by Jacquie Rogers
I'll be writing a column about various goings-on each month in the Old West--might be about the most popular dentist office in Boulder, Colorado, or maybe about base ball wagering in Clackamas, Oregon. Might even be about cattle rustling or a round-up of the sporting girls.
To introduce myself, I'm originally from Owyhee County, Idaho, and many of my stories are set there. I grew up on a dairy farm and don't even remember learning to ride a horse any more than I remember learning to walk. By the time I was in first grade, my neighbor and I earned bounty money by shooting starlings off the ensilage pit, or trapping gophers. This was nothing unusual--all the kids out there did such things.
My fondest desire was to be a television baseball announcer. That didn't work out so I ended up designing and programming software, which wasn't a whole lot less frustrating than milking cows. Computers and cows both are the cause of considerable bad language. I'm actually not sure whatever possessed me to write a book. Must have been one of those blindly insane moments when it seemed like the thing to do. So, I'm a writer now.
Everything about the Old West fascinates me, but I admit that my interests are extremely varied--the daily life, the cost of things, how they did stuff, how they made do, what they ate for dinner, what clothes they wore and why.
Any topic is fair game. I'm especially interested in what we call vice (they didn't, necessarily), their marriage customs (differs from area to area), and what they did for entertainment. And of course the weapons. You can learn a lot about a person's attitude by the weapons he or she carried. So this column will be a mélange of whatever I happen to find that intrigues me at the moment. I hope it you find these things interesting, too.
I have permission (verbal, but in Owyhee County that still means something) to reprint sections of The Owyhee Avalanche on the Western Fictioneers blog. This newspaper was started in 1865 (Ruby City, Idaho Territory, then moved to Silver City, I.T., a year later) and is still in business, now in Homedale, Idaho. No, I don't expect any of you have ever heard of those places, but this area was a lively mining and cattle district. Now, down to business.
Personal Behavior in the Old West
Who said boomtowns were uncouth places in the height of silver and gold fever? At least they remembered that there was such a thing as manners. Silver City was (still is) snowbound from December to April, so I imagine that by January, the residents, including the newspaper editor, suffered a bit from cabin fever. From The Owyhee Avalanche, January 4, 1873:
MANNERS. If men could purchase manners as they do their clothing, it would be a great benefit to the human race. We are sadly deficient in that respect. We are gruff and morose, and act for the most part as if the world was made for our special benefit, and we were the only one in it. We crowd and jostle along the walk, occupy the largest possible space in the cars, tread on our neighbor's corns, and generally pay no attention to either the person or the needs of others. And we born of being a people of good manners heaven save the mark! A company of trained monkeys have as much. We act very much like the "mildest man that ever scuttled a ship or cut a throat," and yet flatter ourselves that we are gentlemen! A man of truly polite manners and all other things will follow in due time, and society run far more smoothly in its grooves than it does now.
I'm not real sure the editor's predictions (probably written by W.J. Hill) about society becoming better mannered has ever come true, but at least they were thinking about it. I hope we are, too.
Death and rebirth are recurring themes in the dark of winter, which is more than likely what brought this next article to print. The editor must have taken it from an Indiana paper. He had to store up news items from papers he received in the good weather because no outside newspapers could be delivered during the winter months. This is also from the January 4, 1873 issue.
ARE PERSONS OFTEN BURIED ALIVE? A little girl at Fort Wayne, Ind., whose funeral services were lately being conducted, woke up very much surprised at the crowd assembled in her honor, and soon recovered. A young lady in Quebec, who was supposed to have died, regained consciousness while the undertaker was measuring her for a coffin. She called for something to eat, ate a hearty supper and got well. A young lady named Parks seemly died, to all appearances, it is said at Pine Creek, Ind., and was dressed for the grave, but in answer to the passionate manifestations of her relatives, she sat up and conversed with them, and then was taken home. At Sandsom, Ind., a young lady was taken sick and from all appearances was perfectly dead, the family physician pronounced her dead, and sure enough, she was dead.
|Artifacts from the Silver City, I.T., telegraph office|
Are you curious about how long it took to send and receive a telegram? December, 1872, brought an upgrade in lines and technology, to the awe of them all. Even so, Silver City didn't get the news for five weeks (probably also by wire). This article is taken from the issue of January 11, 1873.
A TELEGRAPHIC FEAT. The Troy Press of December 3d, mentions the fact which it considers remarkable, that the President's message was telegraphed from Washington to that city over four of the Western Union Telegraph Co.'s wires, in the short time of 5 hours and 25 minutes. The distance is about 300 miles. At this rate it would have required 21 hours and 40 minutes to send the same message on a single wire. On the route between Chicago and San Francisco, a far greater feat was performed. The same message, which counted up 11,335 words, was sent on a single wire from Corinne to San Francisco, a distance of 900 miles, in 5 hours and 35 minutes, and came through in first-rate shape.
A Night on the Town
If you lived in 1873 and wanted to have a little fun, what would you do? If you were adventuresome and progressive, you'd go rollerskating! Silver City proudly sported a new rink, and here's a snippet of the article that's part announcement but is also educating the public on this new sport. The Owyhee Avalanche has this to say about it (January 11, 1873):
ROLLER SKATING. Jones & Bonney's Skating Rink is now open and is a splendid place for exercise and amusement. Roller skating not only most consummately occupies the mind in its performance, but it brings the whole muscular system into active play in the most enticing and beautiful manner. A good skater sails over the floor as airily as a bird upon the wing, in a perfect revelry of enjoyment, and a carnival of fun.
And of course there's the small town gossip.
- The new dress color with the golden tinge is called "Aurifero."
- Frank Blackinger is confined to his room with a severe attack of erysipelas.
- The present deep snow has caused Silver City girls to knit additions to the upper sections of their stockings.
- A friend of ours who has tried it, says that from five to ten days' application of fir gum will effectually cure corns and bunions. Try it.
- The Homestead Act of 1863 went into effect January 1.
- The Carson City Mint opened January 8, 1870.
- The Denver Horse Railway opened January 12, 1872. Fare would set you back a dime.
- On January 16, 1878, the silver dollar became legal tender.
- Bat Masterson took a slug in his leg January 24, 1876, while breaking up a fight over a woman named Molly Brennan. She was killed, and Masterson killed one of the fighters, Sergeant King.
- The US government established the Crow Reservation in Montana on January 31, 1887.
May your saddle never slip.
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Hearts of Owyhee series
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