If birth records and death records can give one a snapshot of a community, so too can jail records. Indeed, the Spokane jail registry from 1900 offers many insights, often humorous, to those willing to peruse it. The first thing of notice is that Spokane entered the twentieth century as a diversified community with a significant Chinese population. On February 19, 1900, which will be exactly one hundred seventeen years ago tomorrow, five Chinese men were arrested on First street in what appears to be a raid on an opium den. Two of the men were charged for operating the joint while the other three were charged for smoking. This, however, was not the only occurrence of Chinese men in the records. Though, whenever they appeared, they were all, almost exclusively, charged with opium related offences. That being said, they played a valuable role in the community working as laborers, cooks, and laundrymen, but their opium habits were not appreciated by the community, which seemed to be attempting to project an upstanding and attractive image.
Other offences noted in the register indicate that improving appearances was important for the community. On February 23, 1900, six men were arrested for offences to a paved street. One man left his horse on the street and the other five were charged with scattering gravel on the street. Did they fill their pockets with gravel with the intention of scattering it on the street in some sick, monstrous pre-meditated gravel scatter? We may never know, and don’t think about it too hard. You may not be able to sleep at night. If only they could see the Spokane streets today. For those that don’t know the Spokane streets first hand, they can be described in three words: hellish Swiss cheese.