Friday, November 29, 2013

Jim Hogg: The Active Life in Poplar Bluff, Missouri

 During a highly energetic lifetime James R. “Jim” Hogg, shown left managed to juggle the responsibilities for making and selling a nationally recognized brand of whiskey, managing an array of successful local businesses, and serving as Mayor of Popular Bluff, Missouri, and four terms as County Sheriff.  With enough activities to keep most men exhausted, Hogg also found time for five marriages over his 74 years.

Poplar Bluff circa 1907
Hogg was born in Jennings County, Indiana, in July, 1863.  In 1870 his parents pulled up stakes and headed off in a covered wagon for Missouri,  a hazardous trip of several weeks.  There his father, a farmer, settled in the Oak Grove area of Butler County, whose seat was Poplar Bluff.  The elder Hogg, a farmer, helped organize the first schools and tried to get his son Jim as good an education as possible in those pioneer times.

As Jim Hogg grew to manhood, he showed unusual business ability and expanded from farming into a number of enterprises.  Among the most important as a money maker was a distillery he established on one of his farms.  It became a registered distillery with the Federal Government.  There Hogg began producing  liquor brands he called “Jim Hogg Whiskey” and “Jim Hogg’s Corn Whiskey,” illustrating his jugs with three swine munching on ears of corn.  Initially he sold it in the vicinity of Poplar Bluff, still a frontier town as seen in an 1907 post card.  He established a sales office on South Fourth Street downtown.  Hogg bottled his booze in large ceramic jugs, marked with his logo.  He also used small pottery jugs as merchandising items to favored customers.  Hogg’s customer base grew to regional and eventually national dimensions.

After the turn of the century, along with other distillers, Hogg moved from pottery to glass,   as automatic bottling machines drastically lowered the cost of glass containers. The  Poplar Bluff newspaper in January 1915 marveled that the Hogg Distilling Co. had just received a shipment of 8,000 individual pieces of glassware,  gallon jugs from the Illinois Glass Company.  They were a full carload, the largest such shipment of glass containers ever recorded in Southeast Missouri.   Moreover, each jug had the Jim Hogg trademark blown right into the bottle.  It was an attribute, the newspaper opined, “that not even time itself can efface.”
Illinois Glass Co gallon jug

Running a large distillery and tending to several farms might have been enough for some men, but not Jim Hogg.   Likely unsatisfied by the prices the blooded stock of cattle and pigs he raised were bringing at market,  he established his own slaughter house and began selling meat from the back of a wagon.  When that was successful in 1884 he opened his own meat market, the first of three he would own in Poplar Bluff.  Known as the Jim Hogg Markets,  during hunting season they made a specialty of fresh venison, wild turkey and bear. The photo here is said to be the interior of one of them.

Hogg's Meat Market (attrib.)

The juxtaposition of “Hogg” with a meat market became a common joke in Poplar Bluff.  The Daily American Republican newspaper told its readers that a local bank had received a received a check from Hogg payable to P. L. Pigg in payment for pork.  “If the statement was not sworn by reliable parties, we wouldn’t believe it, but anyone who doubts the veracity can go to the Bank of Poplar Bluff and see for themselves.”

His numerous enterprises, including a blacksmith shop and a boarding house, were not sufficient to absorb Hogg’s high octane energies. Reportedly at the insistence of his friends,  he ran for the office of sheriff of Butler County on the Republican ticket in 1892 and was elected.  During that first term he became highly popular for his kindly acts.  One of them later was reported in a Popular Bluff publication called the “Ozark Beacon:”  The story told of a $200 license fee charged to every circus that came to Poplar Bluff, a cost that one circus manager was unable to meet.  The publication reported:  “Although Mr. Hogg was not particularly fond of the early day circus people who came to the city, he had a soft spot in his heart for the many children who would be unable to witness their first circus unless the necessary license fee was paid. Mr. Hogg never discussed the incident but friends confided in later years, the beloved sheriff paid the $200 circus fee to the city and the children were not disappointed.”

Unable to succeed himself as sheriff by Missouri law,  Hogg ran to become the third elected mayor of Poplar Bluff and won a two year term.  But his true love apparently was being sheriff of Butler County.   In 1902 he was again elected to that office and served through 1906. Once again he was prohibited  from succeeding himself and he retired to private life at the expiration of that term but ran for the office again in 1920. He was elected and served through 1924.  Although hailed for his thoughtfulness and diligence in solving crimes,  Hogg also had difficult moments as sheriff.  In 1903 he accompanied two convicted murderers to the gallows, the first public hangings in 12 years in Butler County.  The first hanging went badly.  Although the condemned man’s neck was broken by the fall, according to press accounts,  he was able to speak for a while and his body twitched and contorted for almost 15 minutes before he died.

