Idaho History

Juveniles acting like hoodlums were a common problem in early Boise

Boise’s Main Street offered many ways for young boys to get into trouble.
Boise’s Main Street offered many ways for young boys to get into trouble.

Juvenile delinquency has been a social problem throughout Idaho’s history, and although only a few girls got into trouble, many unsupervised boys did. The Statesman used the word “hoodlums” to describe an event that happened in September 1874: “Young imps” were seen pilfering peaches and plums from a local fruit stand, and two 17- or 18-year old girls ran away before anyone could get their names.

A few days later the Statesman editorialized: “Parents ought to look after their boys. Half a dozen boys stole a ride to the Warm Springs in the hind boot of the stage. They swam, and because there was no fire, shivered with cold until the stage driver took pity on them and brought them home at two a.m.”

In March 1875 the paper headlined a story “Impudent Boys.” “There are some impudent boys who live down ‘Lover’s Lane’ (name of a dirt road in a southwest Boise neighborhood) who need attending to. They seem to take delight in beating the smaller boys; throwing iced snowballs into the windows of the residences along Grove Street, and insulting ladies who happen to object.”

In April the paper printed a list of the pranks played by “Hoodlums on the Rampage, even though ‘April Fools’ is past. We here assert that the hoodlum who is mean enough to put the ladder with which a printer expects to climb to fame, down his well, would steal the toenails from a corpse … Where, Oh! Where does our stalwart Marshal keep himself?”

It was January 1876 when hoodlums spoiled a Baptist church social for the adults who attended, and in February 1877, “There were just one dozen too many young Americans around the door of Good Templar Hall the night of the party.”

“Dangerous Freaks” was the headline on a January 1879 Statesman story. “Some boys, a few nights ago, being at a loss what to do with their surplus firecrackers, lighted one or two of them and dropped them into the letter box of the post office where they exploded; setting fire to the contents of the box. Luckily, Postmaster Post and his assistant Mr. Beachy were present and heard the noise. They promptly opened the box and prevented serious damage. Mr. Post went out on the street as soon as possible and caught the principal actor, to whom he administered a mild, but it is to be hoped an effective lesson.” (The Statesman writer then switched to irony, aimed at the parents of such boys.) “Of course, the boys who thus roam the streets at night and play these tricks are poor orphan lads, without mother or father to look after them.”

The Statesman editorialized in June 1882: “Late Hours. The true way to make hoodlums of boys is to let them run where they please at late hours of the night. Many small boys in our city do not seem to have any restraint whatever. It is not an uncommon occurrence to see boys from 8 to 14 years old out until 12 o’clock at night. For the good of the boys we would suggest that the policy of some stringent ordinance on this subject be adopted.”

On June 5 1886, the Boise City Council approved Ordinance Sec. 626: “That no person under the age of 16 years shall be or remain on the streets or public grounds or on any of the unoccupied lots in said Boise City after the hour of 8 o’clock p. m. during the months of October, November, December, January, February and March, or the hour of 9 o’clock during the months of April, May, June, July, August and September; Provided that the above prohibition shall not extend to any child or children who are in the company of a parent, or other adult having the care or custody of him or her or them, nor to a child or children who may be sent for medicine, medical or other assistance in case of accident or sickness while on such service.”

It was made the duty of the chief of Police to enforce this and other ordinances to keep children off Boise streets at night. Did it work? Well, it was at least a step in the right direction.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email