Thursday, December 31, 2020

Whiskey Men & Pennsylvania Coal


Foreword:   Pennsylvania anthracite coal is known the world over for its clean burning qualities. It has the highest carbon content, the fewest impurities, and the highest energy density.  Some whiskey men began their careers working in the mines of the Keystone State.  Others turned their revenues from selling liquor into investments in Pennsylvania coal. This post briefly recounts the story of three such men: one who climbed out of Pennsylvania mining and two who bought into it.

The function of a “breaker boy” in mining was to break coal into pieces and sort those pieces into categories of nearly uniform size, a process known as “breaking."  He also chipped away any impurities that might be clinging to the coal.  It was hard, low-paying labor.  Michael Bosak went from breaker boy in a Pennsylvania mine to proclaiming himself “The Richest Slovak in America” 

Bosak emigrated to the United States from Slovakia at the age of 17. He settled in the anthracite-rich region of Northeastern Pennsylvania and went to work in a mine at Hazelton as a breaker boy to make a living. A photo left shows them at work. Finding the work unrewarding on many counts, he eventually shifted employment and worked for Slovak liquor merchants in the area, taking orders and delivering merchandise.  Frugal in his habits, Bosak saved sufficient money to open his own liquor store in Hazelton in the 1890s.  When it succeeded he opened a saloon and subsequently a liquor store in Scranton that became his headquarters.  By dint of intelligence and hard work he prospered.

Bosak’s wealth allowed him to pursue other business interests.  Early on he moved into banking.  The force of his personality led other Slovak immigrants to trust him and seek his help in purchasing steamship tickets, exchanging foreign currency, and making  small loans.   Bosak established a private Scranton bank in 1897 that by 1915 grew into the Bosak State Bank.  He organized financial institutions in Northeastern Pennsylvania and became president of the Miners Savings Bank of Olyphant and the Pennsylvania Bank and Trust Company of Wilkes-Barre.  Bosak’s operations reaped such a financial bonanza that he proclaimed himsel the "Richest Slovak in America.”

Bosak’s fall was just as dramatic his rise.  Not long after the imposition of National Prohibition shut down his liquor business entirely. The ultimate blow to Bosak’s business empire came in 1929 and the dawn of the Great Depression.  His banks faltered and finally in 1931, failed and closed.   His earning of a lifetime were virtually wiped out.  Bosak was 61 years old.  He would live another six years, dying on February 18, 1937.   

For several years before the Civil War Samuel “Sam” Dillinger drove a large Conestoga wagon pulled by six horses across the Allegheny Mountains on the Nation Pike, transporting merchandise between Baltimore and Pittsburgh.  After settling down in Pennsylvania, he became the second largest distiller in the state, producing fifty newly-filled whiskey barrels every day from his distillery to store in his warehouses and then delivering a quality aged rye to his customers.

After his first distillery was destroyed by fire in 1881, Dillinger, now with sons Daniel and Samuel Jr. to assist, built a second in Ruff’s Dale, Pennsylvania.  This distillery eventually had a mashing capacity of five hundred bushels of grain daily, producing 50 barrels of whiskey, and six warehouses with a combined storage capacity of 55,000 barrels.


Meanwhile, Sam had been expanding further. With growing prosperity he purchased additional farmland adjoining Home Farm until he owned more than 600 contiguous acres, all of it on top of rich fields of coke coal.  That spurred him in 1872 to erect a number of coke ovens, eventually said to total more than 100.  One author has opined: “Dillinger and Sons are therefore entitled to rank among the pioneer coke producers of Pennsylvania.”  Sam also was one of the founders of the Southwest Pennsylvania Railway in 1872 and served as a director for years. 

Marked by extraordinary vigor throughout his life, at age 79 Dillinger in 1889 very suddenly was felled by a paralyzing stroke and never regained consciousness.  Interred in the Mennonite Cemetery at Alverton, Dillinger lies beneath a monument, inscribed “Erected to the Memories of an Honest Man and Constant Friend.”

