Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Singing Frog Was No Help to J. P. Haddox of Virginia


J. P. Haddox, who put his picture on the “label under glass” pocket flask at left was a leading liquor dealer in Winchester, Virginia.  With a reputation as a successful businessman and civic leader, he was elected chair of the Democratic Party in his home town and the captain — head man —of a local volunteer fire company.  About 1898, however, Haddox decided to invest in a brewery and within a decade his economic house came crashing down despite a testimonial to his beer that involved a singing frog.

A native son of Winchester, Haddox was born in 1853 into a family of longtime Virginians.  Throughout his life he seems to have been known by multiple names.  Written out in full it was John Perry Haddox, but other versions in public records identified him variously as John P. Haddox, J. Perry Haddox and J.P. Haddox.  We can assume that he received his education in the elementary and perhaps secondary schools of Winchester.  About 1874, at the age of 22 he married a local girl, Annie E. Buckley and began a family.

Haddox appears to have been well established in his liquor business by the 1890s, ran a retail establishment called the Moon One Price Cash Clothing Store on Main Street,   and was moving up the social/political ranks of Winchester.  His election as captain of the Friendship Fire Company not only meant recognition of his ability and enthusiasm as a firefighter but carried a great deal of social prestige.  He became Grand Master of the local chapter of Old Fellows.  Moreover, like many Southern whiskey men his political views were “wet” and Democratic Party oriented.   Elected chair of the Winchester Democrats, Haddox was wheeling and dealing in local and state politics.  A 1899 news article reported him heavily involved in organizing a convention in Winchester to select Senatorial candidates.
Symbols of his prosperity in the liquor trade were the quality of his give-away items to special customers.   Although his advertising corkscrew could be had for pennies, the picture flask shown above and a second label under glass giveaway of a winsome lass both were pricey items.  Note too the silver plated match safe, shown below.  It bears the inscription, “Compliments of J. P. Haddox, leader in fine wines, liquors and bottler of the Belvidere Brewing Co.’s high grade lager beer.”  The silver-plated safe, sometimes called a “vesta,” is dated 1898 and would have been relatively expensive to produce.

That was the fateful year that Haddox expanded from selling whiskey into making beer.  A bottling factory for carbonated beverages had begun in the 1880s in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, a 30 mile drive over the Blue Ridge Mountains from Winchester.  At the outset the company was a very small operation, occupying only a single building and employing only a few workers, most of them said to be poorly paid.  With the decision of the local owners to expand into brewing beer in the mid-1890s, the facilities were expanded considerably, resulting in considerable debt.  When the brewery failed to be profitable, bankruptcy loomed.

Obviously sensing an opportunity, in 1898 Haddox and two Winchester brothers named Savage purchased the brewery property for a bargain basement $4,000 and began to make a beer they called “Belvidere,” a name they registered with the Federal Patent and Trademark office. As shown here they packaged their brew in both clear and amber bottles, some with porcelain closures.  In addition to paper labels their bottles were embossed with the name of the company.
Enter the singing frog.  As shown left, one of the brewery’s customers in Harrisonburg, Virginia, named W. H. Willis, the manager of the Kernstown Showroom a local saloon, took out an ad in the Harrisonburg paper to extoll the virtues of Belvidere Beer.  Terming the beer “delightful” and claiming no hurt could come from it it, he proclaimed:  “But if even a frog drinks it, it will make him sing — for joy!”  Mr. Willis apparently knew something about frogs to elicit this glowing testimonial. 
Haddox and his partners, after buying the Harpers Ferry property, spent lavishly on refurbishing the brewery and re-building a customer base — both expensive.  Before long it became clear to them that the Belvidere Brewery was continuing to be a losing proposition and that nothing could be done to remedy the situation.  In 1907 the partners decided to sell the brewery buildings and property.  How much was realized in the sale were not disclosed but indications are that losses were involved.

The economic drain of the brewery may well to have brought down Haddox’s Winchester clothing business. The 1908 photograph shown here tells the story:  “J. P. Haddox store to be sold without reserve…to retire from business.”  Haddox’s entire stock, pegged at worth $20,000, was to be disposed of and the store had been put into the hands of a New York salvage firm.

