Beds Fifty Cents a Night–Bugs Free

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.

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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 monthshotel—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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Margaret has published more than 46 books and is a N.Y. Times Bestselling author and two-time Romance Writers of America Rita Finalist. She writes historical novels set--where else?--in the Old West! She has written for a day time soap and is currently working on a new series. Not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English. Just don't ask her to diagram a sentence.

28 thoughts on “Beds Fifty Cents a Night–Bugs Free”

  1. This is so horrible that it’s almost unbelieveable. Might have been better to just camp out. Worse stay at a hotel was one night around midnight or later, while traveling back from a funeral we stopped at this motel and had to walk a long way with the luggage to get to the room. There we found what was supposed to be a clean room where I had to clean the commode before I could even use it. My bedspread had what looked like cat hair on it, and tho it was suppose to be a no smoke room was a dirty astray on the nightstand just turned upside down, but my complaint the next morning got a return of every cent it cost. I was very mad.
    The funniest was not so funny to my tired hubby. We never got to stop atmotels with our four children when we went to see our folks . eleven hour trip for lack of money. Well I was very sick with my asthma on the way back one time. So hubby was having to drive and corral the kids so was extra tired. It was midnight and we stopped at this little motel where we got adjoining rooms. It was clean but when I turned the covers back our sheet was split right down the middle. Well, I put a baby blanket there and lay the baby there and crawled into bed. Well, when hubby sat down on the bed, the foot of the bed fell. I couldn’t help but laugh, not helping my cough. Well I got up and he put the bed back together. Then he sat down again, and again the foot fell. He was so angry but I just couldn’t not laugh. I’m sure you have been in a spot like that at some time. Well, it finally stayed together that time when he fixed it and we slept good for a short time before leaving. Maxie

  2. Maxie, I’m reading your comments as I’m drinking my coffee–and laughing. I’ve had some weird experiences while staying at hotels but never had a bed fall apart!

    Your horrible motel sounds like it came straight from the Old West. Yuck!

  3. When I was younger-around 12, I think- my dad and my grandparents took me and my younger sister on a trip to Illinois to see President Lincoln’s house and go to a museum. I don’t recall a lot of it. But I do remember that we stopped at a motel on our way back and had to change rooms 3 times because of cockroaches! They kept scampering around us and freaking my sister out.
    YUCK!

  4. Ewww!! I am so afraid of crappy motels. I have had my share of bad ones, but never any horrible experiences. My parents, on the other hand, have experienced many. One such was getting into their room and finding the bathtub full of puke. I’m getting sick just thinking of it. My mom about added to it just from seeing it. EW. They were so disgusted, but thankfully got a new room free of cost.

  5. I think I would have chosen to sleep outside. The worst experience I had in a motel was a dirty room. We asked for non-smoking room and the room stank of cigarette smoke. I called the front desk and was offered a bottle of spray to get rid of the smell. It all ended when I turned down the bed and found what looked like poop stains on the comforter. I carried it right down to the front desk so the other customers could see how nasty the rooms are in that place. They refused a refund, but we left and went some place else. Too nasty for me and my husband (at the time).

  6. Egads! I think sleeping under the stars would have been preferable to what you described in this post. And this, from someone who does not do camping. Ever. Did I say, EGADS??? Thanks for sharing, though, made me rethink my dislike of camping.

  7. Renee, I’ve had many camping experiences, but none were as bad as these early hotels.

    Wait! I take that back. We once found our camper surrounded with rats–hundreds and hundreds of them. At the time we had a cab over and only a little window separated the camper from the driver’s seat. We decided to leave the campsite but my husband wasn’t about to go outside. That meant he had to haul his 6 foot 6 inch body through that tiny window. Somehow he did it with me and the kids pushing him from behind. We immediately sold the cab over and bought a unit that allowed us to reach the driver’s seat in a pinch.

