John Barleycorn Must Die: The War Against Drink

This exhibit is an unbiased documentation of the battle for and against drink in Arkansas from its earliest beginnings in the 18th century when Spanish commandants at Arkansas Post restricted trading liquor with the Quapaws.John Barleycorn Must Die further depicts the ongoing debate including the Arkansas prohibition movement beginning in the 1800's with temperance associations; Carry Nation, the infamous hatchet-wielding anti-alcohol crusader from the early 1900's; and the Anti-Saloon League, active until the 1950s.

Arkansas Prohibition - A Sobering History

Though the Prohibition Movement in the early 1900s is a significant milestone in our national history, the crusade against alcohol had an even earlier history in Arkansas. Its beginnings took shape during the 1700s when the French occupants of Arkansas Post traded liquor with the Quapaw Indians for grain. When the Spanish took control of the Post in the 1760s, alcohol trade with the Quapaw became prohibited. At first these restrictions produced widespread resentment within the tribe, but Quapaw leaders came to support Arkansas prohibition as the chiefs noted the harm that liquor caused their people.

During the next 100 years, temperance organizations took root in towns throughout the state. One powerful group, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, began in Ohio in 1874, and emerged in Arkansas in 1881, after the organization's second president, Frances Williard, traveled to the state promoting the creation of state WCTU chapters. The first local state chapter was formed in Monticello in 1876. In 1899, the Anti-Saloon League, an all-male organization, was chartered. Arkansas's WCTU existed until the 1980s. Arkansas became "bone dry" even before national prohibition became a reality.

Though the Prohibition Movement succeeded in passing a constitutional amendment banning alcohol in America, their experiment in reform ultimately failed. By 1933, in an attempt to alleviate the severe economic crisis of the Great Depression, even Arkansas allowed the sale and consumption of alcohol, though the decision to become "wet" or "dry" soon became a local option.

Arkansas Prohibition - A Spirited Display

John Barleycorn Must Die features artifacts from both the "wets" and the "dries": briefcases that were used to disguise illegal alcohol, stills, temperance propaganda, cautionary car plates, political memorabilia, anti-drinking posters, satirical illustrations, bottling label art, and more. Clever objects like the flask that resembles a cigar or shipping crates for alcohol for "medicinal purposes only" seem humorous now, though each originally served a more serious purpose.

Ben Johnson, guest curator of John Barleycorn Must Die: the War against Drink in Arkansas, is the dean of the College of Liberal and Performing Arts and a professor of history at Southern Arkansas University.