Idaho History

Street brawls offered popular entertainment in early Boise

Boise was a largely male town in its youth, and its amusements reflected it. Nothing attracted a Main Street crowd faster than a good fist fight. Unless pistols and knives were involved, the law rarely intervened, as long as nobody got killed.

The newspaper usually treated this kind of violence with humor, apparently considering, as the police seemed to, that a dispute between two citizens was their own business. Onlookers obviously enjoyed such fracases, and cheered the battlers on.

In July 1870, the Idaho Statesman commented on the fact that there had been no fewer than seven fights on one hot day outside Main Street saloons, all of which drew noisy and appreciative crowds. "Three of them were engaged in by men, and the dogs finished out the number before night," the newspaper said. "A man that can summon the energy to indulge in a knockdown at this stage of the weather ought to have his edge taken off in the harvest field."

In 1872, the paper remarked that it was a shiftless and cowardly crowd of men that had no other amusement than to incite dogs to fight, often with severe damage to the losers.

In some of the fights, the losers were badly injured, too, but the Statesman could view this with more detachment, perhaps feeling that the fighters only got what they deserved.

Two local blacksmiths with a long-standing feud had an especially grisly battle on July 3, 1871.

"Hammers, horse shoes and pieces of machinery filled the air for a few minutes," according to the newspaper. "One got off with a Fourth of July (shiner) under his left optic, while the other had the whole calendar of holydays represented on his cabeza."

Fights like these continued for years. One was reported in November 1890 in which two other blacksmiths "employed such light and pleasing weapons as hammers to batter each other's countenances."

An 1892 altercation was reported as follows: "On Main Street last night a big fellow weighing about 220 pounds took off his coat and boots preparatory to annihilating a little man who had offended him. The little fellow did not take off anything, but when the ensuing scrap was over, the big chap looked as though he had gone through a stamp mill."

Two businessmen had a misunderstanding over firewood in 1894. One hit the other over the head with a pipe wrench "slightly fracturing" his skull.

By then, however, Boise had become a civilized enough town that both were arrested for disturbing the peace.