This past summer while in the middle of cheating death, I passed through a little dying town by the name of Antelope in the rolling mountains of Eastern Oregon. Antelope is like any good ghost town; useless and abandoned, but with its own amazing history.
Sure, I may use the term “abandoned” kind of flippantly, but really, if you drive through there you will soon realize that the entire economy is based on Social Security and disability checks combined with stealing from the neighbors. There is nothing left to market and most of the homes and storefronts (all the storefronts?) are empty. (I know one of the handful of residents is going to write me an angry note about this generalization… as soon as they gain access to technology).
Like many ghost towns, Antelope had a few boom cycles and a more than it’s share of busts. It lies Southeast of US97 in North-Central Oregon on the narrow winding lanes of state highway 218 in the Southeastern corner of Wacso County. Its two nearest neighbors are also former shells of their more glorious past. Shiniko to the North is a dead little tourist trap hoping that those who have wandered off of 97 want to marvel at their old grand hotel for a few minutes before they disengage and head back on to the road for their rafting trip in Bend; and to the East is Clarno… Clarno is pretty much just some irrigated fields and bridge over the John Day River. Whoopty doo.
Antelope’s rise began in the early 1860s as a waystation between the Columbia River and the mines along the John Day River and the boom town of Canyon City (near the city of John Day in Grant County). John Day has been in the national news as of late since “Constitutional” Sheriff Glen Palmer unwittingly got the occupants/terrorists at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge arrested and/or killed by inviting them up to John Day to have a meeting with people friendly to their moronic agenda. The obvious geniuses these clowns were decided to drive up the isolated 70 mile Canyon along US397 between Burns and John Day in a convoy and were eventually dry gulched by the state police. Oops. It turns out that just because you dress like a cowboy doesn’t mean you have ever seen a cowboy movie and the simple tactics employed by the sheriff or marshal in pretty much every film ever. I would also like to point out that while commenting on the Oregonlive website on an article outlining the impending “community meeting” between the Bundy group and the friendly public I totally called the police barricade and arrests #tootingmyownhorn (I don’t think hashtags work on poorly programmed blogs).
In 1862 the Wheeler family settled in Antelope Valley and named the town, well, “Antelope”. A man by the name of Nathan Wallace built a store and soon there was a livery, and a blacksmith, the large Union House Hotel, and the Tammany dance hall. Raids by natives were still prevalent at the time and the young town had no stockade the stagecoach runs between The Dalles and John Day/Canyon City were regularly attacked. When the regular driver refused to do the run the crotchety old owner of the Silvertooth Saloon, F.W. Silvertooth, stepped up to the task (Silvertooth had previously been the stage pilot for the run from The Dalles to Antelope and eventually settled to open his saloon). The operators were so excited that they told Silvertooth that he could “name his price.” Silvertooth opted for packages of “Saw Log” and “Battle Axe” plug tobacco. Whenever natives crossed the rutted road Silvertooth invited them over and gave them tobacco gifts. The run went smoothly.
In 1871 Antelope became official by obtaining a post office and the population swelled up through the end of the century as it was a natural center to the cattlemen, sheep herders, and miners of the region. More saloons started to appear, of which was one run by Benjamin Pratt and Ed Gleason. Rumors began to swirl that Mr. Pratt fancied Mrs. Gleason. Taking these rumors to heart Mr. Pratt shot his business partner in the head with a rifle while Pratt was unlocking the door to the establishment to open for the day.
The ensuing trial was a joke and akin to the violent nature of the town as the consensus was that Gleason was justified in shooting Pratt, because, you know, rumors.
Later in an interview about the crumbling town in the 1950s John Silvertooth, son of F.W., and his wife Laura were asked about the heyday of Antelope: “The population reached two thousand at one time. There were three hotels, three stores, and a rooming house.” said Laura.
John chimed in, “Three, no four saloons… Two smithies, and a couple red-light places. There was a madame and two girls at that one place…”
“Pearl and Flossy,” said Laura, “Flossy was the fat one. They buried one of them in our cemetery. At first they were against it, but finally they decided to put her in a lonely corner, where she couldn’t do any harm.”