Earlier Haddox had suffered another painful blow.  Annie, his wife and the mother of their five children died at the young age of 44 in January 1899.  She was buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Winchester with this inscription on her tomb:  “In after time we’ll meet her.  Her children will rise up and call her blessed.  We love her.”  The family heartbreak was echoed a year later when Haddox, his occupation given as “liquor dealer,” was listed as a 47 year old widower.  He subsequently was remarried to Mariam V. Redmond, a woman who had a daughter by an earlier marriage when they wed.

Only 55 years old when he announced retirement from business, Haddox in subsequent years faded from public records.  He was out of the liquor business when Virginia went “dry” in 1916 and lived long enough to witness one daughter, Mary Agnes, die in 1933.  Three years later, in July 1936, John Perry Haddox himself died, age 83.   Another daughter, Edmonia, would pass away the same year.   Haddox lies in a crypt next to wife Annie in Mt. Hebron Cemetery, Winchester. A chain of three links decorates his plaque.  His inscription is from a poem by Nancy Priest Wakefield (1838-1915):  “I shall know the loved who have gone before;  And joyfully sweet will the meeting be;   When over the river, the peaceful river;  The Angel of Death will carry me.”   Strangely, the plaque omits Haddox’ date of death.

Note:  Since I first profiled J. P. Haddox several weeks ago, I was contacted by Brenda Creech, a descendant of that gentleman, to point out where a correction was needed and who subsequently provided other information that I have added.  She also gave permission to add the image of  Haddox's label under glass flask showing a pretty girl, an item owned by another family member.  I am grateful to them for their help.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Milwaukee’s Henry Figge Was a “Travelin’ Man”

 When Henry Figge died at the age of eighty, his 1933 Milwaukee Journal obituary emphasized his career as a liquor dealer but also reflected aspects of his rambling nature.  Figge had been a “travelin’ man” throughout much of his working life.  Moreover, during his declining years, when most elders prefer to stay in place, he had abjured any real home and preferred constant travel.
Figge was born in Germany in 1853.  Of his early life, little is known, but he emigrated to the United States in 1871 at the age of 19, possibly one of the many youths seeking to avoid mandatory service in the Prussian army.  He early settled in Milwaukee, a city with a large German population where the German language was spoken in business, churches, and in every day society.  From early on Henry seems to have had a talent for the whiskey trade, going to work for the Wm. Bergenthal Co. as a traveling salesman. [See my post on Bergenthal, September 2014.]   Figge’s travels took him throughout Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, as well as neighboring Illinois and Minnesota.

So successful “on the road” was he that Bergenthal eventually made Figge a vice president of his firm, as evident here on an 1890 advertisement.  In the 1900 federal census Henry gave his occupation as a “traveler” selling liquor and wines.  He was living 470 South Eighth Street with his wife of some nine years, Ida J. Figge.  She had been born in Wisconsin of German parentage and was ten years his junior.  With them was their only child, son Alfred, born in 1884.

From his boss Figge learned the process of “rectifying” whiskey, that is, combining and blending raw whiskeys to achieved desired color, taste and alcohol content.  But Bergenthal was a difficult sort, famed for his violent temper.  By 1903 Figge clearly was fed up with his boss and struck out on his own.  With a partner, E.J. Doyle, he opened a wholesale liquor house at 353 East Water Street.  Even then Figge was not through with Bergenthal, suing him in 1906 for money he contended was illegally siphoned from the firm and of which Figge demanded a share.  He lost the suit.
The Figge-Doyle Company soon enough met with its own success. It featured a number of proprietary brands, including “Custom House,” “Foster,” “Gopher State,” “Home Aid,”  “Luster,” and “Turnpike.”   Unlike much of his competition,  Figge went to the considerable trouble and expense of registering each of these proprietary brands for federal trademarks:  Foster in 1905; Custom House in 1906; Gopher, Home Aid, and Luster in 1907, and Turnpike in 1908.

The firm issued its whiskeys in both amber and clear bottles, flasks and quarts, usually with the name “Figge-Doyle” and “Milwaukee” embossed on the front.  This embossing often would be hidden underneath one of the well-designed company paper labels.  Particularly notable was the label for Custom House Rye, below, that featured the very elegant building.  Dating from 1855, it had been constructed by the U.S Department of the Treasury after the design of the noted architect Ammi Burnham Young.  The building still stands. The use of the Milwaukee landmark may indicate that Figge saw his principal market as the city and its environs.

