Ghosts of the Pioneer Saloon


By Byron Craft

Clark Gable was heartbroken. He was drinking heavily in the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Nevada. Some say he drank himself “blind.” He needed to forget. He had just received word that the love of his life had been killed. Gable burned holes in the cherry wood bar with lit cigarettes.

It was January 16, 1942. A TWA DC-3 airliner, with Carole Lombard aboard, crashed into a mountain near Las Vegas, killing all twenty-two passengers and crew, including Gable’s mother-in-law, and Otto Winkler, who had been the best man at Gable’s and Lombard’s wedding.

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had been husband and wife. To the media of the day they were like salt and pepper, toast and jam…a perfectly matched set. To America, and most of the free world, they were simply known as Gable and Lombard, the King and Queen of Hollywood.

Gable stayed in Goodsprings for several days until Carole Lombard’s body could be recovered. He was emotionally and physically devastated. Occasionally, a visitor to the Pioneer Saloon, nowadays, will claim that they have caught a glimpse of a transparent Clark Gable hunkered over the bar nursing a glass of whiskey. It is alleged that Lombard’s spirit, to this day, wanders the premises in order to console her distraught husband. And, of course, the holes left by Gable’s mishandled Marlboros along the bar top are still visible to the skeptics.

The living ghost town isn’t actually at the end of a road, but it’s pretty dang close. Many people love the isolated oasis, and drive the thirty miles from Las Vegas to escape the modern glitter. Even though Goodsprings is secluded by an expanse of desolate desert, the town has seen a lot. Named for Joseph Good, whose cattle frequented the foothills of the Spring Mountains, Goodsprings was once the heart of the most productive mining districts in Clark County. Over the years, lead, silver, copper, zinc and gold were mined from the area. Before 1900, a small cluster of tent cabins and a mill were erected, and a post office established Goodsprings Township. Salt Lake City mining interests platted the Goodsprings Township and the majority buildings in the town were constructed during the boom spurred by the advent of the railroad in 1910–1911. Goodsprings grew rapidly in size and became the largest town in Nevada during that era. The town of Goodsprings was the quintessential image of a classic short-lived mining boom. After World War I, mining slowed and families moved away. World War II created a second boom, but it too slowed after the war ended. The town’s population has decreased to approximately 200. The boom became a bust. It has dwindled down to a bar and a general store. One resident noted that, “…everything else has burned down or fallen down. It’s a testimony of time.”

Goodsprings has a remote old treasure that’s been around for 102 years… the Pioneer Saloon, which is one of the oldest bars in Nevada and the oldest in Clark County. In Las Vegas, they blow things up, tear them down. There is very little in Sin City that has survived the wrecking ball. But the Pioneer Saloon is how it was 100 years ago. Inside the charming bar you will find original poker tables, a vintage potbelly stove and a stylish fishnet-stocking leg lamp. It is a decent and friendly watering hole where you can meet locals and visitors alike conversing at the bar, which has been serving up booze and suds since 1913.

The interior and exterior walls are of stamped tin and manufactured by Sears and Roebuck. It is said to be one of the last, if not the last of its kind in the United States. The legendary bar was manufactured by the Brunswick Company in Maine in the 1860’s. As you belly up to wet your whistle, you will rest your foot on the original brass rail installed when the bar was built. You don’t have to go hungry at the Pioneer. You can join them for a WILD WEST BBQ. Breakfast, lunch and dinner offer full entrees, including pizzas and a variety of ribs and steaks—or try their legendary Ghost Burger.

A back room to the Pioneer Saloon houses a memorial to screen legends Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, as well as a showcase for the numerous Hollywood blockbusters that have been shot in this out-of-the-way western saloon. Pictures of Cheech ‘n Chong pounding beers at the bar, and publicity shots of Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality II (portions of which were filmed there) line the walls. The Saloon has been featured in a myriad of movies and television shows. Much of the decor that graces the big screen sits around the saloon and hangs on the walls. Nevertheless, the genuine stories of the Pioneer Saloon do not live in the lines of a movie script, but in the echoes of the past. Original newspaper clippings tell story after story of the incredible history of this saloon from yesteryear.

The Pioneer is the longtime heart of the tight-knit community, and chances are the place will be packed. Bikers, businessmen, tourists, limo drivers and any other types you can conjure up may be found partying at the Pioneer, according to their published hours: “7 Days a Week, 9AM - Till the Drinking is done.” Allegedly, a few otherworldly guests, not so visible to the naked eye, also enjoy hanging around tipping back a few. Gable’s and Lombard’s spirits aren’t the only ghosts said to tread this portion of Nevada’s paranormal past—far from it. According to one of the venue’s regular mixologists, along with every employee in the bar, the full-body apparition of a kindly, aged prospector has been known to appear in the wee hours of the evening. “He is short,” one of the barmaids told us. “He wears a smashed-up hat. Sometimes I’ve seen him at the bar and sometimes standing at the pot belly stove. He’s just hangin’ out.”

Another eerie tale is about a spirit without the best of intentions for the Pioneer Saloon. He was a hard-drinking miner by the name of Paul Coski. A once physically massive man, Coski loved booze more than life itself and boasted the menacing reputation of being able to beat up any two other men, simultaneously. He was shot to death during an argument over a ten-dollar gambling debt. Supposedly, Coski was sent “six-feet under” by a pair of bullets. The bullets went through him and tore holes in the tin wall. The original coroner’s report for the ill-tempered bar brawler still hangs on a wall of the tavern. The holes remain below the coroner’s report. Legend has it that Coski’s ethereal presence can be seen now and then in the darkened corners of the saloon, glaring down at unsuspecting clientele, bleeding from his side and sporting the clothing of the Wild West. Just as quickly as this menacing apparition is spotted…the ghost vanishes.

In August of 2013, to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the old haunted Saloon, the Pioneer was featured on the popular television show, “Ghost Adventures”. The “Ghost Adventures” crew was locked down with their equipment in the saloon all night. During their intense stay, they uncovered very strong and compelling evidence of ghostly existence in the historical Nevada landmark. The marketing for the episode touted, “Become Part of a Real Paranormal Investigation! Experience it yourself! Now, you too can experience the thrill of being locked inside this spooky and haunted saloon.” According to the History Channel, there are several ghosts that haunt the 100-year-old Saloon and Gallery.

A workable theory is that the ghosts of Hollywood luminaries that have drowned their sorrows at the bar left behind their psychic impressions. Maybe the bullet holes from a past squabble in the wall, the evidence of a violent death, manifest in the form of an unkindly residue. Or quite possibly some specters only want to return to their favorite watering hole.

When visiting the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Nevada, please don’t pester the ghosts. All they may want is a little peace and quiet.

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