Sunday, April 12, 2015

No Headstone on My Grave

            Adam Augustus “Gus” Waterford was born in British Columbia in 1860, the son of Alexander Waterford, a self-freed slave from Tennessee, and Martha Griffin Waterford, a Kentucky woman. In 1865 the family moved to Portland, where Gus grew up with several brothers and sisters. Alexander Waterford found work as a laborer and participated actively in Republican Party politics. Records have not come to light to substantiate the rumor that Alexander Waterford worked as a Deputy for the Multnomah County Sherriff or served as a Justice of the Peace in East Portland in the 1870s. He did some kind of work for the city of Portland in 1874, for which he was paid $26. He was a founding member of the Hayes and Wheeler Republican Club in 1876, along with Joseph Simon, W. Lair Hill and Henry Corbett, becoming one of the first black Republican Party activists and paving the way for his son’s career in JosephSimon’s political machine.
From the Oregonian June 6, 1886.
            Gus Waterford was not a large man, but he and his brothers stood up for each other. When Gus was assaulted by Sam Glover in 1886, his brother William came to his defense. Glover and William Waterford were each fined $5 for the fight in front of the Snowflake Saloon. By that time Joseph Simon was establishing a firm hold on politics everywhere in the state, including Portland. Like big city bosses all over the country Simon made alliances with influential men in various ethnic communities in order to bring out the vote. In Portland, African America orators, such as JuliusCaesar, stumped for Republican candidates and brought out the Black vote. Gus Waterford, with the help of his father who was by then a Grand Old Man of the Party, found a place for himself in Simon’s machine. Waterford may have been a little too outspoken for his own good. Where the Oregonian spoke admiringly of men like Caesar, who cooperated in spreading racial stereotypes, they never spoke respectfully of Gus Waterford and they failed to report on, or minimized, his career achievements.
From the Oregonian March 27, 1909. So far it has been impossible to verify that Gus Waterford ever worked for the Multnomah County Sheriff.
            In 1896 the Oregonian referred to Gus Waterford as “the well-known politician, ward heeler and wire puller.” They were probably referring to his position in the Portland Fire Department, although they never reported on the integration of that institution. Fire Department records have not yet been unearthed to confirm the date of Waterford’s hire, but he is acknowledged as the first African American employee of the Fire Department. It is most likely that he was hired in the 1890s, because political warfare between two factions of the Republican Party led Joe Simon to put pressure on the city of Portland to hire African Americans. In 1892 Moody Scott became the first black employee of the City and George Hardin became a Portland policeman in 1894. At some point during this time Waterford became Portland’s first black fireman. Like Hardin, who was laid off from the Police force in 1895, Waterford didn’t last long in the Fire Department, but he was a strong enough ally of now U.S. Senator Joseph Simon that he became the first African American employee of the Portland Post Office, where he worked as a Porter and Supply Clerk.
            Waterford was fired by Postmaster John Minto in 1908 in a scandalous case that was either an attempt to blackmail Minto or a graft operation in which Minto skimmed money from Waterford’s wages.  The truth of the matter depends on what you believe, but few powerful Portlanders at that time were willing to take the word of a black man against a white man.  Waterford was probably in declining health when he left the Post Office, because he died of stomach cancer in less than a year.  Waterford is buried now in a family plot somewhere in Lone Fir Cemetery, but there is no marker over his grave.  His brother William lived another thirty years, dying in 1938 of atherosclerosis.  William, who suffered from dementia, was hospitalized in the Oregon State Hospital at the time of his death.  His cremated remains are among the thousands of unclaimed urns collected in the Oregon State Hospital awaiting a family member to claim them.
Thanks to Sherylita Maison Cruise of the Friends of the Golden West Hotel for the original research that went into this article.  Thanks also to the Oregon Black Pioneers for helping to preserve Oregon's black history. If you know of existing buildings or graves that relate to African American History please add them to our collection. Preserving Portland's untold history is an important job, but it doesn't come free. Please support your local historian