Figge seems to have had a constant yen for movement and change.  By 1912 he had broken with Taylor and had gone into to the liquor business with his brother, Gustave, under the firm name Figge Brothers.  The new firm was located at 97 Wisconsin Avenue, a few steps from Lake Michigan.  The company sales offices were on the first floor of the Railway Exchanged Building, shown here.  Built at the corner of Broadway and Wisconsin, this tall structure, shown below right, was the cornerstone of Milwaukee’s East Side commercial district and a prime location for a liquor distributorship. Henry’s old firm, now at 329-332 West Water Street, retained the name of Figge-Doyle even after he had departed.  My assumption is that Figge’s name commanded considerable respect in Milwaukee and the new management made a business decision not to change it.
Throughout this period Figge also was achieving a reputation as a dog fancier.  The 1905 Field Dog Stud Book lists him as owning a champion beagle named “Foster Rye,” likely named by him for rye whiskey.  The dog had been bred by F. J. Figge of Ossian, Iowa, likely a relative.  Registered as a “black, white and tan,” Foster Rye had a long pedigree.  Its sire was “Bellman”, out of “Florist” and “Bashful”;  its dam was “Staley’s Rubber” out of “Staley" and “Sailor’s Ranney.”

Seemingly ever restless, Figge, now with considerable wealth, retired from the liquor trade entirely in 1914 and bought a large farm on Cold Spring Road in Milwaukee County not far from the village of Hales Corners.  There he raised prize-winning Poland China hogs.  In 1926, perhaps tiring of farming, he sold his holdings and moved back to Milwaukee.  The cause given was his wife’s health but the move also may have reflected his restless nature. A few months later Ida Figge died and was buried in Milwaukee’s Catholic Calvary Cemetery.

His wife’s passing turned Figge into a perpetual vagabond.  According to his obituary, after
her death he never maintained a permanent residence:  “He visited relatives and traveled,” according to the Milwaukee Journal.  In August 1933 while visiting relatives in Milwaukee, Henry was stricken and taken to St. Mary's Hospital by ambulance.  He died later that day.  With his son, Alfred, and grandson, Henry Jr., at the graveside, Figge, age 80, was laid to rest beside Ida.  A monument marks their graves.

While his newspaper obituary identified Henry Figge as a “retired wholesale liquor distributor,”  I think of him as a man who sailed from his German homeland to America, traveled Wisconsin and neighboring states as a salesman, ventured into and then out of three Milwaukee liquor firms, moved on to raise pigs — only to abandoned that occupation, and in his elder years kept no fixed address, roaming from place to place.  “I’m a Travelin’ Man” is the title of a vintage country tune.  It might have been Henry Figge’s theme song.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Miller, Mooney, and the Rise and Fall of Wheatland Distillery

Whiskey men involved in distilling in the years before National Prohibition generally can be divided into two categories.  The first and most recognized are those with a family history of making whiskey that developed brands that achieved national or regional notice.  The second group were wholesale liquor dealers, many of them “rectifiers,” who bought total or partial interest in existing distilleries in order to insure a steady and reliable source of product.  Cornelius J. Miller and James Mooney of Philadelphia are examples of the latter.
James Mooney first appeared in Philadelphia business directories in 1876 as proprietor of a wholesale liquor firm, a venture that appears to have been short-lived.  In 1882 Mooney, with Miller, showed up in city directories as partners in a liquor firm called Middleton, Miller & Mooney.  Middleton was George W. Middleton who had established a liquor dealership as early as 1845.   Through the years Middleton had several partners and addresses before moving his business to 228-230 South Front Street.  It was at that location that Miller and Mooney joined him as partners.  A letterhead in fancy script identifies this firm as “Importers of Wines & Liquors, Importers of Wines & Liquors, Dealers in Whiskies in bond and free, also Rectifier and Manufacturers of Cologne & French Spirits.”

