Seattle 1978

Seattle 1978

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Willie Hawes of Silver City, Idaho

From Delamar and Silver City, Idaho
William James Hawes was born September 27, 1876 in Silver City, Idaho - the eldest child of Richard "Uncle Dickie" Stevens Hawes (of Lelant, Cornwall) and Phillipa Edwards (of Jacksonville, California). Dickie had a younger brother named William James Hawes who died at age 19 (of consumption) six years before the birth of his first-born.
From Delamar and Silver City, Idaho

William James is also known as Bill, Billie, Billy, Willie, "Ghost Town Guardian" and "Two-Gun Willie".   My grandfather's  name was William John George Hawes. He and Willie were first cousins - my grandfather was born 1907 in nearby Delamar, ID. 

It doesn't appear that Willie had any children.  But he is remembered in various writings and I've included some excerpts.  I wish I could have met him because I would have loved to hear his stories.  He was the last year-round-resident of Silver City which at an elevation of 6,300 feet and only dirt roads to get there is pretty remote.  Deep winter snows make the road impassable. If he wanted to visit family or friends at Christmas, he would put on snowshoes and walk 25 miles to Murphy, ID. The electricity was removed after Silver City lost the County Seat position to Murphy in 1934.  Residents and officials began to move away and vendors and vandals began to remove much of Silver City's valuables.

From Delamar and Silver City, Idaho
From "Historic Silver City - The Story of the Owyhees" by Mildretta Adams c. 1960  "Only one man kept the faith. Willie Hawes, who had been born in Silver City in 1876, 'lowed as how there was no better place for him to live, and elected to remain there. This self-styled keeper of the keys is, in a large measure, responsible for the town being preserved as well as it is, and for this Owyhee County owes him a debt of gratitude. Silver City was much publicized in the '40's as a Ghost town, and Will Hawes as a year round resident came in for his share of glory. Probably the most photographed man in Idaho, Will Hawes at 85 lends a colorful air to the old town. In the winter time he is content to keep the bean pot boiling and the sour dough crock in order. He keeps 'in touch' with the outside world by telephone and radio. When spring 'breaks', and the roads are open Willie emerges forth with an amazing energy to 'make law and order prevail.'"

From The Idaho Sunday Statesman: Sunday July 11, 1948 by Bill A. Wheeler

"World War II forced the closure of gold and silver properties so that everyone had to look for beans elsewhere; everyone, that is except Old W. J. (Billy) Hawes who thought he'd better stick around to look after things and finish building his autymobeel out of wood scraps and a washing machine motor. . . Summer travel over the old wagon road up from the county seat at Murphy is a blistering adventure whether you do it once a day or once in a lifetime. In the winter the road is impassable, and in the summer, taking a literal point of view, it is impossible, although 75 carloads of tourists were counted by "Sheriff" Billy Hawes the Sunday before July Fourth. Billy carefully takes down each license number and totals the passengers, just in case any buildings or their contents are missing. Idahoans, not to mention thrillseekers from Waukegan, Peoria and Azusa, are starved for pages out of the past not yet exploited by neon lights.

Ghost Town Guardian - Home of Willie Hawes photo submitted to "Reasons to Love Idaho" by Marty from Boise

It is partly the road, partly the lack of good historical information and partly due to Billy Hawes' .38 revolver and loud voice that Silver City is not a tourist Mecca. When Hawes was left alone during the war, Writer Ernie Hood did a piece on the desertion of Silver and soon after everyone who could get a gas coupon chugged over here on Sundays to loot and gawk. It was the looting that set Hawes on his ear and he got deputized by the sheriff at Murphy so he could put a stop to that. Someone had taken crucifixes and other valuables from the historic old Catholic mission; others desecrated the second Masonic lodge in Idaho. They walked off with bar glasses, porcelain pitchers and basins, and carved their initials on hallowed ground."

From "Owyhee Trails, The West's Forgotten Corner." by Mike Hanley

"A few old-timers remained after the mines closed down for the last time, partly from loyalty to the past and partly because there seemed no other place to go. It was cheap if not progressive living in this backwash of the West, but at least things weren't crowded, and there wasn't any traffic or smog problem. Last of these old-timer permanent residents was Willie Hawes who died in 1967. Hawes was for years the self-appointed guardian of Silver City, adding to the color of the proud old camp with lively tales of its boom town days."

