Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Prohibition leads to local moonshining

Prohibition began in the United States on Jan. 17, 1920, when the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution went into effect. The temperance movement first gained ground in 1826 with the formation of the American Temperance Society, but the consumption of alcoholic beverages was a contentious subject as far back as colonial times.

Prohibition did not, of course, stop the making or consuming of hard alcohol. “Moonshiners” set up their own distilling equipment wherever it could be hidden from local lawmen, and Umatilla County was certainly no exception when it came to hidden stills. For example: In Freewater, a washboiler still in the bedroom of Claude Anderson’s home near Crockett Station was raided by Sheriff W.R. Taylor and officer Robert Sinclair Dec. 21, 1920. As no one was home at the time of the raid, the officers waited for Anderson so he could be arrested. Anderson disclaimed ownership of the still, but frequent visitors to his home, with quite a line of autos calling, had aroused suspicion and Sheriff Taylor confiscated a 50-gallon barrel of fruit mash and two jugs of alcohol during the raid. Another still was raided five miles from Milton on Dec. 28, 1920, in a three-room cave in a hillside on the Upper Walla Walla river. A Kentucky native was caught red-handed when officers waded waist-deep through the river to reach the cave undetected. Four hundred and fifty gallons of corn mash was confiscated along with a 50-gallon capacity copper still and five gallons of finished liquor. Both men was arrested and taken to the justice court in Athena for trial the following day.

The Jan. 5, 1921, edition of the East Oregonian had a short story about the downfalls of making your own liquor:

In Omaha, Neb., a gory drunken battle broke out on a farm owned by George Fred, an alleged moonshiner. Five were wounded in the battle, a two-on-three fight. Since the trio had imbibed more freely than the other two combatants, they received the worst of the injuries, but not without inflicting serious damage on their foes. The wounded? A dog and a hog against three goats. All the animals had become inebriated by eating corn mash from Fred’s still. Local officers found six operational stills and confiscated 600 gallons of corn whiskey.

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