On Jan. 16, 1919, Congress passed the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States and its possessions. But it was left to the Volstead Act, passed on Oct. 29,1919 which established the legal definition of intoxicating liquor, as well as penalties for producing it, according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Utah had acted even quicker than the federal government, passing statewide prohibition in 1917, according to an article written by W. Paul Reeve and published on the Utah History to Go website.
Many small towns had also “adopted their own anti-prohibition laws. On Oct. 21, 1911, St. George passed an ordinance prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. Yet, as St. George and other communities found, regulating people’s drinking habits was no easy task,” Reeve states.
As in other parts of the country, “bootlegging became a way of life,” for some Southern Utah residents, and a “way of making a livelihood in an almost isolated, impoverished area of the state,” according to Bernice Bradshaw, who wrote a research paper entitled, “Bootlegging in Utah’s Dixie,” on May 28, 1984 for Dixie College English Professor Edna Gregerson.
At the beginning of prohibition, “Many of the people in the towns of Utah’s Dixie were still making wine at the beginning of prohibition. Some individuals still had grapes, and winemaking was their way of life, and it was their main income,” Bradshaw states, based on interviews with Darwin Slack of Hurricane, John Winder of Springdale and Art Rogers of the St. George Fields.
As it became harder to make a living, these bootleggers began making more wine, it became a dependable trading item.
Based on her interviews of these three individuals, Bradshaw learned that each individual had their own way of hiding the wine from law enforcement authorities.
Typically, they hired young boys to “come and pick the grapes at night, by moonlight, and then they would crush it into juices. During the same night they put the juices into barrels and hid the wine away before anyone knew what they were doing,” Bradshaw states, based on a May 3, 1984 interview with E.J. Graff.
Art Rogers, a dairy farmer in the St. George Fields, told Bradshaw that the bootlegged wine was sold to guests in hotels in Washington County. Customers could typically buy liquor in stores in the form of Walkings Lemon, Jamico Ginger and Kanab Vanilla. People could also buy wine in the form of a tonic at a drug store, she stated.
“During the prohibition there wasn’t a town in Utah’s Dixie that didn’t have someone making and selling wine; in fact, the little town of Virgin was known as the place one could get a drink at almost any home,” according to Bradshaw.
Bradshaw also noted that with discovery of oil near Virgin, a new boom at Silver Reef and construction of the tunnel at Zion National Park, many outsiders wanted wine and the bootleggers were happy to oblige the demand.
While local law officers arrested bootleggers, few bootleggers had the money to pay the fines, so most cases were dropped, Bradshaw states.
“By the end of Prohibition, in 1933, 35 percent of Utah’s working force was out of work, Bradshaw quotes S. George Ellsworth in a 1980 edition of Collier’s Encyclopedia. “Even with the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933, individuals still made wine, but now they could store 30 to 50 gallons of wine for their own use,” Bradshaw adds.
With the advent of World War II, large wine producers were able to ship wine quicker and more efficiently, which prompted most individuals in Utah’s Dixie to stop producing wine, she states.
So it wasn’t long after the 21st Amendment was passed (repealing the 18th Amendment) that one of the first saloons to open in St. George was “The Big Mug,” which located next to the J.C. Penny Store, according to “Reminiscences of St. George,” published Oct. 23, 1983 in Spectrum newspaper, and quoted by Bradshaw.
I remember as a young college student growing up in St. George, I hauled hay for several years for dairy farmer Art Rogers and I never knew about his wine making activities.
It wasn’t until I was interviewing his son Dennis Rogers in June 2002 about Art’s dairy farm that I learned Art had stored in his cellar, “barrels of homemade Dixie wine, made from numerous fermented grapes he raised on the farm.”