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Trade Street looking north from Fifth, 1934

Coming up almost immediately is a post on the history of tobacco sales warehouses in Winston-Salem, without which there would never have been any tobacco manufacturing in the city.

But for the moment I have to deal with a single picture, or rather, a series of pictures, which tell an extraordinary story about the economic impact of those tobacco sales warehouses.

Early tobacco manufacturing in the Camel City focused on the railroad corridor between, say, Church and Sycamore Streets. Tobacco sales warehouses initially appeared in the same area, but by the 1880s-1890s, they had moved away from the railroad and were centered upon Old Town Street, which, for that reason, quickly became known as Trade Street.

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Tobacco farmers got paid for their crop at the payoff office. After the Farmer’s National Bank failed in 1934, they went to its former branch at 723 North Trade Street. The building is now occupied by Mary’s Restaurant.

By the 1930s, Trade Street was the center of a huge economy of its own. When the market opened in the early fall of each year, hundreds of tobacco farmers sold their goods at the major local warehouses. They were paid in cash…their total profits for the year. So naturally, the Trade Street area attracted dozens of “entrepreneurs” hoping to separate the farmers from their cash.

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Selling belts outside Planter’s Warehouse

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Was there, perhaps, a five year old mule that was smaller?

Many of those operations were permanent legitimate businesses which catered to the farmer’s needs…for seed and other necessary farming supplies to new clothing and accessories…other, more temporary businesses catered to “recreational” needs, ranging from magic shows to string band concerts to outright “vice”…booze, drugs and prostitution…an important subset of all this was the “patent” medicine charade…

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Outlaws From Start To Finish…a portable wax museum…among those listed were Wild Bill Hicock, Bruno Hauptman, Baby Faced Nelson, John Dillinger, the “girl in red”, and Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. They’re all back there somewhere, lying in coffins, strung up by the neck, riddled with bullets…all, dead and gone. 

Farming is a physically and mentally demanding business. Most farmers had a variety of ongoing physical and mental complaints. Patent medicines were specifically designed to answer those problems…from nervous breakdown to balding to other physical matters. often involving sexual issues.

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One of the General Products Laboratories “medicines” promoted and sold by Chief Red Wolf. After legendary musician Bill Monroe’s first band broke up, his brother Charlie’s band promoted and sold General Products items.

Patent medicines were produced by huge companies, many of them located in Columbus, OH. But local Twin City pharmacists cooked up their own brands. One company even quit the retail pharmacy business to create dozens of bogus recipes.

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At the left is Sarah Long’s boarding house, built in the 1880s by a tobacco leaf merchant. It’s bizarre design elements make it one of the most interesting homes ever built in the Twin City. Just out of the frame is Nathan Sosnik’s department store, now Miller’s Variety Store. The tiny building to the right was built around 1910-15 as a pressing club, a sort of subscription laundry. At the time of this photograph, it was a cafe operated by John D. Sowers. The Atlantic Brewing Company was one of only a few major breweries ever based in the South, with plants in Atlanta, Chatanooga, Orlando and Charlotte. The Charlotte unit made only canned beer and was the last to shut down, in 1956. Today the building houses one of my favorite bars, the Silvermoon Saloon. When I first posted this 1939 photo alone on Facebook, people expressed concern at what might be going on, it being the 1930s and three black men, one of whom’s face is covered by a bandana, surrounded by what appears to be a large group of white men. Speculation was rampant. Fortunately, this is the first of a series of three photos of the same gathering.

But locally, for a few years, none could touch Chief Red Wolf. Chief Red Wolf, who usually signed his name as C.R. Wolf, was born in Oklahoma City, OK on April 15, 1898. He worked for a time as a laborer, then married Mary E. Russell and went into the medicine show business. He claimed to be a Sioux medicine man and wore an authentic Sioux war bonnet while doing “Indian” dances to draw crowds before giving his sales pitch for Mo-Tee-Na patent medicines which he said that he made in his house.

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The second photo reverses the viewpoint to that of the men on the Widow Long’s porch. It immediately relieves the uneasy feeling because it can be seen that the crowd is a thoroughly mixed race one and that everyone is laughing. So what is going on?

The medicines, along with a whole catalog of others, were actually made by the General Products Laboratories, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio, the center of the patent medicine universe. They were sold under many names to hundreds of other medicine men and others. Legendary musician Bill Monroe’s brother Charlie and other touring bands also sold products made by General Products Laboratory.

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Obviously, the men on the porch were doing some sort of comedy routine to warm up the crowd for the star of the show, Chief Red Wolf himself, seen here in his authentic Sioux war bonnet. Mystery solved…let the sales begin…

Chief Red Wolf lived at 719 North Trade Street in Winston-Salem from the late 1930s into the 1940s. He would be seen there most days, doing his dances and his sales pitches. But in 1946, the FDA won its first of several regulatory cases against General Products. Each time they assessed the maximum fine of $400 for selling a “medicine” that had no medicinal value. By the time of the fourth such finding in 1949, Chief Red Wolf had moved to Burlington, NC and gone into the burgeoning automated photo booth business. He also founded a restaurant supply business and, finally, a restaurant. Over the next few years, he and Mary lived part of the time in Burlington and part in Shreveport, LA.

Chief Red Wolf died in Burlington on February 12, 1957 of a stroke. His body was donated to the Bowman Gray School of Medicine in the Twin City, and eventually cremated. After his death, his widow and their son, Chief Red Wolf, Jr., moved permanently to Shreveport.

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As the picture thread on Facebook ran, keen eyed readers singled out a variety of details, focusing specifically on the fact that there appeared to be one woman in the otherwise male dominant scene…questioning whether or not the men on the porch had their hands behind them…and asking what a Forsyth County car was doing at the scene. Being the helpful soul that I am, I zoomed in on those three details.

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  1. Right away we can see that in addition to the four men standing on the porch, there are two other men standing inside the house looking out through the windows. That triggered a whole new round of speculation.
  2. We can also see that there are two, not one, women in the picture. And they can both be clearly seen in the second picture as well.
  3. In the closeup of the county car, we can see that there is a man in the driver’s seat, leaning over and peering out at the action. That brought additional speculation, including the idea that this was an estate auction and that he was a building inspector or some such. A good idea, but why would a county official be at a sale being held in the city? I’ve got a pretty good idea of who that man was. Ernie Shore was elected sheriff in 1936. He told me that when he took office, the deputies were either driving their own cars, riding on horseback or out and about on foot. One of his first acts to bring the sheriff’s office into the 20th century was to insist that the county commissioners buy county cars for his deputies. I suspect that car #5 here contains a deputy who just happened by and stopped to gawk along with everyone else.

Every picture tells a story. Some say that a picture is worth a thousand words. But any picture is also subject to misinterpretation. Fortunately, in this case, we have three pictures, the latter two helping to make the story much clearer.

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