San Antonio Brewing Association

An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Three

Above: San Antonio Brewing Association, Original Home of Pearl Beer, Now Hotel Emma at Pearl

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Two

Andrew Stevens, January 1911

Andy draws open the heavy drapes and, despite the crisp winter day, cracks two of the windows. He hauls a heavy brass ashtray stand out of the depths of the closet and places it between the two chairs in front of Mr. Koehler’s massive walnut desk. Both his older brother, John, and Mr. Wahrmund are right-handed though, so he fetches another.

He does not want to have to answer to Mrs. Koehler if one of the men carelessly allows a burning ember to drop from his cigar onto the Oriental carpet. But, if the men are drinking, which they will be, they might smoke with their left hands. One more stand is in order. Mrs. Koehler terms them hideous, hence the closet hide-away, but the elegant Meissner ashtrays she brought back from Germany are far too shallow-bowled to serve any purpose aside from collecting dust.

And he needs coasters. Lots of them. Last week, she had him working for what seemed hours to remove a pale ring from the top of Mr. K’s desk, all the while talking about the fine old German furniture maker from Fredericksburg who finished carving the final lion’s head on it just prior to drawing his last breath.

The figurines must be stowed away as well. On their fall trip, Mrs. Koehler decided brewing-themed porcelain was needed to complete the office’s presidential look. The new arrivals from Germany include a farmer sowing hops, or perhaps barley, and a pair of chubby putti frolicking atop a barrel. Accidents waiting to happen. These men gesture way too much.  And the figurines seem particularly inappropriate perched atop a table between these masculine horned chairs Wenzel Friedrich delivered last month.

Andy gently lifts both figurines.

“Andy, whatever are you doing? Emma carefully cradled those like babies on the way back from Germany.”

“Good afternoon, Mister Koehler. I am putting them away temporarily for their own safety, sir. When John starts telling a tale, his arms tend to fly every which way. And he and Mister Wahrmund will be bursting with news from Austin when they arrive. They should be here shortly, and I will return the figurines to their designated spots after their departure.”

“Unbelievable! The nerve of Governor Campbell to try to ram that despicable legislation down our throats by derailing the inauguration of Governor Colquitt.” Andy’s mention of Austin triggers a rant about a brewer’s worst nightmare˗˗prohibition. “Closing every saloon at six o’clock! Why three-quarters of the laborers in Texas do not finish work before six. The worst, the very worst, is that bill to close every saloon within ten miles of a public school. That is tantamount to prohibition itself! Ich habe die Nase vol davon.

“My apologies, Andy. I know you are befuddled when I resort to German. That means my nose is full or it. I can stand no more.”

Mr. K passes him a folder. “Take these papers. Duncan MacKay had such a low price-tag on that four-storefront building on Navarro Street, I had to close on it during Mister Wahrmund’s absence. A nosey reporter got wind of the sale. This morning’s newspaper estimated the value of my downtown holdings as more than half-a-million dollars. What business is it of others?”

“Absolutely none, sir.”

“Anyway, the Terrells drew up papers for me to transfer half my interest to Mister Wahrmund. Be sure that Mister Wahrmund sees them later before he leaves the brewery.”

“Sees what?” Otto Wahrmund, the vice president of San Antonio Brewing Association, strides into the room.

“The papers our attorneys drew up for the purchase of the MacKay building. I was afraid old Duncan MacKay might inflate its value before you returned.”

“How much did we have to pay?”

“$140,000.”

“Splendid. That handsome edifice easily is worth $10,000 more than that.”

Mr. K resumes his focus on prohibition issues in Austin. “So, Otto, did you manage to pull off the great legislative escape from the halls of the Capitol?”

Andy’s brother John, the secretary of the brewery, bursts into the office. Exuberant, he slaps the pair of Ottos on the back. “We sure john-l-sullivaned them this time. Knocked them out cold, we did. Just like that bare-knuckled Boston boxer.” He throws a punch into the air, a punch Andy realizes would have knocked the porcelain farmer smack in the jaw were he not secure in the closet.

Mr. Wahrmund snaps into the back-slapping mode as well. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had without a drink in my hand. Otto, your scheme was a stroke of genius.”

