In this article, former Oklahoman reporter Jim Kyle continues sharing his recollections about Oklahoma and Oklahoma City history — see Part 1 for his first installment and click here for his third article about the Korean war.
This time, Jim describes how I came to be able to purchase, legally, the fine W.L. Wellers Kentucky bourbon whiskey that I enjoy today — but, of course, the story that Jim tells here is about much more than that.
In this piece, he recollects his late-1940s/mid-1950s personal experiences both before and during his time with the Oklahoman in this fascinating period of Oklahoma's, and Oklahoma City's, history.
INTRODUCTION. Following the April 22, 1889, Land Run, Oklahoma City, and probably Oklahoma Territory, generally, was wide open as far as liquor issues were concerned. The Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce's 1903 publication promoting the city to those outside of Oklahoma featured the city's whiskey wholesalers as well as the fine Southern Club.
About that establishment, the Chamber said,
METROPOLITAN in all things is Oklahoma City — in its professions, trades, commerce, arts, science, and last, but not least, its bar rooms. First and foremost among the elegant and high class resorts of this kind for the convenience of business men ranks the beautiful place of Barnes & Stout, known as the Southern Club Bar, at 28 West Grand Avenue. It was established February the first of the whole of a two-story and basement brick building twenty-five by one hundred and forty feet in dimensions.At that time, it is more than evident that the whiskey business, wholesale and retail, had the blessing of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, and probably of the city's elected leaders.
Ever since its inception this house has made a record for excellent management, superior quality of goods and eminent respectability, which have gained for it the large and popular patronage it enjoys. The apartments occupied are elegant and luxurious, the bar being carved and finished in mahogany. The floor is of tile, and the shelving handsomely fitted with large mirrors of French plate glass and handsome decorations, the finest glassware, and only the finest qualities of wines, liquors, whiskies, brandies, ale, mineral water and cigars are kept on hand. *** The firm [that owns the business] are members of our Chamber of Commerce, and are men of business ability and are prominent among those who promote our business interests as a city.
1906-1907 — The Drought Begins. All that would change if Oklahoma and Indian Territories wanted to become a state. Congress's 1906 Enabling Act authorizing the admission of Oklahoma and Indian Territories as a state came with strings and one of them was prohibition. The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture says, "Prohibition of the manufacture, sale, barter, or gift of liquor was mandated for twenty-one years, after which time the constitution could be amended for or against." The territories complied, adopted its constitution inclusive of prohibition, and Oklahoma was admitted to the Union on November 16, 1907.
That's pretty much where Jim's article begins with the rest of the story.
JIM KYLE'S ARTICLE. Below, enjoy the personal recollections of Jim Kyle before, during, and after the 1959 "Prairie Fire" campaign of Governor J. Howard Edmondson and his prohibition enforcement czar Joe Cannon.