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It’s a Kegger With Your Wheatheart

April 16, 2003

Historian's Notes

This was a fun Almanac to produce. Not much historical relevance to this one unless you use it to help prove the point that there have always been keg parties through the years. I just like the notion of a huge crowd getting intoxicated and rowdy, it's something that we might associate with the television view of the west, not reality.

Resources

Chronicles of Oklahoma. Winter 84/84 issue.

Almanac Transcript

It’s a kegger with your wheatheart this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I’m your host Steven Knoche Kite.

Before statehood the land that made up Oklahoma Territory, basically the western half of the state, was the place of fairly loose drinking and alcohol laws. Whether or not this laxity resulted in increased underage drinking or a rise in wagon and buggy accidents isn't known, but it definitely caused the occasional commotion. It was in this week of 1895 that just such an event erupted in Tonkawa, Oklahoma Territory.

Tonkawa is the self-proclaimed “wheat-heart” of Oklahoma. The town is centered in the midst of the Oklahoma’s wheat belt, and during times of good harvests was the scene of spectacular celebrations much in the manner of cowboys at the end of a cattle drive. The town developed after the Cherokee Strip opened for settlement in 1893. Despite a slow start the town soon attracted a core group of inhabitants with businesses and various municipal ordinances by 1895.

One incident in particular led the town leaders to tackle the construction of Tonkawa’s first city jail. Celebrating the opening of his new establishment a saloon owner in 1895 promises free beer for as long as it lasted for anyone who could make it into the building. Now being the nice people that Oklahoman’s are, area residents crowded in to welcome the new business owner to Tonkawa. As soon as the beer ran out at the new saloon, another saloon made the same offer and the crowd rushed to show this business the same hospitality as the first. At the end of the debacle there was reportedly no beer left in town but plenty of black eyes, broken bones, bruises and spent shell casings. The day after the free beer blowout those residents not recuperating decided the time had come to make provisions for Tonkawa’s first city jail. As a local newspaper editor stated about the city wide party, “Those scenes are neither courted nor desired.” Within a week volunteers providing labor and materials put the finishing touches on the jail and soon after it housed the first occupants.

It was in this week of 1895 on April 18th and 19th that the residents of Tonkawa found themselves immersed in a free beer frenzy.

I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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