Food and drink in the New Territory

Selections from “Of Mines & Beer!”

By Dave Thomas

In a long and very detailed letter dated December 29, 1858, to the Editor of the Omaha Times, A. O. McGrew wrote about his wagon train trip from Omaha to Denver City as well as the sumptuous libations he and many of the notables of Denver (among them Lowry, Stout, Curtis and General Larimer) enjoyed on Christmas Day, 1858. McGrew was known as “The Wheelbarrow Man” because he had pushed one more than 1,000 miles from Pennsylvania, halfway across the plains, then joined a wagon train for the rest of the journey to the “diggings” at the mouth of Cherry Creek earlier that year. Six months later, McGrew was elected as a Mountain City delegate to the State Constitutional Convention, along with the Russell Gulch delegate, William Green Russell.

Among the entrees McGrew listed for the Christmas Day Platte River Gold Diggings Bill of Fare were oyster and oxtail soup, boiled corned beef, buffalo tongue, mutton, pork, and ham, roasted venison, buffalo, antelope, snipe, sandhill cranes, elk, mountain sheep, mountain pig and grizzly bear.

“Wild game” on the menu included mountain pheasants, rabbits, turkeys, ducks, black squirrels, prairie dogs, quails and mountain rats. The wine list included Hockheimer, Madeira, Champagne, golden sherry, cherry bounce, hock, Monongahela whiskey, claret, brandy, Scotch whiskey, Jamaican rum, Bourbon whiskey and Taos Lightning. Sadly, little beer was available in the Kansas Territory at the time.

McGrew even took the time to write out some of the toasts offered at this resplendent holiday meal, which included:

  “May all the emigration to this El Dorado find as comfortable quarters as we have in this beautiful camp, and may they succeed in realizing their brightest golden anticipations; hoping that Kansas and Nebraska may want for good fat beef, no more than we do for fat venison, elk, mountain sheep, antelope, wild turkies, etc.” – Gen. Larimer

  “The miners and the mines. – May the latter be as prolific of treasures as the former are pregnant with high hopes.” – Volunteer

  “May the opening of spring, give us direct communication with our friends in ‘America’ by a regular mail; and although we all acknowledge the benefits derived from our present FEE MAIL (50 cents per letter), may we be blessed with an abundance of the genuine article of genus FEMALE during the coming summer.” – A. O. McGrew

This is a selection from “Of Mines & Beer!” history of 19th century brewing in Gilpin County by Dave Thomas. Copies of the book may be obtained locally at the Gilpin Historical Society museum, Dostal Alley Brewpub in Central City, the Bobtail Cornerstore in Black Hawk, or online at www.Amazon.com.

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