The partnership seems destined to be short-lived.  By 1884, G.W. Middleton Co. was doing solo business at the 228-230 Front Street address and Miller and Mooney had opened a completing liquor business down the street at 206-208 Front.  As the 1886 letterhead above reveals, they also were claiming to make the whiskey they sold.   As self-admitted “rectifiers,”  blending and mixing raw whiskeys to achieve desirable color and taste, they likely experienced the frustrating vagaries of getting adequate supplies and had bought their own distillery in nearby Berks County, Pennsylvania.

It was the Wheatland Distillery, located near the little town of Womelsdorf.  It operated under the “bottled in bonding” legislation and was known in Federal annals as Registered Distillery #75 in the 1st District of Pennsylvania.  Miller and Mooney rapidly began to enlarge and modernize the facility.  In 1894, Wheatland was surveyed for insurance purposes by Ernest Hexamer.  He reported that the distillery was manufacturing rye whiskey solely and employed only four men.  Completely remodeled by Miller and Mooney,  by 1893, they had erected an additional warehouse that measured 32 feet by 40 feet, was iron clad and had a tin roof.  It could hold 4,000 barrels for aging in 12 racks.   Two stills were on the premises, one for grain was constructed of wood and had a capacity of 800 gallons; a second was a copper kettle that held 500 gallons.  Both were heated by steam.  Hexamer’s drawing of the distillery above shows the plant and the plant’s proximity to the Pennsylvania Railroad
Miller & Moony made a great deal of their Wheatland distillery, featuring it prominently in the company advertising. They called it “one of the most complete in the state, having all of the latest improvements known to the trade.”  They also extolled the water supply:  “The water used in connection with this distillery is from a spring under a slope of the South Mountain, celebrated for its purity….”   Their on-site distiller, L. H. Keiper, was celebrated as having had “many years of experience, possibly more than any other person in this business in the state. Between 1873 and 1888 he was engaged in making the widely-known Mt. Vernon Whiskey.”  Heavily involved in mail order sales of whiskey, the partners were able to get their own post office designation and named their Berks County complex “Ryeland,”  possibly an allusion to their policy of making only rye whiskey.

A flyer issued by the partners included the illustration above showing the distillery from the railroad line, including an engine that appeared to be headed toward the bonded warehouse from a spur track.  The flyer emphasized direct shipping from the warehouse:  “We give particular attention to storage and keep our warehouse faultlessly clean and thoroughly whitewashed, with the temperature as near 80 degrees as possible.”

Unlike others in their trade, Miller & Mooney featured only a  limited number of brands.  “Wheatland Pure Rye”  was described as “an absolutely pure article for medicinal purposes.”  It was bargain whiskey even for those days, selling for $1.60 per case of twelve bottles or roughly thirteen cents each.  A full case of 24 pints was slightly more expensive at $1.85 and 48 half-pints sold for $2.45 a case.  The company assured customers that all bottles were exact measure to insure there were three gallons of whiskey to each case.  Other Miller & Mooney brands were “Philadelphia Club,” shown here on a labeled bottle with an elaborate coat of arms.  Another was “Old Bell,” advertised on an enameled label, a bottle probably meant for “back of the bar.”  

For a time at least the Miller & Mooney flagship label appears to have been “Rod and Gun Club Rye.”  This whiskey was represented by an elaborate trade card and other advertising whose major figure was a hunter with two dogs that apparently had caught the scent of a covey of quail on the lower right of the drawing, ignoring two snipe at the lower left.   In the background was a fly fisherman with several of his catch laying next to him.  Although the card indicates that the trade mark was adopted in September 1882, I cannot find evidence that Miller & Mooney ever registered any of their brands with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Details about the personal lives of Cornelius Miller and James Mooney are scant.  They seemed to avoid the federal census takers.  Before 1902, Mooney had died and his interests devolved upon his heirs.  In 1902 they agreed to incorporate the Wheatland Distillery under a new name, calling it the Miller Pure Rye Distilling Company.  Stock in the company was divided between Miller and Mooney’s estate.  The new management arrangement turned out to be short-lived.  From March to May of 1903, the distillery produced a final 669 barrels of whiskey and stored them in the bonded warehouse.  The corporation sold an interest to a third party, who later turned out to be a crook, and he was, to quote court records, “ejected from the premises” by Miller and the Mooney heirs.  The result was a series of legal battles and in 1909 a declaration of bankruptcy by the Miller Pure Rye Company.

