This is chapter 12 of A la California. Sketch of Life in the Golden State, by Col. Albert S. Evans, and the events described probably occurred about 1871. Evans died in October 1872 when the steamship "Missouri" burned while en route from New York to Havana. This book was published posthumously in 1873 by A.L. Bancroft and Co., San Francisco.
Night Scenes in San Francisco.Low Life.Scene in a Recently Suppressed Gambling House.Visit to the Chinese Quarter.How John Chinaman Loses His Money.The Thieves and Rounders of San Francisco.How they Live and where they Lodge.The Dance-Cellars.Opium Dens and Thieves' Ordinaries of the Barbary Coast.How the San Francisco Police treat Old Offenders, etc., etc.EVERY city on earth has its special sink of vice, crime and degradation, its running ulcer or moral cancer, which it would fain hide from the gaze of mankind. London has its St. Giles, New York its Five Points, and each of the other Atlantic and Western Cities its peculiar plague spot and curse; it is even asserted that there are certain localities in Chicago where vice prevails to a greater extent, and life, virtue and property are less secure than in others. San Franciscans will not yield the palm of superiority to anything to be found elsewhere in the world. Speak of the deeper depth, the lower hell, the maelstrom of vice and iniquity-from whence those who once fairly enter escape no more forever-and they will point triumphantly to the Barbary Coast, strewn from end to end with the wrecks of humanity, and challenge you to match it anywhere outside of the lake of fire and brimstone.
Stroll by daylight through the region bounded by Montgomery, Stockton, Washington and Broadway streets, and you will have but a faint idea, a very inadequate conception, of the real character of the locality. A few red-faced, frowzy females will glance inquiringly at you from their seats just inside the doorways of the minor "dead-falls;" little dens, with the bar stocked with well-drugged liquorswhich to taste is to look death in the face and defy himon one side of the front room, a sofa on the other, and at the rear an arched opening hung with tawdry red and white curtains, communicating with an inner room, into the hidden mysteries of which you and I do not care to penetrate. Spanish-American women, clad in solemn black, and wrapped to the eyes in their rebozos, fallen and hopelessly degraded, but still preserving something of the grace of manner and speech which distinguish the females of their race above all others, flit quietly past, fixing their flashing black eyes inquiringly upon your face, but making no salutation.
Chinese porters or "coolies," swinging heavy burdens on the ends of pliant bamboo poles balanced on their shoulders, and changed rapidly from side to side as they trot quickly along, meet you at every turn. A couple of small, wiry, supple little fellows, with black skins, straight black hair, with little black eyes which twinkle like those of a snake, carrying huge baskets, filled with soiled clothing, on their heads, may attract your attention next; they are Lascar or Hindoo washermen from the Laguna, in the western part of the city, where they work. You will see coming forth from the various narrow alleys which intersect the main streets, and are known by the expressive designations of "Murderer's Alley, "China Alley," "Stout's Alley," etc., any number of Chinese females, clad in their loose drawers or pants of blue or black cotton goods, straight-cut sacques of broadcloth, satin, or other costly or cheap material, according to their condition and social rank; shoes of blue satin, richly embroidered with bullion, and with thick soles of white felt and white wood, anklets or bangles, and bracelets of silver, gold, or jade-stone, and lustrous blue-black hair, braided in two strands, hanging down the back from beneath coarse-striped gingham handkerchiefs, thrown over the head, and tied beneath the chin as a badge denoting slavery, and a life of hopeless infamy; or, if the owner happens to be the wife of a laborer, tradesman or gambling-house proprietor, wonderfully gotten up with a species of transparent mucilage, and fashioned into a rudder-like structure sticking out fully a foot behind, supporting a number of skewer-like pins of gold or silver, each six or eight inches in length, and putting to shame by its size and cleanly appearance, the waterfalls of our Caucasian bellesshuffle along in groups of three or four, talking and laughing together like so many little children, or exchanging compliments, which would never bear translation into English, with the male blackguards, loafers and plug-uglies of their race.
These women are intellectually only children, and are more to be pitied and less condemned than the fallen of their sex of any other race. Every second building is occupied as a saloon, in which nobody seems to be stirring, and has a basement, over the door of which is painted the name of the establishment, as "The Roaring Gimlet," "The Bull's Run," "The Cock of the Walk," " Star of the Union," "Every Man is Welcome," etc., etc., but now closed and apparently unoccupied. There are strains of ear-splitting music coming occasionally from the Chinese gambling-houses, and from time to time, as you walk along, you see rows of Chinamen seated at low benches in basements, industriously engaged in making up "every choice brand of Havana and Domestic cigars," as the signs over the doorways inform you. But for the most part, the dirty shops, saloons and basements have a thriftless, tumble-down, hopeless and half-deserted appearance, and you finally make up your mind that you have stumbled into a part of the town where nothing in particular is ever going on, and which is in a great measure deserted and going into gradual but certain decline and decay. Such is the "Barbary Coast" by daylight; but by gaslight or moonlight it is quite another thing, and you would find it difficult to realize that this was the sleepy, half-deserted locality you saw in the morning.
