One-Way Ticket to Kansas, the autobiography of Frank M. Stahl, as told and illustrated by Margaret Whittemore. University of Kansas Press, 1959.

XX – "Old Alfalfa's" Raids

While serving in the Second Cavalry, I took part in about all the scraps available, but they seemed as nothing compared to the skirmishes I now faced in grappling with the liquor element. Being a veteran fighter, I adopted the wrecking-crew method of raiding joints, arming my squads with axes, rather than guns.

My first raid was at "Murphy's Place," where I found Murphy doing business. The warrant called for all appurtenances, and I took them—bars, glasses, chairs, pipes, pumps, and everything else. The custom had been to take only the liquid goods and the beer pumps.

Murphy remained good-natured, saying, "So you are the new chief?"


"Are you going to tear up things like this every time?"


"Well, if this is your method, you will not be bothered with me very long."

"It's not you, Murphy; it's your business," I explained.

The next evening I found him selling intoxicants through a window on the alley. Men were drinking and everything was going as usual. Murphy had set up a temporary bar. We raided him again, taking everything he had.

"We were told that you were a square man, but you're not," he said sullenly.

"Why not?"

"Your men raided Klauer last night and left his bar and fixtures, while you took mine. Do you call that fair?"

"No sir," I replied, "it is not fair. The men had a warrant and order to take all the fixtures and wet goods. There's a raid going on there now. If his fixtures aren't taken, I'll give yours back."

Murphy was all smiles. "That's fine," he said. "All we want is fair play."

Although these men were outlaws and criminals, they had respect for anyone who gave them what they considered a square deal. One of the offenders said to me later, "While you were chief, if we could get a keg of beer and slip it through, we made far more than under the old regime. With former chiefs we had to divvy; with you, we got it all."

It was useless to start from the station with a squad of men. In the upper window of an office building facing the jail there were spies to report by telephone the route we took. To carry out a successful raid it became necessary to send the men out one by one in different directions, with orders to meet at a certain point.

"Old Alfalfa won't last long," the bootleggers predicted. "This is only a spasm."

They removed their expensive bars and stored them in basements, waiting for the day when they could use them again. That day never came. It was the beginning of the end.

A prominent lawyer—a go-between—came to me one day, saying, "I am authorized to give you $3,000 a month, if you will let the ‘Big Four" alone." The "Big Four" was the King Bee of the city, a saloon and gambling annex.

My answer was, "Not enough money."

One of the best weapons used by the jointists was to get the city ordinance under which we made arrests declared void by the courts. This resulted in two things: first, no law to work under; and second, seizures were considered illegal until a new ordinance was passed.

We often had on hand wet goods valued at thousands of dollars; perhaps two hundred pumps worth $7.50 each. If the court had ordered the goods returned, a day was set and a receipt ready for every man to sign, listing the articles in question. This was a trap that caught every offender in the city except one, who saw the point.

"Must I sign that receipt to get these goods?" he asked.

"Sure thing."

"Then I don't want them."

One of our largest seizures was made at a wholesale liquor house in North Topeka. A carload of beer and sixty gallons of whisky were taken. The evidence was clear and the judge declared the jointist guilty.

Turning to me, he said, "I order the wet goods destroyed, as the law directs."

Preparations had been made for this order under advice from first-class lawyers. I was told that the liquor was mine until an appeal bond had been given and approved.

I ran from the courtroom to my office directly above, and commenced throwing five-gallon jugs out the window. They landed with a crash on a pile of rocks in the prison yard. The judge came up to watch the sport.

"Have you approved an appeal bond, your honor?" I asked.

"N-o," he replied.

I kept on throwing until twenty-nine jugs of whisky, two kegs of wine and gin, and a dozen bottles of other liquor had been precipitated to the ground. The prison yard looked like a wrecked greenhouse.

We then went to the cellar where a half dozen policemen were crashing through beer kegs with heavy picks and axes. When a vent was made, the liquor spurted out in all directions. It now covered the floor to a depth of several inches.

The attorney for the convicted owner of the "booze" threatened us with all sorts of penalties for the destruction of his client's property. Then he rushed from the room. The police judge stayed, and annihilation of kegs and cases continued.