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Free Speech or Bombs

Dr. Marie Equi arriving for her trial on sedition charges with Dr. Ruth Barnett.
           Free speech or bombs was the choice that C.E.S. Wood gave the United States in his defense of Dr. Marie Equi for violation of the World War I sedition law. Equi, called ‘Doc” by her friends, was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison at her San Francisco trial in 1919, but President Woodrow Wilson shortened her sentence and she only served ten months in San Quentin.  Her crime: unfurling a banner emblazoned “Down With the Imperialist War!” during a protest. By 1920, when she reported to prison and seventy years before George H.W. Bush gave Portland the nickname Little Beirut, Doc was a veteran protestor who raised her voice loudly for Worker’s rights and Women’s rights. One of the least-known episodes of her life occurred in Portland in 1912, before her political radicalization. It was her first major confrontation with the corruption of the Portland city government and set the tone for the events of the following summer during the Oregon Packing Company strike.
            Like many of Equi’s causes it began with a personal fight, in this case with George Prettyman who worked as the superintendant of the Medical Building, at the corner of SW Park and Alder, where she kept her office since the building opened in 1908. Dr. Equi specialized in women’s health and provided a full range of medical services, including abortion which was illegal under Oregon law. Michael Helquist provides good background on the abortion laws and their enforcement in Portland prior to 1920 in his recent contribution to the Oregon HistoricalQuarterly. According to Helquist abortion laws were selectively enforced and many doctors chose to provide them although they could be risking a lot. Julia Ruutila, another famous Portland radical who did the most extensive research on Equi’s life and knew her personally, said that Doc performed abortions because “she believed that women should have the right of choice and should not be forced to bear a child.” That would be about right. Portland’s “Stormy Petrel of Politics” did things because she believed in them and because she cared very deeply for other people, especially young women.
            Dr. Equi testified in court that she and George Prettyman had been very friendly until they had a falling out over a young woman, Helen Noble that he had brought to her for treatment of a “bad disease.” There is little doubt that the “disease” was pregnancy and that Noble was a prostitute, a victim of a “white slave” gang that was being protected by important members of the city’s judiciary system. Prettyman, who had been an engineer for Multnomah County for many years, is a mysterious character who is described by the Oregonian as a special Sheriff’s deputy, although there is no other indication that he had a connection with law enforcement. In most of the newspaper coverage he is described as janitor of the Medical Building, but it is clear that he was much more than a janitor. Doc “cured” the young woman’s “disease” and gave her a good talking too, saying that Prettyman should marry her. Equi was probably unaware that Prettyman was already married to another woman, who would later charge him with serious domestic violence. Prettyman was offended and refused to pay for the medical procedure, most likely threatening to charge Equi for performing the illegal operation.
            Equi withheld her rent in an effort to collect what Prettyman owed her and over the next few months things escalated. It is difficult to tell what actually happened between Equi and Prettyman, because their accounts are at such odds. Often the testimony of the two parties sounds like the squabbling of children as they hurl accusations at each other, but it all came to a head on the evening of May 17, 1912. Dr. Equi and her associate Dr. Bessie M. Gardner worked late in their office that evening and by the time they were ready to leave the building was empty. Prettyman, either by accident or as a practical joke, had pulled heavy gates across the stairwell, locking the two doctors upstairs. When they were unable to use the stairs they rang for the elevator, but Prettyman refused to bring it up. The two women dropped eggs from the sixth floor in an effort to get Prettyman’s attention and the fight was on. Prettyman brought the elevator to the sixth floor more than once, but either he refused to let the women on or they refused to ride with him. Finally Dr. Equi went into the reception room that she shared with Dr. Baird and telephoned the police.
"College Girls" at the annual suffragist gathering at Oaks Park in 1912. Second from the left is Dr. Bessie Gardner, third is Louise Bryant Turlinger.
            Prettyman barged into “Dr. Baird’s” office and attempted to handcuff Dr. Equi. Doc was never one to submit to arrest with “lamblike obedience.” The two of them scuffled and Equi was severely bruised before she pulled a handgun from her purse and pressed it into Prettyman’s stomach. The threat calmed the situation down and the police finally arrived to sort out the “riot.” For over a year Equi, with the assistance of her good friend attorney C.E.S. Wood, pursued criminal charges against Prettyman and a civil suit against the Medical Building, but it was in vain. Judge George Tazwell, of the Police Court, had a reputation for being very severe with most criminals, but he could be surprisingly lenient at times. Prettyman’s charges were dismissed, along with several charges that came before Tazwell’s court over the years. The civil suit was eventually dismissed and Dr. Equi relocated her office.
            1912 was an important year in Marie Equi’s life. For six years she had been a public figure in Portland because of the heroic relief effort she organized after the San Francisco earthquake. She had used that celebrity to promote the cause of Women’s Suffrage, but she had serious political disagreements with the women who ran the women’s groups in Portland. Her lesbianism was a factor, but the basic disagreement was over the place of Abigail Scott Duniway in the movement. Duniway who had led the still unsuccessful movement since the 1870s was the target of her sisters frustrations and the aging leader was being forcibly retired just as the goal was about to be achieved. Most of the women of the new generation were conservative feminists who fit into the mainstream of Portland business and society. Dr. Marie Equi emphatically was not. In many ways she had taken over the role of “people’s doctor” that ex-mayor and current Senator Harry Lane had played so well.
            In 1905 C.E.S. Wood told the National American WomanSuffrage Association Conference that although he supported the vote for women that voting meant nothing without economic equality. In 1912 when women finally achieved the vote in Oregon, Dr. Equi realized that her old friend was right. She began more and more to work for economic equality and the rights of workers and the unemployed. In 1913, standing up for another young woman in the Oregon Packing Company strike, Doc’s politics would begin to be more radical and militant. Between 1893, when “The Dalles Sensation” confronted a dishonest employer with a horsewhip, and 1912 when Doc and Prettyman fought, Marie Equi was non-violent. After the confrontation with Prettyman violence, used in self defense became a common occurrence for Doc as she took to the streets in strikes, a struggle over birth control and protest against the war.
Dr. Marie Diana Equi "Doc" shortly before her death in 1952.

