Thursday, June 10, 2021

“Pig’s Eye” Parrant and Founding St. Paul MN


Bearing a blind  and deformed left eye that gave him his nickname, Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant left his native French Canada in the early 1800s for the United States where he spent his early adult life as a Western trapper.  When the fur trade dwindled, Parrant looked for other ways to make money.  His search brought him to an area along the Mississippi River in the Minnesota Territory where he established the first residence and first business in what became the city of St. Paul.  Parrant’s business was distilling and selling whiskey.

Although sources differ on Parrant’s early history, he appears to have been born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, about 1777.  Of his early life and education virtually nothing is known.  He crossed the border to the United States, initially working for as a trapper for the fur company of Chouteau & McKenzie.  My surmise is that Parrant first learned about making whiskey from Kenneth Mckenzie, born in Scotland, who had come to America via Canada as a teenager.

While attempting to dominate the trade in beaver pelts and buffalo hides, McKenzie, shown here, also was involved in distilling.  In the early 1830s, in order to avoid government inspection of liquor shipments by water, he had the parts for a still shipped to him at one of the firm’s trading posts.  Although it was illegal under Federal law to sell whiskey to Indians, McKenzie knew that the native Americans would always trade for it.  One author has termed his whiskey as “watered-down…doctored with tobacco, pepper, molasses, and anything else that would give it a kick.”

Parrant likely learned about making whiskey from McKenzie and may even have had a hand in the fur merchant’s distilling.  As Parrant’s profits from beaver trapping dwindled, however, he began to look for new ways to make a living.  That brought him to the banks of the Mississippi and a makeshift settlement adjacent to Fort Snelling in the Minnesota Territory, below.  There he began to make whiskey, selling it to his fellow squatters, local Indians, and soldiers from the fort. 


This activity put Parrant up against the commander at Fort Snelling, Major Lawrence Taliaferro, someone Parrant also may have encountered in Missouri. Shown here, Taliaferro, who considered himself a protector of Native Americans against alcohol, had shut down McKenzie’s still and now ordered Parrant out of the immediate vicinity of Fort Snelling.  Enjoying a thriving business in the liquor trade, Parrant did not go far.

Moving just north of Taliaferro’s jurisdiction, Parrant made a claim on a tract of land at the entrance of what was known as “Fountain Cave.”  Shown above, this cavern, from which a steady flow of spring water flowed, stood on the east bank of the Mississippi, just upstream from what today is downtown St. Paul.  There in early June 1838,  Parrant built a shack, the first habitation in the future capital of Minnesota, and started the first business, a ramshackle saloon where he both made and sold whiskey.  Shown below is an artist’s conception of the site.

With fresh spring water for his whiskey, Parrant’s liquor and saloon became popular, known to the locals as “Pig’s Eye” and “Pig’s Eye Pandemonium.”  He did a brisk business.  Newcomers were pouring into the territory, including crews of riverboats plying the Mississippi in ever increasing numbers.  Moreover, outside Major Taliaferro’s reach, his soldiers frequently made their way to Fountain Cave.  Parrant became such a well-known figure that the entire area became known as “Pig’s Eye.”

Not everyone was thrilled by this unusual pioneer and entrepreneur.  One observer has described Parrant as “a coarse, ill-looking fellow, with only one serviceable eye.  The other was blind, sinister-looking, marble hued-hued, crooked, with a white ring glaring around the pupil.”  Parrant spoke English  poorly and his habits were described as “intemperate and licentious.”  To have such an individual considered the founder of St. Paul has been a hard swallow for some Minnesotans.

For example, Historian Fletcher Williams has groaned:  “Such was the man on whom Fortune, with that blind fatuity that seems to characterize the jade, thrust the honor of being the founder of our good city! Our pride almost revolts at the chronicling of such a humiliation, and leads us to wish that it were on one worthier and nobler that such a distinction had fallen. But history is inexorable, and we must record facts as they are.”

The settlement that Parrant had founded was called “Pig’s Eye,” a name increasingly recognized by the U.S. Post Office.  That changed when a Catholic priest named Lucien Galtier was assigned to the area.  Father Galtier, shown here, built a log church and dedicated it to St. Paul.  It is reported, likely apocryphally, that the cleric said: "Pig's Eye, converted thou shalt be, like Saul; Arise, and be, henceforth, Saint Paul!"

