Historic Wayside Tour #5
Located at this spot was the Star of the West Saloon, which was in business from around 1869 until 1887. Although no famous events or persons are associated with this saloon, the Star of the West was a fine representative of the wild and woolly activities that took place in Leavenworth in the days when it was a frontier town.
In its early days, Leavenworth was filled with cowboys, bullwhackers, mule drivers, soldiers, Free-staters, and proslavers. This was a potent combination that led to many violent actions ranging from fistfights to tar and featherings to lynchings.
During the Kansas Border Wars, one Leavenworth bar attempted to solve the Free-stater/proslave issue by having two bartenders, one who was an abolitionist and one who was proslavery. This ensured that backers of each side of the issue could come in for a drink and be served by someone whose politics agreed with him. The place became very popular with both sides of the issue. All manner of talk was acceptable, but when trouble broke out the troublemaker found himself tossed out on his ear, regardless of politics.
The Star of the West itself was a large saloon extending over two lots. It shared the building with a German language newspaper and a barber shop. In addition to liquid refreshments, the Star offered free lunch, plenty of card tables and a basement amphitheater where cockfights were held. Breeders of fighting fowl came from all over eastern Kansas and western Missouri for days of betting and fighting. The most popular days for the matchers were said to be the nights before Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years Day.
In 1880, Kansas officially became a dry state, but the Star of the West and other saloons ignored the ban on alcohol for several years. The law finally won out however and the Star closed as a saloon in 1887 and reopened as a "Reading Room" for a few more years.
The Star of the West and its kin represent the days when the frontier town of Leavenworth was made up of three kinds of people: those who wished to practice and enforce the law, those who wished to go around the law, and those who wished to do one thing during the day and the other at night.