Historically Speaking: Prohibition in Dodge City

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
In the 1880s in Dodge City, prescriptions such as this were written for alcohol.

On Feb. 19, 1881, Kansas was the first State in the Union to prohibit this activity, but the citizens of Dodge City chose to ignore the new law.

The statewide prohibition against alcohol really had no "teeth" as law enforcement could choose to ignore it even if people complained.

So, in Dodge City as well as some other places around the state, that was just what lawmen did.

Saloons here operated as if nothing had changed. This lasted for over four years until a tougher version of Kansas prohibition took effect in March of 1885.

The new law did not let local authorities look the other way. Ordinary citizens could hire lawyers to compel enforcement against violators.

March of 1885 was extremely pivotal in Dodge City's history for another reason. That's when a quarantine line shut off the cattle drives through Kansas. This was a double-whammy as the cattle drovers were the drinking establishments major customers.

Suddenly, saloons became "drugstores" and "restaurants" and closed their doors at night. This led to disaster in Dodge City as nobody was awake to put out accidental fires that started during the wee small hours.

As a result, much of downtown Dodge City burned in a series of fires during the winter of 1885 and 1886.

Despite the law against imbibing, people still got alcohol legally through medical doctors' prescriptions. Some of the "illnesses" they claimed were dubious. Often physicians prescribed alcohol for colds. One doctor wrote a scrip for alcohol as syrup for cigars and another for a man's wife for bathing.

It was even a treatment for diarrhea.

The anti-alcohol laws continued in Kansas through the U.S. prohibition, which was from 1920 to 1933. For another 15 years Kansas remained a "dry state" until 1948.

Despite this dry period, people still found ways to obtain alcohol. If anything, Prohibition made crime more prevalent. It merely drove underground the making, selling and consuming of alcohol. It made criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens.

People were injured and even died from poorly made tainted "bootleg" spirits.

On the plus side, prohibition, both State and National, was a great equalizer. It didn't matter what a person's career was, how much money they made, or whether they were male or female; drinking beer, wine or spirits was equally illegal for everyone.

It wasn't until 1987 that people in Kansas could go into a public bar or restaurant and purchase wine and spirits by the drink.

Until then, private clubs flourished as havens for people to congregate as they enjoyed their favorite poison.