OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Indian Territory was ‘dry.’

Oklahoma Territory was ‘wet.’

“And the Panhandle was sort of its own thing,” explains historian and curator Jim Meeks.

Public sentiment, at the time, varied depending on where a person might stand, either in the vicinity of teetotaling fighters like Carrie Nation or the crowd outside this saloon in El Reno.

The state was born dry, prohibition written into the Oklahoma Constitution.

But that hardly settled the matter as anyone can see in the exhibit Meeks put together at the Oklahoma History Center.

“We arranged these photos chronologically,” he points out.

For decades federal authorities like J.E. Brants and local deputies like Luther Bishop chased illegal moonshine operations.

Photo goes with story
Law enforcement officials who took on illegal moonshine operations.

Another agent named ‘Pussyfoot’ Johnson earned his nickname sneaking up on illegal bars.

“He was a noted ‘dry worker’ in Oklahoma,” Meeks explains.

Long after Prohibition was repealed federally in 1933, Oklahoma stayed dry and stayed on the chase.

It wasn’t until the last crackdown in the late 1950s, run by State Dept. of Public Safety official Joe Cannon, that Oklahoma voters finally decided to repeal their own prohibition and leave it up to each of the state’s 77 counties on how to handle it.

Meeks recalls his own family, “My parents would go out to dinner with friends, and my dad would take his little bottle in a velvet wrapper so if they were going to have a drink they could give it to the bartender.”

The ‘Cannon Raids’, as they were called, were a staple of early, local news broadcasts in those days.

The photos in this exhibit tell the same story of the problems caused by the substance itself and the illegal activity that followed.

Our own complicated relationship is on display and easy to compare with current headlines.

History repeats itself in pictures right before our very eyes.

The exhibit is called ‘Born Dry: Prohibition in Oklahoma’ and is on display inside the Chesapeake Event Center and Gallery through April 30, 2022.

For more information go the the History Center’s website, www.okhistory.org/historycenter/borndry.