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Fri, Dec. 13

Mohave County History | Prohibition had a variety of effects in Mohave County at least as early as 1916

The red light district, known as the “49 camp” just outside of Oatman. The boundary cone can be seen in the background. (Photo courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts)

The red light district, known as the “49 camp” just outside of Oatman. The boundary cone can be seen in the background. (Photo courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts)

The headline read “Woman drinks bootleg and shoots up town.”

On January 29, 1916, the Mohave County Miner reported that a woman came out of her cabin near the Mohave County courthouse here in Kingman and “commenced to shoot wildly with an automatic revolver.”

“One of the bullets crashed through a window in the supervisors office within a few feet of Miss Pearl Glasow, who was working at her desk, and striking the casing of one of the doors, rebounding to the floor in the middle of the room,” the Miner reported.

The unidentified woman also took a shot at the driver of an automobile passing through the street, but luckily missed him by several feet. One deputy sheriff reached the woman within a few minutes and she willingly surrendered the gun and was placed in a jail cell.

The cabin she exited was searched and deputies found two empty whiskey bottles. A man who occupied the house was arrested as well, and the two ended up pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges and paid fines.

“Bootleg is bad medicine to monkey with,” the Miner article closes with, “and there is a lot of it coming to town despite the fact that Sheriff Lane has commandeered several barrels of the stuff.”

This was one of the first incidents of bootlegging that is in the Mohave Museum of History and Arts archive library. There are several events that follow from there.

May 6, 1916: Frank West and Guy Smith were acting as messenger boys at the 49 camp in Oatman’s restricted district. They were given a preliminary hearing before Judge Francis on charges of introducing intoxicating liquor into Arizona.

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A downtown look at Oatman taken in 1915 with excavation for Desert Inn in foreground. (Photo courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts)

They were held to answer to the court on bonds of $1,000 each – roughly equivalent to $23,000 in 2018.

Deputy sheriffs had made a raid of the tent occupied by West and Smith and seized 300 bottles of beer which was buried beneath the floor.

April 28, 1917: The Mohave County Miner reported multiple arrests for bootlegging on April 28, 1917. The first was that Sheriff Cohenous and deputies John and Asa Harris capture seven men suspected of bootlegging.

All seven of these men had a bundle or two which contained cases of whiskey “of the bootlegging variety.”

The second report was an arrest of a man by the name of Harry McDonald. McDonald had been visiting another man who escaped.

“One of the men jumped through the window, taking glass, sash and all, with him,” the Miner reported.

May 25, 1918: Sheriff’s deputies arrest a lunch stand operator by the name of Morris Jenson on charges of bootlegging. Jenson operated his lunch stand on Main Street.

Deputies found 20 pints of whiskey under the floor.

Jenson had also just finished serving 18 months for a previous offense of bootlegging.

The most interesting of articles reported by the Miner, however, comes with the headline “Bootleggers form union in Oatman and fix prices.”

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Orange County Sheriff's deputies dumping illegal booze in Santa Ana, California on March 31, 1932. This was during the last few years of prohibition, which lasted from 1920 until 1933, in the United States. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)

Forming a ‘bootleggers union’

In the evening of June 13, 1916, nearly 20 bootleggers were present at the first meeting of the Oatman Bootleggers’ Union No. 1. The meeting was held at the 49 camp, the red light district just outside of Oatman.

At this initial meeting, several matters of great importance were discussed. The first of which was to eliminate the unfair competition of scab bootleggers who wer not regularly engaged.

The decision on this matter was to boycott anyone, especially the prostitutes of 49 camp, if they patronized the scabs. If the boycott fails, then members of the union were to turn the scabs over to law enforcement.

“Thus the moral support of the members of the bootleggers’ union will be turned in the direction of uplifting the business by getting rid of a large band of parasites,” read the Mohave County Miner article.

The most vital discussion point, though, was the matter of prices.

Apparently in 1916, the liquor houses of Needles, California, raised their prices “out of all reason.”

“They have even tried to ignore the fact that any regularly employed Arizona bootlegger is a dealer and have actually charged them full retail prices for bottled goods,” the Miner reported.

The retail price in Oatman for liquor at the time was 50 to 100 percent higher than anywhere else “in the known world.” A bottle of whiskey, which usually cost $1.25, for a citizen of Oatman would cost anywhere from $1.75 to $2.25. Add onto these problems the fact that trucks of liquor were being robbed and those who voted in favor of prohibition who still wanted their alcohol regularly, and the union finalized their price fixes.

For prostitutes at the 49 camp, beer was listed at 50 cents per pint and “booze” was $2 per quart bottle.

“Any ‘lady’ in the camp who object to these reasonable prices will be reprimanded by the walking delegate,” the Miner reported. “For the second offense she will be boycotted.”

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The interior of a tent house in Oatman. Decorations on the wall are from 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Other items show that this young man was living well in the mining camp. (Photo courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts)

Boycotting said lady meant that she would not be allowed to buy liquor from any member of the union, and if she buys from a scab bootlegger, she will be turned over to the officers of the law.

No names were published with the article, even though officers of the union were elected.

“This newspaper refrains from publishing a list of the officers elected,” the article concludes. “For apparent reasons it would only have a tendency to thwart the honest efforts they are elected to exert on behalf of their calling and the union whose principles they are sworn to enforce. It would interfere with their effectiveness as officials.”

The archives don’t offer much on bootlegging in Mohave County, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bootlegging was, largely, illegal and would mostly only come into the limelight when people were arrested.

The growth of the illegal liquor trade under Prohibition made criminals of millions of Americans. As the decade progressed, court rooms and jails overflowed, and the legal system failed to keep up.

The greatest unintended consequence of Prohibition was the plainest to see. For over a decade, the law that was meant to foster temperance instead fostered intemperance and excess. The solution the United States had devised to address the problem of alcohol abuse had instead made the problem even worse.

There is little doubt that Prohibition failed to achieve what it set out to do, and that its unintended consequences that reached as far as the small mining town of Oatman, Arizona were far more far-reaching than its few benefits.

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