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Chinese Immigrants lead to murder in Woolley, 1891

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal ©2002
      Journal ed. note: We originally posted this story in Issue 9 of the separate Subscribers Edition, based on an excellent story from www.historylink.orgwww.historylink.org. Since then, we have found two other stories from another newspaper in that same year. One provides some context for what people in Washington called the "Chinese problem," and the other follows up on the original news story of the deaths involved in the chase after Chinese illegals in the town of Woolley.
      After more research, in 2011 we share some context for Chinese prejudice. In the 1906 book, Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties, and in Elwood Evans's equally important 1889 book, History of the Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington, they describe public meetings at Fidalgo and Guemes islands about the "Chinese agitation." In the 1877 book, Northwestern Washington, its soil, climate, productions and general resources, with detailed descriptions of the counties of Jefferson, Clallam, Island, San Juan, and Whatcom, we learned that Chinese cooks and waiters on steamships were earning $15 to $60 per month. And we learned that Chinese laborers had been imported to the West Coast during the 1860s to aid in placer mining and then construction of railroads. After about 1870 they were followed by substantial groups of Germans, Scandinavians, Russians, Dutch, and Japanese immigrants, so the pressure cooker was boiling. We also found this article via Susan Nahas's important Whatcom County site.

Chinese Agitation
The Blaine Journal, Thursday, July 2, 1891
      Considerable excitement has been caused in Blaine during the past week owing to the report that Mr. Drysdale would employ in his new cannery a number of Chinese. There was much discussion on the subject, and preparations were made to hold a mass meeting on Saturday evening last. Printed matter was circulated, and a man went to Whatcom to interest the citizens of the Bay in the matter. On the train up came Attorney Hill, Mayor Will D. Jenkins, Editor John DeTierre and others, who took an active part in the meeting.
      The opera house was crowded and overflowing with those who favored vigorous action to prevent the landing of Chinese, and some of those who favored no interference. Very earnest speeches were made on both sides, and a committee was appointed to interview Mr. Drysdale. Said committee interviewed him Monday and received no satisfaction, and another meeting was called for Monday evening to hear its report and take further action.
      On Monday evening the opera house was filled to the doors again, and numerous vigorous speeches were made. The predominating sentiment seemed to be that the Chinese should be kept away from this point at any hazard. The following resolutions were adopted: . . .

Opium! Opium!
      Sunday afternoon as Inspector Buchanan was riding down the wharf toward the steamer Idaho which was preparing to leave for up sound, he passed a suspicious looking individual carrying a valice and a box and coat. When the stranger arrived at the end of the dock Mr. Buchanan saluted him and requested to be permitted to examine the packages, one of which he had observed already was tied with the invariable whipcord of opium traffic. Upon investigation it was found that the valice and box contained 58 cans of opium, together with a set of burglars tools, and the man, who gave his name as James Wilson, was taken into custody with his contraband goods and lodged in the city jail. On Monday the case was examined before U. S. Commissioner J.F. Ward, and James Wilson was bound over to the U. S. court. This makes the tenth man arrested by Inspector Buchanan in less than two years of service, and we believe no better showing can be made by an inspector.
      And we must not forget the first permanent settler in our northwest corner, Blanket Bill Jarman, who partially made a living on smuggling Chinese from Victoria to Whatcom, and being a very artful dodger almost all the time. If he needed any rationalization for flouting convention and the law with his smuggling business, and especially the Chinese, we could possibly attribute his actions to the fact that he had been converted from a British deserter to the husband of a native girl on the Olympic Peninsula in the late 1840s. He certainly was not the only one.

