April 3, 2014
PROSSER – Circa September 5, 1907, via reports of the Prosser Record and Don Carter of the Prosser Record-Bulletin
Headline: Opium Den Raided at Last
“That vile den at the corner of Meade Avenue and Fifth Street, ostensibly a Chinese laundry, but long known to be an opium den, has at last been broken up, at least for a time.”
The old newspaper reports the Chinaman as Wong Hoy, a “dope fiend” and as “an exceedingly repulsive-looking brute and physical wreck who admitted that he smoked opium, but denied that he kept a den.”
Former Benton County Sheriff Deputy C.J. Alexander participated in the raid, and decades later told Mr. Carter of the Prosser Record-Bulletin there were six people down there found smoking opium with the Chinese proprietor.
Laundry a Front for Opium Den
Alexander recalled “they didn’t do much laundry down there.” The den was in a cellar under the laundry, with access through a trapdoor in the floor. Beds inside were full.
Yakima Doctor Robert Martin Arrested
Wong Hoy was eventually fined $100. Yakima Doctor Robert Martin $50, and his female companion Lillian Peele $25. Dr. Martin said that Ms. Peele was “his wife.” All three were ordered by the judge to leave town.
Opium Pipe a Museum Artifact
C.J. Alexander kept the pipe (which he was supposed to have destroyed along with the opium seized) and eventually donated it. The opium pipe used in the den is now an artifact in the Prosser Museum. Staff there took it out and allowed me to photograph it. It is made from polished bamboo, about two feet long, and has a cone at one end.
Alexander told Carter that another pipe also survived the Prosser Opium Den, and was kept by the courthouse custodian, an ex-Confederate soldier. In 1967, when Carter interviewed Alexander, he said that the custodian’s son inherited the other pipe, and was a practicing dentist in Tacoma.
Personal Reflections on Opium Dens and Marijuana
Viewing this opium pipe from over 100 years ago, and reflecting on the contemporary issue of marijuana in our state, I am struck by a deep sense of historic irony. At the turn of the last century, the powers that be utilized town ordinances to ban opium dens as they were generally considered harmful to orderly society.
After the turn of our current century, a concerted effort to reintroduce smoking of strong substances is among us. As it is written in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “…there is nothing new under the sun.”
Marijuana and opium are not the same thing, but both are considered dangerous; with a high potential for abuse.
Modern concerns place a higher priority on safeguarding children than on policing negative behaviors of adults. Keeping illicit drugs out of the hands of children is of utmost concern. Where society draws its lines is up for grabs.
For reference, here is a copy of the news article about the opium den that is kept at the Prosser Museum: