It’s hard to know what presented the greatest challenge to Sochi Olympic athletes: the games or the hotel accommodations. Leaky roofs, broken toilets, brown water and unwanted furry creatures might have caused grief to modern day travelers, but such inconveniences would have been business as usual in the Old West.
Sharing a bed was optional in Sochi but not in those early western hotels. Guests almost always had to share a bed—if not with another guest, then with a chicken, dog or cat. Sometimes even the sexes were mixed in the same bed—and not always by choice.
Poor victuals, vermin and distant outhouses were the least of it. Some hotels were also used as hospitals. A minister learned this the hard way when everyone avoided him like the plague during breakfast. It turned out someone had died of smallpox in his bed shortly before he took possession. Fortunately, the poor minister had been vaccinated.
Texas hotels hid poor conditions behind high-falutin’ names such as Grand Windsor and Mansion Hotel. Some states like Missouri preferred calling a spade a spade and went with more descriptive identities like Buzzard’s Roost. At least in Missouri single beds were available, but at extra cost.
Built from rough wood and canvas some early hotels burned down and were rebuilt with such regularity that there was hardly any need for maid service.
During Nevada’s great silver boom, Dublin newspaper reporter J. Ross Browne described the hotels as 300 men “sleeping in a tinderbox not bigger than a first-class chicken coop.”
One Englishman telegraphed a Durango Colorado hotel asking for a private room and was delighted to receive confirmation of having reserved the bridal chamber. His delight was short-lived, however, when he discovered that the bridal chamber contained eighteen beds.
A sign in the Dodge House Hotel in Dodge City advised guests that “Sheets would be changed once in six months—oftener if necessary.” Guests were also required to remove their spurs so as not to mess up the sheets. The hotel also offered a choice of “Beds with or without bugs.”
Early San Francisco hotels fared no better. Sleeping spaces were chalked out on the floor CSI style. Whiskey provided warmth and travelers could expect nocturnal visitations “by the third plague of Egypt and a Lilliputian host of the flea tribe.”
Down south in the pueblo of Los Angeles, the famous Bella Union Hotel was described as a “flat-roofed” adobe with “dog kennel” rooms. A respectable looking guest would be granted a bed on the billiard table—reportedly the best bed in the place unless a drunk decided to shoot a game.
Don’t know about you, but personally I find it heartening to know that the Old West still lives—even if it is only in Sochi.
What was the most memorable, funniest, or horrifying hotel experiences you ever had?
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