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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Introduction to Liquor, Prohibition,
Moonshine and the early saloons

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal ©2005

(Moonshine still)
      This photograph from reader Larry Harnden shows a still that was captured after a raid in Washington state. Either the photographer or the collector was named Boland.

      Many readers have asked us to launch a section about Prohibition, moonshine and stills, especially since Skagit County was famous for all three. Washington state went dry four years before the rest of the nation, on Jan. 1, 1916. At that point, all the saloons had to close. Some went out of business, most converted to pool halls and many of the latter still dispensed liquor or beer "under the counter." The managers of the pool hall often had connections with a bootlegger in a nearby hotel, and the owners of confectionery stores and tobacco stores also acted as conduits.
      Congress passed the 18th amendment during World War I while soldiers were still fighting overseas. Congressmen were reacting to the crusade of Carrie Nation (1846-1911), suffragettes who also promoted prohibition of liquor, and organized prohibition societies such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Knights Templar. Nebraska ratified the amendment in January 1919 and that made it part of the Constitution. Representative Andrew Volstead of Minnesota sponsored the National Prohibition Act (better known as the Volstead Act) in Congress in 1919 and Congress soon passed it in October to enforce the amendment. The Act took effect on Jan. 1, 1920.
      The reason usually given by Prohibitionists was that family men abused or abandoned their families while under the thrall of the saloons, especially those in working-class neighborhoods and rural towns. Liquor had been the bane of U.S. abstainers since the colonial days through the U.S. Revolution and General George Washington used troops to quell a rebellion by thirsty men. The abuse and over-consumption of liquor was especially marked in the West during the days of gold rushes and early settlement when men outnumbered women by ten-to-one or even higher percentages.
      Although the Volstead Act allowed for both federal and state control of liquor, the Feds effectively took over enforcement, often enlisting county sheriffs to effect arrests. According to the Encarta encyclopedia, the Volstead Act defined the "prohibited intoxicating liquors as those with an alcoholic content of more than 0.5 percent, although it made concessions for liquors sold for medicinal, sacramental, and industrial purposes, and for fruit or grape beverages prepared for personal use in homes."
      Border states such as Washington were avenues for importation of spirits from Canada by both land and sea. When I lived in the Rainier area of Seattle — Garlic Gulch — Italian old-timers told me of trains with dozens of boxcars that delivered tons of grapes for home winemakers all around Puget Sound. Besides the pool halls and other retailers who sold liquor under the counter, brothels and after-hours private clubs called "blind pigs" dispensed liquor along with other pleasures. Several were dotted all over Sedro-Woolley, which — unlike some other towns in Skagit County, did not go dry until the very last minute of New Year's Eve, 1915.
      By the time of the 1932 general election, every politician realized that people all over the U.S. had tired of Prohibition. Congress responded by rigging an accelerated method to ratify the 21st amendment, which would allow states to control sale of liquor, if the legislatures voted to allow it. Congress called for each state to hold a ratifying convention, where delegates elected specifically for that task would vote yes or no about the Amendment. The 1933 elections produced repeal votes that averaged almost 73 percent, although a few states remained dry as did individual counties in various states. That new ratification method rushed approval by Dec. 5, 1933.
      We launched this section to present some stories of how people in Skagit County and the Northwest figured out ways to skirt the Volstead Act and how some were arrested for their efforts. Humor abounds. We also especially want readers to share family memories about the period, documents and articles from magazines and newspapers and copies of photos of stills, blind pigs and pool halls. Please email us.

Some local features

(1911 Cartoon)
      This cartoon in the March 7, 1911, edition of the Seattle Times made light of the decision by Mount Vernon and Burlington voters in local elections about liquor. The caption read: "In the period of 'local option,' when each town decided for itself whether or not to license saloons, Mount Vernon voted dry and Burlington wet. The rail fare between the two towns was 10 cents and Mr. Brusewitz, the Mount Vernon station agent, sold $70 worth of tickets for the trip between Saturday and Sunday evening. From the collection of James P. Kean." The cartoon was featured in the book, Skagit Settlers, which is still for sale at the LaConner Museum.