Meanwhile, Parrant had mortgaged his land.  Burdened by debts and unable to redeem the mortgage, he lost his claim and was forced to vacate the Fountain Cave area.  He tried to establish himself at several other nearby locations but to no avail.  Reputedly angry at his treatment in St. Paul, Parrant left Minnesota about 1844.  There  stories differ.  One version has him setting out for Lake Superior with the aim of returning to Sault Ste. Marie but dying on the way.   Another account has him landing near Winnipeg, Canada, where he married, had three children, and then decamped to North Dakota where he married a Native American woman, dying there. His place of burial is unknown.

Although Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant is gone from St. Paul, he is still remembered.  A large monument marks the spot of the now long gone Fountain Cave, placed there by the City of St. Paul.  Every school child learning the history of the city has heard of its founder. The Pig's Eye Brewing Company, established in 2002 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, makes a "Pig's Eye" brand of beer. The company was established when the former Minnesota Brewing Company, which had introduced the brand in 1992, folded because of financial troubles.  As shown below, labels for the brew have romanticized the image of Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant.

Notes:  Although Pierre Parrant life’s history is known only in fragments, considerable attention has been paid to him and multiple sources were consulted in preparing this post.  The reference that first put me on the trail of the Parrant story was “Closing Time:  Saloons, Taverns, Dives, and Watering Holes of the Twin Cities” by Bill Lindeke & Andy Sturdevant, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2019.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Who Shot Paducah’s Sol Dreyfuss?

 On a Sunday afternoon in June 1913, Solomon H. “Sol” Dreyfuss was found dead of gunshot wounds lying in his office at the Paducah, Kentucky, liquor house of Dreyfuss & Weil.  His hand was near a pistol he kept in his desk.  The family claimed an accident; onlookers suspected suicide.  No formal investigation ensued.  Dreyfuss’s death certificate simply gave the cause as “gunshot wounds…manner unknown.”  Questions remained.  Suicide takes one shot, Dreyfuss had been shot twice — each potentially causing instant death.  One shot entered the liquor dealer’s right temple.  The other bullet pierced his skull back of the right ear.  Looking at available evidence years later, Paducah police concluded Dreyfus was victim of a homicide.  But who shot him and why?

This whiskey man earlier had stirred considerable national controversy.  A popular muckraking American journalist Will Irwin, writing in Collier’s Weekly of May 16, 1908, blamed some liquor dealers for suggesting that their gin possessed the properties of aphrodisiacs. “The gin was cheap, its labels bore lascivious suggestions and were decorated with highly indecent portraiture of white women.”  Such liquor, he implied, could drive men to rape and murder.  Irwin, shown here, singled out for special attention Dreyfuss & Weil’s “Devil’s Island Endurance Gin.” 

Sol Dreyfuss had registered the trade name in 1905.  One of his ads boasted that Devil’s Island Endurance Gin was made from a secret European formula and that by its third year in production 7,619,410 bottles had been sold in the U.S.  The liquor came in half pint, pint and quart bottles, embossed with the name and bearing a label that depicted a man in a cage being poked by two devils.  A rear label made it clear that Dreyfuss, Weil & Co. were sole proprietors.

The brand’s early 1900s trade cards seem to bear out Irwin’s contentions.  One here shows a man peeking into a woman’s beach dressing room where it is not clear how clothed she is.  Opened,  she is seen wearing a bathing suit and seems little disturbed about being watched and says:  “Those fellows who drink that Devil’s Island Endurance Gin seem to have the very “devil’ in them.”  Note that from the shadows,  Satan is watching. 

In her book, “Jews and Booze,” Marni Davis comments that Irwin’s Collier articles implie that Jewish distillers, saloonkeepers and liquor wholesalers [like Dreyfuss]  were operating unfettered “at just the moment when the South desperately needed this flow of liquor to be staunched….National magazine readers absorbed this image of the immoral and self-interested Jewish alcohol entrepreneur.…”  Davis noted.  Might one of them in a misguided effort to protect Southern womanhood have shot Solomon as he worked in his office?