Two years later, according to state records, Miller passed away at the age of 78.  The cause of death was given as ten years of chronic bronchitis and advanced age.  Both sets of heirs subsequently were embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings that dragged on and on as multiple claimants tried to get their hands on the 669 barrels of whiskey, worth in today’s dollar a cool $1,000,000.  When a bankruptcy court dismissed the claim to the whiskey of the Miller-Mooney heirs, they took the case to the U.S. District Court.  When a federal judge there upheld the earlier verdict, they appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court.  In May 1914, that panel made the final judgment, upholding the prior verdicts and charging court costs to the Miller-Mooneys.  Wheatland Distillery, once a pride of Pennsylvania, had ended ignominiously in a court decision.

Friday, June 19, 2015

William Ahrendt: Surviving in War, Prospering in Peace

Pedestrians on Monroe Street in downtown Toledo, shown above around the turn of the last Century, might walk past the sign atop a liquor store with the name “Ahrendt” prominently displayed and not have a clue about who the proprietor might be.  His name was William L. Ahrendt,  a whiskey man distinguished for having survived combat service in not just one, but two armies.

Ahrendt came from a German family with a long military tradition.  Legend has it that his father, Jurgen Ahrendt, had watered Napoleon’s horses when the French leader, shown left, was engaged in one of his successful military campaigns.   Born in Mecklenburg in 1838, William, after an elementary education in the Fatherland, as soon as eligible joined the Prussian army.   Even basic training in that military was dangerous.  Many inductees are said to have died during the process.

William survived and although there was no major war during his Prussian service, the army was engaged in constant minor skirmishes, illustrated right, as the German empire consolidated its power over Central Europe.  Trained German soldiers were highly recruited by the Lincoln Administration for  combat participation in the Civil War.   Shown below in German is a recruitment poster promising a bonus and other benefits for Germans who enlisted.   By the end of the war some 200,000 had served in the Union Army, many of them speaking little or no English.  Known dismissively by the Confederates as those “lop-eared Dutch,” most proved to be disciplined and effective soldiers.

Among those accepting Lincoln’s blandishments was Ahrendt.  Arriving in the United States in 1863, he gravitated to Ohio, where the 182nd Ohio infantry was being organized for one year of service under the command of Colonel Lewis Butler.  The first five companies were recruited in Toledo and then sent to Camp Chase in Columbus to complete the organization of the regiment.  William and his comrades left Columbus for Nashville, Tennessee, on November 1, 1864.  At first the unit was assigned to post and garrison duty but became fully engaged in combat in mid-December in what is known as the Battle of Nashville, shown below.

The struggle lasted two days as the Confederate Army of the Tennessee under Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood attacked Federal forces under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas.  In one of the largest victories by the Union Army during the war, Hood’s army was defeated and largely destroyed as a fighting force.  The battle represented the last large-scale fighting in the Western Theater.  Although a number of Union soldiers were killed or wounded in the fighting,  Ahrendt apparently emerged unscathed.  Discharged in Columbus in July 1865,  he found his way back to Toledo. 

Upon his return to Toledo, Ahrendt — now 27 years old — in 1865 quickly married.  His bride was Wihelmina Vick, known as “Minnie” by her family.  He may have known her from his homeland.  Seven years younger, she also was an immigrant from Mecklenburg.  The Ahrendts would have three sons:  Reinhold born in 1874;  Rudolph J. C., 1876; and Arthur, 1888.  The 1880 census found the family living in Toledo on Nebraska Avenue.  Ahrendt’s occupation was given as grocer and saloon keeper.  Three years later he brought his 84-year-old father, Jurgen, from Germany to live with them.

