Idaho History

Saloons were a bastion of camaraderie, but also drew ‘boozers’ who caused mischief, violence

The Shanahan & Haggerty Saloon in Idaho City was a place for drinks, and sometimes fights and other problems, in the early 1900s.
The Shanahan & Haggerty Saloon in Idaho City was a place for drinks, and sometimes fights and other problems, in the early 1900s. Idaho State Historical Society

Last week we recalled the Idaho Statesman’s glowing support of the saloon as a necessary and important institution in the life of Boise City and Idaho Territory. It noted that man is a social being, and that the saloon offered opportunities for good fellowship not available elsewhere.

In the summer of 1890, when Idaho had just become the 43rd state, the paper described another typical event related to saloon life. “The Idaho Mining and Irrigation Company paid off about fifty men at 7 o’clock last evening. They had no sooner received their pay than they proceeded to fill up on beer and other in toxicants, and soon became noisy and troublesome. They indulged in a number of fights on the corner of Ninth and Main.”

Whatever triggered these fights, they often resulted in fatal shootings or stabbings. “Weiser Feud Settled with Pistols,” was the Statesman headline on Dec. 13, 1898. Ira Harder and Sam Brundage shot it out in a Weiser saloon, and both men died at the scene.

When Joe Shields argued with Silver City bartender Cornelius B. Murphy in 1899 over the amount of change given him for his drinks, and called him a vile name, Murphy drew a gun and killed him. A coroner’s jury found Murphy guilty of murder in the second degree. He was sentenced to 15 years in the Idaho penitentiary.

Bartenders were the victims too, as in August that year. Charles Breckenridge, a private in Troop H, Sixth Cavalry, shot and killed Joseph McBride, a bartender in a Wallace dance hall. Breckenridge had knocked down a dance hall girl when McBride intervened. The soldier shot him five times for his trouble.

Sometimes the police were able to act before blood was shed, as in Boise City in September 1890. “A large number of our inhabitants were feeling good Saturday night, having quaffed of the flowing bowl, and looked upon the wine when it was red. In some instances their exuberance of spirits led to differences of opinion and finally to hostilities. The marshal and his deputies had a round-up of these individuals and the city treasury was enriched to a considerable extent.”

Only a few weeks later: “Drunkenness was rampant on the streets yesterday, there being more intoxicated men to be seen than for many days before. Officer Sam Howrie had his hands full with one particularly troublesome customer who wanted to fight a duel with him.” ... Shortly after this another man was forcibly ejected from a prominent saloon on Main Street, and in a struggle that ensued on the sidewalk he was landed in three inches of dirty water in the gutter, much to his discomfort.”

Earlier that year, two “boozers,” as the Statesman called them, entered a Weiser saloon and found an acquaintance playing draw poker. “They proceeded to guy him unmercifully. To his remark that he would shoot them if they did not stop, they paid no attention but proceeded with their fun. The player jumped up, pulled his gun and shot at the local sport, but missed him, the bullet hitting his companion, killing him instantly. The local sport started for the door, the gambler shooting twice at him as he passed through, both shots missed and lodged in the door casing. The murderer fled making good his escape.”

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