1907 Halloween, Illegal Crossdressing, General Mischief

Originally posted 2015-10-21 14:03:14. Republished by Blog Post Promoter


1908 Postcard catches boys stealing a gate as a common Halloween prank.

1908 Postcard catches boys stealing a gate as a common Halloween prank.

Halloween can be a terrible time for defenders of order and morals.

Has it always been so? Let’s pick a  date and go back. How about 1907 in Pittsburgh ?

The Pittsburg Press can take us back.

Oh my! It is much worse then than now.

The newspaper reported scores of men arrested for dressing as women. Similar numbers of women were arrested for donning men’s clothes — some ladies even tried getting into saloons that way.

Okay, so crossdressing doesn’t offend you.

How about hugging strangers?

Police officers dutifully rounded up people, probably drunken, who were caught hugging people they didn’t know.

The biggest problem, though, was when men and boys linked themselves together arm-in-arm and marched wedge-like down the street to plow up or over whomever they encountered.

Many ended up in hospitals.

It is a common practice going back to ancient times. Whenever males sense they have enough numbers to take on a mob, they form a wedge.

It was outlawed by Pittsburg,  Allegheny and many surrounding communities in 1908. (yes, that’s how Pittsburgh was spelled at the time.)

Also banned was the annoying and often dangerous practice of thrusting ticklers (feather dusters) into people’s faces along the Halloween parade route.

 Throwing talcum powder or flour into an unsuspecting face also was popular. Probably the result of watching too much vaudeville.

All of this and much more can be found in a single issue of the Pittsburg Press here.  Samples of the reported Halloween mayhem follow:

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So Now What Happens?

Originally posted 2016-11-09 12:29:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter


Following Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. Presidency, it may be useful to look into the past to see what may happen. There you will find Joe Barker, the man I have called Pittsburgh’s Trump. ( A spoiler: It doesn’t end well for him.)

Let’s revisit the post written last year:


Pittsburgh’s Trump

Some say Donald Trump is one of a kind. That may be, but he is not the first of his kind.

We had one here in Pittsburgh in the mid 1800s.

His name was Joe Barker. It was an appropriate name. He did a lot of barking.

It got him elected mayor, and it often landed him in jail.

In fact, he was stewing behind bars when voters amused themselves by writing in his name on the ballot. To the shock of political insiders, he was elected to the city’s highest office.

Let’s set the scene. It was 1849. Pittsburgh had a population of 36,000, many of them Irish.  Stylish, bearded young men wore black stovepipe hats when they went clubbing, which was often and late.

Joseph Barker

Joseph Barker

On the street, or more often on  a bridge that crossed the canal that ran through the city, these men frequently encountered Joe Barker. Like them, he was dressed in a black cape and donned a stovepipe hat. Unlike them, and other men of his era, he was clean shaven.

Out of his mouth came sermons on the ills of society. James Owens, a contractor who built many of the structures in the city at that time, included Barker in his memoirs.

“. . . Some said he was crazy, others said he was only a crank who wanted to make a living on the credulous people, and his main point was to escape hard work,” Owens wrote.

 “Joe’s chief hobby was his hatred for the Catholics. Wherever he could draw a crowd he would harangue the people on his favorite topic. “ But,  he had others.

James Owen, who wrote "Recollections of a Runaway Boy: 1827-1903"

James Owen, who wrote “Recollections of a Runaway Boy: 1827-1903.” You will find no better book relating the flavor of a remote era. Some of the facts are off, but let an old man reminisce.

Barker argued that people born in this country  were better and due more consideration than those born outside of it. A large percentage of people in Pittsburgh were born overseas. That included Barker’s parents and his wife. Barker also preached that Pittsburgh police were corrupt stooges. He often was collared by them. 

“When the boys of the town would see Joe . . .coming along Liberty Avenue they would follow, shouting and cheering, and soon Joe would reach the court house or cathedral, and mounting the steps would make a speech,” Owens recalled.

“Joe became more and more of a general nuisance, until finally the Catholics had him arrested for speaking from the cathedral steps. The judge sent him to jail for 30 days. When he got out, he was more reckless than ever, and also more noisy, so he was again arrested . . ..”

You may recall that when Donald Trump was told his Iowa poll numbers were falling, he called Iowa voters stupid. Barker would have approved.

When he was found guilty of blocking streets and using “indecent, lewd, and immoral language calculated to deprave the morals of the community,” Barker turned to the jury and the judge. He told them to go to Hell. (I can see Trump supporters laughing with approval.)

Judge Benjamin Patton then told Barker where to go. And, for how long.

He sentenced Barker to the County Prison for one year. He  fined him $250. After that, it all became a big farce.

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Pittsburgh’s Pot Past

Originally posted 2015-12-23 09:40:38. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

As Pittsburgh makes marijuana possession a little less illegal, it is interesting to note that bales of cannabis once came here by the boatloads. A local businesswoman  ordered the bales and processed them downtown for customers who shipped them around the world.

Perhaps, I should explain. Mary Irwin made rope.

In all likelihood, the hemp that lined the riverbanks would not have been particularly good for smoking. Bummer.

Farmers would have hybridized their cannabis to maximize stalks and stems, giving rope makers lots of fluffy fiber to work with.

Cut-away of cannabis stalk shows fiber that draws rope makers.

Cut-away of cannabis stalk shows fiber that draws rope makers.

Today, law requires hemp growers for such industrial purposes to use plants hybridized to ensure a minimum of THC.

That’s the compound in the leaves and flower tops that expands people’s minds and/or makes them stupid.

Those who grow cannabis for inhaling purposes develop plants with a maximum of leaves,  flowers and, of course,  THC.

Mary Irwin didn’t know about THC. Oxygen hadn’t even been discovered yet.

It was the late 1700s. Her husband, John, a disabled Revolutionary War vet, set up a rope-walk along the Monongahela just before he died. It may be John did so in name only, and that Mary initiated the startup business and did the actual work.

Rope-walks were used to spin fiber into cordage and then twist and wrap that into lengths of rope.

That involved walking backwards while your hands worked. Rope length was determined by how far back you could walk without running into something.

So, river banks were good places to work, particularly in Pittsburgh. It only had about 1,500 people at the time.

Mary set out to meet the increasing demand for rope.

One sailing vessel alone could use more than 20 miles of rigging. Coal mines and wells needed rope, too. Church  bells wouldn’t ring without it.  Canal boats tethered to mules needed the twisted hemp. And, I suppose you couldn’t have hangings without rope.

Rope-walk workers knew how to advance in their jobs. They pulled strings.

Mary had her young son, also named John, to help. They started on the north bank near what is now the Smithfield Street bridge. The quality of Irwin rope combined with the growing need caused her to move repeatedly to larger . . .  er . . .  longer locales.

She moved closer to the Point, first on the Monongahela River and then the Allegheny River. In 1812, a young man with boyish looks showed up at her business. He was about to become the nation’s heroic darling, the object of its patriotic zeal. Continue reading

Want a Job in 1816 Pittsburgh?

Originally posted 2016-04-04 22:03:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

We’ve been looking at surprising things you don’t know about 1816. That was the year Pittsburgh got big enough to become a city. So far, we’ve learned:Pittsburgh-Bicentennial-Feature

  • There was no summer that year.
  • The City of Bridges had no bridges yet.
  • Public love-making was quite popular (waltzing).
  • You paid nothing to mail a letter. You paid a lot to get one.

Now, we’ll send you back to 1816 to look for a job. Someone’s written a resume for you. Problem is you probably don’t know half the occupations listed on it. The following test may help.

The  occupations on this test came from a Pittsburgh directory compiled in 1815.

