Texans have tried on at least three occasions to prohibit the sale of alcohol. In each case, it has not met with much success, especially in Duval County. The first of these attempts took place in 1887, and the topic of prohibition was very much at the center of conversation in Duval County politics.
Before1887, each county in Texas had the Constitutional authority to decide if it would allow the sale of alcohol or not. In 1887, however, the United Friends of Temperance and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union persuaded the legislature to call an election to decide whether the state should be dry or if it should continue to be wet. Those that wanted to prohibit alcohol feared that minorities, such as Duval County’s Mexican Americans, would vote strongly against prohibition and could defeat the proposal statewide.
While the state did not schedule the prohibition election until Aug. 4, 1887, politicking got started early. In April, the state’s leading newspaper opposed to prohibition–the San Antonio Express–
ran a story suggesting Duval County was for prohibition. One local observer quickly shot down the claim, writing that the county may be for a local option on the issue but that it would defeat the statewide mandate by 10-1.
E. N. Gray wrote the Corpus Christi Caller
expressing his views against prohibition. Members of the San Diego Gun Club expressed support for Gray’s views and it was widely believed that there were not even a dozen prohibitionists in the county. Still, people were willing to listen to the prohibitionists’ arguments. The Rev. Sutherland of San Diego made several prohibition speeches in both in English and Spanish. Rev. Sutherland also debated attorney Stanley Welch on the issue.
A Mexican minister named Rev. S. Trefonio gave a speech at the plaza
urging people to vote for prohibition. People were not favorably impressed with his speech and one observer noted that the reverend probably did his cause more harm than good. Cameron County political boss James Wells pointed out that “his Catholic constituency shared his disapproval of this drive to impose pietistic Protestant standards of personal morality through government sanctions.”
When the election finally came around, the Catholic bishop was making the rounds in Duval County administering confirmation to 300 children in San Diego, Benavides, Concepcion, Clovis and Realitos. The confirmation celebrations apparently did not keep Catholics from the polls, as prohibition went down in defeat quite handily in Duval County. The Corpus Christi newspaper reported that “385 anti still taking their toddies in Duval County.” Only 17 voted to prohibit the sale of alcohol.
It would not be until 1911 when prohibitionists would have another chance to ban the demon alcohol; it too went down in Duval County by a vote of 671 to 19. In both elections, the measure was also defeated statewide.