To his occupations as farmer, distiller, businessman and public servant, the indefatigable Hogg added a fifth career:  Marriage.  He was married five times, divorced four times, and married to one woman twice.   She was his first wife, Ida Dillard, the daughter of Louis Dillard, a pioneer farmer who was one of the founders of Hilliard, Missouri, and a man of some wealth.  Although the record is somewhat murky, it appears that Hogg married Ida about 1880.  From her father he also obtained a 160 acre farm in exchange for a wagon and a team of horses.  That marriage produced one son, Marion, in 1881.  By 1884, however,  Hogg had divorced Ida and was married to Susan S. Klutts who gave him twins, George and James, in February 1885.  George seems to have died in infancy.

Ida Dillard Hogg gravestone
Fast forward to about 1887. Hogg had divorced Susan and had remarried Ida.  In December of 1888, she bore him another child, a girl they named Ida Belle.  Then, possibly as a complication of childbirth,  Ida Dillard Hogg died.  She was buried in Poplar Grove City Cemetery with a headstone, shown here, that identified her as “Beloved Wife of J.R. Hogg.”  Her husband’s grief, however, appears to have been short-lived.  Barely a year later he married Clara Catherine Smith of Poplar Bluff, possibly to have a mother for his children.  Jim and Clara would have three sons of their own in what appears to have been the longest of Hogg’s marriages.  Son Walter John was born in 1890, James Benjamin in 1895 and Cloyd in 1899.  The 1900 census found a family of five children,  two of Ida's, three of Clara’s, living with the couple. [For a corrected list of Jim Hogg's children see comment below.]

Sometime during the next decade, Hogg and Clara divorced. The 1920 census found him, now age 57, married a fifth time to Ruth Naoma Hawass (or Haas), a woman 23 years his junior. Jim’s occupation was given as “running meat market.”  Ruth was a clerk in a dry goods store.  Perhaps because of the age difference this union also was not fated to last. In the 1930 census Hogg gave his marital status as “divorced” and he was living with his brother.

Meanwhile the Jim Hogg Distilling Company and the lucrative market for the Missourian’s liquor had been terminated permanently with the coming of National Prohibition.  Over the years the distillery had given employment to dozens of Butler County residents. Because of his diversified business interests, however, Hogg did not suffer financially as much as other whiskey men did.  By then he owned multiple farms on good Black River bottom land and fertile plots near town.  He  operated his meat markets.   Hogg continued to be active in the local Republican Party and social organizations, including the Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias and the Red Men.

Jim Hogg gravestone
As he aged, Jim Hogg turned over management of his farm and businesses to relatives, some of whom stayed in the meat business until the 1990’s.  Death came to him in July 1934, just as National Prohibition was being rescinded.  According to reports, while out walking one day Hogg fell into the Black River and drowned. He was 74 years old.  Interred in the City Cemetery of Poplar Bluff, his headstone seems ironic, given the active, one might say frenetic, life Hogg had lived.  It reads: “Peace be thy silent slumber.”

This much-married farmer, distiller, businessman, and politician was greatly mourned in Popular Bluff. The tributes were many, including this one from a contemporary biographer:  “No resident of Butler County was ever closer to his  fellow men than the beloved Jim Hogg during his lifetime.”   The writer might have added “And closer to his fellow women.”

Note:  This Sheriff Jim Hogg is not to be confused with a famous Texas sheriff known as “Big Jim” Hogg.  Information for this post principally was obtained from “Deem’s History of Butler County, Missouri” and the May 1973 issue of the “Ozark Beacon.”

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

William Fahle and “The Richest Little City in the World”

Teddy Roosevelt in Wallace, Idaho
Wallace has always been an Idaho town with big aspirations.  One mayor declared it “The Center of the Universe” and even today the municipal motto is “The Richest Little City in the World,” with mining as an economic engine.   William Fahle got rich by combining mining interests with serving the abundant liquor needs of Wallace and its surroundings.

