The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Prostitution in Medford

    The female fringes of society, who anchored in Medford after being driven out of other towns, are making themselves very conspicuous hereabouts, flaunting their vulgar presence before the men, women and children in the day and occasionally making the night hideous with their orgies. They are a pest to the community and the sooner the authorities rid the town of them the better for our boys and girls. Yet it is alleged that the commercial and business interests of a town "that amounts to anything" must have them. Their greed for gold is a monster whose avarice has no mercy for home, honor or virtue.
    Some weeks ago Dr. Kirchgessner was called on by John Angle to see a woman of ill fame who was bleeding to death from what was probably the effects of an abortion. The Dr. refused to go and upon Angle insisting the Dr. replied in substance that he should go to somebody else to doctor his sick women of ill fame. Angle, who is a shoulder-striker [bully, ruffian], gave Dr. Kirchgessner a course of treatment not recorded in the works or fee bills of the M.D. fraternity. The Doctor’s head (after the treatment) was too large for the cupola of his stovepipe, his other eye was winked out and his nose presented more the appearance of a hornet’s nest. The Dr. did not swear out a warrant, but bided his time and had the grand jury indict Angle this week for assault and battery.
Valley Record, Ashland, Oregon, April 12, 1894, page 3

    The soiled pigeons have folded their tents and, like the Arabs, have quietly stolen away--and few tears there are shed over their departure.

"News of the City," Medford Mail, June 1, 1894, page 3

    Nevertheless, the place has four saloons and one recognized social-evil house. In six weeks we have seen one drunkard only and he was so sensible as to say to a hint: "I know I'm drunk and I'm going to get towards home as fast as I can."
Reese P. Kendall, "Oregon,"
Beloit Weekly Times, Beloit, Kansas, October 3, 1901, page 8

FINED $100
For Keeping a Bawdy House--The Calaboose Has an Inmate.
    Gabe Plymale and his wife (who are the parents of an infant a few months old), together with a young man named Gainey, were arrested by Marshal Howard on Friday, charged with keeping a bawdy house within the city limits of Medford. The parties are all well known in the tenderloin. The name of the party who swore out the complaint has not been divulged.
    The case was called in Recorder Snell's court in the afternoon and attracted considerable attention. W. E. Phipps, the city attorney, appeared for the prosecution and D. H. Hartson for the defense.
    One of the parties pleaded guilty and was fined $100. He was given time in which to arrange his "business affairs," which probably means that he was allowed to leave town with the understanding that he would return at the pain of having the sentence of the court enforced against him. His wife was released on her own recognizance, and had already skipped for more congenial climes.
    The other defendant stood trial, and the Recorder, after hearing the evidence of several witnesses, adjudged him guilty and imposed a fine of $50, in default of which he was sent to the city bastille for 25 days.

Democratic Times, 
August 7, 1902, page 6

    On July 31st Gabe Plymale and Hattie Plymale, his wife, and Wm. Gainey were arrested charged with keeping and maintaining a bawdy house. They were found guilty and Gabe Plymale was sentenced to pay a fine of $100 and Gainey a fine of $50, in default of the payment of which they are both now in the city bastille. The woman was allowed to go on her own recognizance--and she has gone, presumably for good.

"Doings of the Recorder's Court," Medford Mail, August 8, 1902, page 3

Doings of Police Court.
    October 20--Hattie Plymale, keeping bawdy house, fined $20, which fine was paid.
    October 23--Thos. Curry, drunk, fined $6.50, in default of which he was remanded to city jail.
    October 23--J. C. Craig, same as above.
    October 28--G. R. Ratzel, drunk, fined $8 and remanded to the custody of the arresting officer in default of payment.
    October 30--Gabriel Plymale, drunk, fined $40; remanded to custody of officer in default of payment.
Medford Mail, October 31, 1902, page 6

Christmas Tour of Medford's Bad Lands Was Expensive.
    MEDFORD, Or., Dec. 28.--(Special.)--Judge Thomas Drake, of Klamath Falls, while spending his Christmas in Jackson County, alleges that he was robbed of $350 in a house of ill fame in Medford.
    Tim Mills and Camilla Clark were arrested today, charged with the crime, and had their examination before Judge Stewart this afternoon. They were bound over to await the action of the court under $500 and $1000 bail respectively. They were taken to Jacksonville and placed in the county jail.

