Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Red Light Saloon

Some saloon names were openly borrowed from other locations either due to owners moving or to people wanting to communicate clearly what they had to offer.  In using a name previously branded with memories of certain entertainments, atmosphere, or scope, they hoped to quickly stand out from the numerous other establishments offered to the traveler.

The 'Red Light Saloon' apparently was first located in Caldwell, Kansas. This was a town that was a queen of the cattle trails during the time when Dodge City and Ft. Worth were first booming (1870's and early 1880's).  The saloon was part of a hotel and offered baths, booze, and broads.

Such a reputation could not go begging so others popped up in Helena, Montana and in Dallas and Ft. Worth in Texas.  Additionally, there was one Rawlins, Wyoming and in Oklahoma City. 

A song, ribald and raw, also emerged and is found today in two versions. One is an edited version and the other not so much.  

At its heart it can be seen as a cautionary tale of what can happen if a man visits such establishments and keeps the intimate company of the women there. 

LOC - http://www.loc.gov/item/afc9999005.34976
Two versions on one page - http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/bawdy-songs/008576.HTM

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"Born Grown" But With Relapses

Roy Stewart wrote a classic history of Oklahoma City called Born Grown.  The imagery comes from the fact that in a less than 24 hour period, the small dot along a rail line called simply, 'Oklahoma Station' would be descended on by about 10,000 people all clamoring for a space in the area that they knew was earmarked as a major community in the new region.   

Along, with Purcell, Guthrie, Norman, Perry and other stopping points along the Santa Fe rail line, Oklahoma Station, was sure to be pivotal place.   Of course, not all those people stayed, there were more of them than there were of lots and plots.  Some were asked to move along because of their inability to get along with others. A few were carried out to a grave. 

Two types of people came and settled that day. There were the staid, serious, business minded people with visions of creating a wonderful place where generations of families might be proud to call home.  There were also the will-o-the-wisps who were flies once the picnic was set out and all the family called. As land speculators, gamblers, saloon keepers, soiled doves, allergic to work types, and trouble-makers they swarmed, they flitted, and they were not nearly as welcome.  Many of them, however, like the flies, were very persistent and they stuck around becoming some of the progenitors of those generations of families who were proud to call the place home.

As has been proven so many times before. A person just cannot pick their ancestors....or their founding mothers and fathers.

It's Illegal; So, what will you have?

On Monday, April 22, 1889, the day of what some called 'the greatest horse race in history', the great Oklahoma Land Run commenced at noon.  Thousands (some have estimated as many as 20,000 or more) participated in a bid to 'stake' out a bit of land for themselves. Men and women made the run in wagons, on horseback, and train (traveling very slowly so as not to compete).  That night, as hastily erected tents flapped in the southwest breeze, and campfires began to burn both the triumphs and the challenges of the great adventure struck home.  

There was only one well, the water was a dirty stretch of river some distance to the south, and beside some half hearted creeks snaking through half dry shallow gulleys, it was dry.  Now, foresighted business wheeler-dealers had seen this eventuality. They knew from business in Kansas, Texas, and all points of the compass that people need to eat, they need to drink, and they need something to do in those winding down of the day hours.   

Now, in the 1940's there were collections of the memories of the pioneers of '89, and in these collections they will underscore that there was absolutely no liqueur in the area because it was illegal to have or sell such on federally controlled 'Indian Lands.'  The exceptions were for medicinal purposes and the drug stores did a booming business selling that in the first fifteen months of Oklahoma City.  Another little trick was the brewing of 'hop tea' that gave the flavor of alcohol without the buzz.  Stories from the time period include tales of young folks slipping away from the dance chaperones to go to the drug store for 'medicine' (whiskey) or for 'hop tea' (beer).

The most compelling evidence that there was actually buying, selling and consuming of alcoholic beverages come from the presence of so many saloons in the infant city, the number of arrests for drunk and disorderly recorded in city papers during this 'dry spell', and the fact that local police officers and U.S. Marshal's were chasing down, closing up, and confiscating such goods right and left.

So, although it was illegal, it was apparently going on all around the region.  The area may have been 'dry' on paper but you could say it was a 'wet kinda of dry.'

(Image: cMarilyn A. Hudson, 2013, image is a replica saloon from the Woodward, Oklahoma museum and is a fine example of the standard fixtures seen in most such establishments of the 1880-1910 era)

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