WSJ 1992: The Second Murder of Crazy Horse (Beer)

crazyhorsemaltThe hubbub over the anniversary of Custer and the Little Big Horn reminded me of the time a couple decades ago when some Sioux Indians were on the warpath against me because of this Wall Street Journal article.   I think there were other letters to the editor beside the one below  from tearjerk queen congresswoman Pat Schroeder.   I also discussed this case and other alcohol restrictions in Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty (St. Martin’s, 1994).  Since then, the feds have relented and beer companies are permitted to put the alcohol content of their brew on their label.  Thus, Raging Bitch. *******

The Wall Street Journal        Tuesday, September 15, 1992
The Second Murder of Crazy Horse
By James Bovard

One hundred and 15 years after a U.S. cavalry soldier murdered Crazy Horse in a jail cell, federal officials are once again persecuting Crazy Horse. This time, instead of a defenseless Indian chief, the target is a small Brooklyn brewing company that had the audacity to use a newly politically incorrect name for its beverage. The resulting political feeding frenzy may result in the first crucifixion of an American corporation for the sin of “commercial blasphemy.”

In March 1992, Hornell Brewing Co. introduced Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, which is proving to be a big success. Hornell brought out Crazy Horse as part of a new series of Wild West-type drinks scheduled to include Jim Bowie Pilsner and Annie Oakley Lite. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms formally approved the name and label for 40-ounce bottles of the new malt liquor.

But Surgeon General Antonia Novello went on the warpath when she heard about Crazy Horse. Dr. Novello flew to Rapid City, S.D. — near the largest Sioux Indian reservation — held a press conference and denounced Hornell for “insensitive and malicious marketing.” Dr. Novello claimed that the new drink “may appeal to drinkers who want to go ‘crazy,”‘ and concluded: “I look to the leaders of the Indian Nations to help me mount a campaign to stop this exploitation, to use public outrage to force Crazy Horse off the market.” A few weeks later, she told a congressional committee: “Let them know that proud Indian Nations will not be brought to their knees,” and appealed for more public denunciations of the brewers.

Many congressmen have jumped on Dr. Novello’s anti-beer bandwagon. Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D., Colo.) declared that the sale of Crazy Horse malt liquor is part of an “absolute American tragedy.” Rep. David Obey (D., Wis.) said that the company that brews Crazy Horse should be put out of business. Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D., Mass.), whose inherited wealth stemmed largely from his grandfather’s bootleg racket, wailed that brewers “don’t care what the effect is on the American Indian people . . . as long as they can make money.”

On June 5, Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.) proposed an amendment to a House appropriations bill to prohibit any company from naming any alcoholic beverage after any renowned dead person. (Mr. Wolf’s amendment mortified Boston Beer Co., since it would have outlawed Samuel Adams beer.) On July 1, the House passed a narrower Wolf amendment (after Mr. Wolf during floor debate deemed Hornell “despicable”) that banned the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms from approving any additional labels featuring Crazy Horse.

On July 30, the Senate Appropriations Committee effectively ordered Hornell to negotiate with the Oglala Sioux Indian tribe to satisfy the Indians’ complaints. But the negotiations have been derailed largely because the Indians have made sweeping demands for federal bans on the use of any Indian name on alcoholic products or “other products which are harmful to physical or mental health.”

On Sept. 10, the Senate adopted an amendment by Sen. Tom Daschle (D., S.D.) to revoke Hornell’s federal license to sell Crazy Horse. The House and Senate conferees on the appropriations bill could settle Hornell’s fate this week. The company is owned by John Ferolito and Don Vultaggio, two former New York beer truck drivers. Spokesman Mark Rodman notes that the company has invested more than $1 million in packaging, labeling, and trademark development and marketing efforts, and that the controversy has cost the company more than $100,000. Banning Crazy Horse could easily bankrupt the company and destroy scores of jobs.

This brouhaha over Crazy Horse is peculiar. There are already dozens of alcoholic beverages named after Indians and Indian tribes, such as Thunderbird wine, Black Hawk Stout, and Chief OshKosh Red Lager. Crazy Horse’s name has been used for tobacco products, strip joints and saloons.

Critics allege that Crazy Horse malt liquor’s name will somehow spark increased drinking; Dr. Novello declared that Hornell’s “marketing strategy is guaranteed to decrease the health status of Native Americans.” But Hornell is not selling Crazy Horse in 14 states with high populations of Native Americans. Also, a 1985 Federal Trade Commission study concluded that there was “no reliable basis on which to conclude that alcohol advertising significantly affects alcohol abuse.”

