Volume III, No. 1, Fall 1975
Now they's three different kinds of whiskey. They's white mule, they's moonshine and they's white lightning. Now your white mule, that's when you've got your still way to hell back in the woods. You have to ride your old mule back in there and carry your sugar in and your whiskey out. Now moonshine, that's when you set up at night and make it. White lightning, that's when you come right out in the open like we do right here and make it in the daytime.
The twinkle in his bright blue eyes and his friendly smile denoted a touch of humor. Art Patterson, the man who makes whiskey at Alley Spring State Park, often comments about his working for the government.
I used to work against them and now I'm working fer them. When they came to hire me, I said, "it looks like a foolish idea, you people trying to hire me as many years as you've been a-running me." They said, "We've just decided we can hire you cheaper 'n we can hire two revenue men to be after you all the time.'"
The jolly smoke that came from his pipe seemed to complement his overalls, old army hat and rolled up shirt sleeves. His bright eyes, ruddy cheeks and calloused hands showed years of hard work around the still, making good whiskey while watching for revenuers.
I had sold my still to the government five years ago for $150.00. That's what I give for it new, and then after using it all them years--I'd say I got my money's worth. Now what started this all. They put the word out they wanted to buy a still to set up in the Old Red Mill for people to see. I had that one and didn't figure on ever using it again, so I sold it to them. They left it set over there about two weeks and they got up the idea they'd like to have whiskey made here. So they come to me to ask if I'd take a job if they could get a permit to make here. I told them I would for enough money. They wanted to know what I wanted and I told them, hell, I was skilled labor. I thought I ought to have $5.00 an hour. They said they just couldn't pay that. All they wanted was for a demonstration. I said, "Hell, if that's all you want it there for, I'll just work for nothing." That kind of tickled them. Then I said, "Provided you give me what I run through." So that put them to talking again. Then they came up with a pretty good price and I took it.
Many people confuse the making of the whiskey and the selling of it. We asked Art what the difference between a moon\shine and a bootlegger was. Your moon\shine, he's the man that makes it. And your bootlegger, he's the man that peddles it out and sells it.
Making and peddling whiskey violates eleven federal laws. The "revenuers" were always looking for the moonshiners. Art told us what he and his brother did to keep intruding revenuers away.
I've operated a whiskey still ever since I was seventeen. I used to work for my brother before that. I got fifty cents a day till I learned how to operate, then I just bought me a still of my own. I wasn't making a lot of money at fifty cents a day. While we was working we had somebody sitting on the hillside with a good 30-30 most of the time. You go to barking the trees around them boys and they ain't going to stay put. They're going to move on. Course, they was always two of us working. One was sitting up on a hillside watching, while the other was working. We seen a stranger coming, we found out what his business was and sent him on his way.
They'd come down there and try to fool us. They'd come there as hog buyers or cattle buyers or land buyers or something. We just didn't have none of that kind of stuff to sell, so we didn't fool with them and let them go.
I never did use the 30-30. I seen my brother put two boys on the go one time. I guess they was revenue men because they had caught some boys just over the river from us where they had another still. The revenue men come in there and got them boys. But, hell, we had twelve barrels of mash setting up and we couldn't tear down and run. We had to stay. So I told my brother, "Hell, they'll be back." He said, "Well, if they do we'll just have to move them. We can't move." So the next day they was back across the river walking around over the hillside a-looking for some more whiskey for they knew there was more around. My brother decided he'd just move them. And he did. He had his gun. I told him, "Hell, don't kill one for it, for we'll have more law in here than we'll know what to do about." He said, "I ain't a-going to kill one unless he breaks his neck a-running." He got up there on that hill and got to barking the trees around them. They took off and never did come back.
Although Art and his brother took every advantage not to be caught, there was one time that being caught couldn't be avoided.
"By God, they come to the house and got my brother out of bed. They didn't come to the still and get us when we was a-working. He lived in one place and I lived in another. They'd been sitting on the hill watching us with field glasses. So we goes home and he goes to bed and I went on to my house. They come to his house and got him out of bed, but he never would tell on me. That was back in '35. They took him and went over to the still. We was in a cave at that time. They took the two stills and him and headed for Cape Girardeau. I went down the next day and got him out on bond and they had his trial. They fined him $100.00 and ninety days in jail. I told him I was taking the hard part of it. I paid the fine and he just had to lay out the jail sentence.
