Prohibition in South Texas

Border counties were slower to ban alcohol. However, even in wet cities like El Paso, public opinion was deeply divided. The question of prohibition sparked passionate debate. In January 1918, a referendum was held in El Paso on the question of whether alcohol would be banned in the city and county.  This vote did not succeed but by the very smallest of margins – 150 voters or so.

“Once alcohol was forbidden in El Paso, people in El Paso didn’t have to produce the alcohol, said Tony Payan, a Border Scholar. “People in El Paso didn’t have to resort to criminal activity.They simply crossed the border.”

And so an industry serving tourists legally across the border developed and florished. The manufacture of alcohol boomed in Juarez with many American distillers relocating to the Mexican-border city.

South Texas Images

The KCOS documentary features South Texas images from several sources.  The first are photos shot by Robert Runyon, a photographer who worked in the area during the 1910s and 1920s.  Among his work are photos taken at the US Customs House in Brownsville in 1920, showing alcohol being poured onto the ground – the aftermath of a raid.  The second shows film of the border crossing at Laredo, taken in 1922.

The film was produced by the US Department of Agriculture, and a copy is available on the website of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image.  The full film provides an interesting look at the process of crossing the border at that time.

This collection of images used in the film is housed at The Dolph Briscoe Center For American History, The Uuniversity Of Texas at Austin.

This project used two images from The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection from The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin. The Runyon photos in this project were taken at the U.S. Customs House in Brownsville in 1920. They show U.S. officials destroying a large amount of liquor, with a variety of bottles lying empty on the wet ground.