Opal recalls the houses being modern and very nice. They had hardwood floors and were nicely painted inside. Everything was cared for by a crew of one woman and a couple of men who did nothing but keep the houses in good shape. Rent was about $30 per month including utilities. Some of the town residents lived in a boarding house with about thirty rooms and where meals were served at a long table. Everyone knew everyone and got along pretty well. There was no law enforcement and “we never locked our doors”. Opal doesn’t recall any crime being committed there.

There was one store in town that supplied groceries, dry goods and most of what was needed. There was a Post Office and a gas station. All purchases were charged and payment withheld from salaries.

Pastime_0971

A large log building, called The Pastime, served as a community center. In the front there was a bar and confectionary shop, run by Claude and Teresa England. In the back of the building was a large room used for many things. Meetings were held there. It also served as a movie theater, dance hall, skating rink and church on Sunday mornings. Since everyone knew each other, there were lots of cards and board games…oh, the days before TV! “It was a carefree time; I’m glad we had it. It was like living in a mountain resort”.

Some of the things we didn’t have were a high school or a doctor. There was an elementary school, but older students had to go to Fossil for high school. There was a first aid station with a male nurse, but no doctor in town. There were also no telephones in homes, but there was one at the store. People could use it to call out or if someone called in, a message would be carried to the appropriate person.

Mural_0985

The factory and mill worked two shifts. A loud whistle was blown ten minutes before seven in the morning so people knew it was time to walk to work. The whistle blew again at seven, starting time, and again at noon, when it was time to go home for lunch. Ponderosa pine logs were cut at Camp Five, about 20 miles further up the mountain. These were brought into the mill once a day by train. The logs were sawed and planed and brought into the factory. Window frames and door jambs were made there. Lumber of all board lengths were also cut and bundled for shipping all over the country along with the other products. There was a glue room where they made flooring and other things. Earl worked in the glue room where it was always warm and Opal was jealous of that. Winters were very long. It started snowing about November first and lasted until March. Everybody had to have chains or snow tires. “At times we were literally snowed in for days”.

kids in snow

Condon, Oregon served as another connection to the rest of the world. Mail and passengers came and went to Kinzua on the “Blue Goose”, a blue box car, which can still be seen in Condon today. In the summer, nearby towns had rodeos, which served up other entertainment and a nice change of pace.

Blue goose_0988

Kinzua was surrounded by heavy forests, so there was always a danger of forest fires. There was no fire department, so in the event of fire, everyone had to help. It was not voluntary, but compulsory. A whistle was blown to alert residents. Opal recalls only one fire while she was there…and she started it! “We burned wood in our cook stove and I cleaned out the ashes. Thinking there were no hot coals in them, I dumped the box on the hillside in back of the house. A few moments later the whole hillside was ablaze”. The neighbors finally got it out. This telling may be the first public confession by Opal.

Burning it down_0975

The mill closed in 1978 and the buildings were removed and/or burned. The homes were made available for purchase for $25 per bedroom. A $100 deposit was required and when the house was moved and the property left clean that deposit was refunded. There are quite a few of those homes still in use today.  The site now is back to the original state of the land, as 400,000 trees were planted to cover the town. These are mostly Ponderosa Pine trees. The name, Kinzua, is still in use by the landing strip nearby and by Kinzua Mountain. The Kinzua Hills Golf Club is still in operation and occupies part of the land.

Kinzua Spirit Lives On

 

Though back to its original state, a stand of ponderosa pine, the spirit of Kinzua lives on. Generations of families lived and worked there and many still gather for an annual reunion in Fossil, Oregon, located just ten miles from the site of Kinzua. The third Saturday of June, at the Wheeler County Fairgrounds is the place to go to learn more about the lives and times at the company town. June 16, 2012 was a little short on attendance at about 100 people, as a beloved resident and friend of many had passed and the services were held that day. However, the love and joy that is a big part of the heritage for those who experienced life in Kinzua was ever-present. Though I didn’t know a soul when I walked in, I was reluctant to walk out when the time came.

reunion_0968

I was able to listen to Morris Wilson, 99 years old and sharp as a tack, relate some of his experiences. Wilson started in the office at the mill on June 27, 1931 at the age of 18 making $.38 per hour. By 1937 he was promoted to personnel manager and did all the hiring for Kinzua for the next 6 years. Many folks spent their last dollars to get there in hope of finding a job.

