Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Warren Richardson Jr. and Whiskey on the Frontier

Deemed by some a “historic figure” of the American West, Warren Richardson Jr. arrived in  newly founded Cheyenne, Wyoming, as a toddler and stayed there for the rest of his life, devoting himself to the advancement of that frontier town. Richardson’s efforts included meeting the needs of the populace for alcohol and other pleasures.

Richardson was born in Indiana in 1964, the son of Warren (sometimes given as William) and Mary Anne (Kabis) Richardson.  His father appears to have been an itinerant printer-newsman.  Shortly after Richardson’s birth his father uprooted the family and moved to Pennsylvania, where a younger brother, Clarence, was born.  Within a year or so, the elder Richardson moved once again, this time in 1869 to a place that two years earlier had simply been known as “Crow Creek Crossing,” a lonely station in Laramie County where the Union Pacific Railroad bridged a tributary of the South Platte River.  Surveyed and platted in 1867, Cheyenne grew rapidly.

A frequent early amenity of a frontier town was a newspaper.  The Cheyenne Leader began publishing about 1869 and other papers followed.  The 1870 census of the Wyoming Territory found the Richardsons living in Cheyenne, the parents and three children.  The father’s occupation was given as  “editor.”  Warren Jr. as he matured seemed to be headed for a similar career and early on was engaged as a printer.  Apparently tiring of that trade he soon branched out into ranching and livestock, a growing industry in Wyoming.

In 1892, working with his brother Clarence, Richardson had accumulated sufficient financial resources to construct  a hotel and saloon on the prominent southwest corner of Sixteenth and Carey Avenue in Cheyenne.   Shown here, it was a three-story Victorian building with  a eclectic design. It incorporated Queen Anne architectural features, including an octagonal ornamental turret, a bay window, and the use of foliated stone, as well as elements of French Chateau and Romanesque Revival styles.  The mansard roof and turret were both covered with pressed metal sheets.  Cheyenne had never seen anything like it before.  A local newspaper described it as “palatial” and with interior fixtures “as fine as can be seen in any city west of Chicago.”

Richardson called his establishment the “Tivoli.”  For that reason some observers have speculated that some of the money for construction may have come from the Tivoli Brewery in Denver, Colorado, founded in 1866 and shown here. This was the era in which breweries were tying drinking establishments to themselves and that may have lay behind Richardson’s choice of a name.  Whatever beer he was serving, the elegance of his establishment was evident.  The saloon, shown here, occupied the first floor and featured an elaborate wooden back bar, a shiny brass foot railing and towels for customer use hanging from brass rings in front of the bar.  The towels reportedly were kept fresh through frequent changing.  The saloon also had electric lighting, a feature not often found in Western barrooms.  An elegant restaurant was on the lower level.

For all the Tivoli’s sophistication, however, Cheyenne was still the Wild West.  The  hotel became a favorite haunt of cowboys and other men wearing guns.  It was a time when today’s lawman might be tomorrow’s train robber.  The most famous event recorded in the Tivoli was the capture of gunman Tom Horn for the alleged murder of a 14-year-old sheepherder.   The arrest was made at the Tivoli by Joe Lefors,  known as a mostly inept lawman during the closing years of the Old West.  Although Horn possibly was framed by Lefors, he was hanged anyway, being a feared killer with other notches on his gun.

The Tivoli also was a brothel, with its possibilities for violence.  The second floor was set aside with small cubicles where women could entertain men.  A sign at the saloon level went to pious (but sly) lengths to disclaim any illicit activity.  It read:  “We select our young women from the best backgrounds.  They are attractive, intelligent and well versed in enough subjects to provide stimulating conversation with our guests.  There is a three drink minimum required to use one of these rooms.  Please act like GENTLEMEN and respect the LADIES who are here to make your visit with us more pleasurable.”   Use of words like “stimulating” and “pleasurable,” signaled that something else might be going on in the cubicles besides talk.

Meanwhile, Richardson, who never married, was living a personal life largely within the bounds of his immediate family.  The 1900 census found him residing in a household headed by his brother-in-law, the husband of his oldest sister, Victoria.   Also living with them was brother Clarence , still a bachelor, and three younger Richardson siblings, two boys and a girl.  Warren Jr.’s occupation was given as “merchant.”

