April 20, 2016

Prescott "Smoker" Events Featured Marijuana

The majority of the material for "Prescott, AZ History" is from reading weeks and weeks and months and months of old Prescott newspapers.

So imagine this author's surprise when he came across this headline:


A "Smoker" event with "Plenty of the Weed"???  (*1)

Could it be true? A large, civic, pot smoking party in Prescott?

This is going to take some further research!...

Back in the early 20th century, not only was cannabis legal, but it was widely used in medicines and had none of the negative stereotypes that it carries today.

But did people actually call it "weed" a century ago?

The first time "weed" is mentioned in a dictionary as a "marijuana cigarette" was in 1929. (*2) Of course, dictionaries only include words that are already in widespread use.

While there was a large immigration into the United States surrounding the time of the Mexican Civil War, (*3) many Mexicans were already mining in Yavapai county since the mid-19th century. Since recreational cannabis smoking and the slang word "weed" both originated in Mexico, one would expect Arizona to be an early user of the term.

Could they have been smoking something else?

If one is pondering that they were actually planning a barbecue, it is doubtful. If they were to roast a pig or a side of beef, it would have provided 2-3 pounds of meat for each guest there. The newspaper would never describe that as a "light lunch".

Could they have been smoking tobacco? Again, it's doubtful. An in depth check of weed's etymology shows that it was indeed used in reference to tobacco once, but that was in a 17th century English poem. There is no sign that this usage ever crossed over into the United States, nor is there any evidence that it even caught on in England!

Additionally, the newspaper account included every name associated with the event; from each and every speaker to each and every committee head. Although the city's tobacconist was a member of the Chamber in good standing, there is neither mention of him nor his product (tobacco, cigars, pipes, or cigarettes) whatsoever.

No, the most plausible explanation is, indeed, marijuana.

Smoker events were always advertised as informal affairs. Ticket prices were a steep 75 cents (about $50.00 today) and to justify the price, it was noted that the gate would just cover the cost of the entertainment. (*4)

Smokers were most often held toward the end of winter or around the new year. The entertainment most often included music and various speakers.

"The principal reason for the holding of this 'smokefest'," the paper wrote, "is to create a feeling of good fellowship among the members" of the Chamber and its associates. (*5) Historically, it's been rumored that smoking marijuana might accomplish just that.

True story of the grip of opium upon Prescott, Arizona. Eventually, the city would become a hub of manufacture for the drug.

"Smokers" were optimistic gatherings, spreading hope for a prosperous year. At the 1916 Smoker, "Mr. Hard Times" was killed and buried with a full funeral service. (*6)

The following year, 180 attended an important birth. "Truly, the most unique stunt ever staged by a civic organization in the history of the world, was pull off at the annual smoker and booster reunion...when Miss Prosperity made her first appearance to the citizens of Prescott...The whoops and yells resounded from Thumb Butte to Fort Whipple." (*7)

In 1924, a Smoker was held in conjunction with the Arizona Good Roads Convention and included four other Yavapai civic boards and organizations. In total, 150 people took part and the newspaper recounted the atmosphere:

"In point of enthusiasm, the smoker-banquet resembled a national convention...the delegates coming from all parts of Arizona...for a dinner and a smoker that was an exceedingly lively and peppy affair. 
"During the dinner, the quartet...kept the ball rolling with catchy and clever songs and parodies. The delegates became so enthusiastic as a result that they caught the spirit of the entertainers joining in the merriment with a riot of music, song and badinage"(humorous or witty conversation). (*8)

Smoker events were not only held by the Chamber of Commerce for the town's businessmen. They were also held by the Yavapai Cattlemen's Association for the cowboys and ranchers where "They were entertained with all conceivable entertainment ending in the "Smoker" which was beyond doubt the crowning feature of one round of grand hospitality." (*9)

Additionally, they were held by many of the various fraternal organizations in town, including the Knights of Pythias. (*10)

By the late 1920's, Smokers began to fall out of favor as the species of plant started to become demonized. However, particularly in the 1910's, Smokers were highly popular and viewed with happy anticipation.

Tourist Tips:
The Prescott Chamber of Commerce offers a friendly tourist information center. It is located on the Courthouse Square at 117 W Goodwin St, Prescott, AZ 86303. The phone number is 928/445-2000.


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(*1) Prescott Journal Miner 2/16/1916 pg 5 col 2
(*2) http://www.hightimes.com/read/etymology-marijuana-slang
(*3) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dope/etc/cron.html
(*4) Prescott Journal Miner, 3/9/1915 pg 3 col 3
(*5) IBID. 2/18/1916 pg 5 col 2
(*6) IBID. 2/19/1916 pg 6 col 4
(*7) IBID. 1/27/1917 pg 3 col 4
(*8) Prescott Evening Courier 6/13/1924 pg 1 col 6
(*9) Yavapai Magazine. February, 1916; page 12.
(*10) Prescott Journal Miner 8/3/1916 pg 3 col 5


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