Morris Wilson_0970

 

Bonnie Campbell lived in Kinzua from 1956 to 1979; one year after the last whistle blew at the factory on May 17, 1978. She worked at the Post Office, which stayed open until the town was closed down. Campbell related that the rent on their one-bedroom house was $17 per month. They moved a couple of times and ended up in a very nice four-bedroom house at $90 per month.

Montell (Walker) McDonald was at the reunion. Her father ran the mercantile in Kinzua, known to supply most everything anyone needed from jeans to corn flakes to furniture. Everything was purchased on the “2-B account” and deducted from your wages. Paychecks were sometimes “in the red”. People lived comfortably, even if they rarely saw any actual Kinzua dollars.

Moving to Kinzua at age 2 in 1942, Pat (Worlein) Hyatt lived there until she moved to Heppner in 1975, staying with Kinzua Corporation but at a plant they opened in Heppner. Hyatt was employed as a clerk first, then office manager and ultimately an accountant for the corporation. Her sister Janet Christensen was with her and they agreed that growing up in Kinzua they felt very much protected. It was “one big family” and you could get “hugs all day long”!

Theresa Hyatt-Morris, is Pat Hyatt’s daughter and was born in Kinzua in 1955. She lived there until she went off to college. She remembers being on roller skates at the roller rink her grandfather ran before she could walk. Family values were important and the corporation always had activities for kids…weekly trips to Condon, lots of sports, golf, and swimming. Hyatt-Morris relates that “old in Kinzua was 65”…when you couldn’t work you had to move. She went back during the summers in her college years and lived in an apartment above the store. She painted houses (all brown with white trim) and mostly worked at the golf course. Growing up there seemed normal, but her heartfelt comment was “Now I know it was special”.

Another couple with very touching comments was Kathy and Rudy Rhodes. Rudy spoke first and said “I was born at Kinzua”, however, he didn’t move there until age 16. He only lived there for 2 years, but those were the “nicest people I’ve ever met around this world”…it was the “joy of my life”. Kathy and Rudy have been together for 49 years now and she spoke tearfully of going there every year with her parents to visit friends and it became “home”. Obviously, she met the man she married and it has worked out well for a long time! They try to be sure their children and grand-children make it to the reunion so they can experience that joy.

Jim Craig was greeting folks at the door and later recalled water skiing at Camp 5 and winters with so much snow. “It was a great day if the roads couldn’t be cleared because you could sled all day! You could ride that sled all the way into town, but the only problem was you had to pull it back home!” Craig lived at Kinzua from his birth in 1952 until 1967, when he moved to Fossil, but he continued to work at the mill until it shut down. He says it was the kind of place where “if you didn’t have a friend, it was your fault”.

Another person attending the reunion was Gael (Close) Liptak, who now lives in Condon. Liptak was born in Kinzua in 1940 and moved away in 1958. Her father came to work at Kinzua from New York. That trip may have come about due to a family relationship with the Coleman’s, owners of the corporation. Liptak’s mother, Dorothy, was Elizabeth Coleman’s sister. The freedom that children experienced was once again recalled by Liptak. Sitting next to Montell McDonald, they related fun stories of just being free to roam and play with no worries whether making mud pies or just exploring. Parents filled the role of guidance and caretaker for all children of the community. These two ladies shared a story of Liptak sitting on a nail and McDonald’s mom “swabbed it good with methylate, put on a band aid and sent her on her way”.

