Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Three Who Sold Whiskey to Indians

Foreword: The official U.S. Government view about selling whiskey to Native Americans was expressed in an 1833 report by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to Congress: “The proneness of the Indian to the excessive use of ardent spirits with the too great facility of indulging that fatal propensity through the cupidity of our own citizens, not only impedes the progress of civilization, but tends inevitably to the degradation, misery, and extinction of the aboriginal race.” Here are the stories of three men who sold alcohol to indigenous peoples.

Indian Bureau officials during the 1800s had to deal with men like George Buente, the owner of a St. Louis shipping company whose principal trade was illicitly selling whiskey on Indian reservations.  Buente ultimately became the U.S. poster boy for the greed of white Americans prospering from the sale of “firewater.”

Buente, an immigrant from Germany, about 1881 opened a business in St. Louis, 

Missouri, he called Geo. Buente Shipping Company, selling a variety of wares in Indian country — including whiskey.  Although under the jurisdiction of federal laws that declared the Oklahoma Indian Territory “dry,” the traffic in liquor there was a continuous flow.  Buente was described by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs T. J. Morgan as “one of the largest whiskey shippers doing business in the Territory.”   

The middle men were Indian traders, mainly white men who were authorized to buy and sell on Native American lands.  They would order merchandise to be shipped by merchants like Buente in boxes or barrels marked to contain innocuous items like cooking pans and clothes pins, but bearing whiskey and other alcohol.  Despite suspicion, Buente did not face legal sanctions until he made a particular shipment in 1889 to Atoka, Oklahoma, a Choctaw town and home base of many Indian traders.  The town is shown below.

One of Buente’s large wooden crates carried a label claiming it contained “Queensware,” a type of British-produced crockery.  Suspicious, local police seized it upon arrival in Atoka, pried the cask open and inside found enough liquor and other items to outfit a saloon.  Buente was arrested and brought before a Federal court.  He feigned ignorance of the law but nonetheless pled guilty to the charges.  He was fined $500 (equivalent to more than $12,000 today) and court costs.   Whether these events were enough to discourage him from sending liquor into Indian Territory again is unclear.  Six years later Buente died in St. Louis.  

A page one headline in the Bismarck, North Dakota Tribune of December 29, 1907, shouted that a “Moorhead Firm Sold Booze to Indians.”  The story continued that:  “A sensation was created here today…that the head officers of the Pederson Mercantile company, the largest wholesale liquor dealers in northern Minnesota, doing business in Moorhead, Minn., were arrested Thursday by a United States marshal of this city charged…with selling liquor to Indians of the Turtle Mountain reservation.”  Among those arrested was Ralph Pederson, president of the company, a leading Moorhead businessman and city councilman.

An immigrant from Norway, Pederson through his mercantile company was doing a brisk business shipping liquor into North Dakota.  Protected by the Interstate Commerce clause of the Constitution, residents of that state legally could purchase alcohol by mail order from out-of-state businesses like Pederson Mercantile.  As a result every day gallons of his spirits were being dispatched by rail and truck into North Dakota, much to the dismay and anger of local officials.  It may well have been they who tipped off Federal authorities that Pederson had sold liquor to Native Americans at the Turtle Mountain Reservation — a crime.

Indicted by a federal grand jury, Pederson, his son as the company secretary, and the company treasurer were arraigned before a U.S. Commissioner in Moorhead on twelve counts.  The trio made bail and awaited their appearance in court.  Commented the Bismarck newspaper:  “On account of the prominency of the parties the case will be watched with interest and promises to be a desperately fought legal battle.”  

In actuality, the trial appears to have ended with at most a slap on the wrist for the Pedersons.  As one observer put it:  “Getting juries to convict was also a problem.  The seller of liquor was often a reputable businessman in the community.  Regardless of what the law said about the competency of Indians as witnesses, prosecutors did not want to bring an action against a local businessman on the word of an Indian.”   Although I have not found the final verdict in their case, Pederson and his company seems hardly to have suffered, continuing to sell alcohol locally and by mail order throughout this period and afterwards. 

In subsequent years the federal ban on selling alcohol to Native Americans was discarded in favor of allowing each tribe make the decision on its own. Turtle Mountain Indians currently allow the sale of beer and other alcoholic beverages on the reservation following a process of licensing and supervision by the Tribal Council.

