Heathen Days in Doon

by Harold Aardema

If the whole truth of the matter is to be told, Doon's seamy underside must be allowed to show too. That there was such an underside is not disputed. Even today the reputation of Old Doon makes New Doon blush to remember. Many old timers still recall, and the younger generation has heard takes of exceeding wickedness of Doon in by-gone days.

Little is known of very early Doon-from the period of 1868 to about 1889. There is no newspaper file up to 1889 except two issues of the Lyon County (Doon) Press published in 1872. How long this infant paper published is unknown. Likely it was short-lived for its main reason for being was to serve as a publication for legal notices of the crooked county ring.

It was in 1889 that a week-to-week account of the Doon doings became a part of the town's chronicle. In the nineties two Doon newspapers fought for favor, the Press and the Journal. Each called the other the most vile of publishable names. The Press survived.

It was in the Doon Press that inklings of sin in Doon became evident. The correspondent from Garfield township wrote in her column: "Some folks say they are holding a revival at Doon. Doon could stand several revivals if current rumor is correct, for folks say it's a very wicked place."

In the nineties Doon was graced by three churches; the Congregational, St. Mary's and the Baptist. But attendance was not strong. The church by popular concept was then for women and children. To counter the saving influence of the three churches there were in Doon three whiskey salons. These dens of iniquity were located at the locations of the present post office, the present Dan's Place and in the city park area. There was a fourth outlet for illicit Sunday business and for sale to sots whose wives had blacklisted them elsewhere. This was the "Blind Pig" located on lower mainstreet (sunny side). This establishment had also another reputation of ill repute. Whiskey in the saloons flowed at 10 cents a shot, a big glass of beer for a nickel. The insides of the saloons were much like the saloons in the Western movies. There was the bar with rail, stools, the backbar with bottles, spittoons and dirty pictures. And there was the customer, who if he were a good customer, was one of the town's drunks.

The late Mrs. Anna McDowell recalled the saloons well. She never saw the inside of one for her W.C.T.U. affiliated mother made sure that the kids skirted the saloons by passing them on the other side of the street. Rick Ricke recalling the saloons as a boy in Doon said that crass drunkenness and disorder was more common in the old days than today, and said it was common to see a hitched horse all day in front of a saloon, its master finally returned home by horse sense. "Snakes" too, was a horror, Ricke recalled.

Slowly the pressure was put to the saloons. The Doon town council proceedings are sprinkled with entries like these: December 1895-Committee on temperance files report, stating that there is disregard for the law in conducting saloons, some of them not having received the consent of beer holders as required by law and that liquor had been sold contrary to law and that considerable drunkenness and disorder had come to the notice of the committee and the committee has reason to believe that gambling houses are being run contrary to law… "On June, 1897-"Rev. V.L. Brandt petition, signed by 10 ladies, asks saloons be closed on certain days and that all gambling and immoral dives be prohibited on that day." June, 1904-"Clerk instructed to draft notice to be served on Wm…. That he refrain from having a rough house, under penalty." May, 1905-"Motion supported that curtains of saloons and pool halls be raised at all times."

National prohibition came into effect in 1920. But local prohibition came in about 1914 recalled Rich Ricke. Ricke said the pressures of the community's dries became so great that the town council simply refused to issue licenses.

Scandal came to Doon in the eighteen nineties with the out of town Butcher Picnic. This not to be confused with the Old Settler's Picnic nor with what in later years were famous (and spicy) Doon picnics. The Butcher Picnic was an affair by the stockyards of Sioux City. The employees of the stockyards came in a special train from Sioux City. They took their own beef, food and a special car of beer. There was also a car of vice-vending. This was before 1902 and the picnics were held just west of Doon along the river. Unfortunately some local people became involved also. The Press editor was silent in accounts of the Butcher Picnics but the Rock Rapids Reporter told all, saying in holy summation that Doon would never live down the shame of these affairs.

Those Doon picnics were something too. Old timers recall the time a free-for-all broke out during the fatman's race. Dr. Brott was the starter. He raised the pistol to fire. The gun clocked on a dud. The starting gun failed a second time and one Rock Rapids man started on the false start. Doc Brott who was hotheaded cussed the Rock Rapids man. Then Dan McGrauw of Rock Rapids hit the doc in the mouth. Soon it was fists flying, Doon vs. Rock Rapids. Doctor Brott had to be treated by his bitter rival, Dr. Chalmers. Saturday night fights were common in Doon.

Lawsuits were common too-over the fights and over the most comical of situations. One farmer was hailed into court for trimming his neighbor's bull who kept jumping the fence into his fields.

Prohibition dried the country but it didn't dry local thirsts. The need was supplied by the bootlegger. The bootlegger was usually the peddler of smuggled booze but sometimes he made his own and sold it too. The art is lost but the memories linger. You might even today find the rusted tin and coiled pipe of a still in Doon if you looked hard enough.

Gambling is an ancient vice. Doon had early day card sharks, some of them local talent. Many an illicit, undercover game of poker was played on Sundays in the old sandpit just west of the lumberyard. George J. Miller and George Montgomery had a little block plant building down in the pit.

Ah yes, Doon had its heathen days.


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