Photos Reveal What Life was Like in Saloon Bars of The Wild West

A sepia-toned photograph of an old Western-style saloon. A group of men in hats sits at tables in the rear, while a few stand at the long, ornate wooden bar on the right. The saloon is decorated with chandeliers, framed pictures, and a mounted animal head.
Interior of the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas. circa 1880

Fascinating photographs, taken in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, offer a glimpse into the legendary saloons of the Old West.

The black-and-white photographs reveal the cowboys that drank inside saloon bars and taverns of the Old West in states ranging from Montana to Texas.

A black and white photo of an old-fashioned bar. The bartender stands behind a wooden counter, with bottles on shelves behind him. Two patrons are at the bar, one leaning against it. The room features high ceilings, ornate decor, and mounted animal heads on the walls.
Interior of the Toll Gate Saloon in Black Hawk, Colorado, 1897.
Sepia-toned photo of men in a saloon. Some stand at the bar, while others pose with drinks. The saloon has ornate wallpaper, a display case, and shelves of bottles. A large dog is beside one man. Text at the bottom reads, "J.H. Kelley & W. Weld, Propr's White House Saloon, Cripple Creek, Colo.
White House Saloon, Cripple Creek, Colorado, 1893.
A black-and-white historical photograph of a saloon interior. Several men in period attire, including hats and suits, are present. One man stands at the bar, leaning against it confidently. The caption reads, "Jeff 'Soapy' Smith, Killed July 8th 1898.
Jefferson ‘Soapy’ Smith standing at bar in saloon in Skagway, Alaska. July 29, 1889.
A black-and-white photograph shows a historical casino or gambling saloon. Men in period clothing are gathered around gaming tables, engaging in various games. The room has a patterned ceiling, framed pictures on the walls, and ornate lighting fixtures.
A booming saloon with a casino in Leadville, Lake County, Colorado, 1880.
A black and white photo of five men in late 19th or early 20th century attire at a bar. Four men lean casually against the bar, while one man stands behind the counter. The bar and counter are ornately decorated with various items and a clock is on the wall.
Weaver Brothers Saloon, Breckenridge, Summit County, Colorado. 1890.
A black-and-white photograph depicting four men in an old-fashioned bar adorned with hunting trophies, including antlers and bear skins. The men, wearing hats and rustic attire, stand around a bar counter with various bottles and taxidermy mounts.
Interior of Seth Kinman’s Table Bluff Hotel and Saloon in Table Bluff, California, 1889.

A saloon — which was a bar or tavern particular to the Wild West — were often the first establishment to open in frontier boomtowns and cities.

Life was difficult and cowboys, ranchers and miners had little to do after a hard day’s work but drink and “let loose” in their local saloon. They soon gained a reputation as a den of iniquity with card tables full of gunslingers and barrels of whiskey.

Saloons often housed brothels and opium dens — while brawls would frequently spill out into the street which had the potential to lead to a death.

Black and white photo of a log cabin saloon from 1898 labeled "Dog Saloon." Three men are seen, one leaning on the bar, another behind it, and a third standing and gesturing. The bar has framed pictures and various items on it.
A man holds a gun, right, in the White Dog Saloon, 1898, location unknown.
A vintage photo showing six men in a rustic bar with wooden walls and ceiling. The establishment's name, "The Combination," is painted on the wall behind the bar, where bottles are displayed. The men are dressed in period clothing and cowboy hats, some seated, some standing.
The Combination Saloon, Utah, late 1800s.
A black-and-white photograph of a vintage bar scene, featuring two men standing behind a long wooden bar adorned with star-spangled bunting. The bar has an ornate mirror, shelves with bottles, and hanging towels. The room has a high, wooden ceiling and framed pictures on the walls.
A grand saloon in Meeker, Colorado, 1899.
A black-and-white photo depicts a busy, historic bar scene. Men in hats and suits gather around the counter and tables, some standing and others sitting. The bar is adorned with a deer head mounted on the wall. The interior has vintage décor and a mirror behind the counter.
A packed saloon in Turret, Chaffee County, Colorado, 1900.
A black-and-white photo of a group of men posing in front of a rustic wooden building labeled "BAR ROOM" with drinks priced at 12 1/2 cents, and "J.W. Swart" underneath. Some men are sitting while others stand, all wearing period clothing and hats.
Patrons gather outside of J W Swart’s Saloon, Charleston, South Carolina 1885.
A sepia-toned historical photograph of approximately fifteen men in a saloon. They are standing or sitting, dressed in period attire from the late 1800s to early 1900s, with vests, hats, and trousers. A large bar with shelves is visible in the background.
Several of the notorious Hash Knife Cowboys posing at the Fashion Saloon, Winslow, Arizona. The men are identified as (from left) bartender Mike Oyster, Lucien Creswell, Bill Balcom, Frank Black, Cap Begnal, Tom Williams, George Hennessey, Ed Bargman, Doug Johnson, Frank Dane and Johnny Hoffman.

