Friday, March 29, 2013

The Turks in California Part 1

Where it all took place, the little dot to the left is the first house of Jackson
In the early evening of twilight of a dank November in 1869 the activity along the "city's front" consisted of the usual howling drunks and raucous laughter. It was a region that had been San Francisco's no-man's land for decades. Not long before it had worn the name "Sydney Town" in honor of the Irish criminals drawn to California from Australia at the news of gold. Instead of "digging in the harmless earth" themselves, these boys had found it easier, and more profitable, to relieve the heavy burden of gold from those miners who wandered the streets of the city in search of pleasure. "Sydney ducks," was the derisive name the Americans gave them, but they set about beating the Americans at their own game. Democracy was made for such as they. It was simple enough to elect their own sheriffs and judges by stuffing ballot boxes and using threats and violence in the right places. The righteous Anglo Saxons of the city formed a "Committee of Vigilance" that with equal or greater violence scattered the "ducks" and with the use of assassination and lynching regained control of the city by the bay.

Along the old "city front"

James Turk, an Englishman who had come to America as a child, arrived in the city November 3, 1864, according to voter's records.  Along the way he had acquired a wildly beautiful wife of Irish descent by the name of Catherine—"Kate," of course. They had a son, a wee lad named Charles, and the most volatile marriage imaginable, fueled by alcohol and gross impertinence. The trade they chose to follow was not for the faint of heart, for they chose to open a boardinghouse for the accommodation of sailors.

In the year 1866 the Turks ran a house at 177 Jackson Street, within a stone toss of the wharves. Here they were licensed to sell spirituous liquors to such sea dogs as sought refuge at their door. Two years later they moved several blocks away to the 811 address of a street with the allegorical sounding name, "Battery Street," The Turks were operating a sailor's home at this location that fateful evening in November around which this story revolves. Rather than to try and improve upon this tale, I will relate it here, word for word, as it appeared in the Daily Alta California, in San Francisco, Wednesday morning, November 10, 1869. But first, let me point out that "Sullivan" is a very common name.

A man stabbed to death in a saloon on the city front
About 6 o'clock last evening a cutting affray took place in the New World Saloon, corner of Vallejo and Front streets, from which one of the proprietors, known as Dutch Aleck, will probably meet with his death, being an innocent spectator, while two men named James Turk and --- Sullivan had a scuffle in his saloon. From what we can learn it appears that Sullivan, with a friend, had been out riding during the day. About dusk they put up their buggy, and both went to Charles Hanson's saloon, at the corner of Vallejo and Davis streets. After being in there a short time, Sullivan and Turk (a boarding-house keeper on Battery street) had some angry words. resulting in a quarrel. Both were separated and left the saloon. Soon afterwards  Turk and Sullivan met again in the New World Saloon, where they commenced scuffling again. Dutch Aleck, standing close by and laughing at them, but not saying a word. As soon as the men scuffling released their hold of each other, it is alleged Turk took from his pantaloons a pocket-knife, and rushing by Sullivan with whom he had been scuffling, ran up to Dutch Aleck, running the knife into his abdomen, inflicting a frightful wound, and then left the saloon. For some time afterwards Dutch Aleck did not know he had been cut, and took several drinks. Going into a back rook he fell down and fainted. It was then notice that a pool of blood was running from him and his intestines protruding. Medical aid was at once summoned, the wounds were dressed, and the injured man was conveyed to his room. Officers Lanyan and Devlin proceeded to the place as soon as they heard of the affair. They learned from the injured man, who was then in a dying condition, that Turk was the man who had inflicted the wounds which statement was corroborated by eyewitnesses. The officers immediately went after Turk, whom they soon found and brought to the Station House.

The next morning, at 3 o'clock, Dutch Aleck, a 26 year old Russian, whose full name was Alexander Gallagher, died at the City and County Hospital (another account says, St. Mary's Hospital). A post mortem showed that his intestines had been severed in four places. The coroner empanelled a jury, but was unable to proceed with the inquest because the principal witness was intoxicated. The inquest was postponed, the witness was locked up in the Station House on a drunk charge, and James Turk was carried off to the City Prison to await the outcome of the wheels of justice. A week later Turk was arraigned on a charge of manslaughter and sent to prison to await trail. He was 32 years old at the time. 

