Saturday, April 27, 2019

Whiskey Men as Pariahs


Foreword:  Most whiskey men profiled here have had careers that were straightforward, productive and prosperous.  Except by prohibitionists, they were respected in their communities, often for their civic participation and their philanthropic giving. A small minority, however, became “pariahs,” social outcasts as a result of activities offensive to their peers.  Described here are the stories of three such cases, each of them different in the perceived breaches of propriety.

The Whitlock brothers, Benjamin M. and Edmund A., were grocers in New York City who launched several popular whiskey brands and also were widely known for Southern sympathies and pro-slavery views during the 1850s and early 1860s.  The Civil War cost them their once flourishing business and the resulting traumas may have sent both to early graves.  Even after their deaths, for many people the Whitlocks remained outcasts.

The Whitlocks’ New York retail establishment was described as “one of the largest and important in its line in the country.”  Their many visitors from Dixie clearly were discussing national politics with the Whitlocks along with the price of peaches. In the years running up to the Civil War,  Benjamin actively supported Southern causes, including retaining slavery.  That same year, Benjamin went further.  As the Nation trembled on the brink of war, he invited to New York members of the “Savannah Republican Blues,” a Southern militia unit, and made them guests at his mansion farm home, shown above.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Whitlocks tried to move their business to Savannah, Georgia, but it was too late.  According to a New York Times report, the result was that the Whitlocks “lost overwhelmingly.”  Their Southern customers either ignored their debts to the New Yorker or were unable to make the necessary financial transfers because of wartime disruption. In the North, customers shunned them.  The brothers were ruined financially.  Benjamin was forced to sell his horses, stock, stables and his mansion, subsequently known as “Whitlock’s Folly.”

Southern sympathizer relatives and friends of the Whitlocks, in part because of the brothers’ fate, pledged revenge vowing: “These Yankees…will learn what…it is to incur the enmity of a proud and chivalric people.”  The conspirators, including a Whitlock brother-in-law,  set out to burn down portions of central Manhattan.  Before their escape to Canada they succeeded in torching several hotel rooms and the Barnum Museum.  No one was killed. Possibly as a result of stress both brothers died young.  Afterward other Whitlock families were quick to disavow any relationship.  


When Frederick G. Goetzmann, a French immigrant, took proprietorship of his liquor business in the midst of the U.S. Civil War, he succeeded in building this enterprise into major whiskey wholesaler in Rochester and throughout Northeast New York.  He could hardly foresee the fate that would befall his liquor house after his death, and luckily so.

With growing prosperity Goetzmann ultimately built quarters at 9 Atwater Street, a building of three stories with large display windows in front.  He also commissioned a mansion home in the prestigious Hyde Park District. shown below.  In 1899, Frederick at age 71 died and was buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester.   In the 1900 census, his three sons —  Henry, Charles and William —  were all listed as working for the liquor house.  Henry now became the president and chief executive officer.  Then something went terribly wrong.  Within months the business that Frederick painstakingly had built for more than 35 years was in bankruptcy. 



According to press accounts, company indebtedness to distillers approached $50,000 (equiv. to more than $1 million today) and its assets were only $22,515, including the value of whiskey in its warehouses. Moreover, criminal intent was alleged.  Valuable warehouse certificates reputedly had been transferred illegally by the Goetzmanns.  Worse yet, CEO Henry had disappeared.   As related in the press:  “It is charged that Henry Goetzmann, head of the company, left home in July for parts unknown….but that he has since been drawing funds from the company.  It is claimed he has been heard from in Butte, Mont., Boston, and Chicago, but that he refuses to return to Rochester.”   

In other words, Henry had left others, including his brothers, “holding the bag.” The Goetzmann name was reviled in the liquor industry.  The bankruptcy proceeded and eventually the claimants received some compensation.  The family was forced to sell their mansion and moved to a less pretentious homestead.  Henry eventually returned to Rochester.  Frederick Goetzmann & Sons Co., however, disappeared forever.  

In the lore of Kentucky whiskey, Dan Russell is a distinctly minor figure.  Most books on the history of the industry ignore him completely.  In others he is at most a passing reference or a footnote.  That obscurity, however, was not for Russell’s lack of trying.  By pushing front and center his name, his face, a title, and his liquor he eagerly sought a place among the state’s acknowledged whiskey barons. Given Russell’s stature as president of a major Louisville distillery, shown below, called “Old Times” and his own strenuous effort to get himself known widely in Kentucky and, indeed, the Nation, why has whiskey history largely ignored him? 


