Please Don’t Shoot the Bartender


The guy in Olaf Carl Seltzer’s 1928 watercolor Barkeep seems powerful sufficient to deal with rowdy patrons. (Gilcrease Museum)

PLEASE DON’T SHOOT THE PIANIST; HE IS DOING HIS BEST. That saying entered Western lore from an unlikely supply—Oscar Wilde. The celebrated Irish poet and playwright did a lecture tour of the USA in 1882 that took him to Western mining camps. Whereas declaiming in a saloon in Leadville, Colorado, he learn these phrases on an indication over the piano.

The plea may also apply to bartenders, who, like their piano-playing colleagues, tried to do their greatest in usually attempting circumstances. Tending bar within the Previous West may very well be harmful work, and a very good saloon man was not simply changed, as he was excess of a easy drink pourer. Reflecting in 1931 on his personal pre-Prohibition saloon visits, author Travis Hoke described the best old-time barkeep as “a counselor in all of the methods of life, recipient of confidences, disburser of recommendation, arbiter of disputes [and] authority on each topic.”

Drink token from Bill Ward, Fort Worth
Saloon man William H. “Invoice” Ward of Fort Value, Texas, drew patrons with tokens like this totally free drinks. (Richard F. Selcer Assortment)

A bartender was not essentially the barkeep (or saloon proprietor) and vice versa, although newspapers on the frontier used the phrases interchangeably. Like each different enterprise proprietor, a saloon man needed to be prepared to roll up his sleeves and go to work. That meant getting behind the bar. One too proud to have a tendency bar was unlikely to achieve success. In 1885 saloon man John T. Leer of Fort Value, Texas, purchased out his companions within the Theatre Comique, and most nights he tended bar. To lure patrons from rival saloons, Leer shrewdly slashed the value of drinks, understanding most males weren’t there for the variability present.

There have been no {qualifications} for being a bartender. Within the early years few even knew find out how to combine the specialty drinks that got here to be generally known as cocktails. Patrons might order both beer or whiskey. It was a bartender’s possibility whether or not to serve the great things or the “Who Hit John.” An absolute no-no was dipping into an employer’s inventory. That might get a person fired as rapidly as dipping into the until. Sadly, one of many temptations of working behind a bar was entry to an infinite provide of booze. For one inclined to alcoholism that might show deadly a method or one other. If a bartender with the behavior didn’t drink himself to loss of life, he would possibly get right into a drunken brawl with a buyer and die of “lead poisoning.”

A person with prepared entry to each liquor and weapons may very well be a harmful hombre. If he had psychological issues in addition, he was a ticking time bomb.

White Dog Saloon, Colorado
A bartender and two patrons pose with a wiseacre waving a six-shooter and a cigar on the White Canine saloon, regarded as in Colorado. (Denver Public Library)

On Aug. 6, 1886, saloon man John W. Vaden bought drunk, armed himself with a Winchester and shot out the lamps in his personal institution in Ballinger, Texas. He then barged into the neighboring Palace saloon, spoiling for a combat with bartender Frank Borman. Metropolis Marshal Tom Hill responded to the fracas, and amid a three-way battle for the rifle he was shot by the left foot. A health care provider needed to amputate, an infection set in, and Hill died two days later. Skipping city, Vaden repeated his efficiency that October 7 at Mayer’s saloon in Fort McKavett, Texas, smashing up the place and threatening bartender Ben Daniels with a hooked pole till the latter, who doubled as a deputy sheriff, shot Vaden useless.

On June 22, 1887, Fort Value saloon man William T. Grigsby was tending bar and reportedly sampling the whiskey at his Distinctive saloon. Round 1 p.m. he requested the bartender handy him his pistol from beneath the counter and a bottle to take dwelling. As a substitute of leaving, nonetheless, he started pacing the ground, muttering darkly to himself. Amongst these current was pal Mike Haggerty. Seeing that his pal was troubled, Haggerty approached Grigsby, asking for the gun. With no phrase Grigsby drew down and shot his pal useless. The saloon man then started raving and sobbing incoherently. It took a number of policemen to subdue and haul Grigsby off to jail. “He had the fame of being a quiet, gentlemanly and intelligent man,” famous the Fort Value Gazette, “who had not an enemy on earth.” One thing that day despatched him over the sting. The paper famous Grigsby had been ingesting closely and stewing a couple of current native debate over prohibition. When he got here to his senses in jail, officers launched him on a bond posted by mates who handed off the episode as a case of short-term madness introduced on by dangerous whiskey. Grigsby was indicted for homicide, however his legal professionals dragged out the case for almost two years earlier than it went to trial. By that point the prosecution had no witnesses and thus no case, and a jury acquitted him. Proving one can’t hold a very good bartender down, in 1907 Grigsby, then dwelling in North Fort Value, was granted one other saloon license.