Morning Oregonian, Portland, December 29, 1904, page 7

Girl Drinks Carbolic Acid.
    MEDFORD, Or., March 11.--(Special.)--Edna Heaton, a 16-year-old girl, despondent over the neglect of her lover, attempted to shuffle off the responsibilities of life this morning by taking carbolic acid. The prompt use of a stomach pump saved her life, although she is frightfully burned. The unhappy girl resides in Grants Pass, but has been a figure in the subsocial stratum of Medford life for some months.
Morning Oregonian, Portland, March 12, 1907, page 6

Should Be Suppressed.
    It would seem that a bawdy house is flourishing right in the residence district of Medford, on A Street. Fellows calling themselves men have been seen packing beer to the soiled doves inhabiting the bagnio, and disgraceful scenes, fighting and shrieking, to the annoyance of the neighborhood, are not uncommon.
    It seems that the lesson set by the circuit judge not long ago, when he fined a female guilty of conducting an establishment of this kind $150 and costs, has already been forgotten.
    Why do the authorities permit the existence of this disorderly joint? Where is the police when these nasty orgies are being enacted?
    Such nuisances cannot be abated too soon.
Southern Oregonian, August 21, 1907

She Was Held to Answer.
    The woman who has been maintaining a bawdy house on A Street, not far from Seventh, was arrested Thursday evening, charged with that offense, by Constable Tull. One of the residents of that neighborhood swore to the complaint. Justice Stewart bound her over, to appear at the September term of the circuit court. She furnished a cash bond of $250 and departed for other scenes. The other inmates of the bagnio had skipped before the officer arrived.
    It seems that the disturbance which was the cause of the complaint was started by a couple of young men surcharged with liquor, one of whom knocked down an inmate of the place and received similar treatment from a visitor. They have seen fit to make themselves scarce, but may be arrested later..
Southern Oregonian, August 24, 1907

Royal The, Mrs Julia Levenberry propr, furn rms 320 E Main
Polk's Jackson County Directory 1912, page 122

Tin Plate Ordinance in Portland
    Portland, Ore., has passed the "tin plate ordinance." As reported in The Survey for February 8, the ordinance provides that on all hotels, rooming houses, lodging houses, tenement houses, apartment houses and saloons, the name of the owner of the building and his address shall be fastened near the main entrance so that it can easily be read. The measure is one of a number recommended by the local vice commission to solve the social evil. Those who do not comply with the ordinance will be subject to a fine of $100 on conviction in the municipal court. The proprietors of hotels, rooming houses and tenement houses are preparing to contest the bonding ordinance passed on the recommendation of the Vice Commission. Proprietors of such buildings are required by the measure to file a surety bond of $1,000 with the city as a guarantee that they will not permit immoral conditions to exist on their premises. The act provides that the bond shall be confiscated after a second conviction of a violation of its terms.
The American City, March 1913, page 319

    Two of Medford's fair ladies, charged with fighting, were found guilty and charged $5.00 and costs in the police court Saturday.

"Local News," Jacksonville Post, February 7, 1914, page 3

    Charles Turner, a negro, on trial in the circuit court on a charge of living in and about a house of ill fame, was acquitted by a jury this morning after short deliberation. A. A. Johnson, indicted on a similar charge, and a pioneer of the Rogue River Valley, will be on trial Monday.
    Turner's acquittal was largely due to a change of heart on the part of Dolly Johnson, age eighteen, and the girl in the case, whose story before the justice court resulted in the binding over of Turner. On the stand Friday afternoon her memory regarding important details was hazy. She claimed she could remember nothing because her mind was not clear, due to too much homemade wine.
    One feature of the case was the charge of the defense that prosecutor Kelly used undue influence to get the girl to testify as she did before the justice court.
    Charles Estes pled guilty to dynamiting fish in Bear Creek, was fined $250 and sentence was suspended by the court pending good behavior and the promise that he would report once a month to the prosecuting attorney.
Medford Mail Tribune, February 28, 1914, page 8