For unknown reasons Turks trial did not begin until November 30th of the following year. I would imagine he spent the entire time in prison, since it is unlikely that someone practicing such a disreputable trade would have been given bail. The trial went on for several days, and it appears that Turks defender earned his fee. After deliberating for ten minutes the jury pronounced him innocent. It was reported in the Sacramento Daily Union that, "two hours after (Turk's acquittal) he was reported on the city front declaring that he was the "chief," etc." A buffoon who, it seems, would kill a man for laughing at him.

There are many detail of this story I will have to be content to never know—I was surprised to chance upon this story, using a database I had never used previously. This adds an interesting chapter to the life of this infamous Oregonian. Next, I plan to post the story of the Turks move to Portland, their quick return to San Francisco, and how they bounced back north in no time flat.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

J.D. Chandler's "Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon"

I enjoy hanging out with J.D. Chandler for a number of reasons, but mainly because he knows more about Portland history than anyone else I know, and he does not hesitate to correct me if my assumptions about some historical event are unfounded. I especially enjoy a pleasant walk with J.D. in Lone Fir looking for the final resting place of some denizen from Portland's sordid past.

We met through our association with History Press, so I have been anxiously waiting for the day his book, "Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon" goes to press. That day is here, and even though I haven't yet gotten the book into my hands, I can point others that direction with a hearty recommendation—knowing intuitively that it is sure to become a Portland classic.

J.D. Chandler, "Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon"

The book can be seen and purchased here, at History Press:,-Oregon/9781609499259

or here, at Powells:

It is also available at Broadway Books, the Oregon Historical Society, McMenamins Edgefield Giftshop, and other Portland area shops.

An interesting interview with the author can be viewed here:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Portland to the Sea

I must remind anyone who is interested that I will be speaking tonight at the Capital Hill branch of the Multnomah County Library, 7 pm, in the meeting room. I was a little worried last week when I did the first of this series of talks. "Why would anyone bother to come hear me?" I wondered. Then the little room filled up with about 30, very nice, people; and it was enjoyable. I only got through a portion of my prepared material, but I think I got a few ideas across.

Principal anchorage points, from a 1919 Pacific Marine Review

Someone labeled these talks "Salty Dogs and Shanghai Tunnels," and maybe that was a good idea, judging by the turnout for the first one. I don't feel that I can talk about shanghaiing without laying some ground work about the port itself. In my mind, the biggest "porky" (fib) told about the waterfront is that it was some magical "head of navigation" destined to become a leading port because of its serendipitous location, "where railroads and sea lanes meet." The fact that Captain Couch had a ship that drew 11 feet, fully loaded, seems lost on most historians. 

From the Oregonian's Handbook of the Pacific Northwest

The city, and later, the Port of Portland, spent 30 some years digging a channel to the sea that would handle the 20 foot draught of late 19th century maritime trade. Then they had to continue to dig to arrive at a channel fit for vessels that need the 43 feet that is currently there. Recently a river pilot was telling me that they still have to wait for the right tide to take vessels from deep anchorage to anchorage on the river. Look up at your ceiling, be it 8 ft, 10 ft, or the nice 12 ft of an old Portland house. Now imagine what 30 feet looks like, and imagine the expense, the stamina, and the determination it took to dig that deep channel from Portland to the sea. 