Indicative of just how little has occurred in this town of currently fewer than 1,000 souls in the panhandle of Idaho is its annual civic celebration of the 1903 visit of President Theodore Roosevelt.  That seemingly would indicate it was the only time any notable stopped by. As Teddy was paraded in the rain down the main drag in a horse-drawn buggy, he undoubted was observed by Fahle, possibly in the doorway of one of the drinking establishments he operated in Wallace.
Thirsty Miners in Wallace

Fahle was of German ancestry and born about 1871. His birthplace is variously given; one record attributes Germany, another account says Missouri.  He appears to have arrived in Wallace in the late 1890s,  possibly drawn by the opportunities provided by mining.  In 1884, Colonel W. R. Wallace had been drawn to the area’s rich deposits of silver and gold. He purchased and developed 80 acres of land that eventually became the site of the City of Wallace and the seat of Shoshone County.  By 1887 downtown businesses were booming and mines were flourishing in the surrounding mountains.   Railroads brought in prospectors and miners, took out ore and put Wallace on the map. The locality became famous as the "Silver Capital of the World.”  Over 1.2 billion ounces of silver have been produced there since 1884, hence the title “Richest Little City.”

Fahle soon found that one opportunity to strike gold in Wallace was serving liquor to a thirsty population of miners who thronged to town on pay day.   He opened a saloon. In Fahle’s day everything was wide open.  Gambling and prostitution were thriving.  Not only did his saloon serve liquor over the counter, in a back room he was mixing up his own “rectified” brand of whiskey, selling it in gallon ceramic jugs and glass flasks. The latter he branded “Monogram Whiskey, A Blend.” Some of those bottles have survived showing Fahle’s highly elaborated labels in both red and gold.  The shape of the flasks also was notable and patented in 1898.  Fahle also was running a hotel, initially with a partner named Williams.  That establishment, of course, featured a saloon and like many Western saloonkeepers the partners issued tokens good for drinks at the bar.  The token shown here was worth 12 and 1/2 cents at the bar.

Meanwhile Fahle was having a personal life.  About 1909 he married Olive Leyde, known by family and friends as “Ollie.”  She was 16 years his junior, the daughter of Cyrus and Elizabeth (Clanton) Leyde.   Her father was a wealthy landowner from Morrow County, Oregon, who with his family had moved to Wallace where Olive met Fahle.  The couple would have one daughter, Irene.  Given the “fancy ladies” who frequented her husband’s establishments, Ollie must have been a broad minded woman.

In time the Williams & Fahle partnership was dissolved and Fahle went on to operate his own saloon, restaurant and hotel.  In 1890 a fire had wiped out the majority of the wooden buildings downtown. Persevering, townspeople rebuilt, this time with brick, stone and masonry.  Among the solid structures was Fahle’s hotel located on Cedar Street, the main drag of Wallace. In 1910  a giant forest fire roared through town but the hotel survived and is shown here as it looked in 1920.  Signs on the building advertised “Fahle’s Hotel,” “Gin Top Beer” and “Bull Durham.”  

As before,  Fahle issued bar tokens for his establishment. The one shown here was for five cents.  Although the advent of Prohibition meant that provision of alcohol in his hotel was done more discretely,  Fahle’s good times continue to roll even after the country went dry.  During the 1920s his hotel was the focus of a scandal when the Mayor of Wallace, Chief of Police, Shoshone County Sheriff and other officials were accused of corruption for letting the hostelry operate more or less openly as an illegal drinking establishment,  gambling den, and house of prostitution.  Those tribulations seemed to pass quickly in rowdy Wallace, however, and Fahle would own the hotel for decades to come.

Before, during and after Prohibition Fahle was dividing his attention to the mining sector which continued to be a vigorous industry in the Idaho panhandle and neighboring Montana.  A local paper in 1919 reported that Fahle had left for Lolo Springs near the Bitter Mountains to supervise work on a placer mining property that had been awarded him by the Supreme Court of Idaho.  The story noted that the ground “...Yielded much gold in the ‘60s and it is believed a rich return will be found in the gravel on the bedrock.”

In ensuing years reports of Fahle’s mining enterprises were numerous.  In 1920 he and three partners leased the Silverado mine near Osborne, Idaho, a well-developed property with thousands of feet of underground tunnels. The 1922 “Mines Handbook” recorded him as managing a placer mine
near the old camp of Moose City on the North Fork of the Clearwater River, 55 miles from Rivulet, Mineral County, Montana. 

