The War on the Webfoot Saloon:
Introduction to “The Lost Chapter”:
Hello and thanks so much for stopping by! My name is Finn and this is what you might call the eleventh chapter of my book, Wicked Portland.
So, why isn't it in the book? Well, when I pitched the idea to the publisher, I told them I'd deliver 40,000 words. But when I got done writing, I'd blown that number by at least 15,000 words. I could tighten things up, but there was only so much I could do. Something had to give.
That something was this chapter.
It's such a great story, though; I hated to waste it. So I decided to make it available on my Web site, free for the reading, as a sort of prelude to what you'll find in the book.
Please do check it out. If my writing style drives you nuts, this could save you twenty bucks. However, if you like it, you can add it to your list of stuff to look for at your library.
—Finn J.D. John
The drinking age
This drawing, from Frank Leslie's publication, shows the Ohio ladies who
were the Portland temperance workers' primary inspiration, singing and
praying before a saloon in early 1874. This scene, sketched by S.B.
Morton, is in Logan, Ohio.
(Image: Library of Congress)
Even if you didn’t hang around in the North End, 1874 was a great year in which to be a drunkard in Portland.
For starters, there was, at the time, one liquor outlet for every 40 men, women and children in the town. Watering holes ran the gamut from the upscale Oro Fino Saloon and Theater at First and Stark — where you’d find judges and mayors and industrialists hitting the jug, watching theatrical performances both tame and ribald, and losing at cards — all the way down to the sleazy whorehouse-grogshop combo joints on Second Street around Burnside. (There were rumors the Oro Fino did a little courtesan-mongering as well, but there’s nothing definite. If true, this would be significant, since the Oro Fino was Portland’s premier theatrical venue until the New Market Theatre was built in 1875. It was also half-owned by the city’s police chief — James Lappeus, whom we are going to get to know a bit later in this story.)
There was no social stigma attached to all but the most desperate levels of alcoholism in 1874. Many people regularly started the morning with an “eye-opener” and kept going all day long, functioning in an increasingly dense alcoholic fog right through the workday, like a yellow jacket in a pear orchard on a sunny October day, and ending in a nightly visit to a familiar saloon to finish off the day in grand style over a hand or two of poker before returning home, sloshing into bed and waking up to do it all again.
This advertisement ran prominently in almost every issue of the
Portland Bulletin, often right next to the newspaper's coverage of the
temperance crusaders' efforts to deprive Mr. Fleckenstein of business.
Click the picture above to see the full page in PDF form.
There were some exceptions to this lifestyle, though — a whole class of people who were not invited to the party. The pleasures of mug and snifter were, for all practical purposes, reserved to the men. Except for the lowest doggeries, in which poverty enforced a certain level of egalitarianism, women were not allowed in saloons unless they were employed there in one capacity or another.
A middle- or upper-class woman wishing to get her drunk on had a much more limited palate of options than did her male counterpart. She could stay home and get stupid by herself, but that was no fun. She could invite some friends over, which was more fun but also socially a little dangerous and not the sort of thing one can incorporate into a daily routine. Or she could go slumming in the North End — which was, of course, utterly unthinkable.
The result was that there were an awful lot of non-alcoholic wives of alcoholic husbands. These ladies were like the designated driver at a wild Oktoberfest party — watching their loved ones make utter idiots of themselves and seeing things they desperately wished they could “un-see.” They also got to helplessly watch as the family treasury poured out the door and into the cashbox at the neighborhood saloon, as their sons grew up and learned to drink and gamble in their turn — and, yes, watch their husbands turn yellow and die after decades of alcohol abuse, leaving them as impoverished widows.
And that’s not even getting started on the domestic abuse that alcohol always seems to inspire in some percentage of serious drinkers.
So the temperance movement really shouldn’t have taken anybody by surprise.
What was surprising, though, was the form it took in Portland. Portland’s temperance drama reached an untoppable climax in April 1874 with a genuine knock-down-drag-out riot on the streets of downtown Portland, as angry citizens exchanged punches and clobbered each other with chairs — while, all the while, serene as if they were singing in a forest glade, a cluster of upper-class ladies in their Sunday best sang hymns and prayed for their souls.
And almost as soon as it appeared, the temperance movement was gone again, apparently destroyed from within after some of the (male) preachers who fancied themselves as its leaders overplayed their hand.
Early in the spring of ’74, word started reaching Portland of the great temperance movements in Ohio. Oh, there were plenty of other temperance movements across the country, and there had been for some time. Mostly, they took relatively mild form, with women spending lots of time praying and singing in churches and exhorting their daughters to choose a “temperance man” for a husband. This last tactic, perhaps inspired by Aristophanes’ play “The Trojan Women,” might have worked famously had there not been such a strong social stigma against unmarried women at the time; there were nowhere near enough “temperance men” for every girl to marry one. All in all, the movement was easily ignored.
