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Friday, November 12, 2010

Bowie Knife Stabbing in Chinatown (1892)

The start of the California gold rush saw the arrival of thousands of immigrants from China, who either worked in the gold fields or provided goods and services to those who did. In 1849 there were 54 Chinese inhabitants of California; by 1871 there were 116,000.

Language and cultural differences, as well as racial prejudice, kept the Chinese a community apart. There was only one section of San Francisco in which the Chinese were allowed to bequeath property to their heirs--this became Chinatown. The first wave of Chinese immigration was almost entirely men, and along with it came a criminal element that ran brothels, opium dens, and gambling halls.

News coverage of activities in Chinatown was scanty, and generally presented with an element of "ethnic humor" as in the following from the San Francisco Chronicle of February 16, 1892. The term "highbinders" refers to Chinese gangsters.
Luie Fook Stabs Leong Chuen -- The Dagger Left Sticking in the Wound -- War Again Declared by the Chinese Highbinders and More Blood to Flow.

War was renewed among the Chinese highbinders last night, and the first victim was Leong Chuen, who was severely stabbed by Luie Fook. The murderous highbinder was arrested, and his victim was taken to the receiving hospital. The wound is an inch wide and six inches deep. The knife entered just above the hipbone on the left side and ploughed its way inward and upward among the intestines. The surgeons said that the sufferer was likely to die.
The stabbing took place at 6:40 o'clock on the stairway at 1016 Stockton Street. Chuen, who was employed at that place as a workman on overalls for Sam Kee, was walking upstairs with a large bundle of overalls on his shoulder. He stepped aside to allow a man to pass. This man, however, instead of going by peacefully, plunged a six-inch bowie knife into Chuen's side, left the knife sticking in and fled into the street. Chuen drew the blood-covered blade from his side and started in pursuit of his assailant. Charles Reardon, James White and A. Brazziolars were passing at the time the fugitive emerged from the door, and to them Chuen cried, “Stop, catchee! Him man he cuttee me!”

The three citizens joined in the chase, and one blew a police whistle. The fleeing Chinese turned down Washington street and ran into the arms of Officers Conway and Adams, who were attracted by the whistle. Chuen handed them the knife and explained what had taken place. They all started to the Chinatown police station. On the corner of Waverly Place the prisoner slipped his hand under his blouse and drew a pistol which he tried to drop on the street to avoid being charged with carrying a concealed weapon. In so doing the hammer became caught in his clothing and exploded a cartridge in the weapon. The bullet struck his left leg and ploughed a deep furrow along the calf and struck and struck the sidewalk within an inch of Officer Adams' foot. Both officers were so frightened that they jumped almost as high as their prisoner's head, and when they returned to mother earth they found the prisoner's pistol at their feet in the gutter.
About five minutes after the stabbing Officer Gibson of the Chinatown squad visited the premises at 1016 Stockton Street and found at the head of the stairs another large bowie knife. It is suspected that one of the prisoner's friends threw this knife where it was found, so that a plea of self-defense could be set up when the case comes up for trial.
Due to the relatively narrow width of the wound described, it is likely that the crime was committed with the ubiquitous bowie knife. However, Chinese gangsters might occasionally be armed with the traditional Chinese butterfly sword, which would likely be described as a bowie knife by Westerners.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent point regarding the Chinese Butterfly knives and their perception by westerners. Also, it may explain the "second" Bowie knife found at the crime scene. These knives are almost always used in pairs, and they nest together. This fact would allow for greater concealment of two large knives and should Fook have in fact left one at the top of the stairs as a plant.

    I think I'm going to wander by 1016 Sutter this week just to absorb some history.

    And thank you for these well selected and thoughtfully edited pages.