The notorious anti-Semite automaker Henry Ford in his racist publication “The Dearborn Independent,” also attacked Jewish “whiskey men.” In one issue Ford specifically targeted Dreyfus and Weil as major culprits in what he saw was an international Jewish conspiracy.  Many American Jews were frightened by Ford’s rants and given what later happened in Germany, they likely should have been.  Having specifically fingered Dreyfuss, could Ford have inflamed a maniacal follower to murder him?

Dreyfuss’ personal history gives few, if any, clues as to what may have happened.  Born in Germany in 1856, Sol followed an older brother, Barney, to the United States.  Barney early on was established in a Paducah liquor business with a partner named Weil.  With Sol’s arrival in the U.S. about 1870, the brother worked him into the business before moving on to Pittsburgh to manage the Pirates baseball club. (Barney Dreyfuss is credited with initiating the World Series in 1903.) Sol proved to be as effective a businessman as his brother, keeping the liquor house prosperous for the next 25 years, the latter years as sole proprietor after Weil’s death.

In addition to his best-selling gin, Dreyfuss sold more than a dozen brands of whiskey.  They included:  "A. M. Jones,” “Cold Spot,” "D & W Pride,” “Dreyfus,” "Eaton Valley,” “Eclipse,” “Fairfield,” "Merchants Club,” "Old Cold Spring,” "Old Dixie", "Old Picket,” "Peter Cooper,” "Red Devil,” "S. H. Rollins,” and "The Big Three.”  Of his labels Dreyfuss trademarked only five:  Endurance Gin and Eclipse Whiskey in 1905 and Old Cold Spring, Peter Cooper and Red Devil whiskies in 1906.  He provided customers with shot glasses advertising several of these brands.

Sol’s personal life seemed without incident.  About 1880 he married Tillie Hene, the daughter of a prominent Paducah dry good merchant, Isadore Hene.  The 1910 census found the couple after 30 years of marriage living with their son, Samuel, 25, and a daughter, Aimee, 18.  Also in the household was a sister-in law, Belle Weil, and her daughter, Lucille.  Sam was working in his father’s liquor house, including serving as traveling salesman for its products. 


Two disturbing business-related incidents, however, stand out. In September 1910 theLouisville Courier Journal reported that Alexander Djlaske, a longtime East Coast representative of Dreyfuss, Weil & Company, had been arrested in Boston for forging seven company checks worth $5,500 (value today $155,000). Djlaske denied that he had anything to do with the alleged forgeries, and claimed the charges resulted from jealousies of others in the company's over his success as a salesman.  How this incident played out is unknown.  Could Djlaske have held a grudge against Sol for issuing the arrest complaint?  More alarming, Dreyfuss' store had been broken into several times in the months preceding his death, usually on weekends. Substantial amounts of liquor had been stolen.  Had Sol surprised burglars who wrested a gun from him and then shot him with it?  Suspicion also might have fallen on the son who found him.

No such speculation seems immediately to have followed Sol’s death. Fingerprints were not lifted from the gun, the liquor dealer’s office was not searched for clues, no interrogations were conducted and no official police report was filed.  The family’s insistence that Sol’s death was an accident was accepted by authorities and the case closed.  That two shots had been fired seemed to concern no one.

Solomon Dreyfus was given a quick funeral and buried in Temple Israel Cemetery in nearby Lone Oak, Kentucky.  Dreyfuss. Weil & Company continued to function under the management of Sam Dreyfuss until 1919 when the advent of National Prohibition shut its doors.  “Devils Island Endurance Gin” went out of existence never to be revived.  With 1934 Repeal came laws that banned suggestive liquor advertising.  What remains today is only the unanswered question:  Who shot Sol Dreyfuss?

Note:  This post was drawn from a number of diverse sources, several noted in the text.  Crucial to it were the companion stories in the The Paducah Evening Sun of June 9, 1913.  The information about Paducah police now believing Dreyfuss’ shooting was a homicide came from an undated article by Jeff Youngblood entitled:  “The Early Life and Times of Barney Dreyfuss.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Bill Ward and Ft. Worth’s White Elephant


 Foreword:  Some years  ago I did an article on the many American saloons that took the name “White Elephant.”  More recently I was drawn to learning more about a drinking establishment with that name in Forth Worth, Texas.  Because this blog is devoted to narratives about individuals not institutions, I searched for information about the proprietor and found it in article that appeared 17 years ago in Wild West magazine.  Written by Author/Historian Richard Selcer, it described in detail the remarkable 27 year career of William H. “Bill” Ward at the helm of Forth Worth’s White Elephant Saloon, an era marked by violence.  When I find such a piece I reprint it on my blog with attribution.  Because Selcer’s article was too long to use in its entirety, however, I have abridged it [*****] to emphasize Ward’s role — and added llustrations.