This piece of sheet music from the University of Oregon's collection is
from 1867. Chances are good that the ladies participating in Portland's
temperance crusade knew the tune.
If you'd like to read the lyrics to this song, you'll find them here. And if
you're handy with a piano, feel free to download the PDF copy of the
entire musical score ... you'll surely be a huge hit at your next cocktail
party! (Warning: The PDF is huge.) (Image: UO Libraries)
In Ohio, though, that wasn’t the case. There, the temperance movement had found new force. Its members went out into the community and spread the word, and actually went to saloons and watering holes to urge temperance upon their owners and customers. And, critically, they’d had some success at this — especially in persuading saloonkeepers to leave the business.
In Portland, the mainstream newspapers — there were three of them at the time: the Morning Oregonian, the Portland Bulletin and the Evening Telegram — mentioned these events only briefly and occasionally. But Abigail Scott Duniway, editor and publisher of The New Northwest, was very interested. Readers of her weekly paper, mostly women, were kept very much up to date on the temperance movement.
Duniway was a legend even in her own time, and her profile has grown since. She was utterly committed to equality of the sexes and to voting rights for women. She saw temperance as an issue that would have been quickly resolved if 50 percent of the population were not forbidden to vote — in other words, as a symptom of the great social evil that she had devoted her life to overturning. She was the sister of Morning Oregonian editor Harvey Scott, and the two of them were like sparring tigers; Scott was just as intransigently opposed to women’s suffrage as Duniway was committed to it. Actually, Scott’s opposition to women’s suffrage may have been the direct result of the events we’re about to discuss.
This forbidding portrait of Abigail Scott Duniway was made later in her
life, after she had won her forty-year battle to get women the right
to vote. In 1874, she was still a young woman — but woe to the man
who underestimated her. Image is from one of Joseph Gaston's books.
Plenty of Portland women read The New Northwest. It was a lively read which prominently featured serial fiction stories (chiefly romances with strong but loving female characters), local news of interest to women, and tidbits such as recipes and funny anecdotes. Oh, and it had editorials. Duniway’s editorials were every bit as assertive and hard-hitting as those of her male counterparts at the other Portland newspapers. Of course, they were viewed differently; a strong editorial written by a man was “powerful,” whereas the same editorial under a woman’s by-line was “waspish.”
The New Northwest was very interested in the temperance movement and devoted considerable coverage to its successes back east. And that’s probably the primary reason the whole thing came to Portland in the first place. It’s certainly why the fervor of the movement was so startling and unexpected to Portland men, including the “cold-water preachers” to whom the ladies looked for spiritual guidance on what they began to call their “crusade.” The men were nearly all caught off guard, because they were reading the wrong newspapers.
Nonetheless, those preachers rose to the occasion with alacrity. Soon their churches were crammed to bursting with women yearning to do something about this terrible social evil.
Preaching temperance in church
The Taylor Street Methodist Church, which served as a sort of
headquarters for the multi-denominational effortof the temperance
movement in Portland. (Image from www.cafeunknown.com)
Enacting outright prohibition was out of the question for the time being, and the ladies knew it well. They had no voting rights with which to support it. A 40-year-old bum who had been neither sober nor fully employed since he was 13 was a voter; a 40-year-old published “authoress” teaching home economics at the state agricultural college was not. The drunks would vote to keep drinking. The ladies would have to take a different route.
So they assembled in churches. Stirring sermons were preached. Ladies came to the kneeling rail and told their stories — stories of husbands coming home drunk and depraved and assaulting them, of sons ejected from prestigious schools after a gin-fueled rampage, of relatives made homeless by “that mighty and terrible ruler, King Alcohol.” Invitations went out to men all over Portland to come and be inspired, and a pledge of abstinence from alcohol was circulated at each service. Hundreds of people signed.
Yet mere hundreds wouldn’t change the course of history. Moreover, those hundreds were most often already teetotalers. Then as now, the pub-crawling set wasn’t seen much in church, or at least not in the kind of churches that would preach temperance and abstinence and the consumption of cold water as one’s sole and exclusive libation. In other words, the chaps who really needed to sign a pledge never went anywhere near a temperance church, and would likely consider themselves in need of an exorcism if they did.
Inspired once again by The New Northwest’s dispatches of events in Ohio, the ladies of several Portland churches decided they needed to be more assertive. They and their (male) pastors organized themselves into an interdenominational coalition and made their headquarters at the Methodist Church on Taylor Street. There they decided, as the Portland Daily Bulletin’s reporter put it, to “go forth and beard the lion in his den.”