it was a fame for sterling character that made a bartender a trusted member of the fraternal group

As a rule, nonetheless, it was a fame for sterling character that made a bartender a trusted member of the fraternal group. Sporting males who would wager on something ceaselessly requested a barkeep to carry the stakes. In October 1880 Fort Value marshal turned gunfighter Thomas Isaiah “Longhair Jim” Courtright and gambler John C. Morris agreed to settle their variations with knife duel, every man placing up his gold watch as collateral he would present on the appointed date. Whom did they belief to carry the stakes? A pleasant bartender, in fact. The combat by no means got here off, and every man reclaimed his watch. Barkeeps themselves usually avoided playing whereas on obligation. It was higher to not become involved past holding the stakes and typically the bankrolls of gamers.

An necessary a part of the job was understanding find out how to deal with each the inebriated buyer and the garrulous fellow who wished to purchase the bartender a drink. The previous needed to be reduce off with out inflicting offense, the latter politely refused. A barkeep additionally had to have the ability to journey herd over rowdier patrons with out hurting enterprise. It helped to have a troublesome man fame. Saloon man “Rowdy Joe” Lowe, who bounced among the many Kansas cow cities earlier than shifting to Fort Value, was fairly able to corralling his patrons. “I hold good order in my home,” he bragged, and by all accounts he was in a position to again up the boast. “If any man turns into disorderly, and there’s no officer of the legislation current, I’m very apt to take the legislation into my very own fingers.”

Toll Gate saloon, Black Hawk, Colo., 1897
A bartender in shirtsleeves poses with patrons on the Toll Gate saloon in Black Hawk, Colo., on the shut of the nineteenth century. (Denver Public Library)

Whether or not he was the proprietor or simply tending bar, a saloon man was anticipated to maintain a tough type of order. “Bouncer” was a part of the job description for a job which may pay $2 for a weeknight shift or $3 for a weekend shift. Being an enforcer may very well be harmful. On March 1, 1872, an inebriated “Cherokee Dan” Hicks entered Harry Lovett’s Facet Monitor saloon in Newton, Kan., and started taking potshots on the mirrors and footage on the wall. When the rowdy refused to holster his gun, Lovett whipped out his personal six-shooter and dropped Hicks with three slugs to the physique and one to the pinnacle. No fees had been forthcoming. Such violence was not restricted to the frontier. On Sept. 13, 1913, Fort Value bartender Harry Seidl decked an intoxicated buyer who was being obnoxious. Seidl had nothing in opposition to the person personally and leaned down to tug the drunk to his ft. Simply then one of many man’s mates stabbed the bartender within the again, perforating a lung. The 2 males fled the scene, whereas Seidl headed to a hospital. Sarcastically, he had not too long ago resigned from the Fort Value Hearth Division to take up bartending, because the latter occupation was apparently much less harmful and supplied higher hours.

Certainly, most scuffles between bartenders and prospects resulted in little harm to the combatants or the institution and had been rapidly forgotten. Seldom did anybody maintain a grudge. If police inquired about any brawls between prospects, bartenders had been inclined to maintain mum, as a saloon man with free lips would possibly lose enterprise or be focused by the accused’s mates. It was higher to see and listen to nothing whereas working behind the bar.

Bartender D.S. Randall of Fort Value’s Blue Gentle saloon was the kind who saved order with a light-weight hand, although he was no pushover. Ben Tutt, an everyday recognized to have a foul mood when in his cups, was already effectively lubricated when he entered the Blue Gentle on the night of April 9, 1877. Bellying as much as the bar, Tutt demanded a free drink, and Randall poured it. After downing his whiskey, Tutt pulled a pistol and shot wildly, grazing Randall within the shoulder. Ducking behind the bar, Randall got here up hurling bottles at his assailant earlier than pulling a six-shooter and opening hearth. Fleeing from the saloon and not using a scratch, Tutt toddled off down the road. Police quickly arrested him, however Randall refused to press fees, as Tutt was a loyal patron and the incident simply one other evening manning the bar.

Bartenders on the famed Lengthy Department saloon in Dodge Metropolis, Kan., accepted such free drink tokens from favourite return prospects. (Heritage Auctions)

Inebriated bravos demanding free drinks was commonplace. Bartenders dealt with it in a different way relying on the state of affairs and the client. On Dec. 30, 1894, Jim Dashing was barhopping in Fort Value with pal Bob Miller once they entered metropolis alderman Martin McGrath’s saloon and sauntered as much as the rail. Miller pulled his pistol, laid it on the bar and demanded drinks. Although he didn’t utter any threats, McGrath’s bartender bought the message and poured drinks for the pair. Miller had pulled the identical stunt in a minimum of one different saloon that evening, however the distinction this time was proprietor McGrath. When a scuffle broke out between the Dashing get together and different patrons, McGrath descended from an upstairs room with pistol in hand and opened hearth. When the smoke cleared, Dashing lay useless on the ground. The bartender on the evening of the taking pictures had been a brand new rent, referred to as in to deal with the approaching New 12 months’s Eve rush. “I didn’t do nothing in any respect,” he testified of his actions that evening. “I simply stood proper there. By no means moved.” After the physique had been eliminated, McGrath directed his bartender to lock the doorways of the empty saloon. Convicted of second-degree homicide and sentenced to 9 years in jail, McGrath later escaped and was by no means heard from once more.