Art thinks there was probably more whiskey made during prohibition (1920-1933) than ever before. During that period it was illegal to make or sell whiskey even if it was for strictly personal use. Today it is illegal to own a still. In spite of the ban on whiskey, there's always been a lively market, even ,during the depression. In the Ozarks the drought of 1934 and '36 hurt people more than the depression because most people raised their living on farms. Those who lived on the poor upland farms that wouldn't raise anything in the dry years had no way of making a living, or even growing enough to eat. With families to support, some turned to making whiskey.
We worked hard. It was the way we made our living. We sold to anybody that had money. We hauled most of our whiskey to St. Louis. We had a man that come down hunting and fishing and we got to selling him a little bit of whiskey. He'd take five gallon back with him every time he was down. Finally he told us, "Now boys, if you folks'll haul it into St. Louis, I'll handle sixty gallons every two weeks." Well, we had an old Studebaker car with a rumble seat in the back. We just took that seat out and threw it away. Three twenty gallon kegs set in there just right. We'd put them in there and lock that down and go to St. Louis. The man had a bakery shop up there and he had a garage under it. We'd just drive up there, drive under the garage and unload our whiskey, then we'd get out other barrels and come on back. Course, he give us a dollar extra on the gallon for delivering it into the city, which was a lot of money at that time. We sold it for three dollars a gallon down here where they took it from the keg. We made lots of good money. There was always a market for whiskey.
People used to leave the moonshiners alone. Everyone minded his own business. People didn't want to cause you no trouble or nothing. They was trying to make a living and we was trying to make a living, so they'd just leave us alone.
The raids and arrests of many moonshiners shows the strictness of some government officials. In the period between 1935 and 1973, at least 5,741 stills were seized by federal authorities in Missouri and Arkansas alone. The illegal making of whiskey used to be a much bigger problem then now. Over 2,000 of those stills mentioned were seized between 1935 and 1939. However, the punishments then were not as severe. Now the sentence is up to three years in prison.
Some revenuers were mean and insulting. Grover Ballard told this story. "There was a feller who killed a United States Marshall when they first made this liquor and put a revenue on it. The revenue man was pretty mean and a lot of folks here didn't believe in all this regulation. They thought you could make all the whiskey you wanted, all you had to have was a bushel of corn to get you a gallon of whiskey.
"Well, this feller bought a still, but never put it up, and whenever the government found it out, they put the revenuers on it. The feller was gone one day and he had a wild bunch of kids. These two revenue men come to his house--I guess they was smart ducks--and they asked where he was at. The kids told them their daddy was gone. They asked them when he'd come back and the wife told them she didn't know about what time that would be. So they took out these handcuffs and showed them to the kids and told them they'd have them on their daddy afore night. Then his wife got them some dinner and they made fun of the food. They left and went over to the neighbors. Of course, the feller come home, and it made him so damn mad, he just walked over there, throwed the door open and said, 'Halt, you son-of-a-b ..... I'll shoot you!' and killed one of the revenuers right there on the floor. And this other one, he run up the stairs. I seen this stairway. Dad had told me all this when I was a boy, you see, so I went down there and hit was still there. I looked at it.
"The next day the feller give a boy five dollars to pilot him around through the woods to Linn Creek. There wasntt no railroads up here then and the revenuers come up here on them boats, or I guess they'd of killed him. Of course, the revenuers got after him and of course everybody was fer him. There wasn't no transportation like it is now. No telephones or nothing, so they brought a bunch of dogs down there--blood hounds. And by God, they put them blood hounds on that feller's track. He knowed that river, he lived right there on it, the Big Niangua. There's a big sycamore there that was holler, and it had washed up and was in the water. There was a big holler place in it where it stuck out of the water only you couldn't tell it. I don't know this to be a fact, but I guess it was so, they told it. The feller dived in under there. Then he crawled in there up to where he'd get air. They said them blood hounds swum all around that. The revenuers thought he'd went down the river in a boat. Never did get him. No, they never did get him."
Although some revenuers were strict and hard nosed, some were lenient. Here's a portion of some letters sent to a government official informing them of moonshining activity.
Hello Mr. Charlie Gray,
Will drop you a few lines to let you know, you are not doing your job in Jump Off, you can't even walk around the lakes out here unless you fine a stile. You let old J.D. McBee get away from you once, but I am going to give you the facts and if somthing ant done about the whiskey making in Jump Off I will let the head man know just how you run office.
of Jump Off
There is a 55 or 56 model green ford car with liter top hauling whiskey through here one or two nites a week around 10 pm.
