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Old West Saloons: Still a Tourist Favorite and Growing

Updated on May 30, 2017
kenneth avery profile image

Kenneth has been a member of HubPages for five years. He is retired from a 23-year career in the weekly newspaper business.

The old west Saloon at  the L.C. Ranch Headquarters.
The old west Saloon at the L.C. Ranch Headquarters. | Source
Old West saloon girl.
Old West saloon girl. | Source

An Authentic Rough and Rowdy

Western saloon is a kind of bar particular to the Old West. Saloons served customers such as fur trappers, cowboys, soldiers, lumberjacks, businessmen, lawmen, miners, freelance prostitutes and gamblers. The first saloon was established at Brown's Hole, Wyoming, in 1822, to serve fur trappers. By the late 1850s the term saloon had begun to appear in directories and common usage as a term for an establishment that specialized in beer and liquor sales by the drink, with food and lodging as secondary concerns in some places. By 1880, the growth of saloons was in full swing. In Leavenworth, Kansas, there were "about 150 saloons and four wholesale liquor houses." Some saloons on the fringe in the old west were little more than gambling houses, brothels and opium dens. Honestly speaking.

The true Old West saloons were not sweet smelling pretty, neat, or tidy. If words escape one seeking to aptly describe a saloon, decent easily fits how the real saloons' atmosphere was when cattle drives ended near town's edge and of course, those rowdy drovers with pay in hand were ready to drink, gamble, and let off some steam as long as the whiskey and steam lasted.

Some of the Old West saloons were so successful that bodyguards were hired by the owners to keep out the true riff raff that made true customers (with wealth) want to go to another saloon. By some estimations, millions of dollars in gold were taken out of many of the Old West mining towns and when you saw the birth of a mining town, sharp businessmen (and some women) started opening saloons to provide the miners an outlet to gamble their winnings and possibly make themselves even richer or maybe a miner who was lonely could always find a pretty saloon girl for some lively talk as long as the miner kept buying the drinks. From the opposite side of the coin, many gold-struck miners of means, went in a frenzied fever to gamble away their winnings as if trying to win a race to see who could lose the most money and go home broke.

Many saloons had that extra service to having a brothel upstairs from above the saloon area and for the right money, a discreet meeting was arranged by a male customer and a lovely prostitute to enjoy some warm company, drink, and some laughs and all at a price. Some saloon/brothel owners went away from the Old West with thousands in profit--numbers today that would number in the millions.

Typical Old West saloon.
Typical Old West saloon. | Source

These are but a Sample

of a few of the authentic Old West saloons that today's tourists can get off the beaten path and enjoy a taste of what life was like in the Old West. The following establishments are still available for tourists in 2017.

OK Corral. Tombstone, AZ.; San Xavier Mission Church. Tucson, AZ.; Boothill Graveyard. Tombstone,AZ.; Old Trail Town. Cody, WY.; Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park. Tombstone, AZ.; Buckhorn Exchange. Denver, CO.; Buckhorn Saloon and Museum. San Antonio, TX. and The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. Fort Worth, TX.

 Old West Saloon with tourist flair.
Old West Saloon with tourist flair. | Source
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp  (19 March 1848 - 13 January 1929).
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (19 March 1848 - 13 January 1929). | Source

The one Old West Saloon Town

that captured many of a tourist's eye was Tombstone famous for the retired sheriff of Dodge City, Kansas, Wyatt Earp, who with his older brother, Virgil and younger brother, Morgan, set out to make Tombstone a home for their families while earning a pretty penny in a once-down trodden casino of sorts, the Oriental. Earp played by Kurt Russell, is seen in this saloon as he eradicates "Johnny Tyler," played by Billy Bob Thornton who has not heard of Earp and has to relinquish the gambling tables to Earp and his brothers who make the Oriental a true saloon and gambling center in Tombstone.

Stars Cast in the Film, Tombstone

were Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp; Sam Elliott, Virgil Earp, the late Bill Paxton, Morgan Earp and Val Kilmer, in one of his best film performances, played as the colorful Doc Holliday.