King County Sheriff's Deputy George W. Poor is
mistakenly killed by a U.S. Customs officer
[between Sedro and Woolley] on July 26, 1891

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 28, 1891, and research by www.historylink.org
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      On July 26, 1891, King County Sheriff's Deputy George W. Poor is mistakenly killed by U.S. Customs Inspector James C. Baird north of Woolley in Skagit County. [Journal Editor note: the town name is misspelled as Woolley throughout the article. There were two separate towns of Sedro and Woolley until December 1898.] The deputy had been assisting another Customs Inspector, Z. Taylor Holden, in an attempt to intercept Chinese immigrants who were illegally entering the U.S. from Canada. Holden may have been in league with the smugglers.
      In the 1890s, Collectors of Customs were presidential appointees who awarded inspector jobs at will. In addition to collecting tariffs on imported goods, Customs sought to stem the flow of Chinese immigrants who were prohibited from entering the U.S.
      On July 25, 1891, U.S. Customs Inspector Z. Taylor Holden recruited King County Deputy Poor to go with him to Skagit County to locate some Chinese illegal immigrants. The next day, they traveled by trolley to Fremont and by train to Sedro. In Sedro the officers encountered J. C. Baird, a former Blaine police officer who was serving as a Customs Inspector for less than two months without pay. Baird had been investigating Jake E. "Cowboy" Terry, whom he suspected of smuggling Chinese and opium.
      Baird instructed Inspector Holden and Deputy Poor to watch the road east of Sedro. Two Deputy U.S. Marshals were stationed north of Woolley (1.5 miles northwest of Sedro) to watch a rail line there. Holden accompanied Baird to obtain a horse. Holden returned to Sedro to get Deputy Poor.
      In Sedro, according to Holden, Poor had met with Jake Terry who offered to help them find the smugglers. The three planned that Poor and Terry would go north to capture the Chinese. Holden later stated that he waited at Woolley in the Palace Saloon.
      Baird suspected Holden of corruption and of being involved with smuggling. Baird and New Whatcom Customs Inspector James Buchanan went north instead of south.
      At about 10:00 p.m. on July 26, the two inspectors said they observed three white men followed by a number of Chinese men walking north on the railroad. Baird believed the men included Holden and Terry and ordered them to stop. Jake Terry, the smuggler/informant fired a shot and Baird and Buchanan fired back. Poor was hit and cried out, "I'm shot. I'm a deputy." (Seattle P-I: Terry and the third man fled. Baird received a slight wound to the head from Poor's gun. Terry was hit four times, but fled the scene. Baird and Buchanan said that they found Poor wearing a false goatee, but they did not keep it for evidence.
      Inspector Baird encountered Holden at the hotel in Woolley and arrested him. The Skagit County Sheriff arrested Baird and Buchanan. Nine Chinese immigrants were also detained. On July 28, a coroner's jury ruled Poor's death a homicide and Baird and Buchanan were bound over for trial. The next day, a judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence.
      Terry admitted to leading Poor to the Chinese and to arresting them. He did not mention a third man and the Chinese said that there were just two white men with them. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that Baird and Holden were both asked to resign. Both Holden and Baird were allegedly seen in British Columbia meeting with Terry weeks before the shooting. One second-hand account implicated Poor in the scheme with Terry.Terry pleaded guilty to smuggling. Deputy Poor's funeral procession to Lakeview Cemetery was led by King County Sheriff Wooley [this could also be a typo] and members of various fraternal orders.

      This story is from a very valuable history resource, www.historylink.org, which started on the web four years as a history resource for Seattle. It has grown exponentially and is now expanding its scope to cover the whole state. The sources for this posting are listed as: "Slain From Ambush," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 28, 1891, p. 1 (transcribed by Tom Smith); "Officer Baird Free," Ibid., July 29, 1891, p. 1 (transcribed by Tom Smith); "Who Is The Smuggler," Ibid., August 1, 1891, p. 1. Special thanks to Sgt. Tom Smith, King County Sheriff's Office, for calling this incident to our attention and for sharing research material. By David Wilma, April 26, 2002.

Three Men Shot Near Sedro
Was it impulse, malice or self defence?
Baird and Buchanan exonerated