From Delamar and Silver City, Idaho
"Bill Hawes" featured in July-August 1958 edition of "True West" Magazine pp15, 34, 35 'Ghost Town Guardian' by Norman B. Wiltsey. 
From Delamar and Silver City, Idaho

Captions by photos read: Left: "Sheriff" Billy Hawes and beer vat where he fashioned a miniature "tavern." There is a tiny bar with a barkeep and a little table. Below: Silver City in its heyday.

Some men yearn for fame, others want to be millionaires; all Bill Hawes craves is his job as a

'Ghost Town Guardian'

Ever get fed up with punching a time clock every day, struggling to pay the monthly bills, battling this tough modern world? Ever become so weary and frustrated that you wished to Heaven you were the only resident of a ghost town somewhere, anywhere, with only coyotes for neighbors and a pack rat for your best friend? If the answer is a heartfelt yes, consider the ideal set up of Bill Hawes, of Silver City, Idaho.

William J. Hawes, to give him his full legal handle, is pushing eighty but you'd never suspect it to look at him. Bill claims that peace and solitude keep him young and sprightly and it sure looks that way. He is the self appointed mayor, councilman, police chief, fireman, postman, dog catcher and general handyman of Silver City, once a thriving metropolis of the Old West. He holds all these titles because he is the only bonafide year-around resident of Silver City, and he gets a wry kick out of awarding himself these mythical posts at no salary per annum."

Willie, left, in uniform with his siblings John "Shorty" Hawes, Lillie (Mrs. Robert) Leonard, and Dick Hawes:
From Delamar and Silver City, Idaho
John, Lillie and Willie

From Delamar and Silver City, Idaho

Thank you Willie, for doing a big part to preserve Americana history!


Susie said...

Jana. Thanks for keeping on with this history. We are not blood related, but history related. It has been such a wonderful thing to have known you via email posts for so many years and to share our family histories. There are so few pioneer family descendants who are interested or know where to look for information. We are so lucky to have connected years ago. Seems like it was at the beginning of the Internet!

Jana said...

Susie! Thank you for stopping by! I've been so grateful for all you've shared with me about Silver City. Take care.

Allen said...

I've been by -- and taken many pictures of the inside of -- that vat over the years and wondered about the man that designed the interior. I'm a fourth-generation Boisean, but just recently fell in love with Silver City and Fairview and now visit three or four times a summer. Thank you so much for the background!

-- Allen

Jana said...

Allen - I'm pretty excited that I'm going to make my first visit to Silver City later this summer! I don't think I've ever seen an interior shot so I'm curious to see what's inside. Thank you for commenting.

Matt said...

I was quite moved by the story of this old guy staying put in the town he loved. Kind of a lonesome tale, but it reminds us how a sense of place used to be so much more a part of human identity, and to what extent that sense of place was valued. Thanks for this post.

Jana said...

If I was a screen writer, I'd come up with a movie having old Willie flashing back to the exciting stories of his beloved home-town's past.
Thank you for your comment, Matt.

Anonymous said...


I happened on your site when looking on the web for rural real estate.

One of the properties was the Mason's lodge in Silver City.

I'm not going to try to buy the property, but my interest was piqued enough that I spent some time looking at history relating to the town.

The postcard you've posted- Delamar and Silver City, Idaho... could this be a photo of an organized fight or wrestling match?

There seems to be the blurred head of a man positioned about knee level in front of the man with the walking stick and bowler hat.

The blurry headed man and the man apparently trouncing him, seem to be the only men in the photo without head gear.

The nattily attired men inside of the "ring", might be sponsors, officials, referees, or... ?


Jana said...

Thank you for the comments, Randal.
Could be wrestling! Now that you've pointed him out, the facial expression (although blurry)of the man on the ground certainly looks like he's had the wind knocked out of him. I still think it might be Fourth of July so I might one day see if I can find a newspaper write-up of holiday events during that era that might tell me more.

Sonja Kland said...

Dear Jana,

As you know, Silver City has been near and dear to me for as long as I can remember. Thank you for putting this together so others can enjoy the uniqueness of this very special mining town and the legacy Willie left.

Sonja Leonard Kland

Sonja Kland said...

Dear Jana,

As you know, Silver City has been near and dear to me for as long as I can remember. Thank you for putting this together so that others can enjoy the uniqueness of this very special mining town and the legacy Willie left.

Sonja Leonard Kland