July in the Old West
(This article was first published at Western Fictioneers.)
In the Old West, Independence Day had the honor of being the most celebrated holiday of the year. Not Christmas, you ask? First, remember that Christmas wasn’t commercialized to the extent it is today, and second, December 25 is often not good traveling weather. But July 4th was an ideal time for celebration — good weather, and people needed a break from all their hard work in the fields, mines, or on the range.
All the articles here are taken from The Owyhee Avalanche, which is still publishing newspapers today in Homedale, Idaho. Most of the articles pertain to Silver City, a boomtown in Owyhee County, that never burned down and is a great place to visit. So what happened in the Old West this month? Let’s take a look.
From July 6, 1872, we learn a little about a typical Independence Day celebration:
THE FOURTH OF JULY IN TOWN, BOILED DOWN.- National salute from a 12-pounder, at sunrise, for which we may thank Charley Bowen’s patriotic gizzard.- Music by the Band from the balcony of the Court House, at 9 o’clock, a.m., and from the balcony of the Owyhee Exchange, a 7½ p.m. The boys toot their horns infinitely better than we had reason to expect.- Firecrackers, the delight of youth, but the bane of old age—plenty all day long.- Lots of folks went to Wagontown; our reporter hasn’t come to time.- Of those who stopped at home, comparatively few got beastly drunk, and few had heads put on them.- Banners flying, and ladies flitting around all day getting ready for the Ball.- Ball at night, huge success, both financially and otherwise.- Fireworks, no good.- Ball supper, at the Idaho Hotel, magnify.; good grub and well cooked, fault of Gus, chef de cuisine; served up in a style that can’t be beat, owing to the exquisite taste of Charley Umber, dining room captain.- Fine day; beautiful night. Finis.
Every year, Owyhee County sported several horse races on Independence Day, and the citizens took it seriously; thus, the reporting was quite detailed. Here’s the only short article I could find (probably because the race was held in Wagontown instead of Silver).
THE WAGONTOWN RACES. Our Wagontown reporter furnishes us with the following account of the races, which took place there on the 4th and 5th.On the 4th, the saddle purse and 2d class racehorse purse were run for. Entries for the saddle purse: Muller, Lucy Cook and Springer’s “Molly.” Molly beat Mullet by 5 feet, and owing to a bad start Lucy Cook whipped both the others all the way through. Second class racehorse purse contended for by Gray Jack, Milty or Malheur and Nannie Hunt. Nannie won by 30 feet, chased by Malheur and Gray Jack bringing up the rear. A number of scrub races ended the sport on the 4th.On the 5th a match race came off between Louis Walker’s horse and Weasel, from Boise City, for $600 — Weasel winning by 22 feet. First class racehorse purse was then contended for by Billy Cheatham of Boise Valley, and Tom Walls’ Old Ben, of Wagontown. Betting two to one on Cheatham, but Ben won the race by 18 feet. Scrub races, to numerous to mention, ended the season’s races, which passed off in a highly satisfactory manner.Owing to a painful though not too serious accident to the rider of Charley-Come-Up, he did not run as was expected.
Military forts and camps were built all over the West and most were abandoned within a few years. Such is the case of Camp Three Forks Owyhee, which I’ve never heard of until I read this article in the July 29, 1871 issue.
GOVERNMENT SALE. The subsistence and miscellaneous stores and articles on hand at Camp Three Forks Owyhee are to be sold at public auction to-day. Quite a number of our citizens have gone out to attend the sale.
It’s always interesting to see a contemporary account of an event that we’ve all read in the history books. People of the time don’t necessarily see things the way historians do, and this next item, in light of Troy Smith’s series How to Write an Indian When You’re Not One, Part 1 and Part 2, is quite telling. This is also from the July 29, 1871 issue.
RED CLOUD DEPOSED. Lieutenant Quinton writes from Fort Shaw, Montana, that Red Cloud has been superseded by Sitting Bull. It appears that Red Cloud returned to his people with wonderful stories of what he had seen and heard while visiting the Great Father at Washington. Red Cloud saw too much. The Indians say that these things cannot be, and that the white people must have put bad medicine over Red Cloud’s eyes to make him see everything and anything that pleased them, and so Red Cloud lost his influence. Sitting Bull is at war with all Indians who trade or deal with whites, and all those Indians appear to be afraid of him. He says he never will make peace with the whites.