The Blaine Journal, Thursday, July 30, 1891
      Nearly every one has heard something of last Sunday night's tragedy at Sedro. On the surface it looks as if two sets of officers were in pursuit of the same game and had come in contact in the night time and opened upon each other with their revolvers either with malice or under a misapprehension, with fatal results to two members of one set of officers, but the secret truth of the matter will probably never be know. Reports as we get them from the daily papers are that George Poore [sic], J. E. Terry and Z. T. Holden, of Seattle, had in charge about a mile north of Sedro a number of Chinese. J. C. Baird and James Buchanan were after the same Chinese and possibly a part of the white men. The two parties met in the road a mile north of Sedro, when firing commenced, and Poore was killed, shot through near the heart, Terry was shot through the groin and Baird received a scalp wound. There is no record that Holden or Buchanan were injured.
      Baird and Buchanan were put under arrest by the civil authorities of Skagit county. A preliminary hearing was held Tuesday, but nothing was brought out definitely fixing any guilt upon anyone, except that a man had been shot to death by another man or men, and the hearing was adjourned until yesterday.
      Following is the testimony of Inspector Buchanan, given in the preliminary hearing Tuesday:

      I live at New Whatcom. Am an inspector of customs and have been for nearly two years. I was there and had got a telegram from Baird to come and help get some Chinamen. I showed the telegram to the collector. When I was in Sumas I saw a man called a smuggler. I saw the same man here. I went into the woods with Baird to find this man Terry. That was in the daytime.
      The next time was when we came out of this road on the night of the shooting. We heard the Chinamen coming. They were going toward Sumas. We hid until they turned and commenced to come down grade. Then we jumped up and called on them to halt, that we were customshouse officers. They fired three shots and then Baird commenced to shoot. We were quite close. They never said a word. There was no conversation. I called on them to halt as loud as I could holloa. After the shooting there was one man dead, and Baird was lying down near the dead man. He took a [illegible] and a pair of knuckles out of his pocket. Baird thought he was shot in the breast and head. We came leisurely back to Wooley. We did not run. There is no truth in Terry's statement that we ran. The men ahead of the Chinamen commenced to fire at us first. I received a telegram from Baird asking me to come here. I carried a 38-calibre revolver. We had no plan to carry out. We were just going to capture the Chinamen. We didn't know whether we would capture opium or Chinamen. When we got to the place the Chinamen came out of the woods above the track. We were below waiting to see which way they would go. When the shooting commenced we were twenty or thirty feet from them. Probably I was fifteen feet from Baird when the shooting began. Baird said, "Halt!" The white men in the lead shot first. That was nearly down at the bottom of the corduroy road. I don't remember whether the dead man had a beard or not. He was a small man. I put my hand on his face after he was dead, but can't remember how he looked. I was not so very badly excited. As the men fought they moved around a little, stepping rapidly. Baird and the dead man finally got together. Poor (sic) did not move more than five feet from where he was first shot. I was off to the side, perhaps ten or fifteen feet away. I did not retreat after the firing commenced. I could have gone back if I had wanted to, but I didn't. I don't think I killed him. The ball is too big for my revolver. It was necessary for me to shoot to preserve myself. I could have run, but I would rather have it in my face than in my back. We were into the shooting and had to stay. I don't think it would have done any good to retreat. Yes, I fired to kill.

      At the conclusion of the examination yesterday Baird and Buchanan were discharged, exonerated and complimented. Justice Terry, before whom the examination took place declared his belief that Buchanan and Baird had acted only in the line of duty, and could hardly have done otherwise.
      Nate Baird returned from Wooley to-day, where he had been attending the examination, and says there was great satisfaction felt at the outcome among the people of Sedro and Wooly. He says one has only to look at the ground and the routes taken by the Chinese and their escorts, to be convinced that the unlucky party was a smuggling outfit. The Seattle papers, from his report, have not done themselves any credit in their reports of this matter, having endeavored all through to cover up the truth or avoid committing themselves to it. We must say that of two days' report in the Post and Telegraph we have only been able to discover that something was being kept in the background, and have been able to sift no grain of truth out of them.
      No further action will probably be taken against Baird and Buchanan.
      Blaine Journal Editor's Note: There is considerable talk in every direction concerning the Sedro tragedy, and there are various views expressed from Seattle to Blaine on the subject of the intent of the men who did the fatal shooting. In regard to Inspector Buchanan, however, who has lived near this place for eight years, it is the opinion of all who know him that whatever he did he believed he was in the line of duty, and did no shooting from malice or intent to be revenged on any one. It is believed he will be able to show that his only desire was to do his duty.

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Story posted on July 31, 2002, updated on Jan. 6, 2005, updated and moved to this domain April 29, 2011
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