Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 58/The War on the Webfoot Saloon

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Oregon Historical Quarterly, Volume 58  (1957) 
The War on the Webfoot Saloon by Malcolm H. Clark, Jr.

republished in 1969 with two other articles from the OHQ. Note that the republished version (and other articles by Clark from the same time period) did have copyright renewed, for new layout and accompanying illustrations etc.

The War on the Webfoot Saloon

Malcolm H. Clark, jr.

Frances Fuller Victor did not march in the ranks of the Great Crusade since, as she said, she had fought out her own crusade in private, long before, and the scars had not yet been effaced.[1] But her heart was in the Cause and each new day of the campaign found her a visitor at Camp, sometimes as honored counsellor, sometimes as a kindly nurse who gave aid to the injured or succor to the weary, and when the War was over she wrote out its history in a little book so that there would ever be a record of those stirring deeds and grand heroics. If the unfeeling world has forgot, it was through no fault of hers.

In order to understand what occurred, it is necessary to keep in mind that in the seventies drunkenness was, on the male side, epidemic. The "eye-opener" set the day in motion, and thereafter citizens of every class "op'd their eyes" at regular intervals until they found they could no longer open them at all. Gentlemen of consequence on occasion nestled down in some convenient gutter and a jurist of more than local renown, by applying himself early and often, won the soubriquet, "the Whiskey Judge."

Conditions such as these prevailed throughout the nation and not least of all in Portland, where there was a licensed liquor outlet for every forty persons in the community, men, women and children taken together (though some of the latter were tee-totalers), establishments ranging in tone and appointments from the urbane Charley Knowles' Oro Fino down to the redoubtable Miss Celia Levy's Oriflamme. The saloons that lined Yamhill Street's "Court of Death" the rookery wherein nested the city's more bedraggled birds-of passage-were deadfalls without exception; poisonous dens from whence little gusts of viciousness puffed into the streets, pushing before them cargoed demi-reps.

There were reactions, of course. The liquor fraternity was roundly denounced from the pulpits, in language Apocalyptic. Newspapers stood forth, almost without exception, for regulation and restraint (the very nearly universal intemperance of editors notwithstanding). Abstinence pledges were circulated, and signed, and soon forgot. These efforts, and others urged by the female lecturers who were touring about in increasing numbers delivering inflammatory addresses, failed to accomplish any lasting results. But early in I 874 matters took a new turn.

The idea was born early that year in Ohio and transported West, after the feminine fashion, by word of mouth and with such commendable rapidity that by the middle of February the ladies of Portland were astir, bursting with vague plans and inchoate ambitions and already heating up their energies at the fire of righteous zeal. These early days were filled with much aimless goings-about, with badly-attended meetings held at haphazard intervals, but by the first of March the movement was taking definable form. On the sixth of that month, in her weekly sheet, The New Northwest, Abigail Scott Duniway published an editorial titled "PRAYING DOWN SALOONS" which opened coyly, "This exciting topic, just now the theme of the newspapers, it behooves us to have an editorial word on it."

In point of fact, the Portland dailies had taken no more than passing notice of the temperance agitation. But no matter. Mrs. Duniway was safely air-borne and soaring off on a flight of speculation:

To begin with, then, we are rejoiced to see something started which will bring the women to the knowledge they can deviate from long-established customs without bringing down the heavens upon their heads. Thousands and tens of thousands of them will blockade sidewalks, interfere with municipal ordinances, sing and pray in the most public places to be seen of men, and by this means be awakened to a realizing sense of their political duties.[2]

Once launched, the Great Crusade scudded away before a gale of windy oratory. On March io the Reverend Mr. Medbury, seconded by five brother parsons—Atkinson, Izer, Eaton, Lindsley and Eliot—called a meeting at the First Baptist Church. Fifty ladies attended and were harangued, agitated and up-lifted until the ministerial team had talked itself hoarse. Meetings were held on succeeding days, each one larger and more fevered than the one preceding. Ladies were encouraged to "exchange experiences," that is, to recite, without paltering over details, the drunken depravities of sons and husbands. Heated by these pious flames, the new movement quickly raised a formidable head of steam. On the sixteenth the Women's Temperance Prayer League was formally organized. Headquarters were set up in the Taylor Street Methodist Church and plans were made to hold afternoon and evening meetings daily from that moment forward. On March 18 the League issued a public appeal to saloon-keepers, urging them to shut up shop. The same day an abstinence pledge was drawn up and put into circulation. By the