It is Saturday evening, in the middle of the rainy season, when no work is doing upon the ranches, and work in the placer mines is necessarily suspended, and the town fairly swarms with "honest miners" and unemployed farm-hands, who have come down from the mountains and "the cow counties" to spend their money, and waste their time and health in "doing" or "seeing life" in San Francisco. The Barbary Coast is now alive with "jay-hawkers," "short-card sharps," "rounders," pickpockets, prostitutes and their assistants and victims; we cannot find a better night on which to pay a visit to the locality. Half a dozen of us, more or less, make up the party, and we start out. The evening is pleasant, and Montgomery and Kearny streets are filled with the beauty, fashion, and wealth of San Francisco. A military company, in brilliant uniform, with a full and very superior band, returning from a target excursion, pass up the street, attracting the attention of the throng for a moment; and then come, in turn, a party of horsemen and horsewomen, gaily mounted, coming in from the Cliff House at Point Lobos, or just starting out for a night-ride, who dash down the street at a gallop, are glanced at, criticised, and forgotten.
The drift of the crowd is toward the various places of amusement, and we go op with the tide. Turning up Washington street, we stop in front of what was, a few years since, the principal theatre, and looking into a saloon adjoining the main entrance, a scene which we witnessed there, less than three years ago, is recalled vividly to our recollection. There is a snug little saloon, and everything is as neat and orderly and business-like in appearance as possible. At the rear of the room is a green door, on which hangs a card inscribed in large letters, "Club RoomNow Open." Near the door sits a well dressed, gentlemanly man, who scrutinizes the face of each man as he passes through the saloon, and seems to be connected in some mysterious manner with what is going on in the interior room. Numbers of men, mostly young, and dressed like mechanics or small shop-keepers, clerks, etc., enter the saloon as we stand drinking at the bar, and pass quietly inside. At length a man approaches the inner door, who is recognized by the man sitting in the chair as an objectionable or suspicious character, and the latter, with a quiet motion of the hand toward the outer door, says, "I don't think, sir, the man you are looking for is inside!" or, "This ain't the place for you, stranger; better walk the other way;" and we hear a noise inside as if a chain had been let down and something had been bolted, which is quite likely the case. The bluffed individual departs without a word, satisfied that there is nothing to be made by parleying, and we advance toward the door-keeperfor such he really isin turn. He looks sharply at us, recognizes us by a quiet nod, and glances inquiringly toward the rest of the party. "Only strangers from New York going the rounds; no shenanegan or cops in disguise; honor bright!" we reply. "All right; go ahead!" and we enter the door, turn to the right, go down a flight of steps, through a narrow passage, and, following the gas-lights, reach and enter a third door; passing which we find ourselves in a wide, low hall, furnished with long tables covered with glazed cloth, lighted brilliantly with gas, and crowded with men who are gathering in groups around the different tables.
The air is close and hot, and the smell none of the most agreeable. Perhaps two hundred men are in the room, but there is no hum of conversation, and even the smokers hardly place their cigars to their lips often enough to keep them lighted. At the tables are seated dealers, dressed in long black robes, which completely hide every article of every-day clothing which they have on, with wire masks which conceal their features, though partially transparent, and slouched hats, which hide every trace of hair, making subsequent identification absolutely impossible. This is done to prevent policemenwho will, in spite of every possible precaution, occasionally get in, disguised in such manner as to defy detectionfrom being able to identify the dealers and prosecute them. The assistants of the dealers are dressed in the same manner, and the players never see the faces, recognize the clothing, or hear the natural voices of the men with whom they are, by a stretch of the imagination, supposed to be playing. The silence is only broken by the chink of coin, and the monotonous voice of the dealer: All set; all made; roll! Black wins! All set; all made; roll! Red wins!" At one table Monte is dealt, at another Faro, at another Rouge-et-noir, at another Diana, at another Chuck-a-luck, at Poker dice, and so on. You can be accommodated with almost any game you want, and it makes little difference in which you invest. "You pays your money, and you takes your choice!" You will notice that the players all appear to be of the classes before alluded to; there are none of the flashily-dressed clerks from the fancy dry-goods stores, no cashiers from large manufacturing, commercial, or banking houses, no stock-brokers and others, such as you may see in the more high-toned and fashionable hells of Montgomery, California, or Sacramento streets.
The players draw their money from their pockets with the air of men who earned it by the sweat of their brows, and are loth to part with it, but cannot withstand the temptation to indulge in the all-absorbing passion which consumes them. Some of these men are taking their first lessons at the gaming table; others have been depositing four fifths of their earnings here regularly every week for years, and will do so for years to come. The walls are hung around in places with cards, detailing the rules of the game, and everything looks and speaks "business." There are no luxurious chairs and sofas, no costly pictures, no soft carpets, and no sideboard loaded with substantials and delicacies, champagne, oysters, rich wines, and fiery liquors in glittering cut-glass and silver decanters and stands, with obsequious negro or Chinese servants, to press you to partake gratuitously of the good things spread before you, as in the high-toned hells. The business of the place is naked gambling, and there is no effort to hide it or soften it with the "social amenities."
