There are literally hundreds of stories that involved the making of illegal liquor in the hills of Logan County, and most of them occurred during the years of the Prohibition Era, which was between 1920 and 1933. One has to understand, however, that the making of moonshine was a mountain tradition here long before West Virginia was a state, and long before Logan County was even named. As a matter of fact, “moonshining” was actually described as an industry, particularly in the more rural areas of the county.
Even after coal mines started popping up in various parts of the county in the early 1900’s prior to Prohibition, places like Harts and Crawley Creek had no coal mines, and the making of booze was simply a handed down tradition. Many produced their products and hauled them to various towns and cities across the region where they were purchased and consumed by a variety of socialites who depended upon regular deliveries of the coveted drink. So, when the country went “dry” with the ratification of the 18th Amendment, what could you expect these people to do? Prohibition caused the illegal liquor prices to rise, and the “shiners” continued to make their products, although many were killed in the process and even more went to prisons.
The makers of corn liquor whiskey back then had a simple way of looking at things: “It’s my land, my corn, my water — so, why can’t I make my own liquor?” The following is a couple of accounts of the way life was in these hills where many raids were made wherever illegal distilling was taking place — and that was every hollow in Harts and Crawley, and many other places around the county.
The making of good moonshine was an art that other places away from here tried to capitalize on because of the high prices being paid for the spirits. Many people were sickened, and reports of many others dying from the “bad” liquor were not unusual during the Prohibition period. It even affected the coal mining industry. Here’s a Banner story printed July 13, 1923.
A fellow named Peter Paul brought a trunk load of “red” liquor from Detroit to Blair and distributed it among the miners of Mine No. 12 of the Boone Coal Company during a hot July weekend in the Sharples area. When the sun came up the following Monday morning, “the doctor’s report showed that nearly all of the miners were too indisposed to work, so the coal mine did not function that day.”
Due to the specialty of the brand of liquor, “the police say that the trace and apprehension of the booze was made easy.” The brand bore the distilling stamp, “Motor State Bottling Works”. Each bottle was labeled “artificial” peach. The Banner reported that those who partook of Paul’s special import “passed into a morbid state of lethargy, followed by violent vomiting.”
Mr. Paul was later sentenced to nine months in jail and fined $500 plus, court costs — a hefty sentence for back then.
Another story from 1923 took place on Crawley Creek, and it paints a vivid picture of the way things were around here during the Prohibition era. Here’s the report:
“A booze war that recently developed between moonshiners and state prohibitionists agents in the mountains near Chapmanville was renewed with added intensity early Friday morning when the store of Frank Butcher was burned to the ground and the home and store of his brother, Hugh Butcher, state prohibition agent, were fairly riddled with bullets.”
The story reported that “The trouble started some time ago when Hugh Butcher caused the arrest of several of his neighbors on Crawley Creek. Last Sunday night a number of unidentified men set fire to the store, which was saved by the barking of his dog that aroused the family in time to save the store. Since Sunday, the Butchers have been expecting trouble and have been on the lookout. This morning they saw four men come down the road, and as they got opposite the house, they began to fire. Bullets were fired into the porch and side of the house. They then ran to the store and fired another volley into the doors, windows and upper story near the place it has been Butcher’s custom to sleep.”
The Banner reported that Butcher, his two sons, and brother returned the fire with high powered rifles and revolvers. The men fled down the road to the home of French Butcher, where they burned his store to the ground. French Butcher, described as “an aged man,” and his wife were the only persons at his home, and he said he was helpless before the offenders. Butcher said the men were apparently drunk, “since they danced around the flames like so many war crazed savages.”
Since there were no telephone communications between the Butchers’ homes and Chapmanville, Hugh Butcher had to ride a horse to Chapmanville to summon assistance. He reportedly obtained the services of Deputy Sheriff Enoch Scaggs and Ed Carter, state prohibition agent. Scaggs would some years later be the accused in one of the county’s most notorious murders that happened at the Smokehouse Restaurant and billiards parlor in downtown Logan. His story will be told in full at a later date.
The tracks of four horses were found just east of the Hugh Butcher home, where it is believed the accused tied their horses. At about day break, four men, two on horses and two riding mules, were seen to ride up the creek from the Butcher home in what was described as “great haste.” Four foot tracks were found leading to the place the horses were tied.
After getting in touch with Logan county authorities, five deputies led by Everett Wellman were sent to the scene of the trouble. Mini Pridemore, Pete Pridemore, Tib Scaggs, Ed Scaggs and Leo Shadd of Crawley Creek were arrested late that Monday. The story relayed that the foursome were bound over to the Logan County Grand Jury on $500 bail per person , each to answer charges of conspiracy to destroy the property and endanger the life of H.T. Butcher, their neighbor.
In the very same day’s newspaper, it was reported that on Smokehouse Fork of Harts Everett Dingess, Will Dingess, Mitt Privett and Lee Belcher were all arrested at the site of their “moonshine factories” at Spring Branch, where stilling equipment and moonshine ingredients were found in isolated caves at the location.
