Thursday, September 30, 2021

Sam Goldwater, Denver Breeze: Death on the Levee

Sam Goldwater was a personable and hard working young man of 33 --- Mississippi born and Texas bred --- when he arrived in Chariton during 1911, rented the Crips building on the Levee and opened a cafe. 

Mike McClain, about 28, was a hard-drinking and rambunctious itinerant teamster, known by most as Denver Breeze. He was employed with many others that year by contractors to move the dirt excavated by other crews as construction of the north-south Rock Island Railroad line through Chariton commenced.

Most of the men employed on the railroad project lived in camps set up by their employers where beds and meals were provided. They socialized on the Levee. Before opening his cafe, Sam had been employed as a cook by Cotton and Mathews, one of the contractors. So he knew his clientele. 

Just eight days before that fatal day in late September --- on the 18th to be precise --- Sam had married Myrtle A. Sage (nee Myrtle Atha), age 28. It was his first marriage and her second. They probably had moved into rooms above the cafe.

Now the Levee was a rough and ready commercial district just west of the C.B.&Q. depot, known at the time as Chariton's roughest neighborhood. It was home to cafes, bars, small shops, cheap hotels and the occasional prostitute.

And trouble always was expected on the Levee.

But those who knew Sam were surprised when on the late afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 26, Sam --- having thrown the unarmed Mike out of his establishment after banging him over the head with a baseball bat, grabbed a pistol, went outside and shot him three times, intending to kill.

Here's how the shooting was reported in The Chariton Herald-Patriot of Sept. 28:


"A fatal shooting affray occurred at Sam Goldwater's restaurant, across the street from the Burlington depot, about five o'clock p.m. last Tuesday in which Sam Goldwater shot Mike McClain (alias Denver Breeze) three times with a .32 calibre revolver and inflicted wounds from which McClain died about ten o'clock yesterday morning in Mercy Hospital. The story of the shooting as told by eye witnesses is as follows:

"McClain, with several other idle teamsters, had been loafing around the restaurant all day and was either drunk or filled with dope, or both. Goldwater had warned him out of the restaurant, but he persisted in making himself obnoxious inside and even tried to snatch a watch from a customer. Goldwater seized a baseball bat and began beating McClain over the head, to drive him out of the room. McClain's coat caught on the door, but Goldwater kept driving him out until he finally got him outside.

"McClain then seized a brick and threw it through the window, whereupon Goldwater went to his coat hanging in the restaurant, took out a revolver, and started outside. Someone inside tried to stop him and said, 'Don't do anything rash, Sam,' but Goldwater kept on, saying, 'Keep out of the road or you'll get it yourself.'

"He went out on the walk where McClain was standing, walked up to him, snapped his revolver at his feet two or three times without it going off, then raised the gun and shot him three times. Two of the bullets took effect, one striking just behind his left ear and coming out at the back of his neck, and another entering his right abdomen. MrClain fell, and Goldwater walked back into the restaurant and reloaded his revolver. McClain arose and staggered toward the rear of the vacant lot beside the restaurant, some of the other teamsters helping him along. Near a pigsty he fell, and Goldwater walked out toward them again with his loaded revolver and told the crowd to keep away from him or they would get the same.

"He then went inside and phoned to Sheriff Engebretsen to come down at once. The sheriff went down and Goldwater met him at the corner near his restaurant and handed him his revolver, saying he had shot a man. Engebretsen asked if the man was dead. Goldwater replied that he didn't know whether he was or not. He admitted candidly that he had shot  to kill him, shooting straight at his eyes. The sheriff went on to the restaurant with him, investigated the affair, and took Goldwater uptown where he was arraigned before Justice Leinen, who released him on a $1,000 bond furnished by Matthews & Cotton, the contractors, for whom Goldwater formerly cooked.

"The wounded man was taken to Mercy Hospital by Dr. Brittell, who had been called, and an operation was performed at once to find the bullets. The one that entered his abdomen was found lying beside his backbone. The one that entered behind his left ear had gone clear through. A third bullet had grazed his left side, without doing much injury. Dr. Howell, of Ottumwa, assisted Dr. Brittell with the operation. Dr. Storie administered the anaesthetic, and everything possible was done to save the man's life, but he died about ten o'clock yesterday morning.