“Thank you, Otto. Pardon me, soon-to-be-Colonel Wahrmund. With the elevation in your title promised by the incoming governor, I guess we should all start calling you Colonel.”

Andy prays that moniker sticks. Having two Ottos in a room full of men with everybody saying Otto-this and Otto-that presents a challenge for a stenographer.

John chuckles as gleefully as when he used to pull pranks on the nuns at school. “The pressmen are convinced the Goeth brothers are to blame. The reporters were all over Conrad at the train station, peppering him with questions to find out how they pulled it off.”

“Where are the Goeths now?”

“They are checking our esteemed guests into the Menger Hotel for the night.”

Menger Hotel

Mr. K strokes his chin. “I am sure the Pros in Austin will make the obvious connection between Fred Goeth’s role as one of our attorneys and Conrad’s interest in the pending legislation. Conrad’s advertisement, the ‘Address to the Citizens of Bexar County’ from the Anti Prohibition Committee, was timed perfectly. Having old Dr. Herff’s son Ferdinand serve as chairman underscores its credibility. We have got to get every working man in Bexar County to pay his poll tax before the end of this month in case the Pros force a statewide vote in June. On Sunday, that bootmaker, Lucchese, gathered more than 300 Italians for a rally to encourage them to pay their poll taxes. What is not working in our favor lately, however, is the very public crackdown on Mayor Callaghan’s Mexican voting machine.”

John adds, “The Mayor has been helping Mexicans pay their poll taxes faster than the water from the Rio Grande drains out of their huaraches. And, say what you might about Mexicans, they demonstrate a great affection for our beer.”

Mr. K continues, “We will tackle poll tax issues after the inauguration. First, catch me up on everything that happened in Austin.” 

John now sports a fluffy white mustache after sipping the foaming Pearl beer Andy served the men. “Well, the pot started to boil when word slipped out that the prohibitionists wanted to hand a bonus victory or two to Governor Campbell before he left office. The Pros of both houses held late night caucuses Monday to devise ways to outwit the new governor.”

Andy brushes his forefinger across his upper lip as a signal to his older brother, and John responds by shaving off his frothy mustache with his tongue.

The Colonel explains, “Not only were they going to try to push through the daylight bill for saloons, but Governor Campbell was advocating major increases in funding for the Attorney General’s Office, half of which would be used for the enforcement of anti-trust laws targeting the brewing industry.”

“Us,” interjects Mr. K.

John comments, “Of course, the Governor-Elect let it be known that he would veto any such legislation.”

The Colonel nods in agreement. “The craziest proposal was for a law forbidding the sale of beer in anything smaller than a quart; although, good Irish and German working men would be pleased to be forced to polish off a quart and report to their wives they had only one beer on the way home. Even Tom Campbell should realize that. An ihm ist Hopfen und Malz wirklich verloren.”

Mr. K translates for the Stevens brothers. “The Colonel was not referring literally to the ingredients of beer with that phrase. The expression means Governor Campbell is too stupid to understand even the simplest of matters. Hops and malt would be wasted on him. Not that the zealot would ever raise a stein.”

John smacks his hands together. “For a while, it appeared like we would be squashed flat by the prohibition steam-roller. Aye, and there was a wee bit of vote-padding going on somewhere in the House. Although it might have taken place on both the wet and the dry sides of the aisle. On the first count, the number of votes cast in the Speaker’s race totaled three more than the number of representatives present. After much furious pounding of the gavel and another roll call, Sam Rayburn finally emerged as the winner.”

Mr. K shrugs his shoulders. “Maybe a victory of sorts. He is far more sympathetic to our needs than Gilmore.”

The Colonel agrees. “Definitely. Then there were endless late-night caucuses. This is when Governor Campbell’s men blatantly trampled upon the law. The law reads that the new governor ‘shall be inaugurated on the second Tuesday in January, or as soon after as practical.’ Well, through the years, it has always been practical do so on the second Tuesday. But they deemed it not so this year. They schemed up ways to keep Governor Campbell in office until they could plop the bills they wanted on his desk for signature. And the first one on their agenda was the one Representative Brownlee dreamed up – the ten-mile school bill that would shut down every saloon in every big city in the state.” 

