In 1889, a law commonly known as the “Newberry Law” was passed by the Missouri General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor David Francis. The man behind the law, Dr. Frank R. Newberry, was a physician and Democratic legislator from Fredericktown, Missouri. Concerned by the “moral status” of the liquor trade, Newberry came up with a law that he felt would clean up the saloons of Missouri.
The text of the law is as follows:
“An ACT to prevent any dramshop-keeper from keeping or permitting to be kept in or about his dramshop certain musical instruments, any billiard, pool, or other gaming table, bowling or ten-pin alley, cards, dice, or other device for gaming or amusement.
A dramshop-keeper shall not keep, exhibit, use, or suffer to be kept, exhibited, or used, in his dramshop, any piano, organ or other musical instrument whatever, for the purpose of performing upon or having the same performed upon in such dramshop, nor shall he permit any sparring, boxing, wrestling or other exhibition or contest or cock fight in his dram shop; and it shall be unlawful for any dramshop-keeper to set up, keep, use, or permit to be kept or used in or about the premises of his dramshop by any other person, or run or to be run in connection with such dramshop, in any manner, or form whatever, any billiard table, pool table or other gaming table, bowling or ten-pin aley, cards, dice, or other device for gaming or playing any game of chance;
and the keeper of such dramshop shall not permit any person in or about his dramshop to play upon any such table or alley, or with cards, dice, or any gaming device of any kind. Every person violating the provisions of this act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine not less than ten nor more than fifty dollars, and in addition to such fine shall forfeit his license, and shall not again be allowed to obtain a license to keep a dramshop for the term of two years next thereafter.
Approved June 17, 1889.”
Legal jargon aside, the Newberry Law prohibited saloon keepers from operating pool and billiard tables, card and dice games, or any other device that might be used to gamble. Even musical instruments were prohibited and the only furniture a dram shop could have were “bar fixtures and chairs.”
Joplin, like many cities during this time period, had more than its fair share of saloons. A bold News-Herald reporter set off to interview some of the bar owners and saloon keepers about their opinion of the new law (and no doubt imbibe a few drinks).
At Chester Parker’s saloon, the reporter found that Chester was out, but his employee was of the opinion that the law “would not cut any great figure” of business. Ol Boucher, who was standing outside his saloon at 518 Main Street when the reporter ambled up, felt that “the enforcement of the law would make no material difference to the saloon difference.”
Major John D. Mefford of the Mefford and Klotz Saloon, however, was fighting mad. He declared the law “was a gross disregard of the rights of property.” Mefford allegedly had a $1,000 invested in new billiard tables and moaned that they would be a “total loss.” To him, the law was “unjust and a further prosecution of saloon keepers.” John Ferguson of the J. Ferguson & Co. Saloon agreed he would lose money on billard tables, but was happy to see craps and other dice games go, as they “did not belong to the saloon business.” William Teets, of Teets and Company Saloon at 318 Main Street, proclaimed he had always obeyed the law and would not grumble, but noted he would have replace many of the fixtures and furniture in his business in order to be in compliance.
Henry Sapp, whose business was located at 214 Main Street, was furious at Newberry and the new law. The reporter had to use multiple dashes to indicate the numerous expletives that Sapp hurled at Newberry. Sapp then said of Missouri Govenor David Francis, “Dave, he promised he wouldn’t sign that —— —— bill. He slaughters the rest of us to get revenge on the —– —– —— St. Louis saloon men. Dave is trying to cater to the —- —– country element. He wants to be United States Senator, but he is a dead rabbit now, henceforth and forever.” Sapp continued on his tirade, but the reporter must have felt it unnecessary to record the rest of his statement, due to the numer of unprintable words Sapp used.
Incidentally, Governor Francis became the US Secretary of the Interior shortly after he left office as governor, and then later served as US Ambassador to Russia, but he never served as a U.S. Senator.
Sources: p. 104 Laws of Missouri, passed at the Session of the 35th General Assembly, 1889; History of Southeast Missouri by Douglass; Joplin News Herald; 1889-1890 Missouri State Gazeteer.
For more on Sapp, see our blog article on Honest John McCloskey.