Samuel J. ”Sam” Thompson won a distillery located near Brownsville, Pennsylvania, game in a poker game about 1850 and built it into a going concern.  He began with a small plant with the meager capacity of consuming only eight bushels of grain a day but in time enlarged it into the facility shown here in a postcard view.  Incorporated into the complex was an old stone building that had been a roadside tavern.  It was turned into offices and a small warehouse.   During the next several decades, the name Sam Thompson Pure  Rye became synonymous with quality whiskey.

Meanwhile Thompson’s ability as a businessman was being recognized.  His distillery was the major industry in Brownsville.   At the same time, he was moving into other endeavors, hiring a manager to run the distillery and later selling it. Sam invested heavily in the coal business.  By 1898 he owned the Champion, Caledonian and Wood's Run Coal Works that had a combined daily output of ten thousand bushels of coal. Those three works were situated close together in Washington County and produced, according to a contemporary account, “ a desirable article of coal which is in great demand in the Western and Southern markets.” Thompson also owned seventeen farms, aggregating three thousand acres of good farming land.  All were said to be underlain with coal. 

Sam died in December 1899 at the age of 79 and was buried in a Thompson family plot in the Beallsville Cemetery, Washington County, Pennsylvania.  After 1920 the distillery he built was shut forever and left to molder for decades along the banks of the Monongahela River.  Sam’s whiskey is still celebrated as one of the finest ryes ever produced in Pennsylvania.

Note:  Longer posts on each of these whiskey men can be found on this blog:  Michael Bosak, August 23, 2013;  Sam Dillinger, February 12, 2016; and Sam Thompson, September 4, 2012.  An earlier piece on whiskey men and mining appeared on August 25, 2020.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

School vs. Saloon: The Trial of August Limburger


When Dr. Wesley Peacock, Sr., looked out the front widow of his Peacock Military Academy, he could see his male students creeping off campus to destinations in downtown San Antonio, Texas.  The schoolmaster knew that some were headed to saloons like the one adjacent to Main Plaza run by German immigrant August Limburger, shown right. 

Founding his college preparatory academy in 1894, Dr. Peacock, shown left, envisioned it as “the most thorough military school west of the Mississippi, governed on the honor system and conducted on the principles of a cultured home.”  His newspaper and magazine ads promised:  “Educate your boy in this dry and elevated atmosphere….Discipline….We look after our boys day and night.”  Yet the city San Antonio was anything BUT “dry” and it was impossible to keep track of the boys 24-7.  In Dr. Peacock’s mind, however, a plot was forming.

Oblivious of the schoolmaster’s ruminations, Limburger meanwhile was operating one of San Antonio’s more upscale drinking establishments.  He had been born in Germany in 1868, the son of Henry and Matilde “Hilde” Amberace Limburger.  When August was about 16 the family, with his siblings came to America in 1884, settling in Texas, a destination for many German immigrants. There his father established a meat market on San Antonio's Milam Street and a saloon on Austin Street.

As they reached maturity, Henry Limburger brought his sons into his businesses.  An 1891 business directory identified Henry Jr. as a bartender and later the son who eventually took over the meat market.  August joined the drinking establishment, learning the liquor trade.  After his father moved to a new saloon, August, still only 24, became the proprietor of the Metropolitan Bar at 651 Austin Street.  His success in the liquor trade was indicated by a move he made in the late 1890s to a higher visibility location at 501 West Commerce St., just off the Main Plaza.  This location, in addition to holding the Bexar County Court House and the Roman Catholic Cathedral, was home to the city’s more upscale drinking establishments.

This address also brought him closer to Dr. Peacock’s Academy and put his saloon in the “cross hairs” of the pedagog’s conspiratorial mind.  The headmaster had noted a Texas law that required proprietors selling liquor to post a liquor dealer’s bond that carried penalties for selling to individuals under 21, habitual drunks, or “students of an institution of learning.”  The penalty for serving a student was a fine of $500, paid to the educational entity filing a complaint.  The $1,000 from two offenses was equal at that time to about $25,000 today.  

