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History Monday: Law and Disorder, 1870s Style

By Mike Watson

Law and Order, or Disorder has been a fact of life almost since two people of differing ideas occupied the same territorial space. The consumption of alcohol in its many forms has existed since the earliest of times and has been regulated in one way or other for much of that time as well.

The United States, under the new Constitution of 1787, saw regulation of whiskey through a tax that was objected to and fought by the citizens of Pennsylvania in the early 1790s. The entire nation watched, as the outcome would effect every citizen in the industry in the nation, including Kentucky.

Regulation in our state and area was spotty at best for much of the history leading up to the post-Civil War era. Moonshiners were everywhere, doing what many citizens considered a reasonable and personal business. They did not care to become bonded by the government, nor pay the taxes. The federal authorities thought otherwise and sent revenue officers into the hills and hollers to ferret out these folk. They were occasionally caught, the stills and supplies destroyed, and the moonshiners hauled before the court. In time this meant for our region the federal court in Louisville.

Newspapers often carried stories of the exploits of the 'shiners and those tasked to catch them. What follows are a few snips from the newspapers of the 1870s to this end. These are just select items and names have been obscured to protect those involved.

"More Moonshiners--Deputy United States Marshals Penn and Ellis brought to the city [Louisville] yesterday, as moonshining prisoners: Dxx Rooks, Lxx Rooks, Gxx Pendleton, Lxx Harman, Rxx Harman and Gxxe Gilpin, of Adair County; Lxxe Haggard, of Casey County; and Jxx Bolling, of Russell County. Bolling attempted to shoot Ellis previous to arrest. They were brought before Commissioner Crail, but were immediately sent to jail on account of a difficulty between Attorney Finley and Marshal Oneal relative to witnesses and guard fees."--The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY, 4 April 1877.

"Resisting United States Officers--About two weeks ago Deputy Marshals Wm. Adair and G.W. Penn visited Adair County for the purpose of arresting some illicit distillers. While in pursuit of the men they wanted they were followed and menaced by a mob of citizens belonging to an organization known as the Farmers' Home Protective Association. They followed the officers on horseback and with guns in their hands, with the determination to prevent them from making any arrest. During the past few days the Deputy Marshals have been in Adair County for the purpose of detecting the members of the mob, and with the assistance of the county bailiff succeeded in making the arrest of nine persons, as follows: Lxx Burton, Nxx Chapman, Gxx Burton, Ixx Sinclair, Wxx Burton, Jxx Cook, Jxx Burton, Sxx Burton, Jxx Burton. The prisoners were brought to the city [Louisville] and placed in jail yesterday. The offense of resisting United States officers was registered against them on the jail slate. Their trial will take place today."--The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY, 21 August 1877.

"Moonshiners--Louisville, Ky., August 21--Deputy United States Marshal Webster reports that he has been attacked by escaped Moonshine prisoner, who, with friends, fired twenty shots at him and posse; also, bombarded the house an entire night. Deputies [P]enn and Adair were menaced by a mob, in Adair County, numbering perhaps 100 or more. In Hardin County, Moonshine men swore they will kill the first United States Marshal who comes near them. Colonel Crittenden, the new United States Marshal of Kentucky, has been making vigorous efforts to break up that particular specimen of law breaking, and in the last two months his deputies have arrested something over 100 offenders." --Terre Haute Weekly Gazette, Terre Haute, IN, 23 August 1877; The Daily Memphis Avalanche, Memphis, TN, 22 August 1877; and others.

"A Raid on the Moonshiners in Kentucky--Cincinnati, May 30--Revenue officials have made a successful raid in Adair County, Ky., capturing two moonshiners, Mxx Gallagher and Rxx Gibson. They also destroyed four stills. Shots were exchanged between the officers and moonshiners and one man wounded." The New Orleans Daily Democrat, New Orleans, LA, 31 May 1879.

"Columbia, Ky., Spectator: Mxx Galliher, of this county, who has been in Louisville jail for the past six months, for making moonshine whisky, returned home last week, having served his time out. Mark has been arrested several times for engaging in this business, but the last term of imprisonment was the longest he has ever served. It is estimated that he cost the government over $1,200, and that the amount of spirits made by him would not reach over four barrels." --The Dallas Daily Herald, Dallas, TX, 29 April 1880.

And I'll say no more about that--unless anyone wants to email me for the original articles with names. I don't like to put out "bad" news and embarrass anyone, but it is of interest to many of us. If any readers think they have a kinsman in this list of 'shiners and want to know more, I will send them the articles.

This story was posted on 2021-02-22 09:57:18
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