THE BICHON PHARMACY
also known as
BICHON'S DRUG STORE,
HOUSTON, TEXAS, 1955
by Sigman Byrd
Bichon Pharmacy, also known as Bichon's Drug Store, was a famous hoodoo
shop in Houston during the mid 20th century.
Here to tell you all about it is Sigman Byrd, via an extract from his book "Sig
Byrd's Houston" (Viking Press, 1955). The book contains a collection of
newspaper columns written by Byrd for the Houston Press during the early 1950s,
under his byline "The Stroller." Byrd describes the Bichon Pharmacy in its
Well, here on lower Milam Street, the three-hundred block, mostly respectable, is
called Milamstrasse--so named by Teddy Buck, who runs a store specializing in clothes
for fat men. Teddy has been acclaimed Burgomeister of Milamstrasse by his neighbors.
These include Bichon's Drug Store, our town's main hoo-doo supply house, where
black-cat floor wash sells for two dollars and a half in the large economy size. Here
citizens who dabble in mojo and hoodoo can buy such innocuous items as dragon-blood
sticks, for luck; wonder-of-the-world root, for locating treasures; and sweet mama
shakeup, to encourage romance. If you need something a little stronger, you can get
oil of bendover, Adam and Eve root, spirit oil, Chinese business powder, black-cat
perfume, five finger grass, lodestones, steel filings, easy-life powder, controlling
oil, anger powder, mad water, high-john-the-conqueror root, and getaway powder.
Bichon's sells drugs too, including some proprietary preparations bearing the store
owner's label: Bichon's Liniment, Mouth Wash, Cough Syrup, Sanitive Wash, Hydralto
Injection, and so on. But hoodoo goods are the best sellers, with candles
leading -- from van-van tapers, for luck, priced at three dollars a dozen, to death
candles, at ten dollars each.
There are black devil candles, for getting shed of enemies; Louisiana occult candles
in assorted colors, for various uses; and three wick candles, in red for business,
green for work, and pink or blue for love, depending on the sex of the objective.
Master candles, at three dollars each, are supposed to enable you to master any
situation. But it's the death candle that will slay you, the folks who believe in
hoodoo tell me. This comes in the shape of a coffin containing a doll ten inches
tall--male or female. Light the wick, name the doll for an enemy, and if the hoodoo
works he will expire with the last guttering flame.
The next corner, at Preston Avenue, is the place where Fenderbender White used to
make his headquarters.
Fenderbender would stand around with a big toolbox that had a sign on the side: STOP
ME--FENDERS STRAIGHTENED WHILE YOU WAIT. He was very good at his trade, and his prices
were considerably lower than those of the regular body-and-fender shops, but the law
frowned upon the noise he made, and he finally vanished.
The four-hundred block, where the Four Hundred never go, is called Catfish Reef.
The Reef is bi-racial. The light and the dark meet here. Generally speaking, the odd
numbers, on the east side, are dark, the even numbers light; but the exception proves
You can buy practically anything here. Whiskey, gin. wine, beer, a one hundred and
fifty dollar suit, firearms, a four bit flop, a diamond bracelet that will look
equally good on the arm of a chaste woman or a fun-gal. You can buy fried catfish in
Catfish Reef. You can buy reefers on the Reef.
Or you can get faded, get your picture made, your shoes shined, your hair cut, your
teeth pulled. You can get your teeth knocked out for free. You can buy lewd pictures,
and in the honkytonks you can arrange for the real thing. The reef is a quietly cruel
street, where rents are high and laughter comes easy, where violence flares quickly
and briefly in the neon twilight, and if a dream ever comes true it's apt to be a
The Bichon Pharmacy was still popular in 1965, as this blog commentary notes in passing:
My fellow scout buddies (circa 1965) would take a bus downtown, explore Foley's, have a
pizza slice or hoagie at Woolworth's, walk down to Market Square to visit Bichon's
Drugstore that sold voodoo and occult charms, walk around European Import and then lunch
at Felix [a Mexican restaurant], the downtown location of which was cafeteria style.
The Bichon Pharmacy was founded by Leon Louis Bichon (April 1855 - April 1925),
a native of Nantes, France
who immigrated to the United States in 1876. In 1879, at the age of
26, he enlisted in the United States Army and by 1880, he was stationed in
Standing Rock, Boreman County, Dakota Territory. He re-enlisted and served
in an Army hospital, which is where he learned the pharmacy trade,
and he was discharged on April 9, 1891 at the age of 36. According to his Army records,
he was 5'10" tall, with "Hazel" eyes, "Gray-Black" hair, and a "Dark" complexion.
