Kathy is a freelance writer for Textbroker and Constant Content and a published author in "Neon Rainbow Magazine."
What Is Not to Love About This Town and This Saloon?
Whenever I can find a good tale of the old Wild West, I am always drawn in with a sense of fascination. Tales of old and bygone Hollywood stars and starlets, gamblers, saloons, miners, prospectors, girls of the night, gunfights, and present-day ghost stories just never cease to fascinate me. I had always loved watching Westerns on TV growing up, and Clint Eastwood was a definite favorite.
Now recently, I came across stories of one of the oldest saloons in the state of Nevada. Just a short 30 miles south of Las Vegas, going there is like stepping back...oh say about ninety-nine years—into the old West of the United States.
These were the days of lawlessness. Miners flooding into a town in hopes of striking it rich, and gamblers taking chances—always for money. And when things didn't go right as they gambled, shootings resulted that left only the bullet holes in old buildings for people to look back on one day and remember—to remember a time when the West truly WAS "wild."
The Pioneer Saloon was built in 1913 by a prominent businessman in his day, a mister George Fayle. Built as a place for miners and others to gather and tell stories, have a few drinks, maybe meet up with some... girls of the night... (there was at one time, after all, a hotel known as the Fayle hotel nearby that burned to the ground in a later fire). The Pioneer Saloon was a gathering place for townspeople to get to know one another and to possibly make a wager or two.
And in the early 1940s, the Pioneer Saloon was frequented by none other than the famous actor Clark Gable. He and Carole Lombard visited the town many times. His famous link to the Pioneer Saloon came about very tragically. He was waiting for word of a terrible plane crash that the love of his life and wife of fewer than two years, Carole Lombard, was unfortunately involved in. The plane she was in had crashed into nearby Potosi Mountain and word came through that there were no survivors. It is said that Clark Gable waited in the Pioneer Saloon for three days, waiting first for word about her fate and then for news of the recovery of her body.
Once her body was found, it was said that he took it with him for proper burial and that he was never seen at the Pioneer Saloon again. Today, there is a room showcasing this history, known as the Clark Gable and Carole Lombard room. Preserving history for future generations is a huge part of the bar that is still there today.
Pioneer Saloon is a fully operating saloon today and many visitors are fascinated by its colorful history and checkered, some might even say fabled, past. It seems that another famous event occurred at the Pioneer Saloon, this one happening on July 3, 1915, just two years after the saloon had opened for business. It seems that a group of prospectors, miners, and other assorted... characters... were playing a game of poker at the poker table near the bar. One of the gamblers tried to "cash out" with a whopping ten dollars—yep, $10—and was thought by the dealer, Joe Armstrong, to be cheating. The gambler thought that the dealer, Joe Armstrong, was dealing a "crooked card game."
It seems, as the story goes, that Joe Armstrong pulled out a pistol and emptied it into the gambler, whose name was Paul Coski, with most of the shots going into the wall. It was said that at least six shots total were fired. Three of the bullet holes still remain today in the wall of the Pioneer Saloon, a stark reminder of the lawlessness that was pervasive in the early 1900s. Used as a way of settling disputes, gunfire was rampant and served as a way to TRY to bring law and order into society. The effectiveness of that method, however, is questionable.
Pioneer Saloon Is Even in the Nevada Register of Historical Places!
This place is so full of interesting history. I mean, how many Saloons do you know of that are listed in the State Register of historical places of the state they are located in? This one is!
This saloon has been running continuously for almost 100 years, 2013 marked its 100th Anniversary. The saloon is actually built from old tin tiles that were thought to have been bought from Sears and Roebuck back in 1913; one of the oldest remaining building structures in the United States that was made from these tin tiles. When you first look at it from the outside, it almost looks as if it is made from old cinder block, but upon closer inspection, you realize it is, indeed, made of these tin tiles. The saloon is both fascinating to look at and full of history.
Just take a look at the three remaining bullet holes in the wall, and in fact, one bullet still remains lodged in the wall, for a glimpse into its history. According to one of the bartenders, the other bullet holes were removed when a door was put in. But three still remain. And on the wall is a collage of artifacts, like the deck of cards that was being used that fateful day.
Several movies have even been filmed at the old Pioneer Saloon, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas starring Johnny Depp, an old Cheech & Chong movie, Miss Congeniality 2, starring Sandra Bullock, and The Mexican, which starred Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.
And of course, in 1942, Clark Gable became one of its most famous patrons while he awaited word as to the fate of his beautiful wife, Carole Lombard. The crash site is actually not too far from the bar, located at nearby Potosi mountain, where the plane she was in crashed killing all aboard in January of 1942. There have been people who visited the bar that have also made a trek to the site of that horrific plane crash. At the Cherry-wood bar in the Pioneer Saloon, to this day, there are still cigarette burns on the wood said to be from one of Clark Gable's cigarettes. The burn mark was made while he waited.
There is an adjacent memorabilia room filled with pictures, newspaper clippings, and other things relevant to the saloon's history. In fact, there are even pictures of Trace Adkins, who did a photo shoot at the bar, and also one of Travis Tritt, who filmed a music video there and also took photos that appeared on the cover of his 2004 album called "My Honky Tonk History." Travis was photographed leaning on the pool table for that album cover.
Another building located in Goodsprings made it into the state Register of Historic Places. It is a one-room schoolhouse that was also built in 1913, and it was said that the school boasted high test scores.
The Ghosts of the Pioneer Saloon
There are said to be at least two ghosts in the Pioneer Saloon.
One is the ghost of the gambler, Paul Coski, killed in the ill-fated poker game back in 1915. People often claim to have seen him over by the poker tables and at other places in the bar.
Another ghost is thought to be that of a prospector or miner wearing a crumpled-up cowboy hat, and according to those that have seen him, he is not very tall. He is thought to be just "hanging out" at the bar and seems to mean no harm. Nearly every employee of the bar is said to have seen the old miner, and he is regarded as harmless.
There could potentially be another ghost, that of a former owner of the bar who, according to legend, was drinking at the bar when he collapsed and died right there at the bar. According to that same story, the bartender who was working that day finished the saloon owner's glass of beer, crushed the glass, and said "to you," right after the former owner died. It was said that his wife continued to work at the bar until her death about five years later.
Other Things to Do for Entertainment While Visiting the Pioneer Saloon
Besides brushing up on your Western history, you can also grill outside of the bar on grills there that are provided for patrons to use. These are provided, along with picnic tables for picnics. In the summer, there are sometimes live bands playing there, making it worth the trip from Las Vegas to visit this iconic piece of Nevada State history.
And if you are still bored, there is always "Chicken Bingo" which is rumored to be played there sometimes. Boards are placed on the ground with numbers on them, and wherever the chickens poop, that can cause you to holler "Bingo." Ok, so I'm not exactly sure if the "Chicken Bingo" tale is true or not; I guess you will just have to find out for yourself. If you decide to take a trip back into the early 1900s while you are here visiting Las Vegas, try taking a drive to the famous Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Nevada.
If you do happen to see a ghost, just be casual about it and act like it happens all the time.