Part of Fahle's Mining Empire

The Spokane Daily Chronicle subsequently noted that Fahle as president and manager of the Independence Placer Mining Company was about to leave for the site with the coming of warmer weather.  To reach the mine, described as in a “remote region,” it would be necessary for him to travel through Montana and cross the Bitter Root Mountains divide.  Given the burden of supplying the enterprises, Fahle was quick to see the benefit of the airplane and beginning in 1925 hired mountain pilots to transport supplies to his Moose City mine.  A landing strip was constructed there, he said, that:  ’Twas not so deep as a well or as wide as a church, but  ‘twas enough.”  As late as 1937, at age 66, Fahle was still adding to his mining empire.

With Repeal of Prohibition Fahle returned to serving alcohol openly at his Wallace hotel.  He also changed the decor.  During his years of traveling around Idaho, Montana and other parts of the West he had collected hundreds of artifacts from pioneer times,  called “curios” in those days.  He used them to decorate his bar which was tabbed an “oddity museum” and became an attraction for tourists venturing to Wallace.

By the time Fahle died it appears that his considerable fortune had dwindled.  In April 1949 Frank X. Wagner of Kalispell, Montana, who had been a brewmaster in Wallace, went to court to foreclose his mortgage on the Fahle Hotel.  He claimed that he had loaned $5,000 to its owner in return for a lien on the hotel, all its furnishings, the museum and other property.  The suit was filed against Fahle’s daughter Irene (now Rasmussen),  her husband, and other defendants.  Claims on the estate also were being made by other creditors and the Idaho Commissioner of Finance for unpaid taxes.

Fahle himself had been in the grave a year, dying in April 1948 at the age of 77.   His wife, Olive, had preceded him in death in 1937.  When he died, the town of Wallace still had much of the character of the Wild West that had greeted Fahle when he had arrived there about a half century before. As late as 1988 there were still four working bordellos in town and numerous bars. Today mining continues in the region but tourism has become a principal income producer.  The Fahle Hotel building still stands, part of the Historical District that encompasses most of downtown Wallace.  But the bar, the game tables and the women, even the museum, are long gone.  Known today as the Furst Building, the former Fahle Hotel houses nothing more exciting than a real estate company.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Alfred Norris: Eastern Aristocrat -- and the Bootlegger

Alfred E. Norris was a certified “blue blood,”  born to well-to-do parents, well educated, a member of Philadelphia’s most exclusive clubs, and listed in the city’s high society “Blue Book.”  He lived in a mansion home where he and family were waited on by four live-in servants.   What then was Norris doing consorting with the likes of Joel D. Kerper, one of Philadelphia’s most notorious bootleggers?  The answer, as will be seen, might be found in National Prohibition.

Norris was born in 1960, to a well established Pennsylvania family.  Apparently receiving some advanced education, while still in his early 20s he went to work with a successful Baltimore wholesale liquor dealer named Edward B. Bruce.  After a relatively short time, possibly with the help of family money, he went into the whiskey trade on his own behalf, establishing a Philadelphia enterprise he called “Alfred E. Norris & Company.”  It was located at 209 South Front Street .

Meanwhile Norris was having a personal life.  In the 1900 U.S. Census he was living with his 36-year-old wife, Marie, one child three years old, and four servants in a fancy Philadelphia neighborhood.  Now age 40, Alfred’s occupation was given as “liquor merchant.”  In the meantime his business had grown significantly.   Needing larger quarters Norris moved to 118 Walnut Street in 1893.  For a time he maintained a store at 13 Granite Street and a branch office in Boston, located in the Tremont Building.

In addition to being a liquor merchant Norris was a rectifier, that is blending and compounding his own whiskeys, bottling them with his own labels, and selling them to saloons and restaurants as well as to the retail pubic.  The need for a constant supply of raw liquor from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Kentucky distilleries put him in constant contact with producers.  Unlike other dealers of his time, Norris concentrated his brands on a handful of labels.   Most prominent among them were “Trooper” and “Trooper Old Blend Rye,” that he registered with the Patent and Trademark Office in 1898 and 1905, respectively.  Additionally, in 1912 he registered his own name as a brand.  His flagship label, however, was “Garrick Club,” a rye whiskey.  As an aristocrat might do, Norris named it after one of the oldest and most prestigious men’s clubs in London.  He registered the trademark in 1897.

The Philadelphian advertised Garrick Club vigorously in local and regional media.  Often his ads showed a well-dressed gent -- coat, vest and tie -- grinning in pleasure as he poured from a bottle of the whiskey into a small glass.  The character seems to be mouthing:  “The Best in the House.”  Lest the reader miss the message that this was a drink for the “carriage trade,”  the ad reminded that it could be asked for “at all good places.”