The players barely glanced at us as we entered, and the games go on. A man with the appearance of a mechanic, reaches over the monte table and chucks a pile of silver half-dollars down on a particular card. The dealer draws the cards with a steady hand, the player wins, and the assistant, without a word, shoves toward him the amount of his winnings, in gold or silver. Again the player wins, and again, but the dealer never alters his monotonous drawl for a moment, and appears utterly indifferent to the result. The player, urged on by nods and expressive looks from his companions, "presses his luck," and the wrong card is drawn out; the assistant reaches out his rake, and hauls his pile toward the bank. The player draws a long breath, with a half-muttered, half-suppressed curse, and takes from his pocket a $20 piece, which he pitches, with an affectation of carelessness, down upon the nearest card. That, too, goes with the rest into the pile before the cashier of the bank; another and another follows, and at last the player wins again. Then he loses again, and again, and, suddenly starting up, strikes his hand upon his empty pocket, and walks quietly out of the room, without a word. Another victim takes his place, and so it will go on all night. Now and then a man will leave the room "ahead of the game," but you notice that the bank, be the game what it may, wins six times out of ten on the average, and, of course, must in the long run always break the players. We have had enough of thislet us go elsewhere, you say; and we walk out, our exit attracting as little attention as did our entrance.
Times have changed sadly of late, as any old Californian will tell you. The Police are around now every night, watching for all such "sinful games," and such scenes as we have just been depicting are no longer to be witnessed in San Francisco, though gambling in a different way is just as common as ever.
And now, where? As we have seen how our Caucasian fellow-citizens, when unrestrained by the officers of the law, fool away their money at the gaming-table, suppose we go up to Dupont street and see how the Mongolians do that sort of thing. We pass up Washington street a couple of blocks, leaving the City Hall, with the gloomy "calaboose" in its basement, and the bright little garden-plat of a plaza on our left, and turn to the right into Dupont street. We are close on the Barbary Coast. A moment since we were exclusively among Caucasians, male and female, well dressed, and for the most part talking our language; we have gone hardly ten steps, and seem to be in another world. The uncouth jargon of the Celestial Empire resounds on every side. The stores are filled with strange-looking packages of goods from the Orient; over the doorways are great signs, with letters in gold or vermillion, cut into the brilliant blue or black groundwork, the purport whereof we know not.
Little women in black or blue silk sacques and loose trousers, hair wonderfully gotten up, and slippers with soles an inch or two in thickness, such as we saw running around by daylight, gaze at us with their almond-shaped black eyes, and nod knowingly at the policeman who has kindly volunteered to accompany us. Men with long queues hanging down their backs to their very heels, and clad in the costume of a far-off land, crowd the sidewalks, and jostle each other and ourselves around the lottery-shops and the doors of their own gambling-houses The air is redolent of a strange, dreamy odor, which you recognize as that of opium-and tobacco mingled, and if it be during the time of the Chinese New Year's holidays in February, there is an incessant roar, as of musketry, from the explosion of fire-crackers, which are thrown into the streets in packages and by the box, from every store, gambling-house, restaurant and dwelling, until the atmosphere is one blue cloud of powder-smoke, and the pavement is covered with the red husks of millions of the popping nuisances. We notice numerous narrow doorways, with cloth signs, with huge Chinese characters over them. These are the entrances to the gambling-houses. At each sits a vigilant guardian, or doorkeeper, as silent as the Sphynx, with his hands tucked up into his sleeves, and his face as rigid and impassive as that of the great image of Joss in the Buddhist temple a few blocks away. He speaks to no one unless accosted; and you would never dream what a thinking he keeps up, and how much he takes in with those little half-closed eyes of his. Behind him we see an open door, a long narrow passage, and another door at the end. From the inner retreat comes strange, discordantto our ears-and not over-attractive music, the air being almost always the same, and closely resembling
Chinamen are entering or coming out at every moment, and why should we not enter too. We approach the door, and the wooden-looking doorkeeper suddenly starts up as wide-awake as you or I, and stamps his foot on the floor., We see the door fly shut, as in a pantomime, no human agency being visible, hear a bar fall "chump" against it from behind, hear the rattling of a chain, and it is all up with us there. We might kick at the thick door until we were tired, and expostulate with old Confucius there until morning, and it would avail us nothing. He knows what he is there for, and we need not waste our precious time on him, "No shabbe!" is the only answer we can get to all our inquiries; and he does not even wink when we shake two four-bit pieces under his nose. Better luck next time, perhaps! We try again a few doors further down the streetsame result. It is evident that our friend the policeman is not looked upon with favor by the sentinels at the gateways of the palaces of sudden wealth, and we suggest to him that he withdraw to the opposite side of the street, and still keep an eye on us.
Attempt No. 3. We see a peculiarly pleasant-looking Chinaman, whose face is familiar to us, at one of the doorways, and approach him: "Good evening, John." "Good eening, gentlemen." "Look here, John; these gentlemen come allee way from New York. No policeeman; wantee see you house; makee littee talkee; no more! You shabbee, John?" John, with bland, benevolent expression of countenance, which promises well, and raises our expectations to the highest pitch, bows gently, and thus delivers himself: "You likee see me; have littee talkee, eh? Welly good! Me likee see you, allee same. You come to- morrow, four o'clock!" Bang goes the door, down comes the bar, the chain rattles inside, and John, with a face wreathed in smiles, inwardly chuckling over his own astuteness, and the weakness of the outside barbarians who took him, an old Mongolian, for a greeny, bows almost to the floor, and says with condescending politeness, "Good eening, gentlemen; hope you hab bellee good sleep!" "Why, blame the scoundrel; he has moved the previous question and us also, and that cuts off all debate!" exclaims one of our party. And he looked so pleasant and accommodating. "Come again to-morrow, four o'clock," indeed! There is a Celestial joke for you!