Prohibition accounted for spectacular gangland crimes in places like New York, Chicago and Detroit, and it led to other criminal activities across the nation that lasted for about 13 bloodletting years. By 1925, it has been estimated that there were around 100,000 speakeasy clubs in just New York City alone that sold illegal alcohol, and engaged in prostitution, and other illegal activities. On the local level, the town of Logan had its own “speakeasy’s”—including the one that was located upstairs in the Holland Building (built in 1910), which still stands on Stratton Street in downtown Logan and could be made into a tourist attraction. The name “Mamie’s Place” seems suitable to this writer.
Interestingly, there are those noted national historians who claim that the lack of tax revenue during the Prohibition years of 1920 until 1933 was the major cause of the Great Depression. Without taxes there can be no roads or educational improvements, etc. — the same type things our current state legislature is now debating how to fix. Alcohol and such things as tobacco products have long helped generate these type taxes. Unfortunately, with the loss of coal revenue, our state is running out of things to tax.
And the county’s hill people continue to say, “It’s my land and my water …”
BITS and PIECES
Heart felt feelings go out to a good friend of mine, Steve Belcher, who just the other day lost his wife, Debbie Capua Belcher to the ravages of cancer…..I never knew Debbie, but from listening to Steve and others, she must have been a wonderful person…..Steve is considered one of the best ever basketball players at Chapmanville High School, as he was a scoring machine, averaging over 30 points per game back in the early 1980’s…..another recent loss that many older people will recall is that of former Logan doctor E.R. Chillag…..there are still plenty of people around that remember the all-purpose doctor, who like the late Dr. Mark Spurlock, delivered a lot of babies in this county over the years…..in my younger days, a shot of penicillin cured just about everything, from illness to acute poison ivy, and a penicillin shot is what you got just about any time you went to see a doctor…..all of this reminiscing reminds me of something: does anybody remember Geritol?…..is that stuff still around?…..the tonic was supposed to be for building up iron in the blood, and my grandparents kept a bottle on hand at all times…..I must confess, I sometimes sneaked a swig…..Walmart employees nationwide got a recent $1 per hour raise; the problem there is that along with the raise came cutbacks in the number of hours employees are allowed to work weekly…..for those who don’t know, remember this name, David Early…..the Logan Middle School athlete just may be one of the best all-around athletes ever to emerge from that level….I hear LHS coaches are drooling over the young man’s talents…..speaking of coaches, congratulations to Chapmanville’s basketball head coach Brad Napier, who is building a fine program in “Tiger land”…..of course best wishes are extended to Logan head coach Alan Hatcher, who underwent heart surgery just the other day…..my people don’t know this, but back in his highs school playing days at Logan, Alan was one of the best at the forward position when he was close in on the basket…..another former Logan High basketball star, Ross Scaggs, is the part owner of a company that owns Wilson Dry Cleaners, which recently closed in Logan after being in operation since at least the mid 1950’s……my mother, during the early ‘70’s, worked at American Dry Cleaners that was located on Hudgins Street in Logan…..the place was owned by Frank and Alberta Toney…..DID YOU KNOW that West Virginia ranks highest in the nation in hearts attacks?…..tobacco usage and obesity, which is a direct result of terrible eating habits, coupled with a lack of exercise, will get you an early grave…..speaking of exercise, I find it deplorable that there no longer is a Holden Little League…..you’ll never convince me that one can’t find enough kids from the Holden, Whitman, Mud Fork, Shamrock and Cora areas to field teams…..we need to push kids out of the houses and away from electronic gadgets, including computers, TV’s and cell phones…..how about getting them to deliver newspapers, specifically The Logan Banner…..longtime barber and Cow Creek resident, Randy Cox, retired from barbering several months back…..he told me he sold his barber shop at Monaville to the next door church…..I have been for a good while trying to find out just how long that little barber shop has been in existence…..I’m told that former Logan County assistant prosecutor Mark Campbell at the tender age of 62 will in seven months become a father…..Campbell handled Logan Magistrate Court back in the days when there was “night court”…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Since it was the time of Prohibition, most of the businesses were technically advertised as restaurants. However, that was just a cover, for in the back room was a fully equipped bar, sometimes called a “speak-easy.” And everyone knew it, too.”—Patsy Nolletti, father of Logan Mayor Serafino Nolletti, talking about Logan during the 1920’s and early 30’s in a Logan Banner interview back in 2004…..totals for criminal charges in Logan County during 2015 were down from the year before…..there were 772 felony charges and 3,367 misdemeanors filed; more about that next week…..FINAL NOTE: Sharon Robinette, an employee of Logan County Clerk John Turner’s office, has provided me with the latest numbers that reveal there are a total of 28,113 registered voters in Logan County; meaning over 75 percent of county residents are registered to vote. Despite many democrats switching to either Republican or Independent parties, the Dems still are the vast majority with a total of 20,099 registered compared to 2,991 republicans and 1,298 independents as of this writing on March 8, 2016. There also are 3,710 registered people who are classified as “inactive voters.” This group will be taken off the poll books if they do not vote in either the primary or general elections of this year. “There are a lot of people who come in here to get a voter’s registration card so they can renew their operator’s license with the DMV, “Robinette explained. “When we ask them which party they want to register to, they tell us,” ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter, it’s not like I’m going to vote anyway. I just want to renew my operators.’ I hope it isn’t this group which gripes about the roads, schools and everything else imaginable. Because, at least in my opinion, you probably should be voting if you want to really make your voices be heard. Otherwise, keep quiet.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.