In December 1918, Nevada’s Supreme Court certified the state’s vote and prohibition became Nevada law as of midnight on Dec. 17, 1918.
As a result, the state went dry a month before the 36th state ratified the 18th Amendment on January 16, 1919.
Author Harold Smith wrote in the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly in 1976, “Early Nevada legislatures regarded liquor, at least from a legislative standpoint, as a means of revenue. They established a system with few restrictions. Saloons and liquor traffic became an accepted part of the social fabric, especially in mining areas. Mark Twain, writing about life in the late nineteenth century, said:
In Nevada for a time, the lawyer, the editor, the banker, the chief desperado, the chief gambler, and the saloon-keeper, occupied the same level in society, and it was the highest. The cheapest and easiest way to become an influential man and be looked up to by the community at large, was to stand behind a bar, wear a cluster-diamond pin, and sell whiskey. I am not sure but that the saloon-keeper held a shade higher rank than any other member of society.”
Concerning life in the mining area of Virginia City, Twain wrote:
“There were military companies, fire companies, brass bands, banks, hotels, theaters, ‘Hurdy gurdy houses,’ wide-open gambling places, political pow-wows, civic processions, street fights, murders, inquests, riots, a whiskey mill every fifteen steps, …and some talk of building a church …
Twain’s description may be exaggerated, but it does illustrate the importance of liquor in contemporary social life.”
However, by the early 20th century attitudes had greatly changed and prohibition, discussed and passed by Congress, was to take effect in 1920, and began even earlier in Nevada.
The people of Eureka County were to be affected as well.
The Eureka Sentinel of Jan. 4, 1919, carried this story on the front page:
STATE POLICE WILL ENFORCE NEW PROHIBITION LAW.
Co-operation to be had by federal authorities at the border line.
“In speaking of the new Prohibition law the other day to a representative of the Carson News, Warden Hendricks, Captain of the Nevada State Police said: “It is my intention to follow the law. Snapshot judgment is not going to be a feature, but where the cases are plain and the law has been violated, the consequences will be provided in the statute.”
Hendricks said later in the article, “From what I have gleaned from the border States they will undoubtedly co-operate with Nevada in the strict enforcement of the bootlegging end of this work….” The citizen of Nevada is not a law breaker and the chances are that we will have more trouble from those outside the State than the home guard.”
Of course, everyone knows how it all worked out right from the beginning until Prohibition was repealed on Dec. 5, 1933, the cure was worse than the disease.
After the Volstead Act took effect nationwide in 1920, seldom has a law been more flagrantly violated. Not only did Americans, many in Eureka County and Nevada, too, began regularly and unremorsefully to violate the law, but they enjoyed it.
Alcohol not only continued to be produced, but more of it. Women, to whom the saloon had been off limits, trooped into Prohibition’s invention, the speak-easy, in whatever size town or city one might be located, where they learned to consume another of Prohibition’s inventions, the cocktail.
Hundreds of ships were anchored just beyond the three mile limit along both the east and west coasts dispensing liquor to anyone to come out by rowboat, skiff or speedboat.
And good ol’ American ingenuity knew no bounds during Prohibition as people sought ways to tote liquor around without getting arrested.
And it all started a year early in Nevada, Jan. 16. 1919.