Accidents happened frequently in the Old West. This next article reports a minor accident, considering several mine deaths occurred the same week, but it sure made me wince. This is from the July 18, 1885 issue:
A MAN NAMED JANSEN, in the employ of B. F. Hawes of Bruneau, met with a painful accident on Wednesday at Pole Creek, while hobbling a horse, by which he had the first joint of his thumb pulled off. He came to town at once in company with Joseph Byers, and on Thursday Dr. peters amputated the thumb immediately above the first joint.
We learn that Frank Hoyt of this place was thrown from the upper deck of a mule at Trout creek, on Thursday, and severely injured, though it is hoped not seriously. His head was bruised and it is thought that a rib or so were cracked.
Those who immigrated west, especially the miners, were looking for the pot of gold. Gambling was ubiquitous and not considered vice. Lotteries were common, and in fact some of our nation’s most prestigious buildings were funded by lotteries. So it’s not surprise that a little girl winning big would be reported in every paper west of the Mississippi. From the July 25, 1885 issue:
LITTLE SIX-YEAR-OLD BESSIE’S FORTUNE. Little 6-year-old Bessie Lilienthal, who, orphaned by the death of her father, became a pet of her grandfather, Abraham Leffler, is the holder of one-tenth of the $150,000 ticket in the Louisiana State Lottery. Last week her uncle Adolph bought three on-tenth tickets of the Louisiana State Lottery. Across of No. 51,106 he wrote Bessie’s name...
That was quite a sum in 1885! I wonder what little Bessie did with her $15,000.
There was little effort put out for what today we call political correctness. Racial and religious intolerance were the norm rather than the exception. Such is the case with the article just below little Bessie’s.
IDAHO REPORTER. We have received the Idaho Reporter, just started at Blackfoot, in this territory, by a publishing company, ex-U. S. District-Attorney White, editor. The paper presents a net appearance, and will, we judge, be anti-polygamous. We wish it success.
Men, women, and children all worked hard in the mining camps, but they played hard, too. I’m sure there was plenty of excitement when the circus came to town! This must be a hardy circus because the road to Silver City was and still is a mountain dirt road—in places, only one lane.
CUSHING’S CIRCUS visited Silver City on Sunday and remained until Tuesday morning, when it moved on towards Boise City. It took in a good many dollars here as well as a great number of people. When we say took in a great number of people, we do not intend to say that it was a humbug, for the trapeze performance by the little boy and girl and the aerialist performances were worth one dollar, to say nothing of the extra twenty-five cents for a reserved seat. So far as the circus is concerned, it must be seen to be judged. We make no comments for the reason that we have never seen a circus before, and from the performance we think that the manager of the show imagined that no one else in Idaho ever did.
And a dance:
WE ARE REQUESTED by Judge P. A. Tutt, to state that a dance will be given by him at the Boonville house, on Monday night, July the 27th. The best of music has been engaged for the occasion, and everything that the market affords in the say of edibles will be placed on the supper table. This will be a rare chance for young gentlemen with downy mustaches and smooth tongues to whisper words of consolation in the ears of the gentle sex as they ride undisturbed, beneath the starry heaven from town to Tutts’ dancing hall at Boonville. The admission to dance and supper will be only three dollars.
Lots of building was going on in 1871. Here are a couple items from the July 15th issue:
A COMPANY of Chinese are building quite extensively on Jordan Street, near where Marshall’s blacksmith shop was burned a couple years ago.
SHERIFF Stevens’ residence presents quite an attractive and tidy appearance, with its new green-colored window shutter.
Silver City always had strong women. They had to be to put up with the conditions and the men on the mountain. I found this item in the July 15, 1871 issue:
Mrs. Clare Lewis and Miss Emma Cox have made arrangements to lease the Miners’ Hotel and will take charge of it the first of August.
In that same issue, we see their humor when it comes to imbibing in certain beverages.
POST AND GRAHAM. The Avalanche office acknowledges the receipt of a bottle labeled “Strychnine,” from Jno. A. Post. And one labeled “Blue Lightning,” from Ed. Graham, with appropriate directions. Ferd took an overdose of the strychnine — which came near knocking him off his pins — so much for not following directions — but we happened to be present at the time and prescribed a dose of Blue Lightning and his equilibrium was immediately restored. The above gentlemen have each a large assortment of the very best quality of liquors.
Short items from various March issues of The Owyhee Avalanche from 1866 to 1885:
- A number of tender-hearted chaps have organized a “Female Protection Society” in Silver City. In order to make a stand-off, the women talk of getting up an institution for the benefit of their male friends, calling it “A Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Owyhee.”