An immigrant from Ireland, Thomas Patrick McGovern settled in a small Montana town called Dupuyer on the edge of the Blackfeet Reservation.  There in the 1890s he opened a drinking establishment he called “The Beaver Slide Saloon,” a reference to the slick, muddy trails that beavers made along the banks of Dupuyer Creek.  McGovern’s letterhead  promised “First-class wines, liquors and cigars always on hand.”  Patronage from the reservation was welcome.

Soon he would meet his future wife, Sophie, who was living with the Blackfeet.  Born in 1872, she was the daughter of a French Canadian trader named Michele Longevin and an Indian woman named Mary (or Anna) Many White Horses.  It is not clear how Tom and Sophie met.  Interaction between the white and indigenous populations in that region of Montana was a common occurrence.  After their marriage McGovern took up residence on the reservation and the couple raised their family there.

Meanwhile McGovern was prospering at his drinking establishment in Dupuyer. He regularly was selling beer and liquor to the Blackfeet with no fear of the law. Local lore describes how McGovern dealt with customers who turned drunk and rowdy in his saloon:  “…The Beaver Slide Saloon went so far as to have a man-made "beaver slide" that extended from the back door to the creek. When the locals had a wee bit too much to drink, they were tossed down the slide and into the creek for a ‘sobering’ experience.”   The Beaver Slide Saloon burned in December 1901 and was not rebuilt.

McGovern then appears to have been employed as an administrator on the reservation. In 1927 at age 64 he died there after 35 years of marriage to Sophie.  A long way from his Irish birthplace, McGovern had found a home and family among a Native American tribe that had accepted him into their midst.  It apparently mattered little that he was a saloonkeeper.  

Note:  Longer posts on each of the “whiskey men” featured here may be found elsewhere on this blog:  George Buente, January 21, 2018;  Ralph Pederson, March 13, 2020, and Thomas McGovern, February 22, 2020.

Note #2:  A milestone: This blog -- "Those Pre-Prohibition Whiskey Men" -- having reach a million "hits" late last year has now surpassed 1.1 million.  The number of "look-ins" averages between 300 and 400 per day.  The interest has come from all over the world, according to Blogspot. The number of followers also has grown to 319, for which I am extremely grateful. 



Friday, April 23, 2021

The Frontier Saga and Sorrow of Henry Gesas


Harry Gesus was among the Jewish pioneers who helped build the frontier American West by helping to meet the mercantile needs, including liquor, of growing populations in Wyoming, Idaho and Utah.  Henry’s efforts, however, exacted a high family cost in precarious health, early death, and recurring sorrow.

Gesus, shown here in maturity, was born in 1864 in Silale, meaning “Pinewood,” a modest size town in central Lithuania,  He was the son of Nathan and Bessie Berman Gesas.  When Harry was six years old, his family came to New York City where his father established a shirt manufacturing business.  Young Harry was educated in Gotham, worked in the family business, and in 1884, age 20, married Anna Fitzer, a Russian-born woman whom he may have met as a child on the boat coming to America.  Over the next 22 years they would have 10 children.

During the 1890s, a decade of economic recession, Gesus family members began to head west in search of better opportunities.  The parents relocated to Chicago.  A daughter moved to Idaho.  By the end of the decade all but one of Harry’s siblings had left New York.  He and Anna with five children had chosen to locate in Kemmerer, Wyoming.  Shown below, Kemmerer was a new town created by finding rich coal deposits nearby. Coal was essential to the Union Pacific Railroad that was expanding its network across the West.  The products of the mines have been credited as “the latent power which built Wyoming industry and culture.”

In Kemmerer Gesus with a partner created a clothing and dry goods store to meet the needs of a growing population.  The business appears to have been an initial success. Within months they were planning a second store in the nearby coal town of Diamondville, an outlet that opened in 1898.  Located next to a liquor store it may have given Gesas his first inkling of the whiskey trade.  With his brother Barney, Harry also had part ownership of a similar store in Rockville, Wyoming, another coal town 70 miles from Kemmerer.

The Gesus family would appear to have achieved some level prosperity.  A photograph of three older children — from left, May, Jess, and Charles— shows a well-costumed grouping.  Even so, May’s infectious smile hides a delicate physical condition difficult to cope with in the primitive setting of Kemmerer.  Her health was a constant concern.   When May continued to decline during 1899 her parents took her for treatment 130 miles to the hospital in Salt Lake City.   Leaving Anna with the little girl, Gesus then returned to Kemmerer telling the local newspaper that “the little one’s condition was much improved and he thought she was far from being dangerously ill.”  

