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Baskin-McGregor Act

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
In some ways, the Wild West died in Texas in 1907 with the passage of a piece of legislation called the Baskin-McGregor Act.

Little known today, an Internet search shows only three references to the act in all the World Wide Web.

"The drouth [sic] has begun," the Amarillo Weekly Herald mourned when the law went into effect on July 18, 1907. But the drought had very little to do with any shortage of water, except for those who preferred a little branch water with their whiskey.

Passed by the 30th Legislature early in the administration of Gov. Thomas M. Campbell, the Baskin-McGregor Act profoundly affected what the new law referred to as the "drinking public." Not to mention the purveyors of booze.

The act mandated that:
  • Saloons close at midnight and on Sundays
  • Neither prostitutes nor "lewd women" could enter a saloon or stay there if they did
  • Women could not work as a "servant, bartender or waitress" in a saloon
  • Pianos, organs or other musical instruments could not be played in saloons
  • No games prohibited by law would be allowed (to put it plainer, no gambling)
  • Sparring, boxing, wrestling, cock fights or any other exhibition or contests" be prohibited in saloons

    In other words, very little that had previously been associated with saloons in wild and wooly Texas remained legal. Prostitution and gambling had never been legal, of course, but this new law amounted to major party pooping.

    To add insult to injury to the alcohol industry in the state, the new law required bar owners to pony up an annual license fee of $375.

    As former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms special agent Bob Alexander wrote in his biography of John H. Behan, "Sacrificed Sheriff" (Silver City, NM: High-Lonesome Books, 2002), "Clearly, the saloon owners and their customers were displeased, while others saw Baskin-McGregor as a long over-due opportunity to 'clean up' the state."

    Indeed, saloon owners, their dice-throwing or garter-displaying sub-contractors and a loyal patrons did not see the new legislation in quite as favorable a light as preachers and assorted anti-saloon, anti-drinking "do-gooders."

    The legislation passed in Austin, where many a lawmaker ran tabs in local watering holes and could count on a warm, first-name greeting in the red light district along Second Street, did not stop drinking, gambling and prostitution in the Lone Star State. But it sure crimped quite a few folks' lifestyles.

    The new law also heated up local politics across the state, with candidates often dividing on their enthusiasm for local enforcement of the measure. Resulting tensions were enough to drive a man to drink.

    Sensing that, one beverage distributor in El Paso published this timely newspaper advertisement:

    "For a politician's nerves, after a strenuous day's work, nothing is better than a bottle of Miller's 'High Life' beer. We personally recommend it. Carr-Bass Liquor Co."

    Years later, following Prohibition and then the private club era, it once again would become possible to buy a mixed drink in Texas on any day of the week, but the Baskin-McGregor Act marked the end of a rough and tumble era in the Lone Star State.



    Mike Cox January 23, 2007 column
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