To make sure that those “good places” were stocking his liquor,  Norris provided an array of advertising giveaway items to saloons and other establishments.  Among them were wall signs and mirrors that featured the Garrick Club grinning drinker and the familiar slogan.  Nor could any whiskey wholesaler ignore the man behind the bar, a figure who was able to steer customers to a particular brand. To the “mixologists” Norris gifted an attractive pen knife with a tools of the bartender’s trade, as well as a advertising. corkscrew. A fairly unusual giveaway was a round box holding dice that could be set on the bar to roll for drinks.

Most impressive of all were the several back-of-the-bar bottles Norris provided to his favored customers.  Four are shown here.  The most eye-catching was a Garrick Club label-under-glass bottle that also bore the Norris trademark,  a regal crown hovering over a monogram of the owner’s name.  Other Garrick Club bottles were shaped as decanters and had fancy stoppers, some with etched gold labels. A fourth bore the name of the company.

Norris advertised vigorously. A trade publication in 1901 remarked that:  “The Garrick Club advertisement...herewith is pronounced even by temperance men to be the strongest whiskey ad that ever appeared in a newspaper.  It was run 100 lines across four columns (400 lines in all) in a recent issues of the Philadelphia Record.” He also was able to obtain endorsements from publications that aimed at doctors and their patients.  In 1886 a magazine called the “Medical Bulletin” opined that it believed Garrick Club “to be the purest whiskey in the market” and noted that its price was almost as low as inferior brands.
Vigorous merchandising and a talent for commerce advanced Norris to the top of the Philadelphia business community.  He became a member of the Philadelphia Club, described as:  “The oldest and most guarded of the city’s old-guard clubs....This is the hardest club in town to join, limited largely to old Philadelphia families."  Further proof of the whiskey man’s elite status included a New York Times report that Norris and his wife were among the guests at a yachting party from Newport, Rhode Island, that had cast anchor off the New York Yacht Club.  The Philadelphia “Blue Book” recorded the Norris family living on Chestnut Hill in a mansion they called “The Elms.”  By this time Alfred and Marie had five children, three boys and two girls.  All were living with them.

Alfred E. Norris & Co and its lucrative business came to a screeching halt in 1919 with the imposition of National Prohibition.  Norris and family then appear to have moved to New York City where one directory has them living on East 72nd Street in Manhattan.  A national directory of the “Best Families in America” listed him as  “New York stock broker and capitalist.”  Despite the loss of his “cash cow” liquor business, Norris was doing all right.

Enter Joel D. Kerper, widely known as the bootlegger who bottled illegal liquor for the Philadelphia elite.  In 1910 Kerper, a native of the city, listed his occupation as “manager - wholesale house.”  It is possible he was working for Norris. During Prohibition, with all alcohol sales banned, Kerper had a clandestine facility on Philadelphia’s Walnut Street that was well known to the city’s upper crust.  He also regularly was sending disguised shipments of liquor to the Maine summer homes of Philadelphia’s rich and powerful.

The bootlegger and Alfred Norris joined into a kind of partnership in which Norris, identified as a “Manhattan broker,” sent Kerper express shipments of high grade liquor masquerading as ink, paint, olive oil and other unremarkable commodities.  This scheme apparently was successful for years until 1929 as Hoover Administration officials began to crack down on illegal booze.  When Prohibition agents raided Kerper's place they found liquor and a customers' list that included the names of many socially prominent individuals.

U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell was the prosecutor in the government crackdown.   Norris and Kerper became opening test cases. In 1929 Norris was charged with conspiring to transport liquor, a federal offense punishable by a long prison sentence and a hefty fine.  It resulted from telephone orders he took from Kerper to initiate liquor shipments.  The story of the New York money man being caught in a scandal made Time magazine and newspaper headlines around the country.  According to one press account, a Federal District Court in New York City initially quashed the prosecution on the grounds that it had not been established that purchasing liquor was illegal.

But that was not the end of problems for Norris.  A second indictment came from a Federal grand jury for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  This time, apparently fearing conviction, Kerper pled guilty and was sentenced to 15 months in the Federal prison in Atlanta and given a $20,000 fine, ten times that in today’s dollar.  Norris pled “nolo contendre”  and was fined only $200, a much lighter sentence possibly because of his social standing. Subsequently Norris had second thoughts about this plea, perhaps concerned about its effects on his “Best Families” reputation  He appealed to the Circuit Court which agreed with him and reversed the judgment in his favor.