- Two artificial teeth and a fragment of a broken jaw were found in the parlor of the Miners’ Hotel the next morning after they Hyde-Borman wedding. The owner can get them by calling at the Avalanche office.
- Charley Weeks & Co. intend to have a regular coach on between here and Boise City with in a day or two at farthest in opposition to the old line — which, we understand ahs already put the fare down to $5.
- One Dr. A. Turlock was to have lectured in this city on Wednesday night last on “Human Nature and the Science of Medicine.” He failed to get an audience; also , to pay his printing bill.
- Matt Holms is running a branch of his Fairview saloon at the Mahogany mine and doing a lively business.
- Jerry Philips and Frank Hunt went out to the head of Sucker Creek last Thursday and brought in 25 sage-hens and chickens.
- There are five faro games running in town, besides monte, poker, &c., on the side. Quite a number of Boise sports are here and occasionally make it quite lively for the Owyhee boys.
- July 25, 1850: Gold was discovered in Rogue River, Oregon Territory.
- July 5, 1858: William Green Russell, his brothers, and ten other men discover gold in Cherry Creek in what is now Denver, Colorado.
- July 11, 1861: On the Missouri River near Fort Benton, Montana, the steamboat Chippewa, loaded with gunpowder and whiskey, exploded.
- July 12, 1861: Rock Creek, Nebraska – James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok killed Dave McCanles, who didn’t care for Hickok romancing his mistress, Sarah Shull.
- July 1, 1862: The Pacific Railroad Act authorized the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroads to build the transcontinental railroad.
- July 1, 1863: Confederate General Stand Watie, in a failed attempt to capture a Union wagon train, fought against the First Kansas Colored, Third Indian Home Guard, Second Colorado Infantry, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, Sixth and Ninth Kansas Cavalry.
- July 10, 1863: President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Act of Congress to create the Territory of Idaho.
- July 3, 1865: Col. Patrick E. Connor, Fort Laramie, receives orders to protect the Overland Mail Company's stagecoaches from Arapaho Indians.
- July 10, 1866: The 13th Infantry Regiment established Camp Cooke, Montana Territory’s first permanent army post.
- July 8, 1867: Captain Eugene M. Baker and the 1st Cavalry kill two Indians and capture fourteen women and children, and two horses, near the Malheur River.
- July 4, 1869: Emilne Gardenshire won the title “champion bronco buster of the plains” in what some claim as the first rodeo in Deer Trail, Colorado Territory.
- July 26, 1870: Hickman, Kentucky - Charles Goodnight and Molly Dyer were married, then left for Rock Canon, Texas.
- July 3, 1871: Colorado - The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway Company introduced Montezuma, the first narrow-gauge locomotive.
- July 5, 1881: Tombstone – Sheriff John Behan jailed Doc Holliday for the murder of But Philpot and an attempted stage robbery. Wyatt Earp paid the $5,000 bail.
- July 13, 1882: Strawberry, California - Black Bart (Charles E. Boles) attempted to rob a Wells Fargo stage but instead the driver, George W. Hackett, shot him. Black Bart got away but was wounded in the scalp, which left a permanent scar on his forehead.
- July 3, 1884: Montana Territory - Granville Stuart and his outfit hanged a rustler near Fort Maginnis, according to Teddy Blue (E.C. Abbot).
- July 3, 1887: Pecos, Texas - Rancher Clay Allison, renowned gunman, fell off his buckboard. The wheel rolled over his head and he was killed.
- July 1, 1892: The Dalton Gang robbed $11,000 from a train near Red Rock in the Cherokee Strip.
- July 20, 1889: Sand Creek Gulch, Wyoming – Ella Watson, known as Cattle Kate, and James Avrill were lynched for rustling.
- July 8, 1897: Skagway, Alaska Territory - Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith and Frank Reid were shot. Soapy died immediately and Reid died twelve days later.
May your saddle never slip.
Elsie Parry and her eight mules survived the war, but can they escape the wrath of the Danby Gang? She lived alone for five years after the Recent Unpleasantness and was overcome with happiness to be reunited with her father. Now, his fondest desire is to leave all the bad memories behind and see the Pacific Ocean, so she agreed to head west. All’s well until they approach Wolf Creek, where they’re set upon by the notorious gang of ex-Confederate guerrillas… intent on proving the war is not over, after all.
Muleskinners #1: Judge Not