Fascinated by the political intrigue, Andy struggles to concentrate on taking notes. 

John’s lips curl in a half-smile. “The art of the filibuster has never been finer than that exhibited by our distinguished senators this past week.” 

“The highest compliment possible coming from an Irishman with a tongue like yours,” quips the Colonel. 

John accepts the ribbing without protest, in all likelihood regarding it as a compliment. “Senator Meachum requested the reading of a voluminous prison bill and proclaimed that there was a large stock of bills of similar length at hand, including the penitentiary reform bill that makes the Bible seem like a short story.” 

The Colonel usurps the tale. “Tuesday, the day we expected to be exchanging toasts at the inaugural ball, Governor Campbell was scheduled to deliver brief parting remarks to the legislature in the afternoon. Instead, he read a treatise more than 70 typewritten pages in length that sounded more like the agenda for a newly-elected governor. His wish list included more than just his defeated liquor legislation. It included the two-cent fare law, a law that would require newspapers to reveal the identity of their stockholders and a new stab aimed directly at us – a law prohibiting breweries from contributing to campaign funds. This law defined breweries in the broadest possible terms. No corporation or any person connected to the sale of liquor in any way could contribute to candidates running for public office.”

Mr. K’s expression knits his two eyebrows together as one. “That sanctimonious East Texas puritan. He cannot arbitrarily single out our industry.” 

John throws out his right arm in frustration, a move that would have sent the barrel-riding putti flying off the table. “The worst news is that Speaker Rayburn put 20 Pros and only one Anti on the committee on constitutional amendments. This means we definitely will end up with a bill mandating a statewide election on prohibition.” 

The Colonel seeks to deflect the impact of that depressing observation. “You’d be proud of the Antis in the Senate, though. They carried on their filibustering until almost two o’clock Friday morning. The Old Militia Bill proved to be a particularly heavy one someone dug up to eat away the night. The Pros finally began to concede that they would have to permit the inauguration to go forward.” 

John shakes his head. “The homespun crowd sank to a new low in the House on Friday the 13th. That fool molasses-maker from Upshur County, W.O. Stamps, stood up and introduced a resolution designed to, quite literally, take all the spirit out of the inaugural ball. Claimed the home of the Texas Legislature was too sacred a place for dancing or drinking. He then began railing against the evils of dancing. Dancing? Why he says dancing encourages men to don the devil’s swallow-tailed coats and ladies to appear in public in low-neck and, heaven forbid, short-sleeved dresses. You will be pleased to know that the devil ruled the day.”

The Colonel heaves an exaggerated sigh of relief. “With all the recent ballgown discussions I have had to endure between my wife and daughters, I’d hate to have to send them back to their dressmakers. I don’t comprehend the language they speak. They throw out phrases like ‘trimmed in passementerie’ and ask my opinion. Well, my opinion is, if it sounds French, it’s too expensive. But John, wait until the dressmaker’s bills arrive at your door. My little Ottie is green with envy. She says her ‘pink marquisette over satin,’ whatever that is, pales next to your Eleanor’s gown, cut from cloth of gold and adorned with silver and gold embroidery.”

John smiles. “Colonel, I am just plumb happy we have a ball to attend. And that, fortunately, several of our daughters are still too young to go with us. Our new Governor will have to foot no such bill for gowns. Alex Sanger of Dallas delivered a $500 gown for Missus Colquitt to wear, and George Littlefield of Austin presented him with a splendid team of horses for their Cinderella carriage. Now the Pros are whining about the gifts the new Governor is receiving and quoting the Bible like it was the law of the land: ‘And thou shalt take no gift, for the gift blindeth the wise and perverteth’ something or other. They actually tried to include that verse from Exodus as part of a resolution. Although, I’ve heard rumors that both Mister Sanger and Mister Littlefield lust to serve on the University of Texas Board of Regents. Who gave Governor Colquitt an automobile? I do hope it’s someone in this room.”

Mr. K’s eyebrows arise again. “What? Is it not enough that we bought him the election? Our contributions are being acknowledged at least by the fact that our new Governor is making Otto the Lieutenant Colonel of his staff.”

John shoots a stern glance toward Andy. “Andy, don’t include those remarks in your notes. Be selective.