Dr. Peacock must have cackled and clapped his hands thinking of the largesse.  Then he dispatched two of his students, Joe Speed and John Bivins, with cash to Limburger’s Metropolitan Bar.  They had doffed their cadet hats and uniforms and were in civilian clothes. Limburger himself was not on the premises to see his obliging bartenders serve each of the young men a beer.

Speed and Bivins returned to Dr. Peacock as expected and related their experience.  Then in modern parlance, the schoolmaster “dropped the dime,” hauling Limburger into Civil Court and demanding that he pay the $1,000 penalty.  The saloonkeeper’s attorneys countered that there was no way the bartender could identify the young men, dressed as they were, as belonging to Dr. Peacock’s institution.  The judge was sympathetic to the defense and instructed the jury to decide liability on the basis of whether Limburger or his employees reasonably could have known that the Speed and Bivins were students.  The jury said “no” and Dr. Peacock went away empty handed.

Limburger became known as one of San Antonio’s most genial and generous saloonkeepers.  While bar tokens were common most were of the five cent variety.  The German immigrant gave away tokens worth 12 and 1/2 cents, known widely as “one bit” (“two bits” made a quarter).  It was enough to buy a  shot of top shelf whiskey.  Limburger also gave good customers mini jugs, each with a few swallows of whiskey. The one shown below in two views recently sold at auction for $510.

When Four Roses, a premier American whiskey, advertised in San Antonio it included “Aug. 
Limburger" among the local establishments stocking their liquor behind the bar.  The saloonkeeper also featured his own “house” brands, advertising “Spring Bourbon” and “XXX Pearl Rye.”  He advertised each at 85 cents a quart, moderately priced whiskeys.  Limburger also expanded into mail order sales.

Despite the growing urbanization of San Antonio, the city was still part of the “Wild West” and Limburger’s saloon was not immune from incidents.  In late July 1908, while his bartender, Charles Artzt, was serving a customer along the hardwood, a drunken man with a gun walked up to the bar and fired point blank at him.  The bullet narrowly missed Artzt's head and shattered a large mirror behind the bar. Before the drunk could fire again the bartender disarmed him and turned him over to the police.

Whether it was this incident or another reason, within a few months Limburger sold the Metropolitan Bar and became proprietor of the Elite Hotel and Bar, shown above.  He disappeared from San Antonio business directories after 1913, dying in September 1823 at the age of 55.  He was buried in St. Johns Lutheran Seminary in San Antonio.  

Losing the $1,000 did not daunt Dr. Peacock.  His Academy was chartered in 1904 and became one of the first Junior-ROTC schools recognized by the Department of War.  Later staff would include future President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  When it closed in 1973, Peacock Military Academy was nationally recognized as the "West Point of Texas" and had graduated over 15,000 cadets, many of whom served and commanded in World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War.  Dr. Peacock died in 1926.

Note:  As frequently occurs, this post was triggered by a single bottle for sale on an internet site.  In looking into the background of August Limburger, the whiskey man who produced the mini-jug, I came across the 1902 incident with Dr. Peacock.  Two principal sources were the Wikipedia entry on Peacock Academy and a Texas Supreme Court document on the case of Peacock v. Limburger.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Albert Geyer Tumbled into the Liquor Trade



Once a world-famous acrobat, in his late 30s Albert Geyer’s circus career came to an end. He had suffered an injury while performing and also persistent vision problems.  Geyer, shown here in his barnstorming days, found his way to a hospitable Los Angeles and a partnership in two of the city’s most notable drinking establishments.

Albert was born in December 1861 in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Frank and Caroline Schill Geyer. Both parents were immigrants,  Frank from Switzerland, Caroline from Baden, Germany.  Not long after the boy’s birth the family moved to Quincy, Illinois.  There, according to the 1870 census, the Geyers, husband and wife, down to a ten year old son, were engaged as “hands” in a tobacco factory.

