Rivard, John T. / Triple centennial jubilee souvenir book : Somerset
Chapter VIII: The moonshine days, p. 30
CHAPTER VIII THE MOONSHINE DAYS The "Roaring Twenties" gave Somerset wide publicity. Even to this day men will smile and say: "Oh, yes, I remember Somerset. One time back in 19z8 I went out there to pick up a gallon of 'moon' ". And he will embellish the event with a few colorful remarks about "the good old days". Somerset was the Moonshine Capital of the Midwest. How did it happen? In 1918 Prohibition, the noble experiment, took effect. Now the French-Canadian is not a notorious drinker, he drinks no more than any other race, but he has a keen sense of inde, pendence. No foolish law was going to stop him from having a nip from time to time. But there was no liquor to buy. So he made his own! One man is generally given credit for in, stalling his own distilling outfit. He shall remain nameless as will all the people involved herein. In 1918 he made some alcohol from molasses. Naturally he sold some. It was scarce and sold for as high as $3o.oo a gallon the first years. As time went on the idea of making easy money spread throughout the community. This continued and grew until 1933 when the Amendment was repealed. However, there was still some boot, legging going on until 1939. "DO IT YOURSELF KIT" First of all how do you make 'moonshine'. There being little chance of any getting away with it today except back in the hills of Kentucky, we make bold to inform you of this delicate art of bringing pleasure to the thirsty. You take a 5o gallon hogshead. Put in 45 gallons of water. Stir in ioo pounds of cane sugar and a halfgallon of cracked corn. Dissolve four pounds of yeast in lukewarm water and stir in. Keep the batch at 7z degrees. For 7 days stir twice a day. When the corn quits working your mash is ready to cook. Your still consists of a copper boiler of i barrel or larger. The top is soldered on. A copper coil of 5o feet comes out of the top and coils through a cold water tank. A kerosene stove of several burners is under the boiler. You cook the mash. As the steam arises inside it goes through the coil and is condensed to liquid. This liquid is alcohol. In about 4 hours your 5o gallon batch is cooked and you have t 0, i i gallons of 'white mule' moonshine. The first few gallons come out about i z5 proof. The more you cook it the less proof you have. So that the whole 1 0 gallons averages 95 proof. Several men made I o gallons a day or more. One farmer had a i z barrel still. It being against the law the men had to keep a watch out for the "feds". So the stills were hid wherever they could: in basements, barns, sheds, in the woods, caves. It was stored also in peculiar places. One farmer a few years ago dug up some real good stuff underneath a stump. Another farmer's truck broke through the ground. On investigation he discovered a secret tunnel with a. secret panel in his barn. He had lived there for years without knowing it. THE RUNNERS The biggest problem was selling it, that is, without getting caught. The easiest way was to let the customers or 'runners' come to you. The Twin Cities were the largest source of customers. They came with cars equipped to hide and haul hundreds of' gallons of moon without detection. Of course, they were caught many times. One runner broke a jug in his car. It smelled so much that he was sure the cops would smell it in passing. So he pulled out his choke on the car and 'smoked' his way through traffic unharmed. Two loads a week went to Moorhead and Fargo. On one trip two men with a i oo gallon load took to cruising around Fargo while waiting to unload. In North Dakota it was jail, not just a fine, to peddle moon. As the driver made a left turn a cop pulled up. "You can't make a left turn into this street" he shouted. With fear in his heart lest the cop come closer to in- vestigate our man said: "please, sir, I did not know that. I promise you that I will never again make a left turn here as long as I live." He got through but stayed away from Fargo. AGING AND SUGAR White mule sold, but more often the moon was aged a little. Charred oak kegs were used. About six months of aging and you had good whiskey. Or you could force-age it by putting in an electrical element and bringing it to a boil for five hours. One fellow had an ingenious system. He tyed a rope to the top of a tree. Attached it to his barrel the breeze would rock the aging barrel very gently. The more it rocked the better. This moon was worth $5.oo a gallon. The tree would rock the moon and the moon would rock the client. Rock and roll is old stuff to the moonshiners! Another big problem was getting sugar. The Feds were watching sugar shipments. One man was selling a carload of sugar a day. He had one load in the warehouse, one on the track and one in transit. There were other sellers also. Sometimes it got too hot and the bootleggers would have to travel to pick up their sugar. If caught their trucks were confiscated. Yeast was another ticklish problem because they had to buy it by the hundreds of pounds. But they got used to playing hide and go seek with the Feds in their shiny black cars. The men had a warning system when the black cars were headed this way. We do not know how many were making moon, but thousands of gallons of it was coming from Somerset! WHY HERE? You might ask - why did it become such an industry in Somerset, why not in Hudson or New Richmond? To make moon you must have confidence in your neighbors. Somerset was almost all French much interrelated. They still have a fierce sense of loyalty to each other. They must not snitch. Neither must they be envious of each others good fortune. jealousy and greed will break up any endeavor. Also a 'gentle- men's agreement' must mean something to all parties concerned. There must be a good moral background, even though the action involved is not at the time exactly legal. Also Somerset was near the State line and the Twin Cities. Everything was going along fine with not too much trouble when the strangers and racketeers came on the scene. The FrenchCanadian is not greedy for great gain. When the supply became too great he quit making moon for several months to keep the price up and the Feds away. But some men from St. Paul came in to make a killing. They would highjack the moon from the farmers. Sometimes paying for the moon and then at the point of a gun demanding the money back and running off with hundreds of gallons. These men built a big still to make straight alcohol. They would redistill the moon and make 18 o proof alcohol. They were uncouth, rude, bold and greedy. They brought the Feds down in droves. Besides they were unscrupulous and had no sense of loyalty or fairness. They would undersell the farmers and simple bootleggers to the point where it became $ I.25 a gallon. Instead of taking it on the chin they fought and threw their weight around. The Feds were out to get them, and though they did not want to hurt the 'honest' bootleggers, the Feds had no choice. The market was ruined and the 'esprit de corps' was lost. Bootlegging became more dangerous and several were fined or served up to six months in jail. In a sense the bootleggers were glad when Prohibition was repealed. The fear and pressure was telling on them too much. Because these outsiders came in to make a racket out of simple bootlegging, the French-Canadian is suspicious of strangers coming in without stating their business and intention on the level and above board. The French are a closedgroup, and like it that way, although they will gladly accept you if you do not take advantage of them. They will fight among themselves, but like to work out their own problems without outside interference. The family spirit of loyalty extends to the neighbors and community.
© Copyright 1956 by John T. Rivard