            For a look at how the abortion laws were enforced in the 1950s you should see my new book, with JB Fisher  Portland on the Take. If you find value in my work and would like to support more local history like this I hope you will join my campaign at

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dancing for Freedom

Thelma Johnson Streat graduated form Washington High School in 1932 and became one of the most important artists of her generation.
            Portland’s African-American community has always been small, but very active and vibrant. In my book Hidden History of Portland (2013) I describe how Portland’s black community took political action against the discrimination they faced in the early decades of Portland’s history. Beatrice Morrow Cannady, Portland’s first black woman attorney, led the fight for civil rights and dignity from 1912-1936. One of her most radical and effective organizing tools was a series of inter-racial Tea Parties designed to highlight the cultural achievements of black Americans and give white Portlanders the opportunity to get to know their black neighbors. In September, 1934 Cannady highlighted the achievements of a young Portland artist named Thelma Johnson, who under her married name (Thelma Johnson Streat) would become one of the most celebrated artists and educators in the country.
            Born in 1911 in Yakima, WA Thelma began to paint when she was seven and moved to Portland with her family where she graduated from Washington High School in 1932.  She gained her first national recognition in 1929 when her painting, A Priest, received honorable mention at the Harmon Exhibition in New York. She studied at the Museum Art School (now the Pacific Northwest College of Art) and in 1934 the Portland Advocate, edited by Beatrice Cannady, sponsored her first exhibition at the YWCA. In 1938 she exhibited a “one-woman” show at the J.K. Gill Art Gallery. Shortly after the Gill Gallery show, Thelma married Romaine Streat and moved to San Francisco where she took a job with the Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
            In San Francisco Streat worked with Diego Rivera, the renowned Mexican painter, on his Pan-American Unity mural and began to receive serious recognition. Rivera said that her work was “one of the most interesting manifestations in this country at the present. It is extremely evolved and sophisticated enough to reconquer the grace and purity of African and American art.” While working at the famed Pickle Factory art studio in 1941 Streat completed her most famous painting, Rabbit Man. The next year Rabbit Man was acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and Streat became the first African American artist to be exhibited in MoMA’s “New Acquisitions” show.
            In 1943 Streat moved to Chicago where she exhibited paintings and studied at the Art Institute creating her most controversial painting, Death of a Black Sailor. The painting, done in mural style, depicted the death of a black sailor who risked his life in the war to defend democratic rights he was denied at home and earned Streat death threats from members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).  Inspired by the thought of Beatrice Cannady, who believed that education was the key to attaining civil rights, and spurred on by the threats from the KKK, Streat initiated a visual education program called “The Negro in History.” As part of that program she painted portraits of Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson and Harriet Tubman among others.
            In 1945 Streat returned to Portland and although she traveled extensively she always returned home to Portland where she exhibited paintings and performed dance. In Portland Streat painted another celebrated painting, Shed a Tear for My Daughter, and began the next stage of her career as an expressive dancer. Before coming home to Portland she had spent time in Queen Charlotte’s Island where she studied dance and painting with the Haida people. She incorporated the bold colors and strong graphic design of Haida art into her own work and studied their traditional dance. In August 1945, at a home in Northeast Portland, Streat presented a dance performance in front of one of her paintings. Streat danced an expressive dance influenced by Haida performance and the principles of abstract art, with narration provided by her sister’s poem “The Negro Speaks of Faith.”
            Thelma Streat’s dance performances were very popular and she made dance and music a focus of her work for the rest of her life. In 1948 she married Edgar Kline, a playwright and producer who had been her manager for three years, and expanded her career internationally. She and her second husband traveled the world exhibiting her paintings and performing dance, before settling in Honolulu in 1950, where she founded Children’s City, an education center that taught art as well as tolerance through the appreciation of cultural diversity. “If  I can any small way nourish the minds of island children, if I can enlarge their horizons, then the purpose of my work is fulfilled,” Streat said, “The principal aim of Children’s City is to eliminate those prejudices which are the outgrowth of misinformation concerning peoples of different ethnic, economic, and cultural backgrounds….”