The War on the Webfoot Saloon.djvu

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Rev. George W. Izer (Buchtel photo), OHS Collections. twentieth more than eleven hundred signatures had been obtained. "The women," Mrs. Victor wrote enthusiastically, "seems everywhere to be lifted up out of themselves, their little vanities and sectarianisms, and to be moved with a very powerful influence."[3]

As stirring and inspiriting as were these events, they were no more than preliminaries to the meeting of March 23. On that day, after prayerful consideration and a certain amount of sharp debate, it was determined that the war must be carried into the camp of the enemy; that prayers and hymn-singing must be conducted in the saloons themselves. A few of the more conservative ladies withdrew in protest, but the remainder of the membership closed up the files. And so it was that the next afternoon a little band of twelve issued bravely forth from Taylor Street to do battle with Demon Rum.

It happens not infrequently in war that decisive battles are fought at points remote from the main current of the conflict. So it was to be in the Great Temperance Crusade. While the twelve wended their way to Thomas Shartle's, on First near Taylor, then back to the church, then out once more to a rum-shop dubbed the Evening Call, drawing in their wake a crowd of impressive proportions, other Leaguers were haring about the city in search of additional signatures for the Pledge. It was such a pair of outriders who trotted down Morrison Street to the corner of First, where they paused uncertainly before the swinging doors of Walter Moffett's Webfoot Saloon.

It was, as such places went, reasonably respectable. And Moffett himself was a man of solid reputation. He had followed the sea in his youth and acquired shipping interests, some of which he still retained. His wife was a Terwilliger. He was by way of being a man of property, for he owned not only the Webfoot, but also the Tom Thumb, on Front near Alder; and he was accounted honest, for it was said that his bartenders were instructed to give the customer full measure. But there were secrets he had hitherto nursed in his breast. He had an intense dislike for female do-gooders, he regarded the Temperance movement as hypocritical humbuggery, and he was possessed of an explosive temper equipped with a very short fuse.

Here is what occurred, as Frances Fuller Victor afterwards told it:

As is well known, Mr. Moffett's place is upon a corner, with a door upon either side, so that one can pass into one on Morrison Street and out the other on First Street, almost at a stride. 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, (for the saloon-keepers on this Coast had not been reading the news without preparing for a contest), 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 into the street, exclaiming, "Get out of this! I keep a respectable house and don't want any d––d w––s here."

Shocking as such a reception must have been to any woman, many long and earnest prayers had not given these women a preparation for these things. . . . Mrs. Reid, one of the two thus insulted, turned and looked up over the door to ascertain what sort of place, kept by what sort of man, this might be; and the name, struck her with horror.

"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––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 wh––e house."[4]

From which they gathered he wished them to depart, and so they did.

Frist blood for Walter Moffett.

This shocking reverse was reported that evening at the Taylor Street Church, and the account raised a wild storm of outrage and indignation. The Crusade, until now uncertainly and imperfectly assembled, was riveted by burning determination into a tireless and efficient war machine, with the destruction of the Webfoot Saloon as its first objective. Other establishments would be invaded, other barkeeps assaulted by song and prayer, but upon Walter Moffett would be visited the full fury of the petticoat revolution. And like Grant at Cold Harbor, the Leaguers prepared to fight it out along that line if it took all summer.