We had better give up the attempt to see the inside of a Chinese gambling-house, and go farther down the Coast in search of amusement. We retrace our steps, and go a little way up Washington street to an alley, perhaps fifteen feet in width, running through the block northwards to Jackson street. This is "China Alley," and is occupied solely by Chinese prostitutes. The houses are all small brick affairs, coming flush up to the edge of the alley, and have windows with wickets in them, made by setting one pane of glass in a frame by itself, and hanging it on hinges. There is a front and a rear room to each of these little dens; and, as we walk along, we can see all the arrangements of the outer rooms Each of these places appear to be inhabited by from two to half a dozen Chinese girls, some of whom are dressed in hoops and long dresses "Melican" style, but for the most part are clad in the costume of their own country.
These poor creatures are all slaves, bought with a price in China, and imported by degraded men of their own race, who, despite our laws, contrive to hold them to a life-long servitude, which is a thousand times more hopeless and terrible than the negro slavery of Louisiana or Cuba could ever be. They have been reared to a life of shame from infancy, and have not a single trace of the native modesty of women left. They are, as we have said, mere children in point of intellect, havIng no education whatever, and no experience of the world outside of the narrow alleys in which they have always lived, and the emigrant ship in which they were brought over to this country. They have their likes and their dislikes, of course, and become attached to each other in a childish way, frequently being seen walking together on the streets, hand in hand, like little Caucasian sisters going home from school. At very long intervals, some of these poor untutored children of the East become imbued with Western notions of liberty and right, and making their escape from the clutches of their masters, become joined in lawful marriage to some laborious washerman, or other countryman, and endeavor to settle down to an honest life; but their chances of escaping kidnapping, and being dragged away to some distant locality, beaten, and reduced again to prostitution and slavery, are very slim indeed. The owner in such cases has always a personal grudge, as well as a pecuniary loss, to urge him on to vindictive measures; and he will willingly spend ten times the value of his escaping chattel to get her back again, and have his revenge. Besides, the safety of this peculiar institution demands that the most rigorous measures should be taken in every case, as an example to deter others from following in the same vicious course.
The girls cost $40 each in Canton, but are valued here at about $400, if passably good-looking, young and healthy, and readily sell at that figure in cash, or approved paper. Each colony of half a dozen girls is under the immediate control of an "old mother," herself a retired prostitute, who jealously watches over each, and receives from them the wages of their shame as fast as earned. From each wicket all. the way down the alley a female head may be seen protruding, and there is a constant fire of jokes and repartee going on between the occupants of the dens on each side of the alley, while every passer comes in for his share of personal notice. A girl, with hair carefully braided and decked with artificial flowers, and cheeks and lips cunningly painted so as to resemble those of her frail Caucasian sisters, notices us looking toward her wicket, and instantly raising her hand, taps at the window, but at the moment catches a glimpse of the policeman behind us, and shuts the wicket, and turns away as if she had not seen us at all. The alarm runs down the whole alley in an instant; there is a rattling of wickets, as if a hurricane was sweeping through the place, and in half a minute all is as silent as the grave, and not a head to be seen. It is a special misdemeanor under our city ordinances for a Chinawoman to tap on a window to attract the attention of anybody on the street; and the girls well know what is in store for them if they are caught at it by the police.
We walk through the alley, and we emerge upon Jackson street, stumble upon Ah Ting, a Sacramento street merchant, as shrewd and smart as any down-east Yankee, who is walking with the swell Chinese doctor, Li-Po-Tai, who created such an excitement in San Francisco on his arrival, a few years since; and, laying all nonsense aside, really does perform some almost miraculous cures. Ah Ting is our friend; he will get us into a Chinese gambling-house at once. He sends off the policeman, as one too many in the party, and walking across the street, approaches the guardian of one of the temples of finance, confidentially says a few words to him, and in we go. The room is bare and plain; nothing attractive in its decorations, and the air is blue with the smoke of opium and flavored tobacco, from the little cigarritos between the lips of nearly every man in the room. There are, perhaps, fifty Chinamen, of the lower class, crowded around a long table, behind which sits the banker, a benevolent- looking old fellow in huge spectacles, satin blouse and skull-cap.
In one corner of the room is the band, consisting of a woman, richly dressed, and painted, with a hair-rudder standing out from behind her head in startling proportions, playing on a three-stringed guitar, a pock-marked scoundrel of the male sex playing on a. two-stringed fiddle, which he holds between his feet, and another who beats the infernal tom-tom with sticks, making discord of what might otherwise be considered an apology for music. From time to time the woman breaks forth in a wild, plaintive air, in a voice not bad in itself, but pitched at a key as high as the ordinary whistle of a steam-engine. This, Ah Ting tells us, is "the Song of the Jasmine Flower," and we agree with one of the party, who suggests that the aforesaid jasmine flower must have grown on a hill- side, in hard stony soil, exposed to high winds, and had a hard time of it generally. The game which is being dealt is "Than," or "Tan," a kind of "odd and even" affair; we came to the conclusion that it would be odd indeed if anybody ever got even by playing at it. It looks all fair enough to an outsider. The dealer has on the table before him a pile of "copper cash," or Chinese bronze coin, each about the diameter of our old-fashioned copper cents, now out of use, but only about one fourth as heavy, and with a square hole in the centre. These coins are of the value of the thousandth part of a Mexican dollar, or a tenth part of one cent; and in trade in China are used mostly strung on strings of a hundred or a thousand each, for convenience in handling and to save counting.
