Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jaded Maidens, Jail Break, & the Razor-Strop-Man by @JacquieRogers #Western

September in the Old West

Even though not yet well-established in 1867, Silver City was still the largest city in Idaho Territory.  (Note: Silver has never been incorporated, even though it was the county seat of Owyhee County from 1867 to 1934.)  The Owyhee Avalanche reported mostly mining news, most of which is not all that interesting unless you’re a miner.  But little tidbits here and there give us an idea what it was like to live in an Old West boomtown.

Ever tried to follow an old recipe (often called a “receipt”)?  Most are vague at best and nearly impossible for someone today who cooks by measurement to use.  This recipe, though, found in the September 28, 1867 issue, I’m sure anyone can make:

THE FOLLOWING is said to be a private recipe of a Washoe editor: “Take one pint of whisky, stir it well with one spoonful of whisky, then take another pint of whisky, beat carefully with a spoon, and keep pouring in whisky. Fill a large bowl with water and make a servant set it out of your reach. Take a small tumbler, pour in two spoonfuls of water; pour it out, fill up with whisky and add to the above. Flavor with whiskey to suit your taste. Dose—three ‘fingers’ every half-hour.”

Likely as not, that recipe turns out right every time.  While imbibing in the aforesaid recipe, a fellow might as well get in a little reading.  He’d be in luck, because Silver would soon have a new store, as reported in the September 28, 1867 issue:

J.  H. MISENER, of the firm Misener & Lamkin, Boise City, has sold his interest in the Post Office and book store to Major A.  G.  Brown.  Mr. Lamkin visited our locality this week while on his way to San Francisco, by the Railroad line.  He will return in a short time with the largest stock of books and stationery ever brought into Idaho Territory.

Peddlers and drummers of every ilk descended upon boomtowns.  The busy, dusty streets, filled with horses, teams of oxen, and pedestrians could be a tough place to sell his wares.  Just as in today’s publishing market, so must a peddler call attention to himself and his product.  The September 28, 1867, issue reports on one such enterprising fellow.

A DROLL SORT of character is holding forth in Silver now—he calls himself—Giles, the razor-strop-man.  He has for sale a species of composition, which he said is composed of tailings from a quartz mill—at any rate, what ever it be, it is an excellent thing for sharpening knives, razors &c., in fact it operates like a charm, causing the dullest knife to cut a hair in a very short period of time.  He may be seen mounted on a dry goods box, with a flambeau on the street corners during an evening, telling all kinds of funny stories and singing funny songs, stopping at intervals to serve customers with his sharpening compound at fifty cents per package.

In the same issue, we’re reminded that most of the population was male, and sales pitches for household goods were aimed at them rather than the ladies.  This changed in the next dozen years, when more women came to live “inside.” 

NOTICE BRIGHAM & WEEKS news advertisement.  They keep on hand plenty of hard-ware, cheap enough to suit hard times, for hard cash or greenbacks.  Also, they have a large stock and made to order tin ware of every description—so that every old or young bachelor, if he can not get a wife to “cook his goose,” can at least go to Brigham & Weeks and buy a cook stove well furnished on which to cook his slap-jacks &c.  Give the boys a call—on Jordan Street, opposite of the Silver City Stable.

Travel had always been arduous, but after the Civil War, many miles of railroad track was laid, to the delight of Westerners.  The railroad never made it to Silver City, but regular stagecoach service made an early appearance, and by 1868 was well-established, running on a regular schedule.  When the railroad reached Winnemucca, business with San Francisco and Denver became much more profitable, and Silver City citizens could purchase goods not available in many towns.  This is from the September 19, 1868 issue:

THE RAILROAD is now completed to Winnemucca and stages connect with the cars at that place.  Only forty hours staging from here to Winnemucca and now that the Vallejo Railroad is in operation the time from here to San Francisco is made inside of three days.