    A. A. Johnson, convicted of living in and about a house of ill fame, was sentenced Friday morning to serve from two to 15 years in the state penitentiary. V. Odin has appealed to the supreme court from his conviction for rape.
"Local and Personal," Medford Mail Tribune, March 7, 1914, page 2

    A. A. Johnson, age 72 years, a pioneer of the Rogue River Valley, convicted at the last term of court of living in and about a house of ill fame, was sentenced from 2 to 25 years in the state prison yesterday by Judge Morrow. The state institution will not be entirely new for the old man; was there once before. He received the verdict without a show of emotion.
"Local and Personal," Medford Mail Tribune, March 7, 1914, page 2

    Enforcement of the red-light abatement act in California has caused a migration of scarlet women and the male parasites from the larger cities of that state, and according to reports Medford has received a contingent. They are reported to have taken quarters in local hotels and lodging houses. Chief of Police Hittson said this morning that he knew nothing of the reported influx of undesirables and that he had noticed no new faces on the streets.
    Medford has not had a moral wave since the Royal Rooming House episode of two years ago.
Medford Mail Tribune, January 13, 1915, page 2

    Another important matter expected to be investigated by the grand jury is the moral conditions in Medford lodging houses, with a view of applying the rigid abatement act, if necessary. This law does not require prima facie evidence, but common reputation, as proof.

"Grand Jury to Again Probe for Missing Funds," Medford Mail Tribune, February 15, 1915, page 2

    Subpoenas were issued Monday and served by the sheriff's office in the grand jury investigation of moral conditions in the lodging houses of this city, and this morning a number of landladies and women employees journeyed to Jacksonville to give testimony. Among those called are recent arrivals, who within the last two weeks have opened lodging houses in this city in second-story floors vacant for the last six months. It is expected that the investigation will take most of the day.

"Lodging Houses of City Probed by Grand Jury," Medford Mail Tribune, February 16, 1915, page 2

    No new indictments have been found against keepers of immoral houses in this city, the inquisitorial body [the grand jury] finding it difficult to secure definite testimony.
"County Affairs Under Inspection by Grand Jury," Medford Mail Tribune, February 18, 1915, page 2

    But one indictment was returned by the grand jury in the delving into conditions in lodging rooms in this city, and now, according to the authorities, the chief witness in the one returned has flew the coop, probably thwarting any prosecution of Mrs. Violet Stone indicted for conducting a house of ill fame on Main Street, between Bartlett and Riverside avenues. The reason why more indictments were not returned was due to lack of substantial evidence.

"Sheriff Shortage Remains Mystery," Medford Mail Tribune, February 19, 1915, page 2

    Laura Graves, a fallen woman, and Ray Langlois, a fallen man, her companion in a series of escapades in drunkenness and debauchery, were found guilty of vagrancy before Justice of the Peace Glenn O. Taylor, Friday afternoon, and given sentences of 30 days in jail, and a fine of $100. The fine and the sentence were commuted for both upon their promise to be outside of Jackson County this afternoon by 5:00 o'clock.
    Thursday night the woman and Langlois and a rival for the hand of Mrs. Graves engaged in a fight with beer bottles on East Main Street, the battle raging at its height upon the lawn of Chief of Police Hittson. This brought the pair to the city jail, the third party escaping on horseback.
    For the last three months, the police say she has been in a continual state of intoxication, sleeping in barns, vacant houses and haystacks. Recently, Mrs. Graves has been working on a ranch. During most of this period she has associated with tramps and presided at alley "can rushing" parties. The woman says she is a confirmed alcoholic.
    Ray Langlois, whose courting of Mrs. Graves has brought him into prominence, is well known to the police.
Medford Mail Tribune, September 18, 1915, page 2

