Random acts of violence

The old Steilacoom two-story jail
The old Steilacoom two-story jail was built in 1858 and served as a jail until 1881. The jail was demolished in 1944. Photo courtesy of Tacoma Public Library Photography Archive.

One morning in May 1877, just as dawn broke, Tacoma residents woke to gunfire shots coming from the Palace Saloon.  A dispute had arisen between proprietor C.J. Longpray and two gamblers from Portland.

Apparently, during a card game, one of the “professors,” as cardsharps were called back then, casually displayed a small pistol and Mr. Longpray, who was known for his bad disposition, got hot under the collar.  The Tacoma Herald called Longpray “a wicked and dangerous man when in a passion, and one who created havoc among his enemies.”

He certainly proved the comment.  Longpray pulled out his own revolver and hit the man over the head. Between them, the gamblers got off three shots but Longpray got off six, emptied his gun, and reached for a loaded shotgun he had near his chair.

A fight broke out and the gamblers left as quickly as they could.  Longpray came out unscathed but not the two Portland men.  One just showed the normal signs of having been in a fight, but the other in addition to a bad head wound, had a serious gunshot between his knee and thigh, and the rest of him was bruised and battered.  The billiards table and woodwork also sustained damages.

Someone, the Herald didn’t say who, closed the Palace Saloon and, within days, Longpray was back in the news fighting over ownership of the various articles inside, which belonged to either him or to some Portland liquor dealers.

For a time, Longpray was seen around town brandishing multiple revolvers.  He made a quick trip to Seattle saying he’d be back and, during his time away, the saloon was padlocked.  Both parties said they would abide by arbitrators’ decision, but when it turned out not to be in his favor, Longpray took possession by climbing in a window.
He was in the papers a third time for two reasons: for taking a shot at a man named George Day, and for breaking into the place where his saloon furnishings were stored.  Last seen, he was leaving town.

Tacoma was a rough frontier town in 1877, one where men often shot before thinking.  At the same time Mr. Longpray was leaving, a crowd of black men woke the sheriff one morning and told him that a friend of theirs, a banjo player named Negro Bob, had just been murdered.

Several weeks prior, Bob got in a fight with a Kanaka (a South Seas islander) named Joe, and had struck Joe over the head with a hatchet.  Joe was a friend of another Kanaka, a man named William Drew, and Drew developed a grudge against Bob.

The Herald said that Drew “was laboring under considerable excitement,” and decided that Bob should be severely punished. With that thought in mind, he grabbed a Henry lever action-repeating rifle and set out to shoot the banjo player.

Bob got wind of Drew’s intention but not in time to take any action himself other than shutting the door to his cabin. Drew took a position outside the cabin, made a guess where Bob would be standing and shot through the wall. Though an inch thick, the bullet not only penetrated the wood, it penetrated Bob, going through his stomach and lodging itself in Bob’s backbone.  Bob fell to the floor, raised his eyes and said, “You see the last of Bob,” and died.

Bob’s friends went after Drew and tied him up, using, the paper said, about “200 feet of rope.” Sheriff Reynolds caught up with the mob, untied Drew and hauled him up before Justice Carr. The culprit was sent to await trial jail in Steilacoom’s jail.
Other Kanakas in the area, though friends of William Drew, all chipped in to pay for a respectable coffin for Bob.

Tacomans knew where Drew was, but not the men who robbed both Chilberg Brothers and Gross Brothers stores.  Tacoma was pretty much confined to an area north of 9th street on Pacific Avenue. Gross Bros. was at 906-908 Pacific Avenue, so Chilberg’s must have been nearby. The burglars broke through Chilberg’s back door, smashing everything that got in their way.  They made off with $40 worth of revolvers, jack knives, and tobacco.  At Gross’s they outfitted themselves in new suits, and took extra hats, shirts, and overcoats.  They were reported as being holed up somewhere between Tacoma and Kalama.  Their snappy attire should have been a dead giveaway but they managed to escape.

A man named Henderson decided to rob Father P.F. Hylebos.  According to Joseph A. Jacobs, Henderson persuaded him to go along on an expedition to dig up some money buried in the mountains by an old miner.  When they got near Napavine, Henderson told Jacobs that the actual plan was to rob the Catholic priest at his house on the Cowlitz prairie where $1,500 was hidden.

Jacobs said that when he refused to go along with the plan, Henderson drew his pistol and attempted to shoot him. In defending himself, Jacobs shot Henderson in the head and wrist. Whether Henderson survived or not isn’t known, but the marshal caught Jacobs, and Father Hylebos gave the lawman an English bulldog to say thank you for making the arrest.
It does seem as if John Ford could have skipped Monument Valley and made a western or two in Tacoma.