The Drinks are on Me!
Politics and Booze Didn't Mix in 1885

    It was a sad day for Elko's drinkers in 1885 when the state legislature passed an anti-treating law that made it illegal for anyone to buy a drink for a friend or fellow drunk. The bill included liquor, wine, beer, and hard cider.
    One editor remarked, "This will not be popular in the Sagebrush State where everyone has a chronic thirst."
    It started as a joke, a practice our state representatives engage in from time to time. The Carson City WCTU drew up the bill and asked several lawmakers to introduce it. All refused to touch the thing with a proverbial "ten-foot" pole except Elko County Assemblyman Bob Hamill, a practical joker with considerable reputation. For you youngsters, WCTU was the Women's Christian Temperance Union which meant they were against drinking alcohol in any form. One wonders if those same women used patent medicines. In those days, most over the counter cures and tonics contained about twenty-five percent alcohol.
    The legislature treated the bill as a joke and, just for the heck of it, passed it and sent it to the governor for his signature. Governor Jewett W. Adams, being of sound mind, knew it he signed it into law he would lose support of hard alcohol interests and the majority of men in the state. If he vetoed it he would lose the votes of the fairer sex (as they were called in those days). Being honest and conscientious, he left for a concert in San Francisco, leaving the matter in the capable hands of Lieutenant Governor Charles W. Laughton who did nothing and allowed it to pass by default.
 Political cartoon.   In retaliation, liquor interests met in a convention and began a black list. The first names on the document were the legislators who voted for passage. For good measure, the names of the governor and lieutenant governor were added. They vowed to organize against the enemies of the saloon men of Nevada at the polls come election time.
    Only two of Elko County's five incumbents were reelected two years later. Governor Adams lost his bid for a second term as did Lieutenant Governor Laughton. In the Assembly, only ten percent of the incumbents were reelected. Did the anti-treating law spell their downfall? I'm willing to bet it did.
    Think what that law would do to the gaming industry today and the practice of plying gamblers with free booze to loosen their purse strings. 

Source: Sagebrush Saga by Lester Millsand Political History of Nevada 1996 issued by Dean Heller, Secretary of State of Nevada.

Howard Hickson

©Copyright 2001 by Howard Hickson. Permission to use is given but, if any portion or all of this article is quoted, proper credit must be given.

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