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By Tammy Gray-Searles
Although by the 1920s Route 66 was on its way, and the Bucket of Blood Saloon had the appearance of a respectable establishment, sidled up to a general store and across the way from an early gasoline station, the saloon still captivated travelers, who stopped in to see the bullet holes in the walls and a stain on the floor that reportedly remained from the gunfight that gave the bar its name.
In the mid-1880s, the little western Arizona town of Holbrook was known as a place “too tough for women and churches.” There was no law enforcement to speak of and a group of cow punchers from the Aztec Cattle Company had moved into the area. These cowpunchers called themselves the Hashknife Outfit, and they soon became known far and wide at the “theivinist, fightinist bunch of cowboys in the west.” Rustling cattle from other cattle companies, as well as stealing and shooting were everyday activities for the Hashknife cowboys. They were major players in the Pleasant Valley Feud, one of the longest and bloodiest land and cattle feuds in the history of the United States.
The year 1886 was a notable one for the Hashknife cowboys and the Bucket of Blood Saloon. That year alone there were 26 shooting deaths in Holbrook, a notable number for any western settlement at the time, but especially for a town with a population of only about 250. Most of the shootings were attributed either directly or indirectly to the presence of the Hashknife Outfit. The Bucket of Blood Saloon rose to infamy that year when a brutal gunfight broke out between members of the Hashknife Outfit and a group of cowboys who accused them of stealing cattle.
Gunfights and even casual gunfire were common at the Bucket of Blood, in fact, a painting hangs in the local museum bearing two bullet holes from a target competition between two betting cowboys who both turned out to be poor shots.
But the gunfight that took place was like nothing that had ever been seen in the saloon before. Historical documents don’t offer a count of how many men died or were injured, but written records say that the result was “buckets of blood” on the floor. Thus, the name of the saloon was changed to Bucket of Blood.
Today the Bucket of Blood is boarded up, and sits in a lonely part of town. The trees hide the site where one of the bloodiest gunfights of the west took place. Residents of Holbrook haven’t forgotten about the Bucket of Blood however, and now embrace the wild west history, claiming to have a past “wilder than Tombstone, but made up of events that really did happen.”
The street that runs in front of the old saloon was renamed from “Central” to “Bucket of Blood Street,” a move that landed the street on a number of top ten lists citing the most unusual street names.
Travelers going down Route 66, just a block away, still take a turn off the America’s Highway to get a glimpse of the remains of a saloon that witnessed a time in history when the west really was wild.
The saloon has stood for more than 120 years, right next to the train tracks where the cattle rustlers of yore loaded their cattle for shipment to the east, surviving floods, fires and the constant vibration of trains that continue to pass by. Much of the building was constructed using local sandstone, which lends a rich red color.
And while the beautiful stonework on the front is still in nearly pristine shape, a protective layer of stucco on the back is falling away, revealing the stacked stone construction in the back that is beginning to give way to the ravages of time.