"From Portland to the Sea" was a common phrase back in old Portland. I read somewhere that even the county dog catcher ran for office using that as his platform. The story of from "Portland to the Sea" is a gallant, ecologically unsound, and little known story that still has no ending. The EPA superfund sites along the Willamette mean that the channel will not be getting any deeper in my lifetime. Looking forward, the Panama Canal will be opening a 50 foot deep channel next year that will add a new chapter to this story. Someday someone else will notice that they put the seaport 113 miles from the sea, then had to dig a channel deep enough for the ships

Friday, March 22, 2013

John P. Betts

Accused of shanghaiing 53 years after his death

At 10 minutes before 8 o' clock on the evening of April 24, 1903 a meteor, much like the recent one in Russia, burst across the skies of Portland. The headlines in the Oregonian the next morning read:

Fire in the Sky

Brilliant Meteor Bursts over Portland

With Loud Detonation

Dazzles the Eyes of Many Startled Spectators

Moves Rapidly to the West

Heavenly visitor is the size of a moon. Sheds a dazzling radiance and leaves a trail of bluish white light.

The report included the testimony of many eyewitnesses. One of these was a prominent citizen whose address was given as "Thurman Street in Willamette Heights." This was John P. Betts (known as J.P.), a mild mannered and well liked gentleman, who lived quietly with his wife enjoying such bourgeois comforts as the city could provide.
John P. Betts, from his obituary in the Oregonian, May 12, 1908

Betts was born in 1850 in Nova Scotia. He and his brother, Albert came to the Pacific Coast when they were young men. Albert (known as Al) was a ship's captain skillful enough to become a Columbia River bar pilot, and a river pilot as well. John P. Betts made a fortune selling real estate in Astoria and Port Townsend. It can be deduced by an ad in the Astorian in 1885 that J.P. Betts was operating as a stevedore in that city, and did business with James Turk, hiring sailors. In 1888 he helped form the Puget Sound Stevedoring Company, a consortium of top stevedores from Astoria, Portland, Tacoma, and Port Townsend, to control the management of longshore work in those cities. By 1900 he was living in Portland where he was elected town constable for Ward 2, which included the "Whitechapel" district in the north end.  

Except in the case of meteors, John P. Betts preferred to stay out of the limelight. He was well known in business circles, and assumed the post of "shipping master" in Portland. His obituary in the Oregonian in May, 1908, states that he held this post for 25 years, but I doubt this very much, since he was reported to have been living in both Astoria and Port Townsend during many of those years. If I had the time to go rummage through dusty records I could probably pinpoint the years he was "Shipping Master" (as the position was called), but suffice it to say, he did it for a number of years, and he was working in this post when he died—peacefully, of pneumonia—in his house on Portland Heights. This dear little fellow was a faithful Elk (B.P.O.E.), a high Mason, being a Knights Templar, and a member of the Mystic Shrine. He was buried from the Scottish Rite Temple on 14th and Morrison.

I recently saw an article in the Saint Johns Review on shanghaiing in Portland. There were some things that made my eyebrows go up, but those things all happened a long time age, who cares? I was interested in the name J. P. Betts listed among the shanghaiers. I had seen the name mentioned by Larry Barber in a 1975 Oregonian article on crimping. After a little digging, I found the name listed, along with the names of Bunko, Turk, and Sullivan, etc. as one of the big time Portland shanghaiers, in the book Shanghaiing Days,  by Richard H. Dillon, published in 1961 by Coward-McCann. It could be that Mr. Dillon, who knew the San Francisco shanghaiing stories pretty well, came upon an article (March 1900) where J. P. Betts was named in a lawsuit, along with all the members of the Larry Sullivan, Grant Bros, and McCarron boarding house, and the ships master, for shanghaiing a fellow named Otto Ranft aboard the British Ship, MacMillan. The suit was thrown out of court for having no merit after Otto admitted to having signed the ship's papers.
Shanghaiers, as depicted in the silent film "Shanghaied", starring Charlie Chaplin

The United States Shipping Commissioner position was put in place by the Shipping Commissioners Act of 1872 (Dingley Act), an attempt by law makers to put an end to the kind of abuses sailors had been subjected to over the years. This is an complex and interesting subject, too big for a mere blog post. Suffice it to say the law was passed to combat crimping (shanghaiing). It required that a sailor had to sign on to a ship in the presence of a federal shipping commissioner (or, in some cases, a British consulate official). The law further required that a seaman be paid off in person in the presence of a shipping commissioner, and the he declare that he signed the ship's papers willingly and soberly. Needless to say, the law was circumvented in all ways possible, in Portland, and other ports around the country. In practice this was also done by authorized officials, such as J.P. Betts, or by U. S. Customs officials, or in the case of overseas ports, consular officials.

