DEMON MOONSHINE IN SUNNY CAL - 'A Fellow Full Of Rye,' Prohibition Made Criminals, A Divisive Issue


Women with handgun and jar of moonshine at Frozen, Calhoun
County early 1900s, Dicy Cottrell Dixon (married Howard Dixon)
on left, woman on right unidentified (Troy Cottrell Collection)

By Bob Weaver

Prohibition (1920-1933) turned millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans into criminals, including a considerable number of moonshiners and beer makers in Calhoun County.

Some got sent to jail and prison.

Ken Burns, whose film "Prohibition" says in the 19th century American men drank on average five or six times the amount of alcohol as they do today.

The country, to put it mildly, suffered from a severe case of drunkenness, resulting in domestic abuse, child abandonment, poverty, and early death to the drinkers.

Shortly after prohibition went into effect, 30,000 speakeasies sprung up in new York City.

In Calhoun, every small community had its moonshiner.

In Washington, President Warren G. Harding, the nation's first prohibition president, chaired the "whiskey cabinet," supplied with hooch from a Washington bootlegger.

The Women's Christian Temperance Union was the largest women's organization to date during the temperance movement of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Calhoun had its own active WCTU.

A Calhoun Chronicle story in 1889 reported that the Mt. Pisgah Baptist Association met at the Bethlehem church with attendance estimated at 500.

"Most of their program seems to have been on the temperance question," the report said.

The activist movement pitted neighbor-against-neighbor, and caused divisive outrage against immigrants and poor rural people.

Burns said Prohibition was much like the current scapegoating of immigrants.

Prohibition was a breakdown in civility, said Burns. During prohibition, the spin was divisive, "What if immigrants drink and vote?" The racial, immigrant and religious card, now on the front burner again, was a sure fire way to polarize people.

"In 1921, great interest was shown in the deliberations of a Calhoun grand jury. It was whispered around that an investigation of the making and vending of corn whiskey would be conducted, and sure enough, invitations to come before the grand jury were issued by the court," said a news story.

"When the word leaked out that the writs were in the hands of the sheriff, there was a great exodus of those who have favored the raisin-jack vendors with their patronage."

"For once the supply caught up with the demand. It is said that the principal figure among the boot-leggers complained bitterly because the court had broken up his business for a time."

Not one Calhouner could remember having purchased any hooch in the county, when called before the Grand Jury, the news story said.

One witness, Golder White of Brooksville, refused to answer questions proposed to him by the investigating body and was sent to jail for several hours on a contempt charge.

The late Eucle Knotts, who lived over 100, said "I cut my teeth on moonshine. The JP around here had a still up on the hill. Us boys knew how to do it. We'd make a little whiskey and sell a little homebrew to make a dollar or two."

"Over on Rush Run, they were all bootleggers up there in those days. I was just a kid and this was pretty wild country back then. There were some killin's up there but the law was afraid to go up there. There were gun battles - it was like the Hatfield & McCoys."

Politically in Calhoun, there was tendency for the Calhoun sheriff to arrest moonshiners in southern Calhoun, primarily because the northern moonshiners supplied to product to officials.

In 1895 the county paper published a temperance poems:

"Sing a song of penitence a fellow full of rye,
four and twenty serpents dancing before his eye.

When his eye was opened he shouted for his life,
wasn't he a pretty chump to go before his wife?

His hat was in the parlor, underneath a chair,
his boots were in the hall, his coat was on the stair.

His trousers in the kitchen his collar on the shelf,
but he hadn't any notion where he was at himself.

When the morn was breaking someone heard him call,
his head was in the ice box, and that was best of all."



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