Alamo Saloon, Abilene, Kansas
The Alamo Saloon in Abilene, Kansas was the most elaborate of the saloons in the many Kansas Cowtowns.
In 1867, when the Kansas Pacific Railway pushed westward through Abilene, it soon became the first “cow town” of the west when Joseph G. McCoy purchased 250 acres of land, built a hotel called the Drover’s Cottage, and established stockyards equipped for 2,000 heads of cattle, and a stable for their horses. Though the new shipping point stimulated the growth of the town, it also brought in many undesirable characters, including gamblers, confidence men, cowboys, soiled doves, and more. Desperately seeking a lawman, the City of Abilene hired Thomas J. “Bear River” Smith, an extremely competent officer from Colorado. When an outlaw killed Smith, his successor was none other than the famous Wild Bill Hickok, already well-known for deadly marksmanship and gunfighting skills. During these rowdy days of Abilene, it sported many saloons, including the Alamo, which Hickok was known to spend much time in and was apparently made his unofficial “headquarters.”
The original saloon was housed in a long room with a 40-foot frontage with an entrance at either end. At the west entrance were three double glass doors. Inside and along the front of the south side was the bar with its array of carefully polished brass fixtures and rails. From the back, bar arose a large mirror, which reflected the brightly sealed bottles of liquor. On the walls were huge paintings in cheaply done imitations of the nude masterpieces, gaming tables filled the floor, and the saloon even boasted an orchestra. In the height of the season, the saloon was the scene of constant activity, with much noise emanating such as badly rendered popular music, coarse voices, ribald laughter, and Texan “whoops,” punctuated at times by gunshots.
On the street near the Alamo, a famous Abilene gunfight took place between City Marshal Hickok and Phil Coe. On the night of October 5, 1871, a number of Texas cowboys were celebrating by drinking and stopping in Abilene’s saloons.
The Junction City Union newspaper published this account of the incident on October 7th and references the Alamo Saloon in the story:
“Two men were shot at Abilene, Thursday evening… Early in the evening, a party of men began a spree, going from one bar to another, forcing their acquaintances to treat, and making things howl generally. About 8 o’clock, shots were heard in the Alamo, a gambling hall; whereupon the City Marshal, Hickok, better known as ‘Wild Bill’, made his appearance. It is said that the leader of the party had threatened to kill Bill ‘before frost.’ As a reply to the Marshal’s demand that order should be preserved, some of the party fired upon him when, drawing his pistols ‘he fired with marvelous rapidity and characteristic accuracy,’ as our informant expressed it, shooting a Texan, named Coe, the keeper of the saloon, we believe, through the abdomen, and grazing one or two more. In the midst of the firing, a policeman rushed in to assist Bill but unfortunately got in the line of his fire. It being dark, Bill did not recognize him and supposed him to be one of the party. He was instantly killed. Bill greatly regrets the shooting of his friend. Coe will die. The verdict of the citizens seemed to be unanimously in support of the Marshal, who bravely did his duty.”
Hickok then arrested Coe for discharging a gun within the city limits. Coe died several days later.
Sometime after Abilene’s illustrious cowtown days ended, the old Alamo Saloon burned down. However, years later, a 3/4 scale replica of the saloon was built in Abilene’s Old Town, which can be visited today.
© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated August 2021.
Abilene – Queen of the Kansas Cowtowns
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