At the outset the ladies contented themselves with an occasional reconnaissance in force. An harassing action here, a flank attack there, probing the defenses. Almost daily the Crusaders visited the Webfoot, demanded entrance, were re fused and moved meekly off. But throughout the city tension was mounting. Even Moffett himself was not fatuous enough to believe that he was going to escape so easily, and he might be seen, now and again, peering nervously out at his swing ing doors. On the thirty-first of March the ladies suddenly changed tactics. Having applied for admission and been turned away, they ranged themselves in a line in front of the saloon and began to pray and sing. A large crowd collected almost immediately. Moffett shortly appeared, wearing his spectacles and an expression of mock dignity, and carrying a Bible from which he proceeded to read passages "selected with express reference to the occasion, being such detached portions of the Holy Writ which, when taken disconnectedly, are the most offensive and improper."5 The ladies sang louder. Moffett shouted. In thus wise the duel continued until four o'clock, when the Leaguers withdrew. During a short lull in the proceedings one of them, tears in her eyes, asked Moffett why he persisted in acting so. He replied stoutly that he was an educated man; that he attended to his own business and urged others to do the same; that his tormentors were hypo crites; and that he stood as fair in the books Up There as any one.

The lady who had inquired had not done so out of idle curiosity, and that night the question was much discussed in the meeting at the church. There were a few who felt that the Webfoot's proprietor was an incorrigible and should henceforth be ignored. But the majority took the position that he should be granted no special dispensation, and there were even those who argued that his excitable and erratic behaviour was caused by an uneasy conscience, and was thus a sign that he was not damned beyond Salvation.

5. Oregonian (Portland), April i, 1874 .
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Crusaders at the Portland jail, 1874 , OHS Collections.

Armoured by the irrefutable logic of this, the Leaguers stood to their guns. April I found them once more at the corner of Morrison and First. There they were set upon by a number of low fellows who beat gongs in their faces and threw firecrackers under their feet. The Crusaders were un impressed. But the mob of onlookers grew ugly and the police, fearing violence, persuaded the ladies to disperse.

For the next few days the action moved elsewhere, though there was a brief encounter on the fifth, and the Webfoot's proprietor and patrons enjoyed comparative peace. But at ten-thirty on the morning of April 7 the Leaguers appeared in force, some fifteen strong. No more had they arrived than hundreds of curiosity seekers rushed up from all directions, so that in less than three minutes more than a thousand persons had assembled. The crowd was so large that it com pletely jammed the sidewalks and overflowed into the streets. Moffett set up a frenzied piping on his whistle and shortly the ponderous figure of Police Chief Lappeus could be seen breasting the press. When the Chief was close enough to hear, the Webfoot's proprietor called out in a loud voice that he was a tax-payer, that he was entitled to the full protection of the law, that he had paid $ioo for a license that very morning and had a right to operate his business, that the Crusaders were harassing him and he demanded they be dispersed.

As it happened, Lappeus himself had once tried his hand at The Trade, having been one of the original owners of the Oro Fino; but in the present matter he kept his sympathies, if he had any, to himself. He approached the ladies and with grave dignity asked them to withdraw. They flatly refused. He warned them that their continued presence might lead to violence, even bloodshed. They replied loftily that it was God's Cause in which they were engaged and that their con sciences were clear. Whereupon he told them, with sad re luctance, that their obstinate course left him no alternative but arrest. So everybody trooped down First Street to the jail, the Chief in the lead and the crowd bringing up the rear.

When word of the incident got out-which it very quickly did-the fathers, husbands, brothers and assorted male rela tives of the arrested Leaguers descended on the municipal building in clouds ("In an excited state of mind," said the Oregonian reporter6), to offer bail. The ladies, who had spent the intervening time rendering such hymns as Fight the Good Fight and Blessed Are Thy Courts Above, steadfastly declined. And so they were carted off to the lock-up where they spent two or three refreshing hours in song and prayer while the authorities scurried about collecting the officers of the court in order that trial might be held. The cause was heard by Judge Denny and the complaint dismissed after defendants' counsel, C. W. Parrish, argued that the Crusaders were not disturbing the peace, but merely exercising freedom of worship.

