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Beer City

V. Pauline Hodges on 07/24/2009 The local women who make Beer City come alive include from left to right, Pamela French, Earlene Shafer, Pauline Hodges as Pussy Cat Nell, and Virginia Frantz. - Debbie Coulson photo The local women who make Beer City come alive include from left to right, Pamela French, Earlene Shafer, Pauline Hodges as Pussy Cat Nell, and Virginia Frantz. - Debbie Coulson photo Goodwell, Okla. — Beer City was the most notorious of the early day towns in Beaver County. In 1888 the Rock Island Railroad had built across the area known as the Seventh County of Oklahoma Territory, or Beaver County and encompassed the entire area of what is now the Panhandle. The towns of Tyrone, Hooker, Optima, Guymon, Goodwell, and Texhoma were established. Each of these towns had saloons, but the most notorious saloons in the county were in Beer City, located just inside Oklahoma Territory two miles south of Liberal, Kansas. These saloons supplied prohibition-dry Liberal with its liquid refreshments, as well as supplying the settlers of the area. The town consisted of a collection of saloons, the toughest in the area, and a plentiful supply of cardsharps. Broomcorn was the major crop in the area, but the merchants could never be sure of payment for their goods until the farmer had sold his broomcorn in Liberal and gotten past Beer City on the way home.

The town site was never laid out but just evolved. It grew out of the prairie grass as an oasis on the desert to meet the needs of those less reputable characters who populated No Man’s Land. The main street started out running east and west, facing the Kansas trade, but then commenced building north and south. The mélange of dance halls, saloons, and redlights soon faced north, east, south, and west - every direction to catch new trade. Harry Chrisman, historian of this area, and Oliver Nelson, an old-timer who was a cowboy of the area, both tell of the big stacks of beer barrels that gave Beer City its name. Huge swarms of flies of an August afternoon would settle around the barrels, lapping up the sour liquid that seeped through. The rows of wooden hitching rails in front of the buildings were paralleled by long rows of manure, created by the cow ponies who awaited their masters’ return from within the saloons and bawdy houses of the town.

Lewis (Brushy) Bush was one of the lesser-known, but equally colorful, characters of the Southwest cattle country. Although he was not as notorious as Bat Masterson or Wyatt Earp, he operated in the same manner to deal with the unlawful folk with whom he had to deal. He ruled with a sawed off shotgun and six-shooters. No one elected Brushy. He simply appointed himself. His “protection” came high, but Beer Citizens accepted it for a while. When he “collected salary” he would patrol the streets, stopping into each place of business and sticking out a greasy palm. He made his fatal mistake when he tried to “overcharge” taxes on Pussy Cat Nell, and beat her up when she refused to pay. She paid all right with a loaded double barrel shotgun and shot him dead. He was buried among the rubble in the unpaved streets where he had operated his “law-enforcement” agency. His grave is lost today among the wide fields of wheat and milo maize that annually cover the area. Chrisman pointed out in his writings that Beer City, the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Plains, no longer reigns as Queen City of the Southwest Cattleland. Nor is she, nor her erstwhile Marshal, Brushy Bush, missed by anyone. However, Chrisman did not live long enough to see that almost on the site of old Beer City today sits a liquor/beer drive through store, a dance hall, and a bingo parlor, all outside the limits of Kansas law or Liberal police jurisdiction, just as Beer City did.

In later years, Burris Wright, son of Charles Wright, a well-known pioneer attorney and former Beaver County, Oklahoma, county attorney, moved the St. Nicholas Hotel from the town of Voorhees to within a mile east of the old Beer City. Voorhees, KS, like Beer City, is nothing but a wind-swept prairie today, but it once stood southeast of the present day Hugoton, KS.

The Beer City Gals will perform as part of the Centennial Football Homecoming festivities on Saturday, October 10. Watch for details!