It was in Quincy that Albert, now 13 or 14, was “discovered” by the manager of a variety company playing in town.  With the permission of his parents, the youth made appearances as a song and dance artist and acrobat.  After taking first prize in a professional dancing contest, Geyer appeared at major theaters all across America, including the famous Harrigan & Hart Theater in New York City.

There Geyer was spotted by the manager of the Great London Circus for his acrobatic prowess and signed to a year’s contract. According to the Quincy Post:

“By continuous hard practice he found himself at the expiration of two years, on the very topmost round of Fortune’s bright ladder, being the undisputed champion tumbler of the known world, and receiving the highest salary ever paid this class of performers.”

Geyer’s prowess as an acrobat brought him to the notice of America’ foremost impresario, P.T. Barnum.  This well may be Albert shown in a Barnum poster executing what the showman called “Desperado’s Terrible Leap for Life.”  It called for the acrobat to dive 80 feet and land on his chest on a skid placed at an angle of 50 degrees.  Barnum issued a challenge offering $10,000 for anyone equalling Geyer’s skill.

Through all this hoopla and world fame, Geyer stayed close to his immediate family, as he would all his life.  The 1880 census found him with them in Lexington, Missouri, where they had moved and his father was now working as a harness maker.  The census gave Albert’s occupation as “circus actor.”

Geyer left Barnum at some point and joined the Forepaugh and Sells Bros. Circus.  Adam Forepaugh had risen from a poor working class background to become an entrepreneur and circus owner.  He was credited by many as “Barnum’s only rival” and the innovator of the three ring circus. One of Forepaugh’s posters featured the derring-do of acrobats, depicting a troupe, likely Albert among them, jumping over a herd of elephants.  The poster described them as “high, long distance, layout, twisting, single and double somersault leapers…

While working for Forepaugh, the strenuous nature of Geyer’s occupation began to catch up with him.  Throughout his circus career he was constantly attempting to devise new and more difficult stunts.  In Philadelphia he was in the process of executing the spectacular finale of his act, a twisting backward somersault landing on a mattress below, when things went wrong.  The mattress had not been properly placed and Geyer struck the ground with his knee.  Despite recuperating for six months and the best medical treatment available at the time, Geyer was told his recovery depended on giving up acrobatics.  He ignored that advice and continued his circus career for several more years.

In 1900 while in his late 30s, because of issues with his knee and chronic eyesight problems Geyer left show business and moved to Los Angeles, where some of his siblings now lived.  His fame had preceded him to California, as did a reputation as “a very pleasant gentleman, a public spirited citizen who has shown himself ready to give his time and money to advance the welfare. 

Los Angeles opened its arms to the world-famous acrobat. The Capital, a local showbiz publication opined:  “Here Mr. Geyer is at home to his friends and here he finds the opportunity and environment so well suited to his genial temperament.”  More specifically, he was invited by John aka “Gene Ed” Bernhard and a partner to join them as the third owner of the “The Palace,” one of Los Angeles’ premier restaurants, located at the corner of First and Spring Streets.  Advertised as “patronized by the businessmen of the city with their families,” the eatery also fancied itself a “Conservatory of Music,” featuring a free orchestral concert every night from 8 p.m. to midnight.  “No vaudeville,” its ads read.

In 1904 Geyer and Bernhard moved on to a new venue at 335 South Main Street.  There the noted Los Angeles architect Abram Edelman had designed a three story theatre building named after the famed American theatrical producer and playwright, David Belasco, the building shown above.  On the ground floor the partners opened a saloon and liquor store they called the Bernhard & Geyer Liquor Company.  A “puff piece” published by the Los Angeles Herald noted:  “Among the most popular and elegantly appointed of the many handsome saloons in Los Angeles none is more attractive as a resort…”  

Hailing Albert Geyer’s reputation as “the champion tumbler of the world,” the newspaper complimented Bernhard and Geyer for understanding  “the art of keeping a saloon in first class style…of whiskies they handle only the finest of whatever brands….”  The partners also were notable for their giveaway items to special customers and barflies alike.  The former might be presented with a celluloid and metal advertising match safe, while the latter might be given a token worth a nickel— just enough to buy a shot of house whiskey.

