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Prohibition in Wyoming

The last state in the Rocky Mountains to adopt Prohibition, Wyoming, failed to stop the sale and manufacture of illegal liquor. The Legislature created a new law enforcement agency, but two State Directors were fired for graft and bootlegging. Adding to the states problems, many county officials did not enforce Prohibition laws.
 

PROHIBITION IN WYOMING

You can view PROHIBITION IN WYOMING by clicking here.

Prohibition significantly impacted state politics and elections in Wyoming. Milward Simpson, later Governor and U.S. Senator, made his first run for the Wyoming Legislature in 1926 and attributed his win in Hot Springs County to his anti-Prohibition stance. The same election brought defeat to Governor Nellie Tayloe Ross, whose strong enforcement of Prohibition laws contributed to her loss.

PROHIBITION IN WYOMING includes interviews with the folks who experienced this unique time in the state’s history and insightful details from historians, who describe the “wettest” state’s struggle to enforce an unpopular law.

Recalling Prohibition, Phonograph Jones of Cody said, “Well, it was better than no whiskey at all!”

Enacted in Wyoming the summer of 1919, Prohibition was a 14-year experiment that failed to stop Wyoming residents from drinking and making liquor. The last state in the Rocky Mountains to adopt the anti-drinking law, Wyoming immediately encountered problems.

The farming counties of Goshen, Platte and parts of Big Horn, all supported the new measures, but Natrona, Sweetwater, Lincoln, Sheridan and Hot Springs struggled with enforcement. Graft was rampant, with County Sheriffs and law officers actively accepting bribes and selling liquor.

PROHIBITION IN WYOMING, a new Wyoming PBS special, chronicles the story of this period in the state’s history. Using extensive archival photographs and interviews with local witnesses and historians, the documentary captures the experiences unique to Wyoming’s rural and coal mining cultures.

Featured highlights include the Sand Bar in Casper, which one judge called the worst district in Wyoming, if not the nation. In Kemmerer, not only was moonshine produced, but according to life-long resident Joe Sebastion, "Half the town was making it."

Coal miners, many from southern Europe, brought their wine-making skills with them to Wyoming. As Jenny Kuseck of Rock Springs said, “Everyone in the neighborhood had wine. Everybody.”

“You had to buy at least a ton of grape to make wine,” said Albina Rudolph, whose foster mother had her wash beer bottles at night to avoid detection by law officials.

Prohibition also impacted state politics and the elections. Milward Simpson, later Governor and U.S. Senator, made his first run for the Wyoming Legislature in 1926 and attributed his win in Hot Springs County to his anti-Prohibition stance. The same election brought defeat to Governor Nellie Tayloe Ross, whose strong enforcement of Prohibition contributed to her loss.

Reluctant to march to the same drumbeat as the Nation, Wyoming proved during Prohibition that it heard, and made, its own music. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Wyoming’s bars were all ready filled with beer, prepared for the statewide celebration.

 
 

PROHIBITION is a three-part, five-and-a-half-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that tells the story of the rise, rule, and fall of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the entire era it encompassed.

The culmination of nearly a century of activism, Prohibition was intended to improve, even to ennoble, the lives of all Americans, to protect individuals, families, and society at large from the devastating effects of alcohol abuse.

Prohibition turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, made a mockery of the justice system, caused illicit drinking to seem glamorous and fun...

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach, right, watching agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid, ca. 1921.But the enshrining of a faith-driven moral code in the Constitution paradoxically caused millions of Americans to rethink their definition of morality. Thugs became celebrities, responsible authority was rendered impotent. Social mores in place for a century were obliterated. Especially among the young, and most especially among young women, liquor consumption rocketed, propelling the rest of the culture with it: skirts shortened. Music heated up. America's Sweetheart morphed into The Vamp.

Prohibition turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, made a mockery of the justice system, caused illicit drinking to seem glamorous and fun, encouraged neighborhood gangs to become national crime syndicates, permitted government officials to bend and sometimes even break the law, and fostered cynicism and hypocrisy that corroded the social contract all across the country. With Prohibition in place, but ineffectively enforced, one observer noted, America had hardly freed itself from the scourge of alcohol abuse – instead, the "drys" had their law, while the "wets" had their liquor.

The story of Prohibition's rise and fall is a compelling saga that goes far beyond the oft-told tales of gangsters, rum runners, flappers, and speakeasies, to reveal a complicated and divided nation in the throes of momentous transformation. The film raises vital questions that are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago – about means and ends, individual rights and responsibilities, the proper role of government and finally, who is — and who is not — a real American.