The Opium Den Bust, 1907

The following article relates the story a raid that took place at an old theater on the intersection of what is now, I think, Capitol and Thurston. About three years after this news piece, Olympia's "Tenderloin District" was "closed down."

Morning Olympian, Dec. 17, 1907

Sensational Raid Follows Discovery of Chinese Opium Den in Old Theater Building at Foot of Main Street


"Big Bill" McGowan Pleads Guilty to Renting Place -- Warrants Out.

Police Officers George Gaston and Claude Hooten raided an opium joint in the old theater building at First and Main streets at 5 o'clock Sunday morning, arresting the proprietor, Sam Yen, a Chinaman, "Big Bill" McGowan, Mrs. Steve Barker, Joseph Barker and Walter Scott. A woman of the half world, known as "Big Bess" and a male companion were seen coming from the building as the officers approached but could not be apprehended.

Few people knew of the existence of the opium joint, although it had been under police surveillance for some little time, suspecting that a joint was being maintained there. Complaint was made to the police, however by Vernie Beeman, machine man in the mechanical department of the Olympian, who had learned of the existence of the joint by following the crowd down there from the Green Tree saloon. Beeman had protested against the presence of the woman there, where preparations indicated that she intended to smoke opium. When other parties refused to take the woman away, Beeman, according to his statement made yesterday, went uptown and notified the police by telephone. The raid was quietly conducted. Beeman entered the room in advance of the officers and when the police made their way into the room none of the parties present were able to escape. All were given their liberty on their own recognizance. Barker made an appearance and his hearing was set for today. McGowan appeared during the afternoon and the charge of smoking opium was withdrawn and the charge of renting a building for use as an opium den was substituted. McGowan pleaded guilty and was fined $50. He offered to submit himself to the examination of a physician to prove that he was not addicted to the opium habit.

Chinaman in Jail.

Barker, who will be given a hearing today, denied that he had ever been in the joint before, and maintained that he was not there for the purpose of smoking opium.

Sam Yen, the Chinaman, is an old offender. He has been arrested many times, but when convicted has invariably refused to pay his fine. After a few days spent in jail, however, his friends have appeared and paid his fine. The officers claim that he is a dope fiend and cannot stand the confinement without the solace of the pipe. Judge Giles fined Sam $100 and Sam promptly went to jail.

At the hearing on the stand yesterday when the Chinaman was tried, Beeman also testified that he had called Barker to one side and pleaded with him to take the woman home as she was drunk and it was no place for her. Barker refused, saying she was able to take care of herself. The woman said several times her husband was asleep but that he had his good times and she was going to have hers.

Location of the Joint.

McGowan, it was testified to, then took the woman, and followed by Scott, Barker, "Big Bess" and the unknown man, started down the street. The procession went clear down to the big abandoned theater building and McGowan entered. After passing through halls and rooms and up two flights of stairs, one a short one, they brought up in a red room overlooking the bay. Here was found the Chinaman in the den, whose furnishing showed its nature. Two beds occupied different corners of the room. An opium chest stood near, while pipes, opium bowls and needles for rolling and cooking were at hand. The Chinaman commenced rolling an opium pill. The woman, it is said, loosened her belt and skirt band, and laid down on one bed, a hard, shabby affair, and McGowan took the other, while the rest sat around.

Here again Beeman says he asked Barker to take the woman away, but he refused. Beeman then left the room and found his way outside. Using a phone he called up Patrolman Gaston, who started with a citizen, Steve Dillier. Officer Hootan had just gone off duty and Gaston sent Dillier to overtake him and have him join. All three, accompanied by Beeman went to the place.

Considerable paraphernalia was taken in the raid Sunday morning, including the pipes, partly filled cans of opium, a handful of needles, lamps and the Chinaman's account book of alleged patrons of the place.

Mrs. Steve Barker and Scott have not yet put in appearance, and warrants have been issued for them.

Scott last night gave bail for his appearance in justice court.

Mrs. Steve Barker is believed to have left town.

Steve Barker and his wife were principals in a sensational affray in Everett, in which Mrs. Barker shot at her husband. Later Barker was arrested for attempting to compel his wife to lead an immoral life. Lately they came to Olympia together, having apparently reconciled their differences. Prior to the opium joint escapade they are said to have quarreled and separated.