The reason was told in a Loujsville newspaper story of March 13, 1917.  The headline read:  “Alleged Conspiracy to Sell Stolen Postage Stamps,  Dan H. Russell, a Prominent Louisville Man, Placed Under Arrest.”   For whatever reason, Russell had been entangled in a national conspiracy to buy and sell stolen postage stamps, estimated by the government to be worth $40,000.

Also arrested were the ringleaders, a man named Henry Bronger and his son, along with a local druggist.  According to postal inspectors, Louisville was the center of the plot, receiving and “fencing” stamps sent from points as far away as Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.  Hauled into Federal Court, Russell — identified by the paper as “a leader in fraternal circles and prominent in the business and social life of Louisville” — pleaded guilty to having knowingly received the stolen stamps.  Possibly because of his prominence he got no jail time but a fine of $1,500 (equiv. $37,000 today).  

Within three years National Prohibition shut down liquor sales.  Having been disgraced, Russell was now without employment at the age of 55.  These tidings may have taken a toll on his health.  The following April, he died and was buried in Louisville’s Eastern Cemetery, one of the city’s oldest graveyards that, as shown here, subsequently was abandoned and largely forgotten.  In a state where other distillers’ well-tended graves are marked with large monuments, Russell’s is lost among the field grass and wildflowers.

Note:  Longer narratives on each of these whiskey men is provided on this blog:  The Whitlocks, May 5, 2016; the Goetzmanns, December 7, 2016, and Dan Russell, August 14, 2016. Check the dates on the right side of the blog column.



















Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Was Basilius Winter Truly “Self-Made”?

An 1897 biography characterized Basilius Winter as “a self-made man who, without extraordinary family or pecuniary advantage at the commencement of life, has battled earnestly and energetically, and by indomitable courage and integrity has achieved both character and fortune.”  Without in the least denigrating the achievements of this Rock Island, Illinois, wholesale liquor dealer, 
Winter had more than one helping hand along the way.

Born in a farm on Rhine River near Haibach, Bavaria, the son of Joseph and Mary (Dauber) Winter, in July 1849,  Basilius, shown here in adulthood,  was brought to America by his parents in 1853 and settled on a farm in Henry County, Illinois.  The family apparently was drawn to this northwestern corner of the state by kinship with other German emigres.

In 1852, his mother’s sister, Theresa Dauber, had married Peter Fries, also a Bavarian native who had emigrated to the U.S. several years earlier and initially struggled to find a niche.  Shown here, Fries had a rocky start in America. He had failed in the tanning business in Pennsylvania and fared no better at that trade in Illinois.  A subsequent effort manufacturing vinegar in Iowa also proved unsatisfactory.  In 1854, he moved to Rock Island and there, as a biographer put it, “now fortune smiled on Mr. Fries.”  He prospered as a distiller, rectifier, wholesale dealer in whiskey, and more.

By the time Basilius had reached his late teens, his Uncle Peter was a rich man, “whose personality was strongly impressed upon Rock Island County” as a merchant, banker and real estate mogul.   Fries reached out to the young Winter and took him into his liquor house, teaching him the business.  The young man worked intermittently with his uncle over the next 13 years.

In 1880, Winter at the age of 31 struck out on his own in the whiskey trade, but not entirely.  He formed a partnership with James E. Mott, calling the firm “Mott & Winter.”  Mott was one of Rock Island’s most respected businessmen and a recognized “old settler.”  He had roots in the community that helped insure success for their business, advertised as “rectifiers, wholesale dealers and importers of wines and liquors.”

Winter’s move may have been triggered by his growing family responsibilities.  In December 1871, he married Lizzie Bartermeier of Davenport, Iowa.  The couple had four children in rapid succession, two sons and two daughters, one one whom died in infancy.  Eleven years after their marriage, Lizzie also died, leaving Basilius with three minor children.  Two years later he married Lizzie’s younger sister, Johanna Bartermeier, a union that produced four more children, two sons and two daughters.  Shown here is the family home at 526 Twenty-third Street as it looks today.

