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Early Utah Saw No Evil In Liquor Ads
Will Bagley
Published: 11/04/2001 Edition: Final Section: Utah Page: B1

Utahns continue their squabbling over our quaint liquor laws. The latest go-round pits the free-speech rights of corrupt liquor advertisers against the forces of righteous behavior. We, in Utah, are in love with the Constitution, especially when it's convenient.

Utah has a democratic liquor control system: a hardy band of mostly teetotaling busybodies determining what, where, how and when sinners can get a drink. But the situation between Mormon values and non-Mormon drinking habits hasn't always been so cantankerous. One way of learning how 19th century Utah--when Brigham Young ran church and state--dealt with the serious social problem of liquor advertising is on the venerable pages of the LDS Church-owned Deseret News, then nicknamed "Old Granny."

A quick glance at the Deseret News ads in the October 13, 1874, issue reveals that some things in Utah haven't changed over 127 years. Senator Orrin Hatch would be pleased to see Licensed Herbologist Dr. Plant's Medicine Stores dealt with "all diseases speedily and effectively with Herbs, Roots, Chips, Barks, Leaves, and Powders." Plant claimed he could cure colds, nervous afflictions, scurvy, gathered breasts, fistula, lumbago, cancer, eruptions, thick necks and syphilis. But other things have changed.

Astonishing as it may seem today, the Deseret News back then advertised not only G. Venard's "Superior Article of Ground Coffee for Family use" but even Liggett & Myers chewing tobacco. But if that surprises you, try this advertisement: Maltsters Chas. Rueppele & Co. offered hops, barley "and all articles for Brewers and Distillers Use." And ads for Red Jacket Stomach Bitters and Old Tom Gin.

The Schwab, McQuaid & Co. advertising on News pages was not a Wall Street brokerage firm but a wholesale liquor distributor that offered Kentucky Bourbon and Pennsylvania Rye to Deseret News readers. And it offered them from within the sacred confines of America's first department store! "All our goods are kept by the ZCMI," Schwab's ad noted, "and all its Branch Stores." ZCMI opened a "first-class drug store" and perfumery depot in January 1870. The store had all varieties of patent medicine, drugs and liquors, "draught and case." (The store opened only days after The Salt Lake Tribune published its first issue, so perhaps ZCMI had already identified likely clients.)

LDS prophet and territorial governor Young was a supremely practical man who saw nothing wrong with "fleecing the gentiles" by selling them liquor. Young built a distillery at the mouth of nearby Parleys Canyon and issued saloon licenses to close friends such as Heber Kimball and Jeter Clinton. Young called expert vintner John C. Naile (or Naegle) to start Toquerville's "Wine Mission." For years, he shipped forty-gallon barrels of "Naile's Best" to Salt Lake City. In July 1875, ZCMI touted in a News ad Naile's "Pure Dixie Port Wine" for "medicinal and family use." Today, Naile's home and its wine cellar is a national historic landmark.

Salt Lake City gadfly Josiah Gibbs noted that during 1868, when Salt Lake City controlled all liquor sales, Brigham Young purchased $128.25 worth of liquor--strictly for entertainment. (Gibbs claimed Young paid for some of it with tithing funds.) That same year, the Deseret News itself spent $189.46 on liquor. There is no record on how it was used.

Historian Will Bagley insists he doesn't make up this stuff.

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