We continue the Haunting of an Ex-Moonshiner, in which Newt Bruffett recounts his moonshining days.
Springfield, Mo. News & Leader, August 2, 1959, page 1 & 5 D
And who are the Bruffetts? Genuine hillbillies – last of a vanishing breed – who have managed somehow to hang on to the old ways and beliefs, the traditions and superstitions they were steeped in through childhood. Somehow, they have withstood the influences of the on rushing modern world. Somehow, they have remained wonderfully quaint and real.
Newt Bruffett was born at the head of Railey Creek, between Reeds Spring and Galena, May 11, 1890. His father had a rugged hillside farm and a hunter's eye that brought in plenty of wild game for the table in their one-room log cabin. Newt had a typical backwoods boyhood with little schooling. His youth was spent trying to grub a living from the farm with his father, along with hacking ties for the new railroad and playing hoe-down fiddle-music for country dances all over the neighboring hills and hollows. Cash money was scarce as hen’s teeth. About the only people who seemed to have plenty were his neighbors who operated moonshine stills and sold their wares at country dances where Newt played.
Alice Eve Bruffett is not a native Ozarker but admits that she is just as much hillbilly as her husband of only four years. She was born in a log cabin in mountainous Dixon County, Tenn. Moonshining ways were not new to her when she married and later moved to Caruthersville, Mo. Here she raised a family of seven children. After the death of her husband loneliness caused her to join a Pen Pal Club. She received a letter one day from a mountain man who had lost his wife and who spoke her language. They exchanged pictures and more letters. Four years ago she was met at the train in Branson by this man and a short time later she became Mrs. Newt Bruffett.
Bruffett owned a little cabin on Roark Creek at a once discontinued siding called Gretna on the Missouri Pacific railroad, between Reeds Spring and Branson. It was rough country. He had gone away to the Army and left his family in a little shack at Reeds Spring. His wife had taken in washings to feed the children and herself while he was gone. Upon his return [in 1919], he found them literally upon starvation. He tried to get a job but found nothing more than cutting cordwood for a small wage. It was then he decided to supplement the meager income by moonshining whisky.
The hills and hollows were full of moonshine stills. Newt had a friend who helped him get started and showed him how to operate a distillery. He got hold of some wooden barrels in which to set the mash for fermentation. A peck of chopped corn, 50 pounds of sugar and five cakes of yeast with water added would make 14 gallons of mash. When this had fermented to the proper degree from four to six gallons of corn liquor could be distilled from it.
The distillery was a simple contraption usually made up of a copper wash boiler with a pipe running out of the lid into what was called the “thump keg”. This latter acted as sort of a sediment bulb when small amounts of corn chops passed through the pipe with steam generated by a fire under the boiler filled with mash. With the solid matter trapped in the thump keg, the steam then passed on into a coil made from about 20 feet of copper tubing. This coil wound around and around in a barrel of cool water which caused the steam to condense. The condensed liquid, of course, contained a high percentage of alcohol, which dripped from the tube into a stone jug or glass fruit jar.
In order to make the whisky more palatable it was then placed in a charred keg and left to age. Or if the moonshiner couldn’t or wouldn’t wait on this aging period, he could produce a fair substitute by adding a small portion of burnt sugar, which gave it a better taste, added color and beads.
“I moved to Taney County,” Newt Bruffett says, “and made enough moonshine down there to swim a horse.” Was he ever caught by the law? “Nope,” he grins. “There weren’t no need of a moonshiner getting’ caught, if you was willin’ to pay off. I had to give a Taney County lawyer a quart of liquor every day, but he done a good job and nobody ever bothered me.” Did he make much money? “Nope. Against you got everybody paid off for protection, there wasn’t much left. Just got $16.00 a gallon for it in the first place, at the highest, and sometimes a lot less than that.”
Did he think that moonshine liquor might have had something to do with the ghosts? No, for he had quit making whisky many years ago. “And he belongs to the church, now", Alice Bruffett cut in. “He don’t drink nothin’ except milk and a bottle of soda pop once in a while.”
See Haunting of a Moonshiner, Part 1 for a description of the ghosts.
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