Monday, December 28, 2009

Armstrong's Saloon

A shooting scrape occurred at Reub. Armstrong's saloon, on Christy avenue, between Eighth and Ninth streets, last evening about 7 o'clock. The place was crowded with negroes at the time, all excited over the base ball game between the Chicago and St. Louis colored teams, and the feeling was of a partisan character. A row finally occurred, which resulted in one of the Chicago players, named Benjamin Beatty, drawing a pistol and firing at Armstrong, who was not hit, however, by the bullet. Beatty was arrested and locked up at the Third District Police Station.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 16, 1876

Setting aside the Globe's proclivity to portray African-Americans (and African-American baseball players) as violent, this is a rather interesting story. It tells us quite a bit about the culture of black baseball in St. Louis. Here we find fans and players socializing at Armstrong's saloon after a game. You often hear stories about the 20th century Negro Leagues where fans and players are socializing at the same bars, restaurants, hotels, etc. It appears that culture was already established by 1876, where the social and economic limitations imposed on African-Americans creates an atmosphere where the ballplayers are more a part of and more immersed in the society in which they live than are white ballplayers. 19th century baseball, for white men, could be a way to raise himself above his social and economic situation or to improve his class standing to a certain extent. It does not appear, generally speaking, that this was true of the black experience with 19th century baseball.


James Brunson said...


This account says something about social status and political power. What you called "Boss" (from the Dutch word) in an earlier blog meant political clout or "Mayor" in the "bloody" Third Ward. There was no love loss between political bosses Reuben Armstrong and Henry Bridgewater.

The Blue Stockings aligned with St. Louis Aristocrats of Color who financed their organization. If they hung out at Armstrong's, it was because Bridgewwater disliked both Armstrong and "toney" blacks like William Roberson and James A. Johnson (of course, Bridgewater was wealthy but not by blood.)No Blue Stocking players, to my knowledge, ever played for the Black Stockings; they were bitter rivals. In 1874, the Blue Stockings (formerly the Napoleons) established a rivalry with the Uniques of Chicago. Naturally, the Uniques would "hang out" with their hosts. Bridgewater would have another run in with the Uniques in 1882 when they attempted to sign Black Stockings shortstop, Lewis Canter.

While Rube's Saloon had been around since 1870, if not earlier, sporting celebrities who came to town preferred Bridgewater's which was a high-class establishment.

James Brunson said...


By the way... For political clout, Rube Armstrong had sold out to the Democrats and Bridgewater remained a staunch Lincoln Republican. Considering our current political climate, blacks being predominantly Democrats, it's a world upside down!

Jeffrey Kittel said...

It's the rare article in the Globe that gives you a glimpse of the life of black ballplayers in StL off the diamond and I found it fascinating. The Uniques hanging out with the Blue Stockings and their fans is interesting because the old baseball tradition of a club actually hosting their visitors (showing them around town, treating them to a lavish dinner, etc) had faded away in the 1870s. It goes back to the idea of a social baseball club and that had fallen by the wayside some time previous to this. It's another example of the black clubs having the same traditions and customs but on a slightly different evolutionary track.

As to the politics of it, it may have made Armstrong's life a little easier selling out to the Dems. Give a contribution here, support an alderman there, pay a few policemen-they were all Dems. It was a Democratic town and if you wanted to do business it had to be easier to go along.

I read a great book when I was an undergrad about the political evolution of the South in the post WWII era and it talked about the transition of black voters from Republican to Democrat. Great book and I can't for the live of me remember the title. I spent 20 minutes on Google and couldn't find it.

James Brunson said...

Well, you're right. It is rare and we'll take it! Yet I'm still not sure that some of the white players weren't engaged in similar behaviors. Here, I'm thinking of the Browns' Tom Deasley. According to The National Police Gazette, he was arrested for drunkeness and harassing "white" women when the team visited Indianapolis in 1884. The Gazette seems to have had inside info on him, remarking that he also pursued black women in St. Louis.

Not that this was a crime, but as "boys being boys" such indiscretions hardly conformed to an image of respectabity in postbellum Gilded Age St. Louis. Even though, I suspect you know, "respectable" white men pursued black women (high yaller Octoroons fitting the desire of many sporting men)and patronized black saloons and bordellos. Moreover, newspapers were notorious in suppressing names and locations to protect "respected" citizens from embarassment. We need to continue fleshing out the life of the western sporting fraternity. Cecil Brown had it right: these stories represent the drama of living, and that is certainly what many ballplayers engaged in! Ciao!

Jeffrey Kittel said...

The white players were certainly involved in this kind of behavior. No doubt about it. But, although I may be reading too much into it, I'm thinking more of the way baseball clubs socialized together in the 1850s and 1860s. The game was an event and there was a large dinner and great deal of almost formal socializing between the two clubs. That kind of thing was long gone at the highest levels of white baseball in the mid 1870s. But that's what this thing at Armstrong's saloon reminds me of-one club entertaining the other in an kind of formal manner of host and visitor, with the fans (as non-playing members of the club) also involved in the socializing/celebration. It goes back to the days when baseball was the activity of social, fraternal organizations with the sport/play secondary to the social/fraternal aspects of the club.

Again, I may be reading too much into it but that's the element of the story that strikes me. It was a custom that was largely extinct in white baseball culture but is still evident to some extent among black clubs.

David Ball said...

A few things strike me. The first is that these are compact cities by our standards, and much of the night life was concentrated in a small area. I would guess it wasn't uncommon for major league players on opposing teams to run into each other while out on the town, and an everyday event for them to mix with the general public. I could cite only one or two such instances, but it isn't something that would attract a lot of attention except in unusual circumstances like this one. The case I know best only came to light because some of the players assaulted a young passerby after taking a harmless joke of his in drunken seriousness.

What really differentiates black players, I think, is not that many of them drank and fought and whored, nor that they got written up in the newspapers when they went over the line doing those things, but that, unlike white players, they found it hard to get much coverage at all for just playing baseball.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I'm always rather excited when I find any coverage of black baseball in St. Louis during this era. The information is so sparse and coverage so poor that almost anything I find adds to my knowledge. What I'd really like to find is more information on black baseball in StL during the 1860s.