Vol. VI, No. 4, Spring 1993


An Ozarks Defense of Moonshining



From BACK YONDER by Wayman Hogue, who spent some weeks with the Garrison family in Happy Hollow:

We got to the still about daylight. Some of the men were up working at the still, others were frying bacon and making coffee, while still others were asleep. There were two log shacks furnished with bunks on which the man who had to stay there at night slept. Also in these shacks were several barrels of meal and shelled corn.

"The still was built alongside the flow of a spring. First, a stone furnace was built and on top of this was placed a cone-shaped copper vessel of about ten gallons capacity. At the top of this vessel was a copper tube or pipe, extending downward and entering a wooden trough, through which cold water flowed. The pipe ran along the entire distance of the trough, which was ten feet; then in an elbow it doubled back ten feet, and in another elbow it again went forward ten feet, making thirty feet of pipe over which cold water flowed. The far end of the pipe extended over the trough, and bent downward and entered the mouth of a jug. This thirty feet of pipe was called the worm, and the copper container was called the cooker.

"I stayed around there all day, and it was interesting to learn how they made their whiskey. First, they filled sacks with shelled corn and let them soak in water for a day or two. Then they spread the corn out on boards in the sun and let it remain until it sprouted. Next they ground or beat the corn into 'chops.' One way to do this was to chisel out an excavation in a solid stump and pour the corn into it and beat it with a pestle. Another way was to place the sprouted corn on a flat rock and crush it by twisting another rock around over it.

In making the mash, they put about five bushels of coarse ground meal into a heavy oak barrel and added to this a bushel of the beaten-up sprouted corn, letting it stand for several days. They then filled the cooker with the mash, and a good fire of solid wood, such as the oak or hickory, was kept burning under and around it.

"The steam coming from the cooking mash escaped through the tube at the top and on into the pipes which were lying in the trough. Here the cold water running over the pipes condensed the steam into a liquid, which emptied into a jug. This liquid was a kind of alcohol and was called 'sanglin's' [whiskey distilled a 'single' time]. When the cooking was over, the sanglin's was poured back into the cooker and was re-cooked and re-condensed. The liquid from this second cooking was the whiskey. They had no tester and judged the proof by the head. When the proof showed too low, the product was called 'backin's,' and was put back into the cooker with the other mash and re-condensed.

"There were about half a dozen stills in the locality. One of them had only recently been erected, and it was the subject of much comment. It had a second cooker called a thumper. The steam from the first cooker emptied into the thumper, and was condensed for the second time, cooking all the while.

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"....The liquor dealer, in buying this moonshine whiskey, not only got it for less money than he did from the legalized distilleries, but he saved ninety cents revenue in addition. Furthermore, he took one gallon of this pure com whiskey, and with chemicals made four gallons of whiskey which had the corn flavor, and which he sold for corn whiskey at a low price, about two dollars a gallon.

"....I inquired further as to the profits in moonshining whiskey, and asked whether, if the same activities were directed along legal channels, it wouldn't be equally profitable and a great deal less of a hazard. Mr. Garrison cited himself as an example and explained it in this way. He had about fifty acres of land in a state of cultivation. He planted twenty acres of it in wheat, oats, sorghum, tobacco and potatoes, and this left thirty acres which he planted in com. The corn yield was from fifteen to forty bushels to the acre, and he never made less than five hundred bushels of corn a year. He used about three hundred bushels in feeding his horses, fattening his hogs, and for bread. That left a surplus of two hundred bushels.

"There was no demand for corn in the valley, except for a few bushels now and then. Therefore, in order to market his corn, Mr. Garrison must haul it forty or fifty miles to the river farms where they raised mostly cotton. The capacity for a two-horse wagon was about twenty bushels in the ear. If he succeeded in finding a buyer for his corn, the price was not more than fifty cents a bushel, which amounted to ten dollars a load for his corn. He could not really make the trip for that, so the expense of marketing his corn was more than he received for it.

"Now, by converting his corn into whiskey, he netted a good profit. Ordinarily a bushel of corn would run off about a gallon and a quart of whiskey, which he could sell for something like two dollars and a half a gallon. Therefore, Mr. Garrison's surplus crop of corn, when distilled into whiskey, brought him a gross sum of six or seven hundred dollars, which was a lot of money for one family. The moonshiner's equipment was rude and primitive, and the process of operation slow. If he was able to run off ten gallons a day and sell it for twenty-five dollars, he considered that he was making big money.

"There were some families living in Happy Hollow who were not directly interested in stills. But the stills offered them a market for their corn...[and] furnished them with day labor when they were not working on their crops. Hence the whiskey industry was considered by the natives of Happy Hollow to be an asset to the community."

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