            Thelma Johnson Streat broke many barriers and received many honors in her life. She was the first African-American woman to have a painting exhibited at MoMA and by 1947 she was one of only four African-American abstract painters to have had solo exhibitions in New York. In 1949 she became the first American woman to have her own television program in Paris and in 1950 she performed a dance recital at Buckingham Palace for the King and Queen of England. She was also a frequent visitor in the home of Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1958 Streat began making plans for a second Children’s City that she planned to open in Saltspring Island, British Columbia. She never got to open the second school, because she died suddenly in Los Angeles, where she had begun to study anthropology at UCLA, in 1959. Streat’s importance has only increased since her death.  She continues to have exhibits of her work and in 2010 she was awarded a posthumous doctorate from the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Her painting Black Virgin is in the collection of Reed College.
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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Portland’s Connection to The Maltese Falcon

            Any admirer of detective fiction must recognize the importance of Dashiel Hammett as a writer and an inspiration. His masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon, has been as influential on the art of cinema as Hammett’s other work has been in the development of crime writing. Hammett’s experiences as a private detective gave his work authenticity and he often based fictional characters on the people he met in that work. Warren Harris has done groundbreaking research on one of those criminals who inspired Hammett’s characters: Edwin A. “The Midget” Ware. Ware was the inspiration for The Maltese Falcon character Wilmer, the gunsel beautifully portrayed by Dwight Fry and Elisha Cook Jr. in the classic films made from Hammett’s novel. Recently I had the great fortune to receive an inquiry from Mr. Harris concerning a crime that occurred in Portland in 1932. Harris’s question led me to this interesting little piece of Portland weirdness. So here it is, Portland’s connection to The Maltese Falcon, now that’s Weird Portland.
Dwight Fry, one of the most interesting actor’sof his generation, played the role of Wilmer the gunsel in the 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon. The film played Portland theaters almost a year before the real life inspiration for Fry’scharacter visited the city.
       Edwin “The Midget” WareFresno’s notorious Midget Bandit, finished a long prison term in 1932. Newly discovered evidence proves that after being released from prison Ware traveled north with a companion and spent some time (about thirty days) in the Rose City before going on to his fatal encounter with the Law in Washington state in 1934.  Ware, born in 1905, began his criminal career early with a series of robberies in Fresno and Los Angeles, CA in 1921, when he was seventeen. Inspired by the exploits of southern California armed robber Roy “The Smiling Bandit” Gardner, and the intense press coverage his crimes received, Ware began his life of crime in emulation of his hero and with a strong instinct for publicity.  The Fresno Herald, was the first to call Ware the Midget Bandit, but soon papers all over California featured the sobriquet in headlines and at the peak of his crime wave, the Midget Bandit even got headlines in the New York Times. It might have been the newspaper headlines that inspired Dashiel Hammett, but it is more likely (although still undocumented) that the ailing private detective had a personal meeting with Ware, most likely in the Fresno jail in 1921. Hammett’s comments about his inspiration for the character of Wilmer seem to point to the personal meeting theory.
Edwin Ware was 27 years old when arrested inSeattle, long past his prime as a robber and as a publicity hound. He was veryclose to the end of his short, violent life. 
       Ware and his partner, Jess Taylor (aka James Blythe) another ex-convict, arrived in Portland around December 1, 1932. There is no evidence that either man knew anyone in Portland, if they had things might have gone much better for them. At that time there were several armed robbery gangs operating out of Portland. The most powerful was the gang run by Shy Frank Kodat from his speakeasy/boarding house on SE Water Street. Kodat specialized in recruiting promising young robbers and burglars from the Oregon State Prison. Claiming that he was working to rehabilitate these ex-cons he helped them plan and pull off robberies all over Oregon, Washington and northern California. The main rule was, no jobs in Portland. Although the rule was sometimes broken, and Kodat’s power was often defied and challenged, Shy Frank enforced his will brutally and often used the Police Bureau as an ally in his fight against the competition.
       Ware later told Portland Chief of Detectives, Harvey Thatcher, that he and Taylor had been planning a bigger robbery, but had needed cash to advance their plans. On December 3, 1932 the two ex-cons attempted to rob a Pool Hall on NW 6th and Flanders. The Oregonian originally called the place a “soft drink shop,” which was often a codeword for a place that sold illegal alcohol. It is pretty likely that Louie Azich and Jim Walch, two local working men, were drinking illegal beer while they shot pool with three or four other men that night.  Taylor took the lead when the two ex-cons came in, pointing a gun at the patrons and ordering them to line up. Ware, who was known as a “two-fisted gunman” in his earlier days because of his propensity for using two guns, only had one gun this time and most likely he never even drew it, just backing up his partner.  It is not clear whether Patrolman Clarence Spaugh was called to the scene of the crime by a passerby, as in the official version, or if he was waiting somewhere close by, but he sneaked up on the two armed robbers and got the drop on them. The indignant group of pool players joined in the arrest and Taylor was badly beaten, being hospitalized for several days after the robbery attempt.
Portland Patrolman Clarence Spaugh sneaked up on the two armed robbers and got the drop on them. The crowd of would-be victims administered a little “street justice” to the brash Californians. Photo courtesy of Portland Police HistoricalSociety.
       Taylor was sentenced to a year for attempted robbery and Ware got thirty days for carrying a concealed weapon. Both men were wanted for a robbery/assault in San Francisco a few days earlier and were scheduled to be returned to California after their release. Taylor probably spent his year in Salem, where presumably he learned about the facilities available to ex-cons in Portland so he wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Ware probably spent some more time in jail after he finished his thirty days in the Multnomah County lockup. It looks like he was smart enough to avoid the “tough town” of Portland the next time, but he didn’t fare much better in Seattle. He was arrested there in 1933 and killed in an attempted jailbreak in Walla Walla in 1934.
         Of course this wasn't the first time that ex-convicts from California found more trouble than they wanted in the Rose City. Here is a much earlier version of the story Mayhem on Morrison Street from my book Murder and Mayhem in Portland. You might also like my latest book, with JB Fisher Portland on the Take.
If you like my work I hope you will support my campaign. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Three Abe Weinsteins