The surgeon general’s efforts have hit pay dirt — at least in South Dakota. The Associated Press reported last week that bottles of Crazy Horse have become all the rage in Rapid City. (Hornell is not licensed to sell Crazy Horse in South Dakota and the bottles are being smuggled in from other states.) People are paying up to $14 — more than five times the retail price elsewhere — for the empty bottles with their novel painted labels. Dr. Novello sees this as a result of the nefariousness of American alcohol producers: “It really shows that once the industry gets committed to do something, they will always find a way to do it.”

It is especially hypocritical for congressmen to denounce malt liquor labels for corrupting the public since Congress itself censors all beer and malt liquor labels by prohibiting breweries from listing their alcohol content. (Wine and hard liquors are compelled by federal law to state their alcohol content on their labels.)

In 1989, the counsel for the House filed a court brief that declared that Uncle Sam must continue suppressing beer’s alcohol content to “shield the public . . . from unhealthy blandishments to select beers on the basis of their efficacy as intoxicants.” The House’s position is incredibly demeaning to average citizens. It makes no sense to pick out the beverage with the lowest alcohol
content and assume that people will go on drinking binges unless Congress effectively blindfolds them.

The surgeon general is using the attack on Crazy Horse to spearhead new controls on alcoholic beverages, declaring: “The Indians are only the beginning of the minority populations” to be helped by a more restrictive alcohol labeling. When asked whether her proposed ban would violate brewers’ freedom of speech, Dr. Novello replied: “If this goes to any high court, it would be very contended (sic) whose rights are more violated.”

We should not allow politicians and bureaucrats to lynch any private company whose product name offends them. The surgeon general’s pronouncements indicate that she may not be satisfied with any new alcoholic beverage unless it is named Brain Rot, Baby Killer, or Liver Lambaster. She should find something better to do with her time than spurring the creation of black markets for pretty beer bottles.

The Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, September 30, 1992
Letters to the Editor: The Real Murderer Of Chief Crazy Horse

James Bovard has it all backward (“The Second Murder of Crazy Horse,” editorial page, Sept. 15). “One hundred and 15 years after a U.S. cavalry soldier murdered Crazy Horse in a jail cell,” a New York brewery, not the federal government, is trying to murder him again.

Crazy Horse Malt Liquor not only offends many Americans, it also mocks a cultural symbol held dear by Native Americans. Ironically, the symbol is important in the fight against alcoholism among Native Americans. As Surgeon General Antonia Novello points out, this is not an insignificant fight. The incidence of alcoholism among Native American teenagers is twice the national average, and the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome rate among Native American infants is 20 times the national average.

Crazy Horse was a spiritual and military leader of the Sioux Nation who witnessed the destructive force of alcohol among his
people and adamantly opposed its consumption. Even today, substance abuse counselors use his teachings in their work with Native Americans. The Hornell Brewing Co. could not have picked a more inapt symbol for their product.

As for the legality of our action, the federal government has broad authority to regulate the sale, distribution and advertising
of alcoholic beverages.

In short, contrary to what Mr. Bovard has written, no one is being lynched, but Crazy Horse is being hijacked and we intend to
stop it.

Rep. Pat Schroeder (D., Colo.)


(See related letter: “Letters to the Editor: Get Off High Horse
About Crazy Horse” — WSJ Oct. 21, 1992)

On Twitter @jimbovard




10 Responses to WSJ 1992: The Second Murder of Crazy Horse (Beer)

  1. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit June 27, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    See? It wasn’t a lynching, it was a hijacking!

    But I have to admit that the FedGov’s point about “…unhealthy blandishments to select beers on the basis of their efficacy as intoxicants” is pretty much spot on. Since beer tastes to me like exactly what it is – grain-based yeast piddle* – why ELSE would I select beer as a beverage EXCEPT for its efficacy as an intoxicant?

    *not to be confused with fruit-based yeast piddle, the manufacture of which is the real reason God created fruit in the first place…

    • Jim June 27, 2014 at 10:35 am #

      You live in Oregon and you don’t appreciate good beer???

      Geez, did you move out there for the liberal politics then – since the beer is one of the top attractions?

      Heck, even Pennsylvania has great beer now – from Victory Brewing and other sources.