A fire started in the apartment above the bowling alley in 1898 and ravaged the town. By the end of the night only one building was left standing and the town had to rebuild. This version was fairly short-lived.
When the Columbia River Railroad completed its line from Biggs on the river to Shaniko 70 miles South on September 9th, 1900 the fate of Antelope was sealed. The entire purpose of this line was to bring sheep and wool from Shaniko to barges and larger railways along the Columbia. Daily stagecoach runs from Shaniko to Antelope became the norm and the town was officially incorporated by the Oregon legislature January 29th, 1901. There was much rejoicing, but the railroad in and out of Shaniko slowly sucked the population away.
By the 1920s and 1930s Antelope began to fade into further irrelevance as the automobile began to replace the trains and stagecoach runs. The waystation origin of Antelope was no longer needed and the town quickly lost its luster.
Fast forward about 50 years and things started to get really, really interesting. In 1981 an Indian mystic/guru by the name of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (born “Chandra Mohan Jain) purchased a 65,000 acre ranch about 18 miles Southeast of Antelope and turned it into his religion’s world headquarters. This brought a boom of thousands of his followers to the area.
Rajneesh went by “Osho” which is a title given to a zen priest, or so I have read. Osho began his career as a professor of philosophy and spent much of the 1960s on tour giving public speeches as a critic of socialism, organized religion, and Mahatma Gandhi (what kind of person criticizes Gandhi?) throughout India. He advocated for a more open attitudes towards sexuality and was often referred to as a “sex guru” in the press.
In 1970 Osho settled in Bombay and began taking in followers as disciples he called “neo-sannyasins”. He began to draw the attention of many Westerners as he preached his take on works of religion and philosophy (thanks a lot, Beatles) and in 1974 made the move a little ways away to Pune pronounced “poo-nah”), India where he and his followers built and ashram.
Osho went all out on this endeavor at Pune even writing original music to cater to each and every step in his cleanse and meditation process and mixed many Eastern and Western ideas in his version of the hippy-dippy “Human Potential Movement”.
The years in Pune carried with it reports that the ashram was half Fight Club and half Club Hedonism. Participants like Richard Price (a leader in the Human Potential Movement) left one of these “Encounter groups” with a broken arm after being locked in a room with fellow participants armed with wooden weapons for eight hours. Sounds like a blast.
By January 1979 the ashram made an announcement that their experiments with beating the ever loving shit out of each other had run its course and “fulfilled its purpose”, and that it was time to just be a sex cult (that last part is my words). The business leaders and wealthy of India loved Osho as he made arguments for India adopting capitalism and free markets as a way to transcend the oppressive poverty experienced by so much of the populace. Osho viewed Gandhi as a “masochist” who fetishized poverty. I guess that is one way of looking at one of the most successful, non-violent freedom fighters in human history…
As with all religious leaders there was a hefty level of hypocrisy. Osho preached against Gandhi and his life of poverty and sacrifice, while also charging that Gandhi got off on pain, then required that his sannyasins take unpaid jobs at the ashram and get the shit beat out of them. In ordaining his leadership Osho decided to follow the example set by Greek/Russian/Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff and organize his management by promoting the most cruel and abrasive members to be leaders of the underclass sannyasins. He felt that constant conflict created by authority figures would hasten the spiritual awakening of his disciples. Just about the most stupid logic ever.
Accusations that Westerners were financing their stays at the ashram via prostitution and drug running was ruining what was a lovely sex slave cult. About this time in the late ’70s religious leaders who opposed Osho lobbied the Indian Parliment to revoke the ashram’s tax-exempt status and Osho now owed the government $5 million. Combining the tax burden with the constant influx of disciples flooding the tiny six acre institution, and an assassination attempt by a fundamentalist Hindu named Vilas Tupe in 1980, Osho decided that changes had to be made!
In April 1981 Osho went into a self-imposed three and a half year public silence. Weird, but it’s his cult, he’s allowed to do what he wants. His normal daily speeches were replaced with silently listening to readings of the spiritual works of Khalil Gibran. It is important to note that at this time in his life Osho sacked his private secretary and brought in a woman who went by the name Ma Anand Sheela (Sheela Silverman).