That must have been the most convenient description of an all out entrepreneur.  Unencumbered by wife and children, Warren Jr. was engaged in a multitude of enterprises.  He was president of Richardson Bros. Co., an organization involved in mortgage loans, investments, and livestock.   He had interests in mining and sold lumber and mining supplies.  He was a director of the American Oil and Refining Company, incorporated at $5 million (25 times in todays dollar).  It was a Wyoming firm engaged in producing and refining oil.  Richardson maintained all that activity in addition to owning the premier saloon and hotel in Cheyenne, one in which he kept his principal office.

As his business acumen was recognized, Richardson became a sought-after member of Cheyenne’s fraternal organizations.  In time he became a 32nd Degree Mason, a member of the Shriners’ Korein Temple, of Elks Lodge No. 660 and of Phoenix Lodge No. 144.  His reputation also proved valuable politically.  In 1915 he was elected as chairman of the Board of Commissioners for Laramie County.  During his single term he is said to have been a strong proponent of improving the county’s roads.

But the title Richardson might have cherished most came earlier, in 1897.  Cheyenne was changing rapidly. No longer was it just a cow town with saloons being the most prominent businesses.  By the late 1880s it had become a city of beautiful homes, a center of commerce and the capital of Wyoming.  As shown on a postcard here, the Tivoli Hotel, identified at left by its turret, was now surrounded by other substantial buildings.   In 1897 a group of Cheyenne leaders, looking for a way to contribute to their town’s economy and bring in tourists, met to organize an event featuring cowboys performing ranch chores and other activities.  The group held its organizational meetings in Richardson’s Tivoli offices and voted to name him the first chairman of the celebration.  The inaugural event was a whopping success. Crowds poured into the city’s Pioneer Park to watch riding and roping, branding, horse and pony races,  and bucking broncos.   Cheyenne Frontier Days, still a major event, was born and Richardson was its “godfather,” inducted in 2005 into its “Hall of Fame.”

Meanwhile, Richardson’s Tivoli was expanding into a liquor dealership called the Tivoli Mercantile Company.   Although whiskey was readily available from many places in Cheyenne,  communities in nearby Colorado and other locales had gone “dry.”  The opportunity for mail order sales to thirsty customers was evident and Tivoli Merc. was ready to fulfill it.  Shown here are two pages from a full color mail order flyer in which are advertised house brands such as “Tivoli Club,” “Plain City Monogram,” and “National Club,” none of them trademarked.  The Mercantile’s flagship label, however, was “Old 106 Sour Mash.”  This brand was advertised as coming from Waterfill & Frazier, a premier Kentucky distiller.  It was bottled, labeled and trademarked by Tivoli Mercantile. The company issued a shot glass to advertise Old 106.  (For more information on the distiller see my post on Mary Dowling,  January 2014.)

Eventually laws passed by the U.S. Congress  curtailed the mail order whiskey business and in 1919 the advent of National Prohibition shut down liquor sales completely.  Because of the diversity of his business interests,  Richardson presumably did not feel a strong financial blow with the termination of his liquor and saloon enterprises.  The Tivoli building was turned into a clothing store.  Still standing as an historic landmark, the structure has seen many different uses over the years.

During the early 1900s Richardson developed a new passion:  Fast cars.  Described as “an enthusiastic member of the Cheyenne Motor Club, he threw several thousand dollars and his abundant energies into creating a four mile race track outside of town.  A 1917 issue of Automobile Dealer and Repairer magazine reported:  “Mr. Richardson worked unceasingly, and it was not long before what had been a stretch of prairie was transformed into a hard packed level race track.”   Barney Oldfield, the celebrated early race driver, was enticed to Cheyenne in his 200 H.P. Benz and created two new world records.  A photo exists of Oldfield sitting behind the wheel of his machine.  Richardson is standing at his left.

As he aged, Richardson continued to be surrounded by his family.  The 1940 Census found him, now 75 and the head of the household, living with bachelor brothers, Clarence and Emile, both officers of Richardson Bros. Co.; two spinster sisters, Laura and M’Valeria, and the widowed Victoria.  Six aging Richardson siblings were living all together in the same house.  Warren Jr. would have a long life, time enough to see Prohibition repealed, the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean Conflict.  He was 96 when he died in 1960, still living in Cheyenne. He was buried in Lot 1101, Section O, of Lakeview Cemetery in Laramie County. Gone but not forgotten.  In the 2006 book, Historic Cheyenne:  A History of the Magic City, the authors cited Warren Richardson Jr. as a “historic” figure who accounted for the “great successes that have made [Cheyenne] Wyoming’s capital for over 130 years.”













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