Page images
PDF
EPUB

evidence. 0. L. Spaulding, a special agent of the Treasury Department, found in 1885 that the Puget Sound District was the scene of large-scale violations of immigration laws. "At Port Townsend," he reported, “the Chinese business till lately . . . apparently ‘ran' itself, or, to speak more accurately, everybody seems to have ‘run' it." 19 The certificates that were supposed to prove prior residency were easily obtained; some were mailed on request to Chinese in Victoria 20 Later, after hearings throughout the district, a congressional committee concluded that about 300 Chinese

19 Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury, Transmitting ... Reports of Special Agent Spaulding Relative to the Charge of Fraudulent Importation of Chinese, Senate Ex. Doc. 103, pp. 7-8, 49 Cong., 1 sess., Serial 2340.

20 Ibid.

entered illegally from British Columbia each year, but other estimates placed the figure much higher. One inspector reported monthly averages of 172 Chinese and 1,400 pounds of opium by sea routes alone.21 There are no reliable statistics for the number of Asians refused entry, but opium seizures, which represented only a fraction of the amount smuggled, totaled 16,282 pounds for the years 1883 to 1903.22

Customs Bureau field agents were grimly aware of the fact that they could never wholly stop illicit commerce. They could and did make smuggling difficult and risky. Aided by informers' tips, small teams of land-based officers and support vessels of the revenue marine managed to track down and arrest dozens of smugglers. Sometimes both smuggler and contraband would be seized, as was the notorious Larry Kelly with his sloop laden to the gunwales with opium. More often, the culprits escaped, deserting their cargoes only if hard pressed. According to legend smugglers who learned of an imminent raid might deposit opium tins or dazed Chinese on one of the hundreds of tiny islands in the sound to be recovered later or might bind up their cargo, be it narcotics or human beings, attach some heavy ballast, and cast it overboard. Such grisly events might have taken place, although documentary evidence exists

21 Chinese Immigration, House Report 4048, p. 1, 51 Cong., 2 sess., Serial 2890; C. E. Munn, Chinese inspector, to Charles Bradshaw, July 3, 1890, Letters Rec'd. from Subports and Inspectors, vol. 74, RG 36, FRC Seattle.

22 Registers of Seizures, Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures, 1869-1903, passim, RG 36, FRC Seattle.

[graphic][merged small]
[ocr errors]

only for the less colorful confrontations in which frightened lawbreakers jumped overboard themselves to avoid arrest.23

Nonetheless, sensation-seeking newspapers found useful material in reports of smuggling and federal countermeasures. In midMay 1891, for example, the Port Townsend Leader reported that the Halcyon, a “notorious smuggling vessel," had been sighted in Burrard Inlet. The sixty-three-ton schooner, formerly owned by John D. Spreckels, was now the property of John Whalley of San Francisco. Whalley, so went the story, used the ship to smuggle Chinese and drugs into the United States in great quantities; at least one millon dollars worth of opium was brought in each time.24 When the revenue cutter Wolcott was unable to locate its prey, customs officials suggested that since the Halcyon had been reported earlier in Hawaii, where opium prices ranged from thirty to seventy dollars per pound instead of the eighteen dollars paid in the Pacific Northwest, any contraband probably had been sold there. An enterprising newspaperman, however, located the mystery vessel anchored in Victoria Harbor, interviewed one of Whalley's partners, and claimed that not only had the Halcyon delivered opium to Hawaii, but it had delivered 3,000 pounds to Barclay Sound, where local smugglers had rendezvoused in small boats before sailing for American ports. Neither the reading public nor customs men received further news of the Halcyon.25 On another occasion early in 1889, the Tacoma Morning Globe announced the discovery by federal officers of two large barrels of opium in the Spokane Falls railroad depot. The 450 pounds of opium, marked as sauerkraut, had been shipped from Victoria and was destined for San Francisco. "Influential

[graphic]
[blocks in formation]

men” in Spokane Falls were implicated, the Globe charged, and their arrests were imminent. No arrests resulted. 26