The original article documented the saloon from its origins in 1884.  Our story picks up in 1886 when Ward , shown here, became sole proprietor of The White Elephant.  Born in Illinois of Irish parents, he arrived in Fort Worth in 1884.  Two years later he and a brother bought the saloon, refurbished it and reopened to great fanfare.  Within a year his brother had decamped leaving Bill the sole proprietor.  Here is Selcer’s narrative:

“…The plump, balding Bill Ward became the public face of the White Elephant. His genial manners made well-heeled customers feel welcome. He was soon on a first-name basis with city fathers, and by 1892 he was in a position to win a seat on the city council. In 1907, when Fort Worth switched to the commission form of government, he grabbed the police commissioner’s portfolio, positioning himself perfectly to protect his business interests. For more than two decades he successfully juggled the demands of the saloon business and civic responsibilities.

“A local lawyer named John Templeton actually owned title to the Main Street property, but he tried to keep his association with the saloon quiet while he was state attorney general. He was never a saloon man. It was Bill Ward who transformed the White Elephant into a drinking, gambling and eating emporium of near legendary status by introducing the sort of improvements they don’t teach at Harvard Business School. He began by screening customers to keep out the riffraff that patronized dives down in Hell’s Half Acre. He put doormen at the front door, hired special policemen to circulate inside and stop trouble before it erupted, and put out the word that the sort of floozies who freelanced out of the nearby cribs and cheap boarding houses were unwelcome. He also rearranged the place, moving the pool tables into a back room on the ground floor and setting up a cigar factory in the rear that produced ‘Billy Ward’s Choice’ cheroots, on sale for 5 cents apiece. Ward turned what had been a modest short-order kitchen into an elegant restaurant that attracted its own clientele. All the improvements were accompanied by an expansion, as the White Elephant took over the space next door and added a connecting doorway. Restaurant and bar area together now comprised 4,458 square feet, making it one of the largest saloons in Texas. This was reflected in the official address, which was now listed as 308-310 Main.

“To make his establishment truly tops, Bill Ward knew he must improve the quality of the gambling operation. He wanted the White Elephant to become Fort Worth’s gambling headquarters, a regular stop on the so-called Western Gamblers’ Circuit. He turned the upstairs into a fancy casino with both public and private rooms. There were facilities for faro, monte and roulette, as well as a cockfighting pit, where $2,000 purses were regularly offered. Cockfighting was technically illegal in Texas, but the practice was so common that the pit was even labeled on Sanborn Fire Maps in 1891.

“Entrance to the casino area was up a narrow stairway along the north wall, then through a closely monitored door at the top. On any given night a steady parade of men climbed the stairway to gambling heaven, passing those who were busted and coming down to reality. Ward was as eager to make a profit as the next saloon man, but he put his dealers on notice that all games must be honest; there would be no ‘brace’ games at the White Elephant. Nothing could destroy a saloon faster than a reputation for crooked gambling, not even bad whiskey or bad women. Thanks to Ward’s improvements, the local press began taking notice of the White Elephant, calling it ‘an elegant place of resort with a reputation second to no place of the kind in the south.’

“Ward’s natural business smarts even extended to advertising. He not only placed ads in the local newspapers and the Fort Worth city directory but also advertised in other major Texas cities. To further attract customers, he liberally dispensed small metal tokens (each stamped with the words ‘2 good for one free drink’) and business cards all around town.

“The improved White Elephant probably employed a staff of as many as 20-25 men to maintain round-the-clock operations. These included dealers and doormen, porters and shoeshine boys. But the aristocrats of the staff were the bartenders, a band of brothers who liked to call themselves ‘mixologists.’ They could prepare the recently invented cocktail on demand; indeed, the Fort Worth Mail stated, ‘There’s no drink known to modern or ancient times they cannot concoct with all the latest improvements.’