In 1885 James Mott retired, selling his share in the liquor house going to another well-known Rock Island businessman, Henry Lemberg, president of a local savings and loan institution.  Lemberg’s connections also were a definite boon to the company that now became “Winter & Lemberg.” 


Only when Lemberg retired five years later did Winter become a sole proprietor, establishing “B. Winter, Wholesale Dealer and Importer of Wines and Liquors.”   His enterprise was located in a substantial two-story brick building at 1616-1618 Third Avenue, a major Rock Island commercial street.  By this time his sons were reaching maturity.  Louis J. Winter became the bookkeeper and other Winter boys worked in the firm.

Winters gained attention for a nostrum he had concocted called Winter’s Stomach Bitters.  Shown here is a illustrated ad that shows a corpulent gent who used Winter’s Bitters and a scarecrow of a man who “will hereafter.” “Everyone drinks it and keeps well,” trumpeted the ad.  U.S. authorities branded these remedies as “booze medicine,” with alcohol as the principal ingredient and having little or no medicinal value.  Nonetheless, Basilius’ bitters apparently proved popular with the public and he profited handsomely even after paying the special bitters tax required by the IRS.  He bottled his stomach bitters in square amber bottles, shown below, cherished today by collectors.


Winter also was coming to public notice in Rock Island through his civic activities, particularly with German-American organizations, helping found the local Turner organization and active in Maennerchor, a German singing and social group.  A charter member of the Rock Island Volunteer Fire Department, Basilius also held memberships in the Moose Lodge and St. Mary’s Catholic Church.  These multiple connections let to his involvement in politics.  A Democrat, Winter was elected three times in the 1880-1890s to the Rock Island City Council.  According to a contemporary biography:  “He is an influential and popular member of that body and the duties of his office he has most faithfully and capably performed….”

Beginning in the early 1890s Winter’s health began to decline as he was plagued with frequent bouts of asthma.  A picture of him in advanced age when compared to an earlier photo above suggests the toll the malady was taking on him. Nevertheless, Basilius continued to be active in business and the community.  

Just before Christmas in 1910, however, Winter's breathing problems intensified over a two day period.  He died, age 61, on December 23 at his home with family members gathered around his bedside.   After a funeral service at his parish church he was buried in Rock Island’s Calvary Cemetery, joining his first wife, Lizzie, and other family members in the Winter family plot.  His second wife, Johanna, would join them there 28 years later.

“The Biographical Record of Rock Island County Illinois” (1897), from which earlier quotes were taken, emphasized the theme that Winter was “self-made,” stating:  “Although he started out in life for himself empty-handed, he is now the head of a large and profitable business, the result of his own industry, enterprise and good management.”  

Even if Winter were flattered to read those words, he must have known deep in his heart that his uncle Peter Fries and his former partners, Mssrs. Mott and Lemberg, had been instrumental in boosting him upward toward his business and political success. The proprietor of "Good Luck Bourbon," Basilius Winter was not “self-made” but “self-directed,” that is, able to make the most of the opportunities that came his way.

Notes:  The Biographical Record of Rock Island County cited above was published by the S.J. Clarke Publishing Co. of Chicago.  Another important reference was Winter’s obituary that ran Dec. 24, 1910, in the Rock Island Argus.  Thanks go to Ferd Meyer for permission to use photos of his Winter’s bottles and other material from his October 12, 2014, post on his always interesting Peachridge Glass website.

Friday, April 19, 2019

A.D.M. Cooper: Rembrandt of the Western Saloon



Foreword:  It may seem strange to anoint a artist as a whiskey man but A.D.M. Cooper deserves recognition as America’s star painter of saloon signs.  For many years of his life he spent extraordinary amounts of time in the drinking establishments of the West, principally providing back-of-the-bar nudes to appreciative proprietors.

Picture an artist, who during his lifetime could command more than $60,000 (equivalent to $1.2 million today) for a single piece of artwork, using his talent to cage drinks from saloon owners across the West in return for painting pictures of scantily clad women, art meant for display behind the bar.  That would be A.D.M. Cooper, the unsurpassed “Rembrandt” of the saloon nude, shown right

Ashey David Middleton Cooper was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1856.  He was the son of David M. Cooper, a respected physician and Fannie O’Fallon Cooper,  grandniece of the famous explorer, William Rogers Clark.  After studying art at Washington University in St. Louis, Cooper went West,  recording Indian life and landscapes in his drawings and paintings.  In 1883 Cooper moved to San Jose, California, building an elaborate studio in the Egyptian style and spending his evenings in local saloons. 

