In 1900, there were nine saloons on Main Street in Safford and numerous additional liquor sniffing locations in Solomonville, Clifton, Morenci, Fort Thomas and Bonita.
The county was wild with liquor, rivaling Tombstone for fights, killings and other associated bad behavior.
In May of 1901, the Graham County Supervisors decided to pluck off some of the problems generated in the city saloons. They passed a resolution that singers would no longer be allowed in the saloons — female singers that was.
The final warble in Safford’s Palace saloon was “Holy City,” at the Anheuser it was “I’m Old and Only in the Way,” and at the Capital it was “I Don’t Care If I Never Come Back.” It was reported that some of the women went to Prescott.
Male singers were recruited, but replacements were slow to come by, and so the sirens remained unreplaced at the establishments. The entertainment portion of going to the saloons was gone, and so was a large part of the business.
In June 1910 in Safford, Judge Lewis handed down his decision that “no card playing and no pool was to be played for drinks in the saloons.” The resolution added there would also be no slot machines or dice throwing for good measure.
This did not extend to Morenci, and the question arose as to why it was wrong to gamble in Safford but it was OK to gamble elsewhere in Graham County.
This was only a prelude to what was going to happen next: The city fathers of Safford told constable Bill Johnson to close all the saloons, and he did so.
Saturday night, when the clock struck midnight, the keys to the saloons were turned over to constable Johnson, and the sale of liquor ceased. The saloons were forced to close.
The date for closing the saloons had been set by the Board of Supervisors for Dec. 3 at midnight; however, for some reason, wine was not prevented from being sold. I guess that was to appease the genteel ladies in the restaurants.
Everything went smoothly, in an orderly manner, with no arrests for drunkenness made by the officers during the last day of open saloons. The reformers in Safford were now happy, even though it put three businesses out of operation.
The owners tried to sell their inventory to other facilities in towns and cities outside Graham County, but that was only modestly successful. The extra booze continued to be sold “under the counter” at the pool halls and restaurants and created a new problem.
All of Arizona went dry in 1915 before national prohibition in 1918, and the “moonshine” began to flourish. Local stills seemed to be hidden everywhere. At first, residents would take their chances with backroom stills and bathtub brews, but, eventually, these gave way to the stills in the back-country gulches and ravines.
What temperance folks began as a divine idea by closing the local bars led to a much bigger problem in our area that was created by that initial action, and we lost the singers in the process.