simplest way to put prohibition into perspective is to say that for more than
a half century in Texas and the rest of the nation
it was the pro-choice/right-to-life controversy of its time.|
words, both sides of the issue passionately believed they were in the right. Often,
they were willing to fight for their belief, sometimes to the death.
For about the last quarter of the 19th century, and the first two decades of the
20th century, being a "wet" or a "dry" defined a Texan politically much more accurately
than being Democrat or Republican.
Back when a newspaper could be founded
with a George Washington press and a shirttail full of type, as the saying went,
some sheets were started specifically to advocate one side or the other of the
That's what J.B. Cranfill was up to in 1882 when he started
a newspaper in Gatesville,
the Advance. At first, he did not let moral conviction get in the way of
good business - he happily accepted advertising from the saloons. But after a
fire started in a saloon nearly burned down the town, he wrote an editorial connecting
the fire (actually, there had been two) to the saloon business.
a saloon proprietor came to the newspaper office to withdraw his advertising in
protest, Cranfill happily obliged him. He also wrote another editorial declaring
that he would not publish any other "wet" advertising either.
fought the saloons and the mobs," he later wrote, "and they two were one." At
the time, he recalled, Gatesville
had a population of 1,000. Ten saloons flourished in the little county seat town.
"One of them," Cranfill went on, "was kept by the worst man in that part
of Texas. I fought saloons in my paper all the time, and he hated me very cordially.
I dreaded to meet him, lest a duel would be precipitated about some issue."
Fortunately for Cranfill, who left Gatesville
in 1886 and went on to become one of the state's best-known religious journalists
as the editor of the Baptist Standard, that meeting never came.
"One day he was killed," Cranfill wrote, "and the news of the tragedy was quickly
circulated about town. I ran down to the hotel, where the saloon-keeper lay dead."
A killing was quite a sensation for such a small town. By the time Cranfill
got to the scene, a dozen or so others already crowded the hotel's lobby.
Among those on hand was a man Cranfill recognized as the town's Methodist
minister. They were good friends.
The preacher had already been in to
view the lately-departed. He waited while Cranfill went in to take a look.
"Death always solemnizes me, no matter who has passed," Cranfill recalled.
"So when I saw this man, lying on his back with his gun in his hand, and his face
pale with that pallor that always attends dissolution [a polite 19th century term
for chronic alcoholism], I could not repress a feeling of sadness."
walked out, hoping for some words of comfort from the Methodist clergyman. Perhaps
"it was God's will." At minimum, the young prohibitionist publisher who had been
threatened by the man now lying dead expected the preacher to say something like,
"Great pity, wasn't it?"
Instead, the Methodist peered at Cranfill from
beneath his black Stetson and said: "Fine shot, wasn't it?"
Mike Cox - July 2003 column
Columns | People
| Texas Town List | Texas
by Mike Cox - Order Here|