Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sauer-McShane Served Notorious Women of the West

A photo of the Sauer-McShane Mercantile in Central City, Colorado, shows a number of men lounging on the sidewalk in front of the building.  Some of them undoubtedly were waiting for the women who frequented one of the fanciest stores west of Denver.  Otto Sauer and John McShane, merchants and liquor dealers, had their own pioneer stories, but nothing to match the notoriety of two  female customers, legendary women known as “Baby Doe” and “Poker Alice.”

Shown here, Baby Doe, a.k.a. Elizabeth McCourt Tabor (1854-1935), was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  After divorcing a neer-do-well husband named Doe, she moved to Leadville, Colorado, where she met Horace Tabor, a wealthy silver magnate and future U.S senator almost twice her age.  He promptly divorced his wife of 25 years, married the beautiful Elizabeth, and set off a major scandal in Colorado.  Baby Doe, as she became known in media coverage nationwide, had plenty of money to spend with Sauer-McShane until Tabor lost all of his in the Panic of 1893. At the end of her days she was rendered destitute.

Alice Ivers was Irish, born in England, whose parents moved to Virginia when she was twelve.  While she was still in her late teens her parent moved to Leadville, Colorado, and she soon found a husband.  When he was killed in a mining accident, she was in difficult financial straits and turned to playing cards for a living.  Shown here, Ivers used her good looks to distract men at the poker table. She always had the newest fashion dresses, some bought from Sauer-McShane.  She was also very good at counting cards and winning big pots, which helped her become known throughout the West and earn the name “Poker Alice.”

Otto Sauer and John Mcshane wrote their own legends, opening the first general store in a Colorado mining town that was virtually nothing but an assemblage of wooden shacks, and eventually made their enterprise a retail giant.  Sauer (1838-1915) was the original mastermind of the mercantile, founded under the name of Sessler & Sauer but subsequent run solely by Sauer, shown left.  A biography noted that “Mr. Sauer is a man considerable wealth, the greater part acquired by close attention to this concern.”

In 1882 Sauer sold a majority share of the company to McShane,  a Pennsylvania-born son of a wagoneer, born about 1835.  As a youth he had relocated first to Iowa, then to Kansas, and from there emigrated to Colorado. In Gilpin County he engaged in gold mining and came to own a part of the renowned Gunnell mine, shown here.  After achieving considerable wealth McShane gained political attention and was elected to the Colorado territorial legislature in 1875.  Later he would serve on the Central City School Board. 

The partners recognized that an immense amount of money from gold, silver and other metals was being unearthed and available in that part of Colorado.  Area mines annually were producing the current equivalent of $75,000,000, mostly in gold.  Men of wealth often had wives or mistresses that they wanted dressed in the best finery, as exemplified in the photo above at Sauer-McShane. The women are wearing tea or floor length dresses, laced shoes with heels, straw or fabric hats with elaborate decoration and bows, gloves, and brooches.  While such fashionable garb might have been available in Denver, that city was over the mountains.  Sauer-McShane could provide haute couture close to home and the male partner’s cash box.

We can imagine one or both proprietors greeting Baby Doe Tabor at the entrance of the store, aware of wealth she represented.  Then they would turn her over to their best millinery and dress salesperson.  They also knew the value of selling liquor in their mercantile company.  From the mine owners to those who “moiled for gold,” thirst for alcohol was virtually unanimous.   Sauer-McShane could fill that bill as well.  A gallon ceramic jug shown here suggests that the partners were getting shipments of whiskey by the barrel via the railroad, decanting it into their own containers and selling it to saloons and over-the-counter customers.

McShane became particularly known for his business savvy.  Beginning in 1868, according to his biography, he was “actively identified with the mercantile interests of Gilpin County….”  The implication was that McShane first had been employed by Sauer and then bought into the company that under the Irishman’s management had become “extraordinarily successful.”

The local newspaper reported that in 1894 the company had shown an increase in sales of $20,000 over 1893. “They have increased their storage capacity for receiving goods in car-load lots, and the present year will be better enabled than ever before to please their customers.”   That additional storage capacity likely was a new warehouse the partners had constructed.  It still stands today, bearing their name, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
By 1895, the company was doing the current equivalent of $5,000,000 in sales annually.  This wealth allowed the partners to branch out into other endeavors.  Sauer became a founding director of the first National Bank of Central City, accounted one of the most successful financial institutions in Colorado.  Later McShane joined as a stockholder, director and vice president.  