  8. Howdy Margaret, and yuck. I knew “guests” sometimes had to share a bed…but with opposite gender? And a bridal suite with eighteen beds. Horrors! I am a Marriott sort of girl myself LOL.

    My illustrious hotel horrors are: FOUR times, I’ve had to evacuate a hotel due to fire alarms. Most recently in Atlanta for RWA. I was staying at a Marriott off-site, about 4/10 of a mile away. I’ve got lovely videos in my smartphone of the fire engines and all the hottie firefighters LOL.

    Great post today!

  9. They burnt down so regularly they hardly needed maid service?

    LOL

    I’ve had days like that with my house…clean it or torch it, which would be easy….

    Love this, Margaret.
    I was in a ‘hotel’ restored from the 1830s that slept like 100 people. In two really small rooms, they had to lay side by side with their own bedroll to fit. And that was it, a request for your own room was ravings of a lunatic.

  10. Here’s my horror story, no bugs, no rats, no cockroaches, just truly like a HORROR movie.
    We took three nice vacations when we were first married, before the children started coming. (then fuggetabouddit for about 20 years)
    We went to Disney World and were driving home up the Atlantic coast side and, because we didn’t arrange things ahead, it was getting later and later and we knew we needed to stop. Daytona Beach was a few miles ahead and we had our eyes peeled for a motel.
    Back in those days we liked staying in little, privately owned motels, we just though as a rule they had more charm than the bigger chains…and we had little money so by ‘bigger chains’ I mean Motel 6, Days Inn, like that, not fancy.
    So we saw a vacancy light ahead and this tiny, dark, motel that just looks so seedy appeared. Well, like cowards we drove on by the mini-Bates Motel and just few miles ahead was this BEAUTIFUL Oceanside hotel. Many stories high, great parking lot lights, all very classy. Being exhausted and spooked from the Mini-Bates we decided to stay in a nice place for once. It seemed very empty, the lots mostly empty, I mean this was January in Florida, right? Busy season? Why was no one there???
    So we checked in and were up pretty high (I’m sure it was five or so stories, not truly a high rise).
    And we could look out a small balcony/patio at the ocean. There were good lights and the beach was beautiful and the night was lovely so we decided to go out and just look at the ocean a while.
    So I slid open the patio door and all the sudden this HOWLING just echoed through the room. I slid the door shut and the howling stopped.
    My Cowboy and I just looked at each other, that howl was LOUD and unearthly, like by swinging open that door I was releasing the Hounds of H@ll into the room.
    So we fooled with it a bit, open HOWL, close no howl. Open HOWL, close no howl. Then we decided the howl was coming UNDER our main hotel door. So My Cowboy went and opened that door and I opened the patio door.
    No howl.
    We closed the room door, HOWL.
    Somehow the wind was just creating this??? Suction??? and the door became a … musical instrument slash demonic dog????

    Anyway, we were a little spooked to sleep in a room into which we had admitted the Hounds of H@ll, but as long as we kept the patio door shut it was fine.

  11. No wonder disease spread so fast and people died. Privacy definitely was precious for sure.
    People shared cups, plates and silver wear to and no body washed hands as much. It’s amazing anyone made it.
    My son got bit up by bedbugs one time when we had to stay the night at a hotel and a short time later it closed down.

  12. Good grief, Tanya, that’s got to be a record. I’ve only had to evacuate a hotel once. That was in London at three a.m. No hunky firemen, but a lot of bewildered people dressed in strange nightwear.

  13. Hi Mary, I’m sure we’ve all had days when it seemed easier to just torch the house rather than clean it. Right now I’m feeling that way about my office! No bugs, though. At least not that I know of.

  14. I’m still laughing! Some pretty wild stories. I haven’t had any horrible experiences, and I have stayed at some pretty questionable places. I do admit reading about the old West, I would have opted to camp out and not stayed indoors. I wouldn’t be able to handle the smelly people. Then I think about the lice and fleas and bedbugs and I now start to scratch myself and itch all over. STOP IT!

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