New book recounts Whiskey Row's colorful history

"Prescott's Original Whiskey Row" by Bradley G. Courtney

I had no idea how much of a Western drama - studded with indelible characters and considerable violence - the early Whiskey Row actually was until I picked up the brand new History Press edition of "Prescott's Original Whiskey Row," by Bradley G. Courtney, a local resident. The book covers the original Whiskey Row from its birth in 1864 through several minor fires to its death in the Great Fire of 1900.

Although each of the multitude of early drinking establishments had plenty of customers, Courtney divides the saloons into five tiers, with the Palace and the Cabinet at the top "because they're the only pre-Great Fire saloons still standing." (You'll have to read the book to understand where the Cabinet is now.) Saloons in the other tiers had colorful names as well as colorful characters as owners and customers: Quartz Rock, Nifty, Eclipse, Fashion, Keg, Petrified, and Owl were a few names of these well-kept watering holes. One saloon, The Keystone, seemed to be cursed, according to Courtney, and generated more than its share of tragedy.

Many of the early Whiskey Row incidents that Courtney recounts - murders and stabbings and beatings - were fueled in the most part by whisky and fermented resentments, the two bloodiest nights at the Diana among them. Others, despite much alcohol-inspired merriment along with card-game and other disputes in very early "establishments" (that were sometimes constructed with covered-wagon canvas cloth stretched over two pine poles) ended with only a few bruises and "little promiscuous firing of revolvers." Courtney recounts several of the most colorful stories. With this kind of Wild West culture, law and order was hard to establish, though there were frequent heroic and involved chases where posses mounted up and thundered out after the lawless. The one that will stay in my mind, although successful, appeared less than a Hollywood version, with two men in a horse-drawn carriage pursuing a desperado, two pursuing on horseback, and Virgil Earp running along behind on foot, toting a Winchester.

- Reviewed by Susan Lang, Peregrine Book Company event coordinator