1960 election in Clovis changed drinking habits

By Don McAlavy: Curry historian

Between 1943 and 1960, Clovis citizens called for a vote and we went dry, meaning no liquor sales. Curry and Roosevelt counties were the only dry counties in New Mexico. One had to go to De Baca, Quay or Chaves county or to Amarillo to buy legal liquor.

The 1950s was the private club or “bottle clubs” era, as they called it, as bootleggers discovered that prohibition could be easily circumvented by the use of the private club law. You could become a member of a private club by paying $1 in dues and purchasing a bottle there with your name placed on it. When it became empty, another automatically replaced it with your name already on it. Most clubs charged a “set-up” (furnishing a glass and pouring your drink).

By 1960, the liquor situation in Clovis had gained statewide concern as well as notoriety. There were 16 private clubs inside the city limits. Yet the state received no benefit in tax dollars from the consumption of liquor.

In May 1960 H. Lee Thompson, a typewriter repairman, and I, a printer, took it on ourselves to print 200 petitions calling for a local option election to decide if Clovis was going to continue bottle clubs.

We organized the League for Legality and had many people supporting us, including Charles Fischer, publisher, and John McMillion, editor, for the CNJ. The newspaper actively supported legalized liquor and assumed the position, “If there is a situation which needs correcting, it is the duty of the newspaper to try and bring about this correction.”

The battle for signatures raged on until election day. On Aug. 25, 1960, 153 petitions containing 1,515 signatures were turned in to the city clerk and city manager. Only 1,126 names of registered voters were required to call for the election. The petitions were verified and the election was set for Oct. 4, 1960.

The opposition was called “The United Drys.” Both sides deluged the CNJ with ads and letters to the editor.

Thompson masterminded most of the League for Legality ads. He constantly argued that retaining prohibition would actually be a vote for the bootlegger.

There were 8,993 voters in Clovis in 1960 and 5,961 voted. The vote was 3,152 for legal control and 2,809 against, a margin of 343 votes. League for Legality won.

With the return of legalized liquor, there came a concerted effort to make and keep the legal sale better than the private club situation. In 1961, David Norvell, local attorney, helped set up the Retail Liquor Dealers Association. Each licensed dealer joined and they hired Thompson as the director.

Thompson played a key role in policing the liquor outlets and bringing respectability to legalized liquor.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: