Thursday, October 17, 2013

Chromotropes, Cowboy Laundry, & Indian Attacks by @JacquieRogers #western

October in the Old West

We can get a unique perspective of the Old West from newspapers of the time, and my idea of heaven is browsing the archives. The period's syntax, the attitudes, and exactly what they chose to report, or didn’t report, all reflect their contemporary outlook on this exciting time in our history. The articles here are all taken from Silver City’s The Owyhee Avalanche, the oldest continually running newspaper in Idaho, now publishing in Homedale, Idaho.

Entertainment was a highly sought-after commodity in boomtowns, and Silver City was no exception. But the citizens weren’t all that easily impressed, as we see in the October 5, 1867 issue.

THE DIORAMA came off last Saturday evening as per announcement. Everybody and his wife and children were there, and consequently the Court House was crowded. The performance did not come up to popular expectation, although a few very fine Chromotropes were displayed. The funny genius, the “razor-strop man,” helped the arrangement out considerably by singing a few of his comic songs. The general opinion of our people seems to be that the “Grand Diorama” was gotten up as a show for school children in the backwoods, and that the proprietor was guilty of a great mistake in bringing his show before an enlightened community—as that of Silver City.

It is but justice to Mr. Matteson to state that the reason why his views did not show to better advantage was that through an accident his calcium light was broken, which materially lessened the brilliancy of the scenes.

For examples of chromotropes, see Dick Balzer’s page.

Burglary has been around since the beginning of time, we all know that. What’s interesting is what and how they wrote about it. I don’t know who was more frightened, the reporter or the woman, in this news item found in the October 19, 1867 issue:

MIDNIGHT ALARM. About three o’clock, night before last, we were awakened from pleasant slumbers by the most heart-rending cries of distress and alarm that it was ever our lot to hear. Having become accustomed, in days gone by, to be startled from sleep by the fierce war hoop of the bloodthirsty savage, and for a moment, before we could collect our scattered ideas from the land of dreams, the scalping knife and tomahawk gleaned a fearful proximity before our eyes, and we almost involuntarily grasped a six-shooter to prepare for mortal combat. The facts of the case, as we afterwards learned, are as follows: A house adjoining our office is occupied by Mr. Jennings, who is absent from home. A burglar had effected an entrance to the kitchen, whereupon making some kind of noise, alarmed Mrs. Jennings, who was sleeping in another room, she screamed loudly for assistance, which attracted the attention of the night watchman and others, who immediately repaired to the scene of alarm. They found the lady in a great fright and much excited. During the confusion the robber escaped, leaving the door open behind him. We would advise our neighbors to keep their doors and windows well bolted and blocked at night, for there are many hard cases prowling round.

A year earlier, in the October 27, 1866, issue, the reporter took great delight in testing the area's refreshment establishments.

IRRIGATION. We take pleasure in saying to thirsty Silverites, when on a pilgrimage to Ruby [City], that the Poorman Saloon is a popular and first class place to moisten the bowels with any kind of toddies. “Peter” you can do up a hot or cold whiskey in a very palatable style.

And in that same issue, good news in the underwear and clean-smelling department:

BATHS. The bath house on Jordan Street is running again, and it will cost but little for everybody to go there and ascertain the whereabouts of sundry socks and undershirts which they have charged somebody with stealing. Drop by and try a bath, and possibly find some undergarments to last you till spring.

But all was not such lighthearted news.  In October 26, 1867, The Owyhee Avalanche reported an Indian attack that received a great deal of attention for the weeks to come. This article was printed as all one paragraph. I put some breaks in to ease our modern eyeballs.

SHOCKING MASSACRE. Again it is our painful duty to record one of the most terrible Indian massacres that has ever taken place in our midst. From M. S. W. Strong, of Jordan Valley, and others, we learn the following particulars: On last Monday morning, Sergeant Denoile and wife, and Sergeant Nichols, of Camp C. F. Smith, started in a four-horse ambulance from the Camp Lyon, on their way to Fort Boise.

They had preceded about nine miles, arriving at a point half-way between Camp Lyons and Reynolds Creek, when they were attacked and fired into by a party of Indians, who lay a concealed among the rocks near the roadside. Denoile, who was driving, immediately threw up his hands, exclaiming: “My God! I am shot!” dropped the reins and fell from the ambulance. The horses then ran at full speed about half a mile.

Nichols, who was armed with a Henry rifle fired several shots at the savages in the interim. The horses then became in some manner entangled in the harness and one of them fell. Nichols leaped from the ambulance, as also did Mrs. Denoile, who appeared perfectly frantic. The Indians were then only two or three hundred yards away and Nichols endeavored to persuade Mrs. Denoile to take shelter with him among some rocks a few yards distant; instead of which she started back towards her murdered husband.