A blond woman from Manchester either driving or is in the car. She is Edith Hodges & is boot legging in a white house a block behind the Fifth Wheel Rest in Manchester
The license no is 41-4447 They go some where in White City & Get the load she and some man from Coffee Co.
The local law here wont try & catch them & we, the citizens are tired of it.
Art told us about a cooperative sheriff of his county. I tell you there just wasn't very many people that lived around up there. It was wild country and everybody knew we was making whiskey, but they knowed we had a good rig, that we wasn't gonna poison nobody, that we were gonna make everybody happy, so they just let us go. Why we had a sheriff down here at that time who knowed we was making whiskey, but hell, we'd give him five gallon a month. He wouldn't bother us. A bunch of good women would go down there and tell him we were making whiskey up there on the river. Well, he'd send us word, then he'd get four or five deputies down there and they'd come up there and, hell, nothing around. Then they'd come back and tell them, "You was mistaken. There wasn't nobody making whiskey up there." In two or three days, we'd slip him a five gallon keg. Come election time we'd put out a lot of whiskey to get him elected again.
We heard of another man who made whiskey during the depression. The revenuers came driving a car up the old dirt road looking for his house. They met him on the road and asked him, "We're looking for a man named Johnson. Do you know where he lives?" Johnson said he did, got in the car with them and took them to his house. His wife was making a gooseberry pie and she greeted the men. She fed them pie and coffee while they visited. The still was upstairs. The revenuers asked Johnson if he made whiskey. On getting a negative answer the men left. They didn't think anyone that nice could be making moonshine!
Another time different officials came. This time Johnson had his still under the house. The trap door to get there was hidden by the iron cook stove that set on it. Johnson had to move the stove to get to the still. He also kept some of the jars and supplies upstairs above the stove. There was a moveable piece of ceiling above the stove to get to the jars. A revenuer saw that, stepped up to reach his hand around. He didn't get up high enough to look in. The jars were back far enough that he didn't feel them.
Standing there by his still every day that is doesn't rain all Art has to do is tend his fire occasionally, keep his pipe lit and spin yarns.
A good sister come down and told me it was a sin to make whiskey on Sunday. She said it should all be dumped in the river. Hell, I agreed with her. She went back up to the church, and do you know the first song she wanted to sing? "Shall We Gather At the River."
One time there was an ant here when I was emptying the jug and he got a taste. He ran out of here and jumped on a snake and nearly choked it to death.
Another time a squirrel got some of it. There was a tree with a knot on it just over there. That squirrel tried to run up it backwards. You ought to 'ye seen that.
We run the whiskey out into a gallon fruit jar. That's how I got this ridge across my nose--from drinking out of a fruit jar. When I used to make moonshine, I could always tell who drunk by the ridge across his nose. One time when I was in town I saw a man with a ridge across his nose and I asked him if he'd like to buy some good whiskey. He said he was a preacher and when I asked him about the ridge on his nose, he said he had just left his glasses at home.
We have a barrel there. You can stoop over and smell the whiskey. There was an old gal the other day who stooped over smelling it and a damn butterfly flew in there. He got a little bill full of that whiskey. He got to wabbling around as he leaves there and that gal stooped over to smell and that butterfly got up her dress tail and liked to tickled her to death.
When I used to be a moonshiner, I had a batch ready to run off, but my hay needed to be put up. I went up to the still and I slipped a pint in my hip pocket. Every time I passed a tumble bug I give him a little drink. You know when I got back to the barn that night them tumble bugs had rolled every bit of that hay right down to the barn.
Drink about half a pint of this whiskey and get bit by a snake and, hell, it'll be dead in thirty minutes.
To the other employees at Alley Spring, Art is jokingly known as "our dirty old man", but he makes excellent corn whiskey. Although we don't suggest you try this recipe, here are his directions.
To make corn whiskey you need fifty pounds of corn chops, fifty pounds of sugar and one package of yeast. You put this in a fifty-five gallon wooden white oak barrel with forty gallons of water.
You don't use much yeast, just a little bit to start it. That's just to rush up the process more. Now when it's right hot weather you really don't have to use the yeast. It'll go ahead and make without it. But when it's cool you need the yeast to start it fermenting, then your grain and sugar'll pick it up. It'll work about three days, working that grain to the top while it's fermenting. When it gets all the alcyhol worked out of your sugar and grain, it'll quit working and the grain will all go to the bottom. Then it's ready to run through the still.