At the age of 77 Otto Sauer died in 1915 and was buried in the Block 23, Lot 12, Section 3, of the Fairmont Cemetery in Denver.  John McShane followed in 1920 at the age of 85 and is buried nearby.  Their gravestones are seen here.

Both men were outlived by their famous customers — both Elizabeth Tabor and Alice Ivers lived into the 1930s, and in a sense beyond.  Baby Doe’s rags-to-riches and back to rags again story not only made her a well-known figure in her own day, but inspired other treatments.  “The Ballad of Baby Doe” is a 1956 opera by American composer Douglas Moore that continues to be popular with American audiences.  She also was the subject of an 1932 Hollywood motion picture.  Called “Silver Dollar,” it starred Edwin G. Robinson as Tabor and Bebe Daniels as  Elizabeth.   The story of Poker Alice has inspired several short stories and a 2014 prize-winning song, “The Ballad of Poker Alice Ivers.”

Note:  Much of the material on McShane and Sauers, including quotes, was taken from History of the State of Colorado, Volume IV, by Frank Hall published by the Rocky Mountain Historical Company, published in 1895.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Whiskey Men Fighting for the North

Foreword:  The Civil War that raged between 1861 and 1865 was a defining event in American history.  An increase in alcoholic consumption among the public during and after the conflict has been attributed to it.  The war also has been credited with spurring the temperance movement in the country that ultimately led to National Prohibition in 1920.  Many who fought on both sides had an interest in the liquor trade.  Often their stories are compelling.  This post on Yankee combatants features four men who in the post-war period found success in the liquor trade. 

No author in America was more famous in the late 19th Century than Lew Wallace, best known as the author of the novel, “Ben Hur" and shown above.  Wallace forever enshrined James R. Ross as the ideal Indiana soldier by penning a biography that extolled his military record in the Civil War and after.  Ross’ career as a successful liquor dealer in Indianapolis, by contrast, was kept almost totally secret. 

With Indiana-born Ross among them, the fancy-dressed 11th Indiana Regiment was sent to join Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s expedition into Tennessee and saw hot combat at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh.  During this period Lew Wallace was raised to brigadier general and Ross promoted to captain of Company C.  Ross subsequently transferred to Wallace’s staff which seems to have cemented the bond between the two men.  An 1862 magazine illustration of Wallace in battle shows him among aides.  One of them likely was Ross.

After the war, Ross entered the liquor trade, eventually moving to Indianapolis.  There in 1877, he and two partners formed a company called James R. Ross & Co., Wines  & Liquors,  located at 184-188 South Meridian Street, the primary north-south street in the city.  He was hailed during his lifetime as: “Bro. Ross has reflected credit upon every position he has ever filled; as a soldier, he was brave, as a citizen exemplary.”  After Ross’s death in 1900, Wallace published a tribute to him entitled, “An Ideal Indiana Soldier.”  The famous author made no mention that Ross had been a liquor dealer for much of his life.

The unsmiling, almost angry, visage shown below is that of Jeremiah “Jere” Rohrer, an officer of the 127th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Civil War, a post-war civic leader, and the leading liquor dealer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  A wartime biography of Rohrer noted that:  “While he sometimes assumed a stern look, he had a big and kind heart, which was always throbbing in unison with his command.”  Whether in battle or in booze, Jeremiah clearly was a force to be reckoned with.  

Major Rohrer and the 127th Pennsylvania would see plenty of hot action.  The regiment sustained multiple deaths and woundings.  Its first major battle was the December 1862 Fredericksburg campaign that proved disastrous for the men in blue.  In his diary,  Jeremiah wrote of “the tremendous and unavailing slaughter, with its frightful loss of brave Union solders….”  The next major conflict for the 127th was the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, once again a bloody Union defeat.  In this confrontation Rohrer was commended for rendering gallant service.  A month later, with his enlistment ended, Rohrer was honorably discharged.  He did not re-enlist. 

Rohrer almost immediately moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and in April 1864 opened a liquor dealership there.  Initially he located the business at 35 North Queen Street but soon found his volume of sales required larger quarters and about 1881 moved to Centre Square, later renamed Penn Square.  The square would be the home of his liquor business for the next 38 years.  It was a entirely fitting location for Rohrer; it was the site of Lancaster’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a memorial dedicated in 1874 to pay tribute to the city’s Union soldiers killed during the Civil War.

