It’s a Kegger With Your Wheatheart
April 16, 2003
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.
Chronicles of Oklahoma. Winter 84/84 issue.
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.