“Back to the glories of the filibuster. The House Committee on Liquor Traffic convened and was ready to put forward the daylight bill. In the Senate, however, the daylight bill was seemingly never going to see daylight. Our good friend Senator Watson was in the chair for much of the session, and his rulings were marvelous. Senator Hume introduced a lengthy, musty old bill about reorganizing the National Guard, which, of course, had to be read into the record. The Pros were doing everything they possibly could to secure recognition from Senator Watson. Recognition would have suspended pending business and provided an opportunity for the introduction of the liquor bills. Senator McManus at one point shouted that he was in favor of keeping everybody there for two weeks if it would take that long to whip them.”  

The Colonel adds, “Senator Austin even tried to introduce a seemingly harmless resolution to present the flag that had covered Stephen F. Austin’s casket to the Daughters of the Republic. No luck. Senator Watson would not budge. Senator Bryan tried to threaten the chair by warning that Senator Watson’s name would be on the lips of all the good people of Texas tomorrow, and what they were saying would not be polite.”

Andy’s eyes follow the ash growing on the tip of his brother’s cigar as John employs it to reenact what happened next. “That old Watson didn’t so much as dignify him with a reply. He calmly leaned back in his chair, drew deeply on his cigar. And slowly. Deliberately. Puffed out a huge cloud of smoke and sent it swirling around his head. He said he’d entertain no motions to adjourn other than one to adjourn to inaugurate Governor Colquitt.”

The Colonel waves his arm to send part of John’s large ring of smoke toward the cracked window. “The bickering continued. Things were beginning to look rather bleak for us, but then the distinguished Senator Murray rose with a long-winded speech that meandered extensively through the subjects of history and literature rather than addressing anything before the Senate. He finally yielded to a motion to adjourn until Tuesday, a motion that did not pass.”

John jumps out of his chair. “The Pros leapt out of their chairs like jackrabbits with their tails on fire. They were yelling at the Chair and flailing their arms to obtain recognition. In his infinite wisdom, however, Senator Watson called on Senator Austin, who has an ample supply of Texas history and lore stored up that he was more than willing to share with his colleagues. The pros were getting nothing but saddle sores in the Senate.”

The Colonel chuckles. “After Senators Murray and Austin successfully consumed three hours, Senator Hume demanded the reading of his bill be continued. Senator Watson then smoothly said, since he had been relieved from the Chair several times during the session, he was unsure how much of the bill had been read earlier. So he instructed the clerk to commence reading the bill again from beginning to end. Senator Cofer grew redder than a beet.”

John shouts. “‘We have no more rights here than so many dogs.’ That is what Senator Sturgeon bellowed out at the Lieutenant Governor. Senator Sturgeon challenged him to permit the hearing of the daylight bill. Senator Paulus countered by asking why the bill could not be put in cold storage for a few days longer. With more fervor than a Baptist preacher could summon, Senator Sturgeon replied, ‘We do not belong to the cold storage crowd.’”

“Who is his crowd?” Mr. K mutters. “The only crowd that would welcome him would be armed with hatchets and led by the likes of Carrie Nation.”

The Colonel concludes, “The Senate finally recessed, totally exhausted and with many in foul humor, on Saturday at one minute after midnight. Which is when we began to put your plan into action, Otto. It was much too risky to rely on my fellow members of the House to squelch final efforts to put those bills to a vote today, and, if it happened in the Senate, we would surely lose.”

John rubs his hands together, relishing the conspiracy at play. “Here, we enlisted the help of our the three Goeth brothers. We quickly made rounds to our allies and managed to get eleven Senators to agree to comply with the scheme. Separately, so as not to arouse suspicion, they boarded the train in Austin one by one. Fred and Conrad Goeth had their automobiles at the train station here. The Senators furtively slipped off the train like fugitives and hopped into the cars. We rounded up some canned goods and bedrolls and spirited them off to Fred’s ranch. We tucked them away where no snoopy reporters, not even the Texas Rangers, could find them. By using the long-distance phone lines in the commission government headquarters, A.C. Goeth was able to keep us posted on when we could safely liberate our eleven guests today.”