Nichols to save his own life, found shelter in the rocks and commenced shooting at his pursuers. He finally succeeded in getting out of sight of the Indians, and arrived in a spiteful plight a short time before dark at Carson’s Ranch, on Reynolds Creek. He says the last he saw of Mrs. Denoile she was in the hands of the fiends. How terrible! How heart-rending the thought!

The lady was near the period of giving birth to a child, and if she were not immediately murdered, her fate at the hands of those devils incarnate would be infinitely worse than death. The horses were taken, the ambulance burned, and Denoile’s body stripped and dragged some distance from the roads, as we have recently learned. The atrocity was committed between ten and eleven o’clock in the forenoon.

The party made three other attacks during the day, but without killing anyone else. About noon a Mr. Hardy came along on horseback near the scene of the outrage. The Indians fired on him and killed his horse. He escaped into the rocks, and with two six-shooters kept the devils at bay till at last he made his escape.

At two o’clock Mr. Strong came along the same road with a wagon and two horses. He was also assailed and had both of his horses badly wounded, but succeeded in making his escape unhurt to Reynolds Creek.

The last attack the devils made was on three ox-teamsters, near sundown, but the man fought them off and they disappeared in the darkness, uttering demonic yells, after spending nearly a whole day in their fiendish work. Different accounts are given of the numbers of [the] murderous band, ranging from ten to thirty.

Maj. Hunt, of Camp Lyon, did not hear of the occurrence till Tuesday night, and he deserved credit for his promptness of action. He only had ten men in Camp, but immediately dispatched to five of them to the bloody scene to recover the dead body, and if possible get some trace of the woman. The Major at once started for Camp Three Forks Owyhee to inform Col. Coppinger, and Wednesday night they were encamped at Flint with sixty men, intending the next morning to go by way of Eves saw mill to Wagontown and if possible on the trail of the murderers; since which we have heard nothing from the command.

In a follow-up article:
STILL LATER. W. L. Burnham and J. McCourt, who were of the party of six men that went out on Wednesday eight to the scene of the massacre, between Camp Lyon and Reynolds Creek, have just returned. They found the body of Denoile which was partly stripped but not mutilated. They are of the opinion that Mrs. Denoile was carried off alive. They found a ribbon apparently belonging to a lady’s hat, a German bible, portions of a woman’s dress and sixty dollars in greenbacks. Some of the articles were five miles apart. The Indians went towards the Owyhee, and Col. Coppinger and Command are after them.

And, in the spirit of civic duty, the Avalanche reports a callous disregard for the public byways in the same issue.

DANGEROUS CARELESSNESS. It is truly astonishing to see what tranquil indifference some people evince for the welfare of their fellow men. As an example of downright and criminal carelessness we mention the fact of a neighbor of ours taking up a plank of the sidewalk in order that he might stow wood away in a subterranean passage, and after doing so, with the utmost disregard of consequence, he folded his arms and walked away without replacing the plank. An unfortunate hombre came along soon after, and not noticing yet, “put his foot in it,” (the hole in the sidewalk) spraining his ankle in a serious manner, which has confined him to the house for a number of days, and it is doubtful he ever well entirely get well. In our opinion, the perpetrators of such criminal neglect should pay dearly for their absence of mind.

Incidentally, elsewhere they report a case of Champagne delivered to the Avalanche office, and in yet another article below, they explain that the previous issue was printed late because of a printer’s difficulty. So the likelihood is that the lot of ’em were liquored up, the printer stepped into the hole in the sidewalk, and none of the rest were sober enough to get the newspaper printed.

OUR READERS will remember that the cause of our being late to press with the last issue was blamed on the printers and Thos. Ewing’s liberality. The main cause can be learned by finding out who it was that went through the sidewalk on the day of publication. Printers can stand some things but when it comes to piling it on thick—we pass.

The first thing you think of when someone mentions the Old West is poetry, right? As it happens, poetry was quite popular—it was certainly better received than the malfunctioning chromotrope.

LISLE LESTER gave one of her chaste and pleasing entertainments at the Court House on Tuesday evening. It consisted of a set of beautiful selections from the poets, any one of which, when embellished with the charming elocution of Laisle Lester is worth more than the price of admission. She left here on Wednesday evening on the Humboldt Stage, on her projected tour through Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. We wish her a pleasant journey and safe return to Owyhee.

