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train and pried the lid from a box, they found it packed with horse manure. Contraband opium commonly was packaged in coal-oil tins, then stashed aboard sound steamers in gunny sacks, crates, or casks with disarming labels. Chinese, too, sometimes entered the United States in potato sacks, which were cast overboard, some claimed, if a revenue cutter drew near. Some overly zealous smugglers were known to have hidden human cargo in the wheelhousings of steamers for the trip from Victoria, British Columbia, to Port Townsend; the surviving handful were taken ashore at night.8
Smuggling was not confined to regular steamship or railroad runs. Small and stocky sloops, called plungers because of their behavior in stormy seas, scurried across the border laden with contraband. Occasionally these sloops evaded inspection by anchoring a short distance off Port Townsend and transporting cargo ashore after nightfall by canoe or skiff. More often, sloop masters set course for harbors where customs surveillance was either nonexistent
8 Letters Received from Subports and Inspectors, 1882-86, 1889-1905, vol. 4, passim, RG 36, FRC Seattle; Herbert F. Beecher to J. B. Moore, July 31, 1885, Outgoing Subject Correspondence, 1869-1902, vol. 7, ibi Port Townsend Argus, July 17, 1875; Port Townsend Leader, Oct. 12, 1889, June 5, 1891.
or very lax. Port Angeles, Dungeness, Whatcom, Coupeville, and, on the lower sound, Brown's Point, were favorite ports of call for smugglers. A customs inspector estimated in 1891 that at Coupeville alone sloops delivered thirty Chinese weekly, a figure corroborated by the Coupeville Times. At Dungeness, Chinese were landed nightly in groups of ten. High profits, furthermore, encouraged a continuous search for alternate routes. Some smugglers traveled the Canadian Pacific Railroad from Vancouver to Haney, British Columbia, ferried across the Fraser River, then continued on horseback to Blaine, skirting the trail at that point to avoid the tiny border station. Others, traveling via New Westminster, followed a trail south to Point Robers, then boarded a sloop for Mukilteo. One smuggling ring operating out of Victoria used a sea route from that port to the northern tip of San Juan Island, then, sailing by night, through the narrow passes of the San Juans past Whidbey Island to Seattle's Elliot Bay. During the summer months, when coastal waters were smooth, plungers from the north carried illicit cargoes around the Olympic Peninsula, then up the Quinault and Queets rivers. The contraband would be shipped the short distance to Aberdeen by rail or wagon road
Port Townsend Harbor in the 1880s. (Courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Society, Port Townsend, Wash.)
and loaded on vessels bound for Portland or San Francisco. Apart from such sea routes, according to one inspector, there were scores of trails used for smuggling within easy riding distance of Blaine. Also, large groups of Chinese reportedly crossed the border at Lake Osoyoos, which was east of the Cascade Range and approximately ninety miles from the nearest customs office at Fort Colville.9
The Bureau of Customs was ill prepared to cope with such massive lawbreaking. A major reason for the service's inefficiency and its lack of public support was its dependence on the spoils system for personnel. Despite the introduction of civil service reforms in the late nineteenth century, most customs officers were political appointees more interested in political favors than in enforcing the revenue laws. The Puget Sound District had a particularly bad record in this regard. One of the first collectors had been Victor Smith, friend and political ally of Lincoln's secretary of the treasury, Salmon P. Chase. During the sensitive years of sectional strife, Smith used his post to wage war on his partisan enemies and to speculate in real estate. He sought removal of the port of entry to the site of his property holdings. On one occasion he threatened to turn the guns of a revenue cutter on Port Townsend in order to confiscate the customhouse records. Later, during a public excursion aboard the same cutter, he locked the entire crew in the hold for allegedly plotting mutiny and forced the frightened excursionists to sail the vessel
to Victoria. If most of Smith's successors were less impulsive, few proved to be efficient administrators, and the press found little to praise and much to criticize. It was difficult to rally support for the bureau when
newspaper accounts ridiculed its bungling and characterized the collector as “dough-headed" and his deputies as “Uriah Heeps."