The saloon gave Geyer a venue to display his collection of photographs, collected during his circus travels to many parts of the globe.  Said The Capitol publication:  “The collection is the most complete of any in the world and consists of splendid portraits of the world’s celebrities and many of the most beautiful women of the world.”  

By the time of the 1910 census, Geyer had left the liquor business and was heading a household composed of an unmarried sister, Carrie; a married sister, Emma, and her husband, Frank.  None of the three was working, possibly supported by Albert’s profits from the saloon.  The 1920 census found the former circus star living with Carrie and two boarders.  By 1930, the two Geyers had been joined by a brother, Charles.  Albert’s occupation was listed as “writer, magazines,” apparently spinning tales of his career.  By 1940, the former acrobat was living with a widowed sister, Anna.

Despite his physical problems, Geyer lived to be 84 years old, dying in December 1945, just as World War II was ending.  He was buried among family members in Section 5 of the historic Angelus Rosedale Cemetery where many Los Angeles notables are interred.  Unfortunately his gravestone has weathered badly, making it hard to read.  For Albert’s epitaph, I have selected a 1900 quote from the Quincy newspaper about this once world-famous personage:  “By his pleasing address and unassuming manners he endeared himself to all who had the good fortune to meet him.”

Note:  I was drawn to the story of Albert Geyer by seeing the image of the matchsafe found here.  Exploring the background of these saloonkeepers brought forth the details of the famous acrobat.  The key resource was the 1900 article in “The Capitol” publication that in turn quoted from a biography of Albert Geyer that earlier had appeared in the Quincy (IL) Review.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Stunning Life & Death of Jacob Van Bokkelen


Beginning on the East Coast as a merchant seaman, Jacob Lorillard Van Bokkelen, shown here, found his way to San Francisco where he rapidly gained a reputation for leadership in ridding the city of criminal elements.  Moving to Virginia City, Nevada, while still in his thirties, Van Brokkelen played a pivotal role in the early history of the state while becoming the proprietor of a beer garden and saloon.  Nothing in his event-filled life, however, matched the impact of his departure from Virginia City.

Van Bokkelen’s drinking establishment attracted the “better sort” of Virginia City residents, mine owners, merchants, and professional people.  He located the place a mile or so outside the bustle of town, amidst the sagebrush and trees of Six Mile Canyon, below.  In that peaceful setting customers could sip their beer and whiskey while admiring the antics of the bachelor proprietor’s pet spider monkey while likely gossiping about the man himself.

Tales would be told of Van Bokkelen’s coming to Virginia City in the late-1850s and quickly establishing himself as a hardware dealer on Taylor and B Streets, later becoming an agent for the Giant Powder Company of San Francisco, the first United States firm to produce dynamite under license from Alfred Nobel.  Blasting powder and booze were Van Brokkelen’s “bread and butter.”

Attention also would be paid to Van Bokkelen’s rapid rise to local celebrity when he was named first the Assistant and then General Provost Marshal of Nevada early in the Civil War.  Shown in that uniform in the photo that opens this post, Van Bokkelen headed the Union’s military police, charged with keeping order among soldiers stationed in the territory and the civilian population.  His soldiers, outfitted like the Nevada troopers shown here, also hunted and arrested deserters, spies, and others suspected of disloyalty; confined prisoners; maintained records of paroles and oaths of allegiance; controlled the passage of civilians in military zones, and investigated the theft of Government property.