1. You are an experienced skin dresser. That means
2. You say you are a drayman. That means
3. As a milliner, you
4. You say you are a chandler. It's not your name. It means
5. As a longtime glover, you
6. You want to be a white-smith rather than a black-smith because
7. As a nail cutter you have seen a lot of
8. You can't be a carter without
9. You say you are a gentleman. That means
10. As a mantua-maker, you enhance the appearance of
11. Being a morocco dresser, you must know
If you got more than half correct, chances are good you will get hired in 1816. After all, Pittsburgh was booming. The War of 1812 (it lasted into 1815) made it a center of military supplies and reinforced it as the gateway to go after Indian land in the Midwest. Continue reading

Logstown3: Diplomacy on a Sea of Rum

Originally posted 2018-06-04 13:46:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Bill Hunt of Charleston, W.Va., portrays Montour for historical groups and schools. A clip of his presentation is at end of post.


His Name Is Everywhere,

His Memory Is Not


Let’s look at a man who stood out in a town of historic lions.

After reading the first two parts  of this series on Logstown, you know it was not so much an ideal Indian village as a company town. You also know young George Washington was a  land speculator who spent time there on business.

You don’t know the man with the name Montour.

It’s everywhere: Montour High School, Montour Creek, Montour Trail, Montour County,  Montoursville, Montour Falls, NY.

You’d think he was a distinguished gentleman, a proper model citizen.

He wasn’t.

In fact, if they were to do a movie of him, only actor Johnny Depp could do him justice.

Andrew Montour was very much like the fictional character Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribbean.

And yet, Montour was the only man trusted by both sides as pale-faced settlers pushed west, and Indians pushed back.

His grandparents had been Oneida, Seneca and French. He was fluent in English,  French, and six Indian languages.

More importantly, as an interpreter, he had the ability and the burden to communicate not what chiefs and governors said to each other, but what they meant.

Painting of Moravians telling Indians of their relationship with Jesus.

Missionary Diaries Revealing

Recently translated and digitized diaries of Moravian (German/Czech) missionaries indicate Montour may have developed his skills in a Susquehanna River town as wild as any pirate seaport.

Drinking, dancing, whoring and whooping went on day and night at Shamokin. Killing did, too.

It was a cosmopolitan village populated by refugees of many tribes, most speaking different language and dialects, during a time of particularly violent warring and raiding.

It’s not the same place as the city called Shamokin today. The village was 15 miles to the west, where Sunbury sits.

We get our first description of Montour from the man in charge of the missionaries. He hoped to get help moving among the Indians.

“Andrew’s cast of countenance is decidedly European, and had not his face been encircled with a broad band of paint, applied with bear’s fat, I would have certainly taken him for one.

“He wore a broadcloth coat, a scarlet damasque lapel-waistcoat, breeches, over which his shirt hung, a black Cordovan neckerchief, decked with silver bugels, shoes and stockings, and a hat.

“His ears were hung with pendants of brass and other wires plaited together like the handle of a basket. He was very cordial, but on my addressing him in French, he, to my surprise, replied in English.”

That was when he was in his early 20s. His flashy appearance, among Indian men, was not extreme. They take cues from nature. Male birds are more about display than female birds.

Montour had just happened to stop by his mother’s house. It was in an alcohol-free Indian village she operated 35 miles up the Susquehanna from Shamokin.

Madam Montour, as she called herself, was half French and half Algonquin. She was famous for her interpreting skills.

Working among men, and being half French, she also promoted style and beauty. She and her family, by this time, were decidedly pro British and anti French. They had moved to Pennsylvania from Canada.


Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf,  a wealthy patron of the Moravian Church, wanted to hire Madam Montour. She recommended her young son.

The count and Montour then crisscrossed Pennsylvania, operating out of the Moravian headquarters in the idyllic Christian community founded at Bethlehem, PA.

Government Needed Him

Conrad Weiser, the main guy dealing with Indians for the Pennsylvania and Virginia governments, eventually enlisted Montour’s help, as well.

It wasn’t just Montour’s language abilities people wanted. He had considerable  respect and trust among tribes.

Indians didn’t call him by any of his European names: Montour, or Andrew, or Andre and Henri . To them, he was Sattelihu or Eghnisara, both esteemed tribal names.