The Leaguers did not visit the Webfoot again until April 14, and on that occasion for but half an hour, but there were rumours that the ladies were making big medicine. And reports were afoot that Moffett was not idle; that he had purchased larger gongs and a wheezy hand organ and had signed on three new recruits, two small boys and a fragrant character known as Tripe Fritz. By this time the Great Crusade had truly become "the theme of the newspapers," and was the principal topic of public discussion as well. There was a general feeling that a great battle was in the works, that the Crusaders would undertake one grand, final effort to sack the citadel which had till now defied them. And on the afternoon of the sixteenth of April, they did.

Fifteen Leaguers arrived in front of the Webfoot a little after two. Moffett was prepared for them. Even before devotions were begun the defenders set up a hideous din that brought spectators on the gallop. Each of the two small boys pounded a large Chinese gong, Tripe Fritz ground at the organ, and Moffett himself shrilled away on the whistle. This hideous clamour continued for an hour, the Crusaders mean while calmly saying prayers and singing songs which not even those closest to them could hear. Fritz grew arm-weary. The two boys, despite the encouraging shouts of their commander, were perceptibly weakening. Moffett's face had acquired a purplish cast. It was then that J. F. Good, one of the

6. Oregonian, April 8, 1874. barkeeps at the saloon, decided on a ruse de guerre. Near the corner stood a hydrant, attached to which was a large hose used to fill the street sprinkler wagons. Good turned on the hydrant and deluged the sidewalk. The crowd moved back out of range. The ladies did not budge. Then Good played the hose on the building, so that the water ran down the plank awning and cascaded off. The Leaguers were drenched, soaked to the skin through their multiple petticoats, but they did not flinch. By that time the small boys had given out entire, and so Good put the hose aside and took up one gong. Fritz hammered the other. A hobbledehoy who frequented the place turned the handle of the organ. And Moffett blew on the whistle-when he could find breath enough. The ladies were still fresh and imperturbable.

Two hours more. Someone had brought out chairs and the Crusaders were sitting in a long line at the edge of the side walk, each back primly erect, each mouth moving with unceasing fervour. In a fury of frustration one of the beaters thrust his gong close against the face of a Mrs. Stitzel, who sat near the head of the line. Mrs. Stitzel was attempting to wrest the gong away when Moffett came rushing up, jerked it from her, and at the same time drew a pistol which he brandished about in a menacing fashion. Cooler heads prevailed upon his to put the gun back in his pocket.

The tide of battle ebbed and flowed. It was now nearly five o'clock. Good, who had been making frequent trips into the interior of the saloon in search of liquid strength and con solation, was thoroughly drunk. He began to swear bitterly at the Leaguers. A bystander, one William Grooms, stepped up and smote Good mightily between the eyes, knocking him flat. Within seconds the fighting was general, though the Crusaders seemed to take no notice of it. Moffett's little army, finding itself hopelessly outnumbered-the crowd had grown to well over a thousand-backed hastily into the Web foot. As many men as could pushed in behind. Guns and knives were drawn, chairs were thrown about, glass was smashed. Just then the police, who until that moment had found pressing business elsewhere, swept down on the scene and restored order.

Outside, the ladies were still singing away. They had neither moved nor missed a note.

Moffett had lost the organ and one gong in the riot and was forced to make do with the remaining gong and a few tin cans. His aides labored hard, but they were obviously disheartened. The Crusaders, meanwhile, wore quiet smiles of triumph. It was nearly six o'clock before they raised the siege.

Next morning at ten they were back; twenty-one of them, this time, each carrying a camp stool. "Every appearance indicated," said the awed Oregonian reporter, "that [they] in tended to spend the day on the sidewalk."7 As on previous occasions an enormous crowd gathered within minutes. The sidewalks were quickly jammed. In the street, wagons, omnibuses, private carriages, horses and men swirled and eddied in dusty confusion, and the balcony of the Occidental Hotel, which overlooked the scene, creaked under the weight of the spectators who lined it. But the partisans of the Webfoot were strangely quiet. No gongs were clanged, no whistle blown. Instead the proprietor hustled off to bring the police.