No one likes a horse thief, then or now, but especially then.  My guess is that this hard case never saw the inside of a jail cell again—or anywhere else—once they caught him, and they’d have done their best.  Jurisdictions and state or territory borders didn’t mean much when the law was hot on the trail.  I read a one-liner in a later issue that reported they’d “found” a dead horse thief, but I don’t know if that’s this man or not.  Reported in the September 14, 1867 newspaper:

BROKE JAIL.  The horse thief, of whom we made mention last week took “French leave” of the jail last Saturday night.  He somehow got out of his cell, and either by his own handicraft, or by help “from the outside,” he managed to unlock the main entrance door.  He was heavily ironed, but ere this has probably had them removed.  Sheriff Springer, and assistants have been searching for him for several days, but as yet without success.

Every man has to eat.  Several articles in every edition address food in some way, whether how to cook it, where to buy it, or where to hunt it.  And of course they liked a little flavor, just as we do now.  L.J. Martin would’ve been the most popular man in camp.  I’m not sure who “Red” was, but this was printed in the September 14, 1867 issue of The Owyhee Avalanche:

ONIONS EXTRAORDINARY.  “Red” received a load of onions last week from the ranch of McComt & Cowghays, in Boise Valley, six miles below the city.  We were shown a specimen of them which measured twenty one inches in circumference and weighed a trifle over two and a half pounds.

The weather, if not out of the ordinary, always gave the editor some fodder for filler, as well as a forum for his purple prose.  In the same issue, he sharpened his pen and wrote:

WE HAVE NEGLECTED the weather item for the last three weeks, during which time it has been exceeding fine—cleared and gradually becoming cooler, and now we have real, unadulterated Indian Summer, its hazy atmosphere dimming the brightness of the sun, and causing the moon to shed of a milder light upon the earth.

When you have several mining camps full of young men with libidos, enterprising women could always make them happy for a dollar or two, which the men were enthusiastic to pay.  And did.  Flint was a town a few rugged miles from Silver City.  Thus, as reported on September 26, 1868:

A QUARTETTE TROUPE of Teutonic damsels, with lager beer and accordion accompaniment, paid Flint a visit last week.  The boys “danced all night till broad daylight,” and oh how hard it was to part with the girls in the morning.  After several nights of “Sally come up and Sally come down, Sally come twist your heel around,” the jaded Maidens were obliged to come back to Silver, where they will recruit exhausted nature, repair their soles and await another pay day in Flint

September Events

  • September 5, 1836:  The citizens of the Republic of Texas elected SamHouston as their president. 
  • September 13, 1847:  Battle of Chapultepec.  Troops under the command of General Winfield Scott won the defining battle of the Mexican-American War, capturing the ancient Chapultepec fortress at the edge of Mexico City
  • September 1, 1858: In the Battle of Four Lakes, Col. George Wright defeated the Spokane Indians using the new long-range Springfield Model 1855 Rifle-Musket. 
  • September 11, 1858: Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Paiutes, at the instigation of Cedar City mayor and Mormon stake president Isaac Haight (contrary to LDS President Brigham Young’s orders) attacked a California-bound wagon train, killing all (120) except for 17 children, who were adopted by local families, and later returned to relatives in Arkansas. 
  • September 15, 1858: The Butterfield Overland Mail Company sent out its first two stages, beginning service from St. Louis to San Francisco.  
  • September 30, 1850: Elias D. Pierce and Wilbur F. Bassett discovered on the discovered gold at Orofino Creek in Idaho Territory
  • September 27, 1867: Wild Bill the Indian-Slayer is published—the first fictional depiction of Wild Bill Hickock. 
  • September 1, 1870: Martha Jane Canary, “Calamity Jane,” claims to have secretly married James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok. 
  • September 10, 1875: North West Mounted Police Inspector Ephrem Brisebois and his troop arrive at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers and start building Fort Calgary
  • September 2, 1875: Six felons were hanged, sentenced by Judge Isaac Parker, at Fort Smith, Indian Territory.  Eight outlaws were sentenced to die, one’s sentence was commuted, and one was shot and killed when he attempted to escape. 
  • September 7, 1876: The James and Youngers attempted to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota.  Frank and Jesse James escaped but the Youngers were captured and their fellow accomplices killed.  Three citizens were also killed. 
  • September 18, 1877: Sam Bass, Joel Collins, and gang rob a Union Pacific train near Big Springs, Nebraska, getting away with $60,000 in gold coins plus other valuables. 
  • Sept 18, 1879: Battle of Las Animas Canyon.  Chiricahua Apache chief Victorio, using clever tactics, led his followers to victory over a militia and two companies of the 9th Cavalry. 
  • September 3, 1880: Jesse James and William Ryan held up a stagecoach traveling between Mammoth Cave and Cave City, Kentucky. One of the items stolen was Judge Rowntree’s watch, which was found in James’ house after his death. 
  • September 2, 1885: 28 Chinese coal miners were killed and 15 injured in the Rock Springsmassacre, caused by both racial prejudice and labor issues. 
  • September 2, 1887: Andy Blevins led cattlemen on a night attack on the Tewksbury sheep camp, killing John Tewksbury and Bill Jacobs.  The Graham-Tewksbury feud had been going on for several years, called the Pleasant Valley War
  • September 3, 1887: Mary Killeen Leslie divorced Buckskin Frank Leslie, on the grounds of physical abuse and unfaithfulness. She claimed that his sexual foreplay consisted of standing her against the wall and tracing her outline by firing his .45 around her. 
  • September 16, 1893: In current day Oklahoma, over 100,000 people hoped to claim land in the Cherokee Strip Land Run.
  • September 8, 1900: Hurricane in Galveston, Texas, kills over 6,000 people there, and possibly 12,000 in all. 
  • September 19, 1900: Members of the Wild Bunch steal $2,000 (some say $32,000) from the First National Bank in Winnemucca, Nevada.  Butch Cassidy may not have been involved, however. 

