Geographically and comfort-wise, the Old West seems about as distant from the sunny coasts of Charleston as the moon and the stars. Yet, when taking into account the many charms of the Holy City, it’s easy to see that modern-day Charleston and frontier life share much in common. Perhaps even with a few minor tweaks, you can have that Lowcountry feeling back again. So with that in mind, here is a helpful guide for how to enjoy your favorite Charleston staples after you’ve set out to strike your claim in the Wild West.
The first thing to consider when you reach your frontier homestead is what minor betterments can be made to recreate that old Charleston feel. Let’s start with a trip to town.
A rarity among most modern cities, Charleston is blessed with a wealth of carriage horses that shuffle along its sleepy streets. Luckily, there are already plenty of horses gadding about your new settlement. Now all that’s left to do is narrow the roadways to no more than the width of a single wagon loaded with greenhorns and you’ll be able to recreate those tranquil moments enjoyed by Charleston motorists cooling their heels behind a moseying mare. Bonus points if you can somehow whittle down much of the available parking. Perhaps a levy on all the hitching posts would do the trick.
Next, as you look around the nearest outpost town center, make note of the main street lined with bars and inns. While casually slamming a few coins on the saloon counter will get you a room for the night, a shave, haircut, oats for your horse, and a shot of whiskey in most Westerns, you’ll want to severely raise those rates to get the Charleston experience so far from home.
Of course, the saloons in these lawless badlands are well-known purveyors of so-called ladies of the line, calico queens, or nymphs du prairie. Compared to modern standards, the Old West cliché of housing sex workers inside a saloon is no longer considered socially acceptable — albeit a much safer alternative. Maybe Miss Kitty was onto something?
Speaking of tourist activities, maybe you can bring the spirit of an old-fashioned Charleston ghost tour to the frontier. Just as helpful guides lead scores of visitors past Lowcountry cemeteries, maybe you can corral enough looky-loos to follow you through the nearest bone orchard. And just as Charleston does its part to promote its Confederate ancestors, don’t forget that the Old West has its share of Southern sympathizers who history has treated kindly. While many may remember the legendary Jesse James as a Robin Hood-esque outlaw, James also served as a pro-Confederate raider during the war. This may be worth mentioning on your tour of boot hill.
Now after a full day of hard riding, it’s time to enjoy a bit of the strong stuff. While Charleston has no shortage of libations for those looking to bend an elbow, the frontier offers a slightly different bar menu. Yes, there will be plenty of establishments that can offer you a cup of brown gargle to get you going in the morning and a nightly shot of whiskey — better known by locals as neck oil, nose paint, or a Brigham Young cocktail — it’ll be slim pickings beyond that.
So when you wake up after a night of heavy drinking with a case of barrel fever, try to put together a makeshift Charleston-style brunch to settle your stomach and avoid “airin’ the paunch” all over your cowboy boots.
While orange juice and champagne are likely to be in short supply on the frontier, you can cobble together your own spin on a mimosa by mixing a bit of laudanum and cactus juice. No carafes? Just serve the concoction out of an overturned lantern.
As for vittles, the camp cook’s biscuits may be closer to hardtack than buttery delicious, but that doesn’t mean you can’t craft an Old West iteration of some Charleston classics. For instance, shrimp and grits is replaced with scorpions and quicksand. Unlike Charleston the frontier is bereft of bivalves, but homesteaders have devised their own iteration of “prairie oysters” fashioned from calf testicles that are surely a close enough approximation. Probably the only ones who will notice the difference are the cattle.
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