      My father said something similar about beer – “that stuff tastes like horse piss.”

      I have always regretted that I missed the chance to ask him how he knew how that stuff tasted.

      • The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit June 30, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

        Oh, that’s hurtful.

        Actually, I came for the law school and stayed for the well-written laws. The Liberal Portland (but I repeat myself) Politics … not so much.

        See – you’d never catch me saying “tastes like horse piss” because I have no basis for comparison. But I *do* know what yeast piss tastes like, and grain-fed yeast are just not the best choice of critters to be pissing in my glass….

  2. Tom Blanton June 27, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

    It seems like Hornell Brewing could have been more accommodating to those easily offended critics like Pat Schroeder. Maybe just a slight name change like Crazy Horse Piss Malt Likker, or even naming it after Schroeder herself – Crazy Whore’s Malt Likker.

    I was also wondering if Antonia Novello took a few cases of rifles and a few cases of corn whiskey to give to the Injuns to get them riled up about the beer thing.

    It’s amazing that Native Americans didn’t consider Thunderbird wine to be an insult to their heritage. That stuff is pure crap. Although it is fortified wine, making it a favorite with winos. Plus the thin bottle shape made it popular among kids too young to purchase the beverage, forcing them to shove a bottle or two in their pants in order to enjoy an after-school buzz.

    • Jim June 28, 2014 at 8:28 am #

      Tom, if Hornell Brewing had put Schroeder’s picture on the beer label, people would have converted en masse to teetotalers overnight.

      I also wondered about Thunderbird. I drank that in high school – -and actually recently saw it still for sale at 7-11 on the main street in my old home town. That was one temptation that was not difficult to resist.

      • Tom Blanton June 28, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

        Did you check the vintage on that Thunderbird? Maybe it’s been sitting on the 7-11 shelf a while. I think 1974 was a good year, but you’d need to ask a Thunderbird connoisseur. I do know to stay away from the vintage bottles where the cap is corroded or rusty, but a good bottle of Thunderbird never loses that bouquet for those who have acquired a nose for it.

        It has always seemed to me that after the first bottle or two, it’s hard to tell the difference between Night Train, Richard’s Wild Irish Rose or Thunderbird. Kids today have a hard time believing that you could get a bottle of wine for 79 cents. Heck, you could get a bottle of wine, a pack of smokes, a bag of pork rinds and a couple of Slim Jims for under $5. Not to mention those quarter movies. Wow, a cheap night on the town for a sophisticated bachelor.

        • Jim June 29, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

          Does anybody else recall the old jingle?

          “What’s the price?
          50 twice.
          What’s the word?

          I agree on Night Train and Wild Irish Rose. Then again, MD 20/20 always had a higher tone.

          Folks who have “acquired a nose” for Thunderbird – ya, that’s probably a group even more challenged than devotees of cheap cigars.

          • The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit June 30, 2014 at 10:54 am #

            Sifting through the Party Catalog (PLCB price list) in college one day, my roommate and I decided to look for the cheapest wine. Yep. Thunderbird. It was 93 cents a bottle in 1980 in Pennsylvania. We bought one, just for testing. Sherman – bless his liver – actually LIKED it. I decided to stick with Boone’s Farm.*

            Night Train and Ripple were popular among the GIs from the inner city. Then Korea had a local equivalent, a wine called “Oscar” which came in peach and grape formats. The grape tasted sort of like grape Kool-Aid, but without enough sugar. Not bad – but the peach was MUCH better. They were also a buck a bottle in 1981…

            *which, by the way, is now made with a “citrus” base, and tastes nothing at ALL like the smoooooth beverage of my youth…

  3. Jim June 30, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Lawhobbit, they had party price lists at PENN colleges? Geez, I missed out at Va. Tech.

    I was a big purchaser of Boone’s Farm in high school. I never dated any wine snobs in high school so I didn’t hear any complaints. Actually, the fact that I could reliably supply beverages probably helped moved the ball down the field a few times.

    I didn’t know that Boone’s Farm had changed its @composition since the 1970s. But at least brown paper bags are still as tried-and-true as they always were.

    • The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit June 30, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

      “Alcoholic soda pop,” as one friend described it. Then wine coolers were invented in the ’80s, and the PX at Ft. Riley used to sell these two liter bottles of ’em.

      I notice that Mad Dog now comes in Flavors Other Than Grape, too….