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Saloons in Hutchinson
It’s Monday, May 27, 1907, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Florence Tharp Duckworth is visiting her husband, Sheriff George “Came” Duckworth, in his office on the second floor of the Reno County Courthouse at Avenue B and Main Street.
“How was court?” asked Florence.
“Tim Casey didn’t show up,” answered George. “Judge Galle rendered a summary judgement against Casey, declaring the $500 bond he had given forfeited, and ordered the clerk of the court to immediately issue an alias warrant for him.”
“I’ll bet Tim’s in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, and won’t return,” said Florence. “When he recently sold the Midland Hotel and talked of trading his cement blocks factory, I guess we knew he wasn’t going to stick around to serve several months in jail.”
“He had everything going for him, but liquor became the center of his life,” said George.
“He’s been going downhill for a long time,” said Florence. “Remember last year when he ripped the telephone off the wall of the hotel and threw it in the street?”
“When he sobered up and cooled down, it occurred to him that he needed to be nice in order to get telephone service back,” said George.
“I’ve heard that his wife, Mary, is getting tired of him returning home drunk and being unfaithful to her,” said Florence.
“It looks like Mayor Harsha didn’t try to interfere with the ruling,” said George. “I’ll bet he’s already had the chief of police talk to the new owner of the Midland Hotel about fines for selling liquor.”
“It’s funny how we choose certain words to explain our actions,” said Florence. “When the mayor receives money from the saloonists or jointists to help with the city budget, he calls it a fine. When the chief of police collects the money to keep the police department self-sustaining, he explains that the money has been forfeited. But, from the perspective of the liquor interests, when they pay $100 a month to the authorities, they call it a license and expect to be left alone to do business.
George laughed. “You nailed it. There are opposing, powerful forces. The wets and the drys don’t agree on much. Mayor Harsha sees it as a way to reduce taxes; Charlie Oswald sees it as breaking the state law passed in 1880.”
“It doesn’t much matter what Oswald thinks now that he’s lost the election for mayor,” said Florence. “The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) wasn’t as organized as Harsha’s forces. We’ll have more of the same for the next two years.”
“But there’s hope” said George, “Wichita has elected a new mayor who has appointed a new chief of police, and his force will close the joints. I wonder if any of the closed saloons will choose Hutchinson as a more welcoming destination?
“Tim Casey had to leave town,” said Florence. “He’s an example that there can be real consequences for breaking the law. Even if he never spends another night in our jail, he knows he can’t return to Hutchinson or you’ll lock him up. He’s also lost a lot of business by running away to Missouri.”
“Some people would rather the jointists be ignored so that taxes won’t increase,” said George, “I just don’t like it that the city gives protection for unlawful business. If the city police would cooperate with my office and the county attorney, we could close down the liquor trade.”
“Hutchinson doesn’t need another jointist, gambler, or a keeper of fake rooming houses,” said Florence. “If liquor wasn’t sold openly in Hutchinson, there would be other businesses prospering. Women and children would be better clothed with shoes to wear. Liquor leads to more criminals, the insane, and paupers.”
“We still have to contend with the drug stores that sell liquor and call it medicinal,” said George. “The other day in police court, there were two men arrested for being drunk and begging on the streets. Each of them claimed they only had one drink and they had taken it to cure their rheumatism.”
“What did the judge do?” asked Florence.
“The drunks said they’d get out of town if the judge released them,” answered George. “He let them go with a warning.”
“It’s complicated,” said Florence. “If we lock up everyone who has been drinking, then our jail is overflowing while we have to feed them and supply enough beds. On the other hand, if the city allows the jointists to supply intoxicating liquor to anyone, it encourages more drinking and more arrests.
“Maybe we should invite Carrie Nation to Hutch,” continued Florence, watching George for a predictable reaction. “She’d be able to draw a crowd to organize against the saloonists.”
George raised an eyebrow. “You know that I’m against the open saloons, there must be fifteen, twenty of them in town, but Carrie Nation has gone too far in her crusade against liquor. Even the WCTU hesitates to endorse her anymore. She’s changed from her days in Medicine Lodge when her members would assemble outside saloons to sing hymns and to pray loudly.”
“I know she’s radical,” said Florence, “and she’s been arrested many times for disturbing the peace. When she destroys saloons with her hatchet, she goes to jail; when the city police allow saloons to stay in business, they’re rewarded.”
“If Carrie Nation, the saloon smasher, destroyed property here, I’d take her to jail myself,” said George.
“But,” said Florence, “if you arrested her, I’d volunteer to help sell her hatchet pins in order to raise her bond money. Those pins are in high demand.”
George was a smart sheriff but a smarter husband. He picked up the newspaper from his desk, turned a page, and double-checked Sunday’s baseball score. Hutchinson had defeated Joplin 4-2.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.