L.D. Bowcutt of Richmond sits in the poolroom and talks about the painting that once hung in Preston’s Bloody Bucket now hanging in the café he owns on Friday May 27, 2022.
PRESTON – The Bloody Bucket in Preston and the stories surrounding the place have given it a mysterious and colorful existence over the years. The Bloody Bucket wasn’t always known for bar brawls and its rough reputation.
Newell Hart built a dance hall from a chicken coop he hauled up from below the hill it sits on today overlooking the Bear River. Its rustic walls were made from wood he scavenged from old barns in the area. He built it so he and his brothers could play music. There was even a small stage where people watch them play as they danced. They called it the “Refuge Club.”
It was built after WWII as a night club and opened somewhere around 1948. The dance hall is still there but is owned by someone not part of the Hart family. The owners are quite particular who they let on the property.
Bret Hart, 96, is Newell’s brother and now lives in Salt Lake City. He remembers the Refuge Club when it was built and what happened there. He was not only a witness to how the building was constructed but he was a musician in the Hart family band.
“I mostly played the fish horn. It was a strait soprano saxophone. I also played the clarinet, trombone, sometimes the piano, too “he said. “Newell had a grand piano that he played and Wendell played the drums. We would invite people as far away as Salt Lake City to play with us.”
There are some thick cedar posts in the building that go from floor to ceiling. There is a big four-ton rock right inside the front door and a long rock fireplace on your right as you walk in the door. There was a bar along the one side where drinks could be served.
“He found a huge rock in the Cub River canyon and wanted to bring back to put in the dance hall,” Hart said. “We used a piano moving truck to move it. It was too heavy when we loaded the rock. The front wheels came off the ground. We eventually got it into the Refuge Club.”
In about 1958, Newell decided to go to University of California-Berkley for school and he let others use the building for a club. Hart leased the building to different people while he was in school and that was when things got “rough.”
“A couple of people got into a fight and that’s when it became known as the Bloody Bucket,” Bret said.
Carol Hart Cowgill’s father was another one of Newell’s brothers.
“The Refuge Club is a mysterious thing,” she said. “Of all the things Newell was known for he was best known as Preston’s historian.”
“I remember going to the Refuge Club as a child and listening to the music,” Cowgill added. “They played a lot of Dixieland type music. It was fun.”
Carol remembered Newell and his wife Ruth were kind of hippie-types.
L.D. Bowcutt of Richmond remembers the Bloody Bucket.
“I don’t think the name was ever legally changed to the Bloody Bucket,” he said. “That was just what everyone called it.”
Bowcutt started going there when he was about 20 years-old after work to hang out with friends.
“It was a rowdy place,” he said. “A farmer friend of mine got into a fight. He was about 6’4’’ and weighed about 250 pounds. His opponent was quite a bit smaller, but he had a knife hidden in his fingers.”
Every time the smaller guy took a punch, he cut into the farmer’s stomach. When someone told he was bleeding, he wiped the blood from stomach. Looked at his opponent and knocked him 10 to 15 feet into the wall.
“I loaded my friend up into my little sports car and took him to the hospital in Preston,” Bowcutt said. “When the doctor was stitching him up, he told him he needed to quit going over there.”
The last time his friend was injured the doctor patched him up from a clawed hammer to the forehead.
“The next day he said he was doing okay, but he had to throw the sheets away because they were too bloody and he didn’t want his wife to know what he had been doing,” he said. “Years ago, he sold his farm and moved away so I’m not sure what ever happened to him.”
Sometimes in the winter they would put sagebrush under the car tires so people could get up the hill and out on the highway.
“Guys would take post cards and attach them to the wall behind the bar,” he said. “Then some guys would try and shoot the card with their guns.”
He remembered one night a guy got mad and smashed the jukebox and broke the glass.
Bowcutt had stories to tell and then he had some that would go to the grave with him.
“It was a place where a group of friends could stick together and have fun,” he said.
Bowcutt is the owner of LD’s Café in Richmond. In the pool room behind the café, he has some paintings by Newt Hart, Newell’s brother. Newt’s given name was Shakespeare Newt Hart and the café has three of his paintings in the pool room.
“That painting right there hung behind the bar at the Bloody Bucket,” he said pointing to the oil painting on the wall. “It has some buckshot marks from a 410 pistol someone fired into it.”
The painting is on a 4 by 8-foot piece of plywood. It depicts Newt skinny dipping in the Bear River. He is laying on a sandbar in the nude on the Bear River below the saloon.
“I bought it at garage sale for $100 and hung it up in here,” Bowcut said. “There is another portrait of Clover the Killer from Jackson Hole and one of the Tetons all painted by Newt.”
Clover the Killer is the subject of the longest-running gunfight western shows in the U.S. It is performed in Jackson Hole, WY at the first of the travel season.
Doug Webb, 85, a retired funeral director used to drive the ambulance as part of his duties at the funeral home where he worked.
“I went down there for ambulance work once in a while when they had a good fight,” he said. “Life was a little testy back then. If you weren’t doing what you were supposed to and were a little angry you could get into a fight.”
Webb said Dr. Miller made a good living patching up people after the fights.
“I didn’t go there to participate, but that’s where people went to party a little,” he said.
When Newell returned to Preston from California, he closed the dance hall/bar and made it his home. Once again he scrounged materials from the demolition of the Preston Central School and used the material to build a bedroom and kitchen.
Newell stayed in the home until he died in 1983.
There are rumors Willie Nelson played there because he mentioned the Bucket of Blood as one of the worst places he played in his career during an interview once.
If Willie Nelson indeed played in the Bucket of Blood, it could have been the Bloody Bucket in Idaho. University of Idaho Digital Collection has a photo of a log building believed to be a tavern called the Bucket of Blood.
There are Bloody Buckets and Buckets of Blood all over the country. In Holbrook, Arizona they not only have a Bloody Bucket saloon they also a have a Bloody Bucket Street. New York had a saloon named the Bloody Bucket and so did Clay County, Missouri.
The only way to really know if the famous white-bearded guitar picking singer played in Preston’s Bloody Bucket is to ask him.