.” 10 Even worse, customs officers had to divide their attention among a vast and continually expanding number of duties: responsibility for the enforcement of anchorage regulations, destruction of derelict vessels, regatta patrol, and inspection and supervision of commerce and immigration. The revenue marine branch of the Puget Sound District, in addition, was charged with protecting American fisheries and seal rookeries in the North Pacific region and helping to provide law and order in the territory of Alaska. 11
It was an impossible task. The cutters assigned to Puget Sound were too few in number and too slow to catch the fast sloops of the smugglers. For a time the collector commanded only a leased private vessel and a canoe. The steam-powered cutter Oliver Wolcott was acquired in 1875, but, although supposedly capable of a full speed of ten knots, it made seizures only by accident. Another ship, the U.S. Grant, began service on Puget Sound in the 1890s. The Grant, however, was even older and slower than the Wolcott. Such revenue cutters carried a full complement of less than thirty men. The ships' commanders were under orders to maintain surveillance over the waters of Puget Sound and to visit all ports within the district every sixty days. Adding to the problems of distance, faulty communications between the cutters and the customhouse further reduced the effectiveness of the revenue marine.1
9 A. W. Bash to A. D. Attridge, July 7, 1883, and Bash to E. Legman, July 7, 1883, Outgoing Subject Correspondence, vol. 5, RG 36, FRC Seattle; A. Wasson to P. C. Sullivan, Aug. 8, 1892, vol. 8, ibid.; Port Townsend Leader, May 24, 1891; Coupeville Times, quoted in Port Townsend Leader, June 16, 1891; San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 23, 1890; Port Townsend Argus, July 26, 1883; Friday Harbor Islander, May 30, 1901; George A. Hoyt to Charles Bradshaw, Sept. 16, 1891, Thomas P. Hopp to Wasson, Oct. 30, 1891, Bolcom to Bradshaw, Sept. 28, 1891, and Charles A. McLennan to Bradshaw, Aug. 3, 1891, Letters Received from Subports and Inspectors, vols. 1, 4, RG 36, FRC Seattle.
10 Victor Smith's misadventures are partly documented in the Puget Sound District records, Chronological File of Letters Sent, 1852-53, 1862-63, 186681, vol. 2. RG 36, FRC Seattle; Port Townsend North-west, Jan. 11, Apr. 19, Aug. 9, 1862; McCurdy, By Juan de Fuca's Strait, pp. 54-57. Typical attacks on customhouse officials are to be found in the Port Townsend Weekly Message, Apr. 29, 1870, and Port Townsend Argus, May 4, 1871. Smith and some of the records of his tenure as collector were lost in the shipwreck of the Brother Jonathan off Crescent City, Ore., in July 1865. Additional records of the Puget Sound District were damaged in a flood a few months later. See also Ivan Doig, “Puget Sound's War Within a War," American West 8 (1971): 27.
11 Walter C. Capron, The U.S. Coast Guard (New York, 1965), pp. 16, 19; Don Whitehead, Border Guard: The Story of the United States Customs Service (New York, 1963), pp. 65, 67; Laurence F. Schmeckebier, The Customs Service: Its Histo Activities and Organization, Institute for Government Research Service, Monographs of the United States Government no. 33 (Baltimore, 1924), p. 18.
Land-based procedures were no better. Usually fewer than twenty inspectors were
stationed in Port Townsend, which because of its status as port of entry in the district experienced a very large volume of sea traffic. In the 1880s only the San Francisco customhouse issued more Chinese labor certificates than the Port Townsend facility. Lack of funds hampered supervision of subports and border posts. Successive collectors complained to the secretary of the treasury that the harbors of Port Angeles and Dungeness witnessed open smuggling after staff cuts left them without inspectors. One man was stationed at the Blaine border crossing, but the department refused an appropriation for a mounted inspector to patrol the surrounding woods. The one inspector was expected to guard the American border from the Gulf of Georgia to Mount Bakera distance of about one hundred milesand another stationed at Fort Colville kept watch theoretically over hundreds of miles of inland border. In addition, the Customs Bureau experimented with female inspectors who were placed aboard passenger steamers to catch small-scale smugglers and
12 M. W. Drew to George W. Bailey, Sept. 12, 1872, and D. F. Frazier to Andrew Wasson, Nov. 20, 1891, Subject File of Letters Received, 1871-1913, vol. 8, RG 36, FRC Seattle; Port Townsend Northwest, Dec. 12, 1860; Port Townsend Message, Sept. 8, 1869; Port Townsend Argus, Feb. 6, 1875; Capron, Coast Guard, pp. 15, 17-19; U.S., Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Navigation, List of Merchant Vessels of the United States (Washington, D. C., 1889), p. 395.
also supported a few Canadian informers by sharing cash derived from the sale of seized articles. 13
Heavy traffic in opium failed to stir public opinion or force more concerted federal action against smuggling. This is not surprising, since social disquietude about opium developed later in the United States, at least fifteen years after the routes and pattern of massive drug smuggling had become fastened habits. As late as the 1890s most observers assumed that smoking-opium was used almost exclusively by resident Chinese and posed no great threat to the health or morals of most Americans. Well into the twentieth century opium smuggling remained no greater a crime in the eyes of the public than any other form of illicit trading. Importation of opium had been legal since 1840; its smuggling was the result, not of an attempt to avoid social wrath, but of the urge to evade high import duties. Prior to passage of the Harrison Act of 1914, federal concern with opium had a primarily economic cast. The Internal Revenue Act of 1890, for example, levied a tax of ten dollars per pound on smoking-opium
manufactured in the United States; the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 merely required proper labeling for interstate opium shipments. In the meantime, customs inspectors were confronted with a drug traffic that included both highly organized rings and small freelance operations and that supplied a population of addicts estimated by 1908 to include 52,000 Chinese and 100,000 to 150,000 non-Chinese in this country. Public apathy was reflected in jury verdicts, for the rate of conviction was very low and sentences light.14
Similarly, efforts of the Bureau of Customs to stop the flow of Chinese laborers into the United States were hamstrung by legal and financial difficulties. Enactment of an immigration policy explicitly barring Chinese in 1882 was not accompanied by appropriations that might have made effective enforcement by government officers possible. The Puget Sound collector, notified early in August 1882 that henceforth 'most Chinese laborers were to be denied entry, directed his deputies to refuse Chinese merchant seamen the right to come ashore for any purpose.
