#Lookback: Prohibition in Fremont County

    A County 10 series in partnership with the Fremont County Museum System
    where we take a #Lookback at the stories and history of our community and
    presented by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

    Wyoming became a dry state in 1918 by a huge majority vote a full year before the 18th
    amendment to the U.S. constitution passed and made alcohol illegal in the United
    States. The fact that women’s suffrage was legal in Wyoming may have played a part
    in this majority vote. The Eighteenth Amendment passed in 1920 and made it illegal to
    manufacture, sell or transport alcoholic beverages in the U.S, but bootleggers continued
    to distill alcohol in Fremont county throughout the 1920s and the early 1930s.
    Newspaper articles from the time describe raids in Hudson, Shoshoni, Lander and
    Riverton, and Lysite.

    According to one newspaper article, a large raid went down in Hudson in 1927. Hudson
    was a hardworking, possibly hard-drinking coal mining town at that time. The coal
    mining was starting to wind down in Hudson.

    Quoting from the newspaper article, “Deputy Thompson had been on the watch for
    some time and Sunday night he laid out to see the operations recognizing men from
    Lander, Riverton and Shoshoni coming for liquor and gaining much interesting
    information in the prosecution of further violations of the law.”

    “Three home distilleries were discovered on Sunday. At Peter Jeniro’s place, they
    found a 50 gallon still in the garage with 7 barrels of mash with a coil and stove ready to
    operate. No alcohol was found but 32 empty sugar sacks were discovered.”
    “Tony Ocha had his 30 gallon still in the cellar of his residence. Four barrels of mash
    and two quarts of alcohol were taken.”

    “Carnelo Rotolo operated at home also and a 40 gallon still and 5 barrels of mash were
    found in an outbuilding at the rear of the lot. Indications showed that there should have
    been liquor about the place but a strict search proved fruitless until one of the officers
    noticed the end of a pipe corked with the top flush with the floor. This was located under
    the sink and not easily observed. Knowing this pipe must lead somewhere they made
    for the cellar and found nothing. The walls were solid and there was no container
    anywhere. Starting to dig outside the wall there was no evidence until they got down a
    reasonable depth where there was a barrel. Going back to the cellar and working on the
    wall they found a secret slide which revealed a faucet. The barrel was full and the 50
    gallons of liquor made the biggest haul of the night.”

    In May 1922, thirteen men were arrested on bootlegging charges during a two-day
    period in Riverton and Hudson. More arrests were expected soon.

    In June of 1927, a well-known Hudson operator escaped arrest by using a long tunnel
    from a cabin nine miles north of Riverton, but inside the cabin officers found 2000
    gallons of mash and a 100 gallon still. One hundred and twenty gallons of whiskey was
    found buried in the creek bed in 10 gallon kegs. Hudson was evidently a hub of
    bootlegging activity. Some distillery operators burned old tires to mask the aroma of a
    functioning distillery. Rotolo, whose operation was discovered in 1927 was a World War
    One veteran and worked as a coal miner. He later served in World War Two. He lived
    in Hudson until the 1950s. Does anyone remember where his house was located? The
    census shows no street address for Rotolo in the 1930s.

    The Union Bar was raided by the sheriff and Frank Ninkovitch was arrested in 1924. He
    had twice been arrested on similar charges, but returned to his illicit liquor business as
    soon as he was released.

    In December of 1921, raids were made in Lander. Officers expected to seize 200
    gallons of moonshine. A brakeman for Chicago & Northwestern railroad possessed 3
    gallons of hootch described as “walk a block and fall liquid.” Parts of a still were found at
    Jason Witson’s place. Charges were brought against the Noble Hotel company and
    H.G. Bizzell, the proprietor of the Noble Hotel Drug store.

    Bizzell was selling large quantities of tincture of orange and other patent medicines with
    high alcohol contents. Federal law allowed the sale of these medicines, but state law
    made no exceptions for such medications. Bizzell was ordered to destroy his inventory,
    but escaped further penalties.

    Law enforcement conducted a raid in Lysite in 1924. Fourteen men and women were
    detained and several gallons of liquor was seized. A dance floor had been constructed
    in a ravine just out of sight of the rail line and was evidently a place to drink and party
    and indulge in other adult vices.

    Sheriff Burch made a raid in Shoshoni in 1921 where 25 people were arrested.
    Gambling paraphernalia, which included roulette wheels and tables, commercial slot
    machines, playing cards and two grain sacks full of poker chips were confiscated and
    shipped to Lander by train filling one end of a freight car. Among those caught up in this
    dragnet was the town marshall of Shoshoni and several businessmen. Probably, many
    more residents of Shoshoni were involved than were actually arrested.

    Fines collected for these violations and other liquor offenses padded the county’s
    bottom line.

    When arrests were made evidence was collected, which included bottles and kegs of
    alcohol and pieces of stills were sent to Lander to be stored in the courthouse.

    In May of 1929, District Court Judge R.H. Fourth ordered the destruction of liquor-
    making paraphernalia and large quantities of finished product in the county’s
    possession. Thousands of bottles, fruit jars and kegs of alcohol were destroyed behind
    the courthouse. It took two hours to smash the alcohol containers, and fumes of alcohol
    filled the air. Chickens in a nearby enclosure felt the effects of the alcohol fumes and
    stumbled about their coops.

    Prohibition was repealed in 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment.
    The Eighteenth Amendment had been an unpopular failed attempt to control adult
    behavior. Many people were arrested for defying the law, before the government and
    the voters gave up and passed the 21st amendment which repealed prohibition.

    Next up for the Fremont County Museum
    October 2- November 15, 9-5 at the Pioneer Museum, “Grounded: A Contemporary
    Exhibition of Art from Northern Plains Tribes”
    November 15-October 2022 at the Pioneer Museum, “Wind River Memories: Artists of
    the Lander Valley and Beyond” art exhibition
    December 3, 10-1pm at the Dubois Museum, “Dubois Museum Holiday Open House”
    December 10, 10-4pm at the Riverton Museum, “Christmas Open House”
    December 10, 2-4pm at the Riverton Museum, “Santa’s Workshop” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop
    Children’s Exploration Series Program
    December 17, 2-4pm at the Pioneer Museum in Lander, “Old Fashioned Christmas
    Open House” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series Program

    Call the Dubois Museum 1-307-455-2284, the Pioneer Museum 1-307-332-3339 or the
    Riverton Museum 1-307-856-2665 for detail regarding their programs.

    The Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation has been created to specifically benefit
    The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum.  The
    WRCCF will help deliver the long term financial support our museums need to flourish.
     In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on
    donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections
    management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four
    years.  Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the
    benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Wind River Cultural

    Centers Foundation at PO Box 1863 Lander, WY 82520 or taking it directly to the
    museum you choose to support.

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