DEPOE BAY HISTORY
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The story of the early days of the Central Coastal City of Depoe Bay, Oregon is filled with colorful and interesting people and a collection of anecdotes, recollections, theories and opinions, many of which are contradictory. Newspaper stories of the days were no doubt sensationalized to make them more intriguing, as they still are today. It is with this caveat that we undertake to convey a word picture for those who care about and are interested in Depoe Bay, either as residents, business owners, or visitors.
Depoe Bay officially became a city on May 22, 1973 when 174 residents voted for and 53 voted against incorporation. At that time 450 people lived in the city’s borders. The 2000 U.S. Census counted 1174 Depoe Bay residents. This year on May 22, 2003, the City will officially be 30 years old, but the Depoe Bay Story began way before its date of incorporation.
Native Americans, those of the original Siletz tribe, were the City’s first known inhabitants. Today remnants of the Indians’ presence can still be found in and around the City in the numerous kitchen middens or mussel shell mounds that built up over many years as the meat of the mussels was removed and the shells discarded. Although the kitchen middens are protected today for their archaeological values, at one time they were mixed with sand and used to build some of the first roads in Depoe Bay.
Any Depoe Bay story should include mention of the theory of Bob Ward, founder of the Drake Society in Oregon, that in 1579 Sir Francis Drake visited Whale Cove, which is now within the urban boundaries of Depoe Bay. According to the theory, Drake named the land New Albion. The Drake Society’s accounts contain a detailed description of the lifestyle and culture of the local people where he spent time in 1579, and if the Society’s theory is correct, it would be the only detailed description of what might be called the Original Siletz Indians of Oregon.
Other early visitors to Depoe Bay were Dr. F. W. Vincent of Pendleton, Oregon and his grandfather, who while sailing their 40-foot boat on the Oregon coast saw an opening in the rocky shore land. Out of curiosity they lowered their sails and rowed into what is now Depoe Bay Harbor. Finding evidence of a shipwreck, they named the harbor Wrecker’s Cove. But the name did not catch on.
William Charles DePoe eventually became known as Depoe Charlie. Controversy, contradictions and mystery surround the origin and spelling of his name.
One version claims that a young Indian worked at a U.S. Army supply depot established in 1856 which became known as the Siletz Depot. The Depot was on the Siletz Slough in what is now known as Toledo, Oregon and handled supplies for the Siletz Indian Agency. The young Indian became known as Depot Charlie, or more formally Charles Depot.
Another version claims that the name Charles Depot was reached through faulty deduction, and that young Indian’s true name was William DePoe, which in late years was shortened to Old Charley for reasons unknown.
Yet another version reportedly told by Dr. Robert Depoe, an Indian College educator, was printed in the Yaquina Bay News on May 4, 1933:
"We owned the property where Depoe bay' [sic] is and it took its name from us. My father came to the first train into Yaquina bay dressed in his Indian regalia as did other Indians for there was quite a celebration at Toledo station. The passengers, mellowed by wine and rich food, purchased my father's decorations, pie, etc., leaving him almost stripped. He saw the opportunity of building a profitable business through selling Indian curious at Toledo depot and established himself there, thus getting the name 'Depot Charlie.' When I had earned my higher university degrees and decided to devote my time to teaching, as his son I would have been called Depot Robert. That didn't sound so well so I changed my name to Robert DePoe.
All three versions of the origin of the name agree that when the U.S. Post Office was established in the City in 1928, Charlie’s last name, whether Depot or DePoe was changed to Depoe. It was opined by at least one historian that perhaps the French flavor of DePoe was too much for the government to adopt, or perhaps it would merely create too many printing problems for the postal service.
Sometime in the late 1800’s the U. S. government allotted over 200 acres of undeveloped land that lay beside a small ocean bay to Charles Depoe and his heirs and assigns. Landlocked, it was accessible only by wagon, boat, on horseback or on foot. An official plat circa 1915 documents that Charles, Matilda, Minnie and William B. Depoe owned all of the ocean front land beside the bay. The land extended from the Northern side of what is today Boiler Bay to the *south side of the outer harbor, now known as South Point. Charles and Minnie resided on the land until their deaths.
The DePoe’s would be the last Siletz Indians to own the land that was inhabited by their people for generations. The land that was to become known as Depoe Bay—a name finally accepted by Oregonians.
This is part one a multi-part history. Installment II will continue the Depoe Bay story as Portland businessmen hike into Depoe Bay and begin turning the wilderness into a city.
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Acknowledgements: The Lincoln County Historical Society, and Jodi Weeber the Society’s Registrar and Research Librarian; Bob Ward, Founder of the Drake Society in Oregon; and Pery Murray, Depoe Bay City Recorder.
Photographs are used with the permission of the Lincoln County Historical Society for research and display purposes only. They may not be reproduced, rented, or resold other than for the described purposed without the written consent of the Lincoln County Historical Society.