American photographer, Carol M. Highsmith could not resist getting photographed with  Old West friends at the  White Wolf Saloon Douglas  near the annual Wyoming State Fair.
American photographer, Carol M. Highsmith could not resist getting photographed with Old West friends at the White Wolf Saloon Douglas near the annual Wyoming State Fair. | Source
Ad promoting liquor and  gambling in Old West saloon-- but more near to modern-city areas of the U.S.A.
Ad promoting liquor and gambling in Old West saloon-- but more near to modern-city areas of the U.S.A. | Source
The madam of the Red  Onion Saloon in upstairs brothel.
The madam of the Red Onion Saloon in upstairs brothel. | Source

Have you ever enjoyed a vacation while visiting an Old West Saloon Experience?

See results

Reasons why Tourists Love Old West Towns, Saloons

1.) Thanks to a Winchester rifle, we know Billy the Kid wasn’t left-handed.

A famous tintype photograph of Billy the Kid shows him with a gun belt on his left side. For years, the portrait fueled assumptions that the outlaw, born William Bonney, was left-handed. However, most tintype cameras produced a negative image that appeared positive once it was developed, meaning the end result was the reverse of reality. There’s another reason we know the picture was a mirror image and that Billy the Kid was thus a righty: he poses with his Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle. The weapon appears to feature a loading gate on the left side, but Winchester only made 1873s that load on the right.

2.) The California Gold Rush of 1849 wasn’t America’s first gold rush. It wasn’t even the second.

When young Conrad Reed found a large yellow rock in his father’s field in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, in 1799, he had no idea what it was. Neither did his father, John Reed. The family reportedly used it as a doorstop for several years, until a visiting jeweler recognized it as a 17-pound gold nugget. The rush was on. Eventually, Congress built the Charlotte Mint to cope with the sheer volume of gold dug up in North Carolina. In 1828 gold was discovered in Georgia, leading to the nation’s second gold rush. Finally, in 1848, James Marshall struck it rich at Sutter’s Mill in California, and thousands of Forty-Niners moved west to seek their fortunes.

3.) The famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral wasn’t much of a shootout and didn’t take place at the O.K. Corral.

One of the most famous gunfights in history—the shootout between the three Earp brothers (Morgan, Virgil and Wyatt), Doc Holliday, Billy Claireborne, the two Clanton brothers (Billy and Ike) and the two McLaury brothers (Frank and Tom)—didn’t amount to much. Despite the involvement of eight people, the gunfight only lasted about 30 seconds. Furthermore, the shootout didn’t take place within the O.K. Corral at all. Instead, all the shooting occurred near the current intersection of Third Street and Fremont Street in Tombstone, Arizona, which is behind the corral itself. Bloodshed made up for the brevity, though: three of the lawmen were injured and three of the cowboys killed.

4.) The Long Branch Saloon of "Gunsmoke" fame really did exist in Dodge City—and still does. Sort of.

Anyone who watched the television show "Gunsmoke" growing up is well acquainted with Miss Kitty’s Long Branch Saloon of Dodge City, Kansas. What viewers may not have realized is that the Long Branch really did exist. No one knows exactly what year it was established, but the original saloon burned down in the great Front Street fire of 1885. The saloon was later resurrected and now serves as a tourist attraction featuring a reproduction bar with live entertainment. According to the Boot Hill Museum, the original Long Branch Saloon served milk, tea, lemonade, sarsaparilla, alcohol and beer. Marshal Matt Dillon and Festus sporting milk mustaches? Now there’s a storyline.

5.) One pivotal Civil War battle was fought in an unlikely place: New Mexico.

In a bold move designed to fill rebel coffers with Cripple Creek gold, Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley invaded New Mexico Territory from the south in early 1862, believing he could march right up the Rio Grande and take Colorado. Unbeknownst to Sibley, however, the First Regiment of Volunteers in Colorado caught wind of the scheme and marched 400 miles south in just 13 days to join the Yankees at Fort Union, near Santa Fe. Instead of a cakewalk, Sibley’s forces wound up fighting what many historians call the "Gettysburg of the West." After just two days of skirmishing, Union troops—probably relying on local ranchers as guides—outflanked the Confederates and burned their supply train. After that, it was a long, slow march back to Texas for the rebels, who never returned.

6.) Forget Jamestown. The oldest settlement in the United States is Acoma Pueblo.

It’s no revelation that Native American settlements predate European ones, but it may surprise some people that Acoma Pueblo, west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been continuously occupied since the 12th century. The Acoma still inhabit their "Sky City," a settlement of about 4,800 people that sits atop a 365-foot high mesa. Traditionally hunters and traders, the Acoma people now make their income from a cultural center and casino complex. Coincidentally, the oldest state capital in the United States is Santa Fe, which recently celebrated its 400th anniversary.

