“So Logical to Us”: Donna Krulitz Smith’s Account of the Complex and Compelling Story of the Prohibition Experience in Northern Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Mining District

A superb 2004 master’s thesis completed in the University of Idaho’s history department by Donna Krulitz Smith examines how prohibition – first at the statewide level, imposed on January 1, 1916, and later, nationwide prohibition, imposed on January 17, 1920 – played out in the rough-and-ready environs of the Coeur d’Alene Mining District of Idaho’s northern panhandle.(1) The core sections of Smith’s narrative tell the story of two important trials.  The first prosecuted town officials and other involved parties from Mullan, a village just six miles west of the Idaho-Montana border; the second prosecuted a like group of defendants from Wallace, Shoshone County’s county seat, six miles west of Mullan on U.S. Hwy 10 (now Interstate-90).  Both sets of city leaders were accused of condoning, protecting, and illegally benefiting from illicit liquor trade during prohibition.  An alleged conspiracy conducted by these defendants imposed illegal taxes, fines, or fees on bogus “soft drink” establishments and other alcohol-vending businesses, including the district’s ample supply of sporting houses.  But there was an important twist to the story:  The tribute system in Mullan and Wallace – unlike the sprawling graft and corruption schemes spawned by prohibition in the nation’s large urban centers – did not find municipal officials personally profiting from the arrangement.  Instead, all revenue thus derived went straight into the two cities’ respective treasuries.

Satirical cartoon published June 4, 1921 after discovery of still in local mine, from Smith (2004)

Town leadership saw the tribute system they erected as a workable device for resolving three key structural problems:  First, there was the problem of insufficient sources of municipal revenue.  Second, there was the problem of the inevitability of a brisk alcohol trade in town continuing during prohibition, driven by the district’s large corps of work-parched, hardrock silver and lead miners.  Third, there was the problem of the ongoing police-related, court-related, and other municipal costs associated with, and amplified by, the presence of so large a population of young, unattached, and high-spirited men within the city limits.  City leadership figured that so long as no one profited personally from their specially crafted tribute mechanism – which came to be termed the “license by fine” system – their approach represented a workable (albeit somewhat risky) exercise in administrative and fiscal realism.  The absence of personal profit made all the difference, as that factor allowed for the engagement of the tacit support of most townspeople — who by-and-large shared the view that the system made the best of an awkward and difficult situation.  Indeed, townsfolk rallied to the aid of their officials when those charged with federal liquor trafficking violations went to trial and, thereafter, helped support the families of convicted defendants when the latter were carted off to federal prison to serve their terms. Continue reading →

This is Your Brain on Art House

When I’ve asked my students over the last couple of years what drug films they’ve seen, I’ve been surprised to hear Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000) cited far more than any other film. I already had a sense of Requiem’s expanding audience since its limited theatrical release in 2000. It quickly joined its source material, Hubert Selby Jr.’s 1978 novel of the same name, as a cult favorite. (Selby co-wrote the screenplay and appears briefly in the film.) Users at film websites rave about it. Youtubers play around with its visuals and its score. List makers call it an all-time great drug film. There’s even a puppet version which, forgive me, will serve here as a synopsis.

But what surprised me was its popularity among adolescents. Among my students, even those who had not seen it knew classmates in high school who had watched it together and who had urged them to check it out. It seems that Requiem’s burgeoning status as a cult favorite encompasses not only a reputation among adult film enthusiasts, but also word-of-mouth circulation among audiences who may or may not have permission to watch its “unrated” content.

