Western History & Genealogy Blog
Really Breaking Bad
Before Walter White and Jesse Pinkman cooked up their famous batches of blue “glass,” robbed trains, and made their run as modern day television gangsters; the Old West was rife with real opium dealers, moonshiners, bootleggers, and back alley bandits that rivaled anything “Heisenberg” could do. The selling of illegal “spirits” and drugs has always been rampant in this country and was no different in the late 19th Century. By the 1850's thousands of Chinese, drawn by the allure of gold, headed west to San Francisco looking to make their fortune. Several of these Chinese immigrants, who were unable to find gold, started opium dens to provide themselves with a better economic base. “Cook’s” in these dens plied their trade by heating opium poppies in long pipes over special oil lamps that vaporized the drug. These dens became quite popular with a large portion of the population. And much like Gus Fring’s operation on “Breaking Bad,” these dens often operated out of the basement of an establishment that doubled as a laundry service.
“Drug dealers” and “dope peddlers” were not exclusive to one specific race of people either. Moonshiners and illegal alcohol bootleggers sprang up all over the Old West. Their “kitchens” were not as clean and high-tech as Walter White’s but they surely did the trick. Their brand of brew was so popular and deemed so potent that many said the “alcohol” was guaranteed to bleach your hair white and make you go blind.
And although they didn’t have the DEA breathing down their necks, like Walt and Jesse, these rum runners had to avoid the authorities just the same. Anti-opium ordinances and ambitious lawmen were used to breakup many houses of vice in this time period. And often times, much like with Walter and Jesse, confrontations with the police and competing gangsters ended up with someone laid out on a slab. For more photos go here.