All twenty-one of the ladies were arrested, but since the complaint was based upon the events of the preceding day only six were actually brought to trial: the Mesdames Shindler, Sparrow, Ritter, Swafford, Fletcher and Stitzel. This time there was no mention of praying and singing, it being simply charged that "the defendants . . . did willfully and unlawfully conduct themselves in a disorderly and violent manner ... by making a loud noise and creating a disturbance . "8 Which was not in strict accordance with the facts but might, by a little judicious twisting, be made to seem so. After extensive legal maneuvering Judge Denny ruled that the complaint was proper as to form and content, and on the morning of April 20 a jury of six was empanelled (a saloon keeper and five other businessmen), and the prisoners were brought before the Bar. City Attorney Mulkey and Mr. E . A. Cronin represented the City. Ex-Governor Gibbs and Mr. Parrish defended.

7- Oregonian, April 18, 1874. 8. Oregonian, April 20, 1874 . The court was packed to capacity and beyond, for the crowd spilled down the stairs and into the street below, where it depended upon rumours and misinformation for excitement. In the court room itself a heavy percentage of the on lookers were women, grim and indomitable, all of them fol lowing the proceedings with a savage intensity that bore down upon judge and jury like a leaden weight.

Mr. Mulkey opened with the remark that the defendants, being women, were not accountable beings, a bit of bile which caused heartburnings in more than one feminist breast. Governor Gibbs, when his time came, sharply cross-examined Walter Moffett about the two gongs and the hand organ-a line of question that discomfited supporters of The Trade. What with objections and irrelevancies, and a considerable amount of pettifogging, the trial dragged out for two days. It was not until very late in the afternoon of the twenty-first that the jury retired to consider the evidence. An hour passed. The crowd grew restive. The room was stuffy and the air had a used taste. Here a seat was vacated, there another. At six thirty began a general exodus. But it was half an hour more before the six good men and true felt the court was suffici ently empty that they might with safety emerge to announce they had found five of the defendants guilty as charged. The sixth had proved an alibi.

Because of the lateness of the hour, sentencing was set over until the following morning. At the time appointed the condemned five stood in a brave little row before the Bench while Judge Denny gave each of them a choice between pay ing a five dollar fine or spending a day in jail. Lawyer Gibbs hurried up to announce that a number of citizens had come forward with offers to pay the fines. The ladies refused. Mrs. Sparrow, as spokewoman, read a four-hundred word protest which ended: "The jury had kindly recommended us to mercy; we ask no mercy-we demand JUSTICE."' After which the Judge handed down the sentences.

The remainder of the day they spent locked up in the third floor jail, holding court for the throng of well-wishers who poured in endless procession through the corridors, drinking

9. Oregonian, April 23, 1874. the hot soup brought them by thoughtful friends, singing and praying at intervals, and enjoying themselves hugely.

At last the visiting hours ended. The fair prisoners, apparently believing they were to be held overnight, settled themselves comfortably down. But then, wrote Frances Fuller Victor:

... about half-past eight o'clock,... having been furnished with night clothes, etc., and having said good-night as they believed for the last time, they were just about preparing for slumber, some of them with their shoes unlaced and others partly undressed when Chief of Police Lappeus appeared and in peremptory tones ordered them to leave the jail.

On being remonstrated with for giving this order after allowing their friends to go away, and being assured of their willingness to remain . . . the officer insisted, saying:

"I'm the boss here; you leave!"

Thus turned out, the ladies groped their way downstairs, but finding that quite a crowd of men were collected at the corner of the block, were afraid to go upon the streets, and returned to their prison. After a little deliberation, one of their number proposed that they make another effort to get away, and even went so far as to claim the protection of a stranger who chanced to be near the jail . . .10

And so, with a single escort, the little flotilla of five sailed up to the Taylor Street Church, where its unexpected appearance set off a demonstration that was, according to one damp-eyed observer, the most touching witnessed since the boys came home from the War Between the States.

