Thursday, April 18, 2013

Billiards, Butter, and the Anti-Dude Club by @JacquieRogers #western

April in the 
Old West

April brought spring flowers as well as a thirst for color of a different sort in the boom towns of the West, and Owyhee County, Idaho Territory was no different.  Unless otherwise stated, all articles are taken from The Owyhee Avalanche, which was established in Ruby City, Idaho Territory, in 1865 and moved to Silver City a year later.  This weekly newspaper is still in business, now in Homedale, Idaho — the longest running newspaper in the state, and rightfully proud of its history.

Some things never change.  Take email, for instance.  It’s both handy and a distraction, and we put up with nuisance messages because overall, email’s got us spoiled for instant communication.  We also receive a lot of unwanted solicitations in our snail mail.   News flash: Junk mail is nothing new!  Here’s a grumbling piece in the April 20, 1867 edition:
AGREEABLE.  To sit up till twelve o’clock at night waiting for the mail; then go to bed; get into a bully sleep; then have a mail carrier rushing and waking you up with the cry of “letters.”  After sifting over a pack of correspondence, he throws you a single envelope containing the highly important information in bold type — “How to get a sewing machine free of cost!”  To have that done oftener than once a week would cause some swearing in these parts.  We don’t want a machine at any price.

I don’t know why the reporter headlined that with “Agreeable” when he clearly found it disagreeable.

Lots of skirmishes with the Paiute, Shoshone, and Bannock tribes took place at this time, and there were three temporary forts or cavalry camps in Owyhee County.  In the April 20, 1867, issue of The Owyhee Avalanche, the reporter is rallying the citizens to make a little money from the government.
ARMY SUPPLIES are wanted at Camp Lyon and C. F. Smith.  Fine opportunities are offered for large or small contracts.  Laboring men can do well by taking contracts for providing a portion of these supplies — and can rest assured of prompt payment upon fulfillment of their contracts.

Nearly every issue of the newspaper contained at least one substantial article about suffrage.  Idaho voted in favor of women’s suffrage in 1896, the fourth state to do so.  Wyoming was first, in 1869, followed by Colorado and Utah.  Even though there was considerable support for bestowing the right to vote on the fairer sex, reporters still poked fun at the whole situation.  Here’s a snippet from an article that The Owyhee Avalanche republished April 10, 1869.

MRS. E. CADY STANTON’S DREAM.  (Republished from the Chicago Tribune)  “... I think some of your fellow-citizens are unnecessarily disturbed at the prospect of “woman suffrage.”  They seem to imagine that with enfranchisement, marriage would be speedily abrogated, cradles annihilated, and the stockings, like Governor Marcy’s pantaloons, mended by the State.  Pray suggest to these sorrowing gentlemen that maternal love and conjugal devotion do not depend on statue laws of the State Constitutions.  As the affections existed before governments, they will no doubt continue, even should all Eve’s daughters go to the polls once a year to choose wise rulers.”  Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

People traveled a lot more than we think.  When I studied the families of Owyhee County, I found that as soon as the transcontinental railroad was in place, many visited their families back East.  Actually, there was quite a bit of travel back East even before the Golden Spike was driven May 10, 1869.  Mr. Leonard traveled a month earlier.  This item was in the April 24, 1869, issue:

MR. R. H. LEONARD returned a few days ago from a short visit to the home of his boyhood in the forests of Maine, looking as fat and jolly as ever.  We learn, that on his way coming back, he narrowly escaped with his life.  The train of the Union Pacific, in which he was traveling, broke through a bridge, precipitating the entire string of cars into the depths below.  One man was killed, and several others wounded.  Mr. Leonard sustained a slight contusion.

Railroad travel had a few little safety issues to work out.  Can you imagine the media frenzy should something like this happen today?  We’d have finger-pointing and studies for the next forty years.

People headed east too — from China.  Most were looking for that mountain of gold, especially after the transcontinental railroad was completed.  They swarmed to gold strikes just like everyone else did.  In the same Avalanche issue, the reporter wrote:

THE DALLES MOUNTAINEER says that there is a steady stream of Chinamen pouring through that valley, on their way to the mines.  They come like locusts, and should the deluge continue long they are quite sure to overstock the labor market and drive white workingmen out of the country.

