Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Wednesday Western - Shanghaiing
As I start "stewing and brewing " the next historical western, I've begun researching.
The book is going to start in the most notorious shanghai city in the U.S. -- Portland, Oregon. There have been some television westerns who had people shanghaied in San Francisco, but Portland was the longest running and more notorious for shanghaiing than anywhere else on the West Coast.
The unsuspecting farm boy, logger, or out-of-towner who was lured to the dock by the saloons, gambling dens, and bawdy houses could wake up indentured to a ship headed to China or ports around the world.
Crimps were men who owned boarding houses that would give sailors a place to eat and sleep when they ran out of money and were waiting for a job. Some planned to go back on ships, some looked for better paying less harmful work. Running up a tab with the boarding house owner, also known as a crimp (the Dutch word krimp means a holding tank or pen for live fish), would get them back on any ship where the captain pays the crimp the tab and then the sailor has to work to pay the captain back. More times than not, the Captain would pay them much less than they were owed.
Many captains would find a crimp and pay them for ten men. If the crimp didn't have ten men in his house, he would go out and either get able bodied males drunk and passed out or knock them out in alleys and haul them to the ships and dump them.
A crimp could receive a bonus of $30 - $90 for supplying strong men to the ships. the was called "blood money". In some instances blood money could go as high as $120.When the price was this high the Boarding house operators would work together to "gather sailors."
Shanghaiing had the crimps prowling the streets looking for strangers to knock out and dress up as sailors and dump on ships for money. Many were naive young men who were befriended then drugged. The prostitutes even got in on shanghaiing. They pulled in young, strong men to their "crib" and while "servicing" the man would knock them out with chloroform.
Shanghaiing had lessened in San Francisco by the mid 1890's but picked up in Portland at that time. There were even international incidents with the governments of France and Great Britain.