“Ward’s next move was to shake up the management by bringing in big-name partners with ties to the gambling fraternity. The first was 36-year-old Jacob G. ‘Jake’ Johnson, a former cattleman who had found more profitable and less grubby work investing in other people’s business enterprises and collecting race horses on the side. In 1882, Jake Johnson described himself as a ‘capitalist’; by 1886 he was a self-styled ‘turfman,’ a fancy term for a man who kept a string of race horses. Eventually his wealth approached $60,000, making him one of Fort Worth’s richest men. In the mid-1880s, he also ran the clubroom at the Cattle Exchange Saloon. Such a man was a fitting partner for Bill Ward, but Ward was still on the lookout for a third partner to bring both capital and instant credibility to the gambling operations. He wanted a big-name sport to act as pit boss upstairs. Fancy saloons routinely turned over their gambling concession to high-profile practitioners, such as the arrangement at one point between Tombstone’s Oriental Saloon and Wyatt Earp. Ward found his man in Luke Short, who had moved to Forth Worth in late 1883.

“Short landed in Fort Worth carrying a reputation that stretched from Tombstone to Dodge City. Known as a gentleman gambler like his friend Bat Masterson, the dapper Short was a wizard with the cards. But lest his preference for silk top hats and elegant walking canes deceive, he was also a bearcat in a fight, having already killed one challenger in Tombstone and stood up to a gambling cabal trying to run him out of Dodge. He never went anywhere unarmed, carrying his handgun in a leather-lined inner pocket.

“Short had come to the little town on the Trinity River to make a fresh start, with a satchel full of cash and a long list of gambling contacts in his pocket. His search for a home base in his new town eventually brought him and Bill Ward together. Ward sold the gambling concession to ‘Little Luke,’ which made him one-third owner in the saloon, but more important gave him free rein upstairs. Short wasted no time putting his personal stamp on his fiefdom. He had the public area redecorated with fancy rosewood and mahogany fixtures shipped in from the East, thick carpets on the floor and heavy draperies over the windows.

“He set up living quarters for himself and Mrs. Short adjacent to his workplace in a custom-built, two-bedroom apartment that had a special staircase to the alley behind the saloon and a dumbwaiter to the restaurant downstairs so that they could take their meals privately. Somehow his name also became attached to the most remarkable piece of furniture ever seen in a Fort Worth saloon, the so-called Luke Short Bar. It was a genuine work of art consisting of three large pieces that took up most of an entire wall — a front counter where customers stood, a liquor case holding the merchandise, and a mirrored backbar stretching the length of the front counter. The whole thing was made of dark-stained mahogany with onyx decorations and crystal lighting fixtures. How much it cost or how it came to be built in the White Elephant are still a mystery, but Short obviously had something to do with it. He solidified the White Elephant’s reputation for honest games with first-rate players, genteel surroundings and discretion in all things. Not once during his tenure was the White Elephant raided by police or criticized by its neighbors for rowdiness. Short also introduced the duffer’s game of keno, a glorified form of bingo popular with the silk-stocking crowd. By starting a keno craze in Fort Worth, Short padded the saloon’s bottom line.[*****]

Luke Short

Timothy Courtright

“Little Luke’s reign in Fort Worth as the ‘King of Gamblers’ was cut short early in 1887. A bitter feud with Timothy Courtright, a former city marshal in Fort Worth known locally as ‘Long-haired Jim,’ climaxed in gunfire on the night of February 8. The feud, borne out of a power struggle and personal animosity, fueled by liquor and testosterone, brought Courtright to the foyer of the White Elephant that night in a typical drunken state. Long-haired Jim loudly called Short out, and the unflappable gambler agreed. The two men stepped outside onto the boardwalk, where they exchanged terse words. The next thing anybody knew, gunshots echoed up and down Main Street. When the authorities arrived moments later, the former marshal lay bleeding to death half in and half out of the doorway of a shooting gallery next door to the White Elephant. The day before the shootout, Short had sold the White Elephant gambling concession to Jake Johnson for $1,000, perhaps anticipating having to leave town in a hurry, or perhaps with the idea of providing for his widow should the worst occur. On February 9, a hastily summoned coroner’s inquest called the shooting self-defense, and the town seemed to accept the verdict, with only a few do-gooders calling Short a murderer.