14 Arnold H. Taylor, American Diplomacy and the Narcotics Traffic, 1900-1939: A Study in International Humanitarian Reform (Durham, 1969), pp. 3-4, 25-27, 30, 54-60, 126; Foster Rhea Dulles, The Old China Trade (New York, 1970), pp. 147151; Ernest S. Bishop, The Narcotic Drug Problem (New York, 1920), pp. 95-113; Reports of Seizures to the United States District Attorney, 1889-97, Outgoing Subject Correspondence, vol. 8, RG 36, FRC Seattle.
13 Quincy Brooks to Secretary of the Treasury, Aug. 24, Sept. 13, 26, 1888, Addressee Files of Letters Sent, 1878-1910, vol. 6, RG 36, FRC Seattle; Port Townsend Argus, Dec. 29, 1870, Aug. 23, 1883; Port Townsend Leader, Nov. 14, 1889. Evidence of the activities of informers in Canada can be found in Telegrams Received, 1881-88, vol. 2, RG 36, FRC Seattle.
15 It was soon apparent, however, that no thought had been given to the problem of what to do with the hundreds of penniless Chinese who had been arrested by customs inspectors. When the president ordered Collector A. W. Bash to return captured Chinese to Victoria, the collector found himself required to submit detailed expense vouchers to the Treasury Department, and final payment was uncertain and slow at best. Bash sought to stem the tide of illegal entrants by recruiting private citizens willing to hunt down the Chinese and their white smugglers and at one point even asked the territorial governor for militia. These expedients failed. The collector's claim that one hundred Chinese entered the district illegally every two weeks went unheeded, as did his insistence that "a larger protective force was absolutely necessary to enforce the restriction act." 16
Lacking clear guidelines and adequate funds, the Customs Bureau also carried on its responsibilities without any real cooperation from the Canadian government. This was a major problem for the Puget Sound District. Most of the opium smuggled into the sound and surrounding region was processed in Victoria and Vancouver where its open manufacture was permitted in over twenty factories. Victoria was already one of the major ports north of San Francisco, and virtually all large steamers and most small trading vessels stopped there. Puget Sound steamers-such as the Eliza Anderson, Idaho, and George E. Starr-carried large quantities of processed opium stashed aboard by crewmen and passengers from Victoria and later from Vancouver and New Westminster to American ports. The
principal ports of British Columbia also served as Chinese labor pools, for despite scattered objections from white Canadians, entry into Canada remained almost unrestricted. The Canadian Pacific Railroad, like its American counterparts, imported thousands of Chinese to help with construction. At the close of 1883, completion of that railroad was followed by the release of an estimated nine thousand Chinese workers. Joined by newly arriving Chinese, the unemployed coolies gathered in Victoria, Vancouver, Port Moody, and New Westminster awaiting an opportunity to cross into the United States. American officials complained that unscrupulous agents of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company lured thousands more Chinese to Canada by issuing through-tickets from China to the United States. It was charged, also, that an efficient underground railroad helped Asians cross the border with the knowledge and connivance of Canadian authorities. 17
American complaints about the refusal of British Columbia to accept returned Chinese without payment of a fifty dollar per capita tax were made against a backdrop of continuing disagreement over tariff policies between the United States and Canada. By October 1890 the issue of illegal entry from Canada had become a major one. The matter was referred to London by the Canadian government, and the British reply in the fall 1892 was an official denial that through-tickets had been issued or that Chinese were congregating in Canadian ports in hope of emigrating to the United States.18 Yet there is impressive conflicting
17 Taylor, American Diplomacy and Narcotics, pp. 58-59; William D. Welsh, A Brief Historical Sketch of Port Townsend, Washington, 10th ed. (Port Townsend, 1965), p. 10; Port Townsend Leader, Oct. 30, Dec. 3, 1889; Port Townsend Argus, June 30, 1876, Apr. 26, Sept. 27, Nov. 8, 22, 1883; British Colonist, quoted in Port Townsend Argus, Sept. 27, 1883; Bash to Thomas Stratton, July 7, 1883, Telegrams Rec'd., vol. 1, RG 36, FRC Seattle.
18 James Morton Callahan, American Foreign Policy in Canadian Relations (New York, 1937), pp. 358-359, 394-395, 414, 429.
15 W. French to Bash, Aug. 8, 1882, and Bash to William Harned, Aug. 10, 1882, Telegrams Rec'd., vol. 1, RG 36, FRC Seattle.
16 French to Bash, July 12, 1883, Bash to Secretary of the Treasury, Aug. 7, 1883, Bash to A. L. Blake, Dec. 1883, Outgoing Subject Correspondence, vol. 5, RG 36, FRC Seattle.