Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday Westerns - Saloons

Barlow Trail Saloon, Dmascus, OR

In the East, before the Revolutionary War, taverns were in every hamlet and town. A place for the menfolk to meet, discuss farming and politics, and down a locally brewed ale or liquor. The taverns were more of a meeting place also selling meals and at times beds for an overnight stay.

As the masses moved west, so did the entrepreneurs. It's interesting to note that behind the fur trappers, gold seekers, and emigrants came the saloon keepers and soiled doves. The first groups that swarmed west consisted mostly of males so the entrepreneur who wanted to pad his pockets started up businesses he knew would appeal to the stalwart men breaking trails across the new frontier.

After the war of 1812 whiskey became popular on the frontier. A bottle cost twenty-five cents and could also be used for medicinal purposes as well as to warm a body and put a person out for the night.
Laramie, WY Saloon 1868

With the settlers moving farther and farther west so did the saloons, setting up anywhere there was a gathering of people. Some were tents with barrels for tables, some sod houses. But these establishments were different from the taverns. The early western saloons weren't the type you see in movies. Some were a dugout sunk in hillside.The wetness could drip from the ceiling onto the customers. The early saloon keepers used whatever they could find that was cheap to set up and start making money. The type of saloon you see in most westerns only came about once a community had settled and a town was started. Then there was a steady income for the saloon and they could build a solid building and import the fancy fixtures.

Donahue Saloon Flagstaff, AZ 1885
The development of a town regulated how elaborate and refined the saloons became. In 1850's following the California gold rush the saloons in San Francisco boasted mahogany bars, pianos, gilded mirrors and white-shirted bartenders. It took ten more years before Denver had the upscale establishments and The Kansas cowtowns followed suit shortly before 1870. The farther reaching and less populated areas didn't get the things we think of as typical saloon accouterments - swinging doors, cuspidors, and mirrors - until the 1880's.

Source: Saloons of the Old West, Richard Erdoes


Lauri said...

Many a tavern started a town! Great tidbits!

Paty Jager said...