Introduction to Prohibition and Moonshine

Sells booze to sheriff, jailed
Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, Feb. 12, 1925
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      Sam Medford, who lives near Lyman, noticed two men in an auto on his place the other day. He came out of his house and greeted them, but did not recognize either. They explained they had backed into his gate to turn around, and addressed him by name.
      The two motorists were Sheriff Conn and Marshal Stevens of Sedro-Woolley. The sheriff asked Medford if he had any moonshine, and Medford said he had only one gallon in a jog. He produced this and then Conn revealed his identity and told Medford he would have to go to Mount Vernon. Medford was fined $250 and sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Clear Lake Farmer Fined for
Renting Shed for Moonshine
Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, Feb. 12, 1925
      For renting a shed on his place to a couple of men for a still, Floyd Klingenmeier was fined $500 by Judge Brawley in superior court this week, and also given 90 days in jail. The jail sentence was suspended. The two men accused of operating the still on this farm. Elmer Larson and J.M. Hall were fined $1,000 each and sentenced to serve 90 days in jail. They were charged with manufacture of liquor with intent to sell.
      Testimony showed that Klingenmeier received $75 a month from the two others, for use of a shed, and that 100-gallon still under a chicken house was running full blast when discovered by the officers. The still and about 100 gallons of moonshine liquor, were confiscated.
      The court lectured Klingenmeier about renting his property to moonshiners and said that the $500 fine should prove a lesson to him. Klingenmeier runs a chicken ranch near Clear Lake.

Hyatt Service Station
Charles R. Hyatt, Memories of Clear Lake 1914-32
      In 1927 or 1928, my dad built the Highline Service Station at the intersection of Highway 9 and Day Creek road [which was torn down about 20 years ago]. When he passed away in 1950, I was working at Universal Motors in Sedro-Woolley [Emil Jech's Ford garage] and didn't want to take over the station so it was rented to H.L. Vesper In 1932, during the depression, I was laid off and my mother and I took over the station. We sold General Petroleum products, candy and tobacco, I did minor repairs, fixed flats, etc.
      The short time I was in the station produced some memorable events. There was a moonshiner who had a still on the Day Creek road somewhere. He regularly bought kerosene from us to run his still. Several days in a .row, a stranger would come in the station after opening and asked if Rex or his partner Big Joe had been in or gone up the hill. He said he'd like to 'ketch' a ride. I became suspicious and watched one day to see where he went after leaving the station. He walked up the Day Creek road and got into a parked car at the cemetery.
      The next time Rex came in I told him about it and he said it was a federal agent out to get them. The agents finally did, shut down the operation and destroyed the still. A short while later Rex and Big Joe (never did know them by anything else) started up again except they wanted credit at the station. When their bill got too big a swap was arranged. Candy and tobacco salesmen were happy to find a source for booze and the bill got paid.
      One morning a Skagit County sheriff's deputy stopped, passed the time of day and, when leaving, called me over to his car. "Word to the wise." he said and drove away. I. mulled this over, finally woke up and called my mother to the station, I took off. in the car with six pints of moonshine and got rid of it. Sure enough, the Feds came and searched the station, end of bootlegging.
      Later found out one of the town tattlers had tipped of the sheriff's office, He had hung around the station reporting movements and trying to mooch a bottle. He was hard to get rid of so I finally mixed a little vinegar in some moonshine and gave it to him. He was sick for a while but no more hanging around.
      The most shocking event was the time two popular LaConner girls drove into the station one Sunday afternoon in their Model-T roadster. What a surprise when I went out to wait on them. Both were as naked as the day they were born. No, they didn't buy gas, simply talked for awhile and drove off without any indication that anything was unusual. I knew one of them but will mention no name.
      Without a doubt, the longest lasting event concerned one customer who was a machinist from Sedro-Woolley and worked for the company in l932 and l933. Ho always bought gas from us and when his daughter wanted the car, she brought him to work and would come and get him later. His daughter and I struck up an acquaintance, became 'steadies' and finally married in 1959. She jokes that this was also the year that World War II began.
      Ed. note: Mr. Hyatt passed away but his friend and Clearlake historian Deanna Ramey Ammons arranged to have his stories compiled in a book. This is one of them that he gave me years ago. You can email her at: to obtain a copy of the book, the sales of which benefit the Clearlake Historical Association.

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted on Dec. 5, 2005, moved to this domain April 22, 2011
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This article originally appeared in Issue 31 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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