The Ghost of Buffalo Billiards

Posted on December 28, 2019

Little known fact… Before we get into the whole story of Buffalo Billards and its ghost…

Prostitutes Built The West.

I’m not joking. It’s completely true. We are right now barreling down an age of social equality. The age of Wonder Woman. The age of Black Widow. The age of a woman kicking ass, and then coming back for seconds when said keister gets lippy.

But, and here’s the rub… the dames have always kicked ass.

Whenever things where a bit grey and governmental oversight was looking the other way, dames seized the spotlight by the hairy ones – that’s balls by the way – and made it dance to their own tune.

Here are a few examples:

Although a predominantly a male occupation, piracy had an abundance of cutthroat ladies. The Jack Sparrows of the high sea didn’t really care if you had an extra X chromosome as long as you could wield a sword, drink rum like one of the boys and bring in the booty. Ship’s Contract – yes, as silly as it seems Pirates had contacts – with their nasty clause which prohibited women and young boys on board, were bypassed and sweep under the rug. So, you had a bit more cleave than Jerry, who actually cared as long as made a killing.

“Just wear men clothes and act like a pig. We’ll call it ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’… What do you mean that sounds too progressive?”

The Golden Age of Piracy was spearheaded by legends like Anne Bonne, Mary Read, Mary Farley, Ingela Gathenhielm.

And even before the West Indian Company and Callico Jack, way back in the Viking Age and Medival Times, women were scouring the seas and wreaking havok. There were actual Pirate Queens, like Princess Sela, from Norway.

And we’re not only talking about woman as Pirates, but also as soldiers – the legend of Mulan was based on actual facts – as “highwaymen” and in even as scarecrows; giving the Romans a run for their money. Celtic Queens like Boudicca:

“Around 60 A.D., Boudicca called on her tribe as well as others to unite and push Rome out of their lands. With 100,000 at her command, Boudica toppled the Roman Capitol of Britain, Camulodunum (modern-day Colchester). From there, she rode her troops down through Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St. Albans), destroying cities and slaughtering between 70,000 and 80,000.”

What does all of this have to do with Austin and, more importantly, Buffalo Billards?

I’m getting to that, just give me a second and a bit more rope.

When Manifest Destiny was given wings, and Grant decided – after the Civil War – to expand to the Pacific coast and create a land of opportunity without the weight of history, one of the most lucrative jobs was prostitution. Before brothels arrived in the Wild West most towns were everything but towns, they were, in fact, shabby little work camps. A tent, a hole to do your business in and a shallow grave in case you kicked the bucket; that’s it.

The influx of woman, who saw an economic goldmine waiting to be harvested, actually ended up creating most of the towns the west was known for. Saloons, mostly governed by Prostitutes, started popping out of the woodwork. They became cash-cows overnight; racking in the dough, clientele and basically becoming the center of town.

And what did these women do with all the money they were making?

They fronted the town. They built the schools, the stores, the banks and, even, the churches. Prostitutes in some towns had more political capital than the very governor. Money walks, and bulls&/t talks.

“Prostitutes were astute businesswomen. Being a prostitute could actually give women more financial freedom in the west than their eastern counterparts. That could even lead to a measure of political equality and influence.”

  • Jan Mackell Collins, author, and historian.

So, in essence, most towns really started to strive when brothels came unto the scene. The goldrush, the conquest of the west, the building of the railroads was all ancillary on account that such ventures were mostly done by migrant communities. People from the East who simply came, got their hands dirty, cashed in their checks and went on their merry way. Prostitutes, meanwhile, stayed and made shrewd financial decisions, they invested in the town they were turning tricks in.

“It was a hard and really dangerous job, but it had its benefits.”

Now, let’s talk about Buffalo Billiards…

The place first opened up way back in 1861. At the very beginning, it was a hotel and a boarding house. The Missouri Hotel was run by the Ziller family and, in the span of a few years, it began one of the most popular spots in all of Austin.

Why?