Picking up a handful of these coins, apparently at random, before the eyes of the players, he puts them down on the table and covers them instantly with a common Chinaware bowl inverted. The players then make their bets on the number coming out odd or even, and also on guessing the exact number, the bank always taking the chances against the betters on either side. He then raises the bowl, and with a wire, about fourteen inches in length, crooked at the end, pulls the coins rapidly into little parties of four each, so that anybody can count them almost at a glance. If you bet on odd, and an odd number is found to have been under the bowl, you win; if you hazard a guess at the actual number and hit itabout as much chance of your doing so as of your being hit by lightning in San Franciscoyou win; or, if you bet that the last little pile drawn out will contain four, three, two, or only one coin, and hit it, you win. It all appears as fair as the day, and yet you cannot but notice that the bank gets rich and the players poor, by regular degrees, all the time. Of course there must be a percentage in favor of the bank somewhere, but you cannot see where it is if you watch the game all night.
The lower classes of the Chinese are inveterate gamesters, and must all know that there is such a percentage, which must ruin the player in the long run; but, like gamblers of other nations, they keep at it as long as they have a cent, and return to it the moment they have made another raise of a dollar or two. We have been admitted as a special favor, and of course must "patronize the house," so we select a Chinaman who speaks a little English, and ask him to act as an agent in the transaction. He is only too willing to accommodate us. A half-dollar is staked on "odd" and we lose; another on "even," and we lose again; then one on the exact number, and our agent turns to us and explains, with many shrugs, bows and apologies, that he regrets very much that we did not win that time, as, had we done so, we should have doubled our money as many times as there were pieces in the pile. We regret as much as he does that our luck did not run that way, and tell him so with as many bows, shrugs and apologies in return. "Well, hopee you catchee him next time!" Not if we know ourself, oh ingenuous and unsophisticated son of the Occident! That game is played out, so far as we are concerned! We have seen all we can see, and learned all we care to learn here, so we will go on somewhere else in our search for useful knowledge. "Good night, John"to the banker. "Good night, John; please you come again uddah time!" he replies, and we part company, with assurances of distinguished consideration all round, and emerge on the street again.
Our policeman rejoins us, and we go on down to Pacific street, the roughest and least pacific of the streets on the Barbary Coast. The whole street, for half a dozen blocks, is literally swarming with the scum of creation. Every land under the sun has contributed toward making up the crowd of loafers, thieves, low gamblers, jay-hawkers, dirty, filthy, degraded, hopeless bummers, and the unsophisticated greenhorns from the mines, or from the Eastern States, who, drawn here by curiosity, or lured on by specious falsehoods told them by pretended friends met on the ocean or river steamers, are looked upon as the legitimate prey of all the rest.
The number of prematurely-old young men, mere boys in years, but centenarians in vice and crime; sallow, wrinkled, pimpled, dirty, stoop-shouldered, disgusting in language and action, who drift up and down the Coast as we stand looking on, astonishes you. They seem to make up the bulk of the passers on the sidewalks. You never see this class of fellows even in this locality by day; they seem to shun the light of the sun, and only crawl forth at night to feast on unclean things, and fatten on rottenness and corruption. Some of them have parents in California, doubtless, but the great majority have left homes in some far-off land, where they are often spoken of with pride by confiding mothers, sisters and brothers, who know nothing of their actual status in society herewell for them that they do not. "I have a son in California. I have not heard from him in several years, but he was doing well when he wrote last," says a fond mother in the Atlantic States. Well for you, oh mother, that you cannot stand with us this evening, and see him floating with the tide, a hopeless wreck, along the slime- covered shores of the Barbary Coast! From the "deadfalls," as the low beer and dance cellars are designated, which line both sides of the street, and abound on all the streets in this vicinity, come echoes of drunken laughter, curses, ribaldry, and music from every conceivable instrument.
Hand-organs, flutes, pianos, bagpipes, banjos, guitars, violins, brass instruments and accordeons mingle their notes and help to swell the discord. "Dixie" is being drummed out of a piano in one cellar; in the next they are singing "John Brown;" and in the next, "Clare's Dragoons," or "Wearing of the Green." Women dressed in flaunting colors stand at the doors of many of these "deadfalls," and you frequently notice some of them saluting an acquaintance, perhaps of an hour's standing, and urging him to "come back and take just one more drink." Ten to one the already half-drunken fool complies, and finds himself in the calaboose next morning, with a broken head, utterly empty pockets, and a dim recollection of having been taken somewhere by some woman whom he cannot identify, and finding himself unexpectedly in the clutches of men be never saw before, who go through him like a policeman, taking from him watch, chain, and every other valuable, and pitch him headlong down a stairway; after which all is a blank in his memory.