Marilyn (Bailey) Garcia lives in Fossil now and was also born at Kinzua. Family circumstances caused some moving around in her lifetime, but she has been back and forth to the area a few times, finally deciding to settle there. Garcia might be considered to be the keeper of the memories, as she is a big part of planning the reunion and works with the Fossil Museum and Old School House too. Her recollections of Kinzua are that of an “extended family”. It was a complete town in itself and she feels very fortunate to keep in contact with so many folks from there. Garcia’s grandparents, Bud and Mary Bailey, owned the Golden Ranch before Wetmore even knew of the land. Golden Ranch later became the Kinzua Dairy. Once the idea for the mill was in place and the early workers came to begin construction, there were no homes and these workers camped in tents on a flat across Thirty Mile Creek from the Bailey farm. The workers would come across with cups or jars and ask for a little milk, so the Baileys got the idea to start a dairy. Kinzua Dairy was not part of the company ownership, but they delivered milk to the residents from about 1938 to 1942. At that time, milk sold for $.10 per quart or $.35 per gallon.

So, though there is nothing left but a name on the map, Kinzua lives on in stories that are being kept alive from generation to generation. I’m glad I feel a little part of it now too!

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I have to say that I have never made it back to the reunion, though I think of it often. I am sure that if I walked in I would feel just as welcome as I did the day I did this research! This is one of the favorite articles I ever worked on and I have some Facebook friends from it, as well!

Hold on to the memories…somehow! 

 

A Bit of Oregon History

Below is one of my assignments that was published in the Prineville Territory magazine. A bit of Oregon history that might be interesting…

Radical Differences in Unexpected Places

Antelope, Oregon…

…now a quiet little town dubbed a “retirement community”, has quite a history. A story unravels when you look into the past that is either interesting or repelling, depending on one’s point of view. Like much of Oregon, Antelope began as a stage stop back in the days of the movement west. In its glory, Antelope was home to 170 citizens and it thrived. This was 1898 and the town and its visitors supported four hotels, seven saloons, a bowling alley; retail establishments including three mercantile shops, a meat market, one drug store, a barber shop; services of three livery stables, a blacksmith, a funeral parlor; city offices including a city hall, a jail, and a post office. “Tammany Hall” was the community center and there was one church serving the community. The church still stands today, simply called the Community Church. In 1892, the town boomed requiring a school to be built and a newspaper began publication.

A fire destroyed most of the town’s business district in 1898 and it was never entirely rebuilt. Later, a new town developed a bit north of Antelope, called Shaniko (originally established as Cross Hollows in 1879), where a branch of the Union Pacific Railroad was completed in 1900. This was pretty much the end of Antelope, as it had existed.

But what has transpired in this rural area between 1900 and now? “Who would have imagined?” “Can you believe it?” “In this place?” These are questions that many would ask when they hear the “rest of the story”.

Let’s begin with some history…

Chandra Mohan Jain was born on December 11, 1931. He was the oldest child of a cloth merchant and had 10 siblings. Mohan grew up in Kuchwada, (central) India, raised by his grandparents until the age of 7. These years were carefree and involved no forced education or restrictions. At age 7, his grandfather died and Chandra went to Gadarwara to live with his parents. Death became a preoccupation with Jain after the loss of his grandfather and a beloved cousin, no doubt influencing his interest in philosophy. He was gifted as a student, yet rebellious, and became known as an impressive, yet dreaded, debater. Chandra became an anti-theist and developed an interest in hypnotism during these early years.

In 1957 he earned a master’s degree in philosophy after entering Hitkarini College at age 19, completing his B.A. at D. N. Jain College in 1955 and his M.A. from the University of Sagar. Considered by his peers to be exceptionally intelligent and to have overcome his small-town, early-educational deficiencies, Chandra was also known to be argumentative and disruptive on campus, and thus was not required to attend classes, except to take examinations.

This man, who by graduation from his studies had already been known by different names, continued a career in teaching and public speaking. A long list of controversial engagements and scandalous doctrine were presented by him under the name Acharya Rajneesh. During this same time frame, he lectured on philosophy at Jabalpur University where he was promoted to professor in 1960. A controversial speaking tour in 1966 ended with a request that he resign from his position with the university.

