Monday, October 20, 2014

North Idaho Time Machine: Coeur d'Alene in 1887

Caucasians first crawled over the Great Rocky Mountains into the Inland Northwest in the early decades of the 1800's. Fur traders and land explorers, along with their faithful French-speaking Iroquois scouts, wandered onto the homeland of a native tribe who called themselves "Schitsu'umsh".

The Schitsu'umsh (bless you) called home a beautiful spot of minty green land where a river met a lake. As soon as the traders and the tribe got down to the business of trading and tribing, the white men quickly realized they were dealing with a bunch of shrewd-as-serpents kinda cats, not unlike Thomas Edison, or the late, great QVC huckster Joan Rivers. So they nicknamed the tribe "Coeur d'Alene", meaning "heart of an awl" or "pointy hearts". The name stuck.

Cut to a hot mess of white boys flooding onto the land. With with them came a bunch of icky white boy diseases that were significantly worse than just catching boy cooties. Having lived for hundreds of years in blissful harmony with nature, the Coeur d'Alene people's naturally healthy bodies weren't able to kick some of these nasty microbial funks. and by the middle of the 19th century, the tribal people's population had been decimated by almost eighty percent.

Father Pierre-Jean Desmet

Coeur d'Alene Chief Circling Raven had a vision, possibly induced by some killer Purple Vanilla Kush, of men in black robes showing up someday soon to heal their broken spirits. Right on cue, page-boy haired Father Pierre-Jean Desmet and his tap-dancing troupe of kooky Catholics showed up and arranged to meet with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. The natives picked a hot little meeting spot they referred to as Yap-Kheen-um ("the gathering place") for some little getting-to-now-you time and maybe a cocktail or two, just to see if there was any electricity between them.

They hit it off so well that DeSmet decided to bring the show east, over to the Coeur d'Alene River, where they built what is now Idaho's oldest standing building, the Cataldo Mission. The Catholic clique began teaching the natives some white man lessons, like "what's this Jesus business all about" and "how to mix the perfect Peach Appletini".

Everything was going swimmingly up until the 1850's when the tribe was getting a little pissed because too many people from the east began coming out of the woodwork and harshing their mellow by crashing the party. So the US Government decided it was necessary once again to do that very not-so-nice thing and round up the "crazy Indians" onto a reservation so they wouldn't upset the oh-so-delicate sensibilities of the uptight whites who were moving onto lands that didn't really belong to them in the first place.

General William T. Sherman
General William T. Sherman, who was by all accounts kind of a jackass, came to Yap-Keehn-um from back east in 1877 and threw down some serious shade on the tribe, telling them to stay on their new little reservation or they would be killed to death by loud, smelly American guns. He brought over a bunch of his military homies and they built Fort Coeur d'Alene (it was later named after Sherman, probably by Sherman himself - he was just that kind of insufferable ego tripper), which consisted of 52 military buildings and a throbbing discotheque.

Soon, the soldiers' families and other various stragglers began showing up. People from Spokane and all over the area began taking the train to the nearest drop-off station up in Rathdrum, then would catch a horse-and-carriage down to Coeur d'Alene for some lake time fun. Before long, people got tired of the long bumpy horse trip. So in 1886, train tracks were built that led directly to Coeur d'Alene Lake near what is now Independence Point.

Coeur d'Alene's first year as an official city was 1887, and according to the first Cd'A City Directory (which was all of six pages long), only around 40 people resided within city limits. That year saw the construction some important new buildings. CdA's first church was the uber quaint Fort Sherman Chapel, which still stands today and is now used mainly for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and must-do historical tours by noted local historian Robert Singletary . In the back of the chapel, which is already tiny to begin with, they somehow managed to squeeze in a classroom, which served as the town's first school.

The area's first sawmill wa also constructed that year, in a prime location where the Coeur d'Alene Resort now sits. Unfortunately, the Saginaw Mill burned to the ground after only two years and was soon replaced by the Coeur d'Alene Mill, which also burned down after two years, and that was replaced by another mill which also went up in flames, and so on and so forth for several decades to come. Steamboats were built, not only for the purpose of transporting necessary objects to the other side of the lake, but so that visitors could catch a little r-n-r and sunshine while experiencing the untouched beauty of the scenery. The Coeur d'Alene Tourism Industry was born.

