Sometimes in this history game, you don’t always find what you’re looking for.
Take last week. I went down to the State Archives in Salem, looking for some specific court documents from a 1908 Clackamas County case that I thought you might enjoy hearing a podcast about. I poured over microfiche, and then paged through a more than 115 year old Clackamas County bound court register (all in cursive, of course!) I could not find a whisper of the case I was seeking. Out of desperation, I asked for ALL of the ClackCo court documents from a six month span and started digging through the two bank boxes that the archivist delivered to me.
I never found my elusive documents. But I DID stumble across three totally unrelated cases, and the associated legal documents, so I thought I would share them with you! They pertain to one of our favorite characters in Oregon History, Saloon Owner August Erickson!
Naturally, we associate August Erickson with the palatial, one-block long retreat he had established on Burnside in the 1880s- Erickson’s Saloon. But by 1908, one of Portland’s most wealthy citizens had started to slip into financial, and legal, difficulties. He had most recently divested himself of his big ass saloon in the North End, to Fred Fritz. He started focusing on his Clackamas Tavern and Roadhouse, with its famous Chicken Dinners (if you need some more background on all of this, check out this podcast, and the photo of the tavern on that page). Gus was always getting in trouble with the law in P-Town, and it seems like this association continued as he settled into The Clack full time.
Here is a summons for Gus from October of 1908. Seems like he was getting a lot of these!
There were several indictments like this July 1908 example, of Erickson selling “malt, vinous or spirituous liquors” without a license! Here, Erickson is accused of selling John Douthitt “less than one gallon” of malt liquor and one glass of beer for “about ten cents.” Another indictment in this collection was dated November 3rd, 1908 – and in that case, August had sold four men four pints of vinous liquors, “for about six dollars.”
This last one might be my favorite. This document states that on November 28th, 1908 a Charles Kohn (see his 1907 ad below), took into his possession “the following described personal property belonging to said defendant August Erickson.” Sounds like August was a little “cash short,” as they say. The list of Gus’s personal property was too long for the printed court document, so a sort of addendum has been attached to the paperwork. I have an image on the right (sorry about the bad cobbling together job), but I thought I might jot some of my favorite on the list down here too.
This is a fantastic document as it gives us a little glimpse as to what we might have experienced when visiting the Clackamas Tavern -well, if we visited the bar. Cause why wouldn’t we? You can see that August (and we are assuming this collection would serve his clientele too) possessed quite a varied stock of liquors and other spirits at the Clackamas Tavern. 3 quarts of Bordeaux, 14 quarts of Port, a few Cognacs and 2 quarts of Bénédictine, a sturdy 5 quarts of V.O.P Scotch Whiskey, 5 quarts each of Blackberry Brandy and Jamaican Rum, both Californian and Beaver Brand Sauternes, and lots and lots of bitters and cherries and syrups. But Gus also had a shit-ton of options for his less discriminating, perhaps harder drinking customers – a case and 11 quarts of Portland Club Whiskey, Rock and Rye, bottles of Mt. Hood Beer, pale ale and stout, and 5 quarts of Old Crow! ALL wonderful accompaniments to a lovely Chicken Dinner!
And of course – Don’t Drink Don’t Smoke What Do You Do? – August Erickson had plenty of the noxious weed present for patrons. 27 pipes of “assorted size” were collected, in addition to 700 Squire cigars, a box of St. Elmos (“nearly full,” I love to think of the compiler of this list chomping on a stogie as they write it…), another of Ne Plus Ultras, and 25 La Gran Marcas.
And THAT was how Gus got down!
I hope you enjoyed looking over this little survey of legal proceedings against famed North End Legend – August Erickson. While they don’t really bring anything new to the scholarship of this storied soul, they still help to give us a little more detail about his lifestyle, his challenges, and his slow decline into poverty, gambling and bootlegging, and eventual incarceration. And while I didn’t at all find what I was looking for from my trip to Salem, I still felt hashtag blessed at what I had stumbled across. A bit like below, but my version is much less eloquent…
Additional documents: Kohn & Co 1907 advertisement and notice of his suit filed in the Oregonian, November 6th, 1907.