Lancaster's Penn Square with Monument

The life of Frank G. Tullidge was unalterably changed by his service in the Union Army during the Civil War during which he was engaged in many major battles.  In his early 20s Frank overcame his mother’s opposition and in 1861 enlisted for three years in the 8th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteer Infantry.  Tullidge was made a lieutenant and second in command of his company.  In that role he saw action at many major battles, including Chickamaugua, Missionary Ridge, Kennesaw Mountain and the siege of Atlanta. Eventually he was promoted to captain and released from command to join the staff of General George Henry Thomas as an inspector.

Upon the war’s end, Tullidge moved to Cincinnati. He may have been drawn there by another former soldier, William H. Richardson. Together about 1868 they founded a liquor business under the name Richardson & Tullidge.  The partnership, although it encompassed three moves in Cincinnati, lasted only eight years. In 1876 Richardson departed and Tullidge renamed the firm Frank G. Tullidge & Co. and advertised as a wholesaler and distiller.

Tullidge prospered in part by providing fancy giveaway items to his saloon customers, including a large framed picture of a lightly clad aristocratic damsel being attended by a half-nude slave girl. It was styled to hang in a bar and bore his name at the bottom.  

Throughout his career, Tullidge continued to be involved in Civil War veterans affairs. When Civil War General Andrew Hickenlooper died in Cincinnati in 1904, the press recorded that Frank was among the generals, colonels and other high-ranking officers who acted as pallbearers. As a mere captain, Tullidge must have earned his place escorting the hero’s casket because of his prominence among local veterans.  

As he looked back on his life, Kentucky whiskey man Wiley Searcy probably fixed on the  years of his service in the Union Army during the Civil War as perhaps the most memorable times of his life.  Few soldiers on either side saw as much action as Searcy did, in the process rising from a lowly private to the rank of captain.  

Kentucky citizens were torn between North and South in their loyalties.  For unrecorded reasons, the Searcys chose the Union side. Wiley, age 19,  joined Company  E of the 21st Kentucky Infantry, serving as a private in the ranks.  Searcy saw action in several battles, including Perryville in October 1862, shown here.  During that period Searcy advanced to sergeant.  Early the following year he was discharged from his infantry unit and accepted a commission to become a 2nd lieutenant in Company L of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry.   With this unit Wiley rode in pursuit of Col. John Hunt Morgan and his cavalry raiders.  There were skirmishes at Marrowbone and Burkesville, Kentucky;  Buffington Island, and, at last, the capture of Morgan at New Lisbon, Ohio, on July 26, 1863.  Several months later,  his enlistment period apparently over, Searcy was discharged and went home. 

Still restless for action, in March 1864 he enlisted again and helped to raise a troop designated as Company G of the 30th Kentucky Mounted Infantry.  This time he was elected by the men and served as the company commander with the rank of captain. The company saw action in central Kentucky,  southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennessee, fighting many pitched battles.   According to his 1917 obituary,  Searcy had two horses shot from under him in one afternoon.   In October 1864 during the second battle of Saltville, Virginia,  Searcy was severely wounded.  When he had sufficiently recovered,  he rejoined his unit and as an officer saw action against guerrillas (called “bushwhackers”) in Central Kentucky until the regiment was mustered out at the close of the war.  

After returning home, Searcy in 1886 is recorded as having purchased a distillery, shown above, that had been established in Anderson County in 1818 by Joe Peyton, widely known as “Old Joe.”  Under Searcy’s leadership, the distillery flourished. He added structures and boasted two bonded warehouses and a third “free” (not under the Bottled-in-Bond Act) warehouse. Federal revenue records indicate his active inputs of raw whiskey into the bonded warehouses and subsequent withdrawal of aged liquor.   At one point the former soldier called the facility the Zeno Distillery Company but after 1898 dropped that name in favor of The Wiley Searcy Distillery.  After running the distillery successfully for decades, a fire in 1909 and advancing age caused him to sell it in 1911 and retire.

One thread connects all four of these men:  All were advanced from lower ranks  to captain during the Civil War, a position of considerable responsibility requiring intelligence and leadership qualities.  Perhaps these qualities offer a clue into their later successes in the whiskey trade.