When not defending themselves or their saloons, bartenders tried to be hospitable. They had been, in any case, the “face” of the institution. They needed to stroll a skinny line between letting the boys blow off steam and holding a lid on issues. That meant being powerful once they needed to be powerful and remaining congenial the remainder of the time. Little shock then that many bartenders had been former lawmen or outlaws and thus no strangers to violence. Between stints on the bar some returned to lawlessness. Others had been working lawmen, seeking to decide up additional money whereas passing the time in congenial environment.

Bob Ford who killed Jesse James
Bob Ford, the person who shot Jesse James, was himself gunned down as he tended bar in Creede, Colo. (Missouri Historic Society)

Within the phrases of Western author and historian Walter Noble Burns, the very best bartenders “distributed good fellowship in addition to good liquor.” From time to time, although, the job proved harmful and even deadly. One by no means knew when loss of life would possibly push by the batwing doorways. Bob Ford, the infamous murderer of outlaw Jesse James, was working as a bartender in Creede, Colo., on June 8, 1892, when ne’er-do-well Edward “Pink” O’Kelley strolled in with a shotgun, referred to as out, “Good day, Bob,” and shot down Ford in chilly blood. O’Kelley thought killing the person who killed James would make him a hero. Ford himself might have instructed his assassin it didn’t work that means.

Frontier-era papers are chock-full of tales about males who walked into saloons and opened hearth for no obvious purpose. Maybe some had fallen into dangerous whiskey, or perhaps they had been on the prod. Others had been seemingly psychotic. Based on courtroom testimony, Frank Fossett, one murderous habitué of saloons, reportedly as soon as mentioned he would “prefer to have a saloon out within the nation…so he might kill a bartender each week or two.”

Generally a bartender was within the fallacious place on the fallacious time. On Jan. 14, 1877, inebriated Fort Value saloon man John Leer, future proprietor of the Theatre Comique, rode his horse by the doorways and as much as the bar of a competitor’s saloon, pulled a pistol and ordered a drink. After serving Leer, the bartender promptly summoned police, who got here and arrested the drunken saloon man. Tendering bail, Leer promptly returned to the competitor’s place and fired 5 pictures by its glass door, wounding proprietors John Stewart and Henry McCristle. The still-inebriated Leer spent the evening in jail and paid a wonderful, however his victims had been apparently unwilling to file fees.

On Sept. 1, 1893, when a gun battle erupted between the Doolin-Dalton Gang and lawmen on the streets of Ingalls, Oklahoma Territory, among the many casualties was a barkeep and patrons of saloons during which the gang holed up.

Walter James, bartender and co-owner of Fort Value’s Board of Commerce saloon, possible anticipated bother when Walker Hargrove strode as much as his bar round 5 p.m. on Might 20, 1908. A imply drunk whom James had ordered out every week earlier, Hargrove had vowed vengeance. Declining the latter’s provide to share a drink, James served Hargrove a shot of whiskey, then turned to serve different prospects. After tossing again his drink, Hargrove smashed the empty glass on the bar. James then consented to share a drink with Hargrove, however the bully wasn’t glad. Cursing James, he grabbed for the gun at his hip and began across the bar. Reaching beneath the counter, James pulled his personal pistol and plugged his would-be assailant 3 times, the final a kill shot to Hargrove’s head. A jury acquitted James of all fees.

Cowboys belly up to bar in Tascosa, Texas
Thirsty cowboys stomach as much as the bar in rough-and-tumble Tascosa, Texas, which earned its salty nickname “Hell City of the Texas Panhandle.” (Library of Congress)

It was in path cities that bartending was most perilous. Cowboys seeking to blow off steam after days spent castrating steers or trailing herds may very well be mercilessly laborious on the person behind the bar. Arms from the LS Ranch exterior Tascosa, Texas, loved taunting bartender Lem Woodruff of the Dunn & Jenkins saloon. Former Texas Ranger Ed King was particularly galling, calling Woodruff “Fairly Lem” and finally stealing away his girlfriend. Within the early hours of March 21, 1886, Woodruff and cohorts bought their revenge, gunning down King and two different LS fingers. Woodruff and a cohort had been wounded, whereas bystander Jesse Sheets was killed in what was recorded because the bloodiest gun battle in Tascosa historical past.

