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Drug Regulation a Century Ago

Much consternation has arisen concerning the method of regulating marijuana production, now that its manufacture, sale, and consumption has been legalized in this state. Of course, on the federal level marijuana remains a Schedule 1 illegal drug. Controlling drugs is nothing new. This county, state, and nation has been down this road, danced on its fringes, and tried to redirect the road before.

Historically speaking, the town of Mendocino doesn't play loose with putting things on the ballot. In part that's true because it is not an incorporated municipality. Twice in the twentieth century the populace voted down incorporation by the narrowest of margins. Without the legal standing as an incorporated city there's not much left to vote on regarding local issues. However, as the nineteenth century rolled into the twentieth, the concept of temperance in regard to alcohol took many lurching steps before the complete ban of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act near the conclusion of World War I.

In 1910 the town of Mendocino voted, for the second time in as many years, to rescind saloon licenses in its fair city. The vote was 150 to 107 in favor of closing saloons. In Caspar the anti-saloon vote won out by thirty-three votes.

Lumber company owners, the most important businessmen of the time, were staunchly behind the “dry” movement, for what they saw as a simple reason, sober employees do more work and get injured less often. In Albion, when Miles Standish and Henry Hickey purchased the Albion Lumber Company in 1891, they also purchased a strip of land on the town's north side. That strip bordered every business. Thus the north side of Albion remained “dry.” If a man wanted to get a serious drink, he ventured to the South Side Hotel. My paternal grandmother, a loyal Women's Christian Temperance Union member uttered the words “south side” with a note of disdain all her life.

Auggie Heeser, the publisher of Mendocino's newspaper, editorialized in favor of that 1910 anti-saloon vote. Auggie's father, William, also wrote often concerning the evils of alcohol consumption, dating to his founding of his coastal paper in 1877.

Heeser, the younger, didn't let hyperbole get in the way when he wrote in 1909, just three years after the 1906 earthquake, “The biggest single event that ever took place in Mendocino occurred on Tuesday, July 27, when the fourteen saloons of this town were voted out.”

That 1909 vote took place a month after the county board of supervisors authorized unincorporated precincts a chance to vote up or down on whether or not saloons would continue to operate. The second vote a year later arose out of what amounted to an appeals process.

Saloon owners attempted to quash the vote by quenching thirsts with ample supplies of free booze in the days leading up to the elections of 1909 and 1910. After the 1909 victory of the “drys,” 32-year-old Auggie Heeser wrote, “[T]he saloon men showed no sign of vindictiveness and played the game like sportsmen. When defeat became certain they took their medicine like men and continued to treat their neighbors as they always had.”

That may have appeared to be true immediately after the 1909 election, but scarcely a year before the saloon owners of Mendocino, Caspar, and Fort Bragg banded together to boycott the meat business of H.S. Tregoning, who operated meat markets both in Mendocino and Fort Bragg. The cause of the boycott stemmed from Tregoning appearing before the board of supervisors, pointing out which Caspar saloon keepers had not renewed their licenses in a timely fashion. In 1908 there were sixteen saloons in Mendocino compared to two butcher shops. In Fort Bragg the ratio was thirty to four.

Auggie Heeser's response to the boycott: “[I]t is the duty of every man and woman who has the welfare of these communities at heart to see that Mr. Tregoning does not suffer because of the stand he has taken. Everyone who can should give him at least a portion of his patronage.”

There are still Tregonings and saloons on the Mendocino coast.

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One Comment

  1. George Hollister August 29, 2018

    The biggest social problem we have in Mendocino County is alcohol abuse. Check out “Catch Of The Day”. So it makes sense to make alcohol illegal, right? Certainly logical, but lacks common sense.

    We still make those logical, but non-sensical mistakes, and likely always will. So let’s not judge our ancestors too harshly.

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