Within the week, however, he received an anguished call from his wife.  Mary had died, apparently from heart failure.  Gesus quickly entrained to Salt Lake City.  The family turned to the city’s Jewish community for burial arrangements in the local cemetery of the B’nai Israel Congregation, one of only a few Jewish burying grounds in the Mountain West.  They mourned as 10-year-old May was interred there.  Her gravestone is shown here. 

Meanwhile, Gesus and his partners were facing financial problems.  Kemmerer, Diamondville and Rockville were all company towns where coal mine owners dictated many of the condition of life for residents.  Possibly seeing the mercantile success of the Gesuses, owners pressured workers to use the company stores instead.  The Diamondville outlet closed within eight months.  The Gesus brothers tried opening stores in two other Wyoming coal towns, Fossil and Cumberland, again to no avail.  Faced with a growing family, declining prospects, and the memory of May’s death, Harry Gesus in 1902 moved his family to Idaho.

This time he abandoned selling lingerie and began to sell liquor.  His new location was Blackfoot, Idaho, a town not based on coal but boasting a large potato industry and known as the "Potato Capital of the World.”  Shown above is a portion of its main street.  In Blackfoot Gesus opened a saloon and liquor business he called the Kentucky Liquor Store, selling both at wholesale to local saloons and restaurants and at retail.  He was receiving whiskey by the barrel by rail from eastern distilleries and decanting it into gallon and two gallon jugs, like those shown here.  Gesus also opened a store in St. Anthony, a town 65 miles north of Blackfoot. 

Although living conditions in Blackfoot were better than Kemmerer, sanitary conditions were similarly poor.  Outdoor privies were often crudely constructed and water supplies could be polluted.  Doctors were few and often badly trained.  Hospitals were non-existent.  Son Walter Gesas, who had been born in Kemmerer in 1899, at the age of four died in Blackfoot of unrecorded causes.  Once more Harry and Anna traveled the tedious miles to Salt Lake City to bury Walter next to his sister in the B’Nai Israel Cemetery.

Two years later the Gesus family would anticipate the impending birth of another child.  It was a girl, born in April, 1904, a daughter they named Beatrice.  The Gesus household must have been an exciting place with a new baby.  Sadly, she was not destined to emerge from infancy.  By September Beatrice was dead.  Once again the Gesus family made the sorrowing journey to the Salt Lake City graveyard to watch as baby Beatrice was buried next to Walter and May. Harry and Anna must thought often about the toll rugged Western living had taken on their family.

After the death of Beatrice, Gesus did not linger long in Idaho.  Perhaps the memories were just too bitter.  The family moved to Utah, to the town of Price.  Price, 120 miles south of Salt Lake City, was a mining settlement known for its religious and ethnically diverse population.  The wide range of creeds present included Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Protestants, Mormons, Japanese Shinto, and a few  Jews.  There the Gesus family found a home.  Shown here is a portion of a mural showing the town in the early 1900s.

In Price Harry Gesas opened another liquor store, advertising himself as “The Whiskey Merchant.”  Again he was selling at both wholesale and retail, buying whiskey by the barrel and decanting it into ceramic jugs for his customers.  Shown here are four jugs of varying sizes that Gesus employed, ranging from top left to bottom right at half-gallon, gallon, three gallon and four gallon capacity.   Saloon keepers would in turn empty these larger jugs into smaller containers for over-the-bar sales.

While the exact dates of Gesus liquor business in Price are uncertain, he would have been forced out of business in 1917 when Utah voted to go “dry.”  Ironically, it was not the anti-alcohol Mormons but a Jewish governor who pushed through the prohibition law.  The 1920 federal census found the Gesus family living in Salt Lake City.  With their older children now grown, they still had three living with them, including their last, Francis, 9, born in Utah.  Harry Gesus was recorded  running a tobacco shop.

Subsequently the family moved to San Francisco where their eldest son, Charles, now married, was living.  Harry was listed in 1923 California voting registration records as a “merchant,” likely selling tobacco.  He died in November of that same year at the age of 58 and was buried in a Jewish section of a Colma, California, cemetery.  Anna would join him there 19 years later.  Shown here is their joint gravestone.  It is 740 miles from where their three young children lay.

Harry Gesus in a relatively short lifespan had created businesses in nine towns in four Western states,  including seven in bona fide rough and tumble frontier communities.  In each locale he faced challenges.  Not all his businesses were successful.  In two locales he and his family found heartache.  Yet the Lithuanian Jewish immigrant persisted.  In his doggedness Harry Gesus deserves remembering for embodying the spirit of entrepreneurship that helped build the American West.