The former soldier first entered public notice in 1890 as a wholesale liquor dealer with a listing in Toledo business directories with the firm of Ahrendt & Hacker, located at 604 Monroe Street.  From the beginning, company seemed to operate with unusual flair.  Shown right is a stoneware jug from the Fulper Pottery of Flemington, New York, that advertises the firm.  These quart containers with their gilded lettering and hand painted floral designs were relatively expensive and their issuance could be a gamble.  The partners were advertising their own brand of whiskey, indicating that in addition to wholesaling liquor they were “rectifying” it;  that is, blending and mixing raw whiskeys from Kentucky and other sources to achieve specific look and taste.  Hacker appears to have departed about 1895, a point when Ahrendt moved his operation to 522 Monroe Street.
As his sons matured, William began taking them into his business, eventually (1900) changing the name of the firm to Ahrendt & Sons and later (1906) to Ahrendt & Sons Company.  The liquor dealership issued a number of advertising giveaway items to customers like restaurants and saloons carrying their whiskey.  Those included shot glasses for the Ahrendts’ flagship brand, “Crack Shot.”   Even more impressive was a back-of-the-bar bottle advertising that whiskey. The name Crack Shot may well hark back to William’s past as an infantryman in two armies.

With his sons to help, Ahrendt was able to pursue both political and social interests in Toledo.  He was an active Republican, as were many returning Union veterans, and was elected assessor in the city’s then Eighth Ward, the first of his party to achieve office in that part of town.  He was active in the Forsyth Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the politically powerful Civil War veterans’ organization and participated in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the North German Society.  William and Minnie were members of St. Paul’s German Lutheran Church.  

The Ahrendts were a tight knit group.  Married, Reinhold lived at 560 Nebraska Avenue, Rudolph, also married, at 550 Nebraska, and Arthur, unmarried, with his parents at 544.  The sons all were identified as Republican, like their father, and all worshiped at St. Paul’s.  As the Ahrendts prospered they expanded their local investments.  About 1905, they bought a large three story building at 512 Monroe Street, known as the Miller block.  They relocated their liquor business there and rented out other ground level retail spaces.  About the same time they bought from the Piqua, Ohio, owners the brand name and formula of Holtzermann Stomach Bitters. [See my post on the Holtzermanns, April 2015.]  They continued to market this highly alcoholic remedy in its traditional “log cabin” bottle.

Late In 1907, William Ahrendt died at the age of 69.  He had been active in the firm as president virtually up until his death.  As his sons and their families mourned by his gravesite, he was buried in Toledo’s Forest Cemetery.  Reinhold Ahrendt became president of the company,  Arthur H. was vice president and Rudolph J. C., the secretary and treasurer.   They kept the liquor firm profitable until 1916 when Ohio voted statewide Prohibition.  Renamed for a fourth time “The Ahrendt & Sons Co.,” the business William had founded a quarter century earlier closed its doors, never to be reopened.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

Was Billy Winter Really Portland’s “Promoter of Honesty”?

On May 25, 1907, the Morning Oregonian newspaper headlined:  Billy Winters, Promotor of Honesty.”  It told of how this Portland “saloon man,” while never posing as an model of propriety, had encouraged “a higher grade of morality and honesty among certain men, and is actually paying a high price for the object lesson he is presenting to the public.”  Another assessment of Winter’s story would substitute the word “honesty” with “tenacity.”
Information about the early years of Billy Winter (sometimes given as Winters), likely the gent shown at right, is scant.  He seems to have avoided the census taker most of his life.  He emerged about the turn of the century as the founder and genial proprietor of a watering hole known as “Billy Winter’s Log Cabin.”  It was located on Third Street near Morrison in downtown Portland, Oregon.  The location was a prudent one as Third Street was a major commercial avenue, elegantly lighted at night, as shown below.   Sources differ about when he opend his saloon,  with dates differing from the late 1890s to the early 1900s.

A trade card exists that appears to show the sales room portion of the saloon.  It has a definite  rustic frontier look.  Two gentlemen appear to be filling containers from an array of about ten large barrels lining one wall.   Each barrel has a number of whiskey bottles around it for a ready sale.  Hanging from one wall is the stuffed head of a deer;  guns and other artifacts are scattered about. 

A similarly cluttered look identifies Billy’s bar on a second trade card where he is standing.  Whiskey bottles, American flags and trophy heads dominate the scene but the most unusual touch is a bar with  a massive aquarium with fish swimming in it.  The finny ones are of several kinds;  I can identify only brown trout.  This unusual feature has caused one observer to wonder whether Winter served fresh fish in his saloon. 

