Friday, March 28, 2014

Byron Veatch Was a “Man Who Dared” Mix Liquor and Literature

If your parents named you “Byron,” after the famous British poet shown here, it might be expected that you would have literary inclinations.  Byron Veatch indeed did exhibit writing talent, authoring well- received books of fiction in the early 1900s, while at the same time contributing a well-recognized brand of whiskey to the Chicago liquor scene.  Veatch, somewhat ingeniously, found a way to combine his literary aspirations with selling liquor.

The Veatch family originated in Scotland.  The family emigrated from there to Ireland and then joined the thousands of “Scotch-Irish” who helped populate America before the Revolutionary War.   From that beginning the clan spread throughout the United States. According to a family history Byron’s father, William,  was an Illinois doctor and “an eminent man in his day.”  In 1857  William married Elizabeth Sweet, also an Illinois native.   Byron Elbert Veatch was born the following year. Within a short period tragedy  struck the family twice.  In 1860, the Veatchs’ infant daughter died after living less than six months.  Two years later,  in May 1862, Elizabeth also died.  Perhaps looking for a mother for young Byron,  William Veatch was married the following year to Martha Klipper. They would have two additional children, one of whom also died in infancy.

The 1870 U.S. Census found the Veatch family living in Pawnee, a town of about 3,000 founded in 1854 in Sangamon County, a place almost dead central in Illinois. Originally the community was called “Horse Creek”  but, so the story goes, when the petition for a post office by that name it was rejected by postal officials in Springfield as too inelegant.  The name “Pawnee” from a well-regarded Native American tribe was suggested and the citizenry agreed.   The census found Byron, age 12, going to school in Pawnee, living with his 31-year old stepmother and his 39-year-old father.

Because Byron Veatch did not show up in the census again for 40 years, details of his youthful years are scanty.   Because his fictional writings are largely set in the West and Southwest,  it may assumed he spent at least some of his early years in that locale.  Moreover, the family history says he married  a woman from Denver, Colorado.  Her name in the Veatch family history was given as “Libbie”  Roworth.  Later census data gave her name as “Fannie E.”  My hunch is that the “E.” stood for Elizabeth, often rendered as Libbie. Her father was a New Yorker; her mother an English Canadian. Byron and Fannie would have one daughter, born in 1885.  It apparently was a happy marriage.  Later, Veatch dedicated a book to his wife, as “one whose faith and cheery confidence have been a constant source of inspiration.”

Veatch first appeared on the Chicago liquor scene in 1897, listed in business directories as located in room #805 at 279 Dearborn Avenue.  It is likely his principal activity was as the Midwest agent for one or more California winery, among them the Barton Vineyard Company, Ltd., of Fresno.  Within two years Byron had moved to 284 Wabash Avenue.  By 1904 he had expanded from wines to a wide range of alcoholic beverages and founded  a firm he called the Security Distilling Company, located at 46-48 East Van Buren It was located in the tall office building shown here.  Two years later Veatch moved again to 37 South Water Street,  subsequently to be renumbered as 69 East South Water.

Veatch advertised heavily, with emphasis on his “10 Year Old Security Rye Whiskey.”  He emphasized the honesty and purity of his product, stating that:  “In consideration of your own, as your family’s health, it is your duty to ascertain beyond the possibility of doubt, that the whiskies, wines, brandies or cordials which you or they may be using are absolutely pure.  There is nothing more dangerous to health than impure and adulterated whiskey and wine.”  The label of Security Rye had a similar purity message, citing the Pure Food and Drug Act as a guarantee.

Veatch was a liquor dealer, not a distiller.  He likely also was a rectifier, compounding and blending raw whiskeys and other ingredients to get a desired taste.  He was bottling his whiskey in glass, both reasonably plain bottles and fancy fluted ones.  Veatch also featured a “Peach and Honey” cordial, shown here in a mini-bottle, as well as a proprietary nostrum he called “Father Joseph’s Tonic Bitters.” Like many other Chicago liquor dealers he provided shot glasses to the saloons and other establishments carrying his liquor.