      While researching the early days of Organized Crime in Portland for my upcoming book Portland Into the Vice Age 1934-1953 I came across this weird episode in Portland history. Hope you enjoy it...

     Since Jacob Goldsmith and Lewis May opened their general merchandise store in 1849 Jews have made their mark on every area of Portland society, culture and history. From Bernard Goldsmith (1869) to Vera Katz (1993) the city has had five Jewish mayors. The state has had two Jewish governors and three Jewish Senators, most of them from Portland. Jewish Portlanders have made major contributions in business (Julius Meier and Aaron Frank), philanthropy (Ben Selling), medicine (Dr. Albert Starr), law (Gus Solomon and Irvin Goodman), literature (Bernard Malamud and Phillip Margolin), art (Mark Rothko), music (Ernest Bloch and David Schiff) and entertainment (Mel Blanc). Polina Olsen does a wonderful job of telling the story of Portland’s Jewish community in her book Stories of Jewish Portland (2011). Since Portland’s Jews have been involved in such a wide range of the city’s life it is no surprise that they have made their mark on crime as well. One of the earliest, and most violent, figures of organized crime in Portland was a Russian-Jewish immigrant named Abe Weinstein; but who would have thought that his name was so common?
            The first generation of Jewish Portlanders came from Germany and found good opportunities for business as they followed Gold Rush miners north into the new state of Oregon.  Anti-Semitism was always a problem for Oregon Jews, but it rarely became violent and in Portland it remained subtle and polite.  By the beginning of the Twentieth Century a small, prosperous and influential Jewish community was established in the city.  It was around this time that the second wave of Jewish immigration, from Russia, began to enter Portland.  Between 1900 and 1920 the city’s Jewish population more than doubled. The new immigrants settled in the neighborhood known as South Portland, about a mile south of downtown. They were attracted by the settled Jewish community with its six synagogues, kosher stores, Jewish community center and soon a Jane Adams-style settlement house, the Neighborhood House. The Russian Jews, with their foreign ways, dominant Yiddish language and generally lower economic condition faced intense discrimination from the community and sometimes oppressive classism from the more established German-Jewish community.  The experience of three men who shared the same name gives an illustration of what these new Portlanders faced.
Boys' Government candidates at Neighborhood House in 1914. The "good" Abe Weinstein is second from the right; the "bad" Abe Weinstein is the first on the left.