“In the months after the shootout, Bill Ward first purchased the gambling concession from Johnson, then turned around and sold it back to Short for the same amount ($1,000) that earlier had changed hands between Johnson and Short. The slayer of Courtright was no longer a full partner in the saloon, but rather an independent contractor working for Ward. It was not an arrangement Short enjoyed, so in December 1887, he cashed out the gambling concession for the last time, cutting all ties to the White Elephant.

“When Short left, he followed Johnson out the door, leaving Ward as sole proprietor of the business. Short and Johnson soon hooked up with another local saloon man, Vic Foster, to open the Palais Royal Saloon at 406 Main Street in 1888. The Palais Royal owners no doubt hoped that their establishment would replace the White Elephant as the top fancy saloon in Fort Worth. But not long after the grand opening, the Palais Royal became just another flavor of the month.

“At some point in 1894, John Templeton sold his White Elephant interest to Winfield Scott, a cattle baron and real estate developer who was buying up many local properties. Scott kept the property in his holdings for the next 19 years. During most of that time, Bill Ward called the shots as manager. The record is murky, but Ward may have even been proprietor of the business while Scott owned the building and the real estate it sat on. In any event, Ward continued to be the frontman for the White Elephant while a succession of minority investors and faceless site managers came and went.

“The 1894 change in ownership coincided with a relocation to new digs that took nearly a year to get ready. The White Elephant had simply outgrown its original site and moved to more spacious quarters down the street, at 604-610 Main. Under the name ‘White Elephant Turf Exchange,’ the saloon and gambling operations occupied 608-610 Main, in the so-called Winfree Building. The restaurant was at 604-606 Main. A 5-foot-wide alley separated the two buildings, and with windows on each side, this created an early form of ‘Texas air conditioning.’ The upstairs at 608-610 Main was taken up by the clubrooms while the downstairs was for walk-in business. The heart of the gambling operation now was no longer the big poker game but the telegraph hookup that brought in the latest reports of horse races, prizefights and ballgames from all over the country. Gambling had gone high-tech! The saloon area boasted a massive 40-foot bar that outdid even the old Luke Short Bar. Electric lights had replaced the old gas fixtures, and telephone outlets were located around the room for customers’ use. But the most welcome improvement may have been the three water closets (indoor toilets) on the premises, with separate facilities for gents and ladies. Altogether, the usable space of the saloon and turf exchange totaled 4,370 square feet.

“In its second location, the White Elephant Restaurant prospered more than ever. Bill Ward had transformed the restaurant part of the business from a sideline into a main attraction by introducing family dining and gourmet food. ‘Stop here for good dinner or lunch,’ trumpeted his advertisements in the local newspapers. In addition to the usual fare of steaks and chops, he added fresh fish and wild game, but the house specialty remained fresh oysters, imported from the Gulf in ice-filled kegs. Customers were encouraged to top off their meals with a selection from ‘the choicest wines, liquors and cigars’ from the house stocks.

“The new White Elephant on the 600 block of Main had its grand reopening in January 1896. When the big day arrived, longtime customers pushed in through the front doors, mixing with specially invited guests and the strictly curious. The restaurant’s reopening menu included lake trout, Spanish mackerel, black bass, Gulf trout, redfish, pickerel and fresh lobster.

“Over the years, the White Elephant had maintained a remarkably clean image, at least for a saloon. It was never linked to the unsavory sex-for-sale business. Ladies were always welcome with their gentlemen in the ‘wine room,’ the clubrooms upstairs and the restaurant, but soiled doves seeking to ply their trade were barred from the premises, and private rooms were never rented out for assignations. The saloon’s record on mayhem was not quite as spotless, but it did not have the daily knifings and fisticuffs that usually went with the territory.[*****]

“Times were changing. In 1901 local entrepreneur Joseph G. Wheat opened a ‘rooftop garden’ (restaurant-club) on his building at 800 Main St. The Wheat Building, at six stories, was the city’s first’skyscraper,’ and the rooftop garden there promised to pull in a good crowd nightly. Bill Ward took note and launched an extensive three-month face-lift of the White Elephant, capped by another grand reopening on June 8. Instead of the cattlemen and gunmen-gamblers of old, the new breed of customer included such men as legendary baseball manager John ‘Little Napoleon’ McGraw, boxers James J. Corbett and John L. Sullivan, promoter Tex Rickard and Harvard music historian John A. Lomax. Lomax came to town in 1908 with a $500 research grant and a primitive Ediphone recorder to gather genuine American cowboy songs. He turned a back room of the White Elephant into a recording studio and invited grizzled old-timers of the Chisholm Trail drives to come and sing for him.

