Archaeology And History In Virginia City
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: University of Nevada Press
List of Illustrations
This is a book about saloons. More specifically, it is an outgrowth of my doctoral dissertation on the archaeology of a nineteenth-century African American business known as the Boston Saloon, in Virginia City, Nevada. Initially, I planned to turn that research into a book that underscored this enterprise alone. To place that study in a context of other contemporaneous drinking...
The day I delivered this book’s manuscript to the University of Nevada Press was the same day I drove away from northern Nevada to start a new job at the University of Montana. In doing so, I left behind a place that had felt like home for many years, and I also bade farewell to numerous people who, in their own ways, moved me to write this book. The collective influences of Ron James and Don Hardesty head the list. I...
The very notion of archaeology evokes images of a field excavation, with people in brimmed hats bent over a gulf of contiguous pits. On hands and knees those dusty individuals delicately wield tools that are ridiculously out of proportion to the amounts of earth they excavate. Their mission: to discover long-lost and unexpected antiquities. For many, these scenes are...
1: Opening Saloon Doors
At the beginning of the 1993 film Tombstone, a narrator notes that the murder rate in the sparsely populated “frontier West” was higher than anywhere else in the United States, including New York City. A few minutes later, the scene pans to Tombstone, Arizona, shown as a dusty western boomtown...
2: Facades of Public Drinking
By treating architecture as material culture, it is possible to visualize how people initially experienced the exterior facades of each saloon. Architectural artifacts appeared during excavations of the various Virginia City establishments, and each business’s building style can be revealed by combining those objects with historical photographs and drawings. Building...
3: Authentic Saloon Sets
Artifacts from all four saloons included materials from flooring, lighting, wall and ceiling treatments, and novelty items. As archaeologists unearthed these objects, they were able to visualize the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes associated with each establishment.1 By reviving sensory experiences, the artifacts momentarily transported their excavators into the...
4: Menu Items
Unsurprisingly, archaeological excavations at Virginia City saloons turned up a profusion of bottles and bottle fragments. Old bottles from ghost towns are sought-after collectibles, enticing people to view them as buried keepsakes. When these little conversation pieces are retrieved using meticulous archaeological methods, they can do more than merely sit atop a...
5: A Toast to the Artifacts
In television and movie westerns, brawls between the good guys and the bad guys usually featured glass whiskey bottles being smashed over various people’s heads1 or shot glasses being shattered as somebody went sliding down the bar. While some scenes showcased more upscale establishments, with brass fixtures, mirrors, and crystal stemware, many others featured rustically...
6: Desires for Diversion
Lost in a snowstorm somewhere between Virginia City and the Twenty-Six-Mile Desert, Samuel Clemens and two forlorn companions settled in to embrace their “last night with the living.”1 After the desperate men unsuccessfully tried to ignite a campfire using a revolver shot, their horses bolted off into the snowdrifts, dunes, and darkness. Huddled together in...
7: Crime Scene Investigation?
While artifacts such as tobacco pipes help to re-create the ambience of saloons, a closer, “forensic” look at some of these objects has the potential to expand an understanding of other activities taking place in and around boomtown saloons.1 Although archaeology shares some methods with crime scene investigations, it deals with much older evidence.2 Archaeologists...
The western story has been told most powerfully, most frequently, and most accessibly on film, providing mass audiences with an image of the Old West that they may assume represents the actual historical events of this region.1 Western films and television shows have cultivated a widespread awareness of our western heritage and have generated saloon images in our...