Scared that he was about to be sent to prison, or worse; made to pay the Indian government taxes, May 1981 saw Osho make a big play and moved to the USA via a tourist visa that was related to medical care for a prolapsed disc (it’s hard to enjoy your sex cult if you keep throwing out your back!). For a time he consulted with a few doctors while staying at a Rajneeshee retreat in New Jersey but never got the recommended surgery. Because Osho never sought treatment Immigration and Naturalization Service ultimately viewed his arrival in the USA as a violation of the terms of his visa.
In the spring of 1981 Osho was 48 years old with a long white beard, he was slightly overweight, suffering from diabetes, his long dark beard turning almost white, and what you could see of his face his face, mostly the bags around his eyes, especially aged poorly. Osho was a man who looked 20-30 years older than he actually was. I personally think this gave him the exact look one would expect from a sage, wise guru, yet anyone we to find out how old he was might exclaim, “What?! Holy Christ! You look like shit for your age!” before realizing the words had left their lips.
On June 13, 1981 Sheela’s husband, one Swami Prem Chinmaya (aka Mark Harris Silverman) plunked down $5.75 million to purchase of the Big Muddy Ranch and renamed it “Rancho Rajneesh”. Osho moved in later that August. The Outback hicks never saw this coming. Soon thousands of weirdos dressed in red robes were everywhere in Antelope and the surrounding hills chanting and dancing and speaking of the wisdom of Osho. The ranch he purchased was later incorporated as a town and renamed Rajneeshpuram and a lot of conflict was just about to begin. Rajneeshpuram was an intentional community, a commune really. For someone who spent much of his life denouncing socialism, he then built a socialist society–sort of. Except for the fact that he got all the wealth… I guess that is really just a slave society when I think about it. Ahhhh… cults!
Conflicts with the locals started right away. Mostly this was over land use for the former ranch. The commune would say one thing was going to happen and the do another. At one point during a local election cycle the Rajneesh bussed thousands of homeless people into Wasco County from around the nation to affect the outcome of an election. Their plan failed so the cult just released the homeless into the various small towns of the area leaving the relocation up to the state of Oregon.
Osho was living in a fancy trailer next to a covered pool and his only personal contact until November 1984 was with his closest advisers, namely Sheela, and his main girlfriend Ma Yoga Vivek (Christine Woolf). One outlandish goal of Osho was to own a “Rolls Royce for every day of the year” and his one and only form of mingling with his herd of brainwashed hippies was to drive a dirt road in the commune each day waving to his ardent followers who lined up to see him as he mosied passed in a different Rolls Royce. I don’t know about you, but if I was a hard working member of a religion and living in a tent, then everyday at noon was told to line up and wave to my leader who drove by in yet another Rolls Royce, I would probably kill the fucker. Then again, I have a logic center so many thousands of the neo-sannyasins seemed to lack, as they were so happy to see all of their wealth and work dedicated to the once a year use of a Rolls Royce purely for the “wave to the peons” factor. Side note: I should start a cult… In the end Osho only obtained 93 Rolls Royces (not the desired 365… what was his plan for leap years anyway?) making him the single largest private owner of the ostentatious vehicles in the world.
Rajneeshpuram had quickly become a full-on city with over 7,000 residents. It had a zip code, fire department, restaurants, a mall, townhomes, etc… This was a closed off, private community covering 100 square miles. That is larger than the city of Seattle in area! Trying to build a buffer, the Rajneesh also began to inhabit the local towns and Antelope in particular. September 18th, 1984 the cult had overrun the locals and voted on a referendum 57-22 to change the name of Antelope to “Rajneesh”. Ha, take that, simple country folk!
One completely bonehead move by Osho was in 1981 he gave Sheela power of attorney. She then later announced that he would only talk to her. She was like the pope to Osho’s god. Later Osho claimed that Sheela kept him in a state of ignorance when the proverbial shit began to hit the fan.
One aspect of the Rajneeshism was that it was an apocalyptic cult. Osho had been consistently preaching since 1964 that the world was going to be destroyed via nuclear holocaust or “other disasters” by the 1990s. In 1984 Sheela even announced to the world that Osho had predicted that 2/3 of humanity was to die from AIDS in the coming years. This sense of urgency begat the creation of a “Noah’s Ark of Consciousness” (whatever that is) to save humanity.