Around the same time, Mr. V.W.Sander, who had already been appointed as one of the newly birthed city's first city trustees, became Postmaster General, and was also a "dealer in general merchandise" (dry goods, boots, hardware, groceries, porn) at his shop on the northwest corner of Sherman Avenue and 3rd Street, current home of the Painter's Chair Art Gallery. He must have been one hot postmaster, because he eventually had the best beach in town named after him (Sanders Beach, of course).

Downtown CdA, 1890s (MONI)
In 1887, you could slip into a druggist or pharmacy and put down the cash you had earned logging or mining for all varieties of crazy concoctions that were sold as "beneficial to health", but were comprised of at least 50% alcohol and usually fortified with nutrient rich supplements such as cocaine and opium. Mr. Silas Smith was the town druggist, whose shop was located on the north side of Sherman Avenue, near the fort. His motto: "A Full Line of Fresh, Pure Drugs Always on Hand". A little headache? Period pains? Feeling a tad bit under the weather? Mr. Smith would hook you up with something that, if taken at the correct dosage, would make you so blotto you'd forget what a damn headache even was

Research has made it apparent that the entire population of Coeur d'Alene at the time (outside of the fort) had nothing better to do than get totally crocked and squander away their cash on gambling, hookers, and blow. And if that wasn't giving them their jollies, some robbery and murder might have done the trick. With all the stress that came with nearly dying on the job every day in the pre-OSHA days of the logging and mining industries, who could blame them for needing a constant flow of booze, hookers, and bloodshed?

Carroll's Variety was an establishment that sat on the northeast corner of Mullan and 4th, at the foot of Tubbs Hill (back when Mullan Ave apparently ran through what is now McEuen Park). Along with proprietor James "Fatty" Carroll, the place was staffed by bartender A.J. Coffman and pianist James C Smythe. Smythe was basically the 1887 equivalent of a superstar DJ, but with ivory tickling instead of record spinning and beat dropping.

Fatty Carroll was a notorious figure in the early Wild West days of Coeur d'Alene. He possessed a ripe combination of an entrepreneurial spirit and a depraved mind. Carroll's Variety served up a sinful smorgasbord of gambling, prostitution, and alcohol in one handy location, not to mention the heavy use of cocaine, heroin, and other mood altering goodies that were omnipresent back then in establishments such as Fatty's.

Even more intense was Fatty's habit of disposing of people he didn't take much of a liking to, or who flaunted money he fancied should belong to him. He resided in a room over the Spokane River, and if he invited you over for tea, you may have wanted to think twice about going; rumor had it that some folks never made it out alive. Anyone who was giving Fatty trouble or had overly deep pockets was taken to the river room and dropped through a trap door into the water, never to be seen again.

According to local folklore, a few of his doomed customers also turned up years later beneath another one of his former cathouses at 4th and Sherman Ave., when construction workers were preparing the foundation for Wilson's Pharmacy. Supposedly found behind an obscure basement doorway which led to a long unused tunnel were the decomposed corpses of three unnamed Indians, plus five soldiers from Ft. Sherman that had long been listed as deserters. To this day, visitors to that basement say they feel an unearthly chill down their spines when they explore the rock-walled room.

Not folklore is the actual fact that skeletons were found in the early 1900's near Tubbs Hill where Carroll's Variety sat, buried underneath the lumberyard. Bones were also found while grading an area in preparation for a train station, only a foot or two deep (without the courtesy of even a pine box) in the dirt underneath Sherman Avenue.  Although he was clearly a man for whom gratuitous murder was a trifling pastime, we can't pinpoint the killings directly on Mr. Fatty since these types of incidents were commonplace in the gun filled, booze fueled early days of Idaho.

Part of the reason why Fort Sherman was eventually closed, along with the fact that it wasn't needed to protect the settlers from the basically peaceful Indians after all, was that soldiers kept disappearing in the night, met by an untimely death at the hands of a Fatty henchman or other Wild West hooligan.

The newly formed government of Coeur d'Alene was none too happy about the wild bawdiness that was going on down at Fatty's and the other rowdy saloons that peppered the downtown area. A large section of the incorporation charter for the city of Coeur d'Alene was devoted to provisions and clauses meant to tackle what the early city trustees referred to as "nuisances."