All these dens are open and in full blast, yet we see few persons going in or out who appear like customers, and they do not seem to be selling lager or whisky enough to pay for gaslight. Look in the papers tomorrow morning, and you will see items like this:
ROBBED ON THE BARBARY COAST.John Smith, a miner from Mud Springs, El Dorado County, came down on the Sacramento boat last evening, and put up at the What Cheer House. On his way to the hotel, he made the acquaintance of a man who claimed to know a friend of his who had worked with him at mining in 1858, on the south fork of the Yuba. The two started out in search of this mythical friend, and visited numerous deadfalls without finding him. They drank at each place they visited, however, and about one o'clock this morning Smith reached the calaboose in a half- stupified condition, and charged a girl known as "Pigeon-toed-Sal," whose headquarters are in a deadfall near the corner of Kearny and Pacific streets, and her male confederate, with robbing him of $800, her companion holding him down while she searched his pockets, and took the money from them. Officers Smith and Brown arrested Sal and her confederate, the "Billy Goat," and locked them up on the charge of grand larceny, but it is doubtful if the charge can be sustained, as the money was not recovered, and the friends of the accused will fee a lawyer with the money, and hire the witnesses for twenty-five per cent. to leave the State, or swear that Smith had agreed to marry the girl, and gave her the money as a free present, telling her to purchase the necessary outfit for the wedding with it. It is, in all probability, the old story of the fool and his money.
A few such items will enlighten you on the question of how the proprietors of so many of these well-named "deadfalls" manage to make a living.
Three men come up the street as we stand on the sidewalk looking and listening, and two of them eye our friend the policeman uneasily as they pass. These two are unmistakably of the Algerine pirate class, and the third evidently a middle-aged greenhorn from the mining country. The officer comprehends the situation at a glance, and stepping forward, says emphatically, "Look here, Jack; I told you once before to get out of the jayhawking business, and not let me catch you on the Coast again. And you, Cockeye; when did you come back from over the Bay? I'll bag you both, as sure as I'm a living man, if I catch either of you on my beat again. You can go this time, but cuss me if it ain't your last chance. Toddle, blast you, and don't let me see you again!" The young fellows slink away without a word, like renegade curs caught in the act of killing sheep, and the officer addresses himself to their intended victim. "Look here, old fellow; those fellows picked you up at the wharf, or around the What Cheer, and pretended they used to know you at home. They are two State Prison thieves, and would have robbed you before daylight, sure. Now, you go back to your hotel, put your money in the safe, and go to bed, or I'll lock you up for a drunk; do you hear?" The countryman stares a moment with blank astonishment, and then, with many thanks, tells the officer just what the latter had already told him, and leaves the Barbary Coast in all haste.
"Do you want to see what they arc doing in these places?" says the officer. "Come in here with me." We enter what appears to be an ordinary "corner grocery," with piles of potatoes, onions, soap, candles, and other ordinary goods, in boxes and bags, stacked up in front. Everything looks quiet and respectable, but the German or French proprietor of the place glances anxiously at our escort, who pushes open a green Venetian blind, which serves as a door at what appears to be the back of the room, and motions for us to enter. Here, in an inner room, for which the grocery in the front is but a screen in reality, we find some twenty rascally-looking negroes from Panama, the West Indies, Peru and Guiana, sitting round dirty tables, playing draw-poker and other swindling games, with greasy, fairly stinking cards, for money which we know they never honestly earned. "Hulloa, that is you, is it? You are a healthy crowd, you are! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine 'old cons.' One, two, three, four, five, six, seven chain-gang customers; and six that ought to be hanged, and will be, sooner or later." Having thus classified the occupants of the place, for our and their benefit, the officer leads us out once more on the street.
We next enter a similarly appearing establishment, in which there are a billiard- table in the back room, and a promiscuous crowd of Chileños, Peruvians, and other Spanish-American cut-throats, playing "pool," with any amount of small change changing hands at every game. "That sharp-nosed fellow with the billiard-cue in his hand murdered a peddler at New Almaden a few years since, but his woman swore him clear. That hook-nosed villain smoking there in the corner, is a horse-thief from San José; he has been over the Bay (i.e., in State Prison, or San Quentin, across the Bay from San Francisco) three times, and will go again soon, I reckon. That little fellow there with the scar on his face is a monte dealer; and that one with one eye is a burglar." And so our official friend runs on through the list, and we retire.
We next enter a low room on the ground floor of a rickety, old frame-building, which has stood here since 1849, and passing the screen which shuts off the view from the street, find a bar stocked with every species of liquid poison, at "5 cents a glass." A rough-looking Irishman is behind the bar; two miserable, bloated, loathsome-looking, drunken white females are quarrelling with each other in front; on the settee ranged along the wall sits a third wreck of female humanity, swearing like a pirate, and cursing "the perlice" at every breath; while a man with a face like a diseased beefs liver, who once represented a Western State in Congress, is patting her on the back caressingly, and endeavoring vainly to quiet her, lest the police outside should hear her and make a raid on the establishment. In one corner, a party of Kanaka sailors, from a Honolulu whaling-vessel, are holding a drunken pow-wow; but as we cannot understand a word of their language, we pass them with a glance. At the sight of our companion, the policeman, the woman on the sofa breaks out, like a maniac, in fresh curses and vituperation, and stepping to the door he gives a long, sharp whistle. Two answering whistles are heard, and in a few seconds two more policemen arrive, and start with the furious woman between them for the calaboose.
Guided by the music of violins, guitars and a piano, and the tramping of many feet, we descend a narrow stairway, and find ourselves in one of the most notorious dance-cellars of San Francisco. There is a low bar at one side of the room, near the entrance, and at the farther end a raised platform for the musicians. About forty young women and girls, ranging down to ten or twelve years of age, dressed in gaudy, flaunting costumes, and with eyes lighted up with the baleful glare of dissipation, are on the floor, dancing with as many men, of all ages: rowdies, loafers, pimps, thieves, and their greenhorn victims; while perhaps fifty men of the same stamp stand looking on and applauding the performers. The room is blue with tobacco-smoke, and reeking with the fumes of the vilest of whisky.