"After McClain's death Goldwater was immediately arrested on the charge of murder in the first degree and lodged in jail without bail by order of Justice Leinen. He will be taken before the grand jury at the next term of court. He will have his preliminary trial tomorrow.

"Coroner John Stanton empaneled a jury consisting of Hal Larimer, Clarence Black and Jas. Snuggs, who met this morning.

"Cotton & Mathews say that Goldwater was always a good man, while in their employ. He did not drink, and was never in any scrape before, so far as they knew. McClain had been in jail here before. There are rumors that he had threatened Goldwater on the day he was killed.

"McClain gave his name once as Mike Conly, and said his father's name was Marsh McClain, living at 23rd and Blake street, Philadelphia. The dead man was about 28 years of age."


Mercy Hospital, where McClain was treated and died, was located in a large home on North Grand Street and operated by a skilled nurse named Ella Smith. Ella, a devout member of Chariton's St. Mary's Church, probably learned from the dying man that he had been raised Catholic, probably arranged for last rites and certainly suggested to his friends that Calvary Cemetery would be the appropriate place to inter the remains.

As a result, The Chariton Leader of Oct. 5 reported that, "The body of Denver Breeze, the man shot by Sam Goldwater last week, was interred in the Catholic cemetery on Friday. His companions made up $104.00 and gave him a decent burial. Who he was or where he came from will perhaps never be known. The chapter of his life was tragically closed."


Sam Goldwater came to trial in Chariton during the January, 1912, term of district court --- a trial covered by both The Herald-Patriot and The Leader.

I've transcribed the report from The Leader of Jan. 18 because it is the more detailed and despite editor Henry Gittinger's annoying habit of pontificating while reporting. 

"Denver Breeze is said to have been a bold, bad man. Reports follow him that he murdered a man at Chicago Heights in cold blood, merely to gratify a depraved nature. Later in a railroad camp he became infuriated at some real or imaginary insult and brained a companion with a swingle tree. Several other crimes are marked against character. Be they all true or false, the fact remains he was a bad man by nature and practice.

"Last summer, when the Rock Island railroad commenced to build through, he drifted into Chariton. Soon he fell into evil ways and landed in the Lucas county jail. But his offense was petty and he soon gained his freedom only to engage in brawls and lawlessness.

"He was a menace to public peace and safety, often staggering in drunkenness and a demon undisguised. He incited other kindred spirits to a revelry not in accordance to the principles of well regulated society. He was unfit for the protection of law and yet had rights to live in the absence of due process or punishment.

"About the time that Denver Breeze drifted into town, Sam Goldwater came. He opened the Rock Island Restaurant on what is known as the Levee. He was a genteel young man, neatly attired and courteous in his manners. He had followed railroad works for years, generally in the business he was engaged in here. He fed the rabble and found it profitable but the environs seemed to have warped his sense of propriety concerning the governing rules of society. He had so often heard the din of profanity and bantering threats until justice became a personal matter with him. He had seen so much of law infraction that he dwelt on the border himself, although of splendid family and honest in all his deals. His integrity can be testified to by not only the people of Chariton but by those who had known him for years.

"He was a native of Texas, his father a Jew and his mother a Gentile, well endowed by nature. (Sam actually was born in Mississippi, although his family was living in Texas when he got into trouble in Chariton; heaven only knows what Henry meant by "well endowed by nature.").

"Soon after coming here he married a good Chariton girl and a tranquil future seemed in store. Through his troubles she has been loyal and attentive and during the recent trial sat beside him in the court room to cheer him as much as possible.

"On the 26th day of last September Denver Breeze became more offensive than ever. The evidence showed that he was brutalized by intoxicants. He entered the Goldwater place and threats and counter threats were made.

"He was put out of the house. He threw some missile through the window. Goldwater followed him into the street and shot him three times, saying "I shot to kill," thinking no doubt he had done society a favor by removing from its midst a dangerous character.

