November 22, 2020

The Chinese Den of Iniquity


No one knows what the business was actually named. A Sanborn-Perris mapmaker identified it only as “Chinese” in 1895. 

This writer might have considered it “The Chinese Entertainment House,” but authors of the archeological report, "Celestials and Soiled Doves..." used biblical verbiage to describe it as a “den of iniquity.” Specifically, it was found to be a “gambling parlor/saloon/opium den/drugstore, [that] filled many needs.”

It’s location was where the downtown parking garage stands today—mostly. It was impossible to study the entire site, because the old property extended south beyond where archeologists could dig. Some might remember the old Classic Paint shop that once stood there. The "den" was in operation for at least ten years, from the late 1880s until the Great Fire of 1900 burned it down.

Attached to the “den” was a dancehall. “It is not known whether the dancehall was also a Chinese enterprise,” the study wrote, “or whether the dancehall was simply built against the Chinese run business.” Also, outside the building, was a stone-lined well and a privy. The well could only be excavated to 12 feet, however, due to the water table.

Why the mapmaker referred to the building only as “Chinese” was most likely because of the proprietor’s ethnicity, according to the report. Perhaps another possibility is that there was an identifying sign, but it was written in Chinese. Although this is certainly speculative, it causes one to imagine: What if, in some southwestern “Chinatown” neighborhood, a proprietor hung this two-character sign outside his door:

Would anglo law enforcement even be aware that this establishment was openly advertising (albeit in Chinese,) that they offered opium?

The basement of the building was deemed to have been dug after the building was constructed. It measured 9.75 x 12.5 feet. The “basement produced opium paraphernalia including parts of opium pipes, an opium lamp, and opium cans and containers.”

Opium was popular among the Chinese especially, but many anglos were known to partake as well—including housewives. The general public and the Journal-Miner newspaper were only concerned with the handful of people who could not keep their daily responsibilities because of their habit. Otherwise, sentiment was largely libertarian. As a result, few opium raids ever took place in Prescott.

RELATED: Back When Prescott Was "Opium Central"

True story of the grip of opium upon Prescott, Arizona. Eventually, the city would become a hub of manufacture for the drug.

One sure find of the study was that anglos did patronize this business. “Artifacts of euro-american origin were…common,” the study reported. “Numerous alcoholic beverage bottles, patent medicine bottles, perfume bottles, mouthwash bottles, and whiteware” were discovered. “The decomposed remains of a wooden barrel full of champagne and wine bottles was found in the basement.” 

“Drinking and gambling were certainly high on the list,” the report revealed. “The presence of Chinese liquor bottles suggests some of the patrons were Chinese…[and/] or that there was demand for Chinese liquor by the non-Chinese patrons of the establishment. Whatever the case, it was being consumed along with beer, champagne, wine, and whiskey.” A couple of shot-glasses were also recovered. One of the liquor bottles was clearly marked “The Duffy Malt-Whiskey Co., Rochester, NY, USA.”

“The presence of both Chinese and euro-american poker chips and gaming pieces suggest both Chinese and Anglos frequented the place for the purposes of gambling.” Poker chips were made of bone and glass. Dice were wooden. A few coins were also collected.

“Although archeologists could not confirm that the business had a restaurant, food consumption seemed to occur there.” A total of 432 animal bones were found all showing signs of being commercially butchered. Mostly beef and rabbit, these bones also included pork, sheep, chicken and turkey. There were also several large soy sauce jars and ginger jars uncovered. Indeed, dozens of artifacts involving food consumption were found including stoneware, whiteware, porcelain, and utensils.

A number of patent medicine bottles, personal hygiene bottles, and a perfume bottle were recovered. Some of these included: “Hoyt’s German Cologne,” “Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root Kidney, Liver and Bladder Cure,” “Lydia E Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound,” “Dr. Birney’s Catarhal Powder,” and "Listerine Mouthwash."

Perhaps the most surprising find was an intact lightbulb dating from around 1897-99.

“There seems to be a little doubt that the Chinese structure served as a gambling parlor where one could have a meal and drink or smoke oneself into a stupor,” the study declared. “No wonder someone built a dancehall next to it. The location of the building outside of the Prescott chinatown indicates...that there was at least some level of acceptance and tolerance of them within the greater anglo community.”

RELATED: Prescott's "Double Decker" Brothel

The story of Prescott, Arizona's only 2 story brothel as told by artifacts found in an archeological survey of the red-light district.

In the end, archeologists were impressed with the shear capitalism. “Bounded by brothels to the north and a dancehall next-door, it sounds like a thriving economic enterprise,” the study concluded, serving “the needs of many in a gold mining, army outpost, old-west, frontier boomtown.” Although Prescott's preachers and their staunchest followers may have regarded it as a "den of iniquity," to the rest of the city it was simply Saturday night.




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Celestials and Soiled Doves: The Archeology and History of Lots 4-9, Block 13 of Historic Prescott's Original Townsite -- The Prescott City Centre Project. By Michael S. Foster, John M. Lindly and Ronald F Ryde. SWCA Cultural Resource Report No. 03-386; March, 2004.

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