Old West Saloons: Rare Photos Reveal the Vibrant Culture of Cowboy Saloons in the 19th Century


It evokes images of Wild West saloon shootouts, heavy drinking, and dangerous outlaws.

These remarkable photos provide solid evidence that Old West watering holes truly live up to their infamous historical reputation.

Captured during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these images from states ranging from Montana to Texas offer a glimpse of life inside these iconic establishments.

The saloon, a hallmark of the Wild West, was typically one of the first buildings to appear in frontier towns. They attracted cowboys, miners, fur trappers, and gamblers alike.

Salons, which quickly gained notoriety as centers of vice, often housed brothels and opium dens. Street fights were not uncommon, and salon fights were also frequent.

Interestingly, women who were not parlor girls or dancers were generally not allowed entry into these establishments.

The Western saloon was a special type of bar found in the Old West, where all types of people gathered, including fur trappers, cowboys, soldiers, loggers, traders, lawmen, outlaws, miners, and gamblers.

These places were also called "watering holes, bughouses, shebangs, cantinas, grogshops and gin mills".

The first saloon opened in 1822 in Browns Hole, Wyoming primarily to serve fur trappers.

By 1880, salons were really taking off. For example, in Leavenworth, Kansas, there were approximately 150 saloons and four locations that wholesaled liquor.

The appearance of the salon depends on where and when it was.

As cities grew larger, salons became more attractive. Bartenders took pride in how they looked and how they poured drinks.

But in the early days, especially in remote areas, salons were very basic.

They had minimal furniture and were not attractive at all. Sometimes, the only way to stay warm in the winter was with a wood-burning stove.

One of the things that really stood out about the salon were the “batwing” doors at the entrance.

These doors were mounted on special hinges that allowed them to swing to either side, and they went from your chest down to your knees.

In some parts of the American West, people also sold liquor from wagons.

Salons were often built using whatever materials were available nearby, such as grass pulled from the ground, or they could also be made from the hull of an old ship, or dug into the side of a hill.

Salons were not just places to drink; They were also entertainment centers. They had dancing girls, who sometimes also worked as prostitutes.

You can also find games like Farro, Poker, Brag, Three-Card Monte, and Dice.

As salons became more popular, they began to add more games such as billiards, darts, and even bowling. Some salons had full crowds, with pianists, can-can dancers and even small theater shows.

When a new town started up, the first saloons were often tents or huts selling homemade whiskey made from things like "raw alcohol, burnt sugar and chewing tobacco".

At the time, beer was usually served at room temperature because there was no way to keep it cold.

It was not until 1880 when Adolphus Busch introduced refrigeration and pasteurization to beer with his Budweiser brand. Some saloons kept their beer in casks on racks inside the saloon.

Many salons had 'informal' sectors, like opium dens and brothels, attracting rural girls with the promise of high pay and easy work. However, some salons aimed to maintain a 'respectable' image and banned these activities.

They often have calluses on their elbows from regularly leaning on the bar at the salon.

These places were not very friendly to minorities – by law, Indians were excluded, and a Chinese person could risk his life by entering.

Soldiers were generally not welcome in Western salons. They were seen as representing the state and were often blamed for spreading venereal diseases among salon girls.

1 comment:

  1. ...I love the shot of the bar with the little Pug standing in the saloon. I think it took some time to take a photo back then, so that was a patient dog! Ha!


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