Friday, March 28, 2014

Infamous Old West Saloons

Sarah McNeal author of western, paranormal and time travel stories at Prairie Rose Press

Saloons of the Old West

Don't know exactly why, but I have a fascination for old west saloons. Okay, maybe I do know, but that's between me and the bartender. Just sayin'. My attraction to old saloons may also come from the fact that they seem to be the watering hole or social institution in movies and TV shows. if there was some excitement to be had, you can bet your lucky spurs it could be found in the town saloon.

The first establishment to be called a saloon was Brown's Hole near the borders of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah and catered to the trappers in the fur trading days.

But soon the west was littered with saloons. Most were hastily thrown together affairs like tents or lean-tos. As towns prospered, saloons became more like the traditional places we've become accustomed to today.

The whiskey served on those early years was mighty wicked stuff--made from raw alcohol, burnt sugar and a bit of chewing tobacco. (Yum) The clientele referred to this nasty brew by names such as Tangle Foot, Forty Rod, Tarantula Juice, Red Eye, or Coffin Varnish.

Also popular was "Cactus Wine" made from Tequila and peyote tea. Hmm, isn't peyote that weed used to get into some "visions"?

Muleskinner was another popular drink made with whiskey and blackberry liquor. Now this one doesn't sound too bad to me. But mostly, patrons of saloons drank straight whiskey like bourbon or rye. There was no such thing as cold beer. I can't imagine enjoying a tall glass of warm beer after riding a horse in the hot sun all day.

Saloons became entertainment centers over time, after a hard day of work or bank robbing a man could have a drink or several while he enjoyed a game of poker, Faro, 3-card-Monte or dice games.

Customers came from all walks of life, from miners to outlaws. But soldiers were not welcome. Western men had no respect for men who "policed the west"--nor did they welcome Civil War deserters. Women were also not welcome unless they were saloon girls.

Among these rough westerners there were codes of conduct to be maintained if a man wanted to get along well with others: only first names were used, no questions asked about anyone's past, and curiosity about anyone's personal business was considered rude. It was considered neighborly to buy the man standing beside you a drink or a man who confessed to being broke, but not a man who ordered a drink first, and then said he couldn't pay.

Saloon girls and dance hall girls were not prostitutes, although I always thought they were. These women were refugees from farms, widows without an income, and needy women down on their luck. Most of them earned $10 a week and commission on drinks--most of which were watered down. Men who mistreated saloon girls were doomed to become social outcasts.

Naturally, some saloons became famous for gunfights. Some of the more famous deaths that occurred in saloons were Wild Bill Hickok who was killed by Jack McCall while playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota.  Bob Ford, the man who killed Jesse James, was shot down in his own saloon in Creede, Colorado. John Westley Hardin, sometimes referred to as the meanest man in the west, was shot from behind in a saloon in El Paso Texas.

Some of the most famous saloon owners were Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson.

Some famous saloons, some which are now converted to museums,  are The Arcade in Eldorado, Colorado, The Long Branch (Remember Kitty and Matt Dillon met there often in Gun Smoke) in Dodge City, Kansas, The Buckhorn Saloon in San Antonio, Texas, Desert John's Saloon in Deer Lodge, Montana, The Bird Cage Saloon in Tombstone, Arizona, and The New Atlas Saloon in Columbus, Montana.
                                         THE ARCADE in Eldorado
                                             ANACNDA Saloon in Montana

                                         THE LONG BRANCH Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas

In my Wyoming Wildings stories I often mention The Iron slipper Hotel which was a saloon by the same name in the first book, Harmonica Joe's Reluctant bride. The name was changed from saloon to hotel after Banjo inherited it from a madam and partnered with Lola Wilding. They remodeled it and turned it into a classy hotel and restaurant, but kept the name Iron Slipper. It's the center of big parties and balls in following stories. Just a bit of personal history here: the house my parents rented before they bought the house where my sister and I were raised, was a log cabin made from a carriage house on an old plantation. My dad built a fence of oak limbs and made a wooden sign with a horse shoe on it and my dad wrote the name The Iron slipper. I thought that was a great name for a saloon and a nice way to remember my dad.

Some of my Wilding stories at Prairie Rose Press are:
FLY AWAY HEART (a novella with Painted Pony Press)
HOLLOW HEART (in the Valentine Aanthology--HEARTS AND SPURS)
A HUSBAND FIR CHRISTMAS (in the Christmas Anthology)
Coming soon is the story about Juliet Wilding and Harry O'Connor in the summer anthology, LASSOING A BRIDE.
Also in revision are the two original books that started the series, HARMONICA JOE'S RELUCTANT BRIDE and  FOR LOVE OF BANJO


  1. Sarah, I love your Harmonica Joe story and those that follow.

  2. Enjoyed the blog. Good job.

  3. Good news, Caroline, Harmonica Joe and Banjo are going to be revised and reissued through Prairie Rose Publications so all the Wildings can be found in the same place.
    Thank you so much for coming by.

  4. Charlene, Thank you for the lovely compliment. I appreciate it.

  5. Sarah, I didn't know that little tidbit about The Iron Slipper! That is a GREAT way to remember your dad!

    Well, you know we at Prairie Rose Publications are thrilled to be putting out HJRB and Banjo very soon. It's going to be great to have all your Wilding stories under one "roof" so to speak.

    You really did yourself proud with this post--I didn't know a lot of this information, especially the chewing tobacco in the drink...UGH.

    Great post, as always! I learned some new "stuff" today!

  6. Sarah-there's an old original saloon somewhere in Alaska, and the front is made of elk antlers. Quiet fascinating. We saw it on An Alaskan Cruise.
    And the Saloon at Pecos, Texas, the Jersey Lily, though small, is still standing.
    The kinds and names of the whiskey served is very interesting. I can imagine how horrible those were! I bet most of those cowpokes died of liver failure trying to digest that garbage.
    I'm happy to hear all your Wilder books will be under one roof with Cheryl.
    I've just pulled my last two books from TWRP and will give them to Rebecca for that very reason--to have all the Texas books under one roof. It's a smart move on both our parts.
    Good luck and great article. I loved the photos.

  7. Sarah, I enjoyed reading about those Old West saloons and love the pictures. Glad to hear all your books will soon be available via Prairie Rose Publications.

  8. Cheryl, no one could be more pleased than I am to have the wild and crazy Wildings all in one place.
    Thank you for allowing me to post on your day.
    That part about the chewing tobacco in drinks just made me sick. Yuck!
    Thank you for your

  9. constant support.
    I just made an oops. LOL

  10. Hey Celia. Ya know, I didn't realize there were so many saloons now as museums or still operating. That's kind of cool.
    I'm glad for us both that we have our series books all in one place. It's easier for readers to find them, too.
    Thank you so much for coming. You are so sweet and always so supportive.

  11. Hey Lyn. I'm so glad you came. I'm glad you liked this blog. This research was really kind of fun.

  12. Sarah, thoroughly enjoyed your blog. I've always had a fascination with Old West saloons, especially the fancy ones.

  13. Hi Sarah,
    Great article. I love reading interesting posts on the old West.



  14. Thank you for coming Savannah. I'm so glad you enjoyed my blog. I loved researching for it.

  15. Me too, Margaret. You find the most amazing things sometimes. Thank you so much for coming by.


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