Idaho History: Frontier violence was often induced by alcohol
By Arthur Hart, Special to the Statesman, May 17, 2015
“VIOLENCE IN BOISE,” read an Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman story on Dec. 23, 1869. “The pistol and the knife are not yet among the things that were in Boise City. Several instances have occurred in the last day or two wherein these deadly weapons have flourished in animated discussion. It is an ugly habit, introducing such points in a little private argument. Better appeal to some other authority, gentlemen.”
On July 30, 1870, the Statesman wrote, “Notwithstanding the exceedingly warm weather on Thursday, no less than seven fights occurred on Main Street. Three of them were engaged in by men, and the dogs finished out the number before night. A man that can summon the energy to indulge in a knock down at this stage in the weather ought to have his edge taken off in the harvest field.”
There is ample evidence from early Idaho newspapers that saloons were dangerous places, especially since some men got short-tempered and violent after a few drinks, and nearly all of the men around them were armed with a pistol or a knife.
The Idaho World reported on May 25, 1867, “Shooting Affair — A man usually known as Dutch Jo, was shot in the left arm by a man named Claughensey in the Idaho Brewery saloon on Friday night of last week. The ball crashed through the bones in the upper part of the fore-arm, and inflicted a very severe wound. Dr. Healy is attending the wounded man.”
On July 4, 1871, the Statesman reported, “The two sons of Vulcan who had the difficulty a short time since, collided yesterday again, and hammers, horse shoes, and pieces of machinery filled the air for a few minutes. One got off with a Fourth of July under his left optic, while the other had the whole calendar of holy-days represented on his cabeza.
There is still talk of knives, pistols, and blood, but our advice to the boys is to let the matter drop, shake hands, and be friends, as it will be no credit to either of them to continue the feud. Those heads, looking like a mansard roof, don’t show to advantage on a hard-working mechanic.”
Violence on the streets and in the saloons continued well into the1890s, as these examples illustrate. Sept. 30, 1890: “The tranquility of Main Street was slightly disturbed last Sunday morning by a fight between Mr. K.P. Plowman and Doc Rankin, in which the latter came off second best. It appears that Mr. Plowman was standing at the counter in one of the saloons talking to the barkeeper when Mr. Rankin entered, and hot words ensued, in the course of which Plowman accused Rankin of stealing an anvil. They came to blows and before the barkeeper could interfere Mr. Rankin had received two black eyes and other facial blemishes. Friends interfered and each went out swearing he would have the other arrested, but up to going to press nothing has been done by either party.”
In November 1890, the paper reported, “There was a highly exciting and gory battle yesterday morning at the Lemp building on Main Street, between two workman named Bergman and Walsh, in which they employed such light and pleasing weapons as hammers to batter each other’s countenances. The encounter grew out of a difficulty of long standing between the two men and resulted in their both being considerably damaged and disfigured.”
The Statesman found an element of humor in some of these acts of violence, such as on Oct. 18, 1895: “M.E. Duncan was feeling a little daring this afternoon, and about 2:30 o’clock walked over the new cement sidewalk being laid in front of the Mint saloon. Joseph Griffin was laying the walk, and Duncan interfered very much with the work. ‘You son of a bitch, if you walk over that again you’ll be sorry for it’ said Griffin to Duncan, as he picked up a pick. ‘Well, I’ll walk over it,’ Duncan remarked, ‘and you see if I don’t when I come back.’ ” The daring one did come back and he did walk through the soft concrete a second time. The action got him flattened with a shovel and put a severe gash on his forehead. It no doubt had a sobering effect.