October Events

  • October 2, 1835: American settlers defeated the Mexican cavalry in the first battle of the Texas Revolution
  • October 22, 1836: The Republic of Texas’ first president, Sam Houston, took office. He ran against and defeated Stephen F. Austin for the job. 
  • October 7, 1858: The first Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach from St. Louis, Missouri, arrived in Los Angeles, California, on its way to San Francisco carrying mail and one passenger, New York Herald reporter Waterman Ormsby. In San Francisco he wrote, “Had I not just come out over the route, I would be perfectly willing to go back, but I now know what Hell is like. I've just had 24 days of it.” 
  • October 29, 1858: C.H. Blake and A.J. Williams open the first store on a site that would become Denver
  • October 4, 1861: Seth and Clara Sackrider Remington of Canton, New York, had a baby boy, Frederick
  • October 10, 1863: Denver finally gets a telegraph connection, a line from Julesburg. 
  • October 5, 1868: William F. Cody joined the 5th Cavalry as chief of scouts. 
  • October 20, 1870: A new townsite, formerly known as Swilling’s Mill, was formally established as Phoenix, Arizona Territory. 
  • October 5, 1871: Marshal James B. Hickok shot and mortally wounded Phil Coe as well as Deputy Marshal Mike Williams in Abilene, Kansas. 
  • October 9, 1872: Montgomery Ward mailed its first catalog, a one-pager listing 163 items. 
  • October 6, 1874: Texas lawmen kill Belle Starr’s common-law husband, Tom Reed when he attempted to escape from custody. 
  • October 5, 1877: Nez Perce Chief Joseph made his famous speech, “I will fight no more forever” when he surrendered to Generals Nelson Miles and Howard. 
  • October 8, 1878: Sheriff Bat Masterson and his posse—Wyatt Earp, Charlie Bassett, Neal Brown, and Bill Tilghman captured James “Spike” Kenedy, wanted for the murder of singer Dora Hand (stage name, Fannie Keenan). Kenedy was later acquitted. 
  • October 26, 1881: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
  • October 4, 1883: Jack Alder of the Red Jack Gang was shot and killed by Sheriff Bob Paul and his posse after tracking Alder to a hideout near Wilcox, Arizona. 
  • October 5, 1982: The Dalton Gang was shot down in Coffeeville, Kansas, when they tried to rob two banks at once. Only Emmett Dalton survived. 
May your saddle never slip.

Sleight of Heart: a gambler, a spinster, and a fortune

Hearts of Owyhee series:
Much Ado About Marshals
Much Ado About Madams
Much Ado About Mavericks
Much Ado About Miners (coming soon)

To visit Jacquie: WebsiteFacebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Newsletter


  1. Always interesting, Jacquie. Thanks.

  2. Jacquie, I can only imagine the fun you must have researching these posts of yours. I would get lost in the research! But what a pleasant time you must have, looking through all this and writing your posts! I always enjoy these so much. Keep up the good work!

  3. Thanks, Frank. Glad you stopped by!

  4. Cheryl, reading the newspapers are sure a lot more entertaining most other forms of research. And bonus! I get ideas every time. :)

  5. You seem to have my passion for sitting and ready the old newsprint. It is my favorite. I am down in the archives every chance I get. Great fun and thanks for sharing your passion. Doris

  6. I sure do, Doris. Every time I read a 19th century boomtown newspaper, I find a gem. It's addictive! Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Do they have the Owyhee Avalance on computer now? Do you have to make a pilgrimage in Aug every year, the same time as the Rodeo? I bet that the paper has some interesting things considering they have the 10, 20, and 50 year ago feature that I remember reading. I bet you get all sorts of ideas from it for your stories. LOL

  8. Now I'm curious about whether the soldiers ever found that kidnapped pregnant woman!! thanks, LOL. Great info, especially on the underwear.

  9. Nice post Jacquie.
    I enjoyed reading it.

  10. I want to know what happened to Mrs. Denoile. Please try to find out.

    Like you, I do love old newspapers. The grammar, syntax, and stories are a glimpse into life of the time.

  11. I agree with Caroline. That's the comment I was going to post.

  12. Lynda, yes, The Owyhee Avalanche is online if you subscribe. It's $40/year. And yes, we're in there every once in a while. :)

    Note: Lynda is also from Homedale--another member of the Sage Creek 4-H Club--so we've been friends for a long time.

  13. Meg, Caroline, and Judith: I looked in the next two issues and only found a brief mention that the soldiers were still looking for Mrs. Denoile. I'm curious, too. When I go back to the archives, I'll keep looking.

  14. Thanks, Jerry. I enjoyed your post on weight, too. Everyone ought to read it!