Note:  More complete biographies of each of these men are available in posts on this blog:  James Ross, Sept. 23, 2916;  Jeremiah Rohrer, Oct. 16, 2015;  Frank Tullidge, Nov. 18, 2011; and Wiley Searcy, June 22, 2013.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Edward Martin: The Enigma from Enniscorthy

When Edward Martin left his birthplace in Enniscorthy, Ireland, and traveled to the New World, he was just one of the thousands of impoverished Irish youths who left home looking for a better future.  The next few years of his life are puzzling and downright mysterious.  Having joined the California gold rush of 1849, Martin emerged from the mines inexplicably a stupendously wealthy man, becoming one of the largest landowners in the West.  Amid these riches, in an unusual move, he founded a controversial San Francisco liquor house.

Martin was baptized on March 5, 1818, in Enniscorthy, the second largest town in County Wexford, a coastal county in southeastern Ireland.  He was the eldest of twelve children of Thomas Martin, apparently a butcher, and Anne Johnson, from a well-known family of Irish weapons makers.  Although Catholic children were denied public education, Edward likely received some schooling as a youth before entering employment locally.

Evidence is scant on what happened next.  One account has Martin leaving for Santiago, Chile, before he was 21.  Another source indicates he may have been 26.  It is known that he spent five years in Chile engaged in commercial activities.  After getting word of the 1848 gold strike Martin is said to have boarded a sailing vessel and headed to California.  After a voyage of six months he arrived in San Francisco in September 1849 and headed straight for the gold fields.   

The news of gold brought some 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad.  Most sought the precious metal in vain and went away poorer than they came.  Martin was a startling exception.  He apparently struck it rich — very rich — and soon exited the mines.  That is the heart of the enigma.  None of Martin’s biographers document what he found or where he found it.  It remains a blank page and a mystery.

Biographers also differ wildly about what happened next. One claims Martin took a long ocean trip back to Ireland.  If so, it was possibly to share his wealth with family.  Then he is said to have returned to San Francisco to establish a real estate company.  A second biographer has Martin going directly from mining to a  career in real estate, prospering, and retiring before long to take an extended ocean voyage to Europe and the Far East.  A third source has Martin visiting the cities of the Eastern U.S. before deciding to make San Francisco his permanent home.

Biographers agree that Martin invested heavily in huge tracts of land in California and Oregon.   One says he he owned about 200,000 acres in California and over 600,000 acres in Oregon.  An historian of the West disputes the latter figure, figuring Martin owned no more than 450,000 acres in Oregon.  An 1870 account called Edward “our greatest Irish landowner” of the far West.  

When many San Francisco banks failed, Martin joined a group of successful San Francisco Irishmen in establishing the The Hibernia Savings and Loan Society (later the Hibernia Bank),  serving as the secretary-treasurer from 1859 until his death.  The bank building is shown here. By this time Edward had adopted his mother’s maiden name, Johnson, as his middle name.

More important, for the purposes of this blog, Martin ventured into the whiskey trade.  In 1859, he partnered with three San Francisco locals in establishing a liquor house they called E. Martin & Company.  Initially the partners located it at 604-606 Front Street but soon outgrew those premises and moved by 1868 to 408 Front.  Although Martin was prominently identified the concern, another partner, Daniel V. B. Henarie, appears to have handled day to day management.

Sometime in the 1860s, Edward married.  Irishmen were noted for marrying late and he would have been well into his forties at the time of his nuptials.  His bride was a widow, Eleanor Downey Harvey.   Said to be “beautiful and lively,” Eleanor was an immigrant from County Roscommon and the sister of John Downey,  the seventh governor of California and the first Irishman to hold the office, serving from 1860 to 1862.  

With one living child from her first marriage, Eleanor would bear Edward three sons:  Peter, Walter and Andrew.  A biographer said of her life as Martin’s wife:  “She now lived in a palatial mansion on Broadway in San Francisco’s exclusive Pacific Heights, where she entertained and soon became a trend setter among the burgeoning ranks of San Francisco society.”

Meanwhile her husband was roiling the waters of the San Francisco liquor business.  In 1870, E. Martin & Co. enlisted John F. Cutter in an effort to steal the popular Cutter brand, founded by his father, J. H. Cutter, away from a Kentucky distiller named Charles P. Moorman and Moorman’s West Coast distributor, Anson Hotaling, a powerful and litigious whiskey man.  Martin even issued a bottle claiming to be “sole agent” for J. H. Cutter whiskey, shown below left.  A court fights ensued, described in detail in my post on Moorman of November 2, 2017.   When Martin lost, he issued a bottle for J. F. Cutter, shown below right.