Sometimes the actual facts of a case were as exciting as the abundant tall tales. Captain Herbert F. Beecher, son of the noted Henry Ward Beecher, operated a prosperous steamship route in Puget Sound waters for several years. In 1885 Beecher received an interim appointment as collector of customs and immediately set out to eradicate smuggling:27 Illicit trading within his district, he soon discovered, had reached enormous proportions. The smugglers were shrewd, but Beecher was convinced that their success was made possible by corrupt customs officers and steamship personnel who were bribed into silence or active participation. Distrusting his subordinates and finding the Wolcott too slow to catch suspected smugglers, the new collector hired private detectives to infiltrate smuggling rings in Canada and to give advance warning of sizable shipments. Their investigations revealed that American vessels returning from Alaska made regular stops at Victoria, purchased opium, and then secreted it in falsely labeled casks before the trip to the port of entry.28 One undercover agent witnessed the consummation of a smuggling deal between the master of the steamer Idaho and a representative of the Tie Yun Opium Company. When the Idaho reached Port Townsend on December 27, 1885, customs men stormed aboard, seized 629 pounds of opium, and arrested the ship's captain. Another 3,01112 pounds were recovered from a cache in a warehouse at Cassan Bay, Alaska. The suspected smugglers escaped conviction, and Beecher's crusade ended in 1886 when the U.S. Senate refused to confirm his appointment, but in thirteen months of office he claimed to have

confiscated over $150,000 worth of illegal opium.29

In January 1894, Spokane police, acting on word received from a Customs Bureau informer in Canada, arrested a young man with the assumed name S. B. Davis at the Northern Pacific Railroad terminal building. Davis, who had pretended to be a traveling salesman, surrendered 1,070 pounds of opium to his captors. According to his subsequent confession, he had come west after a business failure in Massachusetts and, unable to secure legitimate work, had agreed to smuggle opium. He had successfully evaded a border check and was about to ship the opium to San Francisco in two trunks, one each on the Northern Pacific and Union Pacific lines, when apprehended.30 Similarly, undercover work precipitated the arrest of former customs inspector William Wilson in Seattle in May 1901. Wilson apparently regularly transported opium in a farm wagon from the municipal docks to a barn in south Seattle. In the barn agents discovered nearly 600 pounds in a zinc-lined pit covered by a haystack.3

The most controversial case concerning the Puget Sound Customs District involved the smuggling of Chinese, not opium. In the spring 1891 the Seattle Daily Telegraph, a Democratic newspaper, embarrassed visiting President Benjamin Harrison by publishing front-page allegations of gross wrongdoing in the Port Townsend customs headquarters. A reporter had conducted a secret investigation in Victoria and learned that at least seventy Chinese had been given false entry papers and brought into the United States between January 1 and April 20. A Port Townsend attorney, John Trumbull, the reporter charged, was engaged in the business of preparing false residency certificates, which were sold to Chinese in British Columbia seeking entry into the United States. Federal officers acted on this information by arresting a Chinese, Wong Huy Chen, and Trumbull. Charles J. Mulkey, special agent for the Treasury Department, was assigned to carry out a full investigation.32 By mid-May Trumbull had been bound over for court action, Deputy Collector C. B. Wood suspended from his post, and reports circulated of a smuggling ring that included important government officials. Wood was fired in early June. Trumbull, charged with eight counts of violating federal law, next claimed that Puget Sound Collector Charles Bradshaw had shared in the profits from the smuggling, had arranged through a silent partnership in a Port Townsend jobbery firm to share profits from the resale of confiscated opium, and had embezzled federal monies to settle some personal gambling debts. The charges against Bradshaw were quietly set aside by the president. Trumbull's case was tried in United States district court in June 1892. After two days of testimony, the trial ended with a hung jury; a second trial late that summer also failed to reach a verdict, and Trumbull was then released.33

26 Tacoma Morning Globe, Feb. 26, 1889.

27 H. K. Hines, An Illustrated History of the State of Washington (Chicago, 1893), pp. 718-719.

28 Port Townsend Argus, Apr. 22, 1886; McCurdy, By Juan de Fuca's Strait, pp. 59-60.

29 Port Townsend Argus, Mar. 11, Apr. 22, 1886; Hines, History of Washington, p. 719; McCurdy, By Juan de Fuca's Strait, p. 60.