They resolved to "prevent, restrain, and suppress bawdy houses, gambling houses, opium dens and other disorderly houses; to preregulate and prohibit gambling; and to provide licensing and regulating dram houses, tippling houses, saloons, gambling houses, theatrical and other amusements, travelling shows, circuses, and other exhibitions and shows." In other words, they were a bunch of fun-hating fuddy duds who even looked down their snotty noses at actors and circus performers, putting them in the same category as drunks and druggies.

They had some work ahead of them. For such a small town, Coeur d'Alene was plump with drinking establishments and dens of iniquity. Among the other places serving Old Crow whiskey by the wagon load was the Transfer Saloon ("The Most Popular Resort in the City"), found at the southwest corner of Sherman Ave. and 3rd St. (now Resort Plaza Shops), which was established by Fort Sherman Major D.E. Ballard, with Stephen G. Whitman serving as bartender. Further west on Sherman Ave. between 1st and 2nd Streets was the Exchange Saloon, opened by John Dingwell and with whiskey mixologist extraordinaire Henry Farley behind the bar.

Located further south, between 1st and 2nd, was the Dividend Saloon on the north side of Lake View Dr. (not sure exactly where that street was, but it no longer exists), John H. Brown, proprietor and Samuel Barlow, bartender. All the way in the northern part of town on Coeur d'Alene Avenue between 2nd and 3rd was the Rathdrum Branch Brewery, owned and operated by W.A. Reininger. Maybe Reininger was the annoying craft beer hipster of his time, droning on for hours about aeration and fermentation and infusion mash. A stronger possibility was that he made watered-down nasty swill to serve to the gambling addicts, train robbers, and patrons of prostitution. In other words, everyone in town.

The Arcade, which sat at the corner 3rd and Sherman, is listed in the city directory as selling wines and liquors, which seems to indicate that proprietor C.S. Claflin and his bartender Theodore Link were operating something a little classier than the rest. So in other words, in addition to serving fine wines and absinthe, the whores at the Arcade bathed more than once a week and wore silk camisoles instead of burlap.

In the Pioneer days of the 1880's, dining out usually meant a menu filled with items like roast beef and potatoes, boiled cabbage, fried fish, bread and butter, porridges and puddings, and of course a pig's head with all the trimmings. This is most likely the type of stick-to-the-ribs fare that would land on your table at the Palace Restaurant, on the north side Sherman between 2nd and 3rd, J.C. Chamberlain, proprietor. It appears the only other eatery at the time was the Coeur d'Alene Bakery and Restaurant on the south side Sherman between 3rd and 4th, established by William Wagner.

Bender & Dillard Market (proprietors William H. Bender and William Dillard), which sat on 4th Street between Sherman and Front, had a butcher named William Hooper, and you have to wonder about the confusion in the air when someone would walk into the building and yell "William!" Back then, meat was most likely raised and slaughtered only a few blocks away, and you had to have a very strong appetite to still be hungry for steak after walking into the butcher shop and getting an eyeful of a dozen fresh half-cows hanging behind the counter dripping with blood and gore. Neatly wrapped in disassociative styrofoam and plastic it was not.

A.L. Davis ran a livery stable, also located on 4th St. between Sherman and Front where you could keep your horse for the night or rent a horse-and-buggy kind of situation if you needed to go on an out of town trip. Kind of an old-timey cross between a pet hotel and an Avis car rental office, but with a lot more poop. Those horses needed fancy footwear, naturally, and R.R. Mann was just the blacksmith to do it, there at his store on the southeast corner of 4th and Sherman (now Sports Cellar/Dingle Building).

Let's hear it for the ladies, actually the only two listed in the city directory at the time. Miss Tilla Ellis and Mrs. Owen Russie combined their dressmaking powers and opened a shop on Sherman Avenue right at the end where it turned into Fort Sherman. In 1890's America they used bolts and bolts of thick, wooly fabric for dresses with draping and layers and folds for days. Bustles around the waist were popular and gave modern gals some serious booty. The hot colors were black, grey, and black-grey, shirts were buttoned all the way to the nose, and collars were starchy white and looked like the doily on Granny Franny's tea table. It's no wonder their men were haunting whorehouses.

