The Arbuckle Cafe

arbuckle_cafeAnytime a cowpuncher brewed a cup of java, the “Arbuckle Cafe” was open for business. Rain or shine, both friend and stranger were welcome to a hot steaming cup of coffee and a good story or two. Arbuckle’s Ariosa coffee was the preferred drink of the range, and many a waddie warmed himself with the buckaroo brew before a long night guard with the dogies. Val FitzPatrick was a cowboy with the famous Two Bar outfit in northwest Colorado. “The Arbuckle Cafe” tells what it was really like to be a cowpuncher on one of the West’s last frontiers.

With the coming of the railroads, the American cowboy’s job changed drastically, as the great trail herds became a thing of the past. Many cowboys faded into history, but some discovered “the last frontier”, a place in northwest Colorado and northeast Utah that still prized their skills. Ora Haley, owner of the vast Two-Bar Ranch and Cattle Company, was the last of the Cattle Kings, and this was his domain.

Val FitzPatrick’s family homesteaded in this region, and Val became a rider for the Two-Bar at the age of 14. In later years, Val wrote many accounts of his life, and “The Arbuckle Cafe” is a collection of the best of his stories, all classic and authentic insights of what life on the range was really like. These stories are entertaining glimpses into lives as honest as a well-looped riata, lives that vacillated between adventure and boredom, the lives of the real cowpunchers.

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Even though I grew up in the cattle country of northwest Colorado, it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I had my first sip of Arbuckles’ Coffee, the original “buckaroo brew.” After a mellow day of trail riding, we’d decided to kick back around the campfire for a spell, warm-up some canned beans, and see who could spin the best yarn. This turned out to be an appropriate setting for learning about the java that “won the West.”As the evening wore on and the pinyon fire settled down to a comfortable glow of hot embers, one of the old-timers posed a tricky question: “Go back one-hundred years. Who do you suppose was considered the most famous and best-known hero in the Old West? Whose autograph was most valuable?”We each had our guess-maybe the Governor of Colorado, Alva Adams? Was it Cleveland, the U.S. President? Chief Ouray of the Utes? Otto Mears, the road builder? After we’d exhausted every name we could remember, we gave up and the old-timer answered his own question. “It was Arbuckle. Everybody-men, women, children-knew of Arbuckle. His name was known in the lowliest dugout and in the best log house, in freighters’ camps, on roundups, in trappers’ tents, and in prospectors’ shelters. Arbuckle’s signature was the most treasured autograph ever known. Everyone drank toasts to him.””Who was Arbuckle?” we asked.

The old fellow, enjoying his role as historian, answered, “Arbuckle was the man whose signature appeared on the one-pound paper packages of coffee used by everybody. Arbuckles’ “Ariosa” was the only coffee known on the frontier for many years. The price was 20 cents a pound, and Arbuckle was the first merchandiser to offer premiums.”

He paused as if to remember, then continued, “On each package of coffee, running lengthwise, was the scrawled signature of Arbuckle. Cut out the signatures, save them, and in due course for a certain number of signatures and a little money you could get such things as scissors, jackknives, mirrors, comb-and-brush sets, razors, and perfumes, not to mention mouse traps, jaw harps, napkin rings, and mustache cups.”

That old-timer indeed knew Arbuckles well, for he was Val FitzPatrick, once a cowpuncher for the famous Two-Bar outfit at the turn of the century. He’d had his share of the strong brew, we were sure.

Out West, Arbuckles’ coffee was a success with chuck-wagon cooks, who were faced with the task of keeping cowpunchers supplied with plenty of hot “mud” out on the range. As enticement to buy Arbuckles’ Coffee, a stick of peppermint was included in every package of Ariosa. This became a powerful tool for the camp cookee to bribe cowpunchers to help with chores. The chuck-wagon cook was well-respected, for anything otherwise might lead to “dehorned coffee” or “water that’s been scalded to death.” Sears carried bags of the coffee in their famous mail-order catalogs at 20 cents a pound.

Arbuckles became so common that by 1890 it had became a generic name for coffee. It was common to hear cowpunchers ask for a cup of coffee by saying, “How about them Arbuckles?” And a good cowpuncher was “worth his weight in Arbuckles.” One old cowpuncher said he made “cowdog coffee” out of Ariosa. When asked what “cowdog coffee” was, he replied: “It’s just like cowboy coffee, you boil Arbuckles in a pan over a fire for a few hours, then you throw in a hoss shoe, and if it won’t sink, it’s done. Add a little whiskey. Makes you howl.” Variants on this recipe were once found across the West (often you’d throw in a six-shooter). Another cowpuncher said, “Most people don’t realize how little water it takes to make good coffee. Probably not all that nutritious, though, without much water.”

But truly, the most widely known man on the frontier, even more well-known than General Custer, was Arbuckle. And many a cowpuncher and many a waddie spent many an hour telling tales by firelight at the Arbuckle Cafe, served by a surly waiter called Cookee.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this collection of stories by Val FitzPatrick and have many pleasant evenings at the Arbuckle Cafe.

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