Dogged in pursuit of a conviction, Atty. Gen. Mitchell took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  There in May 1930 the Court let stand the original indictment. It said Norris’s “nolo contendre”  had “all the effect of a plea of guilty” and told him fork over the $200.  On the issue of whether Norris and Kerper were engaged in a “criminal conspiracy” -- Mitchell’s underlying reason for bringing the charges -- the Supremes refused to go along.  On that issue the High Court pointedly stated: “...We express no opinion.

At that point both Norris and Kerper fade into the mists of history.  It leaves open speculation about whether, when Prohibition shut down his company, Norris, in a spirit of rebellion or revenge,  quickly had made a deal with Kerper, now possibly unemployed, to keep a liquor business going.  Using his abundant contacts in the whiskey trade and among Philadelphia’s elite, Norris would do the procuring from New York and Kerper would do the selling in Philly.  Criminal or not, were the blue blood and the bootlegger involved in a conspiracy?  Attorney General Mitchell just might have been right.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ben Tillman and the South Carolina State Dispensary

"Pitchfork Ben" Tillman
When South Carolina has produced few, if any, notable whiskey men, why bring to attention Benjamin Ryan Tillman, noted for being a Southern racist politician?  Because Tillman, also known as “Pitchfork Ben,” was a major reason for the lack of such personalities. He engineered the only instance in American history that a state required all liquor sold within its borders to be bottled and dispensed through its own state-run facilities.

Today many states, including my home Commonwealth of Virginia, control liquor sales by employing state-run stores.  But many different brands of spirits grace the selves.  Tillman’s level of control went considerably beyond that.  Under his regime only one brand of beer, wine or whiskey could be sold in South Carolina and it had to be sold in a bottle authorized by the state.  The dispensing organization officially was called the “South Carolina State Dispensary.”  Many state residents referred to it as “Ben Tillman’s Baby.”

Tillman, of English descent, was born in August 1847 in Edgefield County in southeastern South Carolina not far from the Georgia line.  Although he showed early promise as a student, he left school at age 17 at the outbreak of the Civil War to join the Confederate Army.   Six days after enlisting, however, he suffered an infection that eventually required his left eye be removed.  As a result, he never fought for the Stars and Bars.

Nevertheless, he remained passionate for the Southern cause.  In 1876, Tillman came to statewide attention as the “Commander” of Edgefield County’s Sweetwater Sabre Club, a paramilitary unit dedicated to terrorizing Reconstruction officeholders, many of them African-Americans.  A biographer told the story: "The 29-year-old Tillman, with his red-shirted troopers, participated in the Hamburg Riot on July 8, an occasion marked by the murder of a number of black militiamen who had conducted a celebratory parade through the mostly black town of Hamburg, South Carolina, four days earlier. As Tillman himself would later put it, "The leading white men of Edgefield" had decided "to seize the first opportunity that the Negroes might offer them to provoke a riot and teach the Negroes a lesson" by "having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable." None of the perpetrators of the Hamburg murders were ever brought to justice."

Instrumental in helping restoring “white supremacy” in South Carolina, Tillman also has been credited with bringing more modern farm practices into the state.  He fostered agricultural education and led an organization called the South Carolina Farmers Association that helped catapult him into the governorship in 1890. Although he is given credit for establishing Clemson University, he also was behind a constitutional convention that disenfranchised the state’s blacks and instituted the Jim Crow laws.

Tillman also was pivotal on the issue of whiskey.  Prohibition forces were knocking at the door in South Carolina.  One prohibition bill in 1889 had only narrowly failed in 1889 in the South Carolina House and a second in 1990 passed there only to be defeated in the State Senate.  South Carolina stood on the threshold of going completely “dry.”  Enter Tillman backed by his farmer coalition.  He proposed a halfway solution.  The saloons would close along with all liquor dealerships but whiskey, wine and beer would still be available everywhere through a state dispensary system.

Just before Christmas in 1892, compliant legislators voted to establish the scheme, in part because some recognized the significant revenues (and possible opportunities for graft) it would generate when the only liquor that could be legally sold in South Carolina had to be purchased through a government bureaucracy.  The monopoly was all-encompassing.  Wholesale and retail sales of alcohol were controlled by a state board that at the outset consisted of Tillman, his attorney general and the state controller.  The Dispensary was led by a commissioner who was appointed by Tillman.  From the outset the Governor gave preference to buying supplies from local brewers and distillers, keenly aware that his farmer supporters were selling significant amounts of grain to them.  As shown here on a label, however, the Dispensary frequently had to go outside the state for supplies to thoroughly “wet” states like Maryland.

