Hustlers, Ladies and Whiskey: Leisure Time and Other Diversions in Old Arizona
Excerpt from In Old Arizona by Marshall Trimble, the state’s official historian.
Have you ever wondered how Arizonans spent their leisure time before the advent of lakes, fast highways, tailgate parties, single bars and health spas?
Don’t be fooled by those stoic faces in the old photograph albums. Leisure time might have been limited compared to today, but, if those plucky territorial folks knew something about the good old fashioned work ethic, they also knew how to have a good time.
Arizona’s mining communities are a good source of information on early social life. Bustling towns such as Tombstone, Bisbee, Morenci, Globe and Jerome sprang up overnight. A few lucky entrepreneurs were finding the rainbow’s end and the rest were caught up in the excitement.
They had singles bars in those days too, but not the kind with which we’re familiar.
The population at first was overwhelmingly male. Soon after a prospector’s pick struck pay dirt, someone would arrive with a couple of barrels of whiskey and a two-by-four stick of lumber. The plank was stretched across the barrel-tops and the bar was ready for business. Next came the soiled doves with their tents and folding cots. Those two essentials seemed to mark the social beginnings of a rough-and-tumble mining camp.
The saloon was customarily a favorite social gathering place. Here, men could imbibe, take in a game of chance, or engage in a short-term love affair upstairs with one of the ladies of easy virtue.
More important, it was a place where one could catch up on the latest news of the day, meet up with someone from home, or strike up a profitable financial deal.
Not all the pockets of gold were located alongside narrow gulches. A good deal of it was found in prospector’s trousers. These opportunists performed with all the zeal of a snake oil salesman with a brand new concoction. It was called mining the miner, or separating some sucker from poke sack.
…During the 1890s, there were more than 600 saloons in the territory. Beer was brewed locally. However, most of the whiskey was imported from the “states.” Empty beer bottles, planted bottoms up, provided Phoenix with its first “paved” street.
Tucson had the Legal Tender and the Congress Hall. The latter boasted of a nightly shooting scrape. Clifton had the Blue Goose; and in Jerome, the Fashion. The Cowboy Saloon in Douglas was one of the rowdiest on the Mexican border. Globe boasted the Gold Coin and Pearce, the Bucket of Blood. Washington Street was where most of the Phoenicians gathered to imbibe. One establishment, the Palace, dubbed itself proudly “the only second-class saloon in the territory.” Some form of reverse advertising no doubt. Bisbee’s famous Brewery Gulch had saloons that ran all the way up Zacatecas Canyon. Old timers used to say the “further up the gulch you went, the rougher they got.” Prescott’s famed Whiskey Row had forty saloons going full-tilt in the early 1900s. Thirsty Yavapai cowboys, in town for Saturday night, attempted and sometimes succeeded in downing a glass of spirits in each before the night was through.
Good article!! And the Aker family from the twenties through the forties were in the thick of it.
Many of us “Buckeye Boys” spent some wild and fun times on Prescott’s famed Whiskey Row during the Prescott Frontier Days events in the 1940s.
Hey Don. So did I only we came down from Ash Fork.
I was in Buckeye not long ago attending a booksigning of the Buckeye book by Verlyne Meck. A fellow came up and gave me another Arizona Odditie: Buckeye Road doesn’t go through Buckeye.
Hey Marshall, I was there the day you gave us some special insights of some Arizona History during the Verlyne Meck booksigning. Verlyne is a longtime family friend. She graduated from BUHS in 1958 as best I remember and I am somewhat older. Graduated from BUHS in 1948. The Meck family is very special out in that “neck of the woods” and you yourself is very special with your great knowledge of Arizona. What a great service you do in helping others.
Thank you Don for kudos to Marshall. He is a great friend to Arizona.
I want to thank and salute the many organizations in the Buckeye Valley that made my early years so special. Their efforts provided a great diversion to the daily toils of the citizens, and quality fun for the youth.
The American Legion sponsored youth baseball, staged Rodeos, held community dances, and their Women’s Auxilliary gathered and delivered clothes to the cotton camps in the area. The Women’s club, the Odd Fellows, the Kiwanis, to name a few served our community to bring about a wonderful quality of life. I was in grade school in the 40’s and high school in the 50’s. There is no place on earth where I would have spent my youth.
The valley had a wonderful spirit. Growth seems to have an adverse effect on these things….I hope the Buckeye Valley can sustain and perserve its wonderful heritage of service to others. Most of those behind these wonderful organizations have long since passed, by my memory of them will never cease.
[…] No wild shootouts or street brawls greeted the young Easterner. Because of Tombstone’s wild and woolly reputation, he had expected the worst. Instead, he was struck by the lack of rowdyism by the locals. Tombstone […]