During his years in Oregon Osho dictated three books while under the influence of nitrous oxide administered to him by his private dentist. You know, all I can picture writing the previous sentence is the crazy dentist from Little Shop of Horrors. I digress. Sheela also stated that Osho loved his valium to the tune of sixty milligrams a day.
By the Spring of 1984 tensions within the cult were running high and contention among the inner circle of leaders came to a head when Sheela was ordered to face an inquisition of sorts. Osho confronted Sheela and reminded her that his house was the center of the commune and then warned those close to him that Sheela was gunning for them. Strangely Sheela remained within the power structure of the cult; I guess this is what happens when you groom those with the worst characteristics for the positions of leadership.
On October 30th, 1984 Osho broke his seclusion and spoke publicly for the first time in more than three years. In July 1985 Osho began his daily public discourses much the chagrin of Sheela who had grown accustomed to being the mouthpiece and central figure for the religion. In September 1985 Sheela and her entire leadership team bailed on the operation and fled to Europe. A few days later, on September 16th, Osho held a press conference of sorts where he detailed alleged crimes committed in accordance with Sheela’s orders. Among these included attempted murder and the largest bio-terrorism attack in US history. Of course Osho claimed that he had no knowledge of this prior.
Osho was an open book at this press conference and labeled Sheela and her minions as a “gang of fascists” and invited law enforcement to investigate.; and oh boy, did the authorities investigate. Many of the crimes were alleged to have happened in 1984 before Osho broke his public silence.
Allegedly Sheela tried to murder Osho’s private physician and his girlfriend, and had also wiretapped and bugged most of the camp including Osho’s home and the homes and offices of people who lived outside of the Rajneeshpuram community.
After being denied building permits by the county the Rajneesh hatched a plan to take control of the Wasco County government. This was a multi-pronged attack and begat the action of where they began to import thousands of homeless. They called it their “Share a Home” program and attempted to register them to vote and have them vote for Rajneesh candidates. The county clerk countered this attempt by requiring people registering to vote to prove their qualifications to do so. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what that means, sounds kind of Jim Crow to me, but this case of disenfranchisement may have saved Wasco County for years to come.
The main plan of assault on Wasco County was much more sinister and involved attempting to incapacitate the main voting block of the county who lived in The Dalles. Sometime between the end of August 1984 and the beginning of October 1984 operatives of the Rajneesh sprinkled salmonella culture over the salad bars of at least ten restaurants in The Dalles, the county seat of Wasco County, in hopes of affecting the outcome of the local county elections where the Rajneesh had been running their own candidates. 751 people were infected, at least 45 hospitalized, and thankfully no one died. This was the first instance of bioterror in US history and to this date the single largest event of its kind the United States has ever experienced.
This wasn’t limited to just salad bars. The Rajneesh fed two visiting county commissioners water tainted with salmonella hospitalizing both. They spread salmonella on doorknobs and urinal flush handles at the courthouse. They even had planned to poison the city’s water supply, but scratched that plan at the last minute.
The outbreak of salmonella prompted investigations and it was basically an impotent shrug of blame that placed the fault of the largest localized salmonella outbreak in US history on “poor food handling”.
February 28, 1985 Congressman James Weaver wasn’t buying the official investigation and stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and accused the Rajneesh of poisoning the people of The Dalles. It wasn’t until Osho’s press conference seven months later did he admit members of his cult were responsible.
The group also had plans to assassinate the US attorney for Oregon. Sometime in the winter of 1984/1985 the Oregon State Attorney General launched an investigation and executed search warrants on the Rajneesh discovering the exact strains of salmonella in a medical research facility owned by the Rajneesh.
The investigations later revealed that the Rajneesh had not limited their attacks to The Dalles but had also attempted to murder a county judge, the Jefferson County district attorney, and had poisoned the food supply in locations in Salem, Portland and other Oregon cities; even the salad bar at the nursing home of the Mid-Columbia Medical Center!
