The Western frontier is equal parts geographical destination, era, and myth for most Americans. Notions of the so-called Wild West conjure evocative hyphenates; we envision hard-scrabble folks carving out lives in punishing conditions, rife with dust-filled saloons and hard-drinking cowboys. This folklore inspires odes by Willie Nelson and Will Smith, and decades of films, television, and fashion.

The actual timeframe starts with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, a massive expansion in which the fledgling United States doubled its size, and ends circa 1912, when Arizona joined the union as its 48th contiguous state. All continental American territories west of the Mississippi River were part of the frontier.

Thanks to a wealth of photographic archives, we don’t have to imagine what bars were like during this time. Saloons in the Old West included everything from a California watering hole bedecked with stars and stripes, to a Utah establishment with a horse casually standing alongside other patrons inside.

Saloon, Anaheim, California, Date Unknown

A dog sits on a table in this Old West saloon in Anaheim, California.
Orange County, CA Public Libraries

Dogs were permitted inside and apparently atop tables in this Californian saloon, possibly called the Rust Winery.

Sweetwater Saloon, Fort Worth, Texas, Date Unknown

Retail beer started at five cents at the WIld West's Swetwater Saloon.
University of Texas at Arlington Library

Beer cost a nickel at this saloon in Fort Worth where dogs were permitted (at least on the porch).

Behling Bros. Pool Room, Concord, Michigan, Estimated 1890-1910

In the Old West at the turn of the 20th century, saloon life at the Behling Brothers Pool Room.
University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library

Svacina Saloon, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Estimated 1890-1898

At this Old West saloon, a child is drinking a beer.
Manitowoc Public Library

Whether Wisconsin falls within the realm of America’s Western frontier is up for debate, but this child drinking a child-size beer is remarkable in any context.

Saloon, Missoula, Montana, Date Unknown

Men (and pictured women) strike a pose at this Old Western tavern in Missoula, Montana.
University of Montana, Missoula. Mansfield Library

This Montana saloon was fully stocked with liquor, Budweiser, and no shortage of decorative wall art.

Mueller Saloon, Ripon, Wisconsin, 1894

Wisconsin's Mueller Saloon is captured in a vintage photograph.
Ripon Historical Society

Unknown Bar, Castle Dale, Utah, Date Unknown

There is a horse in this bar photo from the Emery County, Utah archives.
Sherratt Library, Southern Utah University

The exact date and location of this photograph are unknown, but there absolutely is a horse inside this Utah bar.

Park Saloon, Tripp and Melloy, Gardiner, Montana, 1900

Tripp and Melloy owned Park Saloon in Wild West Montana.
Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center

John Powell’s Saloon, Plainfield, Illinois, Estimated 1900-1920

Plainfield Saloon in Illinois in the Old West.
Plainfield Public Library

Bearded pet owner Chris Shafer and his dog, Peggie, are among the patrons of this Illinois saloon.

Mares Saloon, Taylor, Texas, Date Unknown

The Mares Saloon in Taylor, Texas in the Old West.
Taylor Public Library

Dewar’s Saloon, Zortman, Montana, 1905

The bar at Dewar's Saloon, Montana, in the Old West.
Montana Historical Society Research Center

U.P. Saloon, Murray City, Utah, 1906

The U.P. Saloon in Murray City, Utah had separate entrances for women and children.
Murray Utah Parks and Recreation

The U.P. Saloon was a men’s-only establishment, but a separate “family entrance” on the eastern side lead to a room where women were permitted.

Beckwith Saloon, Beckwourth, California, 1908

The interior of the American frontier bar, Beckwith Saloon.
Meriam Library, California State University, Chico

Saloon in Yreka, California, 1915

The owner of this Old West saloon in Yreka, California, is behind the bar.
Meriam Library, California State University, Chico

This building was constructed in 1887 and the owner of the saloon, Charles F. Kapper, is behind the bar closest to the window.

J.A. Bunch Saloon, Grand, Oklahoma. Estimated 1890-1916

Wild West saloon, J.A. Bunch, in Grand, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Historical Society