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Rivard, John T. / Triple centennial jubilee souvenir book : Somerset

Chapter VIII: The moonshine days,   p. 30

Page 30

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Amendment was repealed.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.
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 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.
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
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!
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.

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