return to sender
Neahkahnie’s Black Demon
Portland Oregon was home. Most of the year was spent working at dad’s shoe repair shop, but for a few years –the good years, we call them–summers were spent in Manzanita Oregon. My novel RTS takes place in that Manzanita of the 1950’s.
It’s a cliché understatement to say that things on the Oregon Coast have changed dramatically –but wow have they. Manzanita is now a swanky and expensive beach town with high end homes and mortgages I can’t afford. Long gone are the days when we stayed in shanty shacks, trailers and tents. Gone are the sun-splashed days when my cousins and I stood on the windy beach studying Neahkahnie Mountain, pondering the many myths of ghosts’ hauntings, and the pirate’s gold that had eluded an army of treasure hunters, most of whom traveled to Neahkahnie with a hunch, a shovel and a wheelbarrow. There were a few law-breakers who came with bulldozers and backhoes. They got arrested. My dad and his buddies included.
The thing we feared the most was what the Indians called the ‘black demon’ who guarded that treasure.
“That black demon must be pissed.” My cousin Nene would always say.
“Yeah,’ I’d say, “But he’s just a ghost, what can he do?”
“He could toss us like tooth-picks.”
“I don’t think so. . .” I’d say, “but you go first.”
We’d hide in the bushes at the foot of the mountain and look up through the binoculars we had ‘borrowed’ from
her dad, my uncle Ed, who would also be pissed, if he knew. We were eleven years old. My brothers who followed, younger, and the gang of summer-kids (Manzanita vacationers) that also followed ranged in age from five to ten. If you ever saw the movie Gooneys (also filmed on the Oregon Coast) then, that was us, but with two scared-ie-cat girls as leaders.
Anyway, that black demon as legend told was left behind one summer afternoon, many years ago. Indians near Neahkahnie Mountain were astounded when two sailing ships approaching their coast –the first ships they had ever seen on the Oregon coast and that they said looked like “great birds” –began to ”thunder” and puffs of smoke blustered from their sides. After considerable noise and smoke, one of the ships began to list, and was cast up on the beach near the foot of Neahkahnie. The other set sail over the horizon and was not seen again.
As the ship pitched onto the sand, men toppled over its sides and staggered ashore. All of them were white, except one, who was much larger than the others–a giant, legend says. And he was black.
To the Indians, who, until then never thought there was another race, these men of diverse colors were an alarming sight, and they observed them much as we might regard aliens from another planet coming into our backyard.
At low tide the colorful strangers brought their belongings ashore. Among their items was a huge chest, so heavy and awkward that it took eight men to carry it. With considerable determination, they carried the chest a short way up the mountain, where they then dug a deep hole. They then lowered the chest into the hole. The black giant, whom the Indians supposed was an evil demon, was ordered by a knife wielding white man, to step forward. When he did, he was struck down, and his body flung into the hole with the chest. The men then filled the hole with sand and returned to the beach. The Indians watched all night. The men lifted small boats off the listing shipwreck and rowed away in the moonlight, never to be seen again. The Indians did not disturb the demons resting place, but legend holds that the sand at the end of the mountain turns black in winter. That the black demon pirate is often heard bellowing his anger across the sea, and that when treasure hunters have gotten close, that black pirate has manifested great tragedy in their lives. It was him we wanted to get a glimpse of –from far away, but a glimpse just the same.
So, we’d climb, pulling ourselves up by tugging on the slopped junipers or jagged rocks of the path. Every time someone fell or got hurt we claimed they were pushed by the black demon pirate. Eyes would bulge. Paranoia would set in. Every natural sound had an unnatural effect. We never made it to the top but instead would make it about halfway up the path on the side of the mountain and run yelling and screaming back down.
Summers in manzanita were filled with ghost stories, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows at the campfires along the shore, and watching for that black pirate who we believed sat on a rock at the crest and watched us as we imagined we were watching him.
Of course we never got a glimpse of him. Nobody I know ever found the elusive gold treasure, but a couple people I know spent a small fortune trying to and several days in the Tillamook County jail to prove their devotion.
While I don’t know about that black pirate who haunts Neahkahnie Mountain, what I do know is that I and my brothers have all had mystical, often frightening, often spiritual sightings and happenings when hiking there. So did our dad, that’s why he stopped looking for the black pirate’s gold, saying, “Let him have it.” One of my brothers looked for a bit, but the rest of us never did. To just, “Let him have it.” made more sense. The story of that black pirate plays a role in Return To Sender, which in many ways is ultimately how dad felt about that rumored treasure. 🙂
You can find a lot of info on the history of Neahkahnie, Manzanita, Tillamook or Nehalem at the Tillamook museum.
Manzanita Oregon is one of the most special places in the Northwest (in my opinion) and since I moved to Seattle I miss going there on the weekends. We only get down to the coast about 3 times a year now, when I’m lucky. The last time I was there my brother Clark took this picture of me and then did a digital drawing of Neahkahnie Mountain (in the background) for me to use on this website. I think it looks great. What do you think? I used it as the header on my home page. I have a talented brother.