At the time exotic landscapes were the passion of many rich Americans.  Cooper’s paintings became the toast of  California’s “nouveau riche.”   Among them was Mrs. Leland Stanford, the wife of the railroad baron.  She reputedly paid $62,000, at least 20 times that in today’s dollar, to Cooper for one of his canvases but deplored his drinking: "What a sad thing," she reportedly said:  "All that talent--dulled by John Barleycorn."

Despite his aristocratic background and acceptance by California society, Cooper was inclined to “walk on the wild side.”  Edan Hughes, the author of a book on California artists wrote that of the 16,000 he had chronicled, “...None was as colorful as Ashley David Middleton Cooper. That man knew how to live. He was a true Bohemian, and he loved to have a good time. He knew how to party. And paint. And then party some more. He had a zest for life unmatched in the artistic annals of California.”  

With his definite affinity for alcohol, Cooper is said to have paid many bar bills as he roamed the West by paintings of semi-nude women.  Those pictures came in all sizes and shapes, with one constant:  bare breasts.  Saloon owners welcomed them as a known attraction for their almost entirely male clientele.  Shown above is perhaps Cooper’s most famous nude paintings, known as “The Kansas City Girl.”  It was exhibited throughout the United States, reputedly gathering crowds wherever it went, and was accounted a sensation at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition of 1898, held in Omaha, Nebraska.  

According to the story,  Cooper approached a nubile Kansas City lass known for her pretty face and voluptuous figure and asked her to be his model.  He assured her parents that the experience would not sacrifice her “maidenly modesty” and would help pay off the family mortgage.  They agreed and, with mother standing by, she posed for the painting.  

A later interview with the young woman by a Washington D.C. newspaper found her to be not bashful about her experience with Cooper.  She was straightforward about the monetary reason for posing, the uncomfortable lounging posture the artist demanded, and  said that she never got tired of watching people gape at her nude picture.  She told the reporter: “I’ll tell you a secret—in your ear—it’s no profession for an ugly woman.”  

It probably was a good idea that mother was standing by the Kansas City Girl because Cooper,  handsome and charming,  also had a reputation as a lady’s man.  With those qualities went his penchant for strong drink.  He was a frequent and active patron of saloons wherever he went.  It has been said that it was a rare drinking establishment along the California coast that failed to have a Cooper nude hanging behind the bar or prominently on a wall.  One of his favorite “watering holes,” the Louvre Saloon at Guerneville, north of  San Francisco, is said to have displayed multiple Cooper paintings.  

The next Cooper nude shown here is called “San Francisco Girl.”  Why it bears that specific distinction is mystery.  Rather than lounging like The Kansas City Girl she is standing.  Moreover, her settling is an exotic one with velvet curtains, a leopard skin rug, and  scattered flowers.  A similar background was used by the artist to present “Little Egypt,” one of several belly dancers who adopted that name.  That painting, below, recently sold at auction for $34,800.


The painting left some critics see as an inferior work, possibly painted while Cooper was suffering a hangover.  Some critics believe that the artist’s drinking was the source of his unevenness.  Others disagree.  Says one:  "Did he drink? Sure he did….Was he an alcoholic? I don't think so. The unevenness in his oeuvre, I believe, reflects the varied reasons why he painted. When he was painting for friends or the local clientele, he often hurried his work.”