Following the resignation, another lecture series, calling for freer acceptance of sexual practices brought about his title, “sex guru”. This period and these teachings were published as From Sex to Superconsciousness, again bringing more controversy.

“Neo-sannyasin” was the name of the disciples who followed Rajneesh (generally called sannyasins). The first group was initiated in Bombay on 1970. Becoming a sannyasin involved assuming a new name, wearing the traditional orange dress of Hindu holy men and the mala, a beaded necklace, which in this case, held a locket with a picture of Rajneesh. It is noteworthy that sannyasins were to follow a life of celebration instead of denial and also that Rajneesh, himself, was not to be worshipped but to be considered as an agent for change, similar to the “sun encouraging the flower to open.”

By this time, he had acquired a secretary who worked to raise support from wealthy followers. This allowed him to stop traveling and begin giving private lectures and taking private visitors. His first visitors from the Western world appeared. In 1971, a new name was adopted, Bhagwan Shree Rahneesh. This translates loosely to Blessed Sir and implies that the divine is no longer hidden, but apparent to the bearer of this name.

Bombay was not a place of good health for Bhagwan. His next move, in 1974, was to Poona, India. This property was purchased with the help of a Greek shipping heiress. Comprised of two adjoining houses and 6 acres of land, this property became an ashram where Bhagwan taught until 1981. This ashram still operates today after many years of growth and much bad press. Now called the OSHO International Meditation Resort, the ashram is described as a “lush, contemporary 28-acre campus…a tropical oasis where nature and the 21st century blend seamlessly, both within and without.”

The Oregon Commune…

041-Bhagwan-Shree-Rajneesh-OrHi-98356 Copyright Max Gutierrez

When you look into the eyes of even a picture of Bhagwan, the “guru”, what do you see? A master, a spiritual leader, an ego-maniac? Some loved him, some didn’t; some came, some went; but whatever the reasons, by 1981, there were 30,000 visitors annually hosted at Bhagwam’s ashram in India. A new secretary had taken position and Bhagwan began what became a three-year period of silence. Though it is understood that the secretary, Sheela Silverman, and Bhagwan did speak during his period of silence that commenced in April, 1981, it is also apparent that she was powerful and made a unilateral decision to move the ashram to the United States due to criticism and threatened legal action by the authorities in India. On June 13, 1981, Sheela’s husband, Marc Harris Silverman, bought 64,229 acres located across Wasco and Jefferson counties for $5.75 million dollars. This was formerly the “Big Muddy Ranch”, but was renamed “Rancho Rajneesh”. Initial reaction from local area residents was dependent on their proximity to the ranch, but ranged from acceptance to total hostility.

What followed the land purchase and establishment of “Rancho Rajneesh” was a flurry of activity accompanied by uncertainty about who was really in charge and making decisions for the community. Continuing his period of public silence until November, 1984, Bhagwam had given Sheela limited power of attorney in 1981. This was revised in 1982 to remove the limits that had been put in place. By 1982, the ranch was renamed and incorporated as the city of Rajneeshpuram by a vote of the residents. In 1983, Sheela announced that Bhagwan would only speak with her. He later stated that he was kept in ignorance of the facts by Sheela.

The commune was established in Oregon with the goal of finding enlightenment, at least according to the “guru”, Rajneesh. World issues around the economy and the effects of the Vietnam War made his concepts appealing to many Westerners. Extolling sexual freedom helped too. Though health issues may have been expressed as reasons to leave India, Rajneesh faced legal matters, as well, such as tax fraud. At this point, a new place to spread the word was needed.

There is some serious reasoning to think that Sheela was not after enlightenment, rather power. As the speaker for Bhagwan, she began to make bold moves to do exactly what she wished in this rural community, while she apparently assured the guru that the commune would become the fulfillment of his dreams.

