At midnight on July 1, 1919, Wyoming went dry. It became illegal to sell, transport or purchase alcohol. This was even before the ratification of the 18th Amendment which enacted nationwide prohibition.
The planned closure of the 20 saloons (another source said 21) in Sheridan at midnight on Tuesday, July 1, posed a grave problem for the Sheridan citizenry — that was, what to do with the hundreds of gallons of booze in stock? The answer was pretty simple. Use it or lose it! The local newspapers added to the frenzy. One declared on June 29 that, “only one day remains upon which hooch can be guzzled openly and legally,” and “bottles, jugs and even barrels were leaving the saloons yesterday at both doors.”
Several people made gallant efforts to drink the saloons dry and got a jump on the process. The Saturday before, 23 “drunks” were thrown into the city jail. The judge declared they would be released from incarceration after the saloons were closed.
The real party started the evening of the planned closure when all but seven saloons sold out of their supplies well before midnight. The streets teemed with people from the city and county and Montana residents took advantage of the party scene as well. All of these people, according to reports, “spent the greater part of the night in revel, the likes of which has never been seen before. Not only men, but young boys and even women were amongst the carousers.”
All the booze was not consumed on site as, according to The Sheridan Enterprise, “Any number made repeated trips with arms filled with packages that were faintly disguised in newspapers.”
And then the hour of midnight struck. There was “… a general scramble for the streets as doors were locked. Wild howls rent the air, but not many went home until the sun began appearing.” The next morning the saloons appeared deserted and some “drunks” were seen on the streets but most of them sobered up or left the street.
There were only two fights reported during the festivities. One man got cut with a beer bottle and another man was charged with drawing a gun. Both culprits went to jail to be dealt with by the judge.
The day after The Sheridan Enterprise headlined the night’s community carousel with a long headline: “Sheridan Is Dry Today But It Has A Headache After Night Of Carousing In Farewell To Old Jawn B.” (Note: John Barleycorn). As he promised, Police Judge Byrd “cleaned out the city jail of all drunks and gave them a new start.”
So, after the great party, what happened to the abandoned saloons? Three years later The Sheridan Enterprise reported that they had been turned into five pool halls, two soft drink parlors, a clothing store, music store, restaurant, sewing machine shop, candy kitchen, drug store, shining parlor, auto line office, electric company store, grocery store and a sporting goods shop. One old saloon building became a residence, one was burned down in a Main Street fire and the other was torn down to make room for a new city block.
And what about alcohol? Did people stop imbibing after the great headache on the eve of prohibition in Sheridan? Hardly. In 1923, the chief of police, O. H. Pointer, estimated that between 175 and 200 bootleggers were arrested in the four years that Sheridan had been dry. It was estimated that since the city had a population of about 10,000, this would mean that one resident out of every 50 had been arrested for bootlegging — and those were just the ones that got caught.
Prohibition ended on Dec. 5, 1933, when the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment, was ratified by the states. Wyoming voted to ratify the appeal on May 25, 1933. The gradual dissolution of prohibition was a fairly quiet affair over a period of time. The Sheridan Brewery was allowed to reopen its doors on June 15, 1933, but there is no report the event caused a community headache.
Tom Ringley was re-elected as a county commissioner in 2012. He is the author of four books. Ringley grew up in Sheridan and returned home in 1990 after 27 years as an Air Force officer. He has been involved with the local hospital foundation, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo and has been the facilities director at the county fairgrounds.