By all accounts, Van Bokkelen acquitted himself well.  Toward the end of April 1860, the Paiutes and their allies, the Bannocks and Shoshones, gathered at Pyramid Lake, Nevada, for a conference on continued white intrusion. It ended in a battle.  During the conflict, the Provost Marshal was credited in keeping peace and order in Virginia City, a scant 50 miles from the fighting.  Van Bokkelen was similarly praised for maintaining calm in 1865 following the assassination of President Lincoln.  

After the war Van Bokkelen continued his peacekeeping duties during a 1873 political struggle over management of the Nevada state penitentiary known as the “The States Prison War.”  When an ousted warden refused to relinquish the job,  Nevada’s Gov. “Old Broadhorns” Bradley ordered him to moblize a force of 60 men with artillery to surround the prison.  Pointing out to the warden that further resistance would cause casualties and possibly allow prisoners to escape, Van Bokkelen helped defuse the situation peacefully.

Just as important as Van Bokkelen’s achievements as Provost Marshall was his role in obtaining statehood for Nevada.  Strong political pressure from Washington was behind Nevada becoming the 36th state entering the Union in 1864, giving the President Lincoln three more electoral votes, and for Republicans, increased representation in Congress.  Van Bokkelen was one of five Virginia City residents chosen to the Statehood Constitutional Convention of 1864.  He subsequently was elected the first president of the Nevada State Legislature.

While these accomplishments were well-known to those frequenting Van Bokkelen’s drinking establishment, they probably were unaware of his earlier exploits.  He was born in 1822 in New York City into a large family headed by his mother, his father having “gone South.” The 1850 census recorded Jacob as a merchant seaman who already had advanced to “supercargo,” representing the ship’s owner on board the vessel and responsible for watching over the cargo and its sale.

One of his ocean voyages had taken Van Bokkelen to San Francisco, where in 1849 he decided to remain.  The City by the Bay at that time was a community beset by the presence of criminal gangs, often in league with city officials.  In 1851 seven hundred prominent San Francisco citizens formed a “Committee of Vigilance that took the law into their own hands, including hanging individuals found guilty of serious crimes.  Shown here as a younger man, Van Bokkelen was registered as Vigilante No. 173.  He was elected Chief of the Vigilante Police and given broad powers of investigation and arrest.  His work in helping clean up San Francisco won him election in 1854 as an alderman.

My guess is the massive silver strike known as “The Comstock Lode” caused Van Bokkelen to leave San Francisco for Nevada. As shown below, Virginia City was bustling with activity.  While there is no evidence of his attempting to mine, his provision of explosives to miners and mines proved lucrative, providing him the money to build his beer garden and saloon.  His patrons also must have discussed the New Yorker’s cavalier attitude toward dynamite, boasting that he had such confidence in the product that he stored it in his apartment when inventory grew too large for his store.


What Van Bokkelen’s fellow citizens likely did not know was that he also apparently was experimenting with more volatile explosives. In August 1973 the New York Times printed a letter from a man named White that stated:“When I visited Gen. Van Bokkelen, he told me that he would soon have a blasting agent in the market that would excel giant powder [dynamite].”  On my asking what it was, he turned to [six] cases and opened them, showing me the gun-cotton saturated with nitro-glycerine, together with the cotton pulp mixture.”

At 10:45 p.m. on June 29, 1873, a huge explosion rocked Virginia City.  When the dust and smoke cleared, ten people were found dead, among them General Van Bokkelen. Van Bokkelen’s body was found in a corner of his room, “his features so bruised and charred as to be unrecognizable,” read one newspaper account.  Other victims were three local merchants, a female hotel owner, three other men and an eight-year old girl.  Many were killed by falling timbers and bricks.  One man died when he was stuck by an iron door hurled the distance of 100 feet. Other potential victims had to be rescued by the fire department.

A number of Virginia City buildings were destroyed or severely damaged.  They included the Bank of California, Armory Hall, Daly’s Saloon, a grocery store and a building that used the upper floor as a lodging-house.  The city went into mourning and flags were flown at half mast.  The city’s Fourth of July celebration was canceled and the money collected for it used to burying the dead.  Subsequent days were filled with funeral processions wending through the gates of the local graveyard.