The South Carolina State Dispensary initially featured a single design on the jugs and bottles in which it sold its liquor.  It featured a palmetto tree, the state symbol.  The tree appeared on the label of ceramic jugs and on the embossing of glass bottles.  For the latter the tree had two crossed logs at the bottom of the trunk. They bore a resemblance to the crossed stripes on the Confederate battle flag.

Although South Carolina took no special pains to make containers attractive -- after all, they had no competition -- dispensary bottles have been avidly collected for their design and color as well as their historical significance.  Because of differences among glass manufacturers and small design nuances a number of varieties exist. Bottle collectors have provided highly detailed comparisons among various styles.  Prices for rarer items have risen steeply in recent years.

The palmetto design was featured for seven years, from 1893 to 1900.  A change was made reputedly because Prohibitionists objected to having such a prominent state symbol embossed on liquor containers.  The tree is part of the South Carolina flag.  The palmetto was replaced by an intertwining monogram of the letters “S,” “C,” and “D.”  Those too have been sought by collectors, although lacking the distinctiveness of the earlier versions.

Awash in money, the dispensary became so potent a political machine that it alarmed Progressive-era reformers as well as preachers and their flocks who wanted to ban alcohol completely.  There also were allegations of corruption.  The South Carolina Legislature  in 1904 passed a law that in effect gave counties the option to go “dry” and opt out of the dispensary system.  That was followed by a law in 1907 that abolished the State Dispensary entirely.  Jurisdictions wishing to remain “wet” were allowed to keep their county dispensaries.

By this time Tillman had moved onto the U.S. Senate.  He would be reelected three more times, holding the seat from 1895 to his death in 1918.  Known for his bombastic speeches on the Senate floor, he gained the nickname, “Pitchfork Ben,” after an 1896 address in which he announced his determination to go to Washington and stick a pitchfork into the rump of President Grover Cleveland -- a sizable target.  The South Carolina senator subsequently was barred from the White House.

In 1916 South Carolina voted the state completely “dry.”  The remaining country dispensaries, grown prosperous by their monopoly sales, were shut down.  That event marked the end of Tillman’s unique experiment in regulating the liquor trade though complete state control. It would also proved to be the last time any state would require that all forms of alcohol sold within its borders had to be bottled by its own officials and dispensed through its own stores.

Benjamin Ryan Tillman is buried in Ebenezer Cemetery at Trenton, Edgefield County, South Carolina.  His gravestone marks his service as Governor of South Carolina, United States Senator, Senate Chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs during World War One, and commends his record as “a life of service and achievements.”  Nowhere, does it mention that one of those achievements was the creation of the South Carolina State Dispensary, “Ben’s Baby.”

Friday, November 15, 2013

Texas Rangers and “The Favorite Saloon”

Ernest Schwethelm
For decades the men of the Schwethelm (pronounced “Sweet-helm”) family were virtually synonymous with the Texas Rangers. A background as a lawman subsequently gave Ernest Schwethelm important credentials for running saloons in the wild and violent Texas Hill Country.  Even a fellow Texas Ranger might find his demise in one of Schwethelm’s drinking establishments.

Ernest’s father, Henry Schwethelm, was born in Dusseldorf, Germany but at an early age with his family emigrated to Texas.  At 17 Henry joined Captain L. H. Nelson’s Texas Ranger Company stationed in San Antonio.  He moved on to serve with Capt. John W. Sansom’s company, headquartered in Kerrville, the seat of Kerr County. Both were named for James Kerr, a major in the Texas Revolution.

During the Civil War Henry, like many of this fellow Germans, was favorable to the Union.   He participated in an armed clash along the Nueces River with Confederate troops.  Many German Unionists died and the skirmish became known in Texas lore as “the Nueces Massacre.” Schwethelm is accounted one of two known survivors. Eventually he reached New Orleans and enlisted as a Union soldier.

