1938: Legendary Brack Lee tussles with liquor agents
(Editors Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. These articles are being prepared as the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth approaches in 2011.)
While the major story for the entire Carbon community in 1938 was the opening of the new college, some other major events happened in the area, and some interesting minor ones as well.
The Sun Advocate ran the gamut that year from welcoming the state fire fighters convention to the biggest headlines of all when Mayor J. Bracken Lee got in a scuffle with state liquor control agents who had closed down a club in Price one night.
On the evening of Jan. 14, 1938, state liquor agents closed down Jones Club that was located at 3 South Carbon Avenue in Price for what they said was violations of the state liquor control act. They basically ran everyone out of the place and then closed it down and stayed inside.
At about 2 a.m. The next morning Merlyn Jones, proprietor of the establishment called Lee and told him about the agents and that they were still inside his business. About 2:30 a.m. Lee, Jones, a Price police officer and others that the mayor had called to "see what was goin' on in there" (Lee's words) went to the club and attempted to get through the door. The two liquor agents who were there to "take an inventory" wouldn't let them in the club.
Participants in the scuffle later testified in a court hearing the next day that a conversation took place between Lee, the officer and the two men inside. This is how the Sun Advocate described the testimony and the story of the entry.
"After a short verbal exchange, Patrolman (William) McIntyre unlocked the door and attempted to enter, where upon the men inside attempted to keep the door closed by throwing their weight against it. The liquor agents, when called to testify on their own behalf, said they had been willing to admit the patrolman, but that they did not want to let "that other fellow" (Lee) in, as they did not know who he was."
The patrolman told the men they were under arrest and they resisted. Once under control they were taken to the county jail and booked on charges of resisting an officer and intoxication. Lee later said in court they were drunk (based on blood shot eyes, drunken mannerisms and that Chester Dowse, one of the agents offered to "lick anybody in the place" when arrested). During the engagement Dowse also wielded a gun, and hit Jones on the head with it.
The incident capped a move by the state for a few days before to find clubs that were violating liquor laws in the county. The agents had already closed down a few other establishments and the business community was upset about the upstaters coming down and creating problems in Carbon County.
The group had been led by Parnell Black, an attorney for the liquor commission and Wallace West the chief enforcement agent for the agency. During court hearings concerning the county's charges against their agents, Black had various exchanges with citizens and various officials. One amusing exchange took place between Lee, who was on the stand, and Black who was questioning him based on the papers report at the time.
"Do you make a it a practice in Price of arresting everyone who is drunk," Black asked Lee.
"No," was (Lee's) reply. "If we did we'd have had you arrested one time."
"When was that?" asked Black (obviously incredulous).
"Oh, sometime back, over in a restaurant here when you had a little too much wine," said Lee.
The judge stopped the line of questions and answers at that point, but the whole incident was proven by that to be very personal. And it got more so as the preliminary hearing went on.
Dowse and the other agent, Henry S. Bell, later testified that they felt threatened by the group because besides the officer there were other people in the group that wanted in. Dowse said the rifle came from another room in the bar which he told Bell to get because they feared for their safety. He admitted to using it as a weapon but was also knocked to the ground by the group and kicked in the jaw. Both agents said that they were perfectly willing to let the patrolman in, but didn't know who the others were, particularly Lee. He said that some of the fear came from things that were being said by the people who were trying to gain entry. Dowse told the court that Lee had said during the mess that "the state liquor commission is corrupt from top to bottom."
At that remark during the court hearing Carbon County Attorney Marl D. Gibson objected, but the judge asked Lee if that was truly his opinion.
"It is," said Lee. "It may be legal corruption, but it's corruption just the same."
The Sun Advocate reported that that day in court there was standing room only in the court room for the confrontation between local officials and the state. But it was Lee, the fiery Price mayor, that had brought in the gathering.
The hearing went on and eventually charges against Dowse and Bell were dropped. However that wasn't the end of it. In Salt Lake that same day the chairman of the state liquor commission declared that legal action was to be taken against Price officials who had interfered with the agents. He said that the agents acted within their police powers to keep others out of the closed down club.
That matter dragged on for some months and eventually died off, but Lee never really gave up his war on state officials who he saw as stepping into places where they shouldn't be.