In one incredible 1907 image in this collection, armed cowboys are pictured drinking in a saloon in Tascosa, Texas. Tascosa was called the cowboy capital of Texas and the city’s saloons were the last best hiding place for killers on the run, tinhorn gamblers or anyone else with a past they wanted to escape.

In another photo circa 1880, cowboys pose in Long Branch Saloon of Dodge City, Kansas, which was the scene of several fatal shoot-outs – the most famous of which was the 1879 gunfight in which infamous gambler “Cokeyed” Frank Loving killed cowboy Levi Richardson.

A sepia-toned photograph from 1908 depicts five men standing in front of a saloon building with a horse tied to a post. Above the saloon entrance, signs indicate cigars and a saloon. Handwritten notes are visible at the bottom of the image.
George Hennessey (center, wearing vest) poses with friends in front of the Bucket of Blood Saloon in Holbrook, Arizona, 1908.
Two men in cowboy attire with hats and holstered guns drink from bottles in a saloon, leaning against a counter. The saloon has various items and posters on the walls, and another person in formal attire is in the background, partly visible.
Nate Fuller, left, and A.G. Beard drinking at Livinston’s Ranch Supply, Marfa, Texas, c1916.
Black-and-white photo of a lively bar scene inside the Cowboy Bar in Jackson, Wyoming. Patrons in cowboy hats sit at a long, decorated bar featuring carvings and Western motifs. Bartenders serve drinks behind the counter, and a cash register is visible.
The Cowboy Bar, Jackson, Wyoming, 1908.
A black-and-white photograph circa 1900 shows a crowded saloon in Helena, Montana. Several men stand around, some at the bar, and in the center, a horse with a rider is shown inside the establishment. A few patrons have focused expressions, while others smile.
A saloon in Helena, Montana, 1890.

Legendary outlaw “Wild Bill” Hickock was shot dead whist playing poker in the No. 10 saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota. The hand of cards that Wild Bill allegedly held at the time of his death has since become known as the dead man’s hand.

A black and white image of a man in a white outfit standing behind a bar counter within a wooden interior. The bar shelves are stocked with various bottles, and a sign above the man reads, "No loafing allowed here." A cash register sits on the counter behind him.
Perley McBride’s Saloon, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1906.
A sepia-toned historical photograph depicting several men, some with mustaches and beards, sitting around a gambling table, focusing on a game. They are dressed in late 19th to early 20th-century attire, including hats and suits, with others watching in the background.
Men playing Faro in an Arizona saloon in 1895.
A black and white photo shows a group of men, primarily dressed in suits and hats, gathered around a table. Some men are seated, intensely focused on a board or game in front of them, while others stand around watching.
A Faro game in full blast at Bisbee, c1900.

In another photo in the collection, notorious con artist and crime boss Jefferson “Soapy” Smith is pictured in his saloon in Skagway, Alaska in 1889 – from which he ran his criminal operations – before he was killed in a spectacular shoot-out.

In most western towns, there were more saloons than churches — and they were open 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

The first saloon was established at Brown’s Hole, Wyoming, in 1822, to serve fur trappers. By the late 1850s the term saloon had begun to appear in directories and common usage as a term for an establishment that specialized in beer and liquor sales by the drink.

A black and white photo of a vintage bar. Two men are standing in front of the bar counter, while a bartender serves drinks behind it. The bar is decorated with mounted deer heads and various bottles. The room has high ceilings, and ornate woodwork is visible throughout.
Toll Gate Saloon in Black Hawk, Colorado, 1897.
A group of six men is standing and socializing at a wooden bar inside a saloon. They are dressed in classic cowboy attire with hats, vests, and chaps. One man is serving drinks while others are drinking and chatting. The saloon has patterned wallpaper and vintage decor.
Cowboys drinking at the Equity Bar, Old Tascosa, Texas, 1907.
Black and white photograph of a wooden building with a sign reading "Holy Moses" above the entrance. Two people are standing in the doorway, one on the left and the other on the right. The building's windows also have "Holy Moses Saloon" written on them.
Holy Moses Saloon, Creede, Mineral County, Colorado, 1890.
Black and white photo of men in a vintage bar. Some stand behind a wooden counter while others pose in the narrow, tiled hallway. The bar is ornately decorated with mirrors and two men in aprons stand behind it. Framed paintings adorn the walls.
Group of Men in Bar, Dayton, Ohio, USA, 1910.

By 1880, the growth of saloons was in full swing and some offered “dancing girls,” faro, poker and, dice games. Mixing alcohol and gambling could result in some deadly gun-play and professional gamblers quickly learned to protect their assets by honing their shooting skills as well as their gambling abilities.

Beginning in 1893, the Anti-Saloon League began protesting against the alcoholism, violence, and political corruption in American Saloons. The league quickly rose to become the powerful prohibition lobby in America and saloons began to decline several years before Prohibition was enforced in the USA in 1920.