    Four five-dollar bills and the letter in which they were enclosed will be the principal evidence in the trial tomorrow morning of Mrs. Mary Coppage of the Palms Rooming House [at Main and Grape], who is charged with having attempted to bribe Chief of Police Hittson.
    The letter was received this morning by Hittson, who opened it in the presence of Constable Hammond. Hittson, soon after receiving the letter, swore out the warrant for the arrest of the woman.
    The attempt at bribery is supposed to have come as a result of investigation by the police into the management of the Palms, which was taken over a few days ago by Mrs. Coppage, and which it is though is being operated as an immoral house.
    Bribery in this state is a serious offense, the law prescribing three penalties, 1 to 10 years in the penitentiary, one month to one year in the county jail or a fine of from $100 to $1,000.
Medford Mail Tribune, January 4, 1917, page 2

    Mrs. Mary Coppage, arrested last week on a charge of attempted bribery, Saturday waived examination before Justice Doxford [sic--Henry Dox] at Jacksonville and asked to be bound over to the grand jury. Mrs. Coppage was released on $250 bail to await trial before the grand jury, which meets the third Monday in February.
    Mrs. Coppage came to Medford only a week ago, and took over the management of the Palms rooms. She had formerly been in this city, where she had operated other rooming houses.
    Chief of Police Hittson Thursday morning received a letter from Mrs. Coppage containing four five-dollar bills. The letter, which is being held to be used as evidence in the case, was a veiled statement, hinting at bribery. Hittson, who opened the letter in the presence of Constable Al Hammond, swore out a warrant for the woman's arrest. Investigation into the conduct of affairs at the Palms is thought to have led to the attempt to silence investigation.

Medford Mail Tribune, January 8, 1917, page 6

    Emma Coppage indicted for attempting to bribe an officer.
"Grand Jury Brings Three Indictments," Medford Mail Tribune, February 20, 1917, page 2

LOST--Pair nose glasses and chain, between Optimo Cafe and Palms Rooms. Please return to Miss Coppage, Room 6, Palm Rooms.
"Too Late to Classify," Medford Mail Tribune, March 1, 1917, page 2

    A woman named Edwards, who operated the Florida Rooming House, was arrested by Chief of Police Hittson last night and put up $25 cash bail for her appearance in police court this morning. Up to early this afternoon she had failed to appear, and it was said that she had left town. A man who was in the rooming house at the same time was also arrested but was released in court today. This is the initial arrest in the cleanup campaign against rooming houses.
"Local and Personal," Medford Mail Tribune, July 5, 1918, page 2

    The two ordinances designed to clean up the rooming house evil in Medford, as recommended by the state council of defense and the war department, were finally passed after a long and vociferous barrage fire by councilman Keene, who finally cast his vote for the measure on the plea that the war department had made the request and it should be granted, but he believed the action would lead to no earthly good. An emergency clause was attached which renders both measures immediately operative.
"Council Raises Salaries; Passes Clean-Up Laws," Medford Mail Tribune, July 5, 1918, page 4

    The Florida Rooming House no longer exists, its proprietress, Mrs. Jim Edwards, having forfeited her bail bond following her arrest last week, and disappeared from the city after having sold the furnishings to a second hand dealer. The goods were moved out from the rooms today.

Medford Mail Tribune, July 8, 1918, page 4

Imperial Rooms, Mrs. Stella Russell prop, 30 N Front
Polk's Jackson County Directory 1921.

Imperial Rooms (Stella Gatton) 30 n Front
Directory, West Coast Directory Company, 1927.   The listing continues essentially unchanged through the 1941 edition.

Do you have any stories about the Imperial Rooms or the Rex Rooms in Medford?
Ellis Beeson: Oh, I just knew they existed. I was just a kid then, you know. I didn't know anything about that until I got around, oh, I don't know, 18 or 19. I never did visit them, but I knew of 'em.
    Stella the Redhead, she was the madam of the Imperial Rooms, and Big Eva was the madam of that house [in] Kay Atwood's book [Ashland's Peerless Rooms, in Atwood's Jackson County Conversations, page 4]. They always have been and they always will be.
Oral History Interview with Ellis Beeson [born 1903], SOHS tap #46

