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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Sober Thoughts on Prohibition

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Gillespie County voters left no doubt where they stood on the subject of prohibition. When the issue appeared on the ballot in May 1919, the county vote (men only) was 140 for prohibition and 1,491 against. It is worth noting that during that same election, Gillespie County voters (men only) voted against giving women the right to vote by an even wider margin.

That election was not without controversy. The voting instructions were a little confusing. On the question of prohibition, the voter had 2 choices: "For Prohibition" or "Against Prohibition." That part was simple enough except that the instructions told the voter favoring prohibition to "erase the words 'Against Prohibition' by making a mark through the same and those opposing it shall erase the words 'For Prohibition' by making a mark through the same."

I wonder how many men, who are notorious for not reading directions, circled their answers and turned in their ballots.

There is a lot of speculation as to the availability of alcohol in Gillespie County after prohibition became law. I suspect it was fairly easy to get. The Germans had a long history of making their own beer and wine, and if stories are true, Hill Country law enforcement was not always energetic when it came to enforcing unpopular prohibition laws.

The truth is that efforts to keep thirsty citizens from hitting the hooch were quite often unsuccessful, not just in Gillespie County but all over the country. A government report noted that "Where a large majority of the people are sincere drys and believers in prohibition, it is not difficult to enforce it, but where the majority, or even a strong minority, is opposed to prohibition, no headway will ever be made in its enforcement."

Still the impact in Fredericksburg was significant. Most saloons closed. The ones that stayed open served "near beer" - a legal beverage that was supposed to taste like real beer but with little or no alcohol content. (Most customers agreed that near beer was far from the real thing.)

Former saloon owners adapted to the new reality. Some sold ice cream and soft drinks. The owners of the Nimitz Hotel converted the beer garden on the west side of the property into a 9-hole miniature golf course.

There were lighter moments among the doom and gloom. In 1931 a district court ordered Gillespie County Sheriff Alfred Klaerner to destroy a large quantity of contraband liquor, much of it confiscated by federal agents posing as visitors. The sheriff carried out the order by dumping the booze, including 42 gallons of brush whiskey and a variety of wines and malt liquors, into Baron's Creek.

A small crowd gathered to watch the event. There was, the Fredericksburg Standard reported "much envy for the fish." Sheriff Klaerner, a musician who played a lot of weekend dances, added that the scent of all that booze reminded him of "moonlight, roses and plunking guitars."


In this part of the world the feelings about prohibition progressed from frustration, to anger, to mockery and finally to fatigue. In the long haul prohibition caused more problems than it solved, and by the 1930s citizens were exhausted. The states began the process of repealing prohibition.

Fredericksburg was more than ready. The Fredericksburg Standard, an outspoken critic of prohibition from the beginning, praised "the return of good clean brew made under the laws. It (the end of prohibition) marks also the exodus of the bootlegger of questionable brew sold under the name of beer (?) but which at many times was made under the most unsanitary of conditions and so concocted that a few bottles were enough to drive the consumer to temporary insanity."

"Last but not least the brew will be a medium to again create a friendship and fellowship that was sadly lacking when one neighbor had to hide around the corner from another so that he wouldn't stand a chance of being reported and sent to the penitentiary for making or consuming his bottle of beer."

In Fredericksburg beer became legal again on at one minute after midnight on September 13, 1933. Most citizens were relieved.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" March 15, 2023 Column



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