I don't think of John P. Betts as a shanghaiier. It was his laxity in enforcing the law that caused many a poor landlubber to go to sea. In social class, dignity, and the eyes of society this gentleman was far removed from the dockside ruffians who dealt with sailors. We have no way of knowing what sorts of arrangements Betts had with people like Larry Sullivan, or Jim Turk, but it is safe to wager that it had something to do with Bett's ability to pay for his Portland Heights home, carriage, etc. But had you called him a shanghaiier to his face, he, and all the gentlemen within earshot would have been appalled. Were he to know that in 1961, in a book that was to become the primary source of information on Pacific Coast shanghaiing, he was numbered among the lot—named beside Turk, Bunko Kelly, and Sullivan—he would have been devastated.

Since that book was published nearly every article on the subject has listed the same motley crew, usually in the same order—including the name "Dave Evans," the Tacoma sailor's boardinghouse master who, never did a dime's worth of business in Portland, and the obscure name, ”Jim Vierck," of whom nothing is known. It could be that the "Shanghaiing Days" author, Mr. Dillon, got this information from Stuart Holbrook, who could make up a good, historical fact with the blink on an eye. But it is disheartening to see this list repeated so frequently by people who go no further than a single document penned years after the time in question to find information.

This little instance of the weird list of Portland shanghaiers, along with the burgeoning fakelore of the shanghai tunnels, is a microscopic view at how "history" unfolds, and solidifies, to turn into words written in stone. I happened to have become interested in Portland's old waterfront, but I have a suspicion that whatever else I may have become interested in, the same sort of phenomenon would occur. A tiny piece of false information becomes wedged in the stream and gathers driftwood and leaves to support the fact that it is real.

I am sure Mr. Betts would much rather be remembered as a man standing on his front porch gazing up at a bright meteor as it crossed the sky--from the Oregonian tower to the forest above Linnton--bursting to pieces with an earth shattering roar, causing the valleys below to echo. Our lives come to us in moments along the course of the arrow of time, but our history is written by people who were not there.

present day depiction of the April 24, 1903 event

Monday, March 18, 2013

Boxcar Children

At some point during my 33+ years on the waterfront I took to calling my fellow workers by the honorific title of "brother," preceding their Christian name, making it seem as though I were a Baptist elder at a camp meeting. Today I had the pleasure of visiting some of my "brothers" at the USDA/GIPSA/FGIS Portland field office located in the lovely, historic Albers Mill which abuts the north side of the Broadway Bridge. They all seemed glad to see old fatso (or "Brother Barn" as they call me, with what I trust is affection). In fact Brother Cleve had some remarkable old photographs he was waiting to show me, images from the early days of grain inspection that he had been given recently by his mother. Brother Cleve has grain inspection in his blood. His father was a field office manager and inventor of the famous "Ellis scoop," a device still in use to this day as a method of testing the accuracy of automatic grain samplers.
I intend to put all of these images on this blog in future posts, but for starters I love this rare photograph of official sampling of grain that is being transported by boxcar. Last year I was asked to write an article for Streamliner, the Union Pacific Railroad Historical Society newsletter about the subject of transporting grain into export elevators in boxcars. If you are interested in this subject, or the subject of the Portland export grain elevators in general, back issues are still available (Volume 25, Issue 4 

Sampling grain in the old days

As you examine the photograph, imagine the difficulty of climbing into one of these things at 7 am on a frosty morning, hung over (of course), and gagging from the hay fever attack brought on by airborne chaff stirred up as you stepped inside the tight air space. Boxcars were difficult to open, usually requiring a crowbar and lots of sweat. Sometimes the millwrights had to get involved, although usually they would just hand us a ratchet device called a "come-along" and tell us to do it ourselves. The "come-along" seemed like 100 pounds of ice cold steel, and in my hands (at least) it seemed impossibly difficult to use. One way or another the door was opened and the boxcar sampled and inspected before it was brought into the "tipper."

