Jacob "Dutch Jake" Goetz was Spokane's most famous gambling entrepreneur during the city's wild early decades. A German immigrant, he arrived in the Northwest in 1875 and established a series of tent hotel-cafe-saloons at railroad construction camps and mining camps. In 1885, he and his business partner Harry Baer (1852-1932) made a fortune through their stake in the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mine in Idaho. Goetz used part of his stake to invite every miner in the district to his wedding, a legendary event involving dynamite and champagne. Goetz and Baer used the rest of their capital to build a modern restaurant-saloon-casino in Spokane. It burned in Spokane's Great Fire of 1889. Within days, they had erected a giant tent establishment called Dutch Jake's Beer Garden, which attracted between 600 and 1,000 men a night. In 1894, Goetz and Baer built the Coeur d'Alene Hotel and Variety Theater in Spokane, one of the largest gambling and drinking establishments in the entire Northwest. With prohibition sentiment growing, Goetz converted it in 1910 into the luxury Hotel Coeur d'Alene, complete with a replica of a steamship on the roof.
Becoming Dutch Jake
Jacob Goetz was born Johann Jacob Goetz on July 25, 1853, in Frankfurt, Germany. He was about 15 when he immigrated to America in 1868 with his father, Lorenz Goetz, and two brothers. After brief stints in the Midwest and Mississippi, Jacob decided to seek a fortune farther west. Because English was his second language, writers and journalists loved to render Jacob Goetz's speech in exaggerated dialect, as in this passage from lawyer-historian William L. Lewis: "As a poy, I had no education to speak ouf, und no trade I could do, and no moneys; so I vendt oudt vest, where Horace Greeley said was the place to go" (Lewis).
This is how he began his own life story -- not with Germany or the Midwest, but with the year he came out west, 1874. He arrived that year in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to work as a muleskinner on a government project. In Cheyenne, he met Harry Baer, also of German extraction, who would become his lifelong business partner and best friend. That was also where the young Jacob Goetz took on the nickname he would use for the rest of his life.
Baer told the story like this: "Because of Jakie's unusual name, it was always being mispronounced. They called him everything from Goats to Guts. One day, he got mad. ‘Goats, Guts, Gots,' he exclaimed. ‘From now on, I'm chust Dutch Jake.' The name stuck and he became known far and wide as ‘Dutch Jake of Cheyenne'" (Libby). He was not Dutch, of course, but the word was a common pioneer term for someone of Deutsch (German) nationality.
The muleskinner job ended and Dutch Jake said he had "heard a great deal about the Washington territory and Oregon country," so he drifted there in 1875 and took up a homestead in Viola, Idaho (Lewis). He cut logs for a time on the Clearwater River, and also made a side trip in July 1876 to check out the tiny settlement of Spokane Falls, today's Spokane. He pitched a tent for two days on its dusty streets but saw no opportunity. "I decided it wouldn't do for a poor man like myself," he said (Lewis).
Bed, Board, Booze, Betting
He soon came up with a more lucrative venture: providing food and lodging to railroad construction workers. The Northern Pacific railroad had a big construction camp at Ellisport, Idaho, about 15 miles east of Sandpoint. Goetz went to Ellisport and built a log-and-canvas lodging house-restaurant and then added a saloon, because "no western hotel was complete without a saloon" (Lewis).
His old friend Harry Baer, back from a sojourn in Alaska, went into partnership with him at Ellisport in 1881 -- a partnership that would be, in Dutch Jake's words, "one of the longest and most congenial partnerships in the whole West" (Lewis). Whenever the construction camps moved down the line to the east, Dutch Jake's tent moved with them, ending up only 50 miles from Missoula.
"Wherever I selected a site for our tents, the storekeepers from the last place followed, knowing that wherever I located and put up my tents, we would make a town of it," said Dutch Jake (Lewis).
In 1883 he and Baer realized that their customers, the railroad laborers, were converging on Ainsworth, near present-day Pasco, where the Snake River meets the Columbia River. Goetz and Baer moved their tents to Ainsworth and made a handsome profit off the men building the monumental railroad bridge across the Snake. They added gambling to the operation, completing what one of Dutch Jake's biographers called the Four B's of pioneer entrepreneurship: "Bed, board, booze and betting" (Bond, 219). Dutch Jake himself loved to play poker. Lewis said he was "acknowledged as the best poker player in the West," he yet also had a reputation for running a fair and honest house (Lewis).
