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Offbeat Oregon is a division of Pulp-Lit Productions, a boutique publishing house that specializes in classics from the pulp-magazine era — roughly 1910 to 1941. For more information or to check out our catalog, please see pulp-lit.com.
Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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Proclaiming his intention to live an upright, God-fearing life from now on, Kelley started wandering around the city looking for ways to earn the money to publish his book, which he had written in prison. He found that he was getting by, but only barely; when he’d gone to prison he’d been the most famous bad guy in Portland, but 13 years later nobody seemed to even recognize his name.
Meanwhile, prizefighter Charles Jost — yes, another prizefighter — was starting to realize that he wasn’t ever going to make any money as a boxer. For seven years he’d been living the life, ever since 1900 when he won the title of Welterweight Champion of Oregon; but by 1907 he was looking for something else to do with his life and his skills.
At the same time, “Mysterious Billy” Smith, of all people, was also at loose ends. He’d been running a saloon for Larry Sullivan, but Larry was gone now; and apparently Billy was doing a little pining for the good old days.
Somehow these three characters ended up at the same table at a bar, talking about the old times. They were probably in Erickson’s Saloon, because “Jumbo” Riley, the 300-pound ex-boxer (heavyweight, of course) who worked there as a bouncer, was also at the table, as was Jost’s brother.
The conversation soon turned to the inadequacy of Shanghai White’s remaining boardinghouse operation to handle all the crimping business for the port. The problem was, in the previous few years, it had become pretty obvious that the boardinghouse commission was not friendly to the idea of anybody lending a hand in slaking the market. Which was unfortunate, because the more the five of them drank, the more they realized that they were just the fellows to slake it.
By the end of the evening, the boys had a plan: Charles Jost would apply to the boardinghouse commission for permission to enter the market, under the name “Jost Brothers” — the bunch of them having astutely figured out that everyone else’s name was so thoroughly tainted by underworld associations that the response would be an automatic “no.”
But they apparently didn’t realize how much of a drag those names would be on their prospects. During the old Larry Sullivan days, the crimping and shanghaiing in Portland had gotten so bad — that is, so expensive for ship captains — that the freight companies had hit the city with a beefy freight-differential surcharge. Farmers who had the choice of sending their produce to Tacoma instead of Portland suddenly were finding it saved them money to do so. Business in the port suffered.
In 1907, that differential had just finally been lifted. Port authorities were in no mood to jeopardize that by letting Bunco Kelley and Mysterious Billy back into the business.
So the commission made a deal: The boys could get into the business if they’d promise none of the old ruffians would be involved, directly or indirectly; if they’d fix up their boardinghouse so that it was suitable for sailors to live in; and if they’d put up a $5,000 bond.
The boys agreed. But then, perhaps thinking it would be no big deal to jump the gun a bit, they shipped a crew of sailors on the sailing ship Elginshire.
As any real Portland businessman could have told them, it was a bad move. Hell hath no fury, as the old joke goes, like a bureaucrat scorned.
“SHIPPED SAILORS WITHOUT A LICENSE,” screamed the headline on Page 14 of the Oregonian the next day. “Jost Brothers Violate their Agreement with the State Board. BOTH TO BE ARRESTED.”
“In shipping the sailors on the Elginshire the Jost boys have violated every article of agreement entered into between the members of this commission and themselves,” board member William McMasters told the Oregonian’s reporter. “We shall proceed against them immediately.”
McMasters said the boys had presented their boardinghouse to the board, and it had been deemed inadequate. Plus, he said, board members had learned that Bunco Kelley, Mysterious Billy, and Jumbo Reilly had all been involved in recruiting the sailors the Jost brothers had shipped.
Well, that was the end of that. The Jost brothers tried again in 1908, but the board simply told them no, that it didn’t think it was a good idea; and the brothers seem to have had enough sense to quit at that point.
For the remaining waning years of Portland’s age of sail, Shanghai White’s boardinghouse would be the only game in town.