Queho Posse Chapter
E Clampus Vitus
Bootleg Canyon, Boulder City, NV
Boulder City, NV
April 22, 2007
The Path of Relief, or
The site of the
April 20-22, 6012 Doins of the
Queho Posse Chapter 1919
Of the Ancient and Honorable Order of
E Clampus Vitus™
At the direction of
Noble Grand Humbug
Gary "601" Buyachek
Keepsake written by
XNGH Mark Hall-Patton
A Path for thirst quenching,
a path for access,
a path for meetings,
a path for bicycles
Boulder City, Nevada
A keepsake created for the
April 20-22, 6019ecv
doins of the
Queho Posse Chapter 1919
Of the Ancient and Honorable Order of
E Clampus Vitus™
Under the understandably self-effacing leadership of
Noble Grand Humbug
Gary "601" Buyachek
Keepsake developed, deformed, defaced, denuded, defrocked, and destroyed by
XNGH Mark Hall-Patton
Just outside of downtown Boulder City is a meandering canyon of great import to the history of that fine, if somewhat quiet, community. It is a canyon which provided a pathway into the area from the Vegas Valley from the times of the ancient Native Americans, those who used to be called Indians in an age before we knew the importance of providing a truly politically correct term for all groups who happen to self-identify as oppressed, to the creation of Hoover/Boulder/Hoover Dam. This is Bootleg Canyon, the site of our April doins.
Bootleg Canyon received its name from its use during the period of social experimentation called Prohibition here in the United States. At that time, alcoholic beverages, whether hootch, booze, the nectar of the gods, or whatever you might prefer to call it, were not permitted in the small settlement of Boulder City.
Prohibition first reared its ugly, governmental form head in 1823, when Maine passed the first "local option" law in the United States, which allowed each county to decide whether to be "wet" or "dry" (or as Clampers might say it, "sane" or "insane"). Through the efforts of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, and various other religious and secular groups, the United States entered into an experiment tried by only one other country during the era, Finland. The experiment would lead to a change in the drinking habits of an entire country, encourage the rise of organized crime, and support the creation of more speakeasies (aka illegal alcoholic dispensary stations) than all of the saloons in the country before the experiment started.
Funding for the Boulder Canyon Project in the late 1920s brought prohibition and other attempts to regulate social behavior into focus as issues for Las Vegas, which previously had been rather laissez-faire about the whole prohibition effort. A visit to Las Vegas by Secretary of the Interior Dr. Ray Lyon Wilbur and Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation Elwood Mead to locate where housing should be built for workers on the new dam came on June 21, 1929. The city hoped for that role.
Las Vegas Chief of Police Percy Nash ordered an all-out effort to not only shut down, but also disguise the saloons in town. Block 16 was to go dark for the first time in 24 years, to impress Mead and Wilbur with the new squeaky-clean Las Vegas.
As with most plans, however, reality intervened. Shortly before their visit, Southern Nevada's largest prohibition raid since the advent of the 19th Amendment occurred. Federal agents found nine stills and four breweries, and confiscated 3,650 gallons of mash, 228 gallons of whiskey, 571 cases of beer, and 470 gallons of other alcoholic beverages.
Though local and state dignitaries thought they might still pull the bacon out of the fire, Mead did not decide to use Las Vegas for worker housing. An unfortunate incident occurred during the visit. (If you are with the media, you may wish to skip the next few sentences, as it may show the profession in a less than favorable light.) Several newspapermen led one of Mead's party to the notorious Arizona Club, which was happy to serve him a couple of drinks. When he returned to the train to rejoin the party, he regaled Mead, Wilbur, and the rest of the party with tales of the hospitality of Las Vegas, much to Mead's and Wilbur's horror.
Wilbur was again reminded that perhaps Las Vegas was not the best location for the dam workers when he returned in 1930 to drive the symbolic last spike in the UP railroad line to the site of what would become Boulder City. After consistently missing the silver spike, he finally announced the start of Hoover Dam, a name greeted with some derision by locals who wondered if the new community would be called Wilbur City. And if this reaction was not problem enough, Wilbur had his pocket picked during his stay in Las Vegas for the ceremony.
Boulder City became a true experiment in federally enforced blue laws. The community was a federal reservation, which meant it was covered by its own laws. The new community was formed with a "buffer zone" around it to keep out bad influences. The land was withdrawn from public use in 1931, and Boulder City was begun. Under the federal rules of the town, gambling, the sale of liquor, and any other practices which could be held to impair worker productivity were outlawed.
This did not necessarily keep dam workers from finding sources for the drinks so cruelly kept from them by the laws that prevailed under the less-than-enlightened leadership of the acerbic Sims Ely.
Ely was from Tennessee, where he was born in 1862. He later became the editor of the Hutchinson (Kansas) Democrat newspaper. He next (in succession) served as Kansas Senator John Martin's secretary, editor of the Arizona Republican, secretary-treasurer of the Hudson Reservoir Company, general secretary of the Valley Bank Adjustment Company in Arizona and as part of Arizona's delegation negotiating the Colorado River Compact. He later moved to Berkeley, California, as director of the Federal Land Bank, and at 69, was appointed by Secretary Wilbur of the Bureau of Reclamation as City Manager of Boulder City, a position he held until 1941.
A decidedly difficult and self-righteous individual, Sims Ely was put in charge of the new community. He arrived in October 1931, and began his uphill, but determined effort to keep all vice out of his town, somewhat similar to our own organization. For as we know, there is no Vice in Clamperdom.