After about eight months, they moved the operation a few miles down the Columbia River to Wallula Junction, which Dutch Jake guessed would become the new railroad division point. He guessed wrong. Pasco was selected. "It kept one busy in those days to figure out where the real railroad towns were going to be," said Dutch Jake (Lewis).
Meanwhile, Goetz had recognized another, even more glittering, opportunity. Gold and silver prospectors were stampeding to the Coeur d'Alene mining district in 1883. Dutch Jake left Baer in charge of the Wallula operation and headed that winter for Eagle City, Idaho. The trip was grueling -- he tramped the final stretch by snowshoe. When he finally stomped his way into Eagle City, he wasn't impressed with what he found. There were "between 1,000 and 1,500 men camping in the snow" and "most of them didn't know what they were doing" (Bond, 224). He found nearby Murray to be a more promising spot and erected a canvas hotel-cafe-saloon.
Gold Mining and Starving Miners
Baer joined him in Murray to tend to the saloon, while Dutch Jake "went out into the hills looking after prospects" and started several mining operations (Coeur d'Alene Hotel booklet). Meanwhile, about 150 miners working the region were starving to death during the snowy winter of 1884-1885. "Something had to be done," said Dutch Jake, and since he was "comfortably fixed" he advanced them money out of his own pocket to get them through the winter (Lewis). It was in Murray that he and Baer acquired a reputation for providing a warm cot and food for any man who came in flat broke.
"In those early days, neither my partner, Harry Baer, nor I ever let a hungry working man or miner go hungry," he said (Lewis).
They also acquired a reputation for staking other prospectors -- giving them food and supplies in exchange for a percentage of a potential strike. In most cases, this never paid off. Yet one historic strike in 1885 changed Dutch Jake's life.
Striking it Rich
Goetz and Baer had staked miners Phil O'Rourke and Noah Kellogg after they brought in some promising samples on the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River. O'Rourke and Kellogg went back out and, while searching for a recalcitrant jackass named Kellogg's Jack, the two prospectors stumbled upon a huge, gleaming ledge of galena ore. They raced back down the mountain to file their claims to the Bunker Hill ledge, as they called it. According to Dutch Jake's own account, O'Rourke immediately gave Dutch Jake directions to the site with the hope that Dutch Jake could find the rest of the deposit, called the extension. Dutch Jake and another miner, Con Sullivan, set off immediately, but "took the wrong hogback" and "had a dreadful time" as they wandered around lost for three or four days (Coeur d'Alene Hotel booklet). Goetz and Sullivan finally went back, got better directions, and "located an extension and we called it the Sullivan" (Libby).
Over the ensuing years, the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mine would become one of the largest and richest mines in the United States. There were several conflicting stories about the discoveries -- and several contentious lawsuits -- yet Dutch Jake's share of the mine was apparently never in question. When the mine was sold, Dutch Jake walked away with a fortune: $200,000, shared, as usual, with his partner Baer.
A Spectacular Wedding
Dutch Jake was a firm believer in throwing big parties and spreading his good fortune. In January 1886, he put both of these principles together for the most spectacular wedding ever seen in the Coeur d'Alenes. He sent for Louisa Knuth, whom he had met in either Germany (she was German-born) or the Midwest. He ordered an expensive trousseau from New York and then invited every inhabitant of the entire Coeur d'Alene district to the wedding. He was quoted as saying, "I vants everypody to come," with no one barred by reason of color or previous condition of life ("All Coeur d'Alenes In Attendance"). He posted handbills on trees and grizzled sourdoughs streamed in from diggings deep in the mountains. The only thing Dutch Jake asked in return was that they that they commit wholeheartedly to a rip-roaring party and participate in the pre-ceremony torchlight parade down the main street of Murray.
"Everyone is expected to make a night of it," said the handbills. "No sleep 'til morning, when youth and pleasure meet to chase the flying hours with glowing feet. … Dutch Jake pays all the bills" (All Coeur d'Alenes In Attendance").
It was certainly one of the loudest weddings anyone had ever attended. Baer said that celebrating miners raced out of the bars and started shooting off dynamite on the ridge tops.
"Imagine a wedding march played on dynamite sticks," said Baer. "They shot them off like firecrackers and strung them together to save time" (Libby). The Murray Silver Cornet Band marched down the street playing "Marching Through Georgia." Dutch Jake enlisted a German-born justice of the peace to perform the ceremony, having "requested that nothing of a religious character should mar the ceremony" ("All Coeur d'Alenes In Attendance").