The next painting is derived from the myth of Pygmalion, a Greek sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory and named her Galatea.  Falling in love with his creation, he prayed to Venus. Then he kissed his ivory statue and found that its lips felt warm. He kissed it again, touched its breasts with his hand and found that the ivory had lost its hardness.  Galatea had become a woman and later Pygmalion’s wife and a mother.  The Cooper painting depicts the moment of the statue becoming human.  Said to have hung for years in the Nevada Club Casino in Reno, it recently sold for $6,000.
The artist also reached back to Greek mythology for a the final nude shown here.  She is a nymph.  Nymphs are personifications of the creative and fostering activities of nature, most often identified with the life-giving outflow of springs.  True to form, this figure is garlanded with water lilies.   It is difficult to divine if the look on her face is “come hither” or a kind of world weariness.  Only the artist would know.  
After years of painting the unclothed, Cooper married at the advanced age of  62.  The daughter of family friends,  his wife was 26 years his junior.  By all accounts it was a happy union.  But brief.  Only five years later, after a long battle with tuberculosis, the artist died in 1924 at his home in San Francisco and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.  
Subsequently A.D.M. Cooper’s reputation as an artist has had its ups and downs as taste in art has changed over time.  Moreover, the saloons for which he painted were shut down during Prohibition. After Repeal, as more and more women frequented drinking establishments, nude paintings increasingly were deemed offensive and stashed in a back room or discarded.  Nevertheless, a picture with  the signature shown here currently might well be pricey to own, painted as it was by the Rembrandt of saloon art.















Monday, April 15, 2019

Louis Teuscher: A Truth-Teller Caught in the Whiskey Ring


Caught cheating the government of revenues on his whiskey, St. Louis distiller Louis Teuscher in 1875 pled guilty and began assisting the prosecution.  Asked  under oath how he ran his distillery, Teuscher, a German immigrant, replied “Vell sometimes straight but most times crooked.”  His candid remark provided a brief moment of levity in a high-profile trial of the infamous Whisky Ring.


Teuscher’s distillery was one of ten seizures made simultaneously in the St. Louis area in May 1875 by special agents assigned by Secretary of the Treasury H. B. Bristow.  Teuscher was absent at the time of the raid, according to Federal records, and did not return for several hours.  By that time Internal Revenue authorities had shut down the plant and confiscated his whiskey.

Arrested and indicted, Teuscher formally was accused of removing 10,000 gallons of whiskey from his distillery: “…On which said spirits the internal revenue tax of 70 cent…imposed by law upon each and every proof gallon…had not been first paid.”  By so doing he had defrauded the government to the tune of $7,000, equivalent to about $154,000 today.  His illegal whiskey was being hidden in a building on the distillery premises, previously unknown to federal inspectors.  There fraudulent tax stamps were applied.

Teuscher pleaded guilty and turned state’s evidence.  The distiller testified for the prosecution in the trial of the kingpin of the Whiskey Ring, Orville P. Babcock, Civil War general and personal secretary and confidant of President Ulysses S. Grant.  He is shown right with the President.  According to the memoirs of former Ring prosecutor David Patterson Dyer, the government treated cooperative distillers like Teuscher as “victims of rapacious officials, or at worst, as having the lesser guilt….”  Dyer pointed out, however, that Teuscher and others had participated willingly with the Ring, not forced at the point of a gun, and any one of them could have “blown the whistle” on corrupt officials at any time.

The German-born distiller and other whiskey men arrested did not go unpunished.  Federal agents confiscated their distilleries and whiskey stocks and took all or part of a $50,000 surety bond provided to the Internal Revenue Service that allowed them to make whiskey.   Originally indicted on felony charges, those were dropped for Teuscher when he agreed to cooperate.  He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and was sentenced to one day in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Although he spent the designated day in jail, Teuscher apparently balked at paying the $1,000 fine, likely on the grounds that he already had suffered sufficient financial losses for his folly in joining the Ring.  As the U.S. Circuit Court declared:  “Promises of payment were made, but never attended to….”  A writ for Teuscher’s arrest subsequently was issued which he countered with his own suit.  In the end the presiding judge blamed himself for reasons of health and a busy schedule for earlier mistakes in sentencing the distiller and discharged him without requiring he pay the fine.

Information is scant on how Teuscher got to this point.  According to census data he was born in Germany in 1839.  He apparently received the thoroughgoing education provided in the country’s public schools.  His early employment likely involved distilling.  Louis immigrated to the United States in 1875 when he was 36 years old and settled in St. Louis, a city with a large German-speaking population.

There he apparently met his wife, Caroline Arketh, of similar age who had been brought to the this country by members of her family when she was ten years old.  The couple was married in 1867.  In ensuing years Caroline would bear 10 children, six of whom lived to maturity.  They included two sons, Henry and Ernst, who upon reaching maturity would be taken into their father’s liquor business.

