MINERS OUT WEST ATE BETTER THAN YOU THOUGHT
Mining history by Harold Hough
Contrary to the Hollywood image of mining towns, residents ate just as well as anyone else in the United States. Many chefs went to the goldfields to ply their trade and the same trains and stagecoaches that took the gold and silver out, were hauling quality provisions into remote mining towns. It might be warmer in a western mining town than London, but it had the same amenities as many major cities of the British Empire. Better yet, you could have your beer cold.
Western mining towns were quite cosmopolitan. Foreign money was flooding into mining towns to turn prospective deposits into profitable mines. Mining towns were also home to geologists, mining engineers and professors from around the world. And, it was evident by the amenities available.
An excellent example was Tombstone, Arizona – the Wild West town that gave us the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Just three years after Ed Schieffeiln found the silver claim that led to the founding of Tombstone, people were coming from as far away as Europe to make their fortunes.
As Tombstone took on an international flavor, so did its tastes. Kelly’s Wine House offered customers 25 imported wines. So as to discourage its clientele from shooting each other when drunk, they even had an indoor shooting range. If your taste ran to fancy cooking, you could pick from Chinese, French, Italian, Mexican, and even “Home Cooking” eating establishments. In the stores, you would find common name brand foods like Campbell’s Soup, Underwood Deviled Ham, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Pillsbury Flour, Heinz Ketchup, and Tabasco Sauce. Of course, if you wanted a salad to go with your meal, you were probably out of luck. Vegetables were expensive and didn’t offer the profit margins that shippers wanted.
That same variety was found in the bars. Although rotgut whiskey was available, everyone, including cowboys and miners had more sophisticated tastes. Bartenders in these mining towns could whip up a cocktail as quickly as a modern New York City bartender. For those British citizens who wanted a gin and tonic, there was imported Schweppes Tonic Water along with a wide variety of gins from Great Britain.
Although saloons were at the center of the mining community, Tombstone residents wanted more entertainment than dance hall girls or cards. Tombstone had baseball teams, a bowling alley, a gym, and Shakespearian plays. They even had a bookstore where newspapers from around the country were found as well as a good selection of books. Those with a sweet tooth, like Wyatt Earp, also had several ice cream parlors to choose from.
Since a train spur hadn’t come to Tombstone yet, the stage line was critical. Oysters, which were popular at the time, had to be shipped in ice from San Francisco to Benson, Arizona and then moved by wagon to the town. Once there, they were kept cold thanks to Tombstone’s own ice plant.
Ironically, it was this last 25 miles of the trip that these luxuries took, that became the bone of contention for the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The Clantons had a habit of holding up the stagecoach and freight wagons coming to and from Tombstone. And, there is nothing more likely to rile the citizens than interfering with the delivery of their luxuries. So, when the Earps and Doc Holliday decided to stop the Clantons on October 26, 1881, they were doing nothing more than what modern police do when they stop truck hijackers.
Although the gunfight and the continued clashes between the Clanton Gang and Earps created Tombstone’s reputation as a Wild West City, it was the destruction of this lawless element that actually allowed the town to evolve into a more law abiding community, where freight could move peacefully, capitalists could invest money without fear, and citizens could enjoy the luxuries of the world in the remote West.