Havens in a Heartless World Part III: Other Distractions of Virginia City's Saloons
Saloons were home to a wide range of activities besides drinking and eating. Patrons smoked and gambled, and poker was not the only option. Diversity dominated the spectrum of saloons, both in what people did for amusement as well as who they were. Men, women, and children were all found in saloons at one time or another. In addition, each ethnic group had places of leisure where they could retreat from the pressures of the day.
The foreign-born dominated Virginia City. People defined themselves and others according to their origins. Some of this was good natured, but it often assumed racist, hurtful forms. Among the artifacts collected from the four saloon sites were a few items that people may have regarded as ethnic. Given the importance of race and nationality, the scarcity of these artifacts is surprising. Once retrieved, archaeologists faced a central question: Were these items used in a way that people would have regarded as ethnic? Sometimes that question must be left unanswered.
Text by Ronald M. James, Nevada Historic Preservation Office, and Kelly J. Dixon, University of Montana; all images by Ronald M. James unless otherwise noted.