The Colonel raises his glass toward John. “I was still in Austin this morning when Representative Terrell raised a point of order that the Committee on Liquor Traffic was not yet fully appointed. Therefore, the committee’s efforts to forward the bill and place it on the calendar were improper. Speaker Rayburn concurred, and the House had nothing left to do but adjourn so that the hall could be transformed into the setting for tomorrow night’s Inaugural Ball.”

John claps his hands. “With dancing and drinking, by God! We sure john-l-sullivaned them, all right.”

Smiling, the Colonel continues. “The Senate was faced with eleven empty chairs this morning. No one could find hide or hair of the absent senators. The Pros were not pleased. The Lieutenant Governor refused any official condemnation of the missing. The Pros finally threw in the towel in disgust. The Senate adjourned after only 30 minutes.”

“The delinquent senators are now comfortably ensconced in The Menger Bar,” says John. “We’ll all board the morning train for Austin and the inauguration of our Governor. Are you sure you and Emma won’t change your minds and join us? We all deserve this celebration, but you most of all.”

Mr. K shakes his head. “No, I can endure only so much pomp. I’m reserving all my tolerance for our trip to the celebration of the Busches’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. Adolphus is a fine ally, but his royal airs can be tiresome. I have no doubt the Busch festivities will be more ostentatious than a European coronation. Besides, Emma’s wheelchair greatly lessens her enjoyment of a crowd of that size.” 

Mr. K stops to pen a hasty note on the company letterhead.

John stands to depart. “You will be missed by all.”

Mr. K folds the note and places it in an envelope. “Colonel, please slip this to the outgoing governor as you pass through the receiving line. 

“A job well done by all. Go drink. And dance like the devil!”

Footnotes

As promised, things progress chronologically now, but, Lordy, this chapter contains more characters than a Russian novel. No, the Author does not expect you to remember all of them.

Please pay attention to spare the Author from typing portions of the following over and over: Resemblance to actual persons, no longer living, locales and events is far from coincidental. For the majority of characters, nothing included about them has not been reported in print during their lifetimes. If some of these so-called facts are gleaned from fake news, please direct libelous claims to the appropriate publishers of more than a century ago.    

The wild antics revolving around prohibition politics all are drawn from Texas newspapers. The names of the politicians involved and the Goeth brothers are unchanged from those accounts. Otto Koehler was president of the San Antonio Brewing Association; Otto Wahrmund was vice president and was elevated to the antiquated Texas title of Colonel by Governor Oscar Colquitt; and John Stevens was secretary.

But… your narrator for this chapter, Andrew Stevens, is a literary invention. Sort of. There was an Andrew Stevens working in the brewery offices, probably a blood relative of John Stevens. The Author needed a reliable recorder for happenings at the brewery, so a fictionalized Andy suited that purpose. Expect to hear from him often.

Attention: As these meetings might or might not have occurred, please remember throughout this book these words do not represent actual conversations uttered from these men’s lips. The Author is aware of no tape recordings. The dialogue does, however, mimic the daily press.

While the Author never had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of any of the officers of the City Brewery, she takes the liberty of permitting them to converse frequently. Watercooler talk. Their camaraderie and the shared sense of humor that sometimes emerges are based on listening to her father and his close friend/business associate/carpool buddy on the occasions when they would drive her to school.   

The caper of the disappearing legislators, perhaps the inspiration for the “Killer Bees” of the Texas Legislature in 1979, happened as narrated. The Author, though, possesses no definitive proof the San Antonio Brewing Association was the primary incubator of the plot. Just suspicions. Suspicions presumably held by Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell as well. Certainly, the San Antonio Brewing Association was not the only brewery in Texas or from outside the state involved in prohibition politics, but do you honestly want the Author to add more characters to the story?

The Wahrmunds and the Stevens families, with their daughters wearing the gowns described, were heading to the inaugural ball. As for the Koehlers, they might have gone to the ball, but the Author found no mention of their attendance in the news or society sections of the papers. It was more convenient for the Author if they declined to attend; so she made other plans for them.

And the note penned by Koehler? The Author must insist upon the freedom to employ an assortment of arbitrary storytelling tools.

Continue to Chapter Four

1 thought on “An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Three”

  1. Great descriptive conversation and historical references. Great insight in politics of the day as well as the brewery’s role in them.

    Like

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