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Santa Cruz County History - Crime & Public Safety
Harlots and Whorehouses: Fallen Angels of Front Street, Part 4
by Phil Reader
"Stories of the World's Oldest Profession in 19th Century Santa Cruz County"
Fallen Angels of Front Street, Part 4
Tarred and Feathered
THE JUSTICE: "The officer informs me that you are beyond your husband's control. Is that true?"
THE DEFENDANT: "Yes Sir." (Vigorously chewing gum)
THE JUSTICE: "He also tells me that you desire to enter on a life of shame, It that so?"
THE DEFENDANT: "Yes Sir." (Unblushing)
THE JUSTICE: "Officer, place her in the ladies' cell in the calaboose until tomorrow morning."
The above dialogue occurred in the Police Court chambers of Justice Curtis on Friday, October 14, 1887. He was questioning Lulu Miller, fifteen year old wife of James Miller, about her desire to enter into a life of prostitution. The story that was slowly unraveling shocked the good people of Santa Cruz and led to one of the last vigilante actions in the l9th century.
The story began a few days earlier when it was reported around town that Miller, a forty year old gambler, was going from brothel to brothel on Front Street trying to place his wife in one of them. But none of the saloon keepers would have any part of the arrangement because of the age of the girl. Magdeline Buckley, a madame who kept a house in the area, brought the man's actions to the attention of Officer Amos Lunt.
Lunt, the father of two teenage daughters, was outraged and indignant at the circumstances so he questioned the two at their quarters and found that indeed the rumors were true. He then brought them up before Justice Curtis for a hearing. It was then learned that Lulu, a native of Volcano, Almador County, was the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Sterman and a dutiful child until she had been lured away from home by Miller, who ran a saloon in Volcano. Lulu's parents had refused to give permission for the couple to marry because of the age difference and Miller's extensive criminal background - he having served one term at San Quentin and several terms in the county jail. However Lulu and her beau eloped to Nevada where they were married by a justice of the peace. Afterward they drifted around, following the different county fairs, he earning a scant living as a gambler until they reached Santa Cruz. Once in town, it was decided that she would sell herself into a house of ill repute.
Curtis had Lulu and Jim placed in jail over night, putting them in separate cells, until he decided what to do with them. Sheriff Elmer Dakan and Officer Lunt fed them and left them in the jail while they made their rounds of the city.
During the early evening small knots of men began to gather on street corners and talk in hushed tones. Then shortly before 11 o'clock a body of men, numbering about forty descended on the jail. Some of their faces were blackened while others wore kerchiefs tied about their heads, or were disguised in some other manner. Finding no one guarding the place they proceeded to Miller's cell and broke open the door. They pulled the prisoner from his bunk and marched him outside. With the frightened man in tow, they proceeded up Front Street and escorted him down to the river bed.
Once there, they stripped all of the clothing off of him and bound him hand and foot. One of the leaders of the mob produced a large brush and began smearing a coat of heated tar over Miller's body. Afterwards he was thrown down onto a pile of feathers which had been placed on the ground before him and was rolled around until the fluffy coating was complete.
The vigilantes pulled him roughly to his feet and cut him free of his bonds. The leaders of the mob approached the cowering would-be pimp and observed their handiwork by torch light. When everyone seemed satisfied with the job, they shoved Miller's belongings into a cloth sack and marched him down the river and across the Soquel Avenue Bridge.
There, he was shown the way out of town and told, in no uncertain terms, to leave Santa Cruz and never return or the next time he would find the rope round his neck. After they watched him trot off in the direction of Soquel, the crowd disbanded and disappeared into the night. The whole affair had taken less then half an hour.
When Dakan and Lunt returned to the jail house, the officers were said to have expressed little or no surprise at finding one of their prisoners gone. They did, however, quite patiently calm the tearful Mrs. Miller and assured her that when they had last seen her beloved, he was still quite healthy and fit.
At six the following morning, Jim Miller was seen creeping timidly into the telegraph station in Soquel village where he sent a wire back to his wife requesting her to meet him at the Watsonville railroad depot that afternoon. When the train pulled out that evening it carried among it's passengers, the Miller family, who would be long remembered for their hasty and somewhat premature departure from the peaceful environs of Santa Cruz County.