The arrest and imprisonment of some of their members, far from dampening the spirits of the Crusaders, spurred them to more feverish activity. Platoons of Leaguers marched sternly up this street and down that. Ladies singly and in pairs, and wearing mysterious smiles, rushed about on ob scure errands. Moffett was bedevilled without remission while he, as a retaliatory measure, took to following his tormentors about, muttering imprecations and offering unsolicited ad vice. Meanwhile the League was supporting a weekly sheet, the Temperance Star, and had endorsed a slate of Temper ance candidates in the forthcoming election. (One gentleman to whom support was given frankly admitted he indulged, but was apparently considered acceptable because he was nearly always sober.) The reverend gentry who were riding

10. The Women's War on Whiskey, pp. 35-36. herd on the skirted whirlwind were shining with elation. Saloon-keepers and other politicians were openly worried. Then, on the very morning of the canvass, there was dis tributed over the signature of the League a little broadside sweetly titled, The Voter's Book of Rememberance.

This extraordinary document was probably the work of A. C. Edmunds -preacher, laborer, journalist and sometimes agitator. But whoever prepared it possessed a very large vocabulary of exceedingly short words. The burden of the Book was that members of the liquor trade went hand-in hand with practitioners of another-and older-profession, and that any citizen low enough to vote against the Temperance candidates was a supporter of Sin, an unAmerican scoundrel, and an arch-foe of Home and Mother.

The town exploded. What had previously made the League impervious to attack was the high moral tone which its members assumed. The Voter's Book, however, was rich with clinical descriptions framed in language exceedingly blunt. The Crusaders' bright mantle of respectability was torn from them in a trice. The politicians howled. The newspapers thundered. The clergymen retreated with unseemly haste, disclaiming responsibility. Large numbers of ladies tucked up their skirts and hurriedly sought places of safety. And the Temperance candidates were thumped.

It was the beginning of the end. The little corporal's guard of stalwarts which remained true to the standard was soon broken up by jealousies and wrangling. The New Northwest tossed rocks at the preachers; the Temperance Star shied stones at the New Northwest. On July 17, under the title, "CRUSADERS, WHAT THINK YOU?", Mrs. Duniway published a remarkable about-face which began:

Haven't you discovered at last, to your sorrow, that the boy preachers who, in their silly zeal, have commanded you to be content to work as outlaws [have misled you.]

And which ended:

We have all along rejoiced in your work, not because we believe the saloons of Portland would tremble under it . .. [but] because we saw that your failure . . . would open your eyes to the power of the ballot.[5]

After which parting blast she climbed aboard her suffragette hobby-horse and galloped noisily off in search of new dragons, preferably male. The Great Crusade was over.

But there remains a casualty to report. As the months passed, Walter Moffett grew wan and weak. His eye lost its lustre, his step its spring. After a time he sold out his estabments and returned to the shipping game. It did no good. His health continued to decline. At length he sailed off to the South Seas in search of peace and healing breezes, but he died along the way. The cause of his passing was unknown, though there were those among his friends who muttered darkly that he had been struck down before his time by an excess of Temperance.

The body was returned to Portland for burial. In the obituaries, the newspapers made no mention of the late un pleasantness, perhaps because it was already almost for gotten. For the League appeared as dead as Walter Moffett (it was, in fact, resurrected as the WCTU), and saloons were safe from invasions of unseemly sanctity. When gentlemen gathered together to bend an elbow and wet a lip they agreed, with quiet grins, that the Cup That Cheers had come to stay, and Prohibition was a pipe-dream.

There was not one among them clear-eyed enough to discern, some forty years away, far off on the veriest margin of Time's horizon, a cloud no bigger than the Little Woman's hand.

  1. Letter to O. C. Applegate, March 26, 1874, Victor-Applegate Correspondence, U. of O. Special Collections. The writer is indebted to Mrs. Hazel Mills for bringing this letter and another of later date to his attention.
  2. New Northwest (Portland), March 6, 1874. Italics supplied.
  3. To O. C. Applegate, March 26, 1874.
  4. Frances Fuller Victor, The Women's War on Whiskey; Or, Crusading in Portland (Portland, 1874), pp. 11–12.
  5. New Northwest, July 17, 1874.