All mining towns had a steady supply of alcohol on hand. The alcohol was either fermented nearby, brought to the site by miners, or purchased.
Most mining locations in Nevada had a tavern, even if it was no more than a tent, which was often the case until a frame structure could be built.
In its heyday, Pioche alone boasted at least 72 saloons!
Aside from the social aspects of drinking, alcohol was also considered necessary for medical purposes and was often given to sick children.
No one can be absolutely sure about the date of the first distillery in the American colonies back east, but the earliest references date from the mid-1600s.
Miners in Nevada likely did not produce alcohol themselves, but no doubt traveling salesmen presented their product with great enthusiasm when they visited the mining towns. Stagecoaches probably also carried some, and freight wagons, in particular, supplied the mining communities on a very regular basis.
Indian maize, better known as corn, was useful in making alcohol, especially whiskey. The development of corn spirits in the colonies took place mostly in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and southern Ohio. Coal miners in the northwest regions of Virginia, now West Virginia, took it to the mines with them. Although straight corn whiskey was widely produced, it proved an inconsistent product, at best.
Historians note that by 1792, when Kentucky became a state, whiskey production was on the upswing. This was due mainly to the fact that many Kentucky farmers considered the manufacture of strong spirits a proper agricultural pursuit.
What they produced was carried by settlers in the great western migration as well as by wagon trains and, many years later, by cowboys on cattle drives.
Burt Lancaster’s 1965 movie, “The Hallelujah Trail,” depicts a wagon train headed for Denver with a cargo of whiskey for the miners. Similar shipments likely came to Pioche and Delamar and other counties in the state
What was a Christmas celebration in the mining communities without good Kentucky bourbon whiskey?
In 1789, Elijah Craig of Bourbon County, Kentucky, began making his own brand of whiskey.
Shortly thereafter, the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 occurred as a result of an unpopular tax President Washington imposed on producers.
By the end of the Civil War, Kentucky corn whiskey began to find a character of its own and had found favor throughout the United States. Miners in the goldfields of California and Nevada before, during, and after the Civil War, brought it with them. Most, if not all, of the taverns in Nevada’s mining communities offered it, and a miner could even buy his own jug.
And whiskey, no doubt, played a part, however small, in the numerous shootings on the streets of old Pioche in the early 1870s.
On May 4, 1964, Congress formally recognized the unique quality of Kentucky bourbon whiskey and proclaimed it a part of American heritage.
However, untold numbers of Nevada miners had already known that for a long, long time.