A few of the more conservative ladies thought that was too much, and when the decision was made to do this, they dropped out. But there remained a total of 13 game sisters who were ready to go out there and change the world in the only way their society allowed them to do so: with a prayer and a song and a fabulous-but-slightly-ridiculous hat.
And so it was that on March 23, 1874, a team of fired-up ladies streamed out of the church and, two by two, fanned out across Portland.
Preaching temperance in saloons
A lithograph of the Eureka Saloon in Portland as seen in the
The legend "Silver & Corno" likely refers to the
proprietors of the saloon
This image was made by the firm of Kuchel & Dresel. (Image:
The ladies’ modus operandi was simple. They would present themselves at the saloon and ask the proprietor if they might enter and give a prayer and a song for the sots within. Most of the time, the answer was yes — that would change later, but at this early stage, they had little trouble. If the saloonkeeper offered them a complimentary drink — which more than one did — they would graciously decline. Then they’d pray, sing a hymn or two, circulate a pledge for the drunks to sign promising to abstain from alcohol, sing and pray some more, and leave.
For a Victorian-era lady, this was nowhere near as easy as it sounds to the modern ear.
Laura Francis Kelly, one of the temperance crusaders, wrote a hand-written account of how it went:
Can you imagine what it would be to go into a saloon to pray? Then you can imagine how we felt. I cannot tell you.
The saloon keeper received us cordially, ushering us into the card-room. As the song rose from trembling hearts: “Holy Spirit, faithful guide, Ever near the Christian’s side,” etc., the bar-room quickly filled with young men to whom the barkeeper freely dispensed his liquors. As we knelt in prayer, the clink of glasses well nigh drowned the petitions that rose from trembling lips. When the short service was over, the bar keeper invited us very pleasantly to “come again.” Oh! how we hastened back to church and kindred spirits!
But the pastor, George W. Izer, met us with, “Back so soon? Did you visit only one saloon?” Then we saw what was before us.
At the end of the day, they were exhausted and demoralized. Their reception everywhere had been gracious and welcoming, but at least part of the reason for that was the spike in liquor trade which they inspired. The presence of two respectable Victorian-era ladies in their Sunday best, singing and praying and pleading for temperance, was a show that packed in the crowds. It was like having a circus act in the pub.
A word of editorial support from the pen of Editor Abigail Scott Duniway
in The New Northwest. Click the image to see the entire page (PDF).
True, the ladies were treated courteously everywhere (with, the Bulletin sniffed, the notable exception of “the proprietress of a low doggery on Second Street”). But the “courteous treatment” mostly took the form of that peculiar variety of chivalrously benevolent condescension which men once used as a passive-aggressive rhetorical weapon against women. Perhaps thinking the “fairer sex” too stupid to understand they were being made fun of, they drank toasts to the success of “the Crusade” and made a great show of gallantry as they signed fictitious names to the abstinence pledge. And they kept right on drinking.
Back in the church, the ladies prayed for strength and then went home for the night.
The next day, things were a little different. Someone — it’s not clear who — suggested that rather than fanning out across the city, the ladies should go in a group. All 13 of them would pay a call on a single saloon. This would have several advantages: First, they’d have each other to lean on, and would not feel so alone in a crowded sea of men who, although careful to appear chivalrous, were clearly hostile to what they were trying to do. Secondly, they’d have more volume during the hymn-singing part, to drown out the clink of glasses. And thirdly, with 13 ladies in the saloon, the chances of a customer knowing one of them was exponentially greater. Nobody was going to jeer at his aunt-in-law or boss’s sister.
The ladies fortified themselves with a lengthy prayer service, then poured once again out of the church.
Today they descended upon the Mount Hood Saloon, owned by a chap named Thomas Shartle. By all accounts, Mr. Shartle was a good egg, and let them in and gave them the run of the place. Mr. Shartle did not, however, turn off the taps, and was probably glad he did not. If two Victorian ladies in a saloon was like a circus act, thirteen of them was like the whole circus. People poured into the Mount Hood.
On the surface, it looked like a repeat of the previous day’s disaster, only on a bigger scale. Mr. Shartle sold an enormous volume of alcoholic beverages that day. The ladies got the same faux-hearty “best of luck to you, God bless you, here’s to ya” response from the same saloon bums, and fielded the same fake signatures on the temperance pledge.
But somehow it was different.
The ladies moved on, going downmarket a bit and visiting a rum house called the Evening Call. Again, they brought the proprietor plenty of business and left with very few legitimate pledges.
Back at the church, the ladies learned word had gotten around the saloons that their presence represented a huge business boom. One saloon owner actually sent them an invitation to come to his place, which — to his delight — they did the next day.