During the investigations Sheela made her tapes of the bugged conversations available to the feds as part of a plea deal. Much of this evidence was sealed and I am personally really curious to hear what was on those tapes. One of Osho’s disciples testified in court that Sheela had played tapes where Osho had called for some of the sannyasins to be murdered to strengthen the resolve of those who were on the fence about violence for the cause. To this day I really have no clue as to what their “cause” may have been. They had a sex cult, why ruin a good sex cult with murder? Anyway, this is what Ma Ava (Ava Avalos) had to say in court: “She came back to the meeting and […] began to play the tape. It was a little hard to hear what he was saying. […] And the gist of Bhagwan’s response, yes, it was going to be necessary to kill people to stay in Oregon. And that actually killing people wasn’t such a bad thing. And actually Hitler was a great man, although he could not say that publicly because nobody would understand that. Hitler had great vision.”
Sheela then took this conversation literally and tried to murder Osho’s girlfriend and his personal physician. After hearing the tapes a grand jury indicted Osho and several of his followers on 35 counts of violating immigration law.
Law enforcement feared that an armed standoff might be imminent when Osho and his closest advisors fled Oregon via a private Learjet and was arrested the next day, October 28th 1985, while refueling in North Carolina. In Osho’s possession was $58,000 in cash and over a $1 million in jewelry and watches (see: “How to Launder Money“). They were on their way to Bermuda to avoid prosecution.
The same day in West Germany Sheela and an accomplice were arrested and extradited to the USA for trial. They were convicted for attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. They served two and half years. They got off easy.
Osho plead in court to immigration fraud and arranging sham marriages for his followers to obtain residency in the US. He was given a 10 year suspended sentence, fined $400,000 and deported back to India.
A week after his arrest, the area was completely abandoned by the Rajneesh and a new vote was held that reinstated the name of Antelope for the town, this time by a vote of 34-0.
Osho returned to India and experienced a hero’s welcome at first and spent his first few months bad mouthing America, referring to the United States as a “monster” who needed to be “put in its place.” Osho’s Indian stay only lasted six weeks when the non-Indians in his entourage had their visas revoked, so he moved the party to Nepal, then got booted and moved to Crete where he made it a few days before he was arrested and deported again. Then it was onward to Geneva, Stockholm, and London, each time his entry to the nations denied. Osho then attempted to fly to Canada but was refused the right to land and the plane was forced to turn around to land in Shannon, Ireland where they were allowed to stay for two weeks at hotel in Limerick provided Osho didn’t go out or give talks.
The good news for Osho was that he was awarded a Uruguayan identity card and given a one year temporary residency. The party then flew to Madrid to refuel where the plane was surrounded by elite police and he was not allowed to deplane, got to spend one night in Dakar, and then made it to Montevideo, Uruguay where the group set up shop in a house and Osho began his gig of making speeches all the way until June 19th, 1986 when the government abruptly told Osho and his crew to get the fuck out of the country.
Osho had arranged a two week visa in Jamaica but when they landed the Jamaican police gave them twelve hours to leave the island. After a refueling stop once again in Madrid, Osho returned to Bombay India. In November 1987 he decide that the ashram in Pune was the way to go and began leading his flock once again. His health had taken a turn for the worse and he accused the US government of poisoning him via radioactive isotopes, but most medical professionals think he probably had contracted AIDS being that he was the leader of a sex cult during the ’80s and all.
Osho gave his last public address April 1989 and began to wither from that point on. He accused the leadership of black magic and investigations by trusted disciples turned up no leads. Osho’s heart went puny-pop January 19th, 1990 at age 58. He was cremated and his ashes rest in his bedroom at the ashram. A plaque reads, “OSHO. Never Born, Never Died. Only Visited this Planet Earth between 11 Dec 1931 – 19 Jan 1990.”
During this time life in Antelope returned to normal, in that not much happened. A plaque was mounted outside the post office commemorating the resistance to the “Rajneesh Invasion”, and the town continues to wither and die today!
Today the former Big Muddy Ranch/former Rajneeshpuram, is now the Washington Family Ranch owned and operated by the Young Life Ministries. Osho’s former private airfield is now the Big Muddy Airport. I encourage you to check out the weird videos on YouTube and read up more on where his followers went. Strange group, the lot of them! The cult is alive and well today and I even see friends who don’t know any better throw up an OSHO quote on their Facebook wall every now and again.