By contrast, Steven Soderbergh’s drug film Traffic came out in wide release the same year, to massive critical and commercial success, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone under the age of twenty-five today who has seen it outside of class. Not for nothing this similarity, though: in both Requiem for a Dream and Traffic, knockout punches on the perils of addiction come in graphic scenes of upper-middle-class white girls being held in sexual captivity by black beasts. The question that inevitably arises about drug films is their relationship to the historical exploitation genre, in which an ostensibly anti-drug message serves as cover for lurid entertainment. Many viewers describe it exactly in those two registers: as an intoxicating sensory experience and a powerful Just Say No polemic. I think it would be unfair, based on this reception dynamic, to reduce the intensely wrought Requiem to the status of, say, a Reefer Madness. But the film’s drug content does, in a perhaps more interesting way, come from that era.  Continue reading →

Dry Pushback Against Mann’s Alcoholism Movement and Robert King Merton’s Manifest and Latent Functions: A Perplexing Combination

Cross’s church in Berkeley

My thinking on this post started off in one direction and then suddenly veered into another direction entirely.  As you’ll see.

My original plan was simply to recount a triangular correspondence involving Laurance L. Cross, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Marty Mann that occurred in 1947. 

Their letters to one another captured a telling instance of pushback against Mann’s then-fledgling alcoholism-is-a-disease campaign from a disgruntled dry. 

Laurance L. Cross was pastor of the Northbrae Community Church in Berkeley, California and, from 1947 to 1955, that city’s mayor as well; he was also apparently a staunch and diehard dry sympathizer and as well (sans any hint of mutatis mutandis) chair of the local unit of Mann’s National Committee for Education on Alcoholism (NCEA).  

Harry Emerson Fosdick was a nationally prominent Protestant theologian.  His controversial advocacy of a modernist position on biblical interpretation landed him on the cover of Time magazine in 1930.  Fosdick was also a member of Mann’s organization’s advisory board and as well brother of Raymond Fosdick, chief of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s philanthropic establishment.   According to Wikipedia, H.E. Fosdick’s 1939 favorable review of  Alcoholics Anonymous (i.e., “The Big Book”) is still regarded in that fraternity as “significant in the development of the AA movement.”  Continue reading →

Myths of Mexico: The U.S. Media’s Simplistic Depiction of the “Drug War”

Editor’s Note: Guest blogging at Points today is Michelle García, journalist, film maker, and the co-founder and director of the Border Mobile Journalism Collective, a citizen journalism video project on the U.S.-Mexico border created in collaboration with the National Black Programming Consortium.  She recently completed “Against Mexico— The Making of  Heroes and Enemies,” a documentary film for PBS (view the trailer here), and is at work on a book about masculinity and the U.S. Mexico border.  Her post today originally appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Biography of a "Bandit": Elliott Young's 2004 Study of Garza

IN 1891, MY GREAT-GREAT-UNCLE, CATARINO GARZA, ATTEMPTED TO OVERTHROW the Mexican dictator, Porfirio Díaz, by launching an armed revolution from my family’s south Texas ranch. One year into his campaign, Garza agreed to an interview with The New York Times to explain the reasons behind his insurrection. “The impression prevails that I and my followers are simply an organized band of border ruffians,” Garza told the reporter. “As nothing can be further from the truth, I rely on you to do me justice.”

Journalists of that era who covered the new and largely unknown southern territory drew heavily on U.S. military reports, which viewed Mexico through the prism of expansionism. The United States, eager to protect trade with Mexico and secure its new frontier, came to Diaz’s defense and deployed the Army, the Texas Rangers, and other law enforcement outfits to join Mexican federates in hunting Garza down. And on the front page of the Times, in keeping with the label assigned to Garza by the U.S. and Mexican governments, Garza was branded a “bandit.”

In Garza’s day, American press coverage of Mexico paid scant attention to the fledgling nation’s internal political dynamics or the views of its population at large. More than a century later, this remains too often true, as the story of Mexico in the U.S. press is mostly a one-dimensional account of the horrible “drug war.” I am no apologist for drug cartels, and I don’t place the revolutionaries of old on equal footing with drug kingpins. Rather, I detect enduring assumptions that govern our coverage of Mexico — what’s perceived as good for the U.S. is portrayed as good for Mexico. To wit, if the U.S. interest is clamping down on the supply of drugs reaching American streets and nightclubs, then calling out the military is a wise policy decision for Mexico. Such a simplistic calculus ignores the fact that narco-trafficking is a firmly entrenched and complex organism that exists for a range of economic, social, and political reasons. Continue reading →

Freaky Friday: *Go Ask Alice* Forty Years Later

Editor’s Note: Former Contributing Editor, now Esteemed Guest Blogger Brian Herrera reminds us all what to do when logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.  His meditation is cross-posted from his Performations blog.