rail tipper at Terminal 4

The first time I saw a tipper grind into action I thought I was being gripped by hallucinations. If you can imagine gigantic steel lobster claws suddenly, with a groan like the aliens giants in War of the Worlds, reach down and grab a boxcar by both ears—that is startling, believe me! Then the "tipper" gets to work and lives up to its name. With groaning, whining and shuddering, alarming enough to frighten even the imps of perdition, it picks up the entire boxcar and slowly tips it backwards and forward until most of the billions of little kernels contained therein have fallen through the steel mouth of the "rail pit" and sent to their destination somewhere in the bowels of the grain elevator. 

Those days are long gone. As the railroads stopped serving the smaller trunk lines they moved to larger and larger hopper cars. Into the mid 1980s fewer and fewer boxcars arrived at the export elevators. And I  must say, even though I look back at that period with a wee bit of nostalgia, no one was sad to see them go—except, the small inland country elevators that were driven out of business by the changing methods of the day.

NOTE: The first in my series of talks on the subject of Portland's lost waterfront will be Wednesday evening at 6:45 pm in the meeting room of the Saint Johns Library

Multnomah County, Saint Johns Library

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A New Leaf

The Portland Waterfront History website has been remodeled two or three times over the years, but last night I uploaded an entirely new version. This one is intended to be easy to use, mobile friendly, and captivating. It has new image galleries with over 240 large images, a timeline designed for easy additions and corrections, and a section for video. The images are from my personal collection. I admit that lot of these image are from postcards, not the highest definition, but I think even the hand colored ones have a certain nostalgic charm, and oftentimes they are the only images available from the time period. I hope you enjoy the new site, and please, don't hesitate to send me suggestions or additions. My whole existence is a work in progress, so I don't mind having errors pointed out, or new ideas suggested to me in a helpful manner.

A Note to my North Portland and Saint Johns friends:  The Multnomah County Library has asked me to give a series of talks on the subject of Portland's lost waterfront. They titled the series "Salty Dogs and Shanghai Tunnels" so I suppose I will have to discuss Portland's favorite fakelore. The first of thee will be:  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 6:45 pm
St. Johns Library, Meeting Room

I must say, I am looking forward to talking about my favorite subject, so I hope someone shows up, or I will feel kind of silly.

Here are some links to the new pages. Here is a hint: if it looks funny its because you have some of the old page stuck in your browser cache--so hit the "Refresh" button and all will be well.

Landing Page (Home)



Friday, March 15, 2013

Shanghai Dock in Black and White

Some time back I went looking for evidence of the mysterious "Shanghai Dock" that rears its head, from time to time, in horror stories of the Portland waterfront. What I found was the hard evidence that the Shanghai Building Company leased the old Columbia Shipbuilding site at the south end of town. The Army Corp of Engineers had to dredge out the river in front of the dock to make the channel deep enough for the freighters of the day. The company shipped lumber to China until the first days of WWII when the Japanese invaded. This dock took the name in 1923 when the Shanghai Building Company took over. The name lasted for some years after the company folded—until the area was taken over by Zidell for ship breaking. Of course this was quite awhile after the days of shanghaiing sailors for windjammer tours. The last reports of shanghaiing are around 1915, incidentally the same year that Charlie Chaplin made the move, "Shanghaied."

Although it was frequently mentioned in the newspapers, especially in the "Marine Notes" section, until today, I had never seen the name "Shanghai Dock" on a city map. This morning I had the good fortune to be at Tom Robinson's archives. He pulled out a large format city map printed in 1934, and as I scanned the waterfront my eyes lighted upon the words, "Shanghai America Dock." The location was right where I have been saying it was—almost beneath the Ross Island Bridge. I am including that small piece of the map for you to see. But don't ask me why they put the word "American" in there. The company name was "Shanghai Building Company" and in the Marine Notes it was always simply "Shanghai" or "Shanghai Dock."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Money Matters All Things