Half a dozen men, or overgrown boys, are sitting or lying on the floor in various stages of inebriety, but they are unnoticed by the other occupants of the place. Every time a man takes a partner for the dance he pays fifty cents, half of which goes to the establishment and half to the girl, and at the close of each dance he generally takes her to the bar and treats her. We notice with thankfulness that the females appear to be almost all of foreign birth, the exceptions being Spanish-Americans, with occasionally an Indian girl, who has been raised as a servant in some family in San Francisco, but, Indian-like, prefers a life of idleness, vice and degradation to one of comfort and honest labor. This place has been the scene of many a savage affray and brutal murder; and often have we seen the sawdust on its floor red with the blood of some victim of the knife or bullet. It is long past midnight, but the drunken orgies go on unchecked, and will do so for hours yet, if no bloody row occur to end them prematurely.
Do you want to see where these people lodge? Come along with me," says our official friend. We notice many large lamps with "Lodgings 25, 50 and 75 cents per night," painted thereon, are hanging at the doors of dirty, dilapidated-looking buildings. We enter one of these places without ceremony. A wrinkled old hag sits in an outer band-box of an office, to receive the pay in advance from the customers of the establishment. "Who have you got in here to-night," demands the man of the star. "Well, we ain't began to fill up much yet; but there's Tom Reynolds, an' Constable Bob, an' Bluey, an' Callahan, and a few others. I hope you don't want any on 'em now, do ye?" replies the hag. Relieved by the assurance that the visit is only one of curiosity; not on behalf of the law, the old creature, with a chuckle of satisfaction, leads the way with the lamp, and we go through the premises.
The rooms where the lodgers at 25 cents a night are stowed away are fitted with bunks, like the forecastle of a vessel, and each lodger has a narrow straw mattress, a pair of blanketsperhaps dirty sheets as welland a pulu pillow. The dozen bunking thus in one room have not money or valuables enough, all put together, to pay any one of the number for the trouble of going through the pockets of the rest, and they can rest in peace until evening comes again, when they emerge on the streets once more, to resume their pursuit of plunder. When one of these fellows makes a raise by "rolling a drunk" (i.e., taking the valuables from the pockets of a drunken man on the sidewalk), "cracking a crib," or "jayhawking a Webfoot" (robbing a green Oregonian), he will take a single bed at 37 1/2 cents in the next room, which is a little better furnished, and has two or three bedsteads in place of the bunks; and, should his luck be extraordinarily good, and a fat pigeon. fall in his way and get plucked, he will probably go one degree further, and invest 50 cents in a room with one double-bed, and invite one of the frail females from the dance-cellar near at hand, or some one of the numerous deadfalls in the vicinity, to share his wealth with him. But for 50 cents a night a man could get a good bed at a second or third class lodging-house in a decent locality. Yes, but you forget that the patrons of such establishments as we are now in are all known to the police, and could not get admitted anywhere else, except in disguise, and then only for a short time, if they had any amount of money to pay their way with. That is why they must sleep here or on the street.
Bidding the old hag good morning, we next visit a huge three or four story building, with a large area in the centre, and galleries all around the inside, cut up into almost innumerable little rooms, which are let, furnished, at so much per month, to the "pretty beer-slingers" and their male companions. Every girl attending in the beer-cellars has a male friendsometimes her husband, but not oftenwho fights her battles, robs her of her earnings, and not unfrequently plunders, by collusion with her, the inebriated greenhorns whom she entices into her den after the dead-fall has closed for the night.
Bang! bang! bang! What was that? We hear the sharp whistle of a policeman and several answering whistles, and run out to the street to see what is going on. The story is soon told. An officer has met three well-known thieves skulking through an alley with something in bags on their backs. On general principles, he orders them to halt, and is answered with a staggering blow with a slungshot by one of them. To draw his revolver and let fly at each in succession is the work of an instant. One of the desperadoes is shot through the heart and falls dead in his tracks; one is lying on the ground with his right thigh-bone shivered by the bullet, so that it will require amputation; and the third, barely hit in the side, has thrown up his hands, and stands waiting for the irons to be put on him. The police clear the field of action in a few minutes, and on searching the bags find a quantity of valuable goods just taken from a grocery store on Pacific street, which the defeated party had broken open and plundered. (This occurred just as related quite recently; the two survivors are now in the State Prisonone of them with a wooden leg-and the officer is still on the police force.)
The excitement being over, the officer conducts us through a narrow alley swarming with Chinese prostitutes, and reeking with a thousand separate stinks, each more abominable than the other, to see what he designates as a "Chinese Hoo-doo House." In a back room, hidden entirely from the gaze of passers in the alley, we find a crowd of the lowest class of Chinese, who are enjoying themselves in various ways. There is an altar at one end of the room, with a Joss, in gorgeous vermilion and blue, sitting erect at the back. His face bears the same expression of conscious power, rest, and complete self- satisfaction which is seen on that of his more aristocratic brother in the Buddhist temples on Dupont and Pine streets, and he holds the fingers of his uplifted hand in the same mysteriously significant position. But instead of rich satin garments and costly hangings of crimson silk and wonderful gilt filagree work, he is clad in tawdry cotton-stuffs and surrounded by hangings of trifling value. The altar-ornaments are porcelain instead of bronze metal, and the meat-offerings before him are not such as would tempt the appetite of a well-regulated and healthy immortal, while the incense which is burning under his nose is redolent of tobacco and garlic rather than of sandal-wood and the costly perfumes lavished on the altars of the high-class temples.