Leon Bichon's wife, Mamie Jane (also spelled Marie or Mary in some records]
(April 1868 - June 1925) was born Mary Jane Carn in Virginia, the child of Irish immigrants.
The couple married in 1887, while Leon was in the Army, and
had eight children:
All but one of the children were born in Texas. (Charlotte was born in Utah.)
Jules died as a child in Texas in 1910.
- Leonie Elizabeth Bichon Jehn Skinner (1888 - 1967)
- Mamie R. Bichon (1895 - 1926)
- Andra [also spelled Andrea] Francis Bichon (1897 - 1922)
- Charlotte [also spelled Charla] Bichon Kamp (1900 - 1940)
- Frances B. Bichon (1902 - 1973)
- Leon Louis Bichon Jr.(1906 - 1972)
- Jules Emmet Bichon (1907 - 1910)
- Louis Leon Bichon (1910 - 1954)
- Louis Leon (1910 - 1954)
Leon Bichon did not start a hoodoo drug store immediately upon
rejoining civilian life. The City Directories of Houston tell the story of his progress:
In 1899 he was a "Clerk" for James P. McLean and lived at 813 San Felipe.
In the United States Federal Censuses of 1900, 1910, and 1920 Leon and his
family were located in Houston's Third Ward, where his
occupation was listed as "Druggist" in a "Drug Store."
In 1900 Leon co-owned the Washam and Bichon Drug Store at 1702 McKinney Avenue (Phone 891)
and resided at 1009 Jackson. In 1902 he apparently lived next door to the Washam and Bichon
Drug Store, at 1704 McKinney Avenue. In 1903 he opened his own sole-proprietorship
drug store for the first time, at 1119 Crawford,
on the corner of Dallas Avenue SW. (Phone 3172-1), and the family lived at 913 Jackson.
In 1905 the drug store remained in the same location, but the family moved closer,
to 1610 Dallas Avenue. In 1911, the Bichon Drug Store had moved a couple of
blocks, to 1305 Crawford and the family was living at 1317 Jackson.
The store's phone number was changed to A-2907.
In 1915, the drug store was in the same location, but Leon and Mamie had relocated
their home to 1618 Elgin Avenue. Their oldest daughter, Leonie, listed her
occupation as a "Clerk" for Thomas Goggan and Bros. and she still lived
with her parents.
In 1917 the Bichon Pharmacy had moved again, to 2001 McKinney Avenue, just a
few blocks from the location of the original Washam and Bichon drug store.
In 1920, Leon and the family were still living at 1618 Elgin Avenue. Their
grown daughter Andrea T. Bichon was a clerk at the Bichon Drug Store on McKinney
Avenue, and she resided at 2017 Bell Avenue. Their daughter Mamie R. Bichon
resided with her parents, but was employed as a secretary at the competing Cockrell's
In 1922, the Bichon Drug Store moved to 312 Milam Street in the racially
integrated neighborhood later described by Sig Byrd (see above). The family,
including Leon and Mamie, Leon L. Jr., and Mamie R. relocated their
home to 401 Bomar, and Mamie R.
continued her employment as a secretary at Cockrell's Drug Store.
Leon Bichon died in 1925 and one of his pallbearers was his fellow-druggist, and the former
employer of his daughter, Abbott Cockrell. Here is Leon Bichon's obituary:
LEON LOUIS BICHON 1855-1925
Hollywood Cemetery, Houston, Texas, USA.
Funeral services for Leon Bichon, 70, who died at a local hospital Tuesday (April 7, 1925),
will be held at his home 401 Bomar Avenue, at 4 p.m. Friday, Rev. T. J. Windham officiating.
Burial will be in Hollywood Cemetery under the direction of the Morse Company, undertakers.
Mr. Bichon is survived by his wife; two sons, Leon, Jr. and Louis Bichon; four daughters,
Mrs. W. A. Jehn of San Antonio, Misses Mamie, Charlotte and Frances Bichon, and two grand
children, Mary Jehn and Andre Bichon, all of Houston.
Pallbearers will be L.A. Kottwitz, Abbott Cockrell, W.N. Forbes, Max Henke, R.E. Cuthrell
and Sam C. Randle.
