When he was seven years old, Julian Powder's mother and father were sued for Gross Material Deception with regard to a land speculation deal they were arranging. They lost the case and were forced to work off a debt for more than eleven years in the Gearst mines in the Great Eastern Desert of Cascadia. Julian was placed by the state in the care of an uncle. He never saw his parents again. They died when he was eighteen.
The trauma of watching his parents try to build a land empire only to see it slip away into nothing stayed with Powder for the rest of his life. He was determined to succeed where his parents failed.
On his fifteenth birthday he wrote in his diary: "Today I have reached the age of majority. My past is laid bare with the ignominious failures of my forebears, but already the path of my life is laid out before me in a string of hard work and success. By 18 I will be one of the youngest landowners in Cascadia. By 25 I will be one of the largest landowners in all of Cascadia. By 35 my holdings and income will be the envy of kings and queens and the titans of old Cascadia."
These lofty goals may have seemed beyond reach to many Cascadians, but Powder was cut from different cloth.
"Julian Powder was one of those people who are so driven by a goal that they let everything else fall by the wayside and will do absolutely anything to achieve it," said Marla Ronan, a Powder biographer, "At fifteen he was working three jobs, eating bread and water, and saving every single penny to invest in land sales."
His early strategy was to buy property that was decrepit for a song, refurbish it, and then sell it off from there. By the time he was nineteen years old he owned more than fourteen houses and a dozen commercial buildings. It was a substantial real estate empire for such a young man, even in entrepreneurial Cascadia.
Shortly before his twenty-second birthday, Powder liquidated all of his holdings and managed to amass almost a million sovereigns. He used that money to purchase a large tract of forested land to the north of the Great Gorge with the goal of opening up a milling operation. The proximity of the land to the river would allow for the processing of timber from up-river logging operations.
For a time, it looked like everything was going well for Powder and he might achieve every one of his goals.
"He wrote at the time that he was over-the-moon excited for his future prospects."
On September 3rd, 1910 residents of the town Loowit lake awoke to a tremendous rumbling sound. It was likely the last sound they ever heard. For weeks there had been shaking around the mountain, but many thought nothing of it.
At 6:49am on the morning of the third the rumblings of the mountain finally reached a breaking point as the northwest quadrant of the mountain gave way in a cataclysmic eruption that wiped more than 1,000 feet from the top of the mountain. A pyroclastic flow containing thousands of tons of rock, mud, and hot ash burst down the mountain's side and the shock-wave leveled trees for miles around the blast zone.
The eruption of Mt. Loowit in 1910 dealt a huge blow to Powder's operations. Sections of his vast timber property were leveled, roads were destroyed, and a thick layer of ash covered everything. Beyond that, however, commerce in the area, especially the fast pace of new construction in the area that demanded fresh lumber, ground to a complete standstill.
It seemed for awhile like Powder might go bankrupt—just like his parents.
Down to his last few sovereigns, and increasingly desperate, Powder had a pre-paid reservation at the Howling Claw Supper Club that he decided to use to have "one last hurrah before my ignominious failure and imprisonment," according to his journal.
"Those were dark days for Julian," says Ronan, "Two things saved him: love and a new business partner. It was lucky that he went to the Howling Claw that particular night. He met his future fiancée, Esperanza London, and his future business partner, Archibald Wilkins."
The Howling Claw was already a celebrated Cascadian institution at the time. It was a place where the city's elite came to hob-nob with each other, where newcomers to the city would make their social debut, and, in the words of one person from the day, "to have a rip-roaring, smashingly drunken, spectacle of a time."
It would be a good night for Powder.
An evening at the Howling Claw begins now much in the same way that it did back then: first there are drinks and mingling with masks. Revelers are then placed at random tables of six for dinner. Dancing follows dinner. Dessert follows dancing, and dessert is followed by relaxed, genial intimacies with new friends or old acquaintances.
According to Powder's journal he had the good fortune to be seated across from London and next to Wilkins.
