Amongst all the violence in early Dodge City, it was one of the more fortunate towns on the frontier when it came to having a nice "cold one."
We had the railroad. Back then, this was like being located near one of today’s major airline hubs.
In addition to milk, lemonade, tea, sarsaparilla and hard alcohol, the Long Branch Saloon served the forerunner to Budweiser — Anheuser-Busch beer which was shipped in by rail.
Despite the lack of refrigeration, people in Dodge City were able to enjoy cold refreshing drinks even during the summer. During the winter this was easy, as ice could be cut by hand from the frozen Arkansas River. Winters were much colder; the river had water and was much wider.
It was in the summer when the railroads came into the picture. Saloon owners and grocers brought ice into Dodge City from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado which had glaciers that were frozen year round.
Besides ice, another Colorado product brought in by rail was Coors beer. In 1873, German immigrants Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler, a Denver businessman, established a brewery in Golden, Colorado. Coors invested $2,000 in the operation in addition to Schueler’s investment of $18,000. In 1880, Coors bought out his partner, becoming sole owner of the company. For much of its history, Coors beer was a regional product; its marketing area was confined to the American west.
Of course other things besides beer and ice were brought in by rail. The railroad helped the residents of, and visitors to, Dodge City enjoy a luxurious lifestyle compared to people in many other pioneer settlements. In addition to ice from the west, goods, including beer, could be easily shipped into Dodge from the industrialized east by the railroad which came straight through Dodge City.
Numerous other places received supplies and people over rough unpaved roads and trails. Hauling heavy loads of ice, kegs of beer or a printing press through soft, slippery muddy trails was extremely difficult if not impossible.
Making life even better for the beer drinker in early Dodge City were innovations in brewing and shipping. In the early 1870s, Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch became the first American brewers to use pasteurization, which allowed beer to be shipped long distances without spoiling. By the mid-1870s and early 1880s, the company introduced artificial refrigeration, refrigerated railcars and rail-side icehouses. It was these technological innovations that allowed them to ship
beer across the country to locations like Dodge City.
This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on one’s point of view.
Today with the vast network of highways and interstates, in addition to railroads, across the nation we take it for granted we can enjoy a cold soda or beer anytime we want.
Kathie Bell is the curator of collections and education at Boot Hill Museum.