Alcohol, prohibition in Freestone County

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Alcohol in Freestone County
Published November 2006
Probably the most controversial issue ever in our county from its beginning to now is the use and sale of alcoholic beverages, legally or otherwise. Earliest criminal records involve this problem with charges filed for offenses such as selling less than a quart of whiskey, giving or selling to a slave – it was legal to make and sell with certain restrictions.
Saloons were very common and in most areas, Teague had quite a few in its early years. Carrie Nation, the old gal with the hatchet who fought alcohol, visited here. Not sure why but Teague voted dry the next year, not sure if she had anything to do with this as not much information available.
Fairfield must have had its share, Judge Willis Young told of a man falling into the public water well on the courthouse square, a citizen went down and got him out with all departing for a saloon across the street to celebrate, someone finally missed the man in the well and he was rescued.
Some old records tell of the church bells ringing after a wet/dry election with alcohol voted out. My unmarried great aunt recorded in an old church minute book about breaking beer bottles while walking to church temperance meetings. Many had problems with abuse of alcohol including, I am told, both my grandfathers, this is probably why both my parents were so opposed to its use.
Been told some religions, such as the old time Primitive Baptist, didn't oppose the use or sale if used in moderation. Also been told one of this groups strongest convictions was its members pay their debts and obligations and made good whiskey.
Many used whiskey as a medicine as little else was available or affordable. Prohibition, where the sale and use of alcohol was prohibited, brought many problems to Freestone County. It was very hard to make a decent living during the 20's and 30's, as jobs were scarce and money was hard to come by.
What started in desperation evolved into a serious disregard of the laws for the easy money. In times when most families didn't have $20 it was not unusual for children of some illegal whiskey makers to come to school with a $20 bill. Crime was common, Mr. P.D. Browne referred to these years as “Freestone's Tragic Years” in his writings. Though many made lots of money few came out with anything, easy come and easy go. Merchants dealing in products used were probably the only one's to really profit.
The end of Prohibition
Prohibition was repealed in the early 30's when Freestone County had the local option election with beer only remaining legal. Beer brewers geared up for production and green beer was put on the market first.
Former big time whiskey makers had wholesale beer dealership but didn't do too good and it changed hands. State laws were few and state enforcement officers were few or none, they could sell beer 24 hours day with no curfew.
Some even delivered truck loads of beer to dry areas. Dime-a-dance girls worked many of the beer joints just to survive. Been told there were about 40 girls in Teague area at one time. Illegal slot machines and punch cards became common.
To my knowledge there was no organized or public gambling in most. I have been told the only size offered in the early days were 12 ounce bottles – this was before cans and such. The early brands were Grand Prize, Southern Select, Jax, Falstaff, and Pabst, none are still in business.
These were wild and woolly days. These were tough times and some of the joints were just as tough with no respect for law and order with officers having to fight often to arrest. During this time there was an oil boom in Anderson Count, which was legally dry, and rough necks and workers would come across river to Freestone County. I am told bottle beer was 10 to 15 cents which was high, a case of some was $1.50.
The beer was cooled with ice house ice, as this was before electricity in some areas, and electric coolers. Many honky tonks, located on east U.S. 84 and U.S. 79 towards Oakwood, had their own electricity plants, rest rooms were very crude and mostly outside. The Wildwood was a beer and dance hall, some of the others were The Log Cabin on U.S. 79, Nite Owl and Silver Moon on east U.S. 84, The Midway on U.S. 79, which was supposed to be the best, River Crest at the intersection of U.S. 84 and U.S. 79 was one of good ones.
Others around the county were the Dug Out Inn, the Roundhouse in Fairfield where Parker Motor is today, Casey, Shamrock, Rainbow, and several others in Teague and Wortham. I am sure there black joints but not familiar with any, but do know some were located south of the business area on the south courthouse square, most of these destroyed by a fire.
After several heated and hard fought elections Freestone County went legally dry in l939. Over the years there been several attempts to vote areas wet, but none were successful until a few years ago the City of Wortham approved off premises consumption and today there is one package store and a couple places that sell beer.

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