As with any disaster of this kind, townsfolk looked for someone to blame.  Fingered as the chief culprit was the spider monkey, whose remains could not be found amid the rubble, presumably blown to bits.  Speculation was that Van Bokkelen’s pet was playing with a can of nitroglycerine and dropped it.  The container exploded, causing the others to explode.  That blast in turn detonated the 150 pounds of dynamite Van Bokkelen had stored.  Others residents, perhaps more accurately, blamed the Provost Marshal for his cavalier attitude toward explosives, including experimenting with nitroglycerine in a downtown building.  In the end no one ever knew the cause.

With Van Bokkelen dead and his remains lying somewhere in an unmarked grave in the Virginia City Cemetery shown above, his beer garden and saloon went up for sale.  A local woman purchased the property for an order of Catholic nuns, the Daughters of Charity, to open a hospital in Virginia City.  St. Mary Louise Hospital opened in 1876, the four story building shown here. It had 36 rooms and could accommodate up to 70 patients. The hospital operated until the 1940s and then lay idle until 1964 when it became a center for the arts.  One room has been dedicated  to Jacob Van Bokkelen in honor of a man rightly hailed as a historic Western figure and a “Father of Nevada Statehood.”  The Provost Marshal’s role in the 1873 blast largely has faded from public memory.

Note:  This post has been gathered from the rich resource material that surrounds Van Bokkelen’s life story.  Accounts of the explosion are derived from articles from the New York Times and Sacramento Daily Union.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Whiskey Men Who Fought for the North ll

Foreword:  This, the second post about soldiers who fought for the Union in the American Civil War,  recounts three quite different stories.  The “whiskey men” involved had quite diverse experiences that ultimately took those soldiers into postwar careers of prosperity and recognition in three disparate parts of the country.

Within a week of President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 men to serve for three months at the outset of the conflict, John Low, 25 years old, joined a Carlisle, Pennsylvania, troop called the Sumner Rifles and was given the rank of corporal.  His unit performed garrison duties in Delaware and West Virginia.  When its term of service ended the company returned to Harrisburg to be mustered out.  Low enrolled again at Carlisle and became a 2nd lieutenant.  Within a month he was engaged in hot combat at Antietam, West Virginia, one of the costliest battles of the Civil War.  After that he was engaged at the fierce battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville in Virginia.

A captain by war’s end, Lowe returned to Carlisle to an uncertain future.  Married with two children and others on the way, none of Low’s Civil War heroics seemed to translate into prosperity.  He tried and failed as a produce dealer and later as a mechanic.  In the 1880 census Low’s occupation was listed as “huckster,” someone selling items from a push cart or stall. 

Low’s fortunes were about to change.  His reputation and income rose significantly sometime in the 1880s when he established a liquor wholesale house and bottling facility.  He featured a proprietary brand that he marketed as:  “A Whiskey Without a Headache.”  It was “Elk’s Pride.” Low also became the local distributor for several important breweries, including Pabst beer from Milwaukee and Bartholomay beer from Rochester, New York, two very popular brands of the times. He also was bottling soft drinks sold under his name. His building in downtown Carlisle is shown below.

When he died at the relatively young age of 55, Low was mourned as one of the leading businessmen of Carlisle and given a well-attended church funeral, with full military honors.  

Almost a quarter of the troops fighting for the Union in the Civil War were foreign born, among them some 216,000 from Germany.  Less well known were the thousands of immigrants who stayed in the military, moved West and fought in the Indian Wars.  Among them was Fritz Jessen who eventually found a permanent home in Prescott, Arizona, running a popular saloon and earning praise as “a good citizen in every sense of the word.”

