Alcohol in the Old West

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Alcohol in the Old West

We can be sure that any Siberian, Asian or European vessel of exploration/exploitation which visited the Western shores of American carried it’s own version/supply of alcohol. Native Americans were already well versed in the Art before the coming of the invaders. Here, we take a short look at Alcohol in the Old West, starting in the early days; what was it, who made it, what did it cost, how did they get it, etc., etc…?



John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, (1774 – 1845) was a pioneer American nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as the northern counties of present-day West Virginia. An American legend during his lifetime, due to his kind, generous ways, his leadership in conservation, and the symbolic importance he attributed to apples. Trees that Chapman planted had multiple purposes and they didn’t even yield edible fruit. The small, tart apples his orchards produced were useful primarily to make hard cider and applejack. Chapman planted strategically, for profit. He planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery. He left his sister an estate of over 1,200 acres of valuable nurseries.  Illustration U.S. PD 1871 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine – Johnny Appleseed.  {001}

“Up until Prohibition, an apple grown in America was far less likely to be eaten than to wind up in a barrel of cider. In rural areas cider took the place of not only wine and beer but of coffee and tea, juice, and even water.”
Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire.


1837 – The Rendezvous on the Green River at Horse Creek (to-be Wyoming) offered alcohol, imported from the East at $4 a pint. (see: The Originals Index – Trade in the Old West – Commerce in the Old West 1837)

1860-65Civil War times beer, 15 cents the glass. (re: Soldier’s Joy; see: The Originals Index – Trade in the Old West – Commerce in the Old West 1860-65)

1865 – Bitters, champagne, wine and barrels of bourbon (claimed: 5,000 gal.)
On the manifest of the Steamboat Bertrand, sunk in the Mississippi River. (see: Wk. 13, 04/01/1865)
(see also: Photo Gallery Index – Transportation PhotosSteamboats)

1879 – Canoncito, NM bartender Frank Page kills outlaw Samuel” Rattlesnake Sam” Johnson when he refuses to pay for his drink ($.25) but then discovers he will not be able to collect the offered reward.  {001}

1880’s – San Francisco Whiskey prices:
(see: The Originals Index – Trade in the Old West – Commerce in the Old West1880’s)

1880‘s – American brands included: Chicken Cock, Coronet,  Hermitage, Log Cabin,  Old Crow, Old Forrester, Old Reserve and Thistle dew.
Imports of the time: Canadian Club, Dewar’s Scotch and Jameson Irish Whiskey.
(re: True West Magazine (08/2016))

1881 – Popular drinks of the time included: Stone Fence*, Tom and Jerry** and Whiskey Punch***.
(re: True West Magazine (08/2016))


In the vernacular…


Bang Juice
Barley Corn
Brave Maker
Bug Juice
Coffin Varnish
Conversation Fluid
Corn Squeezin’s
Cowtown Neck Oil
Dead Eye
Drink Water
Far Water (Texan)
Fire Water
Forty Rod Lightning
Gut Warmer
Liquid TNT
Nose Paint
Old Lightning
Old Pine Top
Panther Piss
Red Disturbance ?
Red Eye
Rot Gut
Ruckus Juice
Scamper Juice
Skull Varnish
Snake Water
Snake Poison
Sneaky Pete (a drink?)
Tongue Oil
Truth Syrup
Wild Mare Juice

Tequila and Mescal:

Cactus Juice
Taos Lightning

Out drinking…

hear the owl hoot…
on a toot…

Drinks of the Times

*Stone Fence
6 oz. whiskey                       Pour the whiskey and ice into a whiskey glass
2 or 3 ice cubes                   fill to the top with cider
Cider                                     Stir well and serve…

**Tom and Jerry (c. 1820’s)
A variant of eggnog, with brandy and rum added, served hot, usually in a bowl or mug.
Said to have been invented by British journalist Pierce Egan.

***Whiskey Punch

Fish House Punch (c. 1732 Philadelphia, PA) [modern version]
1 cup sugar
3½ cups water
1½ cups fresh lemon juice (6 to 8 lemons), strained
1 (750-ml) bottle Jamaican amber rum
12 US fl oz cognac
2 US fl oz peach brandy
Garnish with lemon slices

Stir together sugar and water in a large bowl or pot until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon juice, rum, cognac, and brandy and chill, covered, at least 3 hours. Put half-gallon ice block in a punch bowl and pour punch over it. Strong stuff! Normally diluted with cold black tea, or, today, with seltzer water.

grog – Traditional drink of sailors – spirituous liquor (usually rum) cut with water. Named for English Admiral Edward Vernon (Old Grog) 1684 – 1757, who was noted for his wearing of a grogram* cloak in bad weather. He was the one who ordered the English sailors rum ration cut with water. No doubt an economical move as well as a practical one.  [001}
*A coarse fabric of mohair silk and wool.


Further information related to Alcohol in Old West Daily Reader:
References – Dictionary – Agave, Gil, grog, Mescal, Pulque, Proof,
Rush the Growler, Tequila, Tiswin.

OWDR-barbed-wire-divider2End: Alcohol in the Old West


{001} C 03/18 (2); E 02/18: F 02/16; P 02/18

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