Other Martin brands were notably less controversial.  They included “Argonaut,” “E. Martin & Co.,”  "Miller's Extra Old Bourbon,” "Miller's Extra Whisky,” "Miller's Old Bourbon,” and "Old Dorsey.”  The company trademarked Miller’s Extra Old Bourbon in 1875 and again in 1894;  Miller’s Extra Whiskey in 1901, and Argonaut in 1906. 

 Miller’s Extra brand likely was the firm’s top shelf bourbon available to a wealthy clientele.  This bourbon was bottled in three sizes:  a quart and two different sizes of flasks, as shown below.  Blown in a mold with applied lip, these are considered early bottles, dated from 1872 to the late 1870s.  Because the embossing pattern on both the quart and the flasks is the same, not usual on Western whiskeys,  it appears to some that E. Martin & Company were attempting brand recognition.  These bottles are very rare with only a few known and now avidly sought by collectors.

Although the E. Martin Company survived until 1919 and the advent of National Prohibition, Martin himself died in May 1880 at the age of 63.  The San Francisco Morning Call, in an editorial the day following his death said:  “As a businessman he enjoyed the confidence of the entire community.” A millionaire, Edward left Eleanor, a wealthy woman in her own right, with one of the largest estates in California.  She lived another 48 years, dying in July 1928 within six weeks of being 102 years old.  

To my mind, a California history might have had the appropriate last word on this whiskey man:   “Mr. Martin's appearance indicates the true Irish gentleman, for he has in his physiognomy that mixture of dignity and wit which characterizes the genuine Irishman.”  Enigmas and all, the boy from Enniscorthy had done well. 

Note:  A major source of information on Edward Martin was a 2011 article by Mark Codd that appeared in the organ of the Ui Cinsealaigh Historical Society.  Codd cites a number of the earlier histories that often give conflicting information about the wealthy Martin and contribute to the mystery surrounding him.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

I. H. Oppenheim: Riding “The Jug Train”

As prohibitionary forces gradually shut down liquor distribution and sales in states and localities throughout America, the Nation’s imbibing public came more and more to rely on a phenomenon known as “The Jug Train.”   Though operations differed from locality to locality, basically the Jug Train brought liquor from “wet” states into “dry,” protected from being seized by the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  Isaac Oppenheim, a saloonkeeper and liquor dealer forced out of Georgia by prohibition into Tennessee, parlayed the Jug Train into personal prosperity.

Isaac was born in Charleston in 1858, the son of Joseph Hertz and Hannah Oppenheim, both of them South Carolinian natives of Jewish ancestry.   Joseph was a married man with a family in Charleston when the Civil War broke out but joined the Confederate Army as a lieutenant with the 16th Regiment of the South Carolina militia.   His service largely was guarding the islands and ports of the state against Yankee incursions and allowed him considerable home time.  

With the Southern surrender, Joseph established himself as a merchant in Charleston.  The 1870 census found the family there.  Isaac was the oldest son at 19, working in his father’s store.  He was followed by three brothers and four sisters, the youngest of them five years old.   

Perhaps seeking to “spread his wings” away from the family business, at some point Isaac moved to Atlanta, Georgia.  There he likely entering the liquor business in one of the many Jewish-owned saloons.  Marni Davis writes in her book,  “Jews and Booze,”  how strongly the Jewish community relied on selling alcohol for their livelihood.  Atlanta provided a good example.  Although only two percent of the population there were Jewish, more than ten percent of the businesses on Decatur Street were Jewish-owned saloons, including the one shown below.

Not only did Oppenheim find a career in Atlanta, he found a bride in Florence F. Meyer.   They married in December 1889.  There was one child, Leon Henry, born in 1891.  It may have been family obligations that caused Isaac to leave his employer and in 1892 set up a saloon of his own, located at  One Whitehall Street.  He appears to have met with immediate success.  A 1904 Atlanta business directory indicates his expansion to three saloons:  27 North Pryor, 33 North Forsyth and 7 East Alabama Streets.  At the last location Oppenheim also was retailing liquor and wine.

