Friday, January 20, 2017

Today In Wyoming's History: January 20. The Legislature sends Prohibition to the voters.

People tend not to think of Wyoming in the context of Prohibition, but the state was part of the big sweep that lead to it.  Indeed, while the story lays in the future from this post, Wyoming would push prohibition over the top with Sen. Francis E. Warren's vote in favor of the Volstead Act.

On this day, a century ago, the Legislature, which was predicted to pass a pro-Prohibition bill, did:
Today In Wyoming's History: January 20:

1917   Legislature passed an act submitting an act for a constitutional amendment that would allow people to vote on prohibition. Attribution:  On This Day.
The introduction of the bill had been widely predicated by the Cheyenne newspapers, in the form of predicting some bill.  That it would have taken the form, in 1917, of a proposed amendment to the state constitution is a bit of a surprise, but that would have served the dual purpose of making anything that passed really difficult to get rid of and, additionally, sort of passing the buck to the voters, as such an amendment requires the voters to approve it.

Which they didn't.

I'm not certain how it played out, but if the regular process took place, the voters rejected the measure that following fall.  Wyoming was the last state in the Rocky Mountain region to adopt Prohibition and the proposed amendment did not become law.

Which might have been a sign of things to come. While the state did pass Prohibition into law voluntarily, and in fact pushed it over the top nationally, it took to violating it nearly immediately.  Indeed Western Wyoming would become a bootleg liquor center, with wine being fermented in the Italian sections of Rock Springs and, ironically, heavily Mormon Kemmerer becoming a location for the distillation of high quality bootleg whiskey made with locally grown grain.

As outlined by Phil Roberts in an excellent article in Annals of Wyoming recently, Prohibition did break the back of the saloon trade in Wyoming, which in the end was a good thing. When alcohol returned in the 1930s it was stepped in over time, and with a new system which we retain today. That system, oddly enough for "free enterprise" Wyoming, runs all alcohol through the State Liquor Warehouse, which is the wholesaler for Wyoming, with no legal exceptions.

Prohibition would have the unfortunate impact of killing off a lot of local breweries, including those in Wyoming.  This has changed only recently, although there are quite a few small breweries now and even two distilleries.

A bottle of Wyoming Whiskey.  Something the legislators of 1917 would probably not have appreciated seeing at the time.

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