Flashback: Wild West showdown in Roswell

Flashback: Wild West showdown in Roswell


This month we will look at a normal event that turned into a wild west showdown in Roswell in 1983. It started with comments from a city council member that got residents up in arms and ended with a showdown at City Hall. First, let’s travel back in time and see what life was like in 1983.

The Time: In 1983, the United States was in the midst of the Cold War, tensions high between the two superpowers of the time: the US and the Soviet Union. The year saw President Ronald Reagan propose the Strategic Defense Initiative, which would come to be known as “Star Wars” and escalate the arms race.

Georgia, meanwhile, was governed by Governor Joe Frank Harris. Gas prices averaged $1.25 per gallon, and the Internet as we know it was still more than a decade away. Against this backdrop of political tension and societal change, a small incident in Roswell captured the public’s attention.

In 1983, the population of Roswell was just over 23,000. North Fulton’s population boom ocurred after the 1996 Olympics, so we are still talking about a small town. For reference, Roswell’s current population is over 95,000.

The Issue: In 1983, Roswell’s alcohol ordinance was designed not to encourage drinking. This is a far cry, from the city’s current ordinance, which allows open carrying of alcohol on Canton Street. Back then, it was acceptable for restaurants to serve alcohol, but the city did not want bars or excessive drinking within city limits. The alcohol ordinance stated that an establishment that served alcohol had to sell more food than alcohol.

A Confrontation at City Hall: ‘It was a meeting of the Roswell City Council that didn’t make national headlines, but it certainly had the makings of a Western showdown.

Councilman Scott Childress had made comments about the clientele of certain establishments in Roswell where alcohol was sold, specifically regarding their attire. Childress believed that allowing some patterns of dress, such as jeans, cowboy hats, and boots, could invite people into Roswell who “would not benefit the city.”

While Childress’ comments were intended to express his concern that the city’s alcoholic beverage ordinance be closely followed, many citizens took offense and voiced their anger.

At the next council meeting, about a dozen Western-clad citizens formed a posse to confront Childress about his statement.

According to news reports at the time, when Childress arrived, he was late and dressed in jeans, boots, a Stetson hat called “the Duke,” and a belt with a buckle that read “Texas.”

He explained to those gathered that he was from Childress County in Texas, just south of Oklahoma, and that his attire was typical of his home region.

Childress eventually lent his hat to Councilman Harold Smith, who was in charge of investigating some restaurants to determine if they were meeting ordinance requirements.

Smith emphasized that he would ensure that an impartial person was employed to conduct the investigations and that sufficient time would be given to the restaurants before their records were checked.

The incident may have been small, but it highlighted the tension in the community regarding the enforcement of the alcoholic beverage ordinance. While the council ultimately agreed to investigate some restaurants, including McCloud’s, where police had received complaints, the members were clear that they were not motivated by any vendetta against these businesses.

Information for Flashback stories is gathered from local news sources from the time period covered in the article.

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