Meanwhile, as he was carrying on his thriving liquor business,  Byron Veatch was writing fiction.  His major work was “Men Who Dared,” published in 1908 by Homer Harisun & Co, a Chicago firm.  Opening with the motto, “The bravest are the tenderest, the loving are the daring,” it was a compendium of seven long short stories, all but one with settings in the West  or Southwest.  They were yarns that provided lots of gunfire and knife play.  Although Veatch’s fiction may seem stilted by modern standards of literature, it was the kind of literature avidly read more than a century ago.

Despite Veatch’s immersion in the liquor industry only one of his short stories had its major setting in a saloon,  called Nate Salmon’s, located in a nameless Arizona frontier town.   A shooting has occurred in Nate’s place and a bad actor named Mexican Pete is killed.  During the trial, all the participants regularly repair back to Nate’s to discuss the day’s doings.  Among them is the judge, brought from out of town, a man with a taste for gin fizz.  Just before the culmination of the trial the hero buys the judge a number of drinks but substitutes for gin a liquid that induces vomiting.  When the judge is unable to continue, the defendant escapes, aided by the hero who, as it turns out, was his boyhood friend.

The book went to at least two editions and Veatch was sufficiently encouraged to extract one of the stories, “Two Samurai,”  and publish it separately as a book. His “Men Who Dared,” achieved some critical acclaim.  A mention in the Dial, a Chicago literary magazine, cited it as “One of the most remarkable books of short stories ever written.”  The social critic, Elbert Hubbard, calling Veatch a “spicy raconteur,” was enthusiastic about the” The Two Samurai,” calling it the best thing the author had done  “...better, stronger and, to my way of thinking, more interesting and thrilling....”

Ever the promoter, Veatch saw an opportunity to mix his liquor and literary interests.  In October 1910 he sent a letter to customers along with a magazine he published, called “Good Cheer.”  It contained articles on authors such as Victor Hugo but was principally a merchandising vehicle for the alcoholic beverages to be obtained from Security Distilling.  The magazine also pitched his fiction:  “As the book is written by the patriarch of our firm,”  we want every customer doing business with us to avail himself of the liberal offer there outlined.”  It went on to say:  “Men Who Dared” is one of the most interesting and fascinating books produced in a decade....It will give a mental, moral, physical and spiritual boost to all who read it, as is alive with action from the first page to the last.”

The 1910 U.S. Census found Veatch, age 51, residing on Chicago’s prestigious Madison Avenue with wife, Fannie, and his unmarried daughter, Mary.   Living with them was Fannie’s elderly mother,  Margaret Roworth, and a servant girl.  Byron’s occupation was given as “Merchant, Wholesale Wines.” During the ensuing decade there were signs of contraction in his liquor business, perhaps the result of growing Prohibition forces. Security Distilling disappeared from Chicago directories by 1914.  With its closing Veatch moved his wine sales to the 4th floor of a building at 323 West Randolph.  He appears to have been representing the To-Kalon Vineyard Company of California. In 1918 his firm disappeared totally from business directories.  The 1920 census found the identical Veatch family at home --  mother-in-law still alive and daughter still unmarried.   No occupation was listed for Byron.

Through the years,Veatch continued to write.  There were the obligatory Christmas stories and a series of essays on the Old West.  But none attained the popularity achieved by “Men Who Dared.”  In the end it was the Chicago liquor dealer’s writings that prevailed.  His Security Whiskey quickly faded from public attention and was not revived after Repeal. Today we have only a few artifacts by which to remember it ever existed.  While none of Veatch’s writings are counted among the 100 best of the 20th Century, “Men Who Dared” has survived into the 21st.  In 2005 Amazon saw fit to reproduce his the book in a new format, as shown here.  The hard cover version costs $33.80 and the paperbound,  $26.28.

No comments:

Post a Comment