A Little Soused on the Prairie

Six decades after Prohibition failed, a Colorado town known for living it up considers going dry

Even today, says Duggan, parliamentary procedure is sometimes a rare commodity at board meetings--one reason the town initially botched its handling of the Hayeses' liquor license requests. "We come to find out that we as a town did everything wrong as far as what we did with how they applied," says Duggan. The Hayeses screwed up their applications just as badly, he claims, failing even to obtain the proper forms from the state. Both the Hayeses and the town board have since retained attorneys.

Now that lawyers are involved, says Duggan, people are starting to worry. The fear is that, since state liquor laws require an applicant to prove only that a "need or desire" for alcohol exists in order to get a license--and to show whether a current outlet exists, which it doesn't--the Hayeses might have grounds to sue the town if it turns them down a second time. "If they show a need and there's no outlet, it's against the law for us to deny 'em," he says.

It's a very modern problem that has been met with a very old solution.

Just who hatched the notion of Grover going dry is uncertain. Duggan suspects that the town's two churches are behind it. Wilma Kidd says local resident O.A. "Al" Tim, a religious man (though not a preacher), cooked up the concept. Adds Kidd, "I just took the paper around and let the people that wanted to sign, sign."

The soft-spoken Kidd runs little risk of being compared to Carry Nation, the wildly intemperate temperance crusader who terrorized Kansas saloonkeepers around the turn of the century. Nation, the daughter of a lunatic who claimed to be Queen Victoria, bragged of having regular talks with "big brother" Jesus Christ. When she wasn't on the hotline to heaven, she railed against the unholy trinity of liquor, tobacco and sex, chopping up bars with her hatchet and becoming a media darling before dying in a mental institution in 1911.

Nation and her cohorts in the Women's Christian Temperance Union took great glee in doing public battle with brewing interests, and along with the Anti-Saloon League, they were largely responsible for shaming Congress into voting for Prohibition in 1920. By contrast, both sides in the Grover booze war seem more comfortable duking it out in private.

The campaign one might have expected to see leading up to the election, for instance, has been virtually nonexistent. Asked if she's done anything to help people make up their minds, A.J. Hayes shrugs and says, "What's to make up? You're either for it or against it." Kidd takes a similar stance. "That's my opinion," she says of her dry platform. "Maybe someone else has a different one."

Many locals are apparently trying to avoid the line of fire by playing things down the middle. Paul Vey signed the Hayes petition for the liquor license before he turned around and endorsed Kidd's competing petition. And the former bar owner isn't the only one who has straddled the fence, says Duggan. "Most people in town, they're on the side of whoever's standing in front of them," notes the mayor.

Even among Colorado's small band of anti-alcohol true believers, the Grover crusade hasn't exactly caught fire. Earl Dodge, the Denver-based abstainer who runs the national Prohibition Party, isn't familiar with Kidd and Tim's effort. His group has helped fund dry movements as far afield as Point Barrow, Alaska, he says--"the Eskimos were having so many problems." But the Prohibitionists have stayed out of Grover, for a simple reason.

"I don't want to insult the people there, but I hadn't heard of it," says the 64-year-old Dodge, a perennial presidential candidate who says he's never taken a drink in his life. "I didn't even know it existed."

The temperance forces in Grover also can't count on much support from the state's sole existing dry town--Cheraw, a wide spot in the road just north of La Junta. Once the self-proclaimed "turkey capital of the world," Cheraw is now dying, and not just of thirst. It lost its turkey hatcheries and processing plants years ago, and just this past summer the Cheraw Cafe served its last meal and locked the door.

"Us and the post office are the only ones left," says town resident Arlene Waters, who works at the Holbrook Pump Company with town mayor and brother-in-law C.O. Waters. Given the generally sleepy state of affairs, she adds, the town doesn't spend much time worrying about its lack of a cocktail hour. "It's only eight miles to whatever bar you want," notes Arlene, referring to beautiful downtown La Junta. "It's no problem for anyone."

Besides, the few drinkers among Cheraw's roughly 200 citizens are used to ordering out. The property for the town was donated by a teetotaling Mennonite, and the community has been dry since incorporating in 1917. "There are still three churches there," says Don Lowman of the Otero County Historical Society. "Can you imagine that in this little old town that's blown away?"

The wind is howling like a banshee in Grover, but it's blowing no good to A.J. Hayes as she sits inside Trudy's, contemplating the future of her own cafe. The gusts whipping down from Wyoming send a few customers tumbling through the door, but the fact that few of them appear to be Mennonites is of little consolation.

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