What exactly is a saloon?
What exactly is a saloon? If you are a fan of Western films, then you will know of the common image: a false wooden front, the swinging doors at the entrance, a handful of hitching posts for horses, a grand polished bar, gunfights, sexy saloon girls. While there is truth to how saloons are depicted in the movies, Hollywood, as usual, failed to accurately depict everything. Take saloon girls for example. Films often depict them as being prostitutes, but this is a false claim. In reality, saloon girls were women in desperate positions. They consisted of refugees from farms, widows of cowboys who perished in gunfights, and women who for various other reasons needed an income. Any patron that mistreated a saloon girl was instantly deemed a social outcast and banned from the saloon for life. Gunfights were indeed a reality, but not nearly as common as films have led us to believe. With the number of saloons that existed in the Wild West era totaling in the thousands, associating incidents that happened at a select few with saloons as a whole is simply a misinformed stereotype. That being said, the most widely known saloons entered the history books for incidents that occurred within them or nearby, a few of which we explore here.
The Dead Man’s Hand
If you ever played or have watched poker, you are familiar with the term “Dead Man’s Hand”. However, the details behind why this particular poker hand earned its title might be new to you. From what is believed to be the first reference in 1886 consisting of a full house of jacks full of tens, to the common thought deriving from 1907 that having a pair of jacks and a pair of sevens was unlucky if you won the pot, the term “Dead Man’s Hand” has come to have several meanings throughout history. In actuality, the particular hand thought to give this hand its sinister name is a two pair consisting of black eights and black aces. The story takes place at the Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota. A drunkard by the name of Jack “Crooked Nose” McCall was playing poker against lawman and fellow gambler James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock. After hitting a losing streak in which he lost every dime, McCall was aided by “Wild Bill” to be able to afford a room and dinner. The next day, August 2, 1876, Hickock met his fate as McCall came to claim revenge on his de
ad brother by shooting Hickok in the back of the head. The hand he was holding has ever since been known as the “Dead Man’s Hand” and is avoided by superstitious players. If you are ever in Deadwood, the saloon is still running and you can sit exactly where this gruesome event occurred.
Shootout at the O.K. Corral
Perhaps one of the most infamous shootouts in the Old West era is the shootout at the O.K. Corral. The difference between a saloon and a corral is nonexistent, so I feel this story belongs here. The town of Tombstone, Arizona entered a silver rush in 1877, quickly growing into one of the largest towns of the southwest. In October of 1881, control of Tombstone and the county of Cochise would reach a bloody climax. After several run-ins with the town marshall Earp brothers, on October 26 at approximately 3 P.M., five members of the Clanton-McLaury gang had a shootout in a vacant lot behind the O.K. Corral. The gunfire lasted only 30 seconds with around 30 shots being fired. When the smoke finally settled, Clanton and the McLaury brothers were dead while other members of the gang fled for the hills. The Earps walked away merely wounded. The O.K. Corral no longer operates today, but if visiting the historic area of Tombstone, you can stand where the infamous showdown occurred.
The Fate of Saddlewood
The town of Saddlewood was quite peaceful and prosperous. Running off of a recent discovery of gold in nearby mines, the town quickly grew, with several cow folk looking to strike it rich. As the gold rush entered its height, the notorious millionaire Barnaby J. Williams looked for ways to increase his profits. Barnaby selfishly built a dam to divert the water flow from the local river to aid in his own mining, disregarding the welfare of the rest of the residents of Saddlewood. If the dam is not destroyed soon, the fear is that Saddlewood could end up a ghost town as the river runs dry. Concerned residents have met at the saloon to concoct a plan to undo the damage Barnaby has caused and save the town before it is too late.
You Decide the Outcome
Saddlewood might be a fictitious town, but it needs your assistance to avoid becoming just another blip in history. The town is counting on you! If you want to be transported back to the Wild West and help save the town or learn more about our escape rooms, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703-884-1524 to reserve the Saddlewood Saloon today!
Written by Zachary Hullings