Note:  It was seeing several Harry Gesus jugs that suggested there might be a story in this “whiskey man.”  That led me to an article in Western States Jewish History.  Dated October 1984, the article is entitled “Harry Gesus: Jewish Merchant in a Wyoming Coal Town.”  The author is Nancy Schoenberg, a Gesus descendant.  My deep gratitude goes to the former publisher of the magazine, David Epstein, for sending me a copy.  Ms. Schoenberg has provided the details of Gesus’ origins and his efforts in Wyoming.  His later activities selling liquor in Idaho and Utah were researched from a variety of sources.  

Monday, April 19, 2021

William Brachman’s War, Whiskey and Politics

Brought to this country from Germany as a toddler, William E. Brachman amply earned his credentials as a citizen of the United States by his gallant service in the Union Army during the Civil War, his dedication to selling domestic liquor, and his apparent close interest in American political life.  The last was made manifest by ceramic whiskeys, including the little brown jug seen here.

Born in October 1837 in Frankfort-on-Oder, Brachman (alternatively “Brachmann)  arrived with his family in 1840, settling in Cincinnati.  His father, a farmer in Germany, after several years in the city went back to agriculture.  The Brachmans moved to Highland County, Ohio, a hilly jurisdiction north and west of “The Queen City.”  There the boy completed his education while assisting on the farm.

Just 21 years old at the outbreak of the Civil War, Brachman was quick to enlist in the Union Army in June 1861.  He was mustered into the 47th Volunteer Ohio Infantry Regiment as a corporal, indicating he had some amount of secondary education.  As the tattered battle flag of the 47th suggests the regiment was thrown repeated into major battles.  Meanwhile Brachman was rising steadily through the ranks.  In December of 1862 he was promoted to second lieutenant.  In that role he was wounded at the Siege of Vicksburg, shown below.  Brachman recovered sufficiently to rejoin the 47th Ohio where in July 1964, age 24, he was raised to first lieutenant and assigned to command Company H. 

During General Sherman’s siege of Atlanta, shown below, Brachman distinguished himself as a military leader.  In an after-action report by the regimental commander, Major Taylor,  the German immigrant was singled out for praise for having “rendered efficient aid in various assaults.”  In one instance Taylor described Brachman and Company H “pouring a continuous and deadly fire into the enemy, driving them from the works, and retaking a section of artillery which the enemy had turned on us.”

After the war the decorated soldier came back to Cincinnati where thereafter he was called “Captain” Brachman.  It is unclear if he had been raised to that rank before being mustered out or if it was an honorific.  Brachman also returned to marry Georgia Ann Robb from Highland County in May 1872.  The young woman may have been a childhood sweetheart.  Over the next six years they would have four children, daughters Jessie, born in 1873; Willa, 1874; Sarah, 1879, and son Fredrick, 1877.

Following his return Brachman formed a business partnership with Charles J. Glossner, a Cincinnati local of similar age who may have learned the liquor trade working in his father’s store.  The partners’ first address was 168 Elm Street.  They soon outgrew those premises, moving to 125-127 Walnut Street.  Within several years, however, the partnership was severed for reasons unknown.  Glossner carried on at the Walnut Street address while Brachman moved along and in 1869 found a new partner.  

He was John Peter Massard, a considerably older local tradesman.  Earlier, Massard’s career had taken many turns, working as a baker, saddle maker, druggist and steamboat operator before joining Brachman in a wholesale and retail liquor business, located at 79-81 West Third Road.  That would be the address of Brachman & Massard Wines & Liquors for the next two decades. The partners likely were “rectifiers,” blending raw whiskeys they obtained from neighboring Kentucky distilleries to sell.  They advertised in 1890 that they were mixing “whiskey, gin, and brandy cocktails…prepared for use by the bottle or gallon.” In soliciting the cocktail trade they were ahead of their time.

The partnership also was marked by the creativity of the partners in their choice of containers for their whiskey.  The jugs seen here are all the creation of the Kirkpatrick brothers of Anna, Illinois, a pottery firm 350 miles west of Cincinnati.  The Kirkpatrick’s produced a series of ceramic bottles that incorporated a variety of snakes, lizards and other animals.  Some observers have concluded that the jugs were meant to illustrate the evils of strong drink: “The ghastly images evoked in these jugs are brutal and meant to be a warning to those tempted by liquor.