-- From The Houston Chronicle, April 9, 1925, page 22.
Left: Dawn Meadow, Lot 60, Grave 4 (Leon)
Right: Dawn Meadow, Lot 60, Grave 3 (Mamie J. and Mamie R.)
With the death of Leon Bichon in 1925 and the passing of his wife two months later,
ownership of the Bichon Pharmacy was bequeathed to the next generation,
but there were some hurdles in the way:
First, there was a lawsuit. L.A. Kottwitz, one of the pallbeaers listed above,
was the family's lawyer and the executor
of Mamie Bichon's estate, and almost immediately he had to represent
the surviving family members in a trademark and
patent suit involving the Bichon Drug Store's proprietary formulas. In this suit,
which the Bichon family won, we learn that Leon Bichon conducted a "mail order drug business" --
that is, a typical hoodoo drug store, advertising in Black owned newspapers throughout the
nation -- and that upon his death, one of his employees, W. W. Glass, "opened up a drug
store in Houston and [was] both advertising the fact of his former connection
with Leon Bichon and circularizing the customers of Leon Bichon's drug store" in
an attempt to appear to be the legitimate successor to the Bichon Pharmacy, going so far as to
make and sell the "secret formulas" and the "written matter used by Leon
Bichon in the conduct of his mail order drug business" -- that is, instructions for the
use of goods. The judge noted that Bichon had not copyrighted, trademarked, or
patented his material, but that "for a number of years prior to April, 1925,
Leon Bichon conducted a mail order drug business in the city of Houston, manufactured,
sold, and distributed" certain goods, that he had the "right of discoverer" of his own
"secret formulas" and that the Bichon family's use of names and "emblems"
(labels or packaging designs) was protected from the former employee's
"application of them to [his] new and distinctive enterprise" because that "would tend to
mislead [the] public and injure the association first so using them." The suit
was settled in December 1925 and W. W. Glass's appeal for a rehearing was denied in July 1927.
Next came the issue of succession. The couple's oldest daughter,
Leonie Elizabeth, was married and living in San Antonio. Their second child, Mamie R., died
a little over a year after her parents passed, in September 1926, and was buried in the same grave as her mother. Their next
child, and oldest son, Andra [also spelled Andrea] Francis,
had preceded his parents in death, having passed away in 1922. Two more
daughters, Charlotte and Frances, seem to have had no interest in the pharmacy and
never worked in the family business.
In all likelihood, the Bichon Drug Store
was to have been left to Leon Louis Bichon's 19 year old namesake son,
Leon Louis Bichon Jr. (February 1906 - February 1972), but this was not to be, for,
according to the 1930 Federal Census, Leon Jr., then all of
24 years old, was listed as an "Inmate" at San Quentin Prison in Marin County, California,
where his assigned occupation was "Laborer, Construction." What crime he committed
to be incarcerated in a federal penitentiary is not known to me, but given
the time period, when the Volstead Act was in effect, and the family's history
of operating a drug store, it is possible that he was convicted of
selling illegal alcohol, a crime that was very harshly punished
under federal laws at that time. After serving his time, Leon L. Bichon Jr.
never returned to Houston. He was living in Chicago in 1954 when his brother
Louis Leon died
and was still there in 1967 when his sister Leonie Elizabeth died.
He himself died in 1972 in Riverside, Los Angeles County, California.
It fell to the youngest son, Louis Leon Bichon, born in 1910, to take over the pharmacy.
However, he was only 15 years old when his parents died, and so he was
joined by his oldest sister Leonie Elizabeth, who was 37 at the time.
As a young woman, Leonie had married a man named Walter A. Jehn [also spelled
John in some records] in Houston on April 12, 1915. They
had a daughter, Mary Leonie Jehn (1916-- 1995).
[Her married name was Leonie Jehn Salazar.]
At the time of her father's death, in 1925,
Leonie Elizabeth was living with her young daughter in San Antonio, Texas,
but she moved back to Houston with her child to operate the family drug store.
