Friday, February 24, 2012


In the last decade of the great cattle drive era (1875 – 1885) my adopted home town of Ogallala, Nebraska, was named the End of the Texas Trail and became the destination for herd after herd of longhorns being driven to its rail head for shipment off to the markets.

This meant that Ogallala also became the destination for wave after wave of weary, saddle-sore, thirsty, horny cowboys ready to cut loose after so many hard months on the trail. After selling their beef and getting paid, the main focus for most of them was to cut the trail dust out of their throats with beer and rotgut whiskey and to seek the "companionship" of the numerous soiled doves awaiting in the saloons and bawdy houses that Ogallala had in abundance. In addition to being named the End of the Texas Trail, the town had also been dubbed, with good reason, "the Gomorrah of the plains".

Now, while the gals who pandered to these randy cowboys weren't exactly what you could call picky about who they spent their time with, they did try to draw the line about certain things. And frolicking with a cowboy who'd just spent all those weeks riding at the south end of a northbound longhorn … well, at least a modicum of hygiene was requested. It was hoped the cowboys in question would take time for a shave and a bath (and the gals, too, for that matter). Barring that, it was required that at least some measure was taken to curb the smell of sweat, dust, and, er, other aromas that lingered after all that south-end riding. 

Enter Ogallala Bay Rum.

Near as I can determine, bay rum—what these days we more commonly call after shave lotion or cologne—had been around for a century or two before Ogallala's name got attached to it. It originated in the West Indies and over the years had many different brand names and spins placed on its basic ingredients.

But in Western America, when its time came, the Ogallala brand became very popular. And, among other things, it served very nicely to create at least the illusion of freshness and cleanliness that the discerning gals of saloon row demanded.

Ogallala Bay Rum outlasted the cattle drive era but then, like many other "bay rums", it—along with Brylcreem, Butch Wax, etc.—pretty much fell out of vogue after the first half of the last century. The Ogallala brand ceased to exist.

Now, however, it is back. An enterprising local fellow has resurrected it, starting first as a sideline that he brewed and bottled in his basement. He now has his own building in a strip mall on the south side of town where he produces and ships product all over the world and is able to lay claim, via the internet, to operating the "Largest Bay Rum Site in the World". You can access it at and order some of the product there if you're interested.

Have to admit I haven't tried any yet myself. I'm an Old Spice guy, going back about five decades, and don't expect to make any wholesale changes at this point in my life. Nevertheless, out of a sense of history and in support of a fellow Ogallalian, I intend to sample some soon. It bills itself as "strong, invigorating stuff" and I could sure as hell use a dose of that. Plus it warns "not for sissies", so neither can I back down from the challenge.

So, we'll have to find out.

And to think, none of it might have been possible if those soiled doves from so long ago had hadn't been so darn fussy …

Persevere — WD


Ron Scheer said...

News to me. I would never have put those three words together in the same sentenced...Just this week in class showed the Ogallala scene from Lonesome Dove when the young cowhands ask Dish for advice about finding whores and the cavalry attempts to requisition Dish's horse.

Thomas Pluck said...

When I worked in a pharmacy, I used bay rum all the time. It's impossible to find now, but I'll give this a try. If my wife says it makes me stink handsome-like, I'll let y'all know...

wayne d. dundee said...

Ron - Usually when I say I'm from Ogallala, if people ever heard the name at all (which is seldom)it is in connection with Lonesome Dove.

Thomas - Good luck with trying some bay rum. Hope it makes you smell real purty-like.

Richard Prosch said...

Wayne, I appreciate the background info! I got a jug of this stuff from my lovely wife for Christmas. She found it in the Duluth Trading Co. catalog. It's an odd blend of cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, a few other things --reminiscent of another quirky (and more potent) mix she brought home called "Thieves Oil."