amid the skyscraper canyons of New York City in the waning days of
Prohibition, Lt. Col. Jasper Ewing Brady Sr. reflected on his days
as a young enlisted man on the Texas border.
Hoping to make a point about temperance movements, Brady wrote a letter
to the New York Herald Tribune on Oct. 26, 1933.
He had been in Co. D, 19th Infantry, he told the newspaper, when his
regiment got orders to relocate to Fort
Clark in 1889. By then, both sides of the Rio Grande had become
fairly tame in comparison to earlier days. While bandits and hostile
Indian incursions remained a mostly theoretical threat, the young
soldier soon learned that John Barleycorn posed a much greater danger
to soldiers and the civilians they were supposed to protect.
Las Moras Creek from Fort
Clark lay Brackettville,
seat of Kinney County.
Brady saw it as "a non-descript frontier town, ten miles from the
railroad…and about the worst place on the map."
In fairness to Brackettville,
any Texas town adjacent to a military post had no shortage of businesses
catering to thirsty, lonely soldiers. But being only half-a-day's
horseback ride from the border, it may have been a bit rowdier than
Saloons there did a flourishing business at every corner "and plenty
in between," as Brady wrote. "Dance halls, brothels… let your imagination
run riot and you may approximate what this town was in those hectic
The Blue Goose and Gray Mule dance halls stood out particularly in
the old soldier's memory. "There were several kinds of dances indulged
in that are not seen on stage or ballroom floor," he continued. "There
were cheap liquor, cards, all kinds of gambling, women and no legal
at these establishments ebbed and flowed with the Army's pay schedule.
As Brady remembered, soldiers got their money every three months --
$13 a month for privates, $15 for corporals, $18 for sergeants.
"The first day after our arrival at Clark
will linger in my memory as long as I shall live," he wrote. "It was
wild - not a revel, but an orgy, such as would have made Nero look
like a piker."
The next morning, Brady recalled, 110 soldiers woke up in the post
guardhouse "charged with every crime in the calendar, from drunkenness
and A.W.O.L. up to and including attempted murder." Three months later,
following the next payday, the military counted 112 of its own behind
Though the Army could not control free enterprise in Brackettville,
it could make it harder for soldiers to get booze on the military
reservation. Brady did not go into specifics, but either the post
commander or someone higher up decreed that the post trader's store,
which sold soldiers liquor, would be no more.
The Army set up a canteen for its soldiers so they could have a place
on post to drink beer and wine, though the hard stuff was banned.
A soldier could buy no more than five glasses of beer - "so light
it would not stand alone" - per day.
The elimination of readily available spirituous beverages on post
presumably went hand in hand with placing the saloons of Brackettville
off limits to soldiers, but Brady did not mention that in his letter.
He did say that the new canteen had been open only a month when the
next pay day rolled around.
"Here was the test and here is the answer," Brady wrote. "The day
following found 8 men out of 1100 confined in the guardhouse. The
next day there were 10, and the following one there were six. Never
were there over a dozen."
Looking back on the Fort
Clark cleanup, Brady characterized it as "the finest example of
controlled temperance I have ever seen."
When the New York daily published the old soldier's letter, America's
worst example of "controlled temperance" was nearing its end. National
prohibition, in effect since Jan. 16, 1920, ended in 1933 when Utah
became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment repealing prohibition.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" February
16, 2006 column