Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Events Prior to the Winter of 1889 - 1890

The snowy streets of Astoria

By 1889 the power of the ultra-crimp, Jim Turk, was failing. He had imbibed too freely, and for too long and his alcoholism was getting him by the throat. His young son Charles (from a former relationship than his present one) had moved to Tacoma to try to make a name for himself on the waterfront sending men to sea as sailors. His young son, Frank, still a teenager, was hanging around with a creepy Astoria hoodlum and want-to-be crimp named, Paddy Lynch. The other Astoria crimps, under the direction of Larry Sullivan, were moving in on the territory in a big way. They were starting to pull crews that had shipped in Portland off the vessels, replacing them with their own. Violence was at its worst, and ship’s captains were nearly helpless. In the post before this I told the story from the viewpoint of the daughter of the captain of a British vessel unlucky enough to come into port at this time. She recorded the events in a book called, “A Child Under Sail.”

The shanghaiing evil had given the ports of Astoria and Portland a bad name in maritime circles around the world. There was a premium attached to cargo from Columbia River ports due to this evil, and due to the shallowness of the river—making “lightering” cargo to Astoria necessary for many vessels. The violence peaked in the years between 1889 and 1903 when an official monopoly in the business of “shipping sailors” was handed to the firm, Sullivan, Grant Bros. and McCarron by the Oregon State Sailor’s Boardinghouse Commission. That makes these few years the most interesting, violent, and complex in the history of Portland waterfront vice—especially the years from 1889 until the death of Jim Turk in the first month of 1895.

The Portland Board of Trade made the effort to have the United States Commissioner appoint a Deputy U.S. Marshal to oversee the transport of crews to the sea from Portland. The purpose was two fold, to keep the boys on board, and to stop Astoria crimps from kidnapping them. The effort was a disappointing failure, from the standpoint of the Portland merchants.

I am going to try something new and post newspaper clipping images of the events in the year leading up to this period to provide some detailed information without too much of my own editorial commentary.

The year started out with a vile crew of Astoria shanghaiers boarding the Norwegian bark, Jerusalem, while the captain was away in Portland. They kidnapped four men, threatened to kill (or worse) the captain's wife, and did violence against all the crew. This sort of incident is why our two cities had such a bad name in worldwide maritime circles.

January 8, 1889--Astoria, a dangerous place to drop anchor.

 And then, on February 22, 1889 one of the few Editorials against the practice:

 Then in June the Board of Trade decided it was time to foist marshals on Astoria, since "no support could be looked for from Astoria in carrying out the law." Of course this enraged the editor of the Daily Astorian who thought the stink was coming from the other direction--upstream.
Morning Oregonian June 11, 1889

Daily Astorian, June 12, 1889

In October 1889, in his new, politically weakened position, Jim Turk found himself arrested for something he had done countless times--boarding a ship to "decoy" sailors off to his boardinghouse. In this case the ship, Lord Canning, was under contract to the British trading firm, Balfour & Guthrie. The London office had decided to make a test case against Turk. He was to be made an example before all the other crimps, and act that they hoped will cause the others to tremble at the sight of US Marshal's badge.

When Turk was supposed to be arraigned, his lawyer showed up to say his doctor had told him to stay put because he is on the verge of the delirium tremens. The drama increased to a boil in the papers, but the long and short of the matter was that Turk received the traditional fine handed out for crimping related offenses--$100.

Just before the horror witnessed by the young daughter of the captain of the Orpheus, as told in the previous post, the Oregonian prophesied that, with the advent of a special U.S. Marshal, men will be shipped "without trouble."

Had they known US Marshal Fitzsimmons was about to be physically beaten,  his gun taken from him by the crimps, and a charge of murderous assault leveled against him in Astoria, they may have waited a bit before starting to crow.

The tide was turning for certain. Kate Turk (Jim Turk's wife) lay dying in St. Mary's hospital in Astoria. Within five years Bunko Kelly would be in prison with the key thrown away, Jim Turk would be dead, and Larry Sullivan's, Sullivan, Grant Bros. & McCarron would rule the rivers. Like Mark Twain said about his own premature obit, the report of the death of shanghaiing was an exaggeration.

On a personal note: Yesterday my manuscript for the book, The Oregon Shanghaiers: Columbia River Crimping From Astoria to Portland, was emailed to my publisher. It should be on the shelves this spring, so you will be able to read the rest of the story