Sheela’s first big mistake was in not understanding Oregon law and the limits placed on building and population of ranch land. Exploring the law, it was determined that homes could be built for farm workers. The plan was to sell the county planners on the idea that they needed homes on the ranch for the workers who would be diligently working to restore the land that had so long been abused. It is interesting to note that for these meetings, Sheela and other members of group took off their malas and red garb in exchange for regular street clothes. They noted that they did not represent a religious organization but “simple farmers…[who] celebrate life and laughter”. The result was permission to build housing for approximately 150 workers. Routine visits to the ranch for inspection by the county revealed that houses without kitchens or living space had been built, more like dormitories. The Rajneeshees would hide mattresses during these visits to give the appearance of a smaller population.

Numerous reports published regarding the events in Rajneeshpuram give somewhat superficial details, but the Oregonian published a series of more in-depth articles in 2011. Researching jury transcripts, police reports, court records and more, reveals alarming ideas that developed and played out in the hope of turning the law to their side.

The first task was to create a city of their own. On advice from legal counsel in Portland, Sheela and her team met with representatives from 1000 Friends, an environmental group with particular interest in limiting the development of farm land. Even the bribe of a substantial contribution to their organization did not sway 1000 Friends to feel that a city was necessary, though they were in favor of the restoration of land.

Rajneeshpuram map - U of O Libraries Map of the community from U of O library.

Unable to create their own city where their own laws could be made, the next step was to infiltrate the city council by placing Rajneeshees in positions there. Of course, this would require voters who would side with these candidates. Thus began the process of bringing in what were called “America’s transients”. Teams were sent out across the nation to recruit homeless people by the busloads. They were brought in and promised food and shelter in return for their registration to vote followed by their favorable votes in the upcoming election. This worked, but later was deemed voter fraud and became the root of one of the many charges brought upon Rajneesh and Sheela. In 1983 and 1984 the population at Rajneeshpuram ranged from 2,000 to 3,000 people. Over 10 years it is estimated that as many as 6,000 people lived here and constructed nearly 1,000,000 square feet of buildings. It should also be noted that the population of the commune was not totally made up of transients by any means. There were many well-educated, professionals who happily supported the community financially and with their services.

Records indicate that there were other, even more abominable actions to try to control voter attendance at the polls and/or sway council members. These included dispersing salmonella bacteria in several restaurants in The Dalles and serving contaminated water to officials visiting the ranch. Bill Hulse, Wasco County commissioner, was hospitalized for four days and would likely have died, according to his doctors, without treatment. Ray Matthew, the other commissioner who visited, also became very ill. It was reported that these particular poisonings were an effort to insure future decisions by the county would go in favor of growth at Rancho Rajneesh. Together, these operations resulted in 751 poisonings and 45 hospitalizations.

With pressure mounting, Sheela fled the commune on September 13, 1985. Rajneesh followed suit on October 28, 1985. The flight plan of his private jet was followed and while stopped to refuel in Charlotte, North Carolina, he was arrested and brought back to Portland for trial. Things fell apart further when the “spiritual leader” pled guilty to immigration fraud and sexual abuse with minors. The movement, now under investigation by the FBI, lost many of its followers. Murder investigations, felonious acts of arson, drug smuggling and voter fraud plagued the organization. Rajneesh was deported and changed his name to OSHO. He died in 1990 of a heart attack at his ashram in India.

Today…

Ma Anand Sheela served federal prison time for her crimes and finally left the United States in 1988. She later started a home care business for the mentally disabled in Switzerland under the name Sheela Birnstiel.

Ma Anand Su served two years in federal prison for murder conspiracy. She now lives in Bulgaria and teaches the building of cob houses. Now using the name Susan Hagan, she also conducts international travel tours.

Ma Anand Ava received full immunity from prosecution by defecting and turning on Sheela. Ava Avalos has earned a doctorate and runs a medical clinic for health professionals in Botswana. She has also been published in World Health Organization publications.

Swami Devaraj, the personal physician of Bhagwan, who nearly died himself in a poison attack perpetrated by Sheela in 1985, changed his name to Swami Amrito and moved to the OSHO International Meditation Resort in Pune, India.