His proprietary whiskeys were “Oppenheim’s No. 14 Rye,”  “Oppenheim’s Mistletoe Rye,” “Strate Whiskey,” “Royal Warrant,”  “Old Pharaoh,” “Wellworth,” and “Farm Bell” rye and corn whiskeys.   He sold those brands in amber glass bottles embossed with his name, “fine whiskey,” and Atlanta. The liquor came in sizes ranging from quarts to pints and half pints, the latter shown here.  All would have had paper labels, most lost over the years.  Like other whiskey men, Oppenheim never bothered to trademark any of his brands.

By 1905 Isaac was back to running one saloon and liquor sales at 7 East Alabama.  His North Forsyth address had been turned into a cigar and tobacco store.   This move presaged Isaac eventually founding the Oppenheim Cigar Company in Atlanta, with his son, Leon, as the secretary treasurer of the organization and its head salesman.

Meanwhile, Georgia was edging ever closer to passing a statewide ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol.  When the hammer fell in 1908, Oppenheim quickly moved his operation to Chattanooga, Tennessee, 120 miles east of Atlanta.  He set up his liquor house at 1013 Chestnut Street and in that railroad town quickly made use of the Jug Train.  He ran ads in Atlanta newspapers stating:  “Fifteen years in Atlanta — send your orders now to Chattanooga.”

A buyer would send Oppenheim money by mail order.  Upon receipt of the funds in Tennessee where liquor sales were still legal, he would send a “wet” package via the Jug Train to Atlanta.  Since it had been purchased out of state, the liquor was legal in Georgia.  Competition came from what was known as the “lightning express.”   This was an illegal extension of the Jug Train phenomenon.  An Atlanta buyer paid cash to an intermediary and thirty minutes later liquor was delivered in a package stamped “Chattanooga” — clearly having made the 120 mile trip in “lightning” time.

Oppenheim in a trade journal took aim at that practice, writing:  “All the injurious effects attributed to whiskey comes from mixed, manipulated stuff that is but a poor imitation of the real article…Every drop of whiskey sold here is guaranteed absolutely pure.  I stake my reputation on every transaction.”   The good stuff — “government standard whiskies” — came from Chattanooga, Isaac attested.  Moreover, he paid express charges. 

Shown here is a cartoon that depicts liquor being pumped south into dry Georgia from Chattanooga and north from Jacksonville, Florida, via the railroads.  Although Atlanta was a principal destination, Jug Trains fanned out from that city across Northern Georgia to smaller towns.  One writer, describing the disastrous effects of prohibition in Griffin, Georgia, noted that:  “A daily train, called the jug train, was run between Atlanta and Griffin, bring liquor of all kinds to Griffin.”  The prominence of Jug Trains throughout the U.S. caused Congress to outlaw the practice in the Webb-Kenyon Act of 1913.  After seven years of riding the “gravy train” Oppenheim shut the doors on his Chattanooga liquor house in 1915 when Tennessee also went “dry.”  He returned to Atlanta and his cigar business. 

With son Leon to look after that enterprise, Isaac, as he aged, apparently took the opportunity to vacation.  A tobacco trade journal in June 1919 noted that: “The senior Mr. Oppenheim is making preparations to visit the east, of course, landing in THE CITY…where he will enjoy the company of his manufacturing friends for some time;  then for a nice peaceful, quiet rest in some secluded part of the New England states.”   Isaac must have found the East to his liking, eventually buying a house in Ostego County, New York, not far from Cooperstown, and living there with his sister, Yetta.

This move suggests a rift in Isaac’s marriage to Florence.  She seems to have remained in Atlanta with Leon while Oppenheim was in Chattanooga and did not follow him to New York.  She died in Atlanta in 1925 and was buried in a local cemetery.   Isaac died seven years later at the age of 73.  He was buried in East Worcester, Ostego County, where, as shown here, he shares a gravestone with Yetta.