    There is no "wild night life" here.
    There are no "gilded dens of vice and pleasure."
    There are no institutions that encourage flaming youth to strut itself and flame the limit.
    A home-loving, industrious, progressive city of 100 percent Americans is Medford. The average citizen is pictured as the type that sits at home evenings and reads comfortably of the sins of New York and Chicago before going to bed at the locally conventional hour of 10:00 p.m.
Medford Daily News, December 25, 1928, page 1

LaFonda Rooms (Dorothy Marwick) 207 W Main
1930 Directory, Medford Printing Company, page 108

LaFonda Rooms (Mazie Marston) 207 W Main
Polk's 1937 Directory.   The spelling is "Maizie" through the 1943 Polk's.

Rooming House Lodger Claims Pair Threatened [to] Break Down Door--Fired to Frighten, Not Injure

    As a result of a rooming house shooting affray early this morning, James Earl Erdt, 29, local musician, is today confined in Community Hospital with a shattered right leg caused by a bullet fired from a .38-caliber revolver by Robert Evans, 32, electrician, according to city police.
    District Attorney Frank J. Newman said this afternoon that no charge would be filed against Evans, who readily admitted the shooting. He said that Evans was perfectly within his rights in firing the gun. City police, who arrested Evans, Erdt and Alvin Douglas ("Smoky") Moran, 30, said that charges of drunk and disorderly conduct might be filed against Erdt and Moran.
Demanded Entrance.
    The shooting occurred when Erdt and Moran, according to statements made to police, appeared before the door of the room occupied by Evans in the Imperial Rooms on North Front Street about 2:30 this morning and demanded entrance. Evans, who has lived there about one year, told city police that the two men threatened to batter down the door if he didn't open it and let them enter. Evans reported that he warned the men several times to leave, and when they refused to do so, fired the gun through the door about 12 inches from the floor.
    The bullet, city police said, grazed Moran's left shoe, taking off part of the sole and just touching the flesh. Moran and Erdt then retreated down the hallway, city police said Evans told them. Evans then opened the door and went into the hallway, he said, at which point Erdt advanced toward him from the end of the hallway. Evans warned Erdt twice to stop, he said, and when the latter refused to do so, fired the gun three times at the floor in front of Erdt. The first two bullets failed to explode, but the third hit Erdt squarely on the shinbone about nine inches below the knee.
Meant to Frighten.
    "I didn't intend to hit him," Evans said today. "I thought if I fired into the floor he would stop. I didn't know the two men, but from the way they acted, I wasn't taking any chances of getting robbed or murdered."
Pair Go to Street.
    Evan then said that he went back into his room to get dressed so that he could go downtown and call the police. In the meantime, Moran had helped the wounded Erdt to his feet and the two boys had gone to the street, where city police found them at 2:50 a.m. at the corner of Sixth and Front streets.
    Moran approached the officers and said that his friend was shot in the leg and "bleeding to death." Police took Erdt to the hospital and Moran to the station. Moran, police stated, refused at first to describe the shooting but agreed to talk officers to the scene when he was threatened with the lockup. He then took city police to the rooming house, where Evans readily admitted the shooting.
Pair Drunk, Is Claim.
    Lola De Voe, manager of the rooming house, told city police that Moran and Erdt were extremely drunk and disorderly. Moran, according to city police, is a rodeo performer and had moved last night from the Imperial Rooms to the Jackson Hotel. He had previously lived in Portland. Moran told the city police that he and Erdt had gone back to the Imperial Rooms and that they couldn't find their way out of the hallway.
    Erdt, a musician at the Brass Rail, has been living at the Grand Hotel, he told hospital attendants. With the exception of the bullet wound, he was otherwise uninjured, and not considered seriously hurt.
Medford Mail Tribune, September 14, 1937, page 2