Louis Leon Bichon spent his entire life in Houston. He married
Josephine McCormack, and their son, Louis Leon Bichon Jr.,
was born September 20, 1930. He
died on September 2, 1954. Here is Louis Leon Bichon Sr.'s obituary:
LOUIS L. BICHON, 44, of 4408 Floyd St. died 10:35 PM Thursday (September 2,1954)
in a Houston Hospital. Native and lifelong resident of Houston. Was owner of the
Bichon Drug Store. Survivors: Widow, Mrs. Louis L. Bichon, Houston;
son Louis L. Bichon, Jr. Los Angeles, Calif; sisters, Mrs. Leonie E. Skinner,
Mrs. Frances P. Collins, both of Houston; brother Leon L. Bichon, Chicago, Ill.
Services 4 PM Saturday, Chapel of Geo. H. Lewis & Son's. The Rev. E.O. Dubberly.
Burial, Hollywood Cemetery. Pallbearers; Raul Perz, Reynold Perz, E.E. Hughes,
H.M. Lemez, Andrea Wolff, I.P. Skinner. Geo. H. Lewis & Son's, 400 block,
McGowen Avenue, Linden 3141.
Sig Byrd's book was published in 1955 but was based on
earlier newspaper articles he had written, so it is likely that
both Louis and Leonie were the co-owners of the pharmacy when Byrd visited
and described the place.
With Louis Leon's Sr.'s death at the young age of 44, Leon and Mamie's oldest daughter,
Leonie Elizabeth Bichon-Skinner, became the sole proprietor of the hoodoo drug store.
Her second marriage was to Isiam Payton Skinner --
called Isham Pittman Skinner, Jr. in some records -- who
was best known as I.P. Skinner. He was her husband at the time
of her brother Louis Leon's death, and had acted as a pallbearer at his
Here is Leonie Elizabeth BichonnSkinner's obituary:
LEONIE ELIZABETH BICHON-SKINNER 1888-1967
Hollywood Cemetery, Houston, Texas, USA.
Mrs. Leonie E. Skinner of 1503 Vassar Place, died 4:10 p.m. Wednesday, May 24, 1967
at her residence. Native of El Paso and a long time resident of Houston.
Alumnus Incarnant Word Academy, retired former owner of Bichon Pharmacy.
Survivors: Husband I.P. Skinner; daughter Mrs. Leonie Jehn Salazar;
sister Mrs. Frances B. Collins, all of Houston; brother, Leon Bichon of Chicago Ill.;
three grandchildren and a number of nieces, nephews and other relatives.
Funeral services 11 a.m. Friday, George H. Lewis & Son's, McGowen Avenue
Chapel with Rev. Emmett O. Dubberly officiating. Interment, Hollywood Cemetery.
Geo. H. Lewis & Son's, 400 Block McGowen, JA-4-3141
From the Houston Chronicle, May 25, 1967.
Left: Dawn Meadow, Dawn Meadow, Lot 59
Right: This plot includes the graves of Louis Leon Bichon, Sr.,
Charlotte Bichon Kamp, and Leonie Bichon Skinner.
Louis Leon's son, Louis Leon Jr., married a woman named Susan Collins
in Texas in 1968. It is unknown to me whether he ever took part in running the
drug store after the death of his aunt Leonie in 1967. He died in Houston in 1971,
at the age of 41.
Finally, this story would not be complete without my presentation of
a little-known fact about the Bichon Drug Store that cements its place in hoodoo
According to her student and colleague George R. "Tarostar" Bennien, it was at
Bichon's that June Dey Zabawsky, also known as Charmaine the Champagne Blonde,
first learned about African American folk magic.
Charmaine, who was a stripper, and her husband,
Steve Dey, a tap-dancer, eventually ended their performance careers in Las Vegas, where they
opened one of the premier hoodoo shops of the 1960s-1970s, Bell Book and Candle of Las Vegas.
Charmaine Dey's influential text "The Magic Candle" -- which fuses old-timey Bichon Drug Store
hoodoo with some of the Wicca-like techniques she learned from her friend Sybil Leek --
remains in print thirty years after Dey's passing, and is one of the best-selling
books of its kind. Embedded within it are gems of Houston hoodoo gold, circa 1920 - 1950,
for those with eyes to see.
So although almost every building mentioned above has been razed to the ground,
and the people described are now long gone, in the pages of "The Magic Candle,"
the magic of Bichon Drug Store lives on!
This page contains material is reprinted from
"Sig Byrd's Houston" by Sigman Byrd (Viking Press, 1955)
posted by Duke Jones.
posted by Jay Francis
The Houston Chronicle
Record added by Susann, Aug 18, 2013
and also contains original research conducted by catherine yronwode via