I was watching every move, realizing that if a cog slipped, it would catch me. The attorney came back and handed a paper to the judge. He signed it.

"Have you approved the appeal bond, judge?" I asked.


"Stop the work, boys," I ordered.

One hundred kegs had been emptied and the cellar was a lake of beer.

The jointists gradually lost their open, aboveboard defiance, and took to hiding. The combination was broken. It was now every man for himself. The game had developed into one of hide-and-seek. Illicit dealers knew that unless we could produce the goods, we had no case in the opinion of the courts. They kept only small quantities on hand; the rest was secreted in the stove, between floors, behind trapdoors, underground, in horse mangers, in locked trunks, in safes—everywhere.

Guards were stationed by the outlaws to warn of our approach. This gave them time to conceal the pump and destroy or hide the liquor. I fooled them several times by hiring a hack and driving slowly past their den with two or three policemen. The "cops" jumped out, ran in, evading the guards, and got the goods. Another successful raid was accomplished by hiding two officers in the wagon of a farmer who came along with a load of hogs.

There were three social drinking clubs that presented a problem. By paying twenty-five dollars to a member of the Amity, I got a key, and let myself in one evening, following right behind two of their men. I reached the center of the room before anyone recognized me. There was a long bar where scores of men were drinking, and several kegs of beer were in evidence. The couple who preceded me were blamed by the others for failing to close the door as they entered. I made two more surprise entrances before the members "got wise" and changed lock and keys.

At the "Scat Club" our seizure was large. I had stationed myself outside the front door, hoping to get in when someone came down the stairs inside. Almost immediately a large man opened the door. I put my foot in the crack, gave him a pull and a push, and told him to keep his mouth closed. He didn't peep. Two of my officers directly across the street had orders to come quickly if they saw the door open. When we got upstairs, we took a roomful of tipsy revelers completely by surprise. More policemen arrived and we made a clean sweep, but there were no convictions.

Notwithstanding the fact that convicting evidence in all the club raids was perfect, the time came when, under a court order, what we had seized was returned. Nevertheless we were making progress. The offenders were growing nervous and fidgety. They never knew when or where we would strike next.

It was while I was police chief that Carry Nation came to Topeka with hatchet in hand to lead her forces against the rum traffic. Although she sometimes resorted to prayer meetings in front of liquor joints, her methods, as a rule, were far more belligerent. This militant reformer in poke bonnet and black alpaca dress had taken it upon herself to enforce the prohibition laws by personally wrecking saloons and emptying kegs of "devil's broth," as she called the hated intoxicants.

I tried to explain that she was violating the law in acting without a warrant, but she would not listen. When I saw her smash doors and windows of saloons and even break the lock on a cold-storage building where game was kept, I had no alternative but to arrest her for malicious destruction of property. Whenever I met her on the street, which was often, she boiled with indignation and flung out such salutations as "How are you today, scoundrel?" or "How are you, hell-hound?" Although other women told her that she was mistaken about me—that we were working for the same cause—she remained bitter in her denunciations.

Mrs. Nation left the city for many months. Then one night, as I entered the waiting room at the Rock Island station, I heard a loud summons, "You, chief, come over here. I want to talk to you."

The voice was unmistakable. "Aunt Carry" was seated in a far corner of the room. I went over to take my medicine, and could hardly believe my ears when she said, "I was wrong about you, chief.

Here is one of my souvenir hatchets; I want you to wear it."

I declined, thanking her for the honor.

"Do let me fasten it on your coat," she insisted. "It is gold and set with pearls. Won't you wear it two days for me?"

"Pin it on, Aunt Carry," I said. It is still treasured among my keepsakes, reposing in a leather-bound case in my home.

Despite her eccentricities and chaotic methods, Carry Nation started things and made people think. Eastern newspapers sent reporters to interview her. Certain liquor dealers later acknowledged that they gave up their business and sought honest work because of a feeling of shame in the face of this lone woman's courage.

After Mrs. Nation's crusade took the form of public lectures, she was billed to speak in the Topeka auditorium and asked me to introduce her. This I did, giving her a good "send-off." During her lecture she referred to the fact that I had arrested her and placed her in jail, adding, "He winked at me when he done it."


table of contents next chapter- XXI
back to A Prairie Life home page