Word had gone out many months before that gambling, drinking, and all other social evils would not be tolerated in the new, "model" community. The dam job was to be a "Dry" job, with no exceptions. The initial major clash between the government parties involved with the dam and bootleggers occurred on March 24, 1931. Prohibition authorities planned a major raid on a shack near the dam site which was believed to be the headquarters of a ring of moonshiners. Unfortunately, when the raid occurred, nothing was found, except twenty cases of flat beer.
Marshall Claude Williams then took over the efforts. Being smarter than the previous agents, he began by plotting tips from informers on topographic maps, and then patiently watching the sites from long distance by binocular, to look for smoke coming from the various caves and abandoned mines. He eventually led a series of raids in April and May of 1931, which successfully cleared the bootleggers off the 144 square mile federal reservation.
Ely was determined in his intention to disallow alcohol in his town. When Frank Crowe's Assistant Superintendent of Construction, and right-hand man, Woody Williams was caught with a flask at a dance in Boulder City, he was banished from the project for 30 days, without pay. If you were a mere worker, and showed up intoxicated at the gate Sims had had built across the road into Boulder City, you would be held there until you sobered up for the first offense. A second offence led to your firing, and banishment from the job site, which included Boulder City. If banished, your family was brought out to you at the gate, and you were sent on your way.
Hoover Dam workers could leave the community, though, and partake of their wished-for beverages by going to Las Vegas, where Block 15 joined Blocks 16 and 17 as havens for the liquor trade in Las Vegas. Block 16 had been designated as the home of gambling, drinking and whoreing in the early days of Las Vegas, with Block 17 designated to play the same role for "colored" citizens, which included Blacks, Mexicans and Chinese at the time. New establishments grew up to serve the tastes of local residents. Perhaps the most famous on Block 15 was the Golden Camel, to which "nice" girls could be taken, if properly escorted. Other bars and clubs were founded further out of town, such as the Black Cat and Red Windmill, which were located at what was then the east end of Charleston Boulevard, and many others out on the Los Angeles Highway and the road to Searchlight, today's Boulder Highway.
Another raid in '31, that of Colonel George Seavers and 50 "prohi's" on the community of Midway, later known as Whitney, on the Boulder Highway, came on May 18. By dark, the men had raided every known bootlegger, speakeasy, or other liquor-related business in an eight-mile area. In all, twenty-five speakeasies, five breweries, and three stills were located and raided. Over ninety people were arrested in the effort.
The big raids of 1931 made headlines at the beginning of the Boulder Canyon Project, but they only temporarily interrupted the flow of liquor in the valley. Later raids were much smaller, such as the find at Railroad Pass. Marshall Williams noted a suspicious man outside of a tent in the shantytown that had grown up on the site of Alunite, where the Railroad Pass Casino is today. He noticed the man's right shoe was worn through in a straight line on the sole, and figured he had been doing some digging. Williams went into the shack and dug in the disturbed dirt on the floor. He found a box of liquor, and arrested the bootlegger.
Given the relative unfriendliness of Sims Ely and the powers that were at the time, alternative routes into Boulder City were actively sought out. Bootleg Canyon, a route dating back to Native American days, was often used for that late-night run back into town when a stop at the front gate was, perhaps, inadvisable.
With the 1932 presidential election, Prohibition seemed to be on its last legs. With the election of Franklin Roosevelt, Prohibition was repealed, and alcoholic libations again became legal, on top of being widely available. By 1933, even Boulder City had four establishments where beer was sold, but nothing more.
However, the canyon continued to play a role in the history of the community. It was the site of many community gatherings. Replacing the stills that had formerly used some of the side canyons, a large bar-be-que was built by the Boy Scouts for public use up the canyon. The stack for the bar-be-que is still visible in the canyon, though it is often mis-identified as having been built as a still.
The Civilian Conservation Corps also had a hand in modifying the canyon. They built a trail through the area, known as the Red Mountain Hiking Trail, sometime around 1935-37. A tent community grew up around the entrance to the canyon during the early 1930's, but as housing became available in the new Boulder City, most local residents moved into town.
Church and community parties were held near the mouth of the canyon, and actually in the canyon. The Boy Scout's bar-be-que was popular, and the photographs in this keepsake, were provided by the Boulder City Museum and Historical Society from their Rants Collection. These show a gathering from 1934, and show the number of people who could be accommodated in the canyon.
During the 1950s, the canyon became part of a new use of the area. This was as an access route to Red Mountain, also known as Radar Mountain. In 1959, the Boulder City Gap Filler Annex, as the site was officially called, became operational. It was used for a little over a year to fill in a gap from the coverage of the Las Vegas Air Force Station radar that was on Angel Peak northwest of Las Vegas.
Even though the radar establishment was short-lived, the use of the site for radio towers continues today. After the Air Force removed their radar equipment, they turned the site over to Boulder City, which continues to operate the mountaintop. Interestingly, the VORTAC site on the mountain, part of the FAA, is one of the oldest ones in the United States.
The use of the canyon for hiking, including the Red Mountain Trail continued through the mid-century. In recent years, the advent of mountain biking has put Bootleg Canyon on the international map.
Mountain biking routes utilizing the canyon have become known throughout the world for their challenge. Brent Thompson is the individual credited with creating the mountain bike trail system, mainly as a volunteer. Affectionatos of the need for speed combined with massive bouncing and other side effects are enjoying the area earlier used by dam workers trying to avoid the entry gate to the community.
For this doins, we honor the long history of Bootleg Canyon, a route for some of the earliest inhabitants of our region, a safety valve for hard-working pioneers on the Hoover Dam, a site for community celebrations, a route to radar and radio installations, a hiking and mountain biking area for those so inclined.
What sayeth the brethren?
And so Recorded!
In order to compile this keepsake, I must acknowledge the help of Mr. Dennis McBride, a fine historian whose dedication to local history is unsurpassed. Thanks Dennis!
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