For about seven years Oppenheim had a ticket to ride — a very lucrative ticket.  From Chattanooga virtually every day he shipped liquor back to Georgia via the Jug Train.   No only did the railroad traffic make him rich, it provided a measure of sweet revenge on the state that had banned the sale of alcohol and put him out business in Atlanta.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hon. Stephen Buhrer — Self-Made in Cleveland

Foreword:   As in the past when I find a piece on a whiskey man of interest that has been written expertly by someone else, my practice is to print it on this blog, giving credit to the author.  In this case it is my friend and president of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors (FOHBC) , Ferdinand (“Ferd”) Meyer.   As a bitters collector, Ferd concentrated on his subject’s bitters products.  At the same time, however, Buhrer was making and selling whiskey and other liquor.  His story is interesting and Ferd tells it well:

Stephen Buhrer was born on Christmas day, December 25th, 1825 on the Zoar farm in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, to Johann Casper Buhrer who was from a province of Baden, Germany and Anna Maria Miller from Stockach, Germany. Johann and Anna Maria arrived in Philadelphia, with many other Germans, in 1817, and settled in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. They were married in short order and had one daughter, Catherine. Knowing of many other Germans and Anna Maria having friends in Ohio, the Buhrer’s moved to the rich farmlands of Zoar, Ohio.

Zoar was formed by a group of German Separatists who left southeastern Germany to escape persecution for their religious beliefs. The Separatists thought that the church should be simple and bereft of all ceremony and they emphasized a mystical and direct relationship with God.  Zoar was one of the most notable experiments in communal living in our nation’s history.

A Zoar Farm
Unfortunately, Buhrer’s father died in 1829 and Buhrer was entrusted to this strict German society of separatists. At a very early age, and without a wage, Buhrer was put to work on the communal farm and at the age of nine was given the task to manage the sheep in the vast pasture ranges of Zoar where he labored for three years.  When he was twelve years old, he was placed in a cooper shop in the society. A cooper was someone who made wooden staved vessels, bound together with hoops and possessing flat ends or heads.

Buhrer did not attend traditional school and was educated mainly in Sunday school and by any education he could pick up after a long days work.  Buhrer not only learned the trade of coopering, but at different times did almost any kind of work including brewing and slaughtering.  He also was a hostler at the Zoar Tavern and drove horses on the Ohio canal.  Buhrer finally left the society and farm life and traveled to Cleveland in 1842 and continued work as a cooper. He accepted a position as a traveling salesman in 1846 with his territory at first covering Ohio and later Indiana and Michigan.

With ill health and the prevailing malarial fevers of this era, he cut short his work as a traveling salesman and returned by rail to Detroit. With his funds exhausted, he sold much of his valuables including clothes and purchased deck passage on a steamboat bound for Cleveland, which he regarded his new home. Continued ill health then sent him almost to the poorhouse until a friend revived his spirits and supported him financially until he recovered. With a renewed vigor, Buhrer then returned to coopering and briefly worked at a shipyard in 1847.

In 1848, Buhrer married Eva Maria Schneider and had three children: John, Mary Jane, and Lois Catherine. Eva died in 1889 and after her death, Buhrer married Marguerite Paterson. With a family and responsibilities, Buhrer put his strong work ethic to task and went into the coopering business for three years. He then sold his interest to his partner in 1853, at which time he turned his attention to the business of rectifying and purifying spirits. During this period, he was associated with the Masons and Cleveland City Lodge No. 15. He was also First Junior Deacon of Bigelow Lodge No. 243.

Buhrer eventually became a well-known wholesale distributor of alcoholic beverages and ran Eagle Distilleries. He had only been a resident of Cleveland for eleven years, and was only 29 years old when he was elected a member of the City Council in 1855. He also ran and served on the City Council in 1863 and 1865. He served on the council during the Civil War, as he could not be drafted because of his health, and was a stalwart champion of the Union and federal government. After his three-terms with the city council, Buhrer was elected mayor of Cleveland in 1867. He served as the Democratic Mayor until 1870.

Buhrer’s Gentian Bitters first appeared around 1865 and remained one of his strongest brands well into the 1880’s. Along with foreign and domestic liquors, he also sold and bottled mineral and other natural table waters. 

Buhrer as Mayor of Cleveland
Buhrer was one of the prominent business men of his day and as Mayor, brought forth the project of building a viaduct to connect the east and west sides of Cleveland. The Cleveland House of Correction & Workhouse was also built under his term. After serving two terms, he returned to serve another term on the city council before he died in Cleveland on December 8, 1907.

To me, it is truly amazing that this self made man, with no father or older brothers, no money to borrow from relatives, became so successful in America as such a young age. He truly must have had some type of divine intervention as his trade card above depicts.

Note:   Many of the illustrations shown here are from Ferd Meyer’s Peachridge Glass website, well worth a look for any bottle aficionado.