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The Moonshiners

December 12, 2023

A Early 20th century bottle of home brew. Left in a barn for decades, it never froze.

By Guy Scott

During the 20s and 30s there were a good many illicit liquor making operations (stills) in the north country. Many of them produced inferior products, and perhaps much of it was downright dangerous. The need to have an additional source of income became acute during the early and middle 1930s, when market prices for livestock and farm produce was severely depressed. Two local boys, X and Y, decided to try their hand at making moonshine, and took the necessary steps to get in business. This type of operation required running water, of which there was an abundance in the hills, as well as a steady supply of yeast and white sugar.

Their marketing plan was not unlike the current illicit drug trade today. Their plan involved never having their product on them or with them at the Saturday night dances which were popular at the time. The danger period for them was during the trip from home, by automobile, to the drop point outside town or village where the dance was being held. They had many methods of avoiding any watchful eye on the trip to the dance, one being by taking a circuitous route to their destination. For example, if the dance was in Kinmount, they would travel via Irondale or Norland or Burnt River. They had their standard drop points in each case: usually a big tree or a log or a rock.

X and Y were in their early 20s, handsome and quite popular with the girls. As soon as they appeared at a dance, the potential customers would approach them, engage in a conversation, and the money would change hands very quickly, and the customer would be told the location from which they could secure their bottle of booze. In this way they avoided actually having booze for sale at the dance, and should the authorities find the cache, there was no one there to arrest.

As referred to previously, the operation required a lot of yeast and sugar. If they purchased as much as they required themselves, it would arouse suspicion with the storekeeper, as these were not the impersonal supermarkets we have today. So, when any of the neighbours made a trip to town, they were always asked to get them sugar and yeast. The neighbours were suspicious regarding their use of so much sugar and yeast, but no one asked questions and nobody ratted on them.

The end came one evening in July 1936. I don’t believe there were any informants involved. The ‘law’ had been on their case for several years and had finally concluded they were not going to catch them unless they changed their tactics.

Mom and Dad were in the garden when around 9:00 pm a sinister, black glassed car came slowly down the road. There was a driver and a passenger, each dressed in dark suits, white shirts, ties and black fedora hats. It was a rarity to see a car, especially that late in the evening, other than one of the neighbours. As they slowly passed, they raised their hands to their hats in greeting and Mom and Dad waved back.

Nothing more was said, and soon Dad was in bed. Mom retired a little later, and had been asleep a short time when there was a brisk knock at the door. With no electricity, and no flashlight, she lit the lamp and went to the door. She was surprised to see one of the strangers that had passed in the strange car an hour earlier. He was very apologetic for waking her, and with no explanation, he asked if she had a mason jar he could buy. She didn’t ask any questions, but said sure. He insisted on paying her 10 cents for it, and thanking her profusely, he left.

The reason became clear early the next morning when X informed them he had been busted the previous evening. The strange car’s occupants had been two detectives, with a new plan to catch the culprits. The had travelled half way down a hill and stopped with the headlights off, just before a sharp bend. The road was only one car wide, with steep ditches on both sides. They waited there until they saw the reflection of the oncoming headlights: whereupon they let their car roll down to meet the oncoming vehicle and switched on their headlights.

The oncoming car contained X and Y: one as driver the other in the passenger seat and a considerable amount of moonshine in the back seat which was destined fro the drop site near where the dance was being held that night. They had no choice but to stop, and X climbed into the backseat and began frantically to throw the bottles of moonshine into the woods, hoping that each would hit a rock and destroy any recoverable evidence. He was amazingly successful until the final 2 bottles, when the detectives were on him and in desperation he smashed the bottles against one another, and in the process badly gashed his hand with the broken glass. The moonshine pooled on the floor, and remained there because the floors were covered with rubber. The quick thinking detective took his white linen handkerchief and sopped up the moonshine, but then realized it would evaporate long before he could enter it as evidence. Thus the need for a mason jar in which to contain it. Because of the severe cut X had experienced, the other detective had to rush him to a doctor in Kinmount or Minden, while his partner acquired the mason jar.

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