But the sense of demoralization was utterly gone. The ladies knew they were onto something. They started going out every day, each day to a different saloon. And slowly, things started to change.
A warm welcome starts to cool
This photograph shows Portland Police Chief Lappeus's saloon and theater, the Oro
Fino. This photo was made in 1876, two years after the temperance crusade, when
Lappeus was still chief of police. This image is from the Oregon Historical Society.
The upscale Oro Fino — partly owned by Portland Police Chief James Lappeus, whom we will get to know better in a bit — was the first establishment to put its money where its gallant mouth was when it shut down its taps during the ladies’ visit there. There still was a healthy crowd, but the Oro Fino sold them no drinks until the ladies finished up their service and left. With this example set, the better saloon keepers found themselves pressured to do likewise, which dramatically reduced their incentive to have the ladies over for the afternoon.
And even in the pubs that ignored the Oro Fino’s example, the money-making magic was fading fast. The crowd of idle, thirsty spectators that had once followed the ladies around from tavern to tavern dwindled away until it included only the idlest and thirstiest. After a week or so, the crusaders’ arrival at a saloon stopped being an attractant. At the same time, the number of ladies participating in the “raids” swelled. Soon their arrival meant not a lucrative afternoon of pouring drinks and collecting coin, but the effective shutting-down of the bar for as long as the ladies chose to stay.
More and more saloonkeepers began refusing to let the ladies come in. At first, when this happened, they’d move on, but soon — inspired by the actions of Walter Moffett (more on that in a minute), they changed their tactics. When refused admission to a saloon, they’d stand in front of it on the sidewalk and hold a prayer-and-song service right there. This was actually worse, because it was like a picket line that customers would have to cross publicly if they wanted to enter the saloon. It also made a public spectacle of the barkeeper’s lack of hospitality.
Tensions were on the rise as the month of April wore on. On April 14, at a saloon in the North End, a proprietress slammed the door in the crusaders’ faces, and when the wind blew it back open again, “she rushed to the door and poured a volley of abuse upon us,” according to the hand-written account of one anonymous temperance worker.
But there were some successes too. That same hand-written account goes on: “Evening Call saloon closed — proprietor signed the Pledge.” You’ll remember the Evening Call as the rum shop visited on the first day of the crusade.
By the middle of April, the warring parties had settled down into an uneasy sort of relationship in which the saloon keepers tried to keep as low a profile as possible — trying, if you’ll pardon the anachronism of using a metaphor 100 years before its time, to stay off the ladies’ radar.
Well, most of them did. There was … one exception.
The Webfoot on the warpath
Walter Moffett was one of Portland’s most respected men, and by most accounts a decent guy. A Brit by birth, he went to sea as a young man and did well for himself; by the time he arrived in Portland, he was a ship captain. He settled down in Portland and married well — his wife was from a family called Terwilliger, a name you’ll instantly recognize if you’ve ever lived in Portland. By the time he’d settled down in Portland, he was a man of property, owning several shipping interests as well as two saloons: the Tom Thumb and the Webfoot Saloon.
It was the Webfoot Saloon that was to be Ground Zero in Portland’s temperance riots. Because amiable and respectable though Mr. Moffett might have appeared, he turned out to have very little patience for temperance workers.
The Webfoot was located on the northwest corner of First and Morrison — just off the waterfront at its more “respectable” southern end.
How the hostilities between Moffett and the temperance crusaders got started is unclear; there are two very different accounts of the action — one from the Portland Daily Telegraph, and one from author and journalist Frances Fuller Victor’s little book, published later that same year.
Both accounts agree that Moffett first met two of the temperance workers on that ill-starred day when they were fanning out across the city two by two. That’s all they agree on. The Bulletin’s story the next morning says Mr. Moffett greeted them courteously but declined to let them enter his bar. Fuller Victor, however, describes the action somewhat differently:
The two ladies, trembling, but full of holy zeal, paused at the entrance on Morrison Street, and stepped into the saloon whose proprietor was as unknown to them as the proprietors of other saloons. As they entered, Mr. Moffett, on the alert, … entered by the Front Street door, which brought him face to face with his visitors. Without giving them time to announce their errand, he seized each rudely by an arm, and thrust them out into the street, exclaiming, “Get out of this! I keep a respectable house and don’t want
any d(amned) w(hores) here.”
She goes on to describe the ladies’ shocked reaction to this reception, and the horror with which one of them recognizes him as a family friend:
“Walter Moffett!” she exclaimed. “Can this be Walter Moffett? Why, Walter Moffett, I used to know you; and I prayed with your wife for your safety when you were at sea years ago!”
“I don’t want any of your d(amne)d prayers; I want you to get out of this and stay out; that’s all I want of you. I don’t keep a w(hore)house!”