Sattelihu apparently had proven many times he was a warrior. That was very important.

“His forehead was painted bright red, strange assortment of bright colored clothes . .  soft spoken and pleasant, perfectly fearless, with marvelous endurance, great tact, the gift of leadership, a chief and counselor of the Iroquois, trusted with important missions by them.”

Swimming in Rum

Montour, the literal embodiment of blended European and Indian cultures,  tried for 25 years to bring that blend to the world around him. Ultimately, he failed..

He struggled amid towering waves of rum that engulfed and swept away Indian friends. This frontier was one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

Weiser spoke highly of his interpreter,  but reported Montour’s drinking problems to the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.

“I must say something to you about Andrew M., not to ridicule him but to inform you how to act with him.

“In the first place, when we met at John Harris’ (for whom Harrisburg would be named). He called for so much punch that himself, the Half King (Tanacharison, a Logstown chief) and other Indians got drunk, the same at Tobias Hendricks’ (a Cumberland County settler). . .

Following a conference with Indian chiefs at Aughwick in Huntingdon County, Weiser said he tried in vain to get Montour to dress so they could move on to their next diplomatic destination.

“I left him drunk at Aughwick, On one leg, he had a stocking and no shoe, On the other, a shoe and no stocking.”



Montour, as he often did, raced after Weiser after he sobered up. He begged forgiveness.

Weiser, likewise, begged his bosses in Philadelphia to appreciate that Montour was invaluable — when sober.

Jack Sparrow’s  struggle with rum and sobriety is evident in the following clip. Coincidentally, Sparrow’s mother was an Indian maiden.

Sometimes, a Great Hero

Montour, or perhaps his Sattelihu ego, could play the hero, though.

The following comes from a diary of Martin Mack, who with his wife, Anna, were in Shamokin stepping over and around drunks to talk about Jesus.

They had been staying in Montour’s tiny bark hut for seven weeks. Most of that time, Montour was away in Philadelphia, trying to reverse his impoverished state. Sound like Jack Sparrow?

Fortunately for the Macks, he was home the evening of Nov. 2, 1745. Oh, by the way, he had yet another name. The Moravians called him Anderius.

. . . In the evening, 12 Indians arrived here by water who are coming from Canada. They are going to war with the Cherokees. Anderius knows them, there was a friend of his among them. Anderius said these Indians had come from very far away. They came from over 400 miles further away than Onondago (Syracuse, N.Y.)

They looked very bloodthirsty. They camped near Anderius’ hut. They soon prepared the place to dance. They got an empty barrel of rum. Knocked the bottom out of it and made a drum out of it.


They began according to their custom to celebrate. They shouted and danced for nearly two hours, during which time the enemy [Satan], to whom we are a thorn in his eye, was very occupied and would have loved to get rid of us.

They soon got rum to drink and became so full of it that they behaved like wild animals. They were close to pulling down our hut.

Just after midnight, four of them came in here who looked terrifying and bloodthirsty.

Anderius was afraid that they wanted to do harm to us. He took them out of the hut, but an hour later another one came and acted like a madman, picked up a large brand from the fire and said he wanted to burn the white people.


Anderius quickly stood up and grabbed the brand out of his hands. He [the Indian] went for his flintlock. Anderius, however, also took that away from him.

He grabbed a piece of wood and came towards us. Anderius took that and said he should leave.

He said he did not want to. So, he (Anderius) said he should sit down by the fire.

He sat down, but soon left. [He was later murdered by another of the visitors.]

Anderius was very worried that the drunken Indians would do us harm. We said to him that, if he thought we should, then we would spend this night in the bush. But he did not think this was advisable because it is so cold. (Anna had already gotten quite ill sleeping in the woods to avoid crazy drunks while Anderius was in Philadelphia).

So we stayed, commended ourselves to the watchfulness of the Lamb and wished that it would become day soon. Soon, they beat to death the one who wanted to kill us.


The next day Montour told the Macks he was leaving town, perhaps for good. He took them to old chief Shikellamy, who offered his large hut.

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