Abe Weinstein, the gangster, was born in Russia around 1899. His father, Max came to Portland in 1903 and his wife Etta followed with the children in 1905. Young Abe found work early as a Newsboy, selling papers on the streets. He became an active member of the Portland Newsboys’ Association (PNA) that met regularly at the Neighborhood House and eventually bought a clubhouse of their own through their creative fundraisers. One of the PNA’s fundraisers was the election of Boy Mayor to preside over the Rose Festival. In 1912 Abe Weinstein finished fourth in the race for mayor, at a penny a vote. The Oregonian made lots of jokes about “repeat voting” among the newsboys; edging into social commentary during the reign of the political machine dominated by Mayor Joseph Simon and the heirs of Larry Sullivan.
            In 1914 Weinstein ran for district attorney in an expanded Boys’ Government election in conjunction with the Rose Festival. It was an interesting choice of office for him to run for, since later that year he would face his first arrest for a gambling offense. Weinstein obviously had charisma and leadership skills, because he always attracted attention from the press and usually had a posse of other young men who followed his lead. He distinguished himself athletically; playing handball, basketball and boxing with Newsboy teams at Neighborhood House. By the age of 20, in 1919 Weinstein had established a gang of robbers and burglars who used his Junk Shop in northeast Portland as headquarters. Abe’s brother, Hyman, had a mercantile store in Burns, OR, which helped move stolen goods away from Portland. Hyman Weinstein had already set himself up as the “vice lord” of Eastern Oregon. He was the man to see for gambling, bootlegging, prostitution and drugs among several lightly populated rural counties. Abe followed his brother’s example of diversifying into the vice fields.
In 1932 the "bad" Abe Weinstein was involved in a bombing campaign against rival gambling and prostitution joints in the closest Portland ever came to gangland warfare before the 1990s.
 Weinstein’s victorious opponent for district attorney in the 1914 election was sometimes referred to as Abraham T. Weinstein, but I like to think of him as the “good” Abe Weinstein. He was also born in Russia around 1899 and he came to Portland with his family in 1906. Growing up in the same neighborhood with the “bad” Abe Weinstein, the two young men must have encountered each other at the Neighborhood House and other places in the tight-knit ethnic community. The “good” Abe Weinstein was limited athletically by very poor eye-sight. At the age of nine he was injured when he apparently walked full tilt into a parked automobile. His eyesight didn’t limit his academic ability as he excelled at Failing School and Lincoln High School. By 1947 he was a respected criminal defense attorney and a trustee of Congregation Linath Hazedek. The two young men also shared a name with an older Portlander as well. Abe Weinstein was born in Russia around 1860 and came to Portland in 1903. He went into business with his two brothers in the ownership of a river steamer, “Matinee Girl” and became a fixture of Portland’s waterfront.  The original Weinstein Brothers became fathers to a second generation of Weinstein Brothers who dominated Portland’s garment industry, through a variety of business names and partnerships well into the 1960s.
             After being defeated for boy district attorney the young athletic Abe Weinstein followed the family business. In October 1914 he and two other boys were arrested for running a small casino, with adult clients, at a little place near SW 2nd and Yamhill. The “Newsboy’s” club might even have featured slot machines provided by Portland’s first slot machine king, S. Morton Cohn, through an ambitious young employee named Royden H. Enloe. Enloe would become Portland's second “slot machine king,” when Cohn moved into the more respectable career of real estate developer during the Great War. Enloe employed brutal methods to extend domination over slot machines, juke boxes and pinball machines all over the city. He also pioneered in the field of “labor slugging”, hiring out anti-labor goon squads during the 1922 Waterfront Strike that destroyed the American Federation of Labor International Longshoremens’ Association (ILA). The relationship between Enloe, and other gangsters, with Mayor George Baker’s administration, most likely mediated by “Matchmaker Bobby Evans” aka Augustine C. Ardiss, carried on a long tradition of corruption in Portland’s city government. Ardiss, who had a long career as boxer, boxing manager and boxing commissioner in Portland, always denied any connection to organized crime or any other unethical behavior. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was his typical response to those charges or questions. Enloe and Ardiss would both be fixtures of organized crime in Portland, buying their slot machines from Al Capone’s “Chicago Outfit,” until the 1930s when a new generation took over. Men like James Elkins, who put Enloe out of business, and Al Winter, who came to dominate bookmaking and gambling in place of Evans, are much better remembered than their predecessors.
Abe Weinstein allied with the notorious DePinto Brothers in their 1932 campaign to control vice in Portland. Nick DePinto, the eldest, ran the gang under the leadership of Matchmaker Bobby Evans.
            The “bad” Abe Weinstein is another one of Portland’s most forgotten sons, but in the 1920s and 30s he was one of Portland’s “usual suspects.” Involved with several high profile thefts and gambling operations in the 1920s Weinstein allied himself with the DePinto Brothers gang, led by elder brother, Nick, in their bid to take over bootlegging, prostitution and gambling in 1932. Finally sent to prison for the violent campaign that involved at least four bombings and an unknown number of deaths, Weinstein eventually retired in Las Vegas. Al Winter and Milton Hyatt ran the Hotel Sahara there and old partners in crime Mike DePinto and Jack Minsky were regular visitors.
An Extra Bonus
            In 1970 Abe Weinstein of Cleveland, OH came to Portland and joined the Portland Symphony Orchestra as lead clarinetist; leaving his mark on Portland music and carrying on the proud tradition of his name. Which leads to the question: Who’s Abe Weinstein now?

     If you enjoyed this story I hope you will visit the website for my new book Portland Into the Vice Age 1934-1953 and support this exciting new project.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Austin, TX v. Portland, OR

            Some weird new friends from Austin, TX have thrown down the gantlet; challenging Portland for the crown of weirdness.  Now I haven’t been to Austin in quite a while, but I must say that I’ve never had a bad time in Austin, TX. The beer is good, although it’s Texas Style. They know how to make music and the food is pretty good. I even like their movies – Slackers (1991) is my favorite. They invented the slogan "Keep Austin Weird," but hey, we stole it fair and square. And they are in Texas; which is pretty weird…but to challenge the queen city of weirdness, Portland, OR for the title.  Come on you silly Texans.