The ceremony itself, in the town's Union Hall, was filled with music and light and was marred only slightly by the fact that the addled justice forgot his lines and had to improvise in a strong German accent. The first words he spoke during the ceremony were, according to one witness, "Vat is your name?" ("All Coeur d'Alenes In Attendance").
The justice stammered through the preliminaries and then cut to the essence by saying, "Jake do you promise to dake Louisa all your lifes and dake care of her shust as you would be done by, so help me Gott? Now Jake, shust put da ring on her finger and you got her!" ("All Coeur d'Alenes In Attendance"). The crowd gave three cheers and the band struck up "The Mistakes of My Life Have Been Many." The dinner reception was attended by 678, from Baer's actual count (he was paying for the dinner as a wedding present), and hungry sourdoughs took full advantage of his largesse. One "great, uncouth, rawboned fellow" stuffed himself at a "fearful rate, dish after dish disappearing down his throat" ("All Coeur d'Alenes In Attendance"). The party lasted all night, and "champagne flowed as free as water" ("All Coeur d'Alenes In Attendance"). Baer later said a blizzard snowed everybody in, so the party actually continued for another week.
Spokane Falls and the Frankfurt Building
Dutch Jake spent the next few years running his hotel-cafe-saloons and helping to lay out the towns of Kellogg and Wardner, the latter of which he named after Jim Wardner (1846-1905), an old prospecting pal and Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mine millionaire. Dutch Jake and Baer still had plenty of capital to employ and they decided it was time to make the leap from tent to brick. Dutch Jake chose Spokane Falls, which had grown prodigiously since that first disappointing visit in 1876. By 1887, Spokane Falls was booming, partly because of the immense wealth pouring into the city from the Bunker Hill and Sullivan. Thousands of miners and loggers converged on Spokane Falls on their days off in search of a good time. Dutch Jake and Baer were determined to entertain them. They built an elaborate new hotel-casino-saloon on one of Spokane's prime downtown corners. Dutch Jake named it the Frankfurt Building after his hometown.
This was no temporary tent contraption. This elegant four story brick-and-stone building was considered one of Spokane's first truly modern buildings, with an electric elevator and a style that "reflected all of the exuberance and optimism of its owners" (Hyslop). The cornerstone was laid in April 1888, and it was almost ready to open a year later. On August 4, 1889, Spokane's Great Fire broke out and roared through downtown. It destroyed 32 city blocks -- including the brand new Frankfurt Building and $30,000 worth of fancy fixtures from Chicago, which had been sitting on the sidewalk, ready to be installed. Dutch Jake and Baer "were caught with very little insurance," and only a small amount of capital (The Coeur d'Alene booklet).
Dutch Jake's Post-Fire Beer Garden
Even before the embers had cooled, they used their remaining cash to order the biggest circus tent they could find in Portland. They erected the tent in the middle of the charred downtown. The entrance signs read, "Dutch Jake's Beer Garden -- Frankfurt, Milwaukee Beer on Draught, Chop House, Cigars and Tobacco." It was an immediate hit and soon they had added more tent space until the establishment stretched almost two city blocks.
A Spokane Falls Review reporter ventured down to the tent in November 1889 and described the scene like this:
"The first glance is bewildering: A long hall lighted by numberless incandescent lamps, full of men, true types of the miner, logger and cowboy, with here and there a stolid visaged Indian and the ever-present sleek-looking Chinaman. The air is heavy with tobacco smoke, and almost stifling with the smell from the broilers and grill irons, for, on your immediate left is a long lunch counter, and behind it a range and cooks capable of feeding an army ... . Within each knot of men is a table, and the distinctively frontier game of stud poker is in progress at each. The dealer is saying, 'A trey, a nine spot and a king is high; one in, two in, a dollar more.' ... A whirring, buzzing sound attracts your attention to the big, gorgeously colored 'wheel of fortune.' Here is where the crowd of workingmen is thickest. Four men are in constant attendance on the three layouts. The surging throng is kept at a distance by a rough board railing, and the excitement is tremendous" ("The Gamblers Idle").
The tent was 200 feet long by 50 feet wide, with "patronage of 600 on a dull night and 1,000 on Saturday nights" ("The Gamblers Idle"). The reporter noted that "the profits must have been simply enormous" and that "it takes a man of truly remarkable ability to manage such a business, and Dutch Jake was the man" ("The Gamblers Idle").
He and Baer used those profits to rebuild a more modest Frankfurt Building on the original site, but they lost that building during the Financial Panic of 1893. In 1894, they completed work on a four-story establishment across the street, called the Coeur d'Alene Hotel and Variety Theater, on the southeast corner of Front Avenue and Howard Street. It had all of the four B's -- bed, board, booze and betting -- and more.