It wasn’t simply rowdy cowboys who posed a risk to life and limb. Western gunslingers thinned the bartenders’ ranks, some by chance or misfortune, others with cool deliberation. On April 16, 1881, Bat Masterson, in protection of brother Jim, went gunning for Dodge Metropolis saloon man A.J. Peacock and bartender Al Updegraff of the Girl Homosexual. Peacock fled, whereas Updegraff was wounded. Just a few years later, on Aug. 19, 1884, Doc Holliday shot and wounded Monarch saloon bartender Billy Allen in Leadville, Colo., after the latter threatened the infamous gambler over unpaid money owed. The victims recovered, and neither shooter confronted critical penalties.

to persevere as a bartender, a person needed to be as powerful as his prospects

To persevere as a bartender, a person needed to be as powerful as his prospects. On the afternoon of June 21, 1880, Billy Thompson, youthful brother of gunman Ben Thompson, bought right into a dispute with barkeep Invoice Tucker of Ogallala, Neb., over the affections of an area prostitute and stormed out of the saloon. Returning with a gun, Thompson snapped a couple of pictures at Tucker, who on the time was “within the act of passing [a patron] a glass of whiskey along with his left hand.” One bullet took off Tucker’s thumb and three fingers on that hand. Thompson turned and coolly strolled out, whereas the saloon man crumpled in a bloody mess. However his assailant had walked just a few yards when Tucker got here charging out from behind the bar with double-barrel shotgun. From the door the saloon man steadied the gun throughout his maimed hand and emptied it into Thompson’s bottom. Patrons tended to Tucker’s accidents and manhandled the wounded Thompson over to the Ogallala Home Resort to get well earlier than trial. With assist from Bat Masterson, Thompson managed to flee the state and swallow what remained of his satisfaction.

It’s unclear whether or not Tucker continued to have a tendency bar with a mangled left hand. If he did return to work as a one-handed saloon man, he wouldn’t have been the primary or final crippled bartender. Certainly, many Previous West barkeeps would have been eligible for cover below the provisions of the present-day People With Disabilities Act, as a stunning variety of them had been lacking varied limbs and appendages. Thankfully, the job didn’t require ten fingers, not to mention each arms or legs, and it was well-paying, unskilled labor, making it a viable retirement possibility for battered outlaws and lawmen who’d hung up their weapons.

Nonetheless, as Garry Radison reminds readers in his e-book Final Phrases: Dying within the Previous West, bartending was one of many really “harmful occupations” within the West. In fact, barkeeps weren’t at all times the victims, and those that shot rowdy prospects had been seldom prosecuted. On the uncommon event when a case went to trial, the all-male jury, usually comprising patrons of the very institution the accused tended, usually selected to acquit.

Burro photobombs patrons at White House saloon, Cripple Creek, Colo.
A pleasant burro photobombs a snapshot of patrons on the White Home saloon in Cripple Creek, Colo. (Denver Public Library)

Race was seldom a think about saloon shootings, as in most jurisdictions blacks weren’t permitted to enter white-owned institutions. That mentioned, the probabilities of conviction, and even prosecution, had been slim certainly if the bartender was white and his sufferer was black. In 1911 barkeep F.E. St. John of Fort Value’s Phoenix saloon shot black co-worker Buzz Childers, the saloon’s porter. St. John, who’d tended bar for 19 years and had a clear report, claimed Childers had threatened him with a knife, although he gave no purpose. No fees had been filed.

Race did enter the equation if officers had been summoned to a black-owned bar, because the all-white police forces in cities like Fort Value had been hostile to any black who failed to indicate what was thought of “correct deference.” In 1909, for instance, Fort Value officers had been summoned to a police taking pictures at a bar owned by George C. Cosey. As detective Lee Tignor wrote in his report, he was interrogating the black proprietor, attempting to “collect data on a matter below investigation,” when Cosey “started to abuse me in a shameful method.” Issues went downhill rapidly, and each males pulled weapons. Tignor emptied his revolver at Cosey, mortally wounding the saloon man. The detective’s report ended the matter so far as a grand jury was involved.

Finally, just like the Previous West itself, bartending grew to become extra civilized. In 1885 one El Paso bar proprietor defined to a reporter how his occupation had developed. “Once I first opened right here,” he mentioned, “it was the style to shoot bartenders on the slightest provocation. I needed to make use of males who would shoot again—nervy devils who knew their lives had been at stake.” Because the city grew up, nonetheless, the saloon started to draw a greater class of consumers. At that time the proprietor needed to change his previous scrappy barkeeps with extra gregarious fellows. Then, as cocktails grew to become more and more widespread, he needed to rent “mixologists.” By then, he instructed the reporter, he was using males “with the dignity of a decide and the polish of a gentleman.” His solely concern was holding patrons pleased, as that saved the money register ringing—and a contented buyer was much less more likely to plug the bartender.

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