September 16, 2014
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Photo courtesy of Liberty Lake Historical Society

In this 1904 photo, a few of the hundreds of members of Dutch Jake’s Picnic Club gathered for the sham battle of Port Arthur in Liberty Lake. Dutch Jake is sitting directly behind his cannon.

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History: Club reveled in sham battles, shenanigans
7/30/2014 8:29:18 AM


Photo courtesy of Liberty Lake Historical Society

 

By Ross Schneidmiller 
Liberty Lake Historical Society

"When the good ship Merrimac, riddled with cork bullets, leaking and floundering, goes to the bottom of Liberty Lake Sunday night, the band will hit up "Yankee Doodle" set to ragtime, and the Monitor … will rush to the rescue of "Dutch Jake" Goetz, commander of the Merrimac, and the other Elks who will almost lose their lives (ha-ha) in the sham battle."   - From the Spokane Daily Chronicle, July 28, 1910

This sham battle was part of the Elk's Picnic of 1910 with the same cast of characters that comprised Dutch Jake's Picnic Club. Officially organized in 1902, the purpose of the picnic club was to promote good fellowship and a royal good time at least once a year.  

Jacob Goetz, better known as "Dutch Jake" who possessed a strong German accent and a quick wit, had been hosting these events for a number of years. The picnics were as unique and grand as the name bearer himself. A saloon owner in Idaho's Silver Valley, Dutch Jake and his partner struck it rich grubstaking (furnishing money or supplies in return for a share in any findings) Noah Kellogg and Phil O'Rourke who accidently discovered the Bunker Hill Mine while locating Kellogg's runaway donkey.  With their newfound riches, they became prominent business owners in Spokane, eventually building and operating the Coeur d'Alene Hotel and Theater. 

Though differing in some particulars, Dutch Jake Picnics were known for great entertainment, sham battles and plenty of solid and liquid refreshments.  If any picnickers became intoxicated or unruly, they were hog-tied and roped to a tree until they sobered up or their condition improved.

The first Dutch Jake Picnic was held at the lake in August of 1904. It started with a parade through Spokane with all available horse-drawn stages carrying the reveling participants. Behind the stages was a wagon carrying the Coeur d'Alene Hotel's famed cannon. The cannon could be heard for miles firing continuously on route to the lake. Trailing the procession was a brewery wagon loaded with liquid refreshments.

Everything was ready for the picnickers as they arrived. Hotel Zephyr on the east shore of the lake was transformed into picnic headquarters.  Red, white and blue in bunting and streamers adorned it within and without. Picnickers arriving by train were met at Liberty Lake Junction by stages that shuttled them to the lake. The steamboat Ermine, chartered and thereby at the disposal of the friends of Jake, would meet the stages on the west side and transport them across the lake.

The grand feature of the picnic was the sham battle of Port Arthur between picnickers representing Russian and Japanese forces. As nightfall came upon the lake, Hotel Zephyr was transformed, with the lighting of dozens of torches and oriental lanterns, into the Castle Bovie-home to the Japanese forces. Two brilliant red lights upon floats in the water distinguished the Russian camp on the lake's southern shore. Row boats acted as battleships. Skyrockets and roman candles made especially for this battle were used to represent cannon fire. A hot air balloon was employed so the mock war correspondents could witness the battle from above. The opposing armies, in their opinion, stayed a safe length away from the fireworks. But from a distance it appeared the bursting rockets fell into the enemy's camp. 

When the sham battle was over, everyone returned to the castle. Dancing to an orchestra and refreshments occupied them until 2 a.m. When the activities ended for the night there was a scramble for beds. With the hotel sleeping two or three to a bed and camps around the lake overflowing with additional picnickers, many had to resort to the closest haystack to sleep. The next day they held foot races, jumping contests, swimming races and a regatta with the winners receiving handsome prizes. After a fun day on the lake, they returned to Spokane with many stories to tell.

Kalez Park, located where Liberty Lake County Park is today, continued the tradition of Dutch Jake Picnics, hosting several throughout the years at the lake. 

Ross Schneidmiller is president of the Liberty Lake Historical Society and a lifetime resident of Liberty Lake.

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