            Well the results are in…from our new friends at  I think they are from Austin so the results speak for themselves.
Portland vs. Austin weird

Like I said, the results speak for themselves. Better luck next time, Texas, although they certainly have their good points and a vacation in Austin, TX sounds pretty good right now…before it gets too hot.  Who’s next? Missoula, MT?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hidden History of Portland: A Preview

In Hidden History of Portland I have tried to tell stories from Portland’s history that have not been well told in the past.  I explore the experiences of various groups who have faced discrimination and repression. In this preview I hope to give you a little taste of what you will find in the book.

Part I: Oregon vs. Ilahee

            The area where Portland is now has been inhabited for thousands of years by a wide variety of people. In this chapter I explore the people who lived here before Euro-American settlement began in the 19th century. I also explore the native resistance to white settlement and the way early Oregon politicians used violence against Native Americans to build the state.

During the Nez Perce War of 1877 Lt. C.E.S. Wood kept an illustrated journal of his experience. He leaked several of his pictures and impressions to Harper’s Magazine in an attempt to shape public opinion about the war.

Before Portland
The area where Portland is now has been inhabited for thousands of years. A complex society based on a mixture of cultures, family ties and trade was wiped out by disease and violence when the Euro-American settlers came to the Pacific Northwest to stay.
            War Brokers
In the 1850s men like Gen. Joseph Lane and Gov. George Law Curry used violence and war against the Indians to create the state of Oregon. The Rogue River Wars and the 1855 Yakima War were conscious elements of the plan to create a state.
            C.E.S. Wood: A Rebel Formed by War
The Nez Perce War of 1877 was the last well-organized Native American military resistance to American settlement in the Pacific Northwest. C.E.S. Wood, who later became one of Portland’s most prominent attorneys and political radicals, was a U.S. Army lieutenant during the war and his experience had a huge influence on his later life.
Part II: Woman’s Work
Women who came to the Oregon Territory faced legal and social repression, but some of them found unique opportunities that were often not available to women in the East.

The high point of Abigail Scott Duniway’s career came in 1912 when Governor Oswald West asked her to write the Woman Suffrage proclamation. After forty years of tireless political activism Duniway was in her eighties and only had a couple of years left to live.

Walks Far Woman and Other Female Pioneers
Marie Dorion, a woman of the Iowa Nation known as Walks Far Woman by her people, was one of the first pioneer women to come to Oregon; accompanying the Wilson Price Hunt expedition to Astoria in 1811. She made the trip while pregnant and caring for two young sons. The hardship that “Walks Far Woman” faced was similar to that found by thousands of other pioneers who followed her to the new territory.
            Disorderly Praying in Stumptown
The Temperance Movement was one of the first expressions of the women’s movement in the United States. In Portland it began with the Great Temperance Crusade of 1874.  This political movement aroused great feelings in Portland and offered a vision of political action and liberation for women. The anti-alcohol movement split the women’s movement in Portland delaying the woman’s vote in Oregon until 1912.
            Abigail Scott Duniway: Remaking the World With Her Words
Abigail Scott Duniway crossed the Oregon Trail with her family at the age of 17 and grew to adulthood along with the State of Oregon. A novelist, journalist, publisher and businesswoman, Duniway became one of the most important political activists in the region.
            Susan B. Anthony: A Peaceful Warrior
Susan B. Anthony, America’s great women’s leader, visited Portland three times between 1871 and 1905. The story of her visits and activism in Oregon illustrate the course of the woman’s movement in the state.

Part III: Tacit Agreements
Portland has always had a small, but vocal African-American community. Making tacit agreements with the white community about the “place” of blacks, some African-Americans were able to achieve prosperity.

In 1899 Company B of the 24th Infantry, a Buffalo Soldier unit with black soldiers and white officers, was stationed at Fort Vancouver. The 24th saw combat in Cuba and the Philippines and was used to break a strike of miners in Idaho. The men of the 24th made connections with Portland’s black community and many of them set down roots in the Northwest.

