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Monday, June 8, 2009

They were bad men, and the whores weren't ladies.

-- Judge Roy Bean

I took a trip to the 1870s this past weekend.

Our sportsman's club hosted the National Congress of Old West Shootists and I went to volunteer. There I witnessed a posse of bad outlaws and good lawmen (actually all good ol’ boys and girls) playing Old West shooting games for fun, cash prizes and braggin’ rights (the official scoring building shack is aptly titled the “Liars Shack”).

It’s actually a well organized event with safety as the number one priority. So, everyone had fun and went home with only the holes they came in with.

The event got me thinking about beer, whiskey, and Saloons of the Old West.

(the term saloon can be traced back to Brown's Hole near the Wyoming -Colorado- Utah border in 1822).

The legendary lawman Wyatt Earp recalled that most of his days involved people who were entering, occupying or leaving saloons. “We had no Y.M.C.A.’s” he quipped.

The primary function of saloons was as purveyors of drink, gambling, and women to consort with. But, the saloon (as it still is today) was also a social club and haven of relaxation and repartee.

Painting by Lee Dublin

According to an article on (edited):

The whiskey served in many of the saloons was some pretty wicked stuff made with raw alcohol, burnt sugar and a little chewing tobacco. They took on names such as Tanglefoot, Forty-Rod, Tarantula Juice, Taos Lightning, Red Eye, and Coffin Varnish.

Also popular was Cactus Wine, made from a mix of tequila and peyote tea, and Mule Skinner, made with whiskey and blackberry liquor. The house rotgot was often 100 proof, though it was sometimes cut by the barkeep with turpentine, ammonia, gun powder or cayenne.

The most popular term for the libation served in saloons was Firewater, which originated when early traders were selling whiskey to the Indians. To convince the Indians of the high alcohol content, the peddlers would pour some of the liquor on the fire, as the Indians watched the fire begin to blaze.

But the majority of western saloon regulars drank straight liquor -- rye or bourbon. If a man ordered a "fancy" cocktail or "sipped" at his drink, he was often ridiculed unless he was "known" or already had a proven reputation as a "tough guy." Unknowns, especially foreigners who often nursed their drinks, were sometimes forced to swallow a fifth of 100 proof at gunpoint "for his own good."

Saloons also served up volumes of beer, but in those days the beer was never ice cold, usually served at 55 to 65 degrees. Though the beer had a head, it wasn't sudsy as it is today. Patrons had to knock back the beer in a hurry before it got too warm or flat. It wasn't until the 1880's that Adolphus Busch introduced artificial refrigeration and pasteurization to the U.S. brewing process, launching Budweiser as a national brand. Before then, folks in the Old West didn't expect their beer to be cold, accustomed to the European tradition of beer served at room temperature (end).

I finished my volunteer work, moseyed into our club’s saloon (a.k.a. kitchen), opened the cooler and enjoyed a beer in the 1870s before heading back to reality.

Photo by Sir James of Taylor, who also stepped back in time with me

Sir Bowie “Tender foot ” of Greenbriar


  1. Sir Bowie...You're going to give the Brits a "Cowboy Complex" with that last photo.

    Let's just pack our boots, hats, 6 shooters and crazy stares...I'll bet we get to go and do whatever we want! LOL! That...or end up in Scotland Yard as Wyoming Terrorists!

    Looks like fun...and you play the part perfectly. Cactus wine would be my choice! Being part Native American...a good Peyote BUZZ mixed with fermented liquids would send me howling to the Moon!

    Sir Hook the Cactus Wine Shaman of Warrick

  2. . No Hooks you would simply get SHOT, the papers here regularly have some sap who has either gone out with a plastic gun or some artifact that looks like it might be a weapon. ( last year a guy got shot dead.. for brandishing a chairleg.
    even if you are not carrying anything and look swarthy you run the risk in London, ( notably the case of jean charles de menezies ) Our cops don't carry guns... but pop outside with one and a swat squad will be on your ass, with a toe tag ready to be written on in their pocket. LOl..

    Bowster...i love the rundown of all that Old West Booze...fascinating...i'll never look at a wild west bar scene in quite the same way again... yikes. ...especially the barmen cutting what is already rank booze.

    Sir dayvd ( home, home on the firing range ) of Oxfordshire

  3. howl at the moon...there's a song in there somewhere ; )

    Lady S,
    who has some "howl at the moon earrings" from one of Sir B's campouts

  4. I love the sound of the drink Coffin Varnish. does this mean it will kill you ...but give you a lovely finish...:))

    Sir dayvd ( where the wolves are silent and only the Moon howls ) of Oxford-way-back-in-time-Shire

  5. Sir Dayvd,

    I'm sure there was more than one ace-high cowboy or eastern dude who bent an elbow, went on a bender, got full as a tick on "oh-be-joyful" and found himself in a six-foot hole at the bone orchard -- with a full shine!

    Sir Bowie in Evansville (where it's hot as a whorehouse on nickel night).