"Wilkins knew immediately who Julian was and began a conversation with him about lumber operations and the market," says Ronan, "and by both Julian's account and later retellings it seems that he was more open and honest with Wilkins about the state of affairs than he was usually. He really poured his heart out and Wilkins responded very empathetically. He offered to float Julian the money to sustain his operations for a minority profit stake in the endeavor. It was exactly what he needed."
The good news left Julian Powder in a much improved mood. He was boyant, jovial, playful. He charmed Esperanza London quickly.
The two of them hit it off immediately—something that angered a lot of the men in the room at the time.
"By all accounts," says Wilson Lau, a historian, "Esperanza Wilkins was something of a rarity. She was incredibly brilliant, creative, with a sharp wit, and a remarkable beauty. Nobody really knew where she came from. Her name wasn't her real name. She told everybody she met a different story of how she came to be in Cascadia. Nobody knew what she was really like or even who she really was."
There was speculation that she was related to the Empresses of Australia—the second daughter of a second daughter eons ago. She is known to have told people that she was a pirate, that she was a traveling performer, that she'd grown up a slave in the Union, that she'd fought in the War of the Islands and knew how to kill a man with her fingers. Everything she said sounded true, but nothing was.
"She was probably pathological, really," says Ronan, "She lied constantly and effortlessly even to Julian, but he didn't seem to mind."
At the end of the night Esperanza turned to Julian and reportedly said: "Why don't you take me somewhere?"
After that, they were inseparable—at least until the Powder Mill days.
With a fresh infusion of cash from Wilkins and a new found love at his side, Julian Powder's life was once again back on track.
His timber operation got fully underway and became a great success. By all accounts he was selling tremendous amounts of lumber to the new burgeoning settlements all around Pørtland—which was then going through a tremendous period of growth.
But his land around Loowit was limiting for many reasons.
"They ran into engineering difficulties because of the grade from the timber harvesting area down to transport at the river," says Lau, "The chutes they built weren't steep enough and so logs would jam and all hell would break loose. At one point a jam of several logs caused a main section of the chuteworks to collapse under the added weight of the logs. It took out over a quarter mile and the harvesting had to stop for almost six months."
Powder wanted a clean slate to take what he'd learned from that Loowit operation and set it up somewhere else that would be state of the art.
That was when he began to hear rumors about Nakoma Mountain.
Nakoma Mountain is an ancient shield volcano that's older than just about every other mountain in Cascadia.
"It's an anomaly," says geologist Johanna Bear, "It's this weird, undisturbed remnant of the ancient world. It's older than the mountains around it. It's older than the Great Gorge. It's older than the sea range. Honestly, it's one of those big mysteries in geology that we just haven't quite figured out."
It's also the home of more than just a few strange stories.
"Nakoma is at the heart of dozens of ancient legends and stories—and just to be clear, these are not happy legends," says Professor Natalia Duc, "People go mad there. People are turned into stones or trees or animals. Lovers disappear. There are stories about the ground literally swallowing people whole, about monsters that eat people alive, and the streams running with blood. There's some seriously bad stuff that's supposed to have happened up there."
The more recent history of the property is also very unusual.
The land around Nakoma has been owned by more than thirty people since 1790. Most owned it for only a few months, some only a few days. During the years since 1790 only four people have ever owned it longer than five months and two days: the government of Cascadia itself, Simon Benson, Julian Powder, and most recently the Nakoma Mountain Trust. All the others died or went crazy or both. That's not an exaggeration—it's literally true.
In January of 1915, Simon Benson began to grow weary of the climate in Western Cascadia and wanted to relocate to someplace warmer. As part of his relocation he wanted to liquidate many of his land holdings in the area—including the vast majority of the Loowit Mountain Expanse, as it was known then.
Benson decided to keep Benson Manor and the lands immediately surrounding it—around five-hundred hectares—but everything else in the expanse was up for grabs.