Wait a minute!  Several of those jugs carry labels indicating that they came from Brachman and Massard.  The jug above, shown from three angles, features a snake that wraps around the neck of the jug and then loops out to form the handle. The incised letters in the Albany slip on the front identifies the item as a “Little Brown Jug” from the Cincinnati liquor dealers and bears the date 1876.  Brachman and his partner though their mini-jug were making an anti-Prohibition statement.  The snake, if it meant anything, was menacing the “dries.”

If the witness of this jug is not enough to dispel the notion of a Kirkpatrick temperance crusade, a second ceramic crafted for Brachman & Massard should be sufficient.  Shown here in two images, including one that opens this post, this small jug carries a label that clearly identifies the contents as coming from the Cincinnati wine and liquor dealers.  This jug also carries a political message.  Look carefully at the base below. Note the scratches.  Those slash marks, “8 to 7,” were making a partisan statement.  They were a reference to the Presidential election of 1876 in which Samuel Tilden, the Democrat, received a larger popular vote than the Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, but the electoral vote essentially was a tie. To decide which one would become President a group of five congressmen, five senators and five members of the Supreme Court were selected to make the decision. By an 8 to 7 vote —widely thought to have been swayed by political promises — they determined that Hayes was the winner.

The result set off a firestorm of protest that tore the country apart to an extent not rivaled in American history until last January’s Trump-inspired insurrectionist assault on the U.S. Capitol.  Although the Kirkpatrick brothers of Anna Pottery were known to be fierce Tilden partisans,  Brachman and his partner must have been in full agreement.  They knew their customers would understand the symbolism. 

Brachman & Massard survived well beyond the Tilden-Hayes controversy until 1897, moving during the last two years from West Third Street to East Third.  In the meantime, Brachman had become wealthy from liquor sales.  He moved his family into a spacious home on Morris Place, an upscale neighborhood. He also was investing in transportation as one of five founder-owners of the Cincinnati, Georgetown & Portsmouth Railroad.  This interurban narrow-gauge train was unusual in being powered by coal burning stream engines rather than electricity.  Shown at right atop the White Oak trestle, from a modest beginning the line grew to serve territory that had no other steam railroad and survived into the Twentieth Century.

Brachman lived long enough to see the dawning of the new century, but just barely.  At the age of 63, he died in January 1901.  The Civil War hero and whiskey dealer was cremated at Cincinnati’s Hillside Chapel and his ashes deposited in the adjoining colombarium.  Shown here is a room in that facility, one displaying ceramic jars containing ashes.  None, however, are valued at the thousands of dollars that Brachman & Massard’s  Anna Pottery ceramics currently fetch from collectors.

Note:   I was drawn to the story of William Brachman by the jugs that decorate this post.  Their significance is explained by Author Richard D. Mohr in his 2003 book entitled, “George Ohr and the Brothers Kirkpatrick.”  Brachman’s heroics during the attack on Atlanta are contained in a document entitled “HDQRS. FORTY-SEVENTH OHIO INFANTRY VOLUNTEERS, East Point, Ga., September 10, 1864.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

H. Scott Sons: The Means of Making It in Memphis

For years Henry Scott ran a successful wholesale liquor business in Greenville, Mississippi.  As they reached maturity, his sons — Jacob, Lewis and Isadore — joined him learning the whiskey trade.  In 1908, however, Mississippi became one of the first Deep South states to go dry.  Out of business, Henry’s sons decided to move their enterprise upriver to Memphis and begin anew. Despite innovative approaches, embodied by the illustration above, H. Scott Sons found the going difficult.

Father Henry Scott was born Henry Skotzky in 1832 in Gnesen, Prussia, now Gniezno, Poland.  He arrived in the United States at the age of 25, possibly already married to his wife Hannah, a woman six years younger than he. The couple appear to have settled initially in New York City where son Jacob was born in 1857.  He would be the first of ten children, five daughters and five sons, born over the next 21 years.  

When Scott first entered the liquor business is uncertain.  About 1862 Henry and Hannah moved to Louisiana where their second child was born.  After a sojourn there of no more than three years, the family moved to Mississippi and thence to Greenville. Before the Civil War Greenville had been a prosperous cotton depot but the town had been burned to the ground by Union troops.  Scott apparently could see the potential for the rebuilding as Greenville grew steadily from a population of 890 in 1870 to almost 10,000 over the next 30 years.