May your saddle never slip.

Coming November 1:
Sleight of Heart
by Jacquie Rogers

1883 Colorado:
A gambler, a prude, and a treasure


  1. WOW! Another great trawling of the pages. Amazing that a post office and BOOKSTORE existed. Books seemed to be fairly rare. Loved the "cook his goose" reference. And so much happened in September! Bet January was pretty dull in comparison. ;-)

  2. Jacquie, you must be exhausted after unearthing all those amazing tidbits of history. Fun stuff! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Jacquie, as always, a wonderful post. I loved the mention of the sexual foreplay being to shoot the gun around her...LOLLOL Now THAT'S SEXY!!!! LOL Great post--I always enjoy these so much!

  4. Meg, they read a lot, especially in the winter months, so a bookstore would be one of the first businesses in camp. About "cook his goose"--seems as if they had a different interpretation of that phrase than we do today.

  5. Lyn, it's always fun to find these tidbits, and many of them find their way into my books. I've always been fascinated by the daily lives of ordinary people. We don't get much of that--mostly outlaws and others who made names for themselves. But what about people like you and me? How did they live? That's what you find in the newspapers.

  6. Cheryl, I don't think many of us would be particularly enthusiastic about that sort of foreplay. LOL. What's more amazing is this guy apparently was quite the ladies' man. Must be some really tough ladies!

  7. Fascinating stuff, Jacquie. I like the whisky recipe. Presumably that is made from Scottish whisky, then laced with whiskey to give a kick?

  8. Keith, I'm sure it was for medicinal purposes, since the "dose" is three-fingers. ☺ And since there's no E in whisky, it must be Scottish.

  9. Yet another great read - thanks for posting all these real-life incidents. They make great background material for stories!

  10. Thanks, J.E.S., and that's exactly how I use these news items. ☺

  11. Great post, Jacquie.
    Got a chuckle out of the 'receipt' using whisky
    Love old newspapers.

  12. Thanks for stopping by, Susan! Yes, the archives are my candy store. LOL

  13. I'm so sorry I'm late getting here, Jacquie.
    Well, I see newspapers could be very entertaining reading back in the day. Loved the whiskey recipe.
    I liked the September events. Shoot, it looked more interesting things were going on than today's events.
    There certainly was no shortage of interesting, diverse and eccentric characters back then.
    Great post.

  14. Sarah, I think that's the real treasure--finding unique characters. Loved the razor-strop-man, and you can bet he'll wind up in one of my scenes. Thanks for stopping by!