Billy was selling liquor, not just in the quart bottles shown on his trade cards, but also in smaller quantities.   Shown below is a clear glass pumpkinseed flask with his name and a log cabin embossed on it.  Given the expense of creating such a container for his whiskey, Winter (rendered Winters on the bottle) clearly anticipated significant sales .

Like many saloonkeepers of his day, Winter issued bar tokens.  His were of at least two kinds, both worth ten cents in trade, one in white metal and another in bronze.   These would have enhanced his reputation for geniality and liberality.  Even more impressive was a beer stein Winter produced.  Shown below, it was decorated on one side with the sales room illustration and on the other by a stag on the alert.  The handle also is distinctive, with a tree trunk motif.  Most likely these were presentation items, given to Winter’s particularly favored customers.

Although known to the drinking classes of Portland,  Billy came to wider public notice in October 1904 when he reported the theft of a diamond, some rings and a $1,200 wad of cash from the safe of the Log Cabin Saloon. Total value was estimated at $2,500 — equivalent to more than $60,000 today.  The Daily Oregonian headlined “Billy Winters Loses Jewels.”   Suspicion quickly fell on the head bartender, William (aka John F.) Thompson, a man of apparently dubious reputation.   According to the newspaper, Thompson had closed up the bar early that night with the excuse that he was feeling ill.  Patrons said he appeared to be nervous.  After snatching the goods, Thompson hopped the 11:45 p.m. Northern Pacific train for Seattle and disappeared. 

Billy Winters was not a man to take this theft without retaliatory action.   He placed detectives on the trail of the absconder.   They eventually found Thompson in Texas.  The thief offered a compromise:  He would pay back $1,500 in return for Winter calling off any prosecution.  When Billy rejected the deal out of hand, Thompson skipped out again.   Whereupon Winter hired another detective.  A retired Portland policeman, his name was Joe Day.  Day was known in town as a hard nosed cop who had been responsible for solving a number of notorious local crimes.

According to a later press account, Day tracked Thompson from San Antonio, to Mexico City, New Orleans, Montreal, Edinburgh, and finally to Liverpool where authorities caught up with the culprit in the summer of 1907.  When British authorities arrested Thompson, Winters sent Day to England to bring him back.  The assignment proved difficult.  Back in the American West, Thompson eluded Day and jumped from a moving train near Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Soon recaptured, Thompson claimed to be penitent, asserting, according to the Oregonian:  A finer man than Billy Winter, with the exception of Mr. Day, does not live.  He paid me well, trusted me implicitly, and I did him dirt.”   Those expressions of remorse did no good.  Thompson was sentenced to four years in the Oregon penitentiary.

Throughout this saga, a great deal of local buzz surrounded the amounts of money that Winter was willing to spend to bring his former bartender to justice.  In 1907, the Oregonian opined:  “Carping critics may be suspicious of sinister motives in this elaborate expenditure on the part of  “Billy” Winters, but results are what count in this world, and if “Billy” Winters, even at the expense of an expense of a few thousand dollars, lands his man — where he will serve as a shining example of the disadvantages of dishonesty — he will not have spent his money in vain.”

The newspaper credited Winter “in his own way” with encouraging a higher grade of morality and honesty among his fellow men and by being willing to pay a high price for “the object lesson he was presenting to the public.”   Another reading of the situation might have a different slant.  Winter, like many other Western characters, was not a man to be trifled with.  His betrayal by Thompson angered him to his very soul and he was determined that the man would not get away with it.   By that reading, Winter was not so much the “promoter of honesty” as “a tenacious avenger.”

The rest of Winter’s life is lost in the mists of history.  Certainly his saloon was forced to close when statewide prohibition was voted in Oregon in 1916.  There is a William Winter buried in Portland’s Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery but I have been unable to connect the burial directly to “our Billy.” 

Note:  Much of the information provided here is, as noted in the text, from three articles in the Portland Oregonian newspaper.  These were provided through a website maintained by Richard Engeman called “Oregon Rediviva,” covering Oregon, Washington and Pacific Northwest history.  Because such little personal information is readily available about Billy Winter, I hope that a relative or local historian will see this vignette and provide me with additional information.  Billy Winter clearly was a most remarkable man.