From: Money Matters All Things:
OR, Satyrical Poems, SHEWING The Power and Influence of MONEY over all Men,
 of what Profession or Trade soever they be. William Coward, et al. 1698

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Cowboys Who Came to See the Elephant

What is now the rather desolate reaches (except for the Alexis) lower West Burnside was once the wonder of the world. If you chanced to meet an English sailor on the streets of, say, Singapore or Alexandria, and you mentioned you were from Portland, Oregon, he would most likely break into a broad smile and begin to tell you of the grand time he had on B street. It was a magnet for other classes than seafarers as well. The streets were jammed with all sorts and conditions of men, loggers, mill workers, longshoremen, vagrants of various kinds, hobos, and cowboys from the ranges of Oregon and Washington. All sorts of men frequented the area, but only one sort of woman.
The spirit of the West survives to this day. A spirit of belligerence, pig-headed intransigence, self adulation, orneriness, and plain, unadulterated wickedness the like of which Sam Peckinpah was as accurate chronicler.

I read a news report in a Oregonian from February 1900 telling the tale of five cowboys who came to Portland to see the elephant in the zoo up at City Park. That evening they decided to go drinking down on B street, and to practice the sport of "closing up saloons." This was an endeavor that involved ordering drinks all around, then closing the saloon for the evening with the proprietor locked out in the street. The report follows as printed in the newspaper:

They saw him (the elephant), one evening, in dozens of different poses, and toward midnight their amusement took the form of closing up saloons in the North End. Their manner of procedure was to enter a saloon, have a fist and skull fight, make the bartender set up drinks all around, and then close up his place for the night.
They saw him (the elephant), one evening, in dozens of different poses

At that time Robert Shortell, who, for many years, kept a saloon of a better class in Portland, was selling whisky in the Whitechapel district. The block of five marauders entered Bob's place and made the usual demands. The leader said:
"We have just shut up six bars, and it's your turn next. Set up your refreshments and then get out—see?"
Bungstarter: a mallet for removing a cask bung

Shortell picked up a heavy iron "bungstarter" that weighed something less than a ton, and leaped over the bar, exclaiming,

"This is an Irish house, and we close up when we get ready."

Then the "bungstarter" began to come into play. Two of the outlaws fell inside the bar, another was dropped on the sidewalk, and the remaining pair escaped unharmed by timely and clever use of their legs…

 The effect was wholesome, and the habit that prevailed of closing up saloons galore was never resumed to any extent in Portland.

Back in the 1970s I was in a bar band that had the poor fortune, months on end, to play at Jake's High Tide in Newport, Oregon (Chinese food, dancing). On weekends the college kids from Corvallis would head over the hills for some fun, mixing with the grizzled and unwelcoming fisherman whose turf it was. Fights—flying chairs, breaking glass, torn clothing, bloody noses, even an occasional stiletto—were common. This was a volatile cultural mix, but nothing compared to the explosive potential present on the saloons and streets of Portland's north end.

I am of a mind that the cowboys were a tougher lot than the tars. For one thing they  carried firearms, for another, the were usually chosen from a healthier gene pool. The same article mentioned above went on to tell of another group of five cowboys. This bunch came from Montana and they were headed to the Alaska gold fields, stopping in Portland long enough to get outfitted. In their own minds they were certain to become millionaires. To celebrate their anticipated good fortune they rode together into a north end dance hall saloon and ordered drinks for themselves and their horses. The newspaper went on to state:

"Their guns were very much in evidence, and it is perhaps needless to state that the drinks were served. A party of barroom bums fell heir to the equine refreshments."

Cowboys were usually just cowboys to the news hacks of the day, but sailors were any number of things—most often, "Sons of Neptune" and jolly ones at that. When fights arose among Neptune's jolly sons the newsmen outdid themselves in reporting, "Naval Warfare" or some such amusing headline. Later on (about 1915) the name "Sons of Neptune" was appropriated  by members of the Astoria regatta for their yachting society, so the newsmen stopped using the term for sailors, to avoid confusion I suppose.