Reform was in the air all across America in 1908. Small town Idaho was affected as well. Payette, then in Canyon County, (Payette County would be formed in 1917), witnessed some dramatic events in its effort to stamp out prostitution and the liquor traffic. Similar efforts were going on all over the state.
Payette was too small to have a "red-light" district, as Boise did with its notorious Levy's Alley, but it did have a center of sin at the edge of town in what was called the "Bridge House." On May 22, 1908, the Payette Independent reported that two sheepherders had been severely beaten and robbed as they left the place. "Hickman had $80 in his pockets when he went to the house of ill fame, which is just outside the city limits. He had $60 remaining when he left." The hold-up men accosted Hickman and James G. Miller on the road, beat them severely and took all their money and their watches. This aroused public opinion, and led to an investigation
In June, R.R. Duffy, owner of the house, and Ida Chase, the madam, were arrested by federal agents for selling liquor without a license. Warrants had been issued for their arrest after the sheepherder robbery, but since they had gone to Ontario, Oregon where they ran a similar establishment, Payette County officials had no authority to arrest them unless they returned to Idaho. The Feds were called in to do the job.
The Independent said that Ida Chase, "a woman of easy virtue," had moved her Payette prostitutes to Ontario immediately after the stir caused by the robbery, and sent her Ontario girls to Payette. Regular moving of the women was a common practice in the trade to prevent their arrest, and identification by witnesses if they were. Duffy, it was revealed, was a prosperous farmer with a place five miles outside Ontario. You might say he diversified his business interests.
While the trial of the two was pending, County Attorney Van Duyn and County Sheriff Thorp called on the Bridge House and "warned its inmates to leave at once or suffer the consequences."
On another front, local reformers, led by church members and the Portia Club, a women's civic group, urged the adoption of a city ordinance to ban the liquor trade. On July 10, 1908 the City Council acted on their petition, which would close the city's saloons when formally adopted. The Bridge House, however, was outside the city limits still, but the County Sheriff did have jurisdiction there. In September lawmen staged a raid the paper was delighted to call a "surprise party." There were 15 men and four "women inmates" present when officers came to call. The women were arrested, along with two male "habitual hangers-on at the place." They were taken to the Canyon County jail in Caldwell, but the rest of the men present were allowed to depart "after being closely scrutinized." The paper hinted that some of them were prominent citizens.
The women were fined $15 and sentenced to five days in jail. The men pleaded guilty to the charge of vagrancy and were fined $5 and given 20 days.
In 1909 Canyon County adopted prohibition after the state passed local option laws. All saloons and Nampa's brewery were closed. This didn't stop drinking, but it made it a little harder to get the booze. The Bridge House, as far as we can tell, never made the news again.