"A person can get anything he wants in this place of business — drink, bath, meal, bed, shave, go to the theater, dance hall or gambling room," wrote old friend and prospector Jim Wardner, in his 1900 autobiography. "There are 144 men and women working in this establishment. Here you find barkeepers, barbers, carpenters, gamblers, actors, electricians, waiters, and boot-blacks. The house never closes its doors. It is a continuous performance the year round" (Wardner, 85-86).
Wardner called it an institution unmatched in the city of New York, or even "all the world" (Wardner, 85). It was certainly unmatched in Spokane, where it became one of the city's premier attractions. Wardner believed that Dutch Jake, too, was unmatched as a personality, calling him "the most noted and unique character in the great Northwest … a man of wealth, influence, and strange peculiarities" (Wardner, 81).
Exactly what constituted that character and those strange peculiarities? He was not a religious man, that much he frankly avowed. "Religions? Dutch Chake has his own religion," he said, employing his characteristic third-person. "I never go into no church except at a funeral ... . Ven I die, the Elks Lodge will take care of Dutch Chake" (Colver).
He also said there were four kinds of people he liked to keep away from: "Lawyers, ministers, doctors and newspaper men," although he admitted, "you can't dodge them all the time" (Colver).
He was widely considered a singularly honest man in a business where honesty was rare. "Nobody doubts the purity of Dutch Jake's whiskey," wrote Wardner, "and it is the same with his character" (Wardner, 86). Even the opponents of the saloon trade -- and they were becoming increasingly vociferous -- grudgingly admitted that Dutch Jake ran a fairly respectable establishment. He kept minors out of his place, refused to serve drunks, and advised married men to go home if they were "spending too much money at his establishment" (Wardner, 86).
He was a devoted family man himself by this time. He and Louisa had two children. Wardner wrote that Dutch Jake "cannot tolerate anything that infringes upon the supreme rights of women and children" (Wardner, 86). Goetz evidently refused to add the fifth "B" -- brothel -- to the list of his pioneer hospitality services, although by some accounts his female card dealers and chorus girls were not particularly over-dressed.
He was a firm believer in a positive outlook and sunny disposition and he had his personal motto embroidered on shirts and even emblazoned on the tire-covers of his autos: "Don't tell 'em -- keep going" (Bond, 228). By that he meant, "Don't tell people your troubles, just carry on." He loved the hotel business, he said, and he discovered he was a "born greeter" (Colver).
"I get a dandy chance here to study human nature and Dutch Chake always was a good judge of human nature," he said (Colver).
He and Baer were generous with their profits and were prominent supporters of many charities and causes in Spokane. They also continued their longtime practice of providing a meal and a bed in the basement for down-and-out workingmen. One bitter winter morning Wardner said he saw "hundreds of these poor fellows" gathered in the basement, each with a blanket provided by Dutch Jake (Wardner, 86).
Dutch Jake and His Canon
Goetz also had a strong mischievous streak, perhaps best symbolized by the mounted cannon, which he delighted in firing at the slightest provocation. In 1913, celebrating the arrival of the Milwaukee Road railway, he was briefly arrested after he fired the 12th round of a planned 21-gun salute. When two officers ordered him to cease, he responded by touching off the 13th round. They hustled him to a police wagon, but soon the city police commissioner arrived and released him, saying, in effect, that Dutch Jake could fire his cannon whenever he wanted to.
The cannon also marked the commencement, every summer, of his annual birthday picnics. These were two-day parties at various lake resorts. Hundreds of Dutch Jake's friends would join the procession to the party site, along with beer wagons containing, at minimum, 30 kegs. These picnics were famous for their elaborate sham battles, including naval battles in which decorated dummy boats were attacked with fireworks and set ablaze.
Gambling and the Law
In his gambling operations, Goetz always walked a legal tightrope. City officials occasionally tried to clean up the town and strictly enforce the gambling laws. After an 1889 police raid on his tent, Dutch Jake said he might have some sympathy for the sheriff if it was "just a bluff to get rid of the tinhorns" ("The Gamblers Idle"). Yet he was frustrated, because one of his goals with his new operation was "to show the people of Spokane that gambling is not such a dreadful thing" ("The Gamblers Idle"). After most of these raids, city officials went back to a policy of informal toleration.