Even in a wide open country, people were worried about their piece of the pie.  Politics and border issues don’t change much.  And speaking of butter, this was in the April 1, 1871, issue:

A KEG OF BUTTER.  One evening this week as Dave Dorsey was on his way to Fairview with a load of freight, he was compelled to lighten his load by leaving two kegs of butter about halfway up the Oro Fino gulch.  Next morning he returned and found one keg missing.  Two nights afterwards, as Ben. Cook and Ike Culp, who reside on the Mountain, were going home late, they met two Chinamen carrying what appeared to be quite a heavy load.  Up-on making enquiries of the celestials, they were told it was a barrel of salmon.  Proceeding on their way, Ben and Ike talked the matter over and began to suspect that the Chinamen, whom they had just met, were making away with Dorsey’s butter.  Their suspicions were strengthened by observing some hoops near where something apparently had just been dug out of the snow.  They turned and began a pursuit of the thieves who, being on the look out, dropped their burden, and, favored by the darkness, made good their escape.  It is scarcely necessary to state that the barrel of salmon proved to be the missing keg of butter.

The Avalanche editor and the “News” (I think from Boise City) editor had quite a good time trading jabs.  Billiards was becoming more and more popular in Idaho, and of course each town wanted bragging rights.  This was in the April 22, 1871, issue:

Friend M’Gonigle became pregnant with facetix the other day and, while in that happy condition, gave birth to the following pleasant paragraphs, which we find in the News of last Tuesday:

Judging from the playing at the late billiard tournament in Boise City, we assume the responsibility of saying that there are at least three Silver City billiardists who could easily get away with the Boise Championship.  Frank Hunt, Gus Simondi, or French at Sommercamp’s could walk off with the champion cue, &c., without much trouble.  (Avalanche)

We infer from the above wild statement, that the Avalanche is not aware, that the rules governing the tournament alluded to, barred push and crotch shots.  We opine that if the Silver City champions were placed under similar restrictions, their average would be sort of slender, too.

Many Idaho Territory residents were from Texas, but whether from Texas or not, all Idahoans were fiercely independent.  This is from the April 13, 1872, issue:

BORDER TROUBLES.  There is going to be trouble on the Texan border.  It is not in human nature for the people resident there to tamely submit to the constant inroads and robberies of the Mexicans.  The telegraph informs us that the Texan Rangers are organizing for defense.  They are a class of persons who know how to maintain their rights, and if the government does not interpose for the security of life and property in that region, the first thing we will hear is that they have overrun one or two Mexican States and “annexed” them to the United States.

Local Happenings:

  • Alex. Frazer and Pat. McCabe made a novel bet of $5 on “hair,” the other night.  Wonder what those mountain boys will be up to next?  “Not a spear.” [Note: I don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.  Do you?]
  • Mr. Farneman, of Jordan Valley, informs us that he is now plowing 18 acres per day on his farm.  Mr. F. is a very enterprising gentleman and the most extensive farmer in that part of the country.
  • A shooting match took place at the Shoenbar Mill yesterday at three P.M.  Stakes, $25 cash and one basket of champagne.  Distance, 100 yards.  Shots, off-hand, with muzzle loading rifle, and decision by string measure.  The result of the match was unreported at the hour of going to press.
  • Thanks to Sam. Heidelberger for Mark Twain’s burlesque Autobiography and First Romance.

April Events

  • April 5, 1859: The state of Jefferson (now Colorado) was formed from the western part of Kansas Territory. 
  • April 3, 1860: The first Pony Express rider left St. Joseph, Missouri, for Sacramento, California. It took twelve days (or eleven, depending on which account you read) to get there.  
  • April 17, 1865: Bread riots in Virginia City, Montana, were caused by the exorbitant price of flour.
  • April 2, 1868: A Topeka, Kansas newspaper reported, “W. F. Cody, government detective, and Wm. Haycock, Deputy U. S. Marshal, brought eleven prisoners and lodged them in our calaboose.” 
  • April 5, 1867: Benjamin Bickerstaff and his gang rode into Alvarado, Texas, guns blazing and ready to party.  The residents were waiting for them and killed nearly all of them, including Bickerstaff, who took a shotgun blast to the face. 
  • April 21, 1871: John Boyer was the first man to be legally hanged in Wyoming Territory.
  • April 1, 1877: Ed Schieffelin strikes silver in Arizona Territory.  He names his mine “Tombstone.” 
  • April 9, 1878: Jack Wagner killed Dodge City Marshal Edward Masterson at the Lady Gay Dance Hall.  Ed’s brother, Bat, shot both Jack and his friend Alf Walker. 
  • April 5, 1879: One of the few gunfights later portrayed by Hollywood actually took place in Dodge City, Kansas, between Frank Loving and Levi Richardson.  Richardson shot five times and missed.  Loving shot three times and didn’t miss.  
  • April 3, 1882: Robert Ford shot Jesse James
  • April 10, 1883: Teddy Blue (E.C. Abbot) and the FUF Ranch outfit set out on a cattle drive from Texas to the Yellowstone River in Montana. 
  • April 16: 1884: Annie Oakley receives her first billing as a markswoman at Columbus, Ohio, for the Sells Brothers Circus
  • April 6, 1886: An “anti-dude” club is formed in Newton, Kansas, and set these fines: $5 for carrying a cane, $10 for wearing kid gloves and a plug hat, and $20 for parting one's hair down the middle. 
  • April 3, 1898: 88 men died in an avalanche on the Chilkoot Pass in the Yukon Territory. 

