Saloons and Gambling Houses
from the Memoirs of Judge William L. Rea

Mission Saloon in Refugio
Printed in Refugio County Press, 1964.


"There was no open saloon in the Town of Refugio until Dave Bernard opened his place in the old Bill Doughty corner, across from the courthouse in 1873 or 1874.  Before that time liquor was regularly carried in stock by grocery stores and general merchandise establishments.  The liquor, whiskey, rum and wine was kept in barrels, in the same manner as molasses and vinegar, and sold to customers by the quart or gallon.  For this reason many of the grocery stores which kept small stocks of groceries and canned goods and large stocks of barrelled liquor were referred to as 'barrel houses' or 'quart shops'.  These stores generally permitted customers to eat purchased can goods on the premises, and thus they became meeting and congregating places for the men of the vicinity.

"These stores operated in the county from the beginning of its history and some of our most prominent and respectable citizens were among their proprietors.  Gideon R. Jaques and E. White had one at old Aransas City in 1840.  Daniel O'Driscoll had one in connection with his tavern at Refugio from about 1840 to 1850.  Others I can name include Captain Philip C. Paul, at Lamar; George S. Sherman, at St. Mary's, which was operated from about 1857 until he died in the 1880's; Joseph F. Yale, at Refugio, during the Civil War; a man by name of Clarkson, at Refugio, during the same period; William B. Doughty, at Refugio from 1868; James Ragland, at Refugio, during reconstruction.  After the Civil War there were open saloons at St. Mary's conducted by Oliver P. Reid, Jr., and by L.B. RandolphReid moved to Rockport about 1867 or 1868, and in partnership with Andrew J. Hogan operated 'The Finish' saloon for several years.  'The Finish' was a famous saloon of its period.  General Jackson Brown kept barrelled liquors in connection with his grocery and blacksmith shop on the west side of Mission river in the 1860's.

"There usually was no gambling in connection with the 'barrel houses' or quart shops'.  But during the 1870's and 1880's there were gambling rooms maintained in connection or association with the open saloons.  Thus one of the biggest and best known gambling houses was established at St. Mary's about 1866.  It was founded by Reid, who sold to Joe Morgan and Arthur Haynes.  They afterwards moved it to Rockport.  A noted gambling parlor was operated by Reid and Hogan in connection with 'The Finish' saloon.

"The first saloon in the Town of Refugio was, as I have said, established by Dave Bernard (also called Burnett) in the early 1870's.  Dave came here from San Antonio for the purpose of opening this business.  This saloon was in the William B. Doughty building at the northwest intersection of Purisima and Commerce Streets. It was quite a pretentious affair with fine bar fixtures and furniture and large mirrors.  It was a revelation to old-timers who had only known the 'quart shops'.  When it was first opened the citizens would stroll by and peek in at the elaborate furnishings.

"Bernard operated a gambling house in connection with this saloon.  The resort became widely known and was the mecca of the cattlemen of this part of the state.  It was the scene of many affrays and shooting-affairs.  It was there that [John] Holland and Buck Harris 'shot it out' over a poker game in 1875 or 1876.  Harris died as a result of the difficulty and Holland was indicted for his murder and was tried, but was acquitted.

"Those who were in Refugio during the oil boom will remember the sidewalks on this corner which were constructed of inverted pottery bottles.  Bernard's specialty was imported ale, which came in these bottles. The accumulated empty bottles were used to build this sidewalk around this corner.  The bottle walk existed from about 1875 until 1931, when it was torn up, and the bottles distributed as curiosities.



Ginger beer bottles from the "bottle walk" in front of the Mission and Doughty Saloons.  
These bottles are on display at the Refugio County  Museum
Courtesy:  Refugio County Museum

"Bernard after several years sold the saloon to Bill Doughty and went back to San Antonio.  Doughty operated the saloon at the same location for upwards of twenty years thereafter.

"Not long after Bernard opened the first saloon in Refugio town, Charles Berkowitz moved to Refugio and founded the famous 'Bull's Head Saloon', at the southeast intersection of Alamo and Ymbacion Streets.  It also had a gambling parlor connected with it.  It became widely known and well patronized.  A number of killings occurred at this saloon.  Perhaps the most noted of them was the gun fight between John McGrew and Luke Porter.  There was some kind of disagreement between the two men, and bullets began to spatter all over the place.  The customers rushed to cover leaving a clear field to the principals.  Present was a Mexican gambler, who with more courage than discretion tried to stop the melee.  He stepped behind McGrew at the instant that a bullet from Porter's gun plowed through McGrew's body.  The same bullet tore through the Mexican gambler's body and killed him.  McGrew also died of his wounds.

"The free and easy atmosphere of Refugio and St. Mary's and the large-scale gambling which went on at both places, attracted many prominent and some notorious gamblers from all parts of Texas.  Ben Thompson, and his brother Bill, and King Fisher, frequently played in the Refugio County gambling emporiums.  A gambler named Bell from Rockport was a well-known visitor.  He always played for high stakes.  On several occasions Ben Thompson brought with him a woman gambler known as 'Gambling Jenny'.  She played with the men.  Her specialty was faro.

"One one occasion when Ben Thompson and Jenny were in Refugio, she was dealing monte at the 'Bull's Head' when one of the players insulted her.  Thompson reached for his gun.  A local citizen threw himself between the offender and Thompson's gun and pushed his friend out of the way.  Thompson, with his hand still on his gun, looked grimly at the citizen and finally said, 'You are a brave man.  You saved your friend from death.  Now get him out of here.'  Ben's brother Bill had killed a man at Rockport and was under indictment down there.  The case was continued from term to term, but Bill had to be on hand at each term, and Ben always went with him.  Going and coming they would stop a few days at Refugio and St. Mary's.  Bill was finally tried and acquitted, and they did not visit our county often thereafter.

"John Wesley Hardin went through this county frequently during his hectic career.  he may have gambled at Refugio but his principal hangout when in this section was St. Mary's.  The Chambless family down there, I understand, were his friends.

"Another woman gambler who played at both Refugio and St. Mary's was the noted Sallie Scull.  She was well known in the county.

"The local professional gamblers of the early 70's were Jace Wilson, Bill Tucker, Joe Doughty, John Holland, Gardner, Garner, and one that was known as 'One-Legged Heard'.  'Doc' Sweeney, who was a native of this county, got his start here.  He left the county and did not return until 1884.

"The principal gambling seasons here at Refugio were when the district court met twice a year.  When each term of court convened the gamblers would arrive.  The judge and the lawyers adjourned court and gambled the term out.  They had plenty of help from the local stockmen."

   

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