Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Lost Dickel Partner.

My recent interest in George Dickel history led me to an article in the Fall 1998 issue of the Tennessee Historical Quarterly. It is entitled "George Dickel Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky: The Story Behind the Label," by Kay Baker Gaston.

She offers the same overall outline for the history that has long been known and agreed upon by just about everybody except Diageo. What's fun is some of the other stuff she uncovered, especially about Dickel and Shwab, the early years.

First, she found evidence that Dickel was a bastard (literally). His father's family acknowledged him but in a backhanded way, by having his bastard uncle stand as his godfather.

Dickel probably was a smuggler during the Union occupation of Nashville, as was Shwab and a 3rd partner, never mentioned in Dickel histories, probably because this partner was actually convicted. There was some evidence against Shwab, but not enough, and nothing against Dickel directly. Gaston concludes that the capital which got them all set up in the liquor business after the occupation came from their smuggling activities during it.

The other Dickel partner, the forgotten one, was Meier Salzkotter.

Salzkotter was in business, both licit and illicit, with Shwab's father and was married to Shwab's older sister, Cecelia. He worked for Dickel before Shwab did and was a partner in the Dickel enterprise until his death in 1891. All three men--Salzkotter, Dickel and Abram Schwab--did various kinds of business together in Knoxville and Nashville. Victor, Abram's son, dropped the "c" from his surname and joined a Christian church, but otherwise followed in his father's footsteps.

The author found evidence that Shwab also changed his given name many times in many small ways in his youth, apparently to confuse the authorities.

None of this was necessarily disreputable, at least within their community, as they were all good Rebs doing what they could to get around the Yankee occupation (1862-65).

Salzkotter got the worst of it. He was caught using false-bottomed wagons to smuggle prohibited goods past the Union blockade and spent time in a military prison for his offense. While he was away his wife, Victor's sister, decamped for Louisville and became a prostitute there.

Gaston also talks about another key part of the Dickel-Shwab-Salzkotter business, the Climax Saloon, which was in Nashville's prime entertainment district, close to the famous Maxwell House Hotel. The entertainment at Climax included liquor, gambling, and prostitution.

She also has details I didn't know about MacLin Davis, the distiller at Cascade (and part owner) who appears to be the man most responsible for the success of the whiskey itself. He and Shwab apparently had a close relationship, to the point that one of Shwab's daughters married one of Davis's sons.

All of which is more interesting than anything Diageo will tell you.

Gaston's sources are deed books, wills, newspaper stories, census records, city directories, and other sources published during the time the events occurred. No "oral history."

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