Jacob "Dutch Jake" Goetz kicks off his annual birthday picnic, fueled by 30 kegs of beer, on the Little Spokane River on July 10, 1897.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 12/12/2014
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10994
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On July 10, 1897, Jacob "Dutch Jake" Goetz (1853-1927) kicks off his annual birthday picnic, fueled by 30 kegs of beer, on the Little Spokane River. The event begins with the revelers gathering at Dutch Jake's Coeur d'Alene Hotel and Variety Theater, Spokane's biggest casino and saloon. From there, they parade eight miles from downtown Spokane with 14 buggies, two carry-all wagons, a band playing marching tunes, and a beer wagon containing all 30 beer kegs. At intervals blasts from Dutch Jake's famous cannon punctuates the procession. They arrive at a camp on the Little Spokane River and the entertainment begins at midnight with a minstrel show that lasts until dawn. At noon the next day, Dutch Jake opens a "circus" that lasts most of the afternoon. After the finale, a "visible reduction in the beer supply" occurs" ("Was A Unique Picnic"). Dinner is served and the horse-drawn procession winds its bleary way back to Spokane. Those in attendance say it is "the jolliest thing that ever happened" ("Was A Unique Picnic"). Dutch Jake's picnic will become an annual tradition, held at various spots and with revelers numbering as many as 500. 

A Party with a Din

The picnic was tiny by the event's subsequent standards, with only 40 guests listed. Yet it perfectly reflected the fun-loving and eccentric character of Dutch Jake, a German immigrant who had made a fortune on the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mine and used it to build one of the grandest houses of amusement in the Northwest.

The afternoon circus was led in a "grand entree" by Dutch Jake himself and "eight prancing steeds" ("Was A Unique Picnic"). This was followed by a "skirt dance" by A. Mueller of the New York Brewery, performed in what a reporter wryly called "the exceeding grace and agility one would expect from a man with such a lithesome figure" ("Was A Unique Picnic"). Then came a trained-bear act, a bareback act, and an Irish storytelling act. Then Dutch Jake himself played a cornet solo described, tongue-in-cheek, as "a dream of melody," followed by an "Indian war dance, led by the same artist" ("Was A Unique Picnic"). In all, it "was a picnic such as was never before seen in the vicinity of Spokane" ("Was A Unique Picnic").

He had evidently first staged a birthday picnic in 1896, but this 1897 event was the first to attract wide attention. The "birthday" aspect of the event was later deemphasized and the picnics were held on various June, July, and August dates.

The 1898 event was even bigger, with almost 80 guests returning to the Little Spokane on July 16. It included a sham battle -- which would become a picnic tradition -- and various other entertainments described under the category of "queer doings" ("From Dutch Jake's Picnic").

In 1899, the picnic was held on Lake Coeur d'Alene and the program included a minstrel show, a Sitting Bull ghost dance, a circus, and a "sham battle between the Americans and the Spaniards," as witnessed from "Dutch Jake's battleship, the Olympia" ("Dutch Jake's Happy Day"). By this time, Dutch Jake had apparently acquired not just one, but four cannons, which contributed to the party's din.

"Like Water ..."

The 1900 picnic was held on the Little Spokane River on June 28 and 29 and featured a sham Battle of Spion Kop between the English and the Boers. Dutch Jake had established some of the rules for keeping the increasingly large crowd orderly. "Dutch Jake's police force will keep order at all times ... and beer will flow like water, but no whiskey will be taken on this trip" ("Circus and Sham Battle"). Apparently champagne flowed like water, because the "combatants" in the sham battle were issued cartridges that contained half-bottles of Heidsieck champagne (Bond, p. 229).

The 1903 party was held at Camp Calispell, on the reservation of the Kalispel Tribe, as it is known today, on the Pend Oreille River north of Newport. About 350 people took a steamboat out of Newport, danced on the decks and watched vaudeville acts provided by entertainers from Dutch Jake's theater. Everyone disembarked at the tribal encampment and watched an Indian dance and a horse race. "Not an accident marred the pleasure of the two days" and there was "no disorderly or drunken person" ("Braves Hit the Trail"). The event was planned so that the ladies in attendance could have a "good sociable time" ("Out on Dutch Jake's Picnic").

The 1904 picnic was held at Liberty Lake, just east of Spokane, also the site of several of subsequent picnics. At least 500 people were in attendance to watch the Japanese-Russian naval battle, the most elaborate sham battle yet. A "fort" was erected on the lake, armed with "six cannon and a myriad of skyrockets and Roman candles" ("Dutch Jake's Picnic Day"). Dummy boats were fitted out with their own fireworks and "torpedoes." The fleets fired at each other until some of the dummy boats caught fire and sank ("Dutch Jake's Picnic Day").

Be Orderly or Hog-Tied

Dutch Jake would later say that his picnics were so well regulated that they were "more orderly than some church picnics" ("Dutch Jakes Picnic Day"). One witness reported that the beer kegs were open only for 20 minutes of each hour throughout the day, and "anyone becoming intoxicated or disorderly was hog-tied and roped to a tree until he got over the mood" (Kalez, p. 43). No one was ever killed or injured during a Dutch Jake picnic.

By 1910, Dutch Jake had discontinued the party. The Dutch Jake Picnic Club, which he started in 1902 to help plan the event, was disbanded. In 1916, Goetz was looking back at it with nostalgia and considerable exaggeration.

"I used to give a Dutch pignig every year and it was known from one endt of the country to the odder and people used to come from everywheres," he said, in an interview rendered in dialect. "Tree, four tousand come. All the old-timers remember Dutch Chake's pignig. But I had to dissolve that pignig. All the old-timers is dying off and the new zhenerations is no good. They ain't reliable" (Colver).

He said he was organizing a new club, called the Go to Hell Club. The club's motto: "Don't trust nobody" (Colver). He said he had admitted only six members and he had a strict quota of only one member per state.

Washington's member? "Dutch Chake, that's me, Chacob Goetz" (Colver).

Sources: "Was A Unique Picnic," The Spokesman-Review, July 12, 1897; "From Dutch Jake's Picnic," July 17, 1898, p. 5; "Dutch Jake's Happy Day," Spokane Daily Chronicle, July 21, 1899, p. 5; "Circus and Sham Battle," Spokane Daily Chronicle, June 11, 1900, p. 3; "Dutch Jake's Big Picnic," Spokane Daily Chronicle, June 12, 1901, p. 6; "Braves Hit the Trail," The Spokesman-Review, August 10, 1903, p.10; "Out on Dutch Jake's Picnic," The Spokesman-Review, August 8, 1903, p. 7;"Dutch Jake's Picnic Day," Spokane Daily Chronicle, August 5, 1904, p. 5; Jay J. Kalez, Saga of a Western Town … Spokane (Spokane: Lawton Printing, 1972); Rowland Bond, Early Birds of the Northwest (Nine Mile Falls, Washington: Spokane House Enterprises, 1972); J. Newton Colver, "Dutch Jake Sighs for the Old Days When Money Was Free," The Spokesman-Review, May 14, 1916, Part Five, p. 2; Albion C. Libby Jr., "Dutch Jake Was True To His Own Rugged Code," The Spokesman-Review, May 1, 1927, Part Four, p. 1.

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