Legendary Watering Holes
The Saloons that Made Texas Famous
Texas History - Western History
6.125 x 9.25, 320 pp.
34 b&w photos., 11 line drawings.
Pub Date: 08/31/2004
Clayton Wheat Williams Texas Life Series
Price:        $29.95


Published by Texas A&M University Press

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Legendary Watering Holes

The Saloons that Made Texas Famous

By Richard Selcer, David Bowser, Nancy Hamilton and Chuck Parsons

Saloons, barrooms, honky-tonks, or watering holes—by whatever name, they are part of the mythology of the American West, and their stories are cocktails of legend and fact, as Richard Selcer, David Bowser, Nancy Hamilton, and Chuck Parsons demonstrate in these entertaining and informative accounts of four legendary Texas establishments.

In most Western communities, the first saloon was built before the first church, and the drinking establishments far outnumbered the religious ones. Beyond their obvious functions, saloons served as community centers, polling places, impromptu courtrooms, and public meeting halls. The authors of this volume discuss both the social and operational aspects of the businesses: who the owners were, what drinks were typically served, the democratic ethos that reigned at the bars, the troubling issues of social segregation by race and gender within each establishment, and the way order was maintained—if it was at all.

Here, the spotlight is thrown on four saloons that were legends in their day: Jack Harris’s Saloon and Vaudeville Theater in San Antonio, Ben Dowell’s Saloon in El Paso, the Iron Front of Austin, and the White Elephant of Fort Worth. Together with architectural renderings of the floor plans and old photographs of the establishments and some of their more famous customers, the history of each is woven into the history of its city. Fatal shootings are recounted, and forms of entertainment are described with care and verve.

One of this book’s most fascinating aspects is the sharp detail that brings to life the malodorous, smoky interiors and the events that took place there. Selcer and his co-authors are experts on their respective watering holes. They start with the origins of each establishment and follow their stories until the last drink was served and the places closed down for good. There are stops along the way to consider the construction of the ornate bars, the suppliers of the liquor served, the attire of the gentlemen gamblers, the variety of casino games that emptied men’s pockets, and more. Through the wealth of detail and the animated narrative, a crucial part of Texas’ Western heritage becomes immediately accessible to the present.

Editor and compiler Richard Selcer is a long-time adjunct professor of history at Cedar Valley College in Dallas, Texas, and at the International University in Vienna, Austria. He lives in Fort Worth and has written six books on Western and Civil War history.David Bowser, born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, is now known as the “historical detective” of San Antonio, where he has lived for over twenty-five years. He is the author of West of the Creek: Murder, Mayhem, and Vice in Old San Antonio.Nancy Hamilton, a past president of Western Writers of America, specializes in hisotry of the El Paso area. She retired in 1990 as associate director of Texas Western Press at the University of Texas at El Paso. She currently chairs the University of Texas–El Paso Heritage Commission.Chuck Parsons, a Texan by choice, has for decades held a deep interest in the Old West, the Texas Rangers, and outlaws and lawmen. He is the author of Captain L. H. McNelly—Texas Ranger: The Life and Times of a Fighting Man.

What Readers Are Saying:

“This volume nicely crosses over between well-researched social history and popular history. Students of urban growth, regional history, ‘saloonography,’ prostitution, alcohol use and gambling will profit from these four case studies. Buffs in the cities under study as well as those who favor good tales of Texas history will also enjoy the book. . . . the writing style is clear, spirited, and engaging, with enough colloquialisms to charm. . . . Instead of a distant bird’s eye view of the topic, with a surfeit of generalizations, the authors take us right into the heady, often raunchy and violent lives of these Texas watering holes. They do an excellent job of highlighting colorful and important personalities, vivid events, and also providing wider political and economic contexts. The treatments of drinking, prostitution, and gambling are historically accurate. . . . this is popular history at its best. Descriptions are vivid. . .”--Richard W. Slatta, North Carolina State University, author, Simón Bolívar’s Quest for Glory: The Mythical West, Comparing Cowboys and Frontiers

“...breaks new ground and would be welcomed by both general readers of Western history and scholars of Western American history, particularly those focused on Texas.” --Robert DeArment

“The American Wild West story has been told from numerous perspectives, but never from that of saloons. Saloons acted as social centers, churches, homes away from home, hotels, drinking and gambling parlors. They witnessed political debates, preaching, small talk, gunfights, prostitution, voting booths, athletic events, business deals, plots, and a place to come in out of the rain. Saloons entertained the high and the low, the fast guns and slow thinkers. They became a male refuge, a meeting place of the sexes, the last bastion of the high and mighty, the bright and the dull, its customers and staff coming together not only for drinks but for companionship, chicanery and commonality of spirit and background. Without saloons, the Wild West would have been dull, essentially unrecognizable. Yet the saloon story, until now, has never been told with such clarifying candor. If you understand saloons, you will understand the West: why it was Wild, why it was great, and why it will always be remembered.” --Leon Claire Metz, Past President, Western Writers of America.

“I enjoyed reading Legendary Watering Holes . . . With carefully selected notes, the text appears to be well documented. Though I had little knowledge of the history of saloons, gaming, etc., I see now that they were certainly a part of Texas’ colorful past.” --Ellen Maverick Dickson, former English / Texas history teacher

“What a great book! Even teetotlars will be fascinated by this verbal-visit to the rough and rowdy saloons, and the sleekly sophisticated gentlemen’s social clubs of a century-past! This well researched glimpse into Texas’ colorful past will keep you turning pages long past your bedtime!” --Docia Schultz Williams; author, historian, lecturer

“Authors David Bowser, Nancy Hamilton, Chuck Parsons, and Rick Selcer have captured the exciting atmosphere of the 19th century saloon of the Old West. Solid research and a smooth flowing and exciting narrative will enthrall the reader. Come step bak into time and visit several of the more famous saloons of Texas where big name gamblers, gunfighters, lawmen and outlaws relaxed, gambled and sometimes engaged in deadly gunplay.” --Donaly E. Brice

“Aside from some vintage views of the state’s wild west days, “Legendary Watering Holes: The Saloons That Made Texas Famous” offers a different view of the man pouring the whiskey. These men in white aprons traveling their own circuit, just like the cowboys they served. Considered to be bartenders of esteem, they were often referred to as mixologists or “professor” and kept blends of dozens of cocktail blends in their heads. Alas, authors note in the Texas A&M University Press book, these venues where everybody knew your name gave way to manager-run corporate chains a hundred years ago. Doesn’t that sound like a modern complaint?” --Port Arthur News

“This one is a must-have for the Western history aficionado. . . the authors do a fine job of explaining not only how the businesses worked, but the often-contradictory social climate in which they operated.” --The Bryan-College Station Eagle

Legendary Watering Holes is a good read, filled with colorful anecdotes and interesting details.” --Houston Chronicle

“Thanks to this engaging book...these four legendary watering holes live on.” --Review of Texas Books


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