30 Spokane Daily Chronicle, Jan. 16, 1894.
31 Seattle Times, May 11, 1901.

The diligence of a handful of customs inspectors, however, was not always frustrated in the courts. Hans Haake, whose schooner Labrador was suspected of haul. ing large amounts of opium from Victoria to American ports, was captured aboard a bogus sealer off the island of Oahu with a 1,300-pound shipment of opium. "Flying Dutchmen" Ferguson, formerly a member of Butch Cassidy's Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, was apprehended by a Canadian constable

and died on the gallows in 1913. Victor McConnell, another major figure in smuggling operations on Puget Sound, was arrested by customs agents and convicted after a stormy legal battle. Three customs officers relentlessly tracked Jim “Pig Iron” Kelly through the San Juans in June 1902 and finally caught him in the company of six Chinese at a landing on Kanaka Bay. Larry Kelly, the so-called "King of the Smugglers," whose exploits comprise a colorful chapter in Northwest history, eluded jail for over two decades only to be arrested and confined in a federal prison.34 Federal officers successfully prosecuted such other wellknown smugglers as Big Bill Stevens and William Jamieson.35

Noting these successes, some observers in the early years of this century concluded

34 British Columbia Daily Colonist, Sept. 14, 1958, Apr. 8, 1962, clippings in Opium Files, B. C. Archives; Friday Harbor Islander, June 19, July 3, 1902; Registers of Seizures, Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures, vols. 1, 2, RG 36, FRC Seattle.

35 McCurdy, “Criss-Cross Over the Boundary," pp. 191-192.

[graphic]

32 Seattle Telegraph, May 5, 1891; Port Townsend Leader, May 6, 1891.

33 Port Townsend Leader, May 6, 12, 14, June 7, 30, July 1, 17, 22, 1891. See also United States v. John Trumbull, District Court of the United States, District of Washington, Northern Division, Case Number 270, in Records of the District Courts of the United States, RG 21, FRC Seattle.

Herbert F. Beecher, Puget Sound collector of customs. that illegal trade, which had vexed federal officials since the settlement of the Oregon Question, was almost dead. A separate immigration service had taken vigorous measures to halt the influx of Asian laborers. New, tough civil service regulations had given the Bureau of Customs a more efficient look, as did administrative reorganizations in 1911 and 1913, which created two revenue marine districts on the West Coast and transferred the Puget Sound port of entry to Seattle, the region's chief seaport and urban center. The district's technical support improved also. Fast, maneuverable steam launches were placed in service late in the 1890s, and wireless telegraphic communications helped coordinate sea and land patrols.36 Despite these improvements, however, smuggling continued on a massive scale. For a time a Portland-based syndicate operated two steamships, the Wilmington and the Haytien Republic, between Victoria and Portland, packing their capacious

36 Ibid., p. 193; Friday Harbor Islander, Dec. 27, Nov. 11, Aug. 2, 1894; Nancy K. Feichter, “The Chinese in the Inland Empire During the Nineteenth Century" (Master's thesis, Washington State College, 1958), p. 66; Capron, Coast Guard, pp. 190-220.

holds with opium. A Canadian government study completed in 1911 noted that the vessels of two steamship lines trading with the Orient coaled at Union Bay in British Columbia and engaged in virtually unrestrained smuggling operations aimed at the American market. By the close of World War I the attempted imposition of prohibition in the United States added new impetus to smuggling operations along the international boundary. The Canadian Federal Opium and Narcotic Drug Branch concluded in 1922 that smuggling continued “by every conceivable means and device.” 37 Fueled by geographical proximity and tariff differences and encouraged by public apathy and the impossibility of total border surveillance, that traffic still continues. The routes, tactics, and even most of the articles of commerce remain much the same.

"

37 McCurdy, “Criss-Cross Over the Boundary," pp. 188-189; Cheng Tien-Fang, Oriental Immigration in Canada (Shanghai, 1931), p. 78; Dominion of Canada, Ministry of Health, Opium and Narcotic Drug Branch, Annual Report, 1922, typescript enclosed in letter, D. A. Clark to H. H. Stevens, May 10, 1922, in H. H. Stevens Papers, City Archives, Vancouver, B.C.

« PreviousContinue »