On Monday April 22, 1889 the Oklahoma Land Run gave turbulent birth to what would become Oklahoma City. By day's end there were already in place establishments to get a drink, get a girl and just plan get in trouble. Some started small and would grow into significant entities in the new community in the next 20 years and others, well they seemed to have gone in grown and stayed as a throne in civic affairs.
Early community records from the 1890's indicate the establishment considered the worst of all of them was on a lane called Hope Boulevard in "Hell's Half Acre". "Hell" was basically where the modern convention center, Myriad Gardens and a hotel now stand. It was bordered on the east by Front Street (now Santa Fe) , north by W. Grand (now Sheridan), west by South Broadway, and south by California. Inside this square of sin were other smaller lanes and labels that identified particular sections. These included Hop Boulevard, Bunco Alley, Maiden Lane, Alabaster Row, and Battle Row. It does not need a crystal ball to explain the significance of these but businesses where not limited and soon spread over these early and often unidentified early businesses. They were placed just across the street from the depot of the Santa Fe rail line and for many years that served as the eastern boundary of the town. Beyond it were other places and dives but they were a county or U.S. Marshall affair and only received mention when people where killed in fights or the law was hunting a wanted criminal.
The area of present Bricktown was the general area of a military encampment that served to help keep the peace in the earliest days. It is the site of the first cemetery but no one knows where that was other than it was by the river and the river tended to change course over the decades until taken into hand by the Army Corp of Engineers much later.
The most notorious place was on Hop Blvd. in the middle on the south side of the little lane between Front and Broadway and was called "The Red Onion." And in the early years (1890's) it was operated by Madam Daisy Clayton. In 1896 Daisy and 6 of her "girls" were arrested for 'disorderly conduct' and were bailed out by another madam in town, Anne Wynn (Mrs. Bailey). Apparently there was either a bond of friendship among the houses or Anne Wynn, known to be buying real estate, may have been the behind the scenes owner.
There were "Red Onions" scattered across the American Southwest and it is uncertain if they were begun by the same people or if they were named such because of the instant recognition the name might provide for would be customers. In 1892, in Colorado, Tom Latta, a city alderman opened "The Red Onion". In 1897, in Skawag, Alaska a "Red Onion Saloon" opened. Today it is a restaurant with a museum, complete with costumed guides. They will gladly share the tales of bygone good times. It is claimed the term, "red onion" was a colloquial one meaning something rare and special. The glamour was wearing thin by 1905 when the city had grown so much that residences began to ring the old "Hell" and the public, at least some, called for the law to clean it all up. Of, course the same rhetoric can be found in newspapers from as early as 1894. Things, sometimes, are slow to change.
--Marilyn A. Hudson, c2015
--Marilyn A. Hudson, c2015