In an alcove on one side of the room is a raised couch, spread with matting, and provided with braided split-cane pillows, for the accommodation of the opium smokers, two of whom are now stretched out at full length thereon, gazing into vacancy with fixed, staring eyes, unconscious of all that is passing around them, and wrapped in the wild hallucinations called into existence by the fumes of the deadly drug, which is sooner or later to utterly prostrate them, bodily and mentally, and send them, after awful sufferings, to fill untimely graves. Did not Christian England wage a savage war upon Heathen China, that the opium trade should not be broken up? Why then talk of abolishing it, now that it has become the curse which is destroying the whole Mongolian race? We are not missionaries, and did not come here to preach. Round a table, a party of coolies are engaged in gambling, for "copper cash," with dominoes; playing the game very rapidly, and with consummate skill, though in a different manner from that known by the name with us. On another table we see a strange collection of nondescript effigies, made of highly-colored paper and slips of pliant cane. One resembles in outline a goat, but has the head of an alligator, and the figure astride its back is that of a man with a cock's head on his shoulders.
The next figure has the body of a lion, a horse's head, and a fish's tail, and is ridden by a man with the head of an ox, and a sword in his hand, A Chinaman, who appears to understand English, volunteers to explain these mysteries to us. We question him, and he answers "yes" and "no" alternately to everything we ask him. "Why," says one of our party, "this must be Chief Crowley?" "Yes, Chief Clowly!" replies our celestial cicerone. "And this must be Capt. Lees?" "No Capt. Lees all same," responds John. "Why, blame me if he is not repeating every word after me like a parrot; he don't understand a word of what we are saying." Further questioning establishes the fact that such is the case, and despairing of gaining any useful knowledge under such circumstances, we give a quarter to the least repulsive-looking female in the band who are making night hideous with their unearthly music, and depart in disgust.
One more sight before we leave the neighborhood. The officer leads us a few doors farther down the alley, and enters a low door into a room, dimly lighted by a China nut-oil lamp. Stretched on the floor of this damp, foul-smelling den, are four female figures. These miserable wretches are the victims of the most fearful and loathsome disease with which the vengeance of God has cursed sinful humanity, and having been pronounced incurable by the Chinese doctors, and refused admission, under our laws, to the alms house and public hospital, are here dying, by inches, a slow, lingering, horrible death. One of them, at our request, lifts from her face a cloth which hid it, and in place of mouth, lips, cheeks and nose, we see a horrible cavity, formed by the eating away of the flesh until the bare bones are exposed, as in the grinning effigy of a death's head on some ancient tower. With a sensation, beside which seasickness is delightful, we rush from the room and regain the alley, determined to see no more.
One more sensation is yet in store for us. As we emerge on Jackson street once more, we are met by an officer, who tells us that another of those horrible, mysterious murders of fallen women, which have horrified the community over and over again, and baffled and set at defiance the detective powers of the city officials, has been perpetrated in Stout's Alley. He leads up into the alley, and along it to within a few yards of Washington street, and an officer at the door, who is keeping back the curious crowd.of men and women which was gathered on hearing the news, admits us to the house where the tragedy has been enacted. There are two rooms on the main floor, which had been occupied by the French woman, now dead. In the front one is a bed luxuriously furnished, a bureau, wardrobe, table, etc., and in the back room a wash-stand, stove, and some cooking utensils and crockery. Her male friend slept up stairs, and knew nothing of the tragedy going on below. The police are busily at work searching for clues, to lead to the detection of the murderer, but all in vain. On the floor in the front room, the body of the miserable victim is lying in a pool of blood, the skull fractured by a blow with a chair, which lies slivered by her side, and the throat cut from ear to ear with a dull knife, taken from the other room by the murderer.
The bed is drenched with blood, and a pillow, thrown against the wall at the other side of
the room, is
saturated with it. It is evident that the murderer arose from her side while she slept, dealt
her a stunning
blow with the chair, then ran into the back room and got the knife. On returning, he found
her standing up
on the floor, she having staggered to her feet and endeavored to make her way to the door,
some dim, undefined, instinctive impulse, to call for assistance. He has then got her down
upon the floor,
stifled her voice with the pillow, and finished his work with the knife. He has then risen,
trunk and bureau-drawers for money and valuables, felt his way into the back room,
and there washed
his hands and face, wiping the bloody water off them upon the towel, dressed himself, and
departed. This much can be inferred by the marks of blood on the wall, of bloody hands
upon the clothing
in the trunk and bureau, on the lace curtains and on the middle door, but all else is idle
conjecture, and the
murderer carries the secret with him to the grave, despite the efforts of a really efficient and
Out in the street once more. The city is silent, and the streets deserted at last; we have seen
enough for one
night; enough for a life-time of this sort of thing, you say. Well, we will not quarrel
with you on a
matter of taste. And so, just as the first faint light of the grey dawn begins to flush the
beyond the Contra Costa hills, we break up our little party, and wend our way to our
several homes. Thus
ends our long night's "Cruise on the Barbary Coast."