Returning to Kerr County after the war’s end, Henry was reunited with his wife, Emilie Stieler of D’Hanis Texas, whom he had married in 1862.  For a time he settled down to the life of a  rancher.   Ernest, born in 1865, was the second of three Schwethelm sons. A few months after the war Reconstruction-era Texas Governor E. J. Davis appointed Henry as captain of his own
The Ranch Saloon
Texas Ranger company patrolling western Kerr County against cattle thieves.  Henry’s assignment ended eleven years later when his company was disbanded and he returned to full time ranching.

In time two of his sons would be recorded serving with the Texas Rangers,  including Ernest who is shown above at a San Antonio reunion of the Capt. J. H. Callahan Rangers.  During the late 1800s Ernest with a partner came to own and operate saloons in Kerrville.   Among his drinking establishments were the Ranch Saloon, located at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets, and The Favorite
The Favorite Saloon
Saloon at 709 Water.   Both were sturdy Italianate style buildings made of cut limestone and designed by the subsequently famous Texas architect, Alfred Giles.

The Ranch Saloon had a reputation for being a rowdy place and reputedly was the site of the murder of a Texas Ranger.  He was Tom Carson,  a tough, bad-tempered, and somewhat mysterious character.  About 1880, he was recorded as part of a small Ranger scouting party in the Fort Davis area looking for the perpetrators of a series of robberies.   Near del Norte they came across a gang of thieves carrying their loot toward Mexico.  In the firefight that ensued, a shot cut Carson’s hat brim and another passed under his leg, cutting his stirrup and wounding his horse.  Unfazed, he wounded one of the robbers and aided the killing and capturing of the band.  Carson reportedly was shot and killed in the Ranch Saloon in April 1893.  Details about the event and Carson’s assailant are sketchy.

No such violence was attached to Schwethelm’s Favorite Saloon. In addition to being a “watering hole” for thirsty ranchers and cowboys, this establishment also included a rectifying operation, taking a variety of whiskeys, blending them to taste, and selling them in gallon jugs like the one shown here.  Note that the label advertises that “mail orders a specialty.”  This indicates that Earnest was selling his whiskey via the post office or railroad express to the increasing number of “dry” counties around Texas.  As a place where whiskey also could be bought across the bar, the saloon issued metal tokens good for trade.

A major customer base  for both the Ranch and Favorite Saloons was produced by the ranch hands supplying the wool and fleece market that operated in Kerrville.  An early settler described the scene:  “The saloon belonged to Ernest Schwethelm....There was an open area, an entrance to the camp yard between the buildings and the river.  Here the freighters came in with the covered wagons full of wool and mohair....It was also convenient to the two large saloons downtown.” 

Wagons Heading to Kerrville

Meanwhile Ernest Schwethelm was having a personal life.  Married in the early 1890s, the 1910 Census found him living in Kerrville with his wife, Mary (Gruen), and two daughters.  They were Emilie, 15, and Mathilde, 13.  In March 1912 the aging Captain Henry Schwethelm and wife Emilie,  celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  A photo shows the couple seated beside a table on which sit gifts and mementoes.  Behind them are ranged their three sons.  Ernest is the one in the middle.  Captain Henry died in 1924;  Emilie in 1933.

In 1912, perhaps because of its reputation for mayhem, Ernest and his partner sold the Ranch Saloon but continued to operate The Favorite Saloon.  Prohibition forces, however, were closing in on the Texas liquor trade.  Temperance forces in 1908 and 1911 tried for a statewide prohibition law but lost the referendum by a close margin. At the same time, under “local option,” the number of dry counties surrounding Kerrville was increasing. All of North Texas was dry.  Only areas with relatively large concentrations of Germans, like Kerrville, or of Latinos continued to permit the liquor trade.  In 1913 the passage of the Webb-Kenyon Act by the U.S. Congress forbid mail order sales into “dry” areas, thereby eventually cutting off that business for Schwethelm.  In 1919 Texas voted a statewide ban on alcohol
The Saloon as Drug Store
and a year later National Prohibition went into effect.  The Favorite Saloon was summarily closed.

The subsequent life of the Schwethelms is not recorded in later Kerr County census data. Earnest died in 1935 and is buried in Glen Rest Cemetery, Kerrville, with his wife along side and his parents nearby.  The Favorite Saloon subsequently was turned to other uses.  A 1920s photo shows it on Kerrville's Water Street,  second building from the right, employed as a drug store.  A sign that likely once said “Saloon” now said “Soda.”  Today both the Favorite Saloon and Ranch Saloon buildings have been restored.  They are part of the Kerrville Historical District and standing reminders of a Texas Ranger veteran named Schwethelm who knew how to run a Texas saloon.