Obviously, these six reasons can make the argument that the Old West is just that, old, but do not be so quick to jump to conclusions. Look at the vacation sites in today's rocket-speed society. In some roller coaster amusement parks, you have a fast-paced system to stand in hours to sit with others to ride on a three and a half minute ride. Of course you have the bumper cars and a huge carousel-type of swings that children can ride again, at a fast paced.

But if one should decide to visit an Old West Saloon Town, most Old West towns, original or close to original shape is not on a fast pace, but a well-educated guide will allow the visitors to look at each historical place while snapping cell phone photos and in one saloon I can personally attest to people sitting while a professional troupe of dancing girls all dressed in sharp saloon girl wardrobes doing every dance including the Can-Can to the delight of visitors. And most of these tourist attractions have scheduled shows and exhibits at all hours that the site is open.

The Birdcage Saloon, Tombstone AZ.
The Birdcage Saloon, Tombstone AZ. | Source
Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone, AZ., has always been a tourist favorite.
Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone, AZ., has always been a tourist favorite. | Source

In Modern-day 2017, You can Expect a

true, down-to-earth experience when you visit one of these fully-restored (by true records) saloons of the Old West located in much of the Western United States. From authentic, hair-raising gunfights with professional actors who know how to take a punch if a fight breaks out and they will so tourists can not only be entertained, but wil be given colorful memories to share when their vacation is history. Many modern-day saloons are repeat customers for somehow the Old West Saloon Experience gets in their blood.

These saloons are scripted of course, but once you enter a tour, you will actually believe that are really back in the Old West watching cowboys playing poker, drinking Red Eye and enjoying the wardrobe that is true to this timeframe. The bartender with this arm garters and the pretty saloon girls are always smiling and ready to pose with an eager tourist, but a pose is all the tourist will get for the rowdy, tough and tumble days are over and cannot be resurrected.

But even with this fact, thousands of tourists in 2017 from the United States to foreign countries are beginning to make the Old West saloons at the top of their vacation schedule. The Old Trail Town is one of the best locations for tourists who love to see the Old West saloon and the drama that comes with a time gone by. Of course, tours vary from one saloon tour to the next. The Old Trail Town goes for $20.00 a person. (See below video for more information).

The thrill (and water) parks may be an exciting place to visit on your next vacatoin, but the vacationeers (or just common people) hoping to see and experience something by way of a new brand of excitement, maybe it is time for you to step back in time and truly see and hear what the Old West Saloon Era was really all about.

Be Sure to Check Out These Links to Old West Saloon Towns and Tourist Locations:

www.legendsofamerica.com/we-towns.html

Old Trail Video Promo for Tourists

© 2017 Kenneth Avery

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    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 8 weeks ago from Sydney

      What a wealth of information in this Hub. I had no idea it was still possible to visit these old saloons.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 8 weeks ago from California, United States of America

      Fascinating, I love this kind of stuff. Even though I've lived in California my whole life, I haven't visited an old saloon yet; but I've visited missions and old towns with some fascinating museums about their essentially Old West past. Much of California is still kind of Old West in a new form, and I know some descendants of gun-slingers and they're definitely nothing to mess with. Enjoy this article very much, thanks Kenneth.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 7 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Marisa,

      Thank you so much for your kind comment.

      Honestly, I wish that I had the cash to not only

      tour these places, but live near them.

      I am a Western saloon, town, and TV western freak.

      Write me soon.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 7 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Nathan,

      And thank you for the interesting comments. Old West towns and saloons were the very things that led me to the film, "Tombstone," and the more I watched it, the more I

      researched it and here we are.

      So glad to meet you, Nathan.

      Write me again.

    • profile image

      John Ward 5 weeks ago

      Nice work. Informative and well written. Keep up the Good Work. Enjoyed this greatly.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 2 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi there, John,

      So sorry to be late. Got lots going on.

      "Thank YOU so much for your comment that made my night. I mean every word of that."

      "And what makes this hub more personal is that many years ago, my family and I (when our only daughter was about 8) went to Silver Dollar City among that tourist link just east of Chattanooga and we had a great time.

      Especially when the saloon gals showed people how to dance. No. I did not get to stay for that show the third time.

      Thanks again and write soon.

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