On Monday, April 22, 1889, the day of what some called 'the greatest horse race in history', the great Oklahoma Land Run commenced at noon. Thousands (some have estimated as many as 20,000 or more) participated in a bid to 'stake' out a bit of land for themselves. Men and women made the run in wagons, on horseback, and train (traveling very slowly so as not to compete). That night, as hastily erected tents flapped in the southwest breeze, and campfires began to burn both the triumphs and the challenges of the great adventure struck home.
There was only one well, the water was a dirty stretch of river some distance to the south, and beside some half hearted creeks snaking through half dry shallow gulleys, it was dry. Now, foresighted business wheeler-dealers had seen this eventuality. They knew from business in Kansas, Texas, and all points of the compass that people need to eat, they need to drink, and they need something to do in those winding down of the day hours.
Now, in the 1940's there were collections of the memories of the pioneers of '89, and in these collections they will underscore that there was absolutely no liqueur in the area because it was illegal to have or sell such on federally controlled 'Indian Lands.' The exceptions were for medicinal purposes and the drug stores did a booming business selling that in the first fifteen months of Oklahoma City. Another little trick was the brewing of 'hop tea' that gave the flavor of alcohol without the buzz. Stories from the time period include tales of young folks slipping away from the dance chaperones to go to the drug store for 'medicine' (whiskey) or for 'hop tea' (beer).
The most compelling evidence that there was actually buying, selling and consuming of alcoholic beverages come from the presence of so many saloons in the infant city, the number of arrests for drunk and disorderly recorded in city papers during this 'dry spell', and the fact that local police officers and U.S. Marshal's were chasing down, closing up, and confiscating such goods right and left.
So, although it was illegal, it was apparently going on all around the region. The area may have been 'dry' on paper but you could say it was a 'wet kinda of dry.'
(Image: cMarilyn A. Hudson, 2013, image is a replica saloon from the Woodward, Oklahoma museum and is a fine example of the standard fixtures seen in most such establishments of the 1880-1910 era)