A few weeks later, Judge Curtis received a letter postmarked Volcano, California and signed Mr. and Mrs. John Sterman. It read in part
"...my daughter did come home...but unannounced...she was most sullen and resentfully silent...She rose early the next morning, refusing breakfast save a little coffee, and asked for a pick saying that Jim had sent her to dig up the $600 he had buried near the house...after much unsuccessful labor, she found that she had been deceived and sank to the ground weeping bitterly... When Miller had left her at Galt (a neighboring town) on the way here, he took her last ring from her finger saying he wanted it to remember her by...when last heard of...he had recently entered into a marriage engagement with a wealthy lady at Marysville... This Jim Miller, is a most desperate and dangerous outlaw, being one of a band of highway robbers, and is held in mortal fear and hatred through Amador County, having served a term of three years in San Quentin for horse stealing. He is known to be an incendiary, a safe robber, and a DREADED CHICKEN THIEF..."
They closed their communication with a compliment and an observation.
"My husband and myself unite in returning our sincere and heartfelt thanks to you for the course you pursued, especially with him. Our only regret...is that you did not lynch the bastard!"
Christy and Handley
Bob Christy, a bootblack by trade, arrived in Santa Cruz during the month of December, 1877. He set up a small shoe shine stand in an alcove next to the Pacific Ocean House on the lower plaza. He then went to the local newspapers and listed for them his many accomplishments.
He claimed, among other things, to have been the first American bootblack on the west coast, having landed at San Francisco in 1857. He had visited every major city in the country as well as traveling to British Columbia and Liverpool. Christy boasted of earning $2,300 blacking boots at Virginia City during the summer of 1864. He had shined shoes at the Centennial in Philadelphia and was a leader of a brigade of bootblacks numbering two hundred strong who had marched in the parade proceeded by a band.
He told the reporters to urge their readers to visit his stand where they would find autographed photos of famous actors and actresses artistically arranged to please their eye. He also promised to entertain his customers with stories and anecdotes of his many travels. In short, Bob Christy was a self promoter, an entrepreneur, and a showman. He left no doubt that he had every intention of establishing himself in Santa Cruz.
Before long he had accrued several thousand dollars in capital and began looking around for a place to put on "entertainments." As a partner, he took on a freewheeling Irishman named Jim Handley. The two pooled their resources and during the early spring of 1882, opened the Vienna Gardens on what is now Ocean Street next to the Bausch Brewery. "The Gardens" presented nightly variety shows which featured several young ladies scantily clad in the latest exotic fashions "brought here directly from the dance halls of Paris."
The shows proved so successful that Christy and Handley decided to move their establishment to Pacific Avenue in order to be closer to the center of activities. They named their new place the Tivoli Saloon.
In addition to the nightly entertainments, they also presented for their customers' approval a variety of girls who were available for personal entertaining after the shows. This added twist now put them under the constant scrutiny of those arch - defenders of the public morals - the Grand Jury.
However, on the night of July 22, 1882, fate stepped in to make it unnecessary for the grand jury to complete it's investigation. A drunken man named John Ward entered the saloon and carried with him a grudge against Bob Christy for an insult, real or fancied, which had been perpetrated against him earlier in the year.
A heated argument ensued and Christy ordered Ward out of the place. After the latter refused, Christy picked up a club, which he kept behind the bar, and struck the intruder across the head, rendering him senseless and inflecting a large gaping wound. Ward was dragged out of the saloon and left lying in the street.
Before long he returned with his head bandaged, bringing with him twenty or so of his friends. They immediately set about wreaking the place, "smashing furniture, destroying cases of curios, and breaking mirrors." Christy was corralled and severely beaten. When Jim Handley pulled out his revolver and began to threaten the mob, he was quickly disarmed and thrown out into the street.
At this point, Mayor John Chace entered into the fray and made a half-hearted attempt to quell the riot. But by then the damage was done and the crowd had vented its anger. All this time the entire three man Santa Cruz police force had stood by watching, unable or unwilling, to step in.
Damage estimates ranged between $750 to $1,500. It was the death knell for Christy & Handley and company. Their creditors began to press them for satisfaction of their debts and they were left with no choice but to leave town. So they stored their remaining goods, packed up their personal belongings, and departed on the Southern Pacific train bound for San Francisco.
The only one left to mourn their passing was a lone reporter for the Santa Cruz Surf, who lamented
"...the departed firm never allowed gambling or card playing for money in the Tivoli Saloon and the Vienna Gardens, and they displayed an enterprise in artistic ornamentation that might be imitated with advantage by more wealthy men and pretentious places of resort. They made money and spent it here. Handley says he is $3,000 worse off then he was when he came to Santa Cruz."
But time would prove that this was not the last that the good people of the county would hear from Bob Christy or Jim Handley.
Excerpted from: It Is Not My Intention to Be Captured. Copyright 1995 Phil Reader. Reproduced with the permission of Phil Reader.
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