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.