The news on KTVZ tonight about the former Rajneesh land being sold caught my ear and got me reflecting a bit on that particular period of weirdness in Central Oregon history. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a "dark day" in Oregon history like the interviewee on the news did, but it was definitely weird.

The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was an Indian (from India the country, not Native American) spiritual teacher who in 1981 came to Oregon, where his followers bought The Big Muddy ranch outside of Antelope and started a commune there. Naming the commune Rajneeshpuram, they attracted all sorts of attention among the locals, mostly negative.

Understand, this part of Oregon in the 80s was much more conservative and rural than now; the majority of the population was based in agriculture (farmers, cowboys) and operated on Good-Ol-Boy-ism. So the idea of a cult moving in and then taking over the town of Antelope was met with open hostility.

It didn’t help that the Rajneeshees had a number of odd practices and goings-on as well. They all wore red, for instance. They owned a large number of Rolls Royces and the Bhagwan would ride around in them everywhere. They carried machine guns in open sight.

And when I said they "took over" Antelope, I’m not kidding—they registered to vote there and got a referendum passed renaming the town to "Rajneesh." They were able to do this because some 7000 of them lived in the commune.

Sheela, the Bhagwan’s Number Two person, was a real piece of work. When authorities started investigating the Rajneesh commune, the crazy stuff came to light and Sheela and several leaders "were indicted and convicted of several crimes, including immigration fraud, wiretapping, first and second degree assault (poisoning) of two public officials, and the attempted murder of Rajneesh’s personal physician."

Sheela and the Rajneeshees also have the dubious honor of perpetrating the largest germ warfare attack in the history of the U.S., when they infected a salad bar in a restaurant in The Dalles with salmonella—sickening over 750 people.

The Bhagwan went on the run and was caught back east in North Carolina and deported. The sheriff or whoever who was involved in the capture appeared on the news, drawling, "We caught us a Bag-wahn from Ory-gun."

Strange days, indeed.


8 Replies to “Rajneesh”

  1. We have the Rajneeshees to thank for the 20-day voter registration law. Just before an election, when the Rajneeshee higher ups would run for office (because they were taking over Antelope and the surrounding area in whatever way they could), they would go up to Portland and pick up hundreds of homeless people and bus them to Antelope. Then they’d get the homeless to vote for them. They would do this in the days just before an election. So Oregonians voted in the law that you have to register at least 20 days before an election in order to vote.
    Having been in radio news, I would have to call up there once in a while to follow up on news stories, etc… I talked to Ma Anand Sheela – who called everyone "bigoted idiots." I also spoke once in a while to Ma Prem Sunshine who actually sounded like she just wanted everyone to get along. I remember her as being pretty sharp and quite friendly.

  2. I thought Nebraska was a weird place because of the Brandon Teena thing but this takes the cake

  3. This sale of land did indeed bring back similar memories of one of Oregon’s weirdest times, and yet another reminder of the things Oregon is (in?)famous for:

    1) This mess
    2) Tonya Harding
    3) Bob Packwood
    4) The Exploding Whale
    5) Monika Lewinsky’s college
    6) The City of Half.com (is that still the case?)
    7) The New Carissa
    8) Our gas prices…


  4. Back when we had one FM station, locally owned and produced, and everyone liked it. It wasn’t at all unusual to see a 1967 GMC pickup, truck, with a gun rack and "Better Dead Than Red" and "Danger: Hostile Native Central Oregonian" bumperstickers, and Rainer Beer was all the rage. [sigh]

    Be sure to check out Bend Community Radio and consider becoming a member.

  5. I remember their original foray into Portland which included "the bakery" the "apartment building" and the "Disco". All were light-hearted on the outside but proved to be quite serious enterprises underneath. The community accepted them until the darker, town-grabbing and then attempted homicide occured. Fortunately, Oregon responded with vigor and they were shown up, prosecuted and disbanded.

  6. The community never accepted them.

    The Ranch ‘grabbed’ Antelope due to the residents’ illegal, immoral and ridiculous refusal to let the Ranch build on its own land.

    Oregon responded by persecuting people who simply wanted to live on their land, build on their land, and be left in peace, and praising those in Antelope who were denying them planning permission on the silly basis of ‘land zoning’ as if a muddy ranch that had laid idle for 50 years needed protecting.

    The ranch was persecuted and biggotry, ignorance and intolelrance won the day.

    God bless America!

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