Well then. These are words that even today would earn a man a lusty punch on the mazzard from pretty much anyone in a position to deliver one, male or female. The fact that Moffett didn’t get one on the spot can probably be chalked up to the utter improbability of his reaction, which was so far out of line with Victorian-era norms of how respectable women were supposed to be treated that the ladies were too flabbergasted to do anything but make their way back to the Taylor Street church and tell their comrades-in-arms what had happened.
Their story galvanized the congregation there. Outraged and furious, the ladies of the temperance crusade didn’t realize that Moffett had given them a priceless gift: His treatment of his visitors was to the temperance crusaders what Pearl Harbor would one day be to the soldiers of the U.S. Army. It gave them a real, tangible, individual enemy to focus on. And focus on him they did.
For weeks they tried to wear down his defenses by putting in daily appearances at his saloon — requesting entry, being denied and moving on.
Finally, on the last day of March, they changed tactics. After being denied entry as usual, they lined up on the sidewalk and launched a prayer service right there, outside the door.
Moffett’s response was almost as tone-deaf as his previous one had been: He emerged from his saloon wearing spectacles and holding himself with prim dignity, a copy of the Holy Bible in one hand. From this tome he proceeded to read a selection of passages which, taken out of context, sounded wildly offensive. (The only one of these specifically mentioned by the crusaders is Deuteronomy 23:1, which reads, “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.”)
The ladies sang louder to drown him out. Moffett increased his own volume until he was actually shouting. This went on for some time, attracting — as you can imagine — a healthy crowd of spectators.
Finally, the ladies moved on. But before they left, one of them tearfully asked Moffett why he was behaving like this. His bellicose response was that he minded his own business and expected others to mind theirs, and he called the crusaders hypocrites.
Tough love for poor Brother Moffett
That evening, the ladies discussed Moffett at great length. Was he simply incorrigible, a waste of their time? Should they simply leave him on his road to hell and focus their attention on more salvageable souls? Or — or was his bizarre, erratic and offensive behavior a subtle call for help?
Strange as it sounds, the “call for help” theory is the one that prevailed. Some of the ladies argued that his strange behavior must stem from an uneasy conscience, and that meant he was not beyond the reach of salvation. What Brother Moffett needed right now was not to be abandoned to his depravities and the blandishments of Satan, but rather to feel the tough, brave love of his true friends, who would be there to support his struggle for righteousness no matter how viciously he tried in his self-destructive, demonic madness to drive them away.
Looked at that way, leaving Walter Moffett alone would be a seriously sinful and selfish act, and one the ladies figured they’d be called to account for on Judgment Day. No, poor Brother Moffett would continue to receive his special treatment, along with earnest and loving prayers for his salvation, whether he wanted them or not.
In other words, Moffett’s behavior had not only failed to persuade the ladies to leave him alone, it had put the full force of divine authority behind a mandate to continue pestering him. And the poor dolt clearly had no idea.
Moffett continued to show the world his stunning lack of good judgment by hiring some thugs and buying and stockpiling some firecrackers for the ladies’ next visit, which came the very next day. When they arrived, Moffett’s goon squad went into action, beating big Chinese gongs in their faces and tossing lighted strings of firecrackers under their feet.
It was another Rubicon crossed. Before this day — April Fools’ Day, 1874 — the only truly ungentlemanly behavior Moffett had engaged in had been a private conversation with two ladies whom he was ejecting from his bar. Now, in front of the whole city, he and his thugs were not only being very disrespectful, they were putting the ladies in danger of a broken ankle or even immolation — much of the clothing of the day was highly flammable. The crowd of onlookers was shocked. Then it started murmuring ominously and moving closer. The police, sensing that something ugly was about to happen, hurried in and persuaded the ladies to break off the engagement.
The tone-deaf Moffett seems to have taken precisely the wrong lesson away from this episode. Spared from the consequences his tactics were about to bring down on his head, he concluded that they were exactly the ticket to get the ladies to leave him alone.
The ladies gave him a week, then returned on April 7. A force of 15 of them stationed themselves in front of the Webfoot and started singing and praying. Word spread like an electric current through Portland and in minutes the crowd of onlookers was blocking the streets and sidewalks, effectively shutting down the bar. Moffett, in a swift change of tactics — perhaps the gong-beaters and firecracker-throwers he’d hired had given up and gone home during the seven-day truce — got out his police whistle and started blasting on it, summoning Portland Police Chief Lappeus to the scene. Upon Lappeus’s arrival, Moffett demanded that he disperse the praying women. They were, he asserted, disturbing the peace by attracting an unruly crowd of onlookers. Oddly enough, it seems to have occurred to precisely no one to disperse the crowd of onlookers directly.
