Tombstone Sarsaparilla quenching tourists’ thirsts

“Johnny One Dog” stands outside of his Tombstone Sarsaparilla shop with Jenny, his “one dog.” Though the bottles promote Tombstone, the sarsaparilla is actually made in Kansas. (Photo by Melissa Guz/ASNS)For John Fields, or “Johnny One Dog” as he’s known around town, an old and possibly unstable adobe garage is the perfect place from which to sell sarsaparilla.

The 67-year-old’s business is known as Johnny One Dog’s Tombstone Sarsaparilla. It’s located on Third Street between Fremont and Allen streets and has been open since late last year.

Johnny said the idea to sell sarsaparilla came to him during one of his regular walks with his dog, Jenny. He noticed that the town’s shops only sold Sioux City Sarsaparilla.

“Sioux City has had the market for years, and I saw a need for Tombstone’s own private label,” he said. “Tombstone is a famous town in the Old West. I thought it would be a good souvenir item.”

Johnny then scribbled a few sketches for a label, which included a logo that consisted of a “J,” “1” and “D” to symbolize his nickname, which evolved from locals saying, “There’s John and his one dog,” Jenny.

With his sketches, he turned to John Ludwig, a Tombstone art designer.

 

“I thought it was a great idea,” Ludwig said. “Sarsaparilla was a common drink here in the 1880s. It has a place in [our] history.”

And in the end, Johnny came up with two sarsaparilla products that revolve around Tombstone’s roots. One of them is the Gunfighter Collection, which is a set of four bottles. Each of the bottles is labeled with a different picture, either of the Earp Brothers (Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil) or Doc Holliday.

“The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is the single most important reason for Tombstone being here,” Johnny said. “They cemented this town in legend.”

Johnny’s other product also features the four men, but with all of them on a single bottle.

Overall, the whole process of creating his business took about a year. He ordered the labels from Michigan and the cartons from Kansas. He had the bottles filled with sarsaparilla from a manufacturer called Lost Trail Soda, which is also in Kansas.

The drink sells for $10 for a four-pack or $2.50 for a single bottle.

And even though his merchandise was specifically designed for tourists, Johnny wholesales to local businesses.

So far, business has been slow but steady.

“This is a new business,” Johnny said. “It’s going to be slow, but anything worthwhile doesn’t happen overnight. Those [businesses] that jumped on the bandwagon seem to be doing pretty good.”

Business owner Richard Wilson agreed.

“It sells well,” said Wilson, the owner of Smoke Signals, which is one of the first shops in town that purchased Johnny’s sarsaparilla to resell. “It’s got a cute label, and people come in and ask for it.”

Bob Jones, a bartender at Four Deuces, said he’s happy with the sarsaparilla.

“It’s the cheapest souvenir, only $2.50 a bottle,” Jones said. “Anything that promotes Tombstone is a good thing.”

Johnny said he ordered about 3,000 sarsaparilla bottles when he first started, which are now more than half gone. He plans to order about 1,500 more.

He hopes to launch his website, johnnyonedog.com, in the near future and sell his product worldwide.

Johnny also plans to continue creating other tourist-oriented products, including plastic-bottled Tombstone Tolerable Water.

“[Tourists] may buy them and drink them here, but hopefully most of them will take the bottle home and use it as a souvenir,” he said.

Another version of this story appeared in the Tombstone Epitaph.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.