During the era of gangsters and organized crime, Texas hosted its fair share of guns, gambling, moonshine, morphine, ransom and robbery.
Imagine a Texas where air conditioning is unknown, where tiny banks operate in almost every little town, where liquor comes from bootleggers, and where the likes of Clyde Barrow and Joe Newton careen in old-time cars down unpaved roads. Welcome to a Gangster Tour of Texas.
It makes sense to begin in 1918, when the Texas Legislature voted to prohibit the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the Lone Star State, more than a year ahead of national prohibition. This act suddenly turned law-abiding Texans who had brewed beer or tended bar into criminals if they continued their trade on the sly. About the same time, the United States entered two decades of an epidemic of bank robbery. The crime wave grew so great that the Texas Bankers Association in 1927 offered a $5,000 reward for dead bank robbers.
Even though Prohibition ended in 1933, crime did not. Texas abounded with illegal casinos, while crime bosses and gangsters roamed … committing robberies and kidnapping the wealthy for ransom. Embezzlers secretly withdrew money from financial institutions, and some elected officials freely took bribes. In 1957, Texas Rangers closed the most famous of all the illegal Texas casinos, those in Galveston, concluding what people popularly view as the “gangster era” in Texas. - T. Lindsay Baker
Excerpted from the book Gangster Tour of Texas, text by T. Lindsay Baker. Reprinted with permission from Texas A&M University Press, © 2011 800/826-8911. T. Lindsay Baker teaches history at Tarleton State University in Stephenville and directs its W.K. Gordon Center for Industrial History at Thurber.