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History in Focus: Prohibition Sheriff

History in Focus: Prohibition Sheriff

History in Focus

The Prohibition Era is full of violent stories of the Italian mafia and Al Capone all wrapped up in the glamour of jazz music, speakeasies, and cigarette smoking flappers. In rural Moffat County, the 18th amendment lost its big city aura and became entwined with our rough and tumble outlaw history.

The story of Prohibition in Moffat County revolves around one man: Tom Blevins. His tenure as Moffat County Sheriff from 1922 to 1934 spanned almost the entire Prohibition era. His one-man effort to enforce the “noble experiment” throughout the sagebrush and canyons of Moffat County was an impossible task as locals seized upon the economic opportunity to produce and sell illegal liquor.

Born in 1882 in Aurora, Texas Blevins followed his parents to Moffat County in 1903. He took up a dryland farm homestead at Jackrabbit, just north of Lay. In 1908, Mary Ethel Gadd and Tom were married…and created an enormous family of twelve children! (Craig Empire-Courier, 7/25/34).



In a wonderfully forthright campaign statement the Democratic nominee explained his motives for running for Sheriff: “…I have been developing a dry farm and raising a family, of which I find both are expensive luxuries. I believe what this office pays would help out on what the dry farm fails to produce.” (Craig Empire, 9/4/22).

After declaring no “strings” were attached to his campaign he told citizens, “As for my morals and character, I leave that for you to judge.” Blevins won the first of six elections garnering 896 votes to 675 for his competitor (Craig Empire, 11/8/1922).



Sheriff Tom Blevins in May of 1931. (Craig Empire Courier, May 27, 1931)

Enforcing Prohibition was a herculean task, and the newspapers are filled with stories of Blevins’ travails. In June of 1924, after staking out an illegal saloon, Blevins disguised himself by donning an “old slouch hat and with a big handkerchief around his neck partly concealing his face” was served a drink. Still unrecognized, he flashed his sheriff’s badge and promptly arrested two bootleggers from Oak Creek. The men were fined $300 and sentenced to six months in jail, unless they left town immediately. (Craig Courier, 6/24/26).

On a freezing pre-dawn Sunday morning in December of 1926, Blevins and his deputy Ed Hammontree busted brothers Tom and Leslie Farmer, just 22 and 17 years old, on the family ranch in Axial Basin while bottling 30 gallons of liquor. The youngest brother pulled a Colt .45 on the lawmen, but Blevins’s deputy was quicker on the draw, and the boy laid down his gun and bloodshed was avoided (Craig Courier, 12/22/26).

Along with illegal alcohol, gambling was a prominent crime. At midnight on August 27, 1924, Blevins conducted a raid on Daugherty Pool Hall. To help with the raid, Blevins deputized a posse of eight members of the Routt County KKK resulting in the arrest of nine patrons. (For more on the KKK in NW Colorado, see History in Focus, The Fiery Cross, 7/12/2019).

At the same time, Blevins had to deal with the usual rough edges of human nature: bad checks, stolen cars, high speed chases, horse thieves, break-ins, abandoned human bodies, suicides, and murders.

In 1931, a dispute over a haystack resulted in the shocking double murder of Joe Jones and his hired hand. Both were shot with a hunting rifle by E. J. Farmer. Blevins arrested Farmer who was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. Blevins traveled to Canon City to witness Farmer’s execution in March of 1932. Farmer was one of the last Coloradans executed by the rope (see History in Focus, What God Wills, He Wills).

In the fall of 1932, Blevins contracted a bad case of Influenza and struggled to recover for the next eighteen months. Bedridden for six months, he finally died in July, 1934 at the age of 52.

An appreciative and overflowing crowd attended his funeral at the Armory, and Mayor H.W. Hansen issued a proclamation closing all businesses during the funeral. He was survived by his wife and ten children (Craig Empire Courier, 7/25/34).

Despite the unwavering efforts of Sheriff Blevins, it was all but impossible to stop illegal alcohol. Instead, bootlegging quickly blended in with Moffat County’s outlaw history and created a unique, colorful, and dangerous chapter to the “wild west” culture of Moffat County.

James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School. He can be reached at netonjim@yahoo.com.

 


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