Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
This week, we take a 130 year step back to a time when Great Bend was still a new town. When the railroads came through in the 1870s, it became a destination for cattle drives, and rough characters filled the saloons, causing far more ruckus than the respectable business people and farmers of Great Bend cared for. In the mid 1870s, the “dead line” for cattle drives was moved back 30 miles west of Great Bend. No cattle could be driven east of that line. That helped calm the city down, but for some, this was only the beginning. Saloons were vilified, and it was believed if they could be eliminated, the city would be all the better for it.
The State Republican and Democratic conventions had just occurred, and the editors of all three of Great Bend’s newspapers had something to say about the topic that was at the forefront of the debates--prohibition.
The Inland Tribune (weekly)
Friday, August 18, 1882
“Two years ago the “bolting” was confined to two county candidates, but the “bolting” now is on the State ticket, a much more grievous offense, and by stalwarts too!...By all means, Mr. Johnson, come and regulate these kickers!”
The Inland Tribune editor, C.P. Townsley, was a stalwart supporter of the Republican ticket, and a big believer in the importance of following the letter of the law, especially when it came to prohibition. The year before, Governor John St. John received support from the state legislature in passing an amendment to the state constitution in favor of prohibition. In 1881, the Prohibitory Law went into effect, and Kansas became the first state to officially adopt prohibition. Enforcing the law was another story. According to Karen Neuforth, a historian with the Barton County Historical Society, saloons still operated, but regularly paid fines for breaking the law. Some on the Republican ticket wanted stiffer enforcement.
The paper reported that rumors were flying about bold threats made by saloon keepers against those working for enforcement of prohibition.
“People have taken hold of the saloon question in earnest in Great Bend. It matters not who the violators are, they should be made to respect the laws of the State in which they live,” he went on.
Great Bend Register (weekly)
Thursday, August 17, 1882
Motto: “The world--our field; Kansas--our garden; Great Bend--our residence.”
The Official Paper of Barton County
“St. John is renominated. So much has already been said pro and con regarding his candidacy that there is nothing new to be said,” wrote editor A.J. Hoisington. “Nearly every voter in Barton County has fully made up his mind already as to whether he will vote for or against him...This county may give a majority against him, but the balance of the State will elect him. His plurality will be at least 10,000 and may reach 30,000.”
The issues to be decided that year were important enough to capture the interest of youth.
“Elsewhere we publish notice of the young men in the Bend regarding politics,” wrote editor (name). “The boys propose to “set down” on the older fellows and the other younger fellows and all who have been taking an active part in the local politic heretofore. The signers are intelligent young Republicans, capable of doing their full share in choosing candidates for office, and we are glad to see them taking an active interest in the success of the Republican party. The Republican party is the one which especially commends itself to all young men.”
The register commented on the women’s suffrage bill that would be voted on also. The Republican party was very much in favor of women’s suffrage, but they were undecided about the best way to go about voting on it. Some, like Republican John Martin, felt women should be given a chance to vote on just that question, and the state would go with whatever their choice would be. Others felt it should be decided by an official vote--the men--and that decision would stand. In the end, the women were left out of the question in 1882, and had to continue to fight for another four years before they would be allowed to vote at municipal elections in Kansas.
Arkansas Valley Democrat
Saturday, August 19, 1882
Motto: “External vigilance is the price of liberty--Washington”
This paper was just as the name implied. The editor, I.T. Flint, not only adhered to a democratic platform, he was also bigoted by today’s standards. He sums up his recommendations and opinions here:
“It will be remembered that several weeks ago the colored people met in convention in Topeka and resolved not to vote another Republican ticket unless some colored man was on it as a candidate. This of course fetched things down to a crisis. The Republican State Convention met and found that in consequence of prohibition and St. John, so many men would leave the party in disgust, that their only choice was defeat or accept the (black), so (black) it was. And now the office of Auditor of State must be decorated in ebony, and the “man and brother” sits high up on the ticket, triumphantly grinning at the “poah white trash” who couldn’t get there. McCabe is his name. Now, vote the Negro in office or leave the party of St. John, prohibition, woman suffrage and Negro equality and vote for decency above dirt.”
The Arkansas Valley Democrat ceased to be published the first week of December of this year. Luckily, the people of Great Bend didn’t need to suffer the published hate mongering of Mr. Flint for long. He also commented in favor of Martin’s suggestion to allow women to vote on the question of suffrage. He was so taken with an editorial from the Wichita Daily Times, he ran it on the editorial page of his own paper.
“We today haul down the republican ticket from the head of our editorial columns. There are no Republicans on the ticket, and we can’t support prohibitionists.”
Apparently, the majority of the rest of the state agreed with the Times. In the November election, the state voted in a Democratic ticket.
Great Bend Register
Thursday, November 9, 1882
“...The news came, reporting hard on hard against republicans. Democrats were kept down on the county ticket. By midnight it was plainly evident.” St. John for Governor was defeated by a small majority. “Republicans became silent and one by one, ‘went somewheres’. Home sweet home. Democrats rejoiced, and ‘smiled’ and ‘smiled again’.” Glick became Governor with a 360 majority.
However, prohibition continued. The state continued to question the issue over the years, and in 1934 once again voted dry when the national election asked the question. At that time, Barton County was among 16 other counties that voted in favor of the repeal of prohibition.
In November 1948, the question came up again, and this time, the majority swung the other way within the state of Kansas. It was very close though, with a margin of only 50,000 votes or so. It took two days before an official report was made that the law would be repealed in some way.
The Great Bend Daily Tribune
Thursday, Nov. 4, 1948
“We’ve waited 68 years already,” said Leo Mulloy, the man who guided the successful drive for repeal of Kansas prohibitory liquor amendment. “Liquor is not yet legalized,” Mulloy continued. “We just authorized our legislators to legalize it and to set up control machinery for its taxation and sale.” The legislature took the next five months to agree that if a city within a wet county voted in favor, it could have a state-owned liquor store in business there. April 6, 1949, municipal election results showed that 18 more cities voted to go wet. Great Bend was not one of them. Not having a liquor store available provided increased opportunity for a Milgran Liquor Store in Kansas City. In the April 7, 1949 of the Tribune, they took out a full page ad offering several liquors and beers for sale via mail order.
“Due to the laws of Kansas, we can ship only three gallons or one case to a person on any one order. When in Kansas City, visit Milgran Liquor Stores.” The ad read.
Then, after the state constitution was amended once again, 19 counties continued to be “dry”. Saloons were still not allowed until 1986.
The Great Bend Daily Tribune
November 4, 1986
The Associated Press story headline today reads “SIN issues approved overwhelmingly”. In a local story, “Barton County passes sin issues”, Susan Thacker reported, “Liquor by the drink passed with 62.67 percent— 7,855 yes to 4,678 no.”
Then editor Maggie Lee congratulated voters on a wonderful turnout. This paved the way for the opening of bars, as well as for restaurants to serve wine and beer.