Hatchet Men: The Story of the Tong Wars in San Francisco's Chinatown
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Richard Dillon, one of California's premier historians, tells the compelling story of San Francisco's exotic pre-1906 Chinatown when vicious hoodlum gangs held sway. Chinatown, as demonstrated by Dillon's fast-paced narrative, became a cauldron of chaos teeming with thugs, prostitutes, gamblers, and warlords preying on scores of helpless victims. As the Tong Wars ripped through San Francisco's Chinatown, the Chinese inhabitants lived under a reign of terror. Opium was abundant as were "slave girls," women imported for the purpose of prostitution. Hatchet-wielding killers silenced any opposition. It was a lurid and violent chapter in American history-and, in an era when the customs of an Asian people were considered foreign and frightening to begin with, the very word "Chinatown" came to suggest the mysterious, the sinister. The truth that survived the earthquake of 1906 was both colorful and tragic. Richard Dillon exposes the plight of the Chinese "average man," trapped between the Tongs that terrorized and cast their shadow over him, and a government that disastrously misunderstood him. Richard H. Dillon has written more than 20 books about California and the West.
the fire fanned back over the skeleton of Chinatown again. Aitken and Hilton wrote, “Soon the flames were racing down the western slope of Nob Hill, racing across California Street to meet the fire on the south, racing pellmell beyond Sacramento Street and back to the purlieus of the destroyed Chinatown. There was no wind to drive them [back], and no man there to stay them….” By the fourth day the Quarter was a blackened ruin. The two men wrote: “The bright lanterns, the little grated windows,
Chinatown.” The editors added, “There are no underground opium dens in Chinatown—haven’t been any since the fire.” Opium had been practically taxed and priced out of existence by the time of the Opium Act of 1923. The State Legislature’s Red Light Abatement Act of 1914 was practically the death blow for the singsong girl industry, although the last slave-girl raids were not made until 1925. After the fire all of the major newspapers ran articles urging the resettlement of the city’s Chinese
would take place within a few decades. No one, certainly not the police, could guess that in a few years the cobbles of Chinatown’s alleys would be slick with the blood of the innocent as well as of the guilty. Until about 1880, there was no special name for Chinese criminals. The terms highbinder and hatchet man came late. While giving testimony during the 1870s in regard to evildoing in Chinatown, Special Officer Delos Woodruff answered a question from the bench by saying, “A lot of
sociological or health problem it never amounted to much except for the Chinese. It was a problem which the Chinese community solved with surprising ease and dispatch. Opium was never a big problem after the 1906 earthquake and fire. But none of the legislative maneuvers stamped out opium. Prior to 1887, the opium provision of the Burlingame Treaty was not even enforced. An immense quantity of the drug was shipped through the Golden Gate to the wharves of the Embarcadero. In late 1886, agents
highbinders themselves. From the moment of her first raid on a tightly barred brothel in Spofford Alley, Donaldina Cameron was as single minded in purpose as even Andy Furuseth, who was fighting his great battle for civil rights for sailors at the same time. On her “calls” Miss Cameron usually took along a trio of brawny policemen armed with axes and sledge hammers. Only once did she make a raid without police protection and she had cause to regret it. It was on the City of Peking building on