Alleged Houses of Prostitution in Cities in Oregon
(From information gathered during 1941)
[City] [No. Houses] [Names] [No. Prostitutes?]
Pendleton 12 Oregon 2-3
Oaks 2
Quelle 1-2
Columbia 1-2
Bend 2
Umatilla 2
Paris 1-2
Waldorf 1-2
Spokane 2
Rex 1-2
St. Elmo 2
Cozy 2
The Dalles 3 Washington
Klamath Falls 7 Iron Door 4
Palm 3
Irene's 4
Myrtle -
Lula Capp 1
Blond Marie 2
Elsie Stearns 2
Astoria 6-7 Richmond Hotel
Stanfield 1
La Grande 3
Baker 4
Ontario 4 Cozy
Prineville 1-2
Bend 6
Lakeview 3-5 (out of city)
Medford 4-6
Grants Pass 1
Coquille 2
Marshfield 3-5
Eugene 1-3 (operate sporadically)
Newport 1-2
Arlington ? - no
Huntington ?
Roseburg ? - no
North Bend ?
Cottage Grove No
Corvallis No
Salem No
Oregon City No
Hillsboro ?
Forest Grove ?
Tillamook probably
Toledo probably
Florence probably
Reedsport probably
"Alleged Houses of Prostitution in Portland, Oregon," January 7 1942. Folder 5, Box 7, Gov. Sprague Records, Oregon State Archives

"Fancy" Ladies Must Move On
    At the request of army authorities a ban has been placed on prostitution in this area in anticipation of establishment of the army cantonment, now under construction at the Medford site. Known prostitutes have been notified by the police to move on. Discussing the situation, District Attorney George W. Neilson said that there had, of course, been little commercialized prostitution in Medford and practically none in Ashland and other neighboring communities.
    Sheriff Syd I. Brown stated that officials are watching for an influx of prostitutes following cantonment workers or soldiers and that their presence here will not be tolerated.
    The attitude of the army is now backed by the May Act, which gives the federal government power to act against prostitution in military areas.
Medford News, January 30, 1942, page 1

Personal Inspection of Suspected Vice Den Gives Pair the Jitters
    The story leaked out this week about a couple of local men--one a newspaperman, and one an official of the Cantonment Coordinator's Office (we'll give you their names for four bits, payment in advance), who made a personal inspection of the prostitution situation here in Medford. Following [a] statement that the "situation was well in hand," the two men decided to have a look-see for themselves. Well, it's an hilarious story, with the newspaperman having to practically push the Coordinating official up the stairs of one of the Main Street rooming houses recommended by the police as a good one to investigate. The two got up the stairs, and were confronted by the regulation sign: "Ring Bell for Attendant." So they rang the bell, and pretty quick one of the many doors opened and out stepped a girl.
    "D-d-d-do you have rooms here?" the Coordinating official asked, the newspaperman having beat it down the hall when he heard footsteps.
    "Yes, we have rooms," the girl said. "Do you want a room?"
    "D-d-d-do you have any girls?" the official stammered. "That's what we want to know."
    No doubt sensing there was something phony about the deal, after getting a good look at the devilish pair, and perhaps truthfully, too, the girl declared:
    "No, we don't have any girls. They've all left. Orders from the army. We're at war, you know, and the army says we have to close down, so the girls are all gone." She left, slamming the door behind her.
    The two "investigators" got down the stairs in one of those bbbzzzzzzzt maneuvers and were able to report back that as far as they could find out, the town is pure.
    Their chief worry was that someone might see them coming out of the joint, and apparently someone did, because the story was all over town in a day or two.
Medford News, January 30, 1942, page 1

    Considerable interest is being shown by valley residents in the new riding academy opened on the old George Nichols place on Sunrise Avenue, it is reported by the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Moisio. The couple came to Medford from Montana.
    Twenty-two well-bred, well-trained saddle horses, some gaited, are available at the academy for riders, it is stated Mr. and Mrs. Moisio plan to give special attention to young children learning to ride, and arrangements can be made for an adult to accompany young riders, Mrs. Moisio states. Later this summer when weather permits group rides will be planned for young people, the owners reported.
    Moisio, raised on a Montana ranch, served as foreman of a dude ranch for two years. He is skilled in roping techniques and tricks and has been demonstrating these for interested riders. The academy opened last Sunday. The Moisio place can be reached by way of East Main and Barneburg Road.
Medford Mail Tribune, March 28, 1946, page 8

Last revised July 16, 2022