However, in 1903, the state passed a law making gambling a felony and enforcement was tightened. Goetz and Baer uncomplainingly scaled down the gambling part of the operation and converted it to bowling and billiards. Later that same year, the police chief went after the practice of "box-rustling" at variety theaters, in which chorus girls and actresses, on commission, entered curtained boxes and enticed men to buy drinks. The Spokesman-Review said that police attention "naturally centered on the Coeur d'Alene Theater, which is not only the largest institution of its kind in Spokane, but in the whole west" ("Women Can't Drink in Boxes).
Dutch Jake responded with his usual defense: A cleaned-up city would be a boring city. He said it was already "one of the dullest winters I ever knew here, and this order will make it worse" ("Women Can't Drink in Boxes").
"Nobody is robbed here, and we are doing the best we can to run a good place," said Goetz. "People must take into account that what's amusement for one man isn't amusement for another" ("Women Can't Drink in Boxes").
A Hotel with Personality
Yet he complied with the new rules. Meanwhile, the anti-saloon movement continued to grow stronger. In 1903, one anti-saloon reformer said their platform was "to dethrone Dutch Jake as the de facto mayor of Spokane" ("Dethrone Dutch Jake"). The crusading Pacific Monthly, a Portland periodical, called Dutch Jake "a deep schemer" and the "the boss of Spokane's tenderloin" (Rice).
Seeing which way the wind was blowing, Goetz and Baer made plans to ease out of the saloon business by adding two new stories onto their building and converting it into the first-class Hotel Coeur d'Alene. When it opened on June 14, 1910, Goetz advertised it as a place where "presidents will feel honored to stop," yet Dutch Jake still had not forgotten the little guy (Hotel ad). Some rooms could be had for $1 a night.
Goetz dubbed it "The Hotel With A Personality" and a crowd of 20,000 gawkers on opening day soon discovered the reasons why (The Coeur d'Alene booklet, 1). In addition to a grand marble staircase and a panoramic painting of the founding of the Bunker Hill and Sullivan -- complete with jackass -- it also featured the "Deck of a Modern Steamship on Top" (Steamship ad).
Dutch Jake had fitted out the roof as an imitation steamship, complete with a pilot house, ship's wheel, compass, purser's cabin, lifeboats and, of course, a cannon. Photos show the words "Coeur d'Alene Steamship -- Playground for Ladies and Children" emblazoned over the deck (The Coeur d'Alene booklet, 16).
The hotel was a huge success. Goetz and Baer were able to easily survive prohibition, which arrived in Washington in 1916. Even before that, they had emphasized that one of the hotel's distinguishing characteristics, was respectability -- "like Caesar's wife, above the shadow of suspicion" (The Coeur d'Alene booklet, 15).
Dutch Jake had successfully made the transition to respectable businessman, and had even abandoned his rowdy birthday picnics. However, the mischievous Dutch Jake still made occasional appearances, once with nearly disastrous results. In 1915, he was leading a parade with one of his cannons (he now had three) when he touched off a charge. In a sixth floor office building nearby, a window blew out and woodwork inside was splintered by lead shot. The occupants had, fortunately, just left the room. Goetz insisted that his cannon could not have caused it, because he never put any shot at all in his cannons. However, spectators at a nearby window said they saw the cannon bark and the window immediately shatter. Police guessed that somehow "a loaded cartridge became mixed in with the blanks" ("Shot Enters High Office Windows").
He ran the hotel profitably for many years and turned the management over to his son Harry when ill health slowed him down. He died on April 25, 1927, after a long illness. He left his share of the hotel to his children, and admonished them in his will never to go back into the liquor business, "even if prohibition should be abolished" ("Jacob Goetz Will").
Bighearted and Kind
Upon Baer's death in 1932, The Spokesman-Review summed up the "consensus" on Goetz and Baer: "They were good citizens, faithful to their word, liberal to charity and civic spirit and running square games when many of their competitors operated ‘crooked' resorts" (Goetz and Baer).
Historian Lewis had already spoken for many of Dutch Jake's friends and admirers when he wrote, "In the entire Northwest, there is probably no more simple, kindly or big-hearted individual, and probably no man better known to the public" (Lewis).
Today, one of Dutch Jake's cannons resides at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane. Actors portrayed Dutch Jake during the 1970s in a historical pageant at Riverfront Park called The Spokane Story.
Today his name lives on in Dutch Jake's Park, a small park in his old Spokane neighborhood of West Central. It seems fitting that the man who once operated the city's biggest playground for miners and loggers, now lends his name to a playground for children.