Idaho History

Early Idaho had plenty of characters, and Boise had ‘Uncle Jimmy’ to prove it

James H. “Uncle Jimmy” Hart was a saloon keeper in early Boise.
James H. “Uncle Jimmy” Hart was a saloon keeper in early Boise. Idaho State Historical Society

Every small frontier town had one or more popular local characters. Boise City was no exception.

James H. “Uncle Jimmy” Hart was a jovial saloon keeper who managed to get his name in nearly every issue of the Idaho Statesman newspaper for many years. The first appeared on Oct. 5, 1872, while he was working for another local character who had just gone to California for his health. “Johnny Crowe’s friends, during his absence, will find Jimmy Hart in charge, who will do the job X L N T-LY.”

We know that Jimmy had experience at bar tending from a small ad that had appeared in the Boise News of Idaho City in September 1863 for “Jim’s Drinking Saloon, James Hart, owner.”

On Nov. 7, 1872: “The best electioneering documents are to be found at Johnny Crowe’s. He will keep the ball rolling until after election, and you can vote every day as many times as you please. Jimmy Hart will tell you how to elect any man on the ticket. Call and see how it is done.”

Jimmy Hart received a letter from Johnny Crowe in April 1873, announcing his safe arrival in San Francisco, that his health was much improved, and that he would probably stay in California for a couple of months more.

In May that year, Jimmy showed his talent for public relations when he gave the Statesman editor and his printers “a supply of sparkling champagne cider. It is truly refreshing to partake of half a pint of this pleasant and harmless beverage.”

On April 2, 1874, the Statesman reported: “Jimmy Hart has rented the well-known and popular saloon known as Johnny Crowe’s Sample Rooms. He took possession yesterday, and has purchased the entire stock of wines and liquors.”

We are reminded that Jimmy Hart was a family man by this charming item that appeared in the Statesman on May 15, 1875: “Birthday Party: On last Saturday thirty-four young fairies, aged from three years to about ten, assembled at Jimmy Hart’s on Grove Street to celebrate Miss Minnie Hart’s sixth birthday. And indeed what more glorious time to celebrate the birth of the young than the season when buds are opening and blossoms coming forth and birds singing love songs in the trees. And these young cherubs made the air musical with their twittering and cooing, and their voices rang louder and sweeter than the birds in the budding branches. Blessings on thee Minnie and your little friends. Thou art the fairest, most modest, and sweetest breathed of all the flowers of Idaho.”

Next week we shall tell of Jimmy Hart, admired citizen of his town, who contributed much more to community life than food and drink.

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