Anonymous was a Woman (Named Beatrice Sparks)

Forty years ago, Go Ask Alice was published.  In the intervening years, it has remained in print and on library shelves, garnering new readers while also sustaining the notoriety that has followed it since its initial publication. Indeed, in each of the past two decades, Go Ask Alice has ranked among the top twenty-five “most challenged” books as noted by the American Library Association. For better and for worse, then, Go Ask Alice continues to be read, continues to be challenged, and continues to shape the cultural narrative about adolescent experience of drugs, addiction and recovery.

Go Ask Alice is a teenaged girl’s diary that purports to detail the actual “Anonymous” author’s naive experimentation with drugs, as well as her subsequent addiction and the fleeting promise of recovery. As an ostensibly authentic teen diary, rendered “more or less exempt from the regular kind of literary criticism since it was supposedly the diary of a deceased young girl” (Nilsen, 109), the prose is dotted with idiosyncratic “teen” syntax (marked by a predisposition toward emphatic capitalizations). As she narrates her story, the narrator indulges what one commentator describes as “every available sort of self-destruction short of joining the Manson family” (Moss). Continue reading →

Thoreau’s Lament on Cider’s Fall

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau’s (1817-1862) essay, “Wild Apples,” was published posthumously in the November, 1862 edition of The Atlantic Monthly.  In it, Thoreau celebrated the history, beauty, fragrance, taste, and meanings of apples and apple trees – i.e., both regarding apples in general and wild apples in particular.  His essay ended with a rueful lament suggesting that, owing to the rise of temperance and the grafted apple, the days of the wild apple were numbered.

William J. Rorabaugh’s The Alcoholic Republic (1979) told of two great transitions in the long history of U.S. alcohol consumption:  namely, from hard cider to beer and from rum to whiskey.  Of cider’s great popularity in the colonial and Early Republic periods, Rorabaugh wrote: Continue reading →

Who Bought Whom? Revisiting “Bowman’s Compromise”

As I reported in my 1991 dissertation,(1) the fledgling Research Council on Problems of Alcohol voted to narrow its future scientific attentions to studies of alcoholism only in the autumn of 1939.  Future Council research on other alcohol-related topics, including possible new studies of alcohol’s effects on the human organism or society, would henceforth be substantially de-emphasized or postponed.(2)  Karl M. Bowman, chairman of the Council’s Executive Committee, suggested this shift of research focus in a September 7, 1939 letter to the Council’s Scientific Committee.   Members were also sent a two-page report vigorously advocating the newly proposed policy, prepared by a Special Committee on Financial Policy.

Ray Lyman Wilbur, Feb. 10, 1930

I found these two documents – Bowman’s letter and the financial committee’s two-page report — in boxes of Ray Lyman Wilbur’s archived files on the Research Council of Problems of Alcohol at Stanford University’s Lane Medical Library in (if memory serves) October, 1990, as I was researching my dissertation.  It was a very lucky find.  My dissertation’s burning question was:  How had the nation’s new focus on the problem of alcoholism (and the subsequent development of the modern alcoholism movement) emerged from the ashes of national prohibition in the early post-Repeal period?  Both Mark Keller’s and Bruce Holley Johnson’s previous accounts of this early period had highlighted the important role of the Research Council on Problems of Alcohol.(3)  Yet neither author had addressed the question of why the Council’s large and prestigious body of American scientists took so keen an interest in alcoholism.  I was rummaging through Ray Lyman Wilbur’s old Council files trying to shed light on the matter.  Continue reading →