Oklahoma and prohibition

I’ve been a little fixated on my ancestor Andrew Holt lately, mostly because it’s been relatively easy to find a couple newspaper articles on his death.  Since I posted the last article I came across more newspaper bits that relate to him.  On one hand I’d like to pick a more obscure relative to research, but obscurity often doesn’t leave a very obvious paper trail, so for now pardon my obsession with the bootlegging/Prohibition related relative.  I’ll do my best not to glorify or harangue any of the participants too much.

My great grandma Julia Holt Hickman's oldest brother in the papers.  Oklahoma Weekly Leader, 1922 January 19.

My great grandma Julia Holt Hickman’s oldest brother in the papers. Oklahoma Weekly Leader, 1922 January 19.

I picked up a book on Prohibition in Oklahoma called Born Sober: Prohibition in Oklahoma, 1907-59 by Jimmie Lewis Franklin, published in 1971.  Before big “P” federal Prohibition was passed and went into effect in 1920, Oklahoma had little “p” prohibition.  Before statehood Oklahoma was divided between Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory.  Indian Territory was always dry, and when Oklahoma became a state in 1907 (uniting the two territories), it too went dry.

Born Sober mentions a saloonkeeper in Ponca City, who reacted to statewide prohibition by posting this statement above his business, “Hush little saloon, don’t you cry; you’ll be a drug store, by and by.” (Franklin 24)  I wish the book had more tasty tidbits like that.  It’s a great statewide overview, but leans more toward political machinations than cultural history.  I also think there is something to be said about race and alcohol prohibition, but maybe someone else wrote that book between 1971 and the present day.  I haven’t done any research on that yet.

I do give the author props for at least touching on the role of religion in the prohibition debate.  Catholics (often more recent immigrants) were sacramental wine users, while Protestants (who made up the majority of Oklahomans at the time) didn’t need booze to satisfy the rituals of their religious practice, and were more likely to be vehemently anti-booze.  For the record, my Oklahoma relatives were somewhere in the Methodist-Episcopal-Baptist range.  Andrew Holt’s grandpa was itinerant minister Thomas Crutcher Holt.  T.C. Holt  is an entire series of posts on his own, so I’ll leave that there for now.

Anywhoo, statewide prohibition was difficult to enforce (hey, just like federal Prohibition a decade or so later).  Local sentiment played a big role in whether or not enforcement was feasible in particular regions.  It was also expensive to enforce and difficult to control liquor coming over the border from wet states. (Franklin 37-40).  Despite enforcement difficulties and attempts to amend or do away with prohibition of alcohol in Oklahoma, the statewide ban remained.

There are some nitty gritty details on the particulars of alcohol prohibition – things like adjustments in the enforcement of the law, restrictions, and the exception that allowed individuals to get a prescription for alcohol from their doctor.  There is also a lot to be said about the background of the whites who moved to Oklahoma before and after statehood, and how that came into play in terms of the political power dynamics.  And, even after federal Prohibition ended in the early 1930s, Oklahoma still had another form of state alcohol prohibition.

For family history purposes in this particular case study I’m going to stick to the 1900-1933 period and keep it general unless it directly pertains to my family in Love County.  I’m mostly interested in better understanding the context of the 1922 shooting of my relative Andrew Holt in Marietta, OK, and any other info is bonus material.

I really hope someone has a picture of him somewhere.  I’d love to put a face with a name.  I do have several pictures of his youngest sister, my great grandma Julia Holt Hickman.  She died when I was young, but I did get to meet her on several occasions.  My Mom was really close to her and has told me a lot of very nice things about her, so I’ll have to do a post on her sometime.

(Researching alcohol prohibition has been a nice build up to the Boardwalk Empire premiere in September!  I can’t wait.  It’s like a birthday present to me – sensationalized history with some of the best costuming and set design.  And the music!  Only place on modern TV to have 1920s dance tunes show up that I can sing along to.  I’m still ecstatic “Barney Google” was at the end of last season……”with the goo goo googly eyes….”  So cool.)

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5 responses to “Oklahoma and prohibition

  1. I would love to correspond with you on the topic. I beginning to research and write a novel about Oklahoma post WWI through the twenties. It is about a man mentally unhinged his experiences in WWI (particularly on the tragic last day when men were sent to die for no good reason but the vainglory of their commanders) and returning home to find wife and children and much of his fictional crossroads community in Okfuskee County dead from the Spanish Flu. He begins to hear the voice of God calling him in his traumatized mind and believes himself to be a Judge as in The Book of Judges and the two Books of Samuel. He fashions himself into a fearsome night rider in black who takes on the evil he perceives, such as organized crime involved in bootlegging, corrupt oil and land tycoons, and the emerging KKK. Peppered in will be real historical incidents, like the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Interestingly enough a character in his town is the highly respected pharmacist who also runs a back room Saloon. My email is aaronmccarthy6@gmail.com. It would be great to pick your brain.

  2. My great uncle was a sheriff and marshal in Okfuskee County during national prohibition. I have a photo of him and other law enforcement personnel with stills that they busted. I don’t see a way to post the photo here. If you would like a copy, e-mail me.

  3. Just came across your blog while researching prohibition in OK..granddad Roy Homer Womble incarcerated in OK State Pen for supposedly shooting his bootlegging partners! (6/19/29) He seems to have run his booze up from Florida. Wish we had found him sooner as I am sure he would have great stories to tell.

  4. I am the great grandson of Andrew Bell Holt. His son Garmon Dale, father to Weldon Andrew Holt, my father.
    I have a good photo of Andrew. I also have the pants that he was wearing the night he was shot and killed. A bullet holt through the hip and his blood stains.
    I have traced the Holt family pretty far back.
    Andrew is not the only interesting story.
    I would gladly share my photos and info.
    My email is dkrc.holt@verizon.net

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