Assuming census records are accurate, Teuscher had only been in business two years when the Ring was uncovered.  He seems never to have returned to distilling whiskey after the scandal broke.  In the 1878 St. Louis business directory Teuscher listed himself as a “distiller’s agent” at a location of 2808-2816 North Second Street.  An agent was someone who represented the products of specific distillers to liquor wholesalers and retailers.  By 1880 he was listed as a wholesale liquor dealer, located at Nos. 7 and 9 North Third Street. 

During the early 1900s Teuscher  claimed again to operate a distillery.  My assessment is that he was a “rectifier,” that is, a blender of whiskeys received from outside distilleries.   Teuscher’s flagship label was “Good Times Bourbon,” bearing a label of three men celebrating over a bottle.  The picture was included in a company advertising envelope that assured that the whisky was “Good at all Times.”  

Another brand he sold was “Silver Dollar Rye,” the embossed flask shown below left.  The company also was the St. Louis outlet for the nationally marketed “Old Overholt Rye,” reputedly bottled by Teuscher & Co. “direct from the barrel at the distillery.”  Teuscher may acted as Overholt’s agent for St. Louis and vicinity.

By this time his two sons, Henry and Ernest, were working in Teuscher’s liquor trade.  An 1893 business directory lists them employed as clerks.  Both men  remained bachelors and were living with their parents, according to the 1920 census.  The senior Teuscher, now age 80, was still recorded as actively running his wholesale liquor dealership.  The family home was at 4426 Blair Avenue.  The house is shown here as it looks today, apparently abandoned.

With the onset of National Prohibition in 1920, the Teuschers were forced to shut down their liquor business and it can be assumed Louis retired.  He died in 1923 at the age of 83 and was buried in the Bellefontaine Cemetery of St. Louis, Block 33, lot 2370.  Caroline would join him there in 1929.  The family plot is entered from a stairway that bears the Teuscher name.


Louis Teuscher’s story of disgrace as part of the Whiskey Ring and a redemption that allowed him to continue in the whiskey trade for 43 more years is truly remarkable.  Many who were caught and charged were never able to recoup.  Some left St. Louis to avoid the shame.  Others stayed but went into other occupations.  I am left with the thought that Teuscher’s candor on the witness stand that he operated “sometimes straight but most times crooked” was in a “saving grace.”   Telling the truth may have allowed him to survive and even prosper in St. Louis.

Note:  As cited above, the “Autobiography and Reminiscences” of Richard Patterson Dyer, 1922, were a key reference for this post, as were the transcripts of the several trials involving Teuscher and the Whiskey Ring.  Court documents allow a close look at the details of how the roll-up of the fraud affected this one St. Louis whiskey man.



























Thursday, April 11, 2019

Whiskey Men and Their Steamboats



Foreword:  One of the great technological advances of the 19th Century was the steamboat.  No longer were vessels dependent on the wind for power.  The invention opened up America’s many rivers for commerce, an essential element in the country’s economic development.  Whiskey men were quick to see the advantages of steam, often locating their facilities within easy access to the water.  A handful ventured into owning and operating steamboats themselves, usually successful — but not always.  Here are short descriptions of four such endeavors.  

When Amiran Cole, shown right, arrived from New England in Peoria in 1835 he saw opportunity in its accessibility by road and water and decided to settle there.  Off-loading his trade goods, he opened a store on Main Street, the main commercial avenue.   Two years after establishing his general store, he sold out to one of his clerks and moved in an entirely new direction, becoming a steamboat captain.  

He bought a steamer, named the “Frontier,” and ran it as a passenger packet between LaSalle, Illinois, and St. Louis.  One of the first boats of its kind to ply the Illinois River, it has been cited as “intimately associated with the history of Peoria.”  Shown here is a photo of steamer traffic on the Illinois.  This foray onto the water brought Cole a lifelong title of “Captain.” 



Within several years, however, the Yankee tired of this occupation, sold the ship, and shortly after erected the first whiskey distillery in the history of Peoria, one capable of mashing fifty bushels of grain a day.  It was an inspired move.  By this time Peoria was experiencing considerable growth and would incorporate as a city in 1845.  Saloons were proliferating. Supplies of corn and other grains were abundant and easily accessed.  With Cole leading the way, distilling flourished.  In 1850, 5,685 barrels of whiskey were recorded coming from Peoria.  By 1859 distilling was the major manufacturing interest there, with hundreds of thousands of dollars invested.  Six distilleries and two alcohol works were in operation.

