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Former Gov. and Sen. William J. McConnell in his Early History of Idaho also defended the hurdies. McConnell, who was in Boise Basin in the 1860s, described what a hurdy gurdy house was: “Saloons were more numerous in all mining towns than any other class of business, and as gambling was usually an adjunct, every possible effort was exerted to make them attractive. Talented musicians were employed at high salaries, and not infrequently girls, called ‘hurdy gurdies,’ were engaged to dance with all comers who desired that kind of amusement at the nominal price of 50 cents per dance, and the drinks for self and partner, which cost 50 cents more, or one dollar net per dance.
“The girls were engaged by the proprietors of the ‘social resorts’ in sets of four, with a chaperone who accompanied them at all times. They were almost invariably German girls, and although they were brought into contact with rough people and sometimes witnessed even the shedding of human blood, the rude, generous chivalry of the mountain men, some of whom were always found in these resorts, was a guarantee of protection from violence,
and strange as it may seem to those of modern times, these girls were pure women, who simply did the work they had bargained to do. . The poor girls, and they danced only because they were poor, had kind hearts and wonderful patience and forbearance.”
The 1870 census lists one “hurdie gurdie” troupe at Granite Creek in Boise Basin, one in Florence, and another in Loon Creek. Although most of the hurdies had left Idaho’s mining camps by that time, the makeup of the Granite Creek group, living at one address, is typical: Conrad Schneider, violinist, and his wife Catherine, natives of Hesse Darmstadt, lived with their three children in a saloon and rooming house run by James Matthews. The company included two other male violinists, and four dancing girls aged 15, 17, 18 and 27. All were from Hessen or Prussia.