Instead, Chief Lappeus approached the ladies and asked them to leave. They declined. The chief told them that if they stuck around and a riot broke out, people could get hurt. They replied that that was up to God and to those people; they were just there to pray and sing.
So the chief arrested them.
Arrested for praying in public
A portrait of Portland Police Chief James Lappeus, painted in oils by
Oregon City artist Leland John.
Now remember, as the ladies themselves surely were well aware — Chief Lappeus was also Saloonkeeper Lappeus. In today’s world, this kind of conflict of interest would be outrageous — one saloon owner helping out another saloon owner by arresting a dozen ladies who were clearly doing nothing illegal. In 1870s Portland, though, it was no big thing.
The ladies surely also knew Chief Lappeus’s reputation. He was a little notorious, you see. He was a former gold-field gambler who, as city marshal a dozen years before, had almost lost his job over some very credible allegations that he’d offered to let convicted murderer Danford Balch escape from the city jail for a $1,000 bribe. Chances are good that he did not occupy the moral high ground in the eyes of the ladies he was arresting.
Even so, they were upright, law-abiding women. So off went the ladies in one of the most remarkable impromptu parades ever seen in a Portland street: the police chief in the front in the full dignity of office, fifteen ladies in their finest attire gliding fabulously along behind, and a dangerously huge crowd of onlookers bringing up the rear. Moffett was left behind at his suddenly empty bar, perhaps wondering if he was experiencing the equivalent of the eye of a storm.
Almost magically, husbands and sons and fellow temperance workers materialized at the police station, all eager to bail the ladies out. The ladies, who had started singing hymns again, refused to take or give a nickel. They were accordingly loaded into the jail, where they spent another two or three hours singing and praying. Meanwhile, court authorities, eager to get them out as fast as possible before the crowd got any uglier, frantically rounded up the requisite magistrate and officers of the court.
The ensuing hearing was very brief. Judge Denny dismissed the complaint almost immediately, ruling that standing on a public sidewalk singing hymns did not constitute “disturbing the peace.”
The ladies visited the saloon a week later, but stayed only for half an hour. Presumably, Moffett was not yet ready to join battle. But two days after that, on April 16, he was.
Moffett had tooled up for the showdown. In a rare display of wisdom, he’d gotten rid of the firecrackers, but he’d traded in his gongs for bigger and louder models and hired a couple of local urchins to beat on them. He’d also acquired a hand organ, the kind organ grinders used to crank away on while a trained monkey danced. And of course, there was his trusty police whistle.
When the temperance gang rolled up in front of the joint a little after 2 p.m., Moffett & Co. were ready for them … and the fight was on. The boys whaled on the gongs. A local drunk hired for the event cranked furiously on the organ. Moffett’s whistle shrilled away. Even before the ladies had started their devotionals, the streets of Portland were ringing with an unbelievable racket that brought spectators sprinting to the scene from blocks around.
“This hideous clamor continued for an hour, the Crusaders meanwhile calmly saying prayers and singing songs which not even those closest to them could hear,” Malcolm H. Clark writes. “Fritz (the organist) grew arm-weary. The two boys, despite the encouraging shouts of their commander, were perceptibly weakening. Moffett’s face had acquired a purplish cast.”
The bartender, J.F. Good, ducked out the door and found a street hydrant with a hose attached to it, used to fill the sprinkler wagons that kept the dust down on the dirt street during dry weather. Picking the hose up, he opened the hydrant and blasted water onto the front of the saloon; it ran down the front of the building and soaked the temperance workers with dirty water. Dripping wet in clothes that were probably ruined, they sang on.
The gong boys had given out completely by now, so Good grabbed one of the gongs and the erstwhile organist seized the other. According to the Bulletin, one of them soon thereafter lost his gong; beating it as hard as he could inches from the face of one of the ladies, a Mrs. Stitzel, he was surprised when she acknowledged his presence for the first and only time — by suddenly snatching the gong from him and “retain(ing) possession of it.” According to Fuller Victor, Moffett actually tried to recover the gong robber-style — he pointed a pistol at her head and demanded that she give it back. But Stitzel silently called his bluff, and the gun went back in his pocket, and the gong stayed out of service.
The gongbeater involved in this little bit of pistol-waving was probably Mr. Good, because around 5 p.m. we know he was no longer operating a gong. We know this because that’s the point at which he — after several trips into the saloon for yet another quick bracer, and now very drunk — started swearing bitterly and profanely at the line of singing, praying ladies.
It was too much. You never know what’s going to set a crowd off. In this instance, this display of drunken churlishness was enough for bystander William Grooms — who, by the way, had been Portland’s city marshal back in 1853.
