The Silver Moon Tavern is a fictitious establishment set in a framework of the historic mining town of Nevada City. The descriptions of the early town and circumstances surrounding the emergence of the first establishments, are accurate portrayals of the types of development for the time period. The Silver Moon is a favorite haunt of my lead characters, James MacLaren, Sean Miller, and Lodie Glenn. I sacrificed this little scene of backstory to keep the bigger story moving, but the details of it still amuse me. It is a history that means something to the characters. As James states in the original scene, “Ye never weary of the tellin’, do ye?” Lodie shrugs and says, “It’s good for the town. Folks feel at home if they’re part of the story.”
So here I include for the reader – part of the story.
The Silver Moon Tavern nestled conveniently between Lodie Glenn’s Emporium and the elegant double-decked porches of the Nevada City Hotel. Waiting in the dusty, pebble-ridden street for Lodie, James MacLaren shielded his eyes from a midday sun cresting high above a church steeple at the peak of the thoroughfare. He squinted, studying the long-abiding saloon.
Once, the popular tavern consisted of an old army tent pitched at the base of a steadily rising hill of canvas structures creating Broad Street. Nevada City boasted only makeshift establishments at the dawn of the gold rush; as miners spared little time away from the beckoning riches in the hills. At that time, James’s young wife, Emma, had adamantly rejected the town as utterly unsuitable. He recalled a majority of early ramshackle businesses had sported taverns or gambling dens – a few traded mining supplies, and a couple stalls sold fresh game and local produce.
His gaze came to rest on the Grubstake – the other surviving tent-city enterprise, and the only one with its original proprieter. Founded by a wizened and battle-beaten Texan named Siggie Myers, the Grubstake launched as one of the few reliable wooden shacks halfway up the cascade of tents. As a former army cook, Siggie noted the lack of food and comfort and envisioned opportunity. Swapping his gold pan for bread tins, he exchanged traversing rough terrain and slippery river rock to make his fortune in biscuits. His two pot-bellied stoves and large brick oven devoured firewood around the clock. Great pillars of smoke announced his wares of roasting meat, potatoes, corn, beans and cabbage.
Siggie’s entrepreneurial spirit expressed exactly what the tall Scot loved about Nevada City, a town that exemplified a “wits to fit the situation.” James breathed in the scent of pine in the air; chilled from the turn of winter’s melting snow and carrying the whisper of spring’s promise. He realized his brief dance with nostalgia had allowed him to dissuade his thirst and he wondered if Lodie had forgotten him.
Appearing in the doorway of the emporium, Lodie bellowed last minute instructions to his sons inside the store. He emerged with the apologetic statement, “Crimony. The attention span of an adolescent boy is like a fart in a skillet. A sad thing I can’t claim better of my own offspring – but I’ve gotta work with what the Almighty gave me.”
James laughed. “I suppose that means I’ll be buying today. Burdened with troubles, as ye are.”
“I’m touched, but I called for this conference,” Lodie gestured towards The Silver Moon. “And I may have to stretch the boundaries of temperance today.”
Crossing the threshold to procure their liquid revival, the friends were greeted by a shout from behind the bar.
“HO! There he is, just in time!” cried Peter Stuben. “Lodie! Over here!” The dark-bearded proprietor waved him over to meet a newcomer.
The twinkle returned to the deep-blue eyes of the congruous Mr. Glenn. “Two beers, Peter.” He glanced at a short, well-heeled man holding a whiskey. “New in town, friend?”
“Henrik Stoltz – with the bank. Mr. Stuben here was giving me a little history of the place.”
“I was just saying, nobody tells it like Lodie, and here you turn up!” shouted Peter.
Lodie nodded towards the barkeep, “I hope our proud owner told you that he yells because of his many years as second man in a double-jacking team.”
“Oh. I see. Pity.”
“Not to pity!” scoffed Peter. “Bought me and my brother this bar!” He slid the beers expertly down the polished redwood top of the bar to rest neatly in front of James.
“Nothing to soothe the hard-of-hearing better than a continuous supply of alcohol.” Lodie raised his mug and winked.
Peter wagged his head from side to side, “It’s a good trade-off.”
James licked foam off his lip from the pungent brew. “Ah, go on with the telling, will ye?”
“I would, but Peter’s standing in front of our founder.”
Peter rolled his eyes and stepped aside to reveal a small portrait hanging on the back wall. The worldly gaze of a dapper young man stared out from its dilapidated frame.
“There he is, Klaus Larson. The first proprietor of the Silver Moon,” boomed Lodie. “You see, Klaus staked his mining earnings at the game tables and was highly successful. Unfortunately, he was also a cheat.”
The regulars gravitated towards Lodie and his boisterous charm.
“One day came a Sydney Duck – a member of the gang from the docks in San Francisco. A poor sport, this man figured Klaus’s gains had come directly from his losses.”
Lodie displayed a faraway look, panning his hand around the room. “He arrived in our saloon after stint of bad luck in the gold fields . . . tired, irritable and thirsty. He was well inside a bottle of whiskey when he recognized his host and loudly called him out as a swindler. After an exchange of unpleasant threats, Klaus ordered the man out at gunpoint.” Lodie grimaced, “Klaus was an excellent cheat, but a poor shot. The Australian laid him out on the floor.” Slashing at the air with his fist, Lodie declared, “The flash of his knife ended the argument decisively.
“A great celebration followed for three days because the dodgy man from Down Under proclaimed himself the new owner of the bar and bought drinks for the entire town during his brief tenure. Then, a U.S. Marshall from San Francisco arrived to escort the escaped man back to a cell. They hanged him for murders in association with the Sydney Ducks.”
Amused, James noted the wide-eyed horror of the little man. Lodie slapped the banker on the shoulder, “But not to worry. The Silver Moon then passed to Steven Swift. Now his wife insisted after outbreaks of alcohol-induced violence, that her husband take up a less stressful trade. He took a job with his Sacramento whiskey distributor and sold half of his interests in the saloon to Dan Young. Their partnership worked well ‘til a cholera epidemic swept the countryside and took our poor Dan.
“Swift excelled in whiskey distribution. A numbers man, he didn’t care for working the bar. He liked strolling about the tavern as lord of the manor – still does.” A round of knowing laughter erupted from listeners. “Then he went into partnership with our friend Peter here, and his brother Rob.” Lodie nodded at the beaming Peter behind the bar.
“Now Peter and Rob were fairly successful in the goldfields, but never struck the big payday. Still dedicated to digging in the dirt, they decided to hedge their bets – like a lot of us.” He tossed a grin at the barman. “I guess it’s Rob’s turn today, eh?” The familiar twinkle resumed as he continued, “They like freedom to chase the dream, and the respectability of owning a business. Not bad citizens, either of them. And good friends to all that enter here!” Lodie raised his glass to Peter.
“Thanks,” Peter boomed. “But you neglected to tell the man we’d all be rich now if you didn’t charge so much for a blasted pan and shovel!”
The outburst of laughter in the bar prompted Lodie to lay his hand over his heart. “I’m hurt, Pete . . . but I’ll take another beer on the house as apology.”
Peter smirked and drew another brew.
James shook his head, “Ye never weary of the tellin’ do ye?”
Lodie shrugged, “It’s good for the town. Folks feel at home if they’re part of the story.”
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