“But celebrity visits and folk song recordings did not placate the moral uplifters who were determined to close down all the saloons. The Anti-Saloon League of Texas and the leadership of the state’s Baptist Church formed an alliance in their crusade against gambling, drinking and prostitution. In 1912, fiery preacher J. Frank Norris began denouncing the city’s ‘liquor interests’ from the pulpit of the First Baptist Church. A series of state laws and local ordinances had already forced gambling to retreat behind closed doors, turning it into a clandestine activity constantly under threat of police raids. A new Sunday closing law with teeth now restricted the hours of operation for saloons, putting an end to the old ’24/7′ business hours.

Ward leaving for Baseball

“Winfield Scott had died the year before, sparking a long-running battle within the family for control of the estate. While the White Elephant was tied up in the legal wrangling, his prudish widow, Elizabeth, aimed to separate the family name from the disreputable place by divesting herself of it at the first opportunity. Bill Ward was also desirous of moving on, but for different reasons. He decided he wanted to devote more time to the new entertainment industries of professional baseball and moving pictures. Neither required a liquor license or payoffs to the authorities. Sometime around 1913, the White Elephant…went out of business. There is no record of when the last drink was served or the doors were shut for the last time.[*****]

“The White Elephant occupies an honored place in Western history. It was the first place in the Southwest to combine a bar and first-class restaurant under one roof. It provided luxurious surroundings for the prosaic pursuits of dining, drinking and gambling, helping to put Fort Worth on the map and setting a five-star standard for other Western saloons.”

Note:  This article by Richard F. Selcer originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of Wild West magazine.  The online version can be found on sponsored by Historynet LLC, the world's largest publisher of history magazines.  Below is a photograph of the White Elephant Saloon as it looks today, reborn 60 years later in the Forth Worth stockyards.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Three Savants on Whiskey and Prohibition


Foreword:  The dictionary defines a “savant” as a person with a high degree of intelligence and foresight.  While that term might not fit perfectly for the three men presented here, my use of the word is meant to suggest that each of these “whiskey men” offered insights into the subject of alcoholic beverages and the effort to ban them from the American people.

The most popular American orator of his time and noted religious sceptic, Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1889) is an unlikely candidate for the title:  “whiskey man.”  That is, until one looks at the liquor label that opens this vignette and recognizes that it advertises “Ingersoll Whiskey,” with the gentleman’s picture  prominently displayed.  Audience in locations all over America would flock to hear Ingersoll speak on political and social issues of the day.  As shown below in what may be the only photo of him at an outdoor gathering, the orator could command the presence of thousands with his speeches. 


Ingersoll waxed lyrical on the subject of liquor in describing American distillations:  “The most wonderful whiskey that every drove the skeleton from the feast or painted landscapes in the brain of man.  It is the mingled souls of corn & rye.  In it you will find the sunshine & the shadow that chase each other over the billowy fields, the breath of June, the carol of the lark, the dew of night, the wealth of summer and autumn’s rich content.  All golden with imprisoned light.  Drink it and you will hear the voices of men & maidens singing ‘The Harvest Home,” mingled with the laughter of children.  Drink it and you will feel within your blood the star-led dawns.  The dreamy, tawny dusks, of many perfect days.  For 40 years this liquid joy has been within the happy staves of oak.  Longing to touch the lips of men.”

As for the efforts of the Prohibitionist, Ingersoll sided strongly with the “wets.”  In answer to an 1883 press question in Chicago he said:  “They are not questions to be regulated by law….I believe that people will finally learn to use spirits temperately and without abuse, but teetotalism is intemperance in itself, which breeds resistance, and without destroying the rivulet of the appetite only dams it and makes it liable to break out at any moment. You can prevent a man from stealing by tying his hands behind him, but you cannot make him honest. Prohibition breeds too many spies and informers, and makes neighbors afraid of each other.

Here is a last word from Ingersoll, now an almost forgotten American savant:  Whiskey is what you need,” he wrote his ailing personal secretary.  ‘After every meal take a good swallow.  One swallow will not make a summer but will make you feel as though summer has come….”

