THE WEST OF OTKAR TALICH
Cities, like people, have reputations and in the time of this story no city on earth surpassed Baghdad's reputation for iniquity; its name being synonymous with wickedness and depravity. But, far to the west, a rival was stirring. San Francisco was fast gaining notoriety and had already earned the appellation Baghdad by the Bay.
From the time of its discovery, California's mystique attracted adventurers and explorers, the wild and the restless, and the worst of them, it seems, ended up in San Francisco. After them came a second wave constituted largely of that more industrious and respectable part of civilization whose purposes are more conducive to the establishment of a thriving, law abiding society. But, even among these, there were more than an ample supply of opportunists, mountebanks, criminals, and other larcenous breeds of men and women masquerading as decent citizens.
Then, in 1849, with the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, California's siren call became irresistible to the remainder of those who had not journeyed west - the desperate, the dreamers, the gamblers, the unlucky, the unfortunate - in short, those who live mainly on hope. The overland route west was slow and perilous (the transcontinental railroad would not be completed for another twenty years) and Indian attacks were frequent but, of necessity, most chose that route. The less destitute Americans, along with men from virtually every foreign nation, came by ship, their arrival bringing San Francisco new, if not entirely wholesome, blood. This human influx by sea arrived with such a rush that in 1850, the Pacific Daily News reported that within one forty-eight hour period nearly sixty sailing ships entered the Golden Gate, adding dramatically, "in all the history of the world there is no comparison."
Although most of the newcomers headed for the gold fields, many remained to seek their fortunes in the city. While eager prospectors panned for gold on the swift streams and rushing rivers cascading down the narrow gorges of the High Sierras, those who remained in the city plied whatever trades they knew or were willing to learn. Businesses prospered. Construction companies, mercantile stores, livery stables, law firms - all flourished. So too, did bordellos, saloons, opium dens and gambling establishments, most of which were concentrated in an especially decadent area that, as if proud of its bawdy reputation, proclaimed itself The Barbary Coast. But vice is not easily confined and it was not uncommon to find petty grifters and free-lance ladies of the streets plying their trades citywide.