Hunting down vice in Cuba City

Inspired by Ken Burns' documentary, Prohibition, I wanted to take a look at how America's 18th amendment banning the sale, transport, and manufacture of "intoxicating liquor" affected Cuba City. The amendment went into effect in 1920 and, while its intentions were good (lawmakers hoped to curb drunkenness and save lives and families from the scourge of alcohol), the amendment proved impossible to enforce and resulted in even more crime. It was repealed in 1933.

Cuba City had its share of drinking establishments prior to Prohibition.

Picture from the Cuba City Centennial book, 1975. This bar is now Main Street Pub & Winery.

Depending on the community and the feelings of local law enforcement agents (some were more willing than others to turn a blind eye), public sale and consumption of alcohol during Prohibition had to go underground. The 18th amendment did not eradicate alcohol--it just forced people to be more creative. Judging by the Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, Iowa) articles I found, a town's so-called "soft drink parlors" often had something a little harder behind the counter. Some people also had their own stills at home to make and sell moonshine.

Cuba City was not immune to raids from prohibition enforcement officers. In September 1928, authorities "raided several drink parlors in Cuba City and took away from one samples of a home brew." The apprehended liquor was sent to the state chemist for analysis and determined that it was not strong enough to press charges. The "home brew" contained just .6 % alcohol and the legal limit during Prohibition was .5%. Read the entire Telegraph Herald article online: Beer Too Weak; Drop Prosecution (Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, September 27, 1928)

In December 1928, a Cuba City man went to court for operating a business that was a "liquor nuisance." Online article: Two Padlock Cases Started in Grant Co. (Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, December 21, 1928)

A Grant County raid in May 1929 brought in 7 prisoners, including a Cuba City man, for "violating the prohibition laws." Though the Cuba City "roadhouse" operator had no liquor on his premises at the time of the raid, undercover agents had previously purchased alcohol at the establishment. Online article: Grant County Sheriff's Raids Net 7 Prisoners (Dubuque Telegraph Herald, May 15, 1929)

Raids were not just focused on drinking parlors and other businesses, as one Cuba City man discovered when agents searched his home in October 1931. Online article: Dry Agents Raid Grant County Places (Dubuque Telegraph Herald, October 15, 1931)

Authorities were also looking for signs of illegal gambling during this time period. In May 1926, Grant County Sheriff Livingston and Platteville Chief of Police Rowe raided a Cuba City hotel, confiscated a slot machine, and arrested the hotel owner and four travelers caught in the middle of a poker game. The five arrested men plead guilty and received fines. Online article: Sheriff of Grant County in Surprise Raid at Platteville (Dubuque Telegraph Herald, May 30, 1926)

In August 1929, Grant County Sheriff Joe Greer arrested a "soft drink parlor" operator near Cuba City for operating a slot machine. Greer warned others that "the operation of these machines will not be allowed and that arrests will be made wherever machines are found." After Slot Machines (Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, August 4, 1929)


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