Grooms now approached the sloppy, obscenity-sputtering Mr. Good, hauled off and flattened him with a powerful punch square in the middle of the face.
The crowd exploded. Fists and elbows flew. Uninvited guests surged into the Webfoot Saloon with mayhem on their minds, and Moffett and his little band, finding themselves the targets of a vengeance-minded mob, backed away as best they could and sought refuge behind the bar. Glass broke and chairs flew. Moffett got his pistol back out of his pocket, and several others did likewise. How this whole affair managed to not end with anybody getting shot is a mystery, but the police must have been keeping a close eye on the situation, because they were on the scene within seconds. They didn’t shut it down and they didn’t ask the ladies to leave; they simply restored order and withdrew.
Moffett was down a gong and the organ had fallen victim to the mob as well. With a few tin cans and the one remaining gong, he and his crew carried on until 6 p.m., when the ladies quietly withdrew. On almost every possible level, they had won the day.
Pressing their advantage, the ladies were back the next day at 10 a.m., and word spread quickly; within minutes, the streets and sidewalks were jammed with spectators ready for the show. But inside the Webfoot Saloon, all was quiet. Instead of engaging the enemy, Moffett hustled down the road to the police station and swore out a complaint against the ladies for disorderly conduct, based on the riot that had broken out the previous day.
The ladies' trial, conviction and jail sentence
The legal concept of “disturbing the peace” was creaking under the strain of what the prosecutors were trying to get it to do. The idea was, although the ladies hadn’t disturbed the peace personally, they had shown up and prayed on a sidewalk knowing full well that doing so would inspire others to disturb the peace by, for example, rioting and trashing the Webfoot Saloon. The fact that the rioters had actually been inspired more by the plaintiff’s activities than the defendants’ was conveniently overlooked.
It took a couple of days for the trial to finish up and for the jury to come to a decision. But one of the jury members was a saloon owner, and the other five were business owners of other types; their natural sympathy lay with the guy trying to sell beer, not the citizens outside interfering with commerce and trade by singing and praying in public. To no one’s surprise, the verdict was “guilty.”
The ladies were sentenced to spend a night in jail or pay $5. Offers to pay their fines poured in immediately, but like Socrates refusing to go into exile, they insisted on doing the time instead.
And so the six crusaders were carted off to the hoosegow, accompanied by a huge crowd of well-wishers. Hordes of visitors trooped in and out of the jail, and the joint rang with the sound of six determined voices belting out hymn after hymn. Finally, visiting hours ended, and the ladies settled down for the night.
It couldn’t have been more than half an hour later that Chief Lappeus stormed into the jail and ordered them to get the hell out.
The ladies, assuming this was another attempt to cut them a break, hurried to reassure him that they were quite ready to stay the night like the judge said. The chief didn’t even let them finish.
“I’m the boss here,” he roared. “You leave.”
So leave they did.
“From first to last it was a farce, although a very serious one,” wrote Fuller Victor. “The women had violated no laws or ordinances. They were arrested on a charge which only really applied to the man who had them arrested, and only to him.”
“In this first trial, as in those that followed [against Moffett], the Crusaders, whether defenders or complainants, were treated as if they had been in every other sense what they are legally — infants or idiots. Their relations to society, as wives, mothers and daughters, were as completely ignored as their political rights.”
The aftermath, and scattered skirmishes
After this episode, the temperance workers virtually owned Portland. Moffett was bedeviled on almost a daily basis, and his behavior continued to be odd and erratic. For the most part, knowing he was fighting a losing battle, he contented himself with “following his tormentors around, muttering imprecations and offering unsolicited advice,” according to historian Clark. However, on occasion he would do something aggressive.
On May 1, he made history in what surely was the first use of tear gas in Portland history. On that day, he emerged from his saloon with a wet handkerchief around his nose and some sort of vile-smelling smoke pouring from the pockets of the old overcoat he was wearing. In them, he apparently had a mixture of tobacco and pepper, and the smell was almost suffocating; Moffett, free to move about, could leave the cloud of stinging smoke behind him, whereas the singing and praying ladies more or less had to stay in one spot and endure it as best they could. Moffett was hauled into court for this bit of chemical warfare, but on May 21 he was acquitted — “the jury were all liquor men,” an anonymous crusader wrote.
On May 27, the same crusader reported, “Mr. Moffett of the ‘Webb-Foot’ still a tool for Satan, executing the designs of the devil with astonishing intrepidity.” And as late as June , Moffett was still occasionally throwing firecrackers. But his tactics seemed to have shifted from pitched battle to isolated harassment.
Sadly, the chronicles are silent on the question of what impact his behavior had on his business. Did the drinkers of Portland rally around him, supporting him in his little war? Or did they start avoiding the Webfoot, uncomfortable with the ungentlemanly behavior for which it was fast becoming famous? We don’t know.
