Travels with the Original Easyrider®
2015 Edition

Visit the Ghost Town of
Bourne, Oregon
aka Cracker City, Oregon

August 30, 2015

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Bourne is a ghost town in Baker County, Oregon, United States about 7
miles (11 km) north of Sumpter in the Blue Mountains. It lies on Cracker
Creek and is within the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Platted in 1902,
the former gold mining boomtown is considered a ghost town today.

Originally named "Cracker City", Bourne is named after Senator Jonathan
Bourne, Jr., who was interested in Eastern Oregon mines for a time. Bourne
post office was established in 1895 and closed in 1927.

When it comes to attracting swindlers and charlatans, there's nothing quite as
effective as gold.

And nowhere in Oregon was that fact more clear than in the bustling boomtown
of Bourne - what today is a tiny ghost town, seven miles out of Sumpter along
the banks of Cracker Creek.

Bourne, Oregon, was the home of several thousand people, along with a large
collection of promising-looking but relatively unproductive mines, a palatial
residence and a printing press that, in Miles F. Potter's words, "hardly had
an opportunity to cool off for six years." Its glory days ran from 1900 to 1906,
when the mastermind of its multi-million-dollar municipal swindle skipped town
just hours ahead of the law.

Here's the story:

In the late 1800s, miners started discovering massive veins of gold in the
rugged, remote regions of Oregon's Blue Mountains.

In short order, towns like Granite and Sumpter sprang up from the rocks, mining
companies started setting up shop and representatives of a species of rugged,
hard-drinking, hard-punching men drifted into the region to work the mines.

By this time, technological breakthroughs had made it possible to get a lot more
gold out of a promising vein than the hopeful prospectors of 1849 had been able to,
but it cost a lot of money to do it. That meant mines were more valuable to big
industrial mining concerns than to individual prospectors. And with the fortunes
that were being cracked out of the earth at the time, big industrial mining concerns
were springing up on stock exchanges all over the world. Financiers in London were
buying, sight unseen, mines in places like Copperfield, Oregon. And they were doing
really well.

It was probably inevitable that someone in the mining district would figure out,
sooner or later, how to work this system to mine a different resource: not gold
from the ground, but "investments" from suckers. It was simple supply and demand:
There was a market for mining-opportunity fantasies. And into that market stepped F.
Wallace White.

White worked the system like the pro he was. First, he hauled a printing press up
Cracker Creek to the little boomtown of Bourne, which was at the time a fading
sister city to nearby Granite and Sumpter. A few hundred miners lived there and
worked nearby mines, but those mines were playing out and the freelance miners
weren't having as much luck as their colleagues in the other towns.

For White, it was the perfect opportunity. After all, he wasn't in the market for
mines that actually produced; why pay extra for something you don't need?

Soon his printing press was in motion. Its main purpose was to crank out two
newspapers. One, for local consumption, served as a typical small-town weekly
paper and was more or less truthful.

The other, distributed nationally wherever suckers might congregate, contained
almost nothing but lies - a gold-mining fantasy that would have been worthy of
Walt Disney himself - had Walt been a swindler, that is. It was designed to look
exactly like a real, honest small-town weekly newspaper, kind of like Main Street
U.S.A. at Disneyland was designed to look like a real, honest small-town main street.

This publication spun fantastic but convincing tales of mammoth gold strikes, of
huge capital construction projects, of rich shipments of bullion. And, of course,
it offered readers opportunities to buy into this fairyland investment opportunity.

With a $7.5 million stock offering, White launched The Sampson Company Limited,
with offices in London, New York City and Bourne. He bought up the playing-out
mines in the Cracker Creek area. When investors came to visit, he put on a dazzling
show for them at his rustic-but-lovely terraced mansion with its formal dining room
and ballroom, and at the mouths of promising-looking mines guarded by burly men
with steel in their eyes and shotguns in their hands.

And the money poured in.

Meanwhile, other shysters were working the suckers too, and the marks were starting
to get a little smarter - or perhaps it was just that so many people had been ripped
off that they couldn't fool themselves any more.

In fact, the legitimate mine financing industry was having trouble raising capital
too, because so many investors simply thought any gold mine was crooked. The
governor of Pennsylvania actually threatened to outlaw the sale of any Oregon
mining stock in his state.

In response, the scammers spent ever more money. Full-page newspaper ads started
appearing: "You can enter the temple of fortune by purchasing HIAWATHA MINING STOCK,"
screamed one. (There is no record of the Hiawatha having ever produced anything.)
"Buy CONSOLIDATED STANDARD - Dividends are sure to follow as day succeeds night.
$500,000 worth of rich ore waiting to be processed," promised another.
(Consolidated Standard produced only a tiny trickle of gold.)

Police were getting wiser, too

But as for White, by 1906 he was starting to get nervous. What he was doing with
his printing press constituted mail fraud, and in his six rich and productive years
of mining far-distant suckers he'd made himself a small army of enemies, many of
whom had friends in important places.

So one night, White simply disappeared from Bourne. He left everything behind but
the money. Authorities did finally catch up with him, many years later, still
diligently operating mail-fraud swindles and no doubt muttering to himself that
after this next big score, he was going to quit for real this time.

As for Bourne, the town melted away. There wasn't enough gold to keep the place
busy. Most of the miners went downstream to Sumpter or across the ridge to Granite,
or out of the hills to Baker City. A few families remained. Today, though, it's
empty, and not coming back - it's part of a national forest.

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