Friday, April 12, 2013

The Turks in California, Part 2




San Francisco was the sort of place that tolerated iniquity up to the point in which that iniquity threatened to take control, then—to use a phrase from the Rogue's Lexicon—it was curtains. Back in the gold rush days the city had been over run by Irish criminals from Australia. This group of scoundrels were drawn by the promise of gold, but found digging in the bowels of the earth too hard. It was easier, and more profitable to rob the miners after they had done the work. These criminals were called "Sydney Ducks" and the area close to the waterfront was "Sydney Town." The Irish Aussies got busy with American Democracy and began threatening voters and stuffing ballot boxes until many of the positions of authority in the city were controlled by them. What followed was the business men and former members of civil society formed the "Committee of Vigilance." The members of this committee invested themselves with the power of life or death over the perpetrators of iniquity, assassinating and lynching "Sydney Ducks" by the dozens, until order was restored.

Not long after this episode the San Francisco waterfront fell under the sway of powerful Sailor's Boardinghouse Masters, men who cheated sea captains, shanghaied sailors, and threatened to discredit the maritime business of the port in the eyes of foreign merchants. Jim Turk was among these crimps and operated from two different locations during the 1860s. In 1872 the San Francisco authorities, under the direction of the U.S. Shipping Commissioner Stevenson, began to crack down heavily on the sailor's boarding houses. Runners for the houses were arrested as they attempted to board ship. The merchants with commercial interests in shipping met with shipping masters and captains to agree on ways to suppress the "blood money" system of advanced wages. I suspect that San Francisco became too hot for the Turks, so they moved north to work the docks of Astoria and Portland.



From  the Portland, Oregon U.S. Census 1880

Turk was in Portland long enough to make himself odious, then his marriage hit rough waters. I would estimate the first period to be something less than two years. This I am deducing from two facts: their son, Frank, was reported to have been born in Portland, and the San Francisco Daily Alta California stated in January 1874 that the lad was "about 18 months" old. This was in a report, seen as amusing to most readers, of the fiery explosion of emotion that was thought to be the end of the Turk's marriage. The papers were wrong. Not only was the marriage not over, Portland had not seen the last of them. These vagaries will become somewhat clearer by reading in its entirety the article below, which appeared in the Morning Oregonian, January 22, 1874, and is a recap of the California story.

    The Turk Family


    The Portland public, and especially the members of the police force of this city certainly have abundant reason for remembering  Mr. Turk and his angel-faced spouse, Catherine. This detestable pair formerly resided in Portland, and were the proprietors of a low, disreputable sailor's boarding house, near the corner of Front and Ash Streets. Turk was a swaggering bully, and never allowed an opportunity to pass by unimproved to display his pugilistic talents, especially when his opponent was physically inferior to himself. His wife was a female of Amazonian proportions, with a temper alongside which Jezebel was an angel, and to which might be added that other commendable trait, intemperance. During her drunken sprees she was a terror to her husband and a source of annoyance to the police. Finally the family relations became so intolerable that Turk shipped on board an English vessel and left the country. Soon after Mrs. Turk took her departure for parts unknown, and rid the community of her unwelcome presence. But it seems that she is afflicting the good people of San Francisco. From an exchange of the 12th we learn that Mrs. Catherine Turk rushed frantically into the presence of Captain Dayton, of the San Francisco police force, and demanded a warrant for the arrest of her husband, who, she stated, had shipped on board the ship Cultivator, which was to sail the next day for Liverpool, taking with him her only child, a boy aged about 18 months. The captain suggested the idea that her husband was perhaps the lawful custodian of the child, and that a warrant for his arrest could not be issued. He told her, however, that she might be enabled to reach the case were she to sue out a writ of habeas corpus in the proper court. She went out swearing that she would have the child anyhow, and on the next day Turk was arrested by the Harbor Police to answer to a charge of larceny, based upon the fact that he had taken from his wife two trunks of clothing. He stated, by way of explanation, that his wife was a dissipated woman, and that he had shipped as steward on board the Cultivator, in order that he might convey his child to Liverpool and place him in the custody of his sister, who resided there. The case was inquired into on the following day, and Turk was discharged, but too late to fill his engagements with the vessel.

It is clear by reports of further drunken sprees and violence that the Turk family was back in the business of shipping sailors in Portland by November of that year. I don't think I would want to be in the shoes of the reporter who penned the article above should it have fallen into Jim Turk's hands. At the very least my eyes would be in need of beefsteaks and the rest of my body a good rub down with one of those miracle cures found in every corner drug store in those days.

The Turks were back for good, travelling between Portland and Astoria, shipping sailors from both cities. They would divorce and then live together in their drunken fits of rage. Jim Turk would remarry after Kate died of acute alcoholism in 1890. But when Turk died, five years later, he was buried with Kate on one side and his mother on the other. His grave can be seen today in the Lone Fir Cemetery, a simple stone marked "FATHER."