Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bellying Up to the Bar in the Sacramento Room: El Dorado in a Shot Glass, Saloon Culture in Gold Rush Sacramento, 1848-1853

Wednesday night, October 15, in the Sacramento Room, SPL Librarian James Scott, presented his research on the heart and soul of Sacramento popular culture during the Gold Rush, the saloon.

Did you know that Sacramento's first saloon was called the Stinking Tent?

Did you know that Sacramento's first bartender was Peter Slater of Missouri?

Did you know that bears, eagles, oxen, anacondas and monkeys were all used to lure folks into Sacramento's saloons?

In addition to imparting such fun facts, Scott spoke to issues of race, gender and politics in saloons. Certainly, going back to one of the earliest drinking/gaming spots, the Round Tent, it's clear that the many races and ethnicities that were drawn to the Gold Rush could share a relative amount of harmony within these places, the Foreign Miner's Tax, and the large number of emigrants from the American South notwithstanding.

Hopping on from race, the contributions of saloonist Josephine Gibson were discussed. She was likely the first female saloon owner in the city, having opened and operated the Capital and Josey's Place saloons.

Finally, Scott emphasized the versatility of saloons as venues for - among other things - boxing, theater, adjudication, and bathing. Saloons were also strong aligned to politics. The Whigs, Know-Nothings and Democrats all found places to rally 'round their causes. One such example was the Indian Queen, which was a spot for Democrats to gather. It was owned by the Daly brothers, James and Bernard. Although the two started off as Democrats, they broke, with James becoming a Know-Nothing and opening his own establishment called the Merchant's Exchange at Front Street. Bernard maintained the Indian Queen, but their relationship was never the same.  The Whigs had a gathering place cunningly called The Whig Headquarters.

It's important to never lose sight of the history that flowed through California's capital city during the Gold Rush. The brother and father of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth acted at Lee's Exchange, one of Sacramento's first "concert saloons"; one of the city's earliest saloons, the Mansion House, was operated by future Confederate Cavalry Officer Edwin Waller, Jr.; and, Charles Cora, one of the most skilled and disliked gamblers in the American West, got into a blazing gunfight at the El Dorado Saloon, located at the northeastern corner of Second and "J" Streets.

Look for a program on brewing and distilling in antebellum Sacramento in January and February.

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