If There’s a Still, There’s a Way: The Feds Get Involved (Part 2)

In front of the Sweetwater County Courthouse in Green River with confiscated stills and other paraphernalia are, from left to right, Chief of Police Bill Hutton, Sheriff Al Morton, and Under Sheriff Chris Jessen, circa 1922-1933. Photo courtesy of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.

SWEETWATER COUNTY– Once federal prohibition enforcement agents got involved in Prohibition enforcement, they did so with a vengeance.

A news article from the same time period, late December 1921, has this for a headline: “FEDERAL PROHIBITION OFFICER WITH FIFTY DEPUTIES RAIDS BOOZE JOINTS—SIXTY OUT ON BONDS—LARGE QUANTITY LIQUOR TAKEN”.

The article begins, “On Wednesday and Thursday of this week one of the most spectacular prohibition raids in the history of the western country was pulled off in Sweetwater County. During the raid some sixty individuals were placed under arrest and thousands of gallons of intoxicating liquors were taken.

Advertisement - Story continues below...

“The raid was under the direction of U.S. Prohibition Director Carl Jackson, who with fifty deputies arrived in Rock Springs in a special car early Wednesday morning. With the party were U.S. Attorney A.D. Walton, U.S. Marshal Hugh Patton and U.S. Division Chemist F.D. Stribling.

“For months the people of this section of Wyoming have been have been expecting a visit from the federal prohibition officers, but it was not until Wednesday morning that they really knew that there was such a department.”

The article goes on to describe how the raid in Rock Springs was organized in Cheyenne over a period of weeks. Those arrested had to post bonds ranging from $500 to $1,000, depending on whether the arrested individual was a bartender or a proprietor.

Some Support for Prohibition Enforcement

Notwithstanding the Prohibition backlash by many, there was some support locally for Prohibition enforcement.

The above article later states, “The visit of the Federal prohibition representatives to this section was a needed one. It was one which every law-abiding citizen in the county had been hoping for for months, for conditions have been far worse than before the advent of prohibition.

“Our people, or at least ninety percent of them, have been hoping for drastic action from both federal and state prohibition departments. But…has (the raid) accomplished anything more than the assessment of a few dollars in fines and a continuation of the business? If this is the only result, the raid was a failure. The people of this section want permanent results. To secure these permanent results a continual follow-up is necessary. Is the necessary follow-up to come? We sincerely hope so.”

The article has a semi-humorous conclusion: “Judging by reports sent out, the first aim of the (raid) seemed to be to give Rock Springs the reputation of being ‘the wettest spot in Western America.’ The people of Rock Springs are inclined to take exception to this broad statement.”

A few men standing outside Facinelli’s Saloon. Photo courtesy of Sweetwater County Historical Museum.

A Rocket article believed to be describing the same raid had a headline for December 30, 1921 that screamed out, “U.S. PROHIBITION OFFICERS RAID ROCK SPRINGS”. One of the subheads read, “Two carloads “hootch” seized in spectacular raid by federal men” and the sub-subhead reads, “Five Thousand Gallons Wine, Barrels of ‘Moonshine,’ Fourteen Hundred Cases of Raisins and Many Cases of Bonded Whiskey Taken in Raid by Officials.”

The article begins, “Rock Springs sprang into the limelight on Wednesday of this week when United States Marshal Hugh L. Patten (sic) and Deputy Marshal Alonzo Davis and a force of special deputies arrived on No. 17 (train) from Cheyenne and pulled off, what is claimed to be the biggest booze raid staged in the United States since the enactment of the Volstead law…”

The interior of a brewery in Sweetwater County. Photo courtesy of Sweetwater County Historical Museum.

64 Sweetwater County Arrests Made in Prohibition Raid

Some 51 people were arrested in Rock Springs as part of the Prohibition booze raid. Another nine individuals were arrested in Green River while Superior contributed four arrests. The extent of the Prohibition law-breaking is evidenced from the number of drinking establishments raided where arrests were made. The list was provided to the Rocket by the U.S. Marshal:

Blasko & Fabiny, Pilot Butte Ave.; O.K., K St.; Capital Bar, K St.; Coffee House, N. Front St.; The Bridge Bar, K St.; Manila Bar, Pilot Butte Ave.; U.S. Café, Pilot Butte Ave.; Klondyke Bar, M St.; Barca Bros., Pilot Butte Ave.; Saltis & Story, Pilot Butte Ave.; Viaduct Bar, N. Front St.; Belmont Bar, N. Front St.; Northern Bar, Pilot Butte Ave.; Vienna Bar, K St.; Turin Bar, N. Front St.; Park Bar, Elk St.; Ignatz Trink, Elias Ave.; Rock Springs Bar, S. Front St.; Gem Bar, S. Front St.; Metropolitan, S. Front St.; White Front, S. Front St.; and “Bobby” Gibson’s place at 130 J St.

The federal agents even went so far as to raid private homes where it was alleged that wine was being sold.

News articles were provided courtesy of the Rock Springs Museum.

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on the story and history of Prohibition in Sweetwater County and Wyoming. Check out Part 1 here. The historic photos throughout this series are courtesy of Sweetwater County Historical Museum and the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center. Keep your eye out for the final installment.