Henry opened a business there he called “H. Scott Wholesale Liquor Merchants” locating it on the main street, Washington Avenue, shown above  His customer base was in Greenville’s hotels, restaurants and saloons.  Henry also appears to have sold at retail.  His proprietary “house” brand was “Scott’s Private Stock Whiskey.”  He apparently met with considerable success in the sale of alcoholic beverages.  A measure of it was his being chosen by the Pabst Brewing Company of Milwaukee as its exclusive beer distributor in that region of Mississippi.

As his first three sons matured, Henry took them into the business one by one.  Jacob was the first to join his father in the liquor house.  He was followed by Louis, born in 1874, and  Isador, born in 1876.  As the years progressed the Scotts could see the Prohibition movement grow stronger and stronger in Mississippi, as in the rest of the Nation.  Gradually through “local option” laws surrounding communities were being shut off to them.   Finally in 1908, Mississippi by state law went completely “dry.”  H. Scott Company was out of business.

Henry, now 72 and possibly in failing health, retired.  His sons did not. About 1912 Jacob, Louis and Isador decided to open a liquor business in Memphis  Their father likely provided much of the upfront money to make the enterprise possible.  The brothers intended to cash in on the surging market for liquor through mail order sales to the proliferating “dry” states and localities.  The Supreme Court had ruled that laws prohibiting such sales violated the interstate commerce provision of the Constitution.  Even if Tennessee was mostly dry, Memphis was centrally located in the country and a transportation hub for railroad, river, and highway — ideal for such an operation.

Thus was born H. Scott Sons Company of Memphis.  Although all three were listed as the managers, Jacob, considerably older than his brothers and well established in Greenville. stayed at home.  Louis and Isador, the latter shown here, still in their 30s and unmarried, moved to Memphis. 

The Scotts set up shop in the Falls Building, seen here.  It was among the city’s most prestigious — and expensive — addresses. Moreover, the success of a mail order liquor house depended on flossy, eye-catching advertising done through widespread media and colorful catalogues, all contributing to a financial drain.  In a field already crowded with mail order dealers, Scott’s Sons, as in the ads below, attempted to carve a niche for themselves by claims like “We sink all competition on price and quality,” and offering cigar coupons.

Scott’s Sons promotional materials also touted dubious heath claims: “Your family doctor will tell you that it is a necessity to have whiskey on hand, because in case of sickness its usefulness cannot be estimated. You cannot wait until someone gets sick before you place an order.  Again:  “Doctors recommend whiskey for a tonic and say it will add years to your life because it has properties that will stop decay and waste.”

The brothers featured a variety of proprietary brands, likely ordered by the barrel and poured into whatever labeled bottles might be available.  Among them was “Grandpa Corn Whiskey” at 100-proof, sold with the claim:   Offers quality in every drop… is excellent for your health…will make you feel better after using it.” The company’s flagship was “Old Scott,” likely named after Henry and carrying his likeness on the label.  The bottle is shown below along with another featured brand, “Old Harvester.”

H. Scott’s Sons experienced a rocky financial road.  Really successful whiskey men typically resided in upscale houses or lodged in luxury hotels.  City directories indicate Lewis and Isador were living in a boarding house in 655 Poplar Avenue, a less fashionable part of Memphis, shown here.  As one observer has put it:  When company owners live in rented lodgings, that’s not exactly a sign of long-term prosperity.” Moreover, by 1915, the Scott brothers had moved their operation out of their posh address at the Falls Building and into a ground floor headquarters in the 70 block of Union Avenue, a street of small family-run businesses.  By 1918 they disappeared from city directories, apparently defunct.

The 1920 census found Isador back in Greenville, working as the manager of a candy factory.  Louis, having met his wife, Margaret Landman, in Memphis, stayed there becoming a manager at well known Goldsmith’s Department Store.  Louis died and was buried in Memphis in 1938.  In Greenville, Father Henry Scott died in 1915, followed by Jacob in 1923, and Isador in 1964.  The three are buried in adjacent graves marked by a large granite monument. 

Despite the success of their father, two factors spelled the doom of H. Scott’s Sons’ Memphis enterprise.  First, they had miscalculated how crowded the field had become for mail order liquor sales.   Dozens of dealers already were selling directly to customers all over the United States.  Breaking in was an expensive, potentially long term proposition.  Second, and more important, the trade was highly dependent on compliant federal and state laws.  The Scotts had misjudged the growing strength of the “dry” forces and their unflagging efforts to ban mail order liquor sales — a crusade that culminated in fourteen years of National Prohibition.  In sum, Jacob, Louis and Isador had come late and the party was over.