Swami Krishna Deva was the mayor of Rahneeshpuram and pled guilty to charges. He served two years in federal prison and relocated to California as David Knapp, handling real estate investments. With another ex-sannyasin he founded a small international charity.

The ranch itself was repossessed by the mortgage company. In foreclosure, it was later purchased by a businessman from Montana and deeded to Young Life, a non-denominational Christian ministry. Many of the buildings erected by the Rajneesh are still in use. Now known as the Washington Family Ranch, the land is again being used in a spiritual endeavor and is in operation for about four months of the year. The camp currently houses approximately 1000 visitors per season. According to recent news, Young Life is seeking rights to expand by 1500 beds and interestingly enough, this is causing some controversy. While Rep. John Huffman from The Dalles, Jason Conger, Bend, and Gene Whisnant, Sunriver, have signed on to endorse House Bill 3098, Jefferson County Commissioner, Mike Ahern, was quoted in The Bulletin as stating “To me, it just makes a mockery of the state’s land use laws.” Seems to be an echo of earlier opinions, but there is not an expectation of a repeat of previous illegal operations.

2011 marked the 30-year anniversary of the Rajneeshees move to Oregon and inspired several articles on the subject. Former residents of Rancho Rajneesh were invited to submit memories and thoughts of their time in Rajneeshpuram. In terms or memories of the Ranch, none of the published comments reflect negatively on life there. Though there are a few references to the rules, the sense of any knowing of wrong-doing or less-than-spiritual work being done is totally missing. Rather, friendship, beauty, freedom, love, blessing, caring and similar experiences that they “will never forget” are noted. These same responders referenced their feelings about the fall of Rajneesh in other ways. Shock and sadness are common threads, while being grateful for the experience, life lessons, enduring friendships and more that came from time spent there. One comment from a woman now living in California reminds us that “eternal vigilance is always required even in EDEN!” Perhaps this is the best take-away from the whole story.

Many of the past and current followers remain connected. Pages on Facebook, such as Rajneesh, OshoLover, Rajneeshpuram and more have been created where some people have happily found reunion after many years. Rajneeshees from the Oregon commune have relocated all over the world. Some remain in Oregon and the United States, and others far beyond to England, Germany, Switzerland, Africa and, of course, India.

As for Antelope, Oregon, it has returned to that sleepy retirement community. Antelope survives today with a population recorded at 46 in 2011, at a median age of 62. According to Roadside America, all that remains to mark that time of the Rajneeshees clad in bright colors is a plaque at the base of the Antelope post office flagpole: “Dedicated to those of this community who, through the Rajneesh invasion and occupation of 1981-85, remained, resisted, and remembered.”

Writer’s note…

Suffice it to say that any teachings beyond the traditional “normal” always bring controversy. It remains unclear in the end just how much of what transpired in the area near Antelope, Oregon was what Rajneesh wanted or ordered, or if it was the work of his assistant, Sheelah, during his period of silence. This is not a supernatural story about a ghost town, but a true story of something way beyond the “normal”. We live in a country where freedom of speech and religion are fundamental to our beliefs. While bioterrorism is certainly not acceptable then or now, these details are cause for us to step back and wonder just when, why, how and what might happen in our very own small part of the world. Our country has experienced terrorism at much greater loss since the time of this story, but then how can these things be measured? Loss of freedom, loss of health, loss of life at any level incurs its own wrath. All is food for thought as we continue what will always be a journey where we attempt to balance freedom, love, abundance and peace in our lives.

This is not an easy story to tell in confined space. Many books and articles have been written on all aspects of this subject and if interest is tickled by this account, more reading is suggested. To list a few books:

The Rajneesh Chronicles, Win McCormack (2010)

Bhagwan: The Most Godless Yet The Most Godly Man, George Meredith (1987)

Bhagwan: The God That Failed, Hugh Milne (1986)

My Life in Orange: Growing Up With the Guru, (2005)

Websites:

Oregon History Project – ohs.com

OregonLive – oregonlive.com

Oregon Public Broadcasting – opb.org (a video tells the story with interviews and pictures)