Obsolete Ordinances Offer a Glimpse into Ancient Village Life | News, Sports, Jobs

On August 17, 2021, the Village of Calumet passed Ordinance 159. This is an ordinance for the repeal of ordinances “now obsolete or obsolete or no longer serving a useful public purpose.” This is somehow inaccurate, at least from a story perspective.

They always provide a useful public lens.

The now repealed ordinances provide an incredibly valuable window through which to view a typical late 19th century frontier mining town. Many of the ordinances, passed before the village of Red Jacket became the village of Calumet, were passed at the same time that the mining towns of the southwest were becoming famous – more for the behavior of their inhabitants than for the mineral production. The ordinances, considered archival and historical documents, bear many similarities to towns like Bisbee and Tombstone, Arizona, and also reveal stark contrasts, but still allow historians to study mining settlements both in the old northwest and in the southwest.

These ordinances, when studied against the towns of the mining regions or the mining camps of the “Far west” demonstrate that the Lake Superior copper region was no less plagued by bad behavior, illicit or outright illegal activities, and downright peddlers, than the regions made famous in old westerns and Hollywood movies.

For example, we can look at the village of Red Jacket’s Ordinance No. 3, which states, in part, that “Any person who maintains or assists in maintaining a house, gambling hall or establishment, faro bank or any other gambling place, instrument or device, or where money is to be gambled or wagered in any way or, shall, on conviction, be punished with a fine not exceeding twenty-five ($25.00) dollars, together with costs of prosecution…”

With Ordinance #3 in mind, we can then look west to Tombstone. Tombstone was founded in Cochise County in 1877, two years after Red Jacket was incorporated. Tombstone, like Red Jacket, was founded by a prospector. By 1881 the population had grown to some 7,500 registered male voters, but if women and children are considered, the population is estimated at around 15,000. It was in Tombstone that the famous Oriental Saloon was opened in 1880 by Milton Joyce, and included games directed by a man named Lou Rickengaugh. These are the gaming tables that Wyatt Earp has subscribed to, including faro.

Earp was efficient in everything he did and he felt comfortable operating on both sides of the law. In 1875-1876 he was employed as a police officer in Wichita, according to the Kansas Historical Society, before moving to the railroad town of Dodge City. He served there as deputy marshal until 1879, when he was more or less fired for defeating an idiot candidate in the election. He left Wichita for Arizona. When Earp arrived in Tombstone a year later, he had already earned quite a reputation as a shooter, gambler, and saloon owner. There are also accounts that he ran prostitutes, but there is no conclusive evidence to support them, other than his arrest in a police raid on an Illinois brothel in 1872, for which he was convicted and fined.

According to history.com, Earp was elected as a municipal officer in Lamar, Missouri in 1870 and records show he did a good job. But, as so often happened on the frontier, that year Earp’s wife died of typhoid. If his subsequent behavior and actions are any indication, his wife’s death had a huge impact on him. He wandered west that year and was arrested in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) for stealing horses. Released on bail, Earp crossed the border into Kansas to escape prosecution. In 1873, he was hired by Wichita Marshal Michael Meagher as a policeman.

Two years later, Wichita held an election for city marshal, and William Smith opposed Meagher. Smith publicly made several derogatory remarks about Meagher, and Earp confronted Smith and beat him quite harshly. Over the years, Earp’s reputation and behavior grew increasingly violent, eventually driving him out of Arizona.

While Earp ran the games section at the Oriental, at 25% of revenue, he apparently didn’t care about his ability to keep the peace. In 1882, in broad daylight, a shootout occurred on the street directly across from the Oriental in which one man shot and killed another in self-defense. Filming was on the set.

Red Jacket’s ordinance against gambling of any kind within its boundaries was a statement of fact that the village was not going to tolerate the kind of lawless violence so common in Tombstone.

The likes of Wyatt Earp, his common-law wife, Mattie (who was a prostitute); his friend, Doc Holliday (whose partner, Big Nosed Kate, was a prostitute); along with several of their friends and partners in Tombstone, did quite well passing Red Jacket for Arizona. All would certainly have faced a judge for violation of Red Jacket’s Order No. 6, which dealt with “messy people”. These, according to the ordinances, included: fortune tellers, prostitutes, pimps, anyone operating a blind pig (a place selling liquor illegally without a license), anyone with no vocation or business visible to maintain itself by “or who, for the most part, support themselves through gambling or other disorderly practices” (this provision would have thrown Al Capone in prison). Disorderly people even included jugglers, tightrope walkers – that’s an impressive list.

Ordinance No. 20, “Troubling Services of Divine Worship and Wandering the Streets”, is probably strongly related to Ordinance No. 4, which concerned Sunday dancing.

This is in no way to cast a negative light on the village of Calumet. On the contrary, it is to the credit of the village government to have kept a record of its early days, invaluable documents to help reconstruct life in the mid-19th century on the western frontier. Ordinances prohibiting Sunday dancing, disrupting church services, and loitering in the streets were by no means unique to the Village of Red Jacket. Mining engineer and historian John Forster said in his “Life in the Lake Superior Region”, published in 1888, stated:

“There is a peculiarity in the towns and cities of the mining regions which strikes unfavorably an observer of the country of stable morals, namely the festive character of Sunday.

Forster described unnamed villages and towns: “The parlors are wide open on this sacred day and well attended.” He went on to state that “Band bands and parades of firefighters and guilds enliven the morning hours as the stakes march toward the church. The sound of church bells is drowned out by the sound of trombones. He then complains that public opinion sanctions “these flagrant violations of the law”, and that juries would not convict offenders.

“And it’s nice to be able to say, Forster delighted, “that more than one city in the mines has had enough strength to close the saloons on Sundays.”

Red Jacket’s early ordinances, now taken as historical records, are ultimately very valuable, as among other things they clearly demonstrate that the village government was determined that the town should not become anything remotely resembling to a tombstone. Perhaps that is why men like Wyatt Earp left Illinois for the western mining districts, rather than Wisconsin or Upper Michigan.

Graham Jaehnig holds a BA in Social Science/History from Michigan Technological University and an MA in English/Creative Nonfiction Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. He is internationally known for his writings on Cornish immigration to the mining districts of the United States.

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