Long before Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon, Chester Goode and Miss Kitty wrapped their hands around a warm cup, coffee was a virtual necessity on the frontier.
In 1849, while surveying a military route through the Southwest, Lt. William Whiting noted in his journal that coffee was the “great essential in prairie bill of fare.”
The Plains Indians loved coffee, and enterprising whites took advantage of that. In 1833, the American Fur Company began trading the natives one cup of coffee beans for one buffalo robe, a price that was raised to three cups after 1859. When the tribes couldn’t get coffee, they sometimes attacked settlers to get it.
Up to the end of the Civil War, coffee beans were sold green, in bulk. The beans had to be roasted over a wood stove in a skillet before they could be ground and brewed. If they weren’t roasted just right, the coffee was almost undrinkable.
But then along came entrepreneur John Arbuckle. In 1864, he capitalized on Jabez Burns’s invention of the roaster by packing Arbuckles’ roasted coffee in one-pound packages. Coffee sales skyrocketed. As they say, the rest is history; Arbuckles’ became known as the “Coffee That Won the West.”
Sometimes, however, folks used a substitute when the real McCoy was not available. For instance, jojoba plants grow in Arizona’s central mountains northeast of Phoenix. When cowboys in the area ran out or were too broke to buy coffee beans, they cooked jojoba beans, ground them up and made “coffee.” The stuff tasted awful, but the cowboys drank it anyway and named the location Coffee Flat.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian.
His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone.
If you have a question, write:
Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008,
Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at