• Dennis McCaslin

Chroncles of the Old West: If a gunslinger didn't get you, the saloon hooch probably would

Fires regularly broke out in the wooden structures of Old West towns. Usually a faulty flue in a stove; a knocked over kerosene lamp or a trash fire that got out of hand would destroy whole blocks.

On June 22, 1881 one such fire broke out in Tombstone. It burned down 66 buildings. The cause of the fire was a barrel of whiskey. That's right, a barrel of whiskey.

It seems that someone at the Arcade Saloon got too close to a barrel of whiskey with a lighted cigar and it exploded.

Although there were imported Scotches and whiskeys in the Old West, most of the booze consumed was manufactured in someone's back room.

Now, I said manufactured, as opposed to distilled. In the South there were those who were making "white lightning" in a still in their back yard. It may have been a little stronger than the regular stuff, but it was no harder on the body.

But, in the Old West there was Tarantula Juice, Valley Tan, Snakehead Whiskey, Rookus Juice and the ever popular, Taos Lightning. I have a couple of the recipes. If you get a pencil and paper I'll share then with you.

The simplest way to make whiskey was to take a barrel of raw alcohol and add to it one pint of creosote. Another, more complicated recipe was to combine the raw alcohol with a pot of coffee, plug of chewing tobacco, a little sulphuric acid, and red peppers for taste.

"Snakehead" Thompson felt the six rattlesnake heads he added to each barrel gave his whiskey that extra “bite."

Incidentally, the cowboys who consumed these spirits rarely needed Alcoholics Anonymous.

Death usually came before addiction.

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