Monday, April 18, 2016

The Black Elephant Saloon

 A strange confluence of events has occurred over the last week regarding the Black Elephant Saloon. I have blogged before about the "Mysterious Bob Sloan: His Journey from Slavery to Freedom and Beyond."  I used my research on Bob Sloan as the basis for a presentation on Saturday, April 9, 2016 to the Houston Chapter of the Afro-American Genealogical and Historical Society.  Newspaper research at the Portal to Texas History was one of the techniques discussed.  This 1892 advertisement from the Brenham Banner shows that Bob Sloan was the co-owner of the Black Elephant Saloon in Brenham, Texas.

Brenham Daily Banner. (Brenham, Tex.), Vol. 17, No. 229, Ed. 1 Sunday, December 25, 1892; ( : accessed April 18, 2016), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,
Later in the week, we watched the online full episode of  the TLC show "Who Do You Think You Are" featuring the ancestors of Aisha Tyler.   Her ancestor, Hugh B. Hancock owned a saloon in Austin, Texas called the "Black Elephant."  The name of the saloon has an obvious political overtone as most blacks were members of the "party of Lincoln" in the 19th century.

Aisha Tyler stands in front of the Hugh B. Hancock House in Austin, Texas
Social Historian, Christine Sismondo, revealed to Ms. Tyler that "politics happened in almost every saloon."  Segregated saloons served as a safe refuge for the discussion of current events.

The TLC show uses academic experts to reveal documents and facts about ancestors.

Aisha Tyler discovers that her ancestor owned the Black Elephant Saloon as shown here in the Austin City Directory.
Curiosity led me to wonder if there were any more saloons with the moniker "Black Elephant." Returning to the Portal to Texas History, a search of the exact phrase "Black Elephant Saloon" found 23 matches.  The first result was the application materials submitted to the Texas Historical Commission requesting a historic marker for the Hugh B. Hancock House, in Austin, Texas.  The materials include the inscription text of the marker, original application, narrative, and photographs. Ms. Tyler might find that document about her ancestor of interest.

As I scrolled down the list, there was newspaper evidence of Black Elephant saloons in Brenham, Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth, El Paso and Houston.  Even Fulda and Hunter had businesses with the name Black Elephant.  There were so many "Black Elephants" that it seemed that someone had developed a franchise for the "brand."

A Google search revealed that the material culture from these saloons are valuable and rare. The "Black Elephant" collectibles included an old bottle, a trade token and a letter.

Here are some of the articles and images that I found that referenced Black Elephant:

El Paso International Daily Times (El Paso, Tex.), Vol. 12, No. 291, Ed. 1 Wednesday, December 21, 1892,  ( : accessed April 18, 2016), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,

The Black Elephant saloon in Houston was on the corner of Milam and Preston streets.
The Galveston Daily News. (Galveston, Tex.), Vol. 44, No. 161, Ed. 1 Friday, October 2, 1885, Sequence: 3 | The Portal to Texas History

The Sunday Gazetteer. (Denison, Tex.), Vol. 1, No. 38, Ed. 1 Sunday, January 13, 1884, Sequence: 1 | 
The Portal to Texas History

The San Antonio bartender opened fire with a derringer.
The Houston Post. (Houston, Tex.), Vol. 29, No. 327, Ed. 1 Wednesday, February 24, 1915, Sequence: 4 | 
The Portal to Texas History

The Black Elephant hotel in Fulda, Texas is mentioned here.
The Seymour News (Seymour, Tex.), Vol. 11, No. 24, Ed. 1 Friday, April 27, 1900, Sequence: 4 | 
The Portal to Texas History

This old bottle from the Black Elephant in San Antonio was described as a "picnic flask."
This token collector offered an extensive provenance with his Ft. Worth trade token.

Rusk Street in Fort Worth was the center of prostitution, gambling & saloons in Hell's Half Acre and the street was renamed Commerce Street in 1917 due to the bad reputation. 
"For foul filth, nothing in the Acre can compare with the Black Elephant." Ft Worth Record Dec 30, 1906 cited in Richard Selcer: "Legendary Watering Holes. The Saloons That Made Texas Famous," Page 281 note 13

The 1902-1904 City Directory of  Ft. Worth, Texas shows MONT DAVIS (c) running his Saloon at 1407 RUSK - Richard Burns (c) was his bartender in 1904 - Richard Burns had also been a Porter at the White Elephant Saloon in 1885. By 1902 he was a bartender at the Gray Mule Saloon run by Lucius R. Gillespie (c) at 110 E. 9th. ~ per John Byars

The (c) abbreviation in the early city directories identifies the African Americans (colored).

[ca. 1900] The right facade of the Black Elephant Saloon at theintersection of Flores and Nueva streets, San Antonio, Texas. Black and white. San Antonio Conservation Society

Letterhead from the "Black Elephant Saloon" in San Antonio, Texas. Dated October 26, 1893.

The letterhead shows P. Magadieu as Proprietor. Dealer in Wines, Liquors and Cigars; "Old Kentucky Bourbon Whisky a Specialty".  The saloon was located at 137 South Flores, corner West Nueva, one block south of Military Plaza. The letter is signed by Paul Magadieu, the Proprietor of the saloon. The letter is written in the French language which indicates that the proprietor of this saloon was white.  Did he cater to African Americans?

The auction site also listed the following:
Condition: Very Good
BIN Price $30.00
Time Left: Closed Sun Dec-19-2010
This User is Not Active Or Suspended

Here is another newspaper article that references the term "black elephant" as a metaphor for black suffrage and the black political office holders that resulted in Washington, D.C.

Negro suffrage is described in this 1874 U.S. Senate debate as a "curse."
The Galveston Daily News. (Galveston, Tex.), Vol. 34, No. 300, Ed. 1 Tuesday, December 22, 1874, Sequence: 2 | The Portal to Texas History

It would be interesting to find out if African American saloons in other states besides Texas used the name "Black Elephant."  The Oklahoma newspaper site shows the term used in several articles in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Guthrie Daily Leader. (Guthrie, Okla.), Vol. 15, No. 98, Ed. 1, Tuesday, March 27, 1900, Sequence: 8 |
The Gateway to Oklahoma History

The terminology in this article leads me to believe that there may have been a trade sign with an elephant symbol in front of the "Black Elephant" in Guthrie.  

The bottom line is that many businesses in at least two states were known as the "Black Elephant." The saloon in Fort Worth was established in 1885 by West Mayweather, a black saloon keeper. He opened the Black Elephant on the opposite end of Main Street from the White Elephant which was founded a year earlier. Richard Selcer on page 276 of his book "A History of Fort Worth in Black & White," states that "whites could patronize the Black Elephant but never vice versa."   Much more needs to be written about the history of these early businesses in the African American communities.

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