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Reporter felt 'rowdies' got off too easy in 1911

Published July 09. 2011 09:02AM

By jim zbick

"The rowdy is always and ever with us, wherever we happen to live."

That was the sober assessment of a Tamaqua Courier a century ago after a series of ugly early-summer incidents stunned area residents. Among the roughhouse tactics the writer cited were "low remarks to women, and general display of more or less drunken savagery."

He said that in many places, it was practically impossible for decent people to travel in peace by train or trolley after 11 o'clock, due in large part to the passive nature of the rail personnel.

"Trainmen and trolleymen dislike a fight," he explained. "They would much rather allow a rowdy discharge of loud and lewd talk at the passengers than receive the blows of a man who is drunk enough to be spoiling for a fight."

A number of incidents during the early summer of 1911 prompted the writer to opine on the subject of rowdy behavior. One occurred during the early morning hours of the July 4th holiday in Summit Hill. John Melley and Thomas Gillespie got into a heated argument that resulted in a free-for-all fight, during which Melley was stabbed several times by Gillespie.

But that was not the worst of the wild July 4th activity. Near the No. 6 colliery at Lansford, a fight "between several foreigners" erupted which one reporter called "one of the worst drunken orgies that the town has ever known."

During the battle, a woman was badly beaten and Martin Geiga was struck over the head with a beer bottle, leaving him with a "concussion of the brain," according to the news report.

About a week later, West Penn Township became the scene of a shocking incident involving a black man who lived there during his employment by the railroad. The ugly episode began when the man was "found to be intimate with the wife of an Italian."

This prompted some friends of the woman's husband to take justice in their own hands after capturing the man. Without going into graphic detail, the Courier reported that the posse acted with a vengeance.

"After tying him to a tree (they) performed an operation which has frequently been made the subject of discussion by the legislature in proposed codes of punishment against crimes in violation of the moral code," the writer stated.

Another incident involving a man telling his co-worker that his wife was unfaithful led to an ugly domestic dispute later in the day. It began when Peter Schello told Washington Betchue that his wife was not true to him.

"Betchue came home raving like a lunatic and in the row that followed he beat his wife in a shameful manner and then chased her out of the house," the Courier reported.

Both Batchue and Schello, who instigated it with his story, were caught and locked up.

"Batchue repented and promised his wife that if she would withdraw the charge, pay the costs and get him out of jail, he would promise to hereafter pay no attention to the gossips and refrain from making a football of her in the future," the Courier reported.

Still another incident that ended in violence and bloodshed took place in Mahanoy City between Alex Piscavage, a boarding home proprietor, and Charles Yuscavage, one of his boarders. The two men reportedly got into a heated argument while drinking in a saloon and Piscavage left.

When Yuscavage arrived at the boarding home later in the evening, Piscavage "upbraided" him for being drunk. Yuscavage then pulled out a knife with a seven-inch blade and stabbed Pisavage in the heart, killing him instantly. State police traced Yuscavage to a friend's home three blocks away. He was hiding under a bed when he surrendered.

When asked why he killed Piscavage, Yuscavage snapped, "That's my business!"

A writer for the Tamaqua Courier said the outbreak of violence in the area that summer could be partly attributed to the fact that offenses, such as "disturbing the peace," were too lightly regarded.

"In many courts, the rowdy gets off easily with a $5 fine," he explained. "The rowdy considers that the pleasure of exhibiting his hideous soul naked in public places is worth that and a good deal more."

He went on to explain that in previous generations people were often armed and were more easily given to personal combat.

"If a man insulted you or your woman friends in those days, you would pull a pistol on him or remove your coat and deposit him in a mud puddle," he stated. "This custom of securing your own personal satisfaction for brutal insults has largely gone by.

"Public sentiment discourages "gun-toting" as the cause of endless friction and often serious bloodshed. The good citizen has abandoned his rights and habit of personal self-defense to the police and the courts.

"These officials should realize the full measure of this responsibility and that terrorizing of public streets and conveyances by roughs is a serious damage to any town. Stiff jail sentences and heavy fines should be imposed."

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