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The Moon ShinerPosted Friday, December 28, 2012, at 7:41 PM
During the 1920's and up until 1933, the "moon shiner," the "bootlegger," the "rum runner" and the "speak easy" were making more money than anyone else in our part of the country. This all started on January 16, 1920, when the 18th Amendment made it illegal for anyone to make whisky or beer.
Prior to 1920, there was not a great demand for the sale of whiskey, since just about anyone who wanted whisky could set up a still in their kitchen or out in the woodshed and make their own.
When prohibition went into effect, I remember hearing stories about certain individuals having to move their still out of their home and hide it in some old abandoned shack or put it on some knoll back in the swamps.
It seems that prohibition distorted the role of alcohol in America, causing people to drink more instead of less. It promoted disrespect for the law, and generated a wave of criminal activity, as one gang would wage war against another gang for the rights to deliver moon shine whiskey to a specific area.
The moon shiner was the man who went out after dark and, by the light of the moon, fired up his still. The bootlegger was the fellow who delivered the finished product, sometimes keeping it hidden by carrying it in his high top boots. The speak easy was usually some secluded spot where you could, by whispering the name of some mutual friend, buy a drink or a bottle of white lightning.
A lot of sugar was required to make whiskey, and quite often the merchant would sell a customer 100 pounds of sugar. Besides the profit on the sugar, he would get a reward by turning the customer's name in to the revenuers. However, the revenuers seldom ever caught anyone, as this same merchant would get another reward or a quart of whiskey by informing the whiskey maker that the revenuers were coming.
About all the revenuers ever did was break up the still and pour out the mash. The next day, the moon shiner put together another still in a different location and went ahead with his business.
As for the speak easy, his merchandise was usually arranged in such way that it could quickly be loaded on a truck, and when the revenuers arrived at his place of business, everyone would be drinking ginger ale.
It is well known that whiskey improves with age, and some makers learned to age their product overnight by adding a very small amount of scorched sugar water.
If some unknown customer came by, the maker didn't have any whiskey, but for $5.00 he would tell the prospective buyer where he could find a quart in some old hollow tree.
When I was about thirteen years old I knew of four stills within walking distance of our farm on Cato Slough. One was in an old abandoned shack in the woods about a mile east of our home. There was no road going east through these woods, and it was a common occurrence to see someone walking across the south end of our farm on his way to the still.
On one occasion, two men were seen about sundown, quietly walking across the south end of our farm, where we had just recently plowed a strip of ground about 40 yards wide. Shortly after dark, they came back, and this time they were full of spirit. They were stepping high and wide and singing "Show me the way to go home." The next morning, it looked like someone had drug a dead horse across the strip of ground we had plowed a few days before.
Some of these moonshiners gained quite a reputation for making good whiskey, and it was reported that Pappy Knight made batches of cold remedy that would have warmed up a cast iron statue of Saddam Hussein. It was known to be so mellow that it would take the starch out of a flag pole.
Pappy had two neighbors who had not been on speaking terms for years. One Christmas, he gave each of these neighbors a quart of his special recipe, and they started returning things to each other that they hadn't even borrowed in the first place.
At the general election of 1933, nearly 75% of the voters were in favor of repealing this 18th Amendment, and this put the moon shiner, the boot legger and the speak easy out of business.
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Paul Corbin is a 98-year-old historian, humorist, and amateur archeologist from Advance, Mo. He grew up in the Greenbrier area west of Advance, where he attended Stepp School on the banks of Cato Slough and the Castor River, important waterways throughout his life. In an age when many area residents did not go to high school, the young Corbin made the decision to walk the five miles to Zalma, graduating in 1933. Throughout his life, he was an enterprising businessman, selling Watkins products from house to house throughout a large area - and later opening a variety store in Advance. He and his wife Geneva traveled throughout the United States, even following the route that the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled. His knowledge of Native American culture is extensive, and he has donated a sizeable collection of his artifacts to the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center and the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History in Marble Hill. Throughout the years, he has submitted articles to TBY, the North Stoddard Countian, the Ozark Mountaineer, and several other Missouri publications. He has also written two books - "Reflections in Missouri Mud," and "Fragments of my Feeble Mind." The first one is out of print.