To keep the mash warm enough in the winter for it to ferment, Art and many other moonshiners used caves that kept an even temperature as well as providing running water and a hiding place. Sometimes the barrels were buried in sawdust for warmth. The fermented mash is like home brew. Some people like it and drink it without distilling out the alcohol.
To distill the alcohol, You just dip the water offen your grain and you pour it in the cooker. You seal the top of the lid up there tight so you won't lose none of the steam. You seal it with dough---just flour and water--smear it around there and then as the cooker heats up, it cooks that dough. Then if you get right drunk and need something to eat, why you can jerk yourself off a piece of that dough and eat it.
We most generally put a rag around the lid there first, then smear that dough on the rag and cook it there. When you get ready to take it off, you clip that rag and peel it right off. That is also used as a safety valve. When we first started making whiskey we used clay mud on top that formed a hard seal. Heck, once we blowed up the still over it. This dough, if you get too much fire, the pressure'll raise that and release the steam. It'll break the seal.
Whiskey is the steam off the water in the cooker. The alcyhol is in the water--worked out of your grain and sugar. What you've got to do is put that in your still and make your alcyhol boil at a lower temperature than your water.
We used to try to get ten or fifteen gallons of whiskey a day. It all depended on how dry our customers got. If we wanted to put in two shifts, we could cook out two hatches a day. But it takes about eight hours to cook one batch through by the time you fire up and everything. If we needed more whiskey, why we'd just dump that, put in another batch and start in again. That put us up in the night for someone had to stay to keep the fire.
You build a fire under the cooker and keep it just right. If you let it get too much fire and go to boiling, your whiskey would look like muddy water--not clear like this. That's where you get your rot gut whiskey from. They call it the still is puking when you got too much fire. It gets steam from water as well as from the alcyhol going through the worm.
We use white oak wood. There's not no smoke in white oak if you take the bark off. You can have a fire and see no smoke at all, just heat a-coming up. You see you make it back there in the woods, and you didn't want a lot of smoke coming up for the revenue men might find you.
Now when it heats up right, the alcyhol comes out of your water. It comes to the top as steam. The steam then goes down a copper tubing there that is thirty-five feet long, wound inside the barrel. That copper tube is called the worm. We keep cool water running over the worm so that as your hot steam comes down through it, your cold water condenses your steam back into liquid and that is your whiskey. Mine is 120 proof.
Back when you was making out in the woods, there'd be a spring a-coming out here and course your holler runs down hill. You'd set you still below that spring, make a lead trough to bring the water down to the top of the barrel. Then let the water fill the barrel and run on out.
There's about thirty gallons of water left in the still after the alcyhol has boiled out. When it quits running out at the bottom of the worm you'll know you're done with it. Just turn a faucet on the bottom of the still and run your water out.
You can use your mash in the barrels three times to get alcyhol. Just add more water, sugar and yeast and it'll take off again. Yellow corn makes the best whiskey. It has more alcyhol in it than white corn. When I get through with the grain, I take it home and feed the hogs--it just makes them happy. The other day I took a barrel up there and poured some in their trough. Them hogs, they just tore in and went to eating that. I went to the house and eat supper. When I come back out there they was so happy--I had an old male hog there, too. He had one of them gilts on his knee a-sitting out there a-trotting and whist--ling to her. But seriously, the grain's good for them. Yeah. They get to feeling mighty good. There's not a lot of alcyhol in that corn and they ain't a lot of food value to it either. But they still like it. It's soaked up, you know.
The equipment used in making whiskey should be all copper. This is to prevent lead poisoning. Many people died or were paralyzed because the still, worm and other metal parts weren't copper. Art thinks one reason the government started putting so many restrictions on whiskey making was because of the danger of poisoning.
People used to make whiskey when they didn't have money to buy copper. They'd set up an old cream can or something and there was a lot of people who got killed and paralyzed and went blind over that lead poisoning. You've got to have everything copper if you're making whiskey. Alcyhol will pick up lead out of any kind of metal besides copper. Get everything copper, then you're safe.
Except for the copper still which he bought in 1921, the rest of the equipment is made or easily procured. The copper tubing comes in rolls and is wound to fit inside the metal drum. White oak whiskey barrels hold the fermenting mash and a glass fruit jar catches the whiskey as it comes out of the worm in spurts.
Old timers used to drink it as it came out, but whiskey should age from six months to seven or eight years. Hell, sometimes I let it age ten or fifteen minutes.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.