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Part One of Two

As early as 1820, a groundswell of religious revivalism spread across the United States igniting calls for temperance and a ban on the sale of alcohol. Temperance societies, comprised mostly of women dependent upon their husbands for support, decried unbridled drinking, fearing it destroyed a man's character and ability to work. It brought abuse into the home, eroded family life, and led to poverty and crime.

By 1855, 13 states became dry under the "local option liquor laws" reinforced by the temperance movement and passed by state legislatures.

During the Civil War, most of these laws were repealed. The temperance movement was stonewalled and the consequences of drunkenness unabated.

But seeking temperance under the law became a benchmark for the national Prohibition Party, the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the anti-saloon League of America. Finding strength in numbers, they pushed for enactment of prohibition laws in every state — including Utah.

In 1903, saloon-wrecking temperance crusader Carrie A. Nation visited Salt Lake City prepared to address a Mormon Tabernacle audience. According to the April 4 Salt Lake Herald, Nation "mingled with the Saints and the unsaintly, but did not indulge in any of her cyclonic demonstrations."

Refused permission to speak at the conference — too many items were already packed on the schedule — Nation waited until afterward and spoke to anyone who would stay and listen.

"She declared that the Republicans were in the control of the saloons, but were not one whit worse than the Democrats who were discontented because they were not in control," the Herald wrote. "She said that she believed her calling of 'smashing' saloons was from God, and while the law prohibited her from continuing it, she felt it was right, nevertheless." Then, taking out little hatchets from a satchel, Nation offered them for sale. In 1909, Utah was among the few "saloon" states standing.

"The state legislature [had] considered two 'dry' bills, [but] one was killed by Republican senators, and the other, which passed legislature, was vetoed by Republican Gov. William Spry, " historian Allan Kent Powell wrote in "Decorated Beer Trucks in Salt Lake, 1913" published in the Utah History Encyclopedia.

Opposed to a statewide law prohibiting alcohol, in 1911 the Republicans did approve legislation that provided the local option to limit or end its sale. While rural towns like St. George went dry, Salt Lake City and Ogden chose to remain "wet."

A July 7 Washington County News editorial quickly chided The Salt Lake Tribune: "Let us inform the editor that neither he nor anyone else can come to any part of Dixie and purchase wine, either in five gallon or any other. No 'hypocrisy' about the people here in this matter. They are sincere in desiring the abolition of the liquor traffic."

Going dry on Oct. 2, within two months St. George found it nearly impossible to regulate the drinking habits of its citizens. After Thanksgiving, the newspaper reported, several youth sneaked a five-gallon cask of wine into the west side of town and got drunk. For whatever reason, an inebriated boy shot and injured one of his drinking buddies. Arrested and tried for drunkenness, the guilty youth was fined $7.

In "Prohibition Failed to Stop the Liquor Flow in Utah," historian W. Paul Reeve wrote that regulating alcohol in Moab was no easier. When the town's sheriff "seized about three quarts of whiskey and numerous empty kegs" in John Tescher's home, the illegal dealer was fined $250. Despite such foreshadowing, on Aug. 1, 1917, Utah became the 21st state to ban alcohol statewide.

"At the stroke of midnight last night," the Aug. 2 Salt Lake Tribune reported, "Old Man Booze died game — the 'spirit' of the west which he was, with his boots on."

Eileen Hallet Stone, author of "Hidden History of Utah," a compilation of her Living History columns in the Salt Lake Tribune, may be reached at Additional sources include W. Paul Reeve's online article in "History Blazer," February 1995.