When Robert Mugge (1852-1915), an immigrant boy from Germany, stepped ashore in New York City in September 1870 he began a career that only “a land of opportunity” can provide.  Selling liquor as his launching pad, Mugge, shown here, is credited with developing the city of Tampa, Florida, while authoring a treatise that has been termed “part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.” The growing tide of prohibition likely was the impetus that turned Mugge, liquor purveyor, into a political theorist.  He evolved a concept of the ideal American society in a 52-page monograph he entitled “Practical Humanity,” issued initially in 1909.

Mugge devoted more than one-third of his treatise to “The Liquor Question.”  Given his background, he not surprisingly created plenty of room for alcoholic spirits.  “We might just as well give up the idea of founding these colonies at all as to establish them under a hypocritical prohibition law and expect them to be a success.”  This self-educated savant then discussed the drinking public:  “I refer to men known to partake of liquors in moderation.  Will you not find that the great majority of these men are more sociable, warm hearted, charitable, kinder to women and children, more generous, more given to help their fellow man, live longer, and, indeed, are more honest in business than teetotalers or those who profess to be? 

 Although Mugge explicitly disavowed any identification with socialism, his ideas might be characterized as “Karl Marx meets Mr. Rogers.”  Marx thought the state would “wither away.”  Mugge suggested that in his system state and local governments gradually would collapse in favor of directing everything from a national center from which one or a few individuals make all the rules for numerous “colonies” across America in which the residents would enjoy small town “agrarian” lifestyles. 

Marx called organized religion “the opiate of the people.”  Mugge banned all churches from his colonies but people would be free to go elsewhere to worship.  Marx advocated “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” In Mugge’s model society poverty and crime would be abolished along with capitalistic greed. This Utopia somehow would be accomplished mainly by abolishing paper money.  Needless to say Mugge’s vision of a future America did not catch on.

Founder of the famous Brown-Forman Liquor Company, George Garvin Brown (1846-1917) became the first president of the National Liquor Dealer’s Association and a leading spokesman against the movement to ban liquor and beer production and sales. The propensity of “dry” proponents to cite religion and the Bible encouraged Brown in 1910 to publish a book on the subject, entitled “The Holy Bible Repudiates ‘Prohibition.’”  The subtitle describes the contents as a compilation of all Bible verses that mention wine or strong drink,  Brown’s objective was to prove that the Scriptures “commend and command” the temperate use of alcoholic beverages — not a total ban. 

In an introduction, Brown openly admitted his bias:  “I have been a whiskey merchant and manufacturer for forty years and believe now, as I have always believed, that there is no more moral turpitude in selling an intoxicating liquor than there is in manufacturing and selling any other product.” His purpose for writing, he said, was “to expose the most dangerous propaganda against civil and religious liberty that has ever confronted the American people — ‘prohibition.’”  

What followed was Brown’s line by line parsing of Old and New Testament Biblical passages where wine or strong drink is mentioned.  Where needed, he said, Brown added his own “honest explanation” of each passage.  The whiskey man found many opportunities for comments, with a particularly long exposition over the Wedding Feast at Cana, concluding:  “If it had been wrong to make or use wine and given it to one’s neighbors, Jesus would not have set this example.”

Brown ended his book with a brief chapter he called “Reflections.”  In it he provided a harsh critique of prohibitionists.  Among them:  “This sort of fanaticism when practiced in the name of religion, is on the principle, ‘it is not our duty now to burn heretics but we will make the laws and Caesar will do the rest.’”  The book found a ready audience among the distillers, liquor dealers, saloonkeepers, and the drinking public of America.   Brown was widely hailed for his scholarship but, as might be expected, pilloried by the “Drys.”

None of these three thinkers lived to see the imposition of National Prohibition, an event that that has been compared to a national train wreck.  Not only were thousands of Americans now out of work but in their place came the bootleggers and a spike in crime.  All three, in various ways, had foreseen the societal disruption and warned America of the consequences.

Note: Both Mugge’s and Brown’s books are available in paperback under the imprint “Scholar Select,” on sale from Amazon Books.  Both bear a statement on the cover that:  This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.”   Longer posts on each man may be found on this website:  Robert Ingersoll, October 24, 2018;  Robert Mugge, April 12, 2020;  George Garvin Brown, January 9, 2020.