Note:  I was drawn to the story of the Scotts by seeing the image from a catalogue cover that opens this vignette.  In the course of my research I found an article by Vance Lauderdale online that originally had appeared in the September 2011 issue of Memphis magazine. Mr. Lauderdale, who wrote a humorous column about his home town, found the image above particularly amusing:   The “order now” salesman [Isador?] is sitting in his office: “Meanwhile the Falls Building itself — where he would actually have been working — is visible down the street outside his window. I guess the artist couldn’t figure out how to show the H. Scott’s Sons salesman and the company’s building at the same time…. Even so, the Falls Building did not carry the name “H. Scott’s Sons” in giant letters across its rooftop.”

Sunday, April 11, 2021

George Hand and His Iconic Arizona Diary

As a saloonkeeper in Tucson, Arizona, during the last quarter of the 19th Century, George O. Hand drank to excess, often frequented prostitutes, and ran a saloon where violent behavior was a nightly affair.  Nevertheless, Hand, shown here, became an Arizona legend simply by the expedient of keeping a diary of his life and times.

Hand was born in 1830 in Whiteside, Oneida County, New York, the son of Ira W. and Sybil Foster Hand, the oldest of six children.  His father was listed in the 1850 federal census as a manufacturer, indicating a reasonable amount of wealth in the family.  The boy likely had a secondary education.  A brother became a well known dentist.  George himself had a wanderlust and with the hint of gold in California in 1849 set his sights on the West Coast. 

Hand’s success as a gold miner is unknown but when the Civil War broke out, he  enlisted in August 1861 at Nevada City, California, joining Company G of the California 1st Infantry Regiment.  Likely because he was older (31) and perhaps more literate than most Union recruits, he entered with the rank of sergeant.  The regiment never saw combat as Confederate military forays westward from Texas ended early in the war.  Hand and his fellow soldiers spent the duration doing garrison work in New Mexico, Arizona and West Texas, stationed for a time at Ft. Yuma, California, shown below. It was during this period that Hand first began to keep a diary.

After his discharge in August 1864 the writing stopped as Hand returned briefly to  his family in New York.  The 1865 state census recorded him there, listing his occupation as “miner.”  Hand did not stay long in the East, returning west to engage in a series of unsuccessful business enterprises in New Mexico and Arizona.  In 1867, he moved to Tucson, a town that was undergoing a growth spurt, and became a partner in a butcher shop.  

In the summer of 1869, Hand and his partner, George F. Foster, sold the butcher shop and opened a Tucson drinking establishment they called “Foster’s Saloon.”  When Foster temporarily left the partnership, Hand moved it from Main Street to the northwest corner of Mesilla and Meyer Streets.  Shown below is a photo of the area.  The man standing at far right is in front of the saloon. 


Like many buildings in Tucson, the drinking establishment was a one story adobe structure with a flat roof.   The interior was stark with a plain counter top as a bar and a few tables and chairs scattered around the room.  Hand and Foster subsequently put up a partition to separate the main bar from gambling tables in the back. The only adornment was some Currier & Ives prints that Hand pasted on the walls, including the one of a horse, shown here.  At night the barroom was lighted by kerosene lamps.  Several smaller rooms were at the rear, one them where Hand, a lifelong bachelor, slept.  A courtyard out back contained the privy.

Hand’s drinks similarly were unadorned.  Whiskey was his customers’ liquor of choice and they were not fussy. No need for nationally known brands.  Hand was buying whiskey by the barrel from wholesale dealers, selling some over the bar by the glass and decanting the rest into bottles and jugs for retail sales.  He did not slap proprietary labels on those containers as some did.

Hand is believed to have to have revived his habit of a daily diary entry about 1872 after opening the saloon.  Early entries apparently have been lost.  Those that exist begin in January 1875 and end in the late 1880s.  Biographer Neil Carmony has described the importance of Hand’s “saloon diary:”  “Most of the  pioneers who took the time to keep a diary were serious and orderly folks, not much given to humor and certainly not frank about their love loves.…In his diary,  George Hand captured the flavor of the ribald, fun side of frontier life, described the often violent West, and revealed the…loneliness and tedium of a life far from home and family.”

During this period Hand was living a life far different from his New York family.  Shown left with one of his many young friends, dressing and looking like an early day hippie, George generally was considered a “good guy” in Tucson’s rough and rowdy community.  In his diary Hand was starkly honest about his activities and the saloon.  For example, he documented his alcoholism with precision:   Jan. 19, 1875:  “Got up at 8 o’clock. Took one drink and was tight.  Kept drinking until 11 a.m., then went to bed full of rot and slept till 3 p.m.” Nov. 5, 1875:  “Got drunk today.” and the next day: “Got tight again. Went to a funeral.  Got tighter at night.”  Oct. 5, 1877:  “Very dull.  Drank all day and all evening.”