The "crusade" implodes
As Election Day approached, a new newspaper, the Temperance Star, was launched — Mrs. Duniway’s women’s suffrage publication apparently being deemed not ideologically pure enough. A full slate of Temperance candidates was drafted and put forward for the upcoming election.
Then, on the day of the election in early July, a little publication was distributed all over Portland, titled “The Voters’ Book of Remembrance” — although it was not actually a book, but rather a half-sheet of paper. This innocuously titled circular was unsigned, but everyone assumed the League had published it, and it almost certainly had. Historian Clark suggests it was probably the work of a preacher-journalist-activist named A.C. Edmunds. But if the saloonkeepers had put it out as a dirty campaign trick, they would have been very pleased with the result.
The “Voters’ Book of Remembrance” put the entire city into a cold fury. Its language doesn’t sound too bad to the modern ear, but in 1874 it was outrageously crude and unsubtle.
“Voters of Portland, the Book of Remembrance is this day opened, and you are called upon to choose ‘whom ye will serve,’” it starts out. “On one hand are found prostitutes, gamblers, rumsellers, whiskey topers, beer guzzlers, wine bibbers, rum suckers, hoodlums, loafers and ungodly men. On the other hand are found Christian wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of the good people of Portland. You cannot serve two masters. You must be numbered with one or the other. Whom will ye choose?”
After a few more similar paragraphs of high dudgeon, the little circular added, “Remember that persons are known by the company they keep. Birds of a feather flock together.”
In other words, as historian Clark puts it, “any citizen low enough to vote against the Temperance candidates was a supporter of Sin, an un-American scoundrel, and an arch-foe of Home and Mother.”
The temperance candidates, who 24 hours before the election had looked like shoo-ins, were trounced. The Women’s Temperance Prayer League vanished, its constituents slinking away from the public-relations fiasco that someone had signed their name to. It was replaced by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which lasted for years but never had the same kind of influence.
As for Moffett, he started wasting away just a few months later. Then he sold his saloons and sailed off to the South Seas — a relatively unremarkable thing to do today, but a fairly odd action for a middle-aged married man of property to take in 1875; in that era of small, vulnerable sailing ships, sketchy navigation and nonexistent weather forecasting, people didn’t go to sea unless they had to.
In any case, Moffett died en route. His cause of death was officially something else, but it’s at least possible that he was suffering through the final stages of syphilis, which in that era caused many a middle-aged man to become mentally unhinged and then die early. Certainly that would explain why a man who had clearly once had enough good judgment to build several successful businesses suddenly thought it would be OK to throw firecrackers at praying ladies on the street and call them “damned whores.” But, of course, we can’t ever really know.
Thanks for finding and reading my "Lost Chapter." I hope it brought you pleasure and enjoyment. If you haven't read the rest of the book, check it out! There's a "Look Inside" preview up on the Amazon page — search for "Wicked Portland" and it will come right up, or click here.
The main secondary source for this information is Malcolm Clark Jr.’s article, “The War on the Webfoot Saloon” (Oregon Historical Quarterly, March 1957). This article is easy to read, if you’re male; if you’re a woman, you will probably find its tone infuriatingly patronizing. However, it gives a good general overview of the storyline.
Primary sources included:
- Portland Daily Bulletin issues for March through July 1878, which are viewable on microfilm at the University of Oregon library. This was the main source for info on the day-to-day actions of the crusaders and the courtroom proceedings against them.
- The New Northwest issues for March through July 1878. These are also viewable on microfilm at the UO library. TNN was a weekly newspaper.
- Francis Fuller Victor’s little, hard-to-find book, The Women’s War with Whisky; or, Crusading in Portland, printed in 1874 by Oregon Historical Society founder George H. Himes. A copy is in the reading room at the OHS library. This is technically a secondary source, since Fuller Victor didn’t actually march with the Crusaders, but she was very close to the people who did.
- The autobiographical account of Laura Francis Kelly, one of the crusaders, written in pencil on quarter-size sheets of paper. This is in the OHS archives, MSS 1535.
- An unsigned diary listing the activities of the crusaders each day, also written in pencil, by an anonymous crusader. This is in the OHS archives, MSS 550.
- Edouard Chambreau: His Autobiography, annotated in a Ph.D. dissertation by Timothy Lee Wehrkamp (1976). This wasn’t used much in this chapter, but was the source of the information about Police Chief James Lappeus, a most improbable character to have been directing a police department, as you’ll see in later chapters of Wicked Portland.
- “The Voters’ Book of Remembrance.” This is not actually a book, but rather a half-sheet printed on both sides. A copy is in the OHS archives.