"Benson had held the land for so long, nearly forty years, that many of the more spooky history of the land had been forgotten and people forgot that before he came along there had been a succession of dozens of owners who all met bad ends," says Ronan, "The power that the curse had in people's minds had started to fall away."
The Expanse was just exactly what Powder was looking for in his new enterprise—a huge piece of timber land with natural contours that would favor his industrious operation.
He made Benson a generous offer, afraid of losing out, and Benson agreed with a witnessed handshake agreement on February 2nd, 1915.
Powder immediately sold his stake in Loowit operation and moved everything he could to Nakoma—which he had decided to rename the Powder Mill Expanse.
Powder invited his foreman from the Loowit operation, Abraham Arnalds, to join him at Nakoma but Abraham refused, apparently saying to Powder: "I think you're a damn fool to be going up there... that place, well, it's cursed. No man returns from that place. It's pure evil all around there. That's where it lives."
Powder never spoke to Arnalds again.
It took more than a year to get things up and running at the new Powder Mill. Equipment was brought in by steam powered engines built on steel tracks. Chutes and flumes were built to convey logs from the mill site to the river for transport. A town was built to house workers, their families, and all the necessary equipment for the mill operation.
The official launch of the mill was the Ides of March, 1916. A day chosen for its good luck.
"When it was fully operational," says Ronan, "The mill was something to see. Everything was state of the art. It was a vast, choreographed dance of wood and metal and the people who managed it all. Julian Powder was set to revolutionize the way that timber was harvested."
Two weeks later was when things started to go wrong.
It was April 1st and Julian was making his usual rounds of the operation when two foremen approached him: Joe Jones and Marty Teufel. The three men had what others recalled was a heated disagreement, though nobody could recall exactly what they were arguing about. Powder stormed off and the men went about their business. Later that night, the two were last seen drinking together at one of the mill's taverns. They were never seen again.
It was suspected that they'd quit without notice. It wasn't unusual for people to come and go with little notice. Only later, after other disappearances and after bodies were found, was it suspected that the two men may also have been victims.
Three days later Alex Martins, another foreman, was found hanging from a tree with his eyes and internal organs removed.
The next day James McIntyre was found in his room, decapitated, and holding a hand of cards consisting of five rabbits—all apparently originating from the same deck of cards, despite the fact that standard decks only contain three rabbits. McIntyre's head was never found.
Two days after that Bernard "Bark" Roughly, Sam Johnson, and Seymour Stein were all found dead in the town's bathhouse. "Each tub the men were found in was filled with blood. Not blood and water, just pure blood," says Ronan, "That was the last straw for a lot of folks. People started quitting, leaving, basically fleeing as quickly as the could."
Julian Powder began offering huge cash bonuses to those who would stay—some did, but many got out.
Over the course of the next several days many more disappearances were reported and many more bodies were found—most in extremely unsettling, disturbing positions.
On April 18th, after dozens had been reported missing, numerous bodies had been found, and nearly all of the mill's workers had fled, the Wimahl Sheriff declared the mill closed for safety reasons.
Julian Powder had publicly defied the Sheriff and refused to leave.
On his final round through the mill town, deciding one last time to attempt to convince Powder to leave, the Sheriff discovered Julian Powder's body in his office. Powder's eyes had been removed and his body had been posed as if writing. On a paper pad in front of Powder was written a poem in blood:
The works of man are grand
He accomplishes all he planned
But sometimes in ever
Something knows better
And crashes him down where he scanned
The murders were never solved and many of the bodies of those who disappeared were never located. Those missing bodies included many workers and Powder's fiancée, Esperanza London. The Powder Mill Expanse has been officially abandoned and closed ever since—the property itself being held by the Nakoma Mountain Trust.
A Cascadian newspaper interviewed Abraham Arnalds two days after Powder was discovered dead and Arnalds had this to say: "When I was just a young boy my grandmother told me stories about that damn mountain that would freeze your blood where you stood. I guess maybe Julian would have been better off if his grandma had scared the hell out of him, too."