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Volunteer Work Illuminates Central Oregon Rashneesh History


A few years ago, a group of friends and I traveled to Washington Family Ranch near Antelope, Ore. to work in the kitchen at a summer camp. The weekend adventure led to our discovery of the camp’s dark history.

In the summer of 1981, an Indian guru called the Bhagwan Shree Rashneesh purchased 64,000 acres of high desert land for $5.7 million and renamed the town after gaining control of the Antelope City Council in 1984, calling it Rashneeshpuram. He gathered followers and eventually bused homeless people from across the country into his camp at Rashneeshpuram where they registered as county voters.

The Bhagwan, known for his illustrious habits and collection of 40+ Rolls-Royce luxury cars, allegedly led his followers to poison citizens of The Dalles, Ore. through small teams established by the Bhagwan’s chief aide, Ma Anand Sheela.

Eventually, the major players in the Rashneesh group escaped to North Carolina after further antics caused heightened pressure from authorities. The Bhagwan was arrested and deported, allowing Antelope residents the chance to return to their normal lifestyle. A Christian organization purchased the former compound and surrounding land formerly owned by the group.

Rashneesh housing structures remain on the property, sprouting legends among current middle school campers and ghost story enthusiasts. Picturesque mountains surround the barren canyon, while ever-present sunshine illuminates the caves, hills, and mysteries that encompass the infamous high desert property.

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Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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