We recently had a fun event in Houston for the local Steampunk community. The Brass Ball, a DJed dance with multiple musicians and vendors was held Sunday July 27 at Mimms Martini and Wine bar on Montrose. You can see photos of the Brass Ball here in the blog post.
This event had me thinking about Houston saloons in the 19th century. The main choice of drink in the saloon was whiskey, also called rotgut, sheep-dip, cactus juice, coffin varnish, and tarantula juice. In those days cowboys and western gents could partake of more than just a drink in a saloon. In 1839, a local Houston, Texas newspaper decried the town’s houses of ill repute. The newspaper was probably either The Houston Morning Star, a daily newspaper founded April 8, 1839, or the Telegraph and Texas Register, a weekly newspaper that included local, state, and national news, established July 10, 1839. The Houston Morning Star was actually printed in the office of the Telegraph and Texas Register.
In Houston Land of the Big Rich the author, Geroge Fuerman, states that from 1880 to World War I Houston’s vice area was on old Howard Street. In the early 1900’s the brothels in Houston used a practical bookkeeping system based on towels. One was given to each customer and at the end of the night the madam counted the towels and paid the girls accordingly. There’s a story about a Howard street brothel in those days that caught on fire. The madam fled the burning house by taking the outside stairs but when she looked up she saw the porter jump form a second story window with his arms loaded with towels. She exclaimed, “Thank God. He saved the books.”
I did find some saloon information from other Texas towns. In the early 1870s in Lampasas Texas a gunfight broke out in the saloon between state police and outlaws. Three officers were shot to death in the saloon and a fourth was fatally wounded while trying to escape.
There’s even a Texas saloon story involving Jesse James. The outlaw lived for a time in the area of Granbury Texas. He fell in love with an 18 year old saloon girl and began to settle down. In those days if a saloon patron was upstairs with a saloon girl when his wife came to drag him home, the barkeep would send the man down the husband escape, which was the outside stairs. The saloon girl Jesse loved had to run down the husband escape one night but she wasn’t fast enough to escape a bullet in her back. Some people say the saloon girl still haunts the empty up stair rooms around the square in Granbury.
I’m glad to report the Brass Ball at Mims was old fashioned fun and great music without any wild west shenanigans or shootouts but there were some card tricks.
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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 19 books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, fantasy and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.