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Steam Beer Billy – Part III

Posted by at 8:03 pm | Category: Craft Beer History, San Francisco 0

In this three-part series, Anchor historian Dave Burkhart recounts the true tale of a man, a goat, and their beer—not bock, as one might expect, but steam beer—in nineteenth-century San Francisco.


When we last heard from our heroes, Yankee Sullivan and his pet goat Jack were incarcerated, recovering from their steam-beer-induced New Year’s revelry. But alas, it was their last New Year’s eve together. Billy Sullivan passed away before the next Thanksgiving, leaving his billy goat despondent but no less thirsty, as the San Francisco Call reported on November 14, 1898:

With the passing of [William F.] “Yankee” Sullivan goes one of the city’s best known characters, and his death brings more prominently before his old associates his chief mourner—the old goat, who was his constant companion. The goat is inconsolable. When his master was sent out to the hospital he wandered around from one saloon to the other, visiting all their old haunts, and hunting among their old friends until now, failing to find his master, he has placed himself under the care of Dick Madden, in whose saloon on Broadway, the goat has often drunk not wisely but too well.

Sullivan picked up the goat when, as a kid, it was hunting for a home on Telegraph Hill. He raised it through the various stages of goatship and taught it to drink, and in return the goat bestowed upon Sullivan all the affection of a dog. It followed him everywhere, and when, as was often the case, Sullivan’s course was saloonward, the goat brushed past the swinging doors after him and lined up at the bar with the good old “boys.” He was fond of good steam beer, as was his master, and when it happened that the steam was unusually sharp and plentiful and his master was in need of assistance home, it was seldom the dissolute old animal was in a condition to offer anything more than sympathy. He even went so far on one occasion as to get himself arrested when he found his master in the hands of the police. Sullivan was apprehended for raising a disturbance while under the influence; the wagon was called and Sullivan was given a seat. It was the intention of the policemen to leave the goat, but it was not his intention to stay, so he climbed into the wagon, despite all opposition, and rode to the prison. They stalked [staked] him out on the lawn, but he made the night hideous until he was taken in and locked up with his master. Sullivan was sentenced for six months and the goat stayed at Madden’s until the expiration of the sentence, when he and Sullivan celebrated in their customary style.

It was a queer partnership—the man and his goat—both falling deeper, each among his own kind, but falling together, the only redeeming feature being the evident affection between them. Now that Sullivan is dead the goat is traveling the pace that kills. He has made his headquarters at Madden’s and still has his beer, but he takes it alone, and when he has passed his allowance he has none of the hilarity of yore, but becomes moody and morose and sleeps in a corner and perhaps wonders why his old friend has left him alone. Sullivan died at the City and County Hospital Saturday last [November 12, 1898] after an illness of six weeks.


So what ever happened to poor Jack? Although the details are sketchy, it appears that his adoption by San Francisco bartender Dick Madden was ultimately successful if not rehabilitative. The grief-stricken goat, a roof over his head and a bowl of steam beer under his goatee, bounced bock. A year and a half later, Madden either had a new goat or had renamed Jack “Boscow.” The latter is the likelier story, as Madden’s “Boscow” exhibited all the talents, proclivities, and animal magnetism of Sullivan’s/Madden’s “Jack.” According to the San Francisco Call, at a meeting for the Fraternal Order of Eagles in San Rafael’s Schuetzen Park (the 37-acre amusement park was founded in 1891 by marksman Philo Jacoby, for whom San Rafael’s Jacoby Street is named) on May 27, 1900:

Dick Madden was present with his famous goat “Boscow.” A number of Eagles were initiated by the festive members and were compelled to ride the animal, much to the pleasure of the onlookers. Much to the regret of his owner, “Boscow” became intoxicated. This was due to his unquenchable thirst. The goat would “butt” in every time a flock of eagles gathered at a refreshment stand. “Boscow” would make his wants known by a plaintiff [sic] “bah” and his appeal would prove irresistible.

Irresistible indeed—as irresistible as this charming, politically incorrect San Francisco story of a man and his drinking buddy billy.


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