"Or so it would appear. He may think society is ungrateful.

"That afternoon Denver Breeze died and was given a decent burial by his pals. Goldwater was arrested on the charge of murder and his trial began before Judge Eichelbarger on last Thursday. His plea was "self defense," J.A. Penick appearing as his counsel and County Attorney Collinson and E.H. Storie for the state.

"He was skillfully defended and strongly prosecuted.

"After days of deliberation the case rested, the lawyers made their plea, the court read his instructions and the jury filed out in single file to render its verdict.

"This was on Tuesday forenoon. The jury deliberated until 9 Wednesday morning and rendered the following verdict: 'We the jury find Sam Goldwater guilty of manslaughter.' G.D. Dyer, foreman. 'And that is your verdict, gentlemen?' asked the court. 'It is,' they each responded.

"The convicted man heard his fate with scarcely a perceptible change of feature, and was soon led back to his cell by the sheriff. He will receive sentence of from one to 8 years within three days, giving time to notify of appeal or ask for new trial, if the court has erred in any manner, which is not likely.

"It is hard to see a man deprived of his liberty and comes of the mistaken notion that one must brandish guns in this law abiding state. Denver Breeze may not have been fit to live but he was not on trial before Sam Goldwater, who therefore should not have been his executioner. The jury did not believe that his life was in danger and the plea of self defense was not sustained.

"The gun habit is a bad one and Sam Goldwater suffers by it. He will suffer more than the man he killed."

As you can tell, Henry was prone to exaggerate. It seems unlikely that a year or two in jail was more of a trial than death.


Sam was taken away to the penitentiary at Fort Madison by Sheriff Engebretsen and his faithful bride, Myrtle, proved not to have been that faithful after all. Her divorce was finalized soon after Sam's trial and she moved on.

Sam maintained a congenial relationship with Editor Gittinger during his time in prison, renewing his subscription to The Leader annually and writing the occasional letter, including this one, published in The Leader of April 24, 1913:

Ft. Madison, Ia., April 13, 1913

Editor Leader: I am sending you order for $2 to be applied as subscription for Leader which  I have been receiving since my confinement here. Continue sending same as I want to keep in touch with events that happen in your little city and Lucas county, where I spent some very pleasant days as well as unpleasant ones. My application for a parole has been reviewed by the board of parole and continued to the January term, 1915, at which time case will be reconsidered. It does not necessarily say or mean that I will be paroled at that time, as my record here up to that time will be considered. Up to the present time my record has been good, and I hope to keep it so. I am working in the finishing shop of the Iowa Tool Company and am well treated by those who have me in charge. I am attending night school and taking every advantage offered me in the way of learning. We have a fine library here and inmates are given choice of books and magazines. It is not altogether such a bad place, but a man must obey the rules and he is given credit for doing so. Just the same as in civil life, one must obey the law of his community. I am learning one of life's hardest lessons in trying to forget my past, and as adversity is the means of making one forget the past and look to the future I hope that mine will not be in vain. To those who might be interested in my welfare give my regards and wishing you success, I am sincerely yours truly, Sam Goldwater, No. 10150.


Sam's parole was granted during January 1915 and he returned to Chariton, where he purchased a lunch stand on North Main Street, just south of the Gardner House hotel.

He received a full pardon during February of 1916 and in December of that year, sold his lunch counter and the building that housed it and moved to Texas, where a majority of his family now lived.

During June of 1917, nearly 40, Sam enlisted in Battery A, Texas National Guard, and served two years as a private in the 133rd Field Artillery, 36th Division, including nine months in combat zones in France.

After the war, he settled in Dallas, then moved to Graham, Texas, where he married Ethel Nancy Self (1893-1964) on Dec. 10, 1920. They had one child, Samuel Goldwater III, and continued to live in Graham until Sam's death on Feb. 24, 1941, at the age of 62. He is buried in the Graham Cemetery.

Denver Breeze (aka Mike McClain) continues to occupy an unmarked grave in Chariton's Calvary Cemetery.

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