Born into an immigrant Scottish family, brothers Thomas, James and John Gaff found opportunity in Aurora, Indiana, to create a business empire of extraordinary size and breadth.  Founded on revenues from distilling whiskey, Gaff enterprises encompassed a brewery, a fleet of steamships plying the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Indiana grain and hog farms, a Louisiana plantation, a silver mine in Nevada, turnpike construction, railroad financing, banking, and what may have been the world’s first ready-made breakfast cereal. 

With their multiplying products, it was almost natural that the Gaffs would gravitate to shipping.  They built and owned a fleet of steamboats, among them the Diana, Mary Pell, Eclipse, J.W. Gaff, and Forest Queen.  Despite the pro-Confederacy feeling in southern Indiana, the Gaffs loaned the Forest Queen to the Union Army where it served for a time as General William Tecumseh Sherman's headquarters below Vicksburg, and later successfully ran the blockade there during the Civil War battle.  


Above are the Eclipse, left, and Diana, the latter involved in perhaps the longest, closest and most exciting contest of the steamboat era.  Challenged by the Baltic steamboat in March 1858 for a race 1,382 miles up the Mississippi River, the Diana kept pace but lost narrowly.  The resulting publicity helped thrust the Gaffs into the national limelight.



When Albert M. Root and Andrew J. Midler, buddies from Syracuse, New York, came to a booming Saginaw,  Michigan, about 1863, they started a liquor business aimed at slaking the thirst of the lumbermen thronging the city.  Their subsequent success provided them with the wealth to own and operate the largest fleet of steamboats plying the busy Saginaw River.  

As the liquor house of Root & Midler prospered, their wealth propelled them into shipping.  In 1872 the partners purchased the steamer L.G. Mason and the following year the Daniel Ball.  The partners’ final purchase was the Cora Locke, a side-wheeler used as an auxiliary ship on weekends when traveler demand was heavy.   As a result of their fleet, Root and Midler largely controlled the passenger business between Saginaw and Bay City, a monopoly the firm succeeded in maintaining for fifteen years.  Over time the they rebuilt entirely the L.G. Mason.  It was said to emerge “as fresh as a daisy” and remained a favorite river craft for many years, setting a record for Saginaw River trips.  

Not everything on the waters went well for the partners.  In October 1876 the Daniel Ball caught fire while on the way down river and was run ashore.  The passengers escaped unhurt but the aging craft burned to the water’s edge and sank, a total lost.  Undaunted, Root and Midler commissioned a new steamer from a Saginaw shipyard, shown below.  Launched in 1877, the ship was christened the Wellington R. Burt.   A side-wheeler weighing in a 252 tons, the Burt, shown here, was licensed to carry 500 people. 


Although the Wellington R. Burt, left, was said to be “a well patronized and popular boat” on the Saginaw River, it was the occasion of Root & Midler Co. being sued in 1885.  Apparently the custom of passengers was to jump on the boat as it approached the dock.  When a 48-year old Ms. Clinton made her jump to the gangway, she fell, broke her leg and sued the steamboat owners for negligence, asking damages.  After a lower court dismissed the suit, she appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.  That body ruled in her favor, indicating that the ship’s officers had not taken reasonable precautions against “an obvious frequent danger.”  

Charles Rebstock of St. Louis was one of the Midwest’s most successful whiskey merchants, with customers in a multitude of states.  He merchandised his whiskey through a series of trade cards -- some of them shown here -- that are both amusing and puzzling. Particularly opaque is one showing two young women examining the head of a man contemplating a beached and presumably wrecked steamboat. 


That image may seem less strange when we understand that Rebstock in 1880 had commissioned a Mississippi steamboat be built in St. Louis with his name attached. This packet was to carry his goods and salesmen to the lower Mississippi and its tributaries.  The venture apparently proved unprofitable and three years later he sold the boat at a loss.  It later burned and was junked. The figure represented on the card looks a great deal like Rebstock himself.  My interpretation is that the whiskey man is having his head examined about his disastrous venture into steamships.

Note:  More complete biographies of each of these whiskey men may be found on this blog:  Amiron Cole, February 1, 2019;  Gaff Bros., July 8, 2018; Root & Midler, February 14, 2018, and Charles Rebstock, September 6, 2011.