W. Morris made clunky chunky shoes and boots in his shop on the southwest corner of 1st and Sherman, and if you needed to get your hair did, you would need to drop in to see barber J.C. Scott, who worked out of his shop on the east side of 3rd St. between Front and Sherman.

Once the ladies and gents were looking sharp, they might have wanted want to be wed in holy matrimony, so they would go to see J.E. Russell, who was the Justice of the Peace (north side of Front Ave between 3rd and 4th, currently Quicksilver Photography). Speaking of photography, the happy couple would want someone to capture the moment on sepia daguerreotype, and they had at least two photographers available to handle it. Henry Purcell's studio was located next to the dressmaking ladies of Sherman Ave., and W.N. Hall took pictures up at his place on Coeur d'Alene Ave. between 2nd and 3rd Streets.

While it was quite rare in 1887, our married couple might have eventually wanted a divorce. Maybe the husband got caught cheating on his wife with one of Fatty's hos. Or maybe the gentleman would get tired of having to dig though nineteen layers of fabric to get busy with his lady. Either way, as the only lawyer in town, Issac S. Daly would be the man to help file the paperwork and arrange the settlement. That is, if you could squeeze in an appointment between all the murder, robbery, druggery, and prostitution cases flying across his desk.

Another busier-than-busy man about town was Dr. J. McGrail. As was custom at the time, Dr. McGrail had no clinic to speak of, but made house calls to all the locals afflicted with some type of pox or dropsy or syphilis or whatever ailments were in vogue at the time. He would show up at your sickbed up with a frightening bag of penetrative tools and a nice mercury cream or bottle of alcohol-rich opium elixir, and you would hopefully be cured of your sickness (probably not).

And where exactly was Dr. McGrail showing up to? There were very few private residences listed in the city directory, although there were plenty outside of city limits near Fort Sherman and on the farmland that existed north of Coeur d'Alene Avenue. For the most part, city residents lived in boarding houses and hotels.

The Lake View Hotel was the main residence house, located right on the lake next to the area that is now the 3rd Street Boat launch in McEuen Park. The Cochrane House was on the north side of Sherman Ave. between 2nd and 3rd, and must have been where the party people resided, since the directory lists a bartender (Michael Martin) as the only staff member besides the fabulous "paper hanger" who went simply by "Ford" (the only gay in the village?). This commands the question: what were they doing at the Cochrane House to go through so much wallpaper that they needed a full time staff member to handle it? Maybe we're better off not knowing.

Sources Used:
In All the West No Place Like This by Dorothy Dahlgren and Simone Carbonneau Kincaid, 1996 Museum of North Idaho Publications.
Coeur d'Alene City Directory, 1887 (Hayden Library)
Coeur d'Alene Press, Idaho Centennial Special Edition, 1990.
Coeur d'Alene Press, Coeur d'Alene 100 Years.
Coeur d'Alene Press, "Coeur d'Alene Was a Dangerous Place in the Old Days", Syd Albright, April 20, 2014
The Spokesman-Review, "Lake City’s Murder Mystery Unearthed Bones Bring Coeur d’Alene’s Violent Past To Light", Susan Drumheller, December 31, 1995


eclafitz said...

By all accounts this is your Opus, Mr. Jacobs. Fine job sir, very fine job indeed.


Salty said...

Interesting piece. Not sure that I concur with all of your suppositions, but it is certainly entertaining. I'm curious. Are you any relation to a Mike Jacobs who graduated from CHS in 1969?

Anonymous said...

RIP Patrick. You will be sorely missed.

Anonymous said...

Wrong facts, resort was built on fill dirt on the lake bottom. The lake shore was on Sherman Avenue. Never had a saw mill there it was east of 3rd st.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous - He's dead you troll!

eclafitz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
inspiration station said...

What about the good people in town , that were xmchurch going people who did good in the Area, who built this fine city of ours, how about the honest man and his family. Who logged , mined and worked his tail off to make something for himself . Or was your take on the negitive in life , yes there was all the bad and ugly but you forgot the good . Which you are missing. Get it all or don't do any . We have enough craps in the world and if you arnt going to do a full report and 've unbiased then don't do it.
God Bless ,a good bit of History

Unknown said...

Wonderfully written! Very much enjoyed your outlook and perspective on this areas history.

Jason M. said...

I can't believe it's been over 5 years. I miss you Patrick.

eclafitz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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