Sunday, March 7, 2010

Long dry spell starts early in Colorado

Colorado passed prohibition three years before most of the rest of the nation

By Rob Carrigan,

“When thirsty grief in wine we steep, When healths and draught go free, Fishes, that tipple in the deep,
Know no such liberty.”

__ Richard Lovelace, 1649

Prohibition or “the long dry spell’ came early to all of Colorado, in January of 1916, and in some communities here, booze was illegal even before that.
“Along with six other states, Colorado passed prohibition three years before most of the rest of the nation, led largely by a crusade of religious leaders and women voters,” wrote Michael Madigan in “Heroes, Villains, Dames & Disasters: 150 Years of Front-Page Stories from the Rocky Mountain News."
“It was estimated that 1,615 saloons and dramshops and 12 breweries were immediately put out of business.”
Personally, I don’t think I could ever forgive such nonsense, and perhaps, like thousands of others, would have sought “alternatives.”
But other “dry” cities struggled with the question long before that. Colorado Springs for example outlawed liquor from day one.
“City founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer had forbidden liquor from being made or sold anywhere in the city,” noted a Dave Phillips of the Colorado Springs Gazette in an article in November of last year.
“Palmer wanted to create an attractive, orderly city that would appeal to new settlers, as opposed to some of the wilder communities in the West with there saloons,” the Gazette article quoted Matt Mayberry of the Colorado Spring Pioneers Museum. “But people still want their alcohol and will come up with inventive ways to get around the law.”
Enter the practice of using booze as medicine.
With a prescription from a doctor, a ‘patient’ was allowed to buy a quart of whiskey.
According to most reports, many a resident in the town suffered from ‘snake bite’ and required a dose from the pharmacy.
“More people are bitten by snakes than in any town of this size I know of,” noted a writer for the Pueblo Chieftain in the 1880s of its Northern neighbor. “It is a little remarkable with what facility a man can get a prescription for snakebite in such a temperance town.”
By the turn of the century, many of the local pharmacies in Colorado Springs had dispensed with the formality of a doctor’s prescription and were quietly pouring drinks at fountain counters. Perhaps you would be required to order a ‘nectar’ or ‘wild strawberry’ by code word but the concoction was generally familiar and refreshing when it arrived from the ‘jerk.’
The profits involved allowed pharmacy owners to pay any steep fines, or legal fees to keep the business rolling and the liquor flowing in most cases.
But by the first of January, 1916, the entire state was once again legally prohibited from selling spirits.
“Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Cripple Creek and all the mountain and other towns went dry at midnight without ceremony,” according to the front page of the Rocky Mountain News. “Most saloons closed their doors before the final hour.”
And in Denver proper. “Toward midnight an immense throng gathered on Curtis Street and other streets in the downtown business section, tooted horns and in other ways welcomed in the New Year.”
The same article observed however that some folks were prone to skirt such laws.
“Meanwhile, the citizens who were loath to break ancient habits with the stroke of the clock were well provided. For days gurgling packages have accompanied the homeowner to the legal security of his cellar.”
Please see related stories:
• Medicinal whiskey and 'the loophole.'
• Raise a glass: celebrate 'Repeal Day.'
• Colorado Whiskey River don't run dry.

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