Nope, it wasn’t because of the moonshine. Nor, the scintillating conversation. Given that intro, it should be rather obvious. It was because the place was a local brothel. The owners denied it but there was a reason why it was such a draw for cowboys, outlaws, and two-timing gentlemen.

This turn-of-the-century building was built in 1861 by the Ziller Family and named the Missouri House. Touted as Austin’s first boarding house and rumored to be a brothel, many a cowboy had a good time here.

No matter the season, no matter the economic tail-spin the nation was in, the place was hot. When prohibition hit the land like the nagging tea-toddler it was, the Missouri Hotel was breaking bad and being that epoch’s Walter White. When young G.I.s came back from the European and Pacific front, it was this spot that gave them comfort.

The Missouri Hotel was paramount to the exploitation and development of the region. Other places began digging their teeth, like pilot fish, to the Hotel’s leftovers; picking up clients and making a living. The area basically blossomed around the hotel. If it wasn’t for its workers, its loyal customer base and its savvy investment, this part of Austin would have shriveled up a long time ago.

Buffalo Billiards, it’s a current moniker, is known as a good-time bar. It has a reputation of being THE hangout for anyone wanting a bit of R&R and it makes no distinction between the living at the dead.

“This is one of those places that love a good controversy. And leans in hard. It really doesn’t care that it was once a brothel or that it’s haunted. On the contrary, it’s proud of its ghosts, its rumors and it’s heritage.” 

Fred The Ghost

Being a brothel, where the clients got snippy and the staff wore six-shooters, you can imagine that Buffalo Billards has more than its fair share of ghosts. This was the sort of spot where folks, of a violent disposition simply vanished overnight; a girl with a black eye and a bouncer cleaning off red stains, the only road sign that anything strange occurred.

The place is brimming with ghosts, but the most famous phantom is Fred.

Fred is either one entity or a catch-all name for a frathouse’s worth of poltergeists. As a whole, Fred is a prankster and the creature decides to take his role as class-clown really serious. Among his many activities are:

  • Unstacking chairs after the staff has left.
  • Opening up drinks. Bottles of booze partly drunk and left on the floor are constantly found when the bar opens its doors.
  • Shaking patrons stools.
  • Walking up to pretty “señoritas” and tapping them on the shoulder.
  • Breaking the exits signs.

“We’re not really afraid of Fred. Some of the common things in haunted bars is that the staff can’t handle the supernatural and quits. Here, it’s different. Fred’s a goofball. He’s kind of our mascot. Each day, right before we start handing out drinks, we pour him a shot and leave it at the top of a shelf. That seems to calm him down.”

Buffalo Billards Ghost

The Fox News Fiasco

Why is Fred so famous?

That’s a good question… And the answer is that if Fred could, he’d have an Instagram account. Fred loves the limelight, he’s a diva. If there is a way to rack up his nonexistent social media followers, he’ll take it. Fred’s the kind of pest you just want to block on Twitter.

“Every freaking minute! Doesn’t he have a life!”

A couple of years back, Fox News sent over a team because Fred’s antics were making headway. Tripadvisor, Twitter, Facebook, Google, were exploding with comments about the bar and its resident ghost, Fred. Anyway, Fox needed a Halloween story, something to fill the slot between the lowbrow humor of Capitol Hill shenanigans and kitty videos.

Monica Ballard, was interviewed at Buffalo Billards and given the mic’. The piece was good, fun and adhered to a trend.

“Chopelas said Austin Ghost tours had one particularly weird experience with Fred when FOX News interviewed long-time employee Monica Ballard.

“One of the questions they asked was ‘well what does Fred want?’ and again we just had to say ‘We don’t know. We don’t know anything about him,’” Chopelas said.”

Back at the station, going over the taped material and working on the sound mix, the technician assigned to it basically dirtied his pants with a brick… If you get my meaning.

The small throat mic’ taped to Monica’s collar picked up a faint recording. A recording that up until this very day hasn’t been debunked. Monica was asked if she knew why Fred wanted and over her response, a slight male Irish accent responds:

“All I want is a wee bit of attention”.