Coming to America from Germany in 1850, Jessen was 19 when the Civil War broke out, joining the 29th Regiment Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry in December 1861, the only non-Celtic regiment in the famed Irish Brigade.  Over the next four years  Jessen’s regiment took part in 29 battles and four sieges, including Vicksburg.  Just before the South surrendered, during the siege of Petersburg, his unit suffered its worst casualties during the March 1865 Battle of Fort Stedman, shown above.  Jessen appears to have escaped serious injury throughout the conflict.

Unlike other Union soldiers, who went back to civilian pursuits at war’s end, Jessen stayed on as his battalion was reorganized ordered to the Presidio of San Francisco to counter resistance from Indian tribes. In June 1870 the federal census found him there, unmarried and 28, assigned to the Signal Corps.  Stationed with him were a number of other German-born soldiers.  It is likely that Jessen took part in the war against the Modoc tribe in California during 1872-1873.

Perhaps as early as 1882, Jessen left the Army to buy an existing drinking establishment in Prescott. Arizona,  and changed its name to the Headquarters Saloon.  Located on busy Gurly Street, it is shown on the postcard view below, the two story frame building second from right.  Jessen advertised frequently in the local newspapers, emphasizing sales of both draft and bottled beer. He also claimed to have “The best Wines, Liquors and Cigars in the market always on hand.”  Over the next few years, Jessen thrived in his adopted city.  The Headquarters Saloon proved to be one the most popular in Prescott, known throughout the West for its teeming “Whiskey Row” of drinking establishments.

When he died in 1903 at the age of 69, Jessen was hailed in the local press as a Civil War veteran and valued Prescott resident.  Said the Weekly Arizona Journal Miner “The deceased from his long residence in Prescott had made a great many friends, who will be pained to hear of his death. He was a good citizen in every sense of the word, and during his business career, was always progressive and enterprising, taking a natural pride in the progress of the town.”

Born in Ireland, Lawrence J. Logan immigrated to the United States, joining the Union Army in 1865 as the conflict was coming to a close.  Upon return he assisted his brother with his saloon and liquor business.   According to a biographer, Logan developed “a love for military life.” Serving in a reserve capacity he was promoted through the ranks until 1879 when he was made a lieutenant colonel. Logan’s rise in Boston’s business circles also had been rapid.   Within seven years of joining his brother in the whiskey trade, Logan took over the business completely. Eventually the scope of Logan’s sales would cause social historian Dennis Ryan to declare him the “baron of Boston’s liquor business.”

With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Logan, now 57 years old, was determined to participate and was mustered into regular service, arriving in Cuba on July 1, 1898.  Almost immediately his commanding officer became violently ill and had to be returned to the U.S.  Lt. Col. Logan took command.  Soon he found himself leading the main body of the regiment to the fighting front.  It required an all-night march through forested and swampy ground that one writer termed “tedious and memorable.”  

After a brief halt in the morning, the advance continued and by noon of the same day the regiment arrived at field headquarters. With Logan leading, the Massachusetts volunteers were assigned key positions in trenches on the extreme left of the siege of Santiago, shown here.  There the regiment experienced fierce combat and significant casualties from hostile fire and disease, recording 129 fatalities, including four commission officers.

The colonel’s business and military prowess carried him into South Boston political prominence.  For many years he was a member of the Democratic City Committee and for four years served as treasurer.  In 1886 and 1887 he was elected to the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, a governmental body that provided legislative and advisory assistance to the governor in matters such as judicial nominations, pardons and commutations. 

Before he died at age 80 in 1920 at the advent of National Prohibition, according to one account:  “Lawrence Logan was raking it in as head of the company.  There were at least eighteen large breweries operating in and around Boston, but the Galway-man’s outfit dominated the “Irish market,” the pubs in the Irish wards…”   Lawrence also lived to see his son Edward become a much-decorated WWI general and the man after whom Boston’s Logan airport is named.

Note:  More complete vignettes of each of these whiskey men may be found elsewhere on this website:  John Low, April 27, 2018, Fritz Jessen, September 19, 2019. and Lawrence Logan, August 2, 2019.  An earlier post on whiskey men as Union soldiers ran April 15, 2018.