Preaching and Praying Versus
the Laws of Oklahoma
February 5, 2003
Preaching and praying versus the laws of Oklahoma this week on the Oklahoma Audio
Hello, I’m Steven Knoche Kite.
As Oklahoma prepared to enter the union as the forty-sixth state there was a question as to whether
it should be a dry state, not allowing alcohol within the borders, or a wet state, one that allows the
production, sale and consumption of beer, wine and liquor. The eastern side of the state, formerly known
as Indian Territory, already had prohibition laws on the books, so it was not a huge effort to enact the
same for the new state of Oklahoma. Of course passing a prohibition law and successfully enforcing it
are two separate issues.
Without too much difficulty bootleggers were able to utilize homemade stills or run liquor into Oklahoma
from other states. One of the favorite beers in northeast Oklahoma actually came from the mining areas
of Kansas. Known as “Deep Shaft,” European immigrants, so the story goes, concocted the brew deep inside
the many lead and zinc mines in the area. Some dry states allowed weak 3.2 beer, and some made allowances
for the sacramental use of wine, but not Oklahoma. The state had in place what came to be known as the
“Bone Dry" law, meaning that alcohol of any sort in any strength was against the law.
It was only for medicinal reasons could alcohol legally make its way to the public. Of course during
this time the number of prescriptions issued by doctors quadrupled and pharmacists kept busy filling the
alcoholic prescriptions of all of the new patients.
Perhaps the most contentious, and for some frustrating, element of the bone dry law occurred in the
Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran churches of the area who, now under the new law, could not practice their
faith. Bottles of wine clearly labeled for sacramental use only were confiscated and destroyed along with
the bootleg and moonshine drink. A staged shipment of sacramental wine into Oklahoma in 1917 led to a
court cases and the eventual decision that, although sacramental wine technically broke the law, it did
not go against the "spirit" of the Bone Dry law and was therefore permissible. The sacramental
wine issue kept appearing in different forms in the state courts, however, until 1980 when the state supreme-court
ruled that wine intended strictly for sacramental use was not an intoxicating substance. It was in this
week of 1917 that the new Bone Dry law successfully made it through the state house and senate marking
the beginning of a long dry road for the residents of Oklahoma.
I'm Steven Knoche Kite.
The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University
Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.