            To Be Treated as Free People
Discouraged by Black Exclusion and Sundown Laws, African-Americans still came to Oregon at all stages of Portland’s history.  From the successful resistance to the Black Exclusion laws by Abner and Lynda Francis to the lawsuit that integrated Portland Public Schools in 1870 organized themselves to resist racist laws and attitudes, but Portland soon gained the reputation as the most racist American city outside of the South.
            George Hardin: Police and the Color Line
Once Portland’s African-American community achieved stability the fight for equal opportunity in public employment began. George Hardin, one of the first black men to be hired by the Portland Police Bureau, struggled for decades to integrate the police force.
            Beatrice Morrow Cannady: Tea and Racial Equality
Beatrice Morrow Cannady arrived in Portland in 1912 and took over editing the Advocate, Portland’s second African-American newspaper.  Over the next two decades Cannady’s gave voice to the black community and fought for equal rights; becoming Oregon’s first black woman attorney and the first African-American to run for public office in the state.
Part IV: The Most Alien of Aliens
            Asian-Americans have always made up one of the largest racial groups in Portland’s population. The history of Portland’s Chinese and Japanese settlers is well documented, but little told. Both groups faced intense racial discrimination and even violence, but they persevered and made large contributions to Portland culture and prosperity.
Chinese and Japanese workers were vital to the development of Portland as the transportation hub for the region. Competition for jobs made Chinese Labor an important issue in the growing labor union movement.
The Celestial Kingdom in Portland
In the 1870s large parts of Portland were destroyed by fires. In both instances anti-Chinese feeling was prominent. In addition to the large number of Asian workers who built railroads and other elements of infrastructure a class of Chinese merchants became active in Portland and made common cause with the city’s establishment. By the end of the 1870s the city was split over the issue of the Chinese: working people violently agitated for outright expulsion; property owners and the wealthy supported and protected the Chinese community.
            The Chinese Question
In 1880s anti-Chinese feeling reached a high point. Chinese workers were physically expelled from communities all over California, Oregon and Washington. When the Chinese communities were expelled from Tacoma and Seattle, most of them came to Portland. During that time Portland’s Chinatown swelled until it made up more than 25% of the city’s population. 
            Jack Yoshihara: Interrupted Lives
 After Chinese immigration to the U.S. was restricted in 1882, Japanese workers took their places in railroad construction. By the twentieth century most of the Nissei, first generation Japanese immigrants, and their children, the Issei, identified as Americans. World War II caused a huge crisis among Portland’s Japanese citizens, most of whom were interned in Idaho for the duration of the war. Jack Yoshihara, a college football player for the Beavers, encountered huge consequences for his life when he was not allowed to travel with his teammates to the Beaver’s first Rose Bowl appearance.
Part V: The Problems of Self Government
            Self government was the main motivation that pioneers had when coming to Oregon. Portland was founded as a city by a public meeting in 1851. City politics was soon dominated by a small group of wealthy merchants who ran the city to suit their own interests.

Harry Lane was elected mayor of Portland in 1905. A Democrat, he received support from the Progressive wing of the Republican Party and William S. U’Ren’s People’s Power League. In 1913 he became the first U.S. Senator elected by popular vote.
Political Warfare
The first several decades of Portland history were dominated by a struggle for political power between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The focus of the struggle was control of the city’s Police Bureau. After 1880 the Republican Party had undisputed control of both city and state government and its members, such as James Lotan, took advantage of their power to enrich themselves.
                        The Oregon System
In the 1890s disgust over the abuses of the Republican Party led to a powerful populist movement, first in the People’s Party and later with the Progressive Party. The movement, under the leadership of William S. U’Ren, brought in a revolution in “direct democracy” that led to the Oregon System, which included direct election of Senators, the Initiative and Referendum and the Recall election among other reforms.
                        Lola Baldwin: The Day of the Girl
The Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905 brought national attention and renewed emigration to Portland. The new wave of emigration included thousands of young women looking for a better life. Women such as Lola Baldwin, Portland’s first woman police officer, and Louise Bryant, a reporter for the Oregonian, found new opportunities in careers that had been previously dominated by men.
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Part VI: To the Brink of Revolution
            Labor unions had been active in Portland since the beginning of the city in 1851, but racist and sexist policies on the part of the unions limited their scope and power. In the twentieth century the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) began to organize migratory workers and other workers without regard to their race or gender.  Before the Great War the IWW gained great power in Portland, but the war and the Red Scare that followed broke the power of the union.
            No Outward Sign
The period 1880-1930 has been called the Golden Age of the Migratory Worker. In the Pacific Northwest, where the economy was dominated by agriculture, lumber and mining, migratory workers made up a large part of the labor force. Migrants developed a complex culture that used expressive language to convey their iconoclastic view of the world. Homosexuality was an accepted part of the migrant worker culture and their presence in Portland contributed to the city’s first gay community.
            Sulphuric Eloquence: Dr. Marie Equi and the Wobblies
Dr. Marie Equi, an open lesbian, became one of the most important radicals in Portland. Her experience with the Oregon Packing Company strike and IWW Free Speech Fight in 1913 radicalized her and led to her life-long advocacy of women’s and workers’ rights.
            Stewart Holbrook: Inventing Working People’s History
The Great War and the Red Scare that followed saw the repression of the IWW in the Pacific Northwest. Cultural and technological changes transformed the experience and culture of workers, but the Great Depression of 1929 brought a revival of organizing and political activism. During this time Stewart Holbrook, a freelance writer, pioneered a new type of history that sought to tell the story of working people and others who had been ignored by standard histories.