Between 1920 and 1933, it was hard to get a drink of something stronger than cider around Newton County — or anywhere else in the country, for that matter. The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, heralding in national prohibition of alcohol, had seen to that.
However, Newton County residents were already used to living “dry,” as local laws banning the manufacture or sale of liquor had periodically been tried as many as 20 years before or more.
Indeed, in the earliest years of the 20th century, Neosho was the only place in Newton County where a guy could find a saloon. Then in 1908, Neosho also jumped on the temperance wagon and the taverns were forced to close their doors there as well.
So when Prohibition came around, it was nothing really new to folks around here. And just as the times before, many Newton County residents simply ignored the law.
They figured that since their fellow Ozarkers were going to have their liquor one way or another, why not make a buck off it? After all, someone was going to.
The result? Mirroring everywhere else in the country, an illicit local industry (and major crime spree) was literally created overnight in Newton County. So maybe it wasn’t really that hard to get a drink after all.
Then local law enforcement officials made a show of cracking down on bootleggers (though it’s funny that at least one of those lawman was later arrested himself for doing the same thing, even while he was wearing a badge).
I recently ran across some old local newspaper clippings from the early 1920s that I found amusing and would like to share with you. They are reprinted here unedited. I don’t believe they have ever before been published (except for the day they first publicly appeared in the newspaper of course).
I might add that anytime these articles mention someone being put in “jail” it means the prisoners were brought to what is now our Newton County Historical Museum. Though the site of the now-demolished jail building is now the parking lot, prisoners were first led into a side door of today’s museum for “booking”, before being taken into the attached men’s jail through an interior door (the door is still there, but is now sealed shut).
CAUGHT IN THE ACT
“Sheriff Geo. Yadon, Deputies Chas. Austin, Jess Saxton and Foster McConnell and Constable Frank Lee, made an important capture yesterday afternoon about 4 miles northeast of Neosho, when they arrested three men and a boy who were operating a still and had many gallons of corn whisky on hand.
“The still was located in a cabin about a half mile up a hollow off the main road a short distance beyond the Kenney farm. A 27-gallon copper boiler with worm was being used and there were ten 50-gallon barrels of mash. About 50 gallons of distilled whisky was found and poured out. The four men were put in jail and will be held for circuit court. The men are known as Big Tom, Tennessee and Collins and the boy’s name is Carlock.”
BIG STILL CAPTURED
“The biggest still yet found in this section, an 80-gallon one, was captured yesterday by U.S. Marshal Foster McConnell and Deputy Sheriff Ed Jackson about 2 ½ miles
northeast of Spurgeon. A man by the name of Simp Anderson was arrested and brought to Neosho and we understand is arranging for bond this afternoon.”
“In Circuit court yesterday, W.H. Arnhart and Lee Mackintosh were tried on a charge of operating a still. The jury rendered a verdict of not guilty and they are again at liberty. Ollie Snow and Pete Clanton entered a plea of guilty to operating a still and were sent to the county jail for a term of 30 days each.”
“Constable J.F. Lee, Deputy Sheriff Chas. H. Austin and Prosecuting Attorney T.M. Saxton motored to one mile south of the county line last night, where they were met by Chief of Police Hines and three deputies of Joplin, who assisted in the arrest of Mr. and Mrs. Pittman on a charge of operating a still.
“Ten barrels of mash, 20 one-gallon jugs, one-half pint of whiskey and mash equipment, everything except the still and worm were found. The defendants were brought to Neosho and gave bond for their appearance at the October term of circuit court.”
FOUR STILLS ARE CAPTURED
“Newton County officers have been very busy this week in the whisky line. Several arrests have been made and four stills captured in the Saginaw neighborhood. Mr. and Mrs. E.E. Turner were arrested on charges of possessing a still and manufacturing liquor. They were brought to Neosho and when brought before Justice Hudleston waived preliminary.
“Mrs. Turner gave bond in the sum of $1,000 was released. Her husband will be held in jail until court meets unless bond is given in the meantime. The officers say they found one still set up with a fire under it. Deputy Sheriff Chas. Austin, John B. Beavers, and Deputy Constable J.H. Phillips made the arrest. Foster McConnell, deputy constable of Shoal Creek township and a former deputy sheriff, was also arrested on the charge of possessing a still, two stills having been found on his place. He gave bond in the sum of $1,000 for his appearance at circuit court.
“It is said that moonshining has been worse in the Saginaw neighborhood than in any other part of the county and it is said that evidences of where stills have been operated can be found in almost all localities. The officers have made up their minds to put a stop to moonshining and more arrests will probably follow.”
Prohibition not only failed in its intention of forcing the American people to quit drinking, it also resulted in the biggest crime wave this country had ever seen before or since.
Americans – and especially Ozarkers – hate anything ever being shoved down their throat.
By Wes Franklin
(Wes Franklin can be reached at (417) 658-8443.)