He was equally faithful in documenting his visits and payments to Tucson prostitutes:  Jan. 13, 1875: “Cruz—$5.00;”  Jan. 18, 1875:  “Unknown girl—$3.00;”  Nov. 6, 1875:  “Juana—$1.00.” Dec. 23, 1876:  “Called on Pancha a few moments—$10.”  Hand also described the raucous activity at the saloon:  May 23, 1875:  “Green Rusk got tight, had a row with John Luck and got a cut in his head from a cane.” May 29, 1875:  “Boyle hit a man in the eye for calling him a son-of-a-bitch.  Later in the evening I knocked a man down,”  Mar. 9, 1876: “Mr. Bedford, being full of liquor, made a row with old Dick.  Foster hit Bedford in the neck and put him out of doors.”

Interspersed among such diary jottings are some Western history gems: "March 19, 1882:  “Morgan Earp died today from a gunshot wound he received while playing billiards in Tombstone. He was shot through a window from the sidewalk.”  March 21, 1882:  “Frank Stillwell was shot all over, the worst shot-up man that I ever saw. He was found a few hundred yards from the hotel on the railroad tracks [In Tucson]. It is supposed to be the work of Doc Holliday and the Earps, but they were not found. Holliday and the Earps knew that Stillwell shot Morg Earp and they were bound to get him.”

Twenty years after Hand’s death, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson’s morning newspaper, shown here, began publishing entries from his diaries as a historical feature on its editorial page.  From 1917 to 1972, the saloonkeeper’s observations were printed almost daily, bringing a man who otherwise likely would have been utterly forgotten to the forefront of public attention.  As Carmody has noted:  “For more than four decades, thousands of Arizonians began their day reading George Hand’s laconic [and sometimes expurgated] comments on frontier life.”   One observer has called Hand’s diaries “sacred documents.”

Hand continued to co-manage the saloon until 1881 when he and Foster, partners for twenty years, shut it down. He found it difficult to stay away from the whiskey trade. In March of 1882 Hand entrained 60 miles south from Tucson to Contention City, today a ghost mining town eight miles east of Tombstone.  There he pitched in to help a friend open a new saloon.  After staying four months Hand returned to Tucson, never again leaving that city.

As he aged, Hand modified his behavior and his appearance.  Townsfolk, recognizing his Civil War service, began to address him with respect as “the old Captain” even though Hand had never risen above sergeant.  His veterinary skill with dogs brought him friends among people of wealth.  Gone was the shaggy, unkept beard and the wrinkled clothing.  A photo in middle age with a favorite dog shows Hand dressed in a three-piece suit and holding a bowler hat, looking every bit the Eastern businessman. He and Foster were elected charter members of the Society of Arizona Pioneers, a forerunner of the Arizona Historical Society.  Hand also was an active member of the G.A.R., Civil War veterans organization.  Remarkably given his past, he served for a time as the chaplain of the Tucson chapter. 

After Hand’s return to Tucson in 1882 he was hired as a janitor and night watchman for the newly constructed Pima County courthouse, shown here  The job gave him an income, an office in which to continue writing his diary, and a place to sleep at night.  Even in his younger days Hand often had complained of feeling ill. In 1887 his health deteriorated rapidly, apparently heart failure.  

By April Hand was too sick to work and was taken in by the Foster family.  He died on May 3, 1887, at the age of 57 and was buried in the G.A.R. section of the Tucson Cemetery.  His tombstone is shown here.  Note that it does not give Hand’s dates of birth or death but only his Civil War unit.

A last word on George Hand I leave to Author Neil Carmony:  “His ingenuous writings are both rich reading and important historical documents. George Hand chronicled the lives and loves of the pioneers with a candor and style that is unique in the literature of the Old West.

Note:  Although a number of articles have appeared about George Hand, the principal source for this vignette was the book, “Whiskey, Six-guns & Red-light Ladies: George Hand’s Saloon Diary, Tucson, 1875-1878,”  edited by Neil Carmony and published by High-Lonesome Books, Silver City NM, 1995.  Carmony has included them all in an unexpurgated edition, along with informative commentary.  I recommend it to readers of this blog.  The photos here are gratefully acknowledged from the Arizona Historical Society, Tucson.