May your saddle never slip.

Jacquie Rogers 
Romancing The West
Hearts of Owyhee series
#1: Much Ado About Marshals
#2: Much Ado About Madams
#3: Much Ado About Mavericks


  1. "...pregnant with facetix"??? What an interesting phrase from the article about billiards. I looked up facetix on Google but all I found was what looked like a bunch of birth control pill adds in spanish...
    I wonder if that was a way to say facetiousness.

    There's a gob of great information there, Jacquie. I really enjoy reading the way people phrased things 'back in the day'. Thanks for putting it all together.

  2. Another great and very useful post, Jacquie. I love the links. I just went over to the Dodge City Shootout between Frank Loving and Levi Richardson. Fascinating!

  3. Jacquie Rogers,

    Interesting. A lot of flowery and convoluted language.

    Charlie Steel

  4. Up until just a few years ago, the North Conway, NH paper still published lots of local gossip like this. We always enjoyed reading those tidbits. And a few years back, I was driving through Wisconsin when the local news came on the car radio. Only item was a high school kid had backed into a mailbox. Then a funeral bell tolled, and the county obituaries for the day were announced. Simpler and better times in many ways.

    Fascinating and enjoyable post, Jacquie.

    Jim Griffin

  5. Jacquie,
    This is a great post. I always look forward to your monthly "what was happening" posts--so much information, and it's always interesting. You know, my sister lives in a small town here in Oklahoma, and a lot of the news is a more modernized version of this. I'm sure a lot of the smaller towns still have newspapers that people depend on for their daily hometown news. Where she lives, they have a "Today's Dolly" or "Today's Dude" feature where you can send in your kid's baby picture and they'll put it in the paper ... just stuff like that. Love your post. Especially the "dude club" fines. LOL

  6. Marc, that phrase was what caught my eye--then I read the article which I thought was pretty funny and demonstrated the rivalry between the young towns. Boise would eventually win, of course, and is now the capital.

  7. Keith, the Old West did have lots of gun play, but not where men actually stood there and shot at each other. Considering the recent discussion on WF about fast guns, I thought it was interesting that the second draw won.

  8. Charlie, I'm getting used to the flowery, convoluted language. Actually, the phraseology is one of the reasons I enjoy reading old newspapers. :)

  9. Jim, The Owyhee Avalanche also still prints local gossip. I haven't lived there for many years so it's strange to read the paper and not know everyone who's mentioned.

  10. Cheryl, that's too cool about the Today's Dolly and Dude. And about that Anti-Dude Club-you've got to wonder what that was all about.

  11. Lots of great info and links, Jacquie.

  12. I loved the butter kegs bit! LOL - to leave 2 kegs and expect them to be there... and then witnesses seeing "celestials" making off with one. How interesting! Great stuff, Jacquie.

  13. David, thanks for stopping by! Hope you found something you can use in your own stories. :)

  14. Meg, that's the first thing I thought, too. How could you leave two kegs of butter beside the road and expect them to be there when you get around to picking them up? But I guess that wasn't an unreasonable assumption in this place and time.

  15. Love the article, Jacquie.

    Small towns are so much fun - I remember when I first moved to Copalis Beach back in '95, that my neighbors told me I didn't need to lock my house door if I was just going to the next town. Wow, things had changed by the time I moved back to Granite Falls ten years later. And I definitely lock my house door here!

  16. Yes, butter kegs too funny! Thank, Jacquie, for a good laugh this evening.

  17. What a great look into the past! Thanks, Jacquie!

  18. You're most welcome, John. I'm looking forward to your character interview on my blog next week. :)

  19. What a hoot some of these news articles were. I was amazed at how much people traveled back then. too. When I researched Johnny Appleseed and Calamity Jane I saw how much people moved around from place to place even though it couldn't have been all that pleasant on the back of a horse, or worse, on foot.
    Great article, Jacquie. I really enjoyed it.

  20. Sarah, I'm always amazed at what a mobile society the US has always been. A good portion of people pulled up stakes and moved several times, establishing homes and farms in each location. Plus the traveling for business and visiting was a lot more frequent than I'd thought, too. The residents of Silver City, Ida. Terr., regularly traveled to San Francisco, Texas, and Chicago on business.