A Few Saloon Stories (1868-1980)
Some historians maintain that the cornerstone
of the American West was not railroads, ranches, farms, mines, newspapers,
or churches, but the town saloon. Usually, the first business in a new
town or camp was a drinking establishment. Most times it was in a tent
or ramshackle structure for a while. Regardless, the bar was always the
first in line to take men's money by offering beer, booze, gambling and,
Elko began as a railroad town in December,
1868, and soon boasted 45 saloons. Tuscarora, a mining camp, ran its total
to 25 alcohol dispensaries. There's no doubt about it, bars were the social
centers in any community. For men only. Unless, of course, a girl worked
in the place.
They were places to meet friends, talk business,
to learn the news, or just shoot the bull. Entertainment was scarce and
the barroom boys often were forced to rely on their own schemes to liven
Palisade, Nevada, in the 1870s was, for three
years, considered the most violent town on the Central Pacific Railroad.
Its reputation became so bad that editors in the big cities pleaded that
something be done to clean up the place.
There was cause for concern. Just about every
day, when the noon passenger train pulled into the depot, a gunfight broke
out or Indians raided the town. There were many deaths and blood poured
freely onto the ground. Gun smoke, billowing dust, and screams of agony
filled the air. It was appalling and downright scary to those poor souls
from back east who were traveling through the uncivilized West.
It was all in fun. Shucks, Palisade was so
law abiding that county deputies seldom came to town. The whole thing was
only an act put on by saloon patrons. With a bucket of blood from the slaughterhouse,
a few blanks in their pistols, and a great deal of inebriated shouting
and screaming, they scared the living daylights out of the poor passengers.
Casper Lucksinger, a long-time prospector
in and around Tuscarora, was not so spectacular. He and his burro, "Old
Mose," made daily trips to the bars when he was in town. Casper, so as
not to confuse himself, called all his jackasses by the same name - "Old
The grizzled oldster had a pretty painful
problem. Both feet were frozen when he and other prospectors were caught
in a freezing snowstorm. Casper volunteered to walk to Carlin for help.
He almost didn't make it. From then on, he was committed to riding "Old
Mose" wherever he went.
When Lucksinger arrived at his chosen saloon
he had a bucket of beer taken out to his burro. The animal drank the suds
and settled down to patiently wait for his owner to get a snoot full.
Caspar absorbed as much redeye as possible then either hobbled out or was
carried to his four-legged taxi. Sitting unsteadily in the saddle or jack
knifed across "Old Mose's" back, Caspar's mountain canary carried him home
and dumped the prospector on his porch.
George Washington Mardis, known as "Old Allegheny"
to everyone, sipped too many spirits one day in Mountain City while celebrating
the Fourth of July. Mardis had some harsh words with a drinking buddy and
invited him out to the street to have a good old-fashioned fistfight.
The two opponents and the rest of the crowd
poured out of the bar onto the street. "Old Allegheny" and his adversary
began unsteadily circling, clenched fists held high in their best imitations
of a boxer. His foe backed up too close to a mule and the animal lashed
out with both rear feet, breaking his arm. He passed out and dropped to
the dusty ground.
Mardis, thinking he had struck a telling blow,
bragged to the crowd, "When I do hit a feller, somethin' has got to break."
Winking at the others, one of the saloon crowd
whispered to "Old Allegheny" that his antagonist was dead. With that, Mardis
took off out of town to hide. It took the bar boys two days to find him
and tell him it was a joke.
A rancher near Whiterock put up with his crew
lighting a shuck to a nearby bar after their chores. They returned, bombed
out of their skulls, just in time to slap leather on the horses in the
morning. His patience ended one Monday morning and he rode over to the
saloon and made a generous offer to buy the place. As soon as the sale
was made, the stockman demolished the place and solved the outfit's drinking
Prohibition didn't have too great an impact
on drinking habits in northeast Nevada. The Halleck Bar changed ownership
during that grim, dry time and business continued as usual, except that
spirits were drawn from a lard can perched on the back of the bar.
Then there is the story about a local stockman
who was insulted by a bartender. He bought the place and promptly fired
the barkeep. Story also says he was immediately rehired. There must be
some lesson here but I can't find it.
Monkeyshines still surface from time to time
in the rural bars. My wife, Terry, and I were having dinner one night in
a bar in Jarbidge. Pete Herlan, the Nevada State Museum biologist, walked
in and dumped himself into a chair at our table.
White-faced, he said, "You'll never believe
what I just saw at the bar across the street. About an hour ago the bartender's
wife came in and asked him what he wanted for supper. He told her that
anything would do, but not a sandwich. A few minutes later she came back
with a sandwich on a paper plate and put it on the bar. He frowned at it
for a moment then reached under the bar, pulled out a sawed-off pool cue
and beat the hell out of the sandwich. She picked up the mess and screwed
it into his face. That's when I got the hell out of there."
We found out later that the whole spat was
an act the couple put on three or four times a summer to liven up things
May 23, 2001
©Copyright 2001 by Howard Hickson. Permission to
use is given but, if any portion or all of this article is quoted, proper
credit must be given.
Note: Humorous bar stories would make a great sequel to this
article. If you have a favorite, why not email it to me? Don't embarrass
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