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Anonymous Interview on Bootlegging During Prohibition, July 30, 1975

Oregon State University
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ANONYMOUS INTERVIEWEE: They'd deliver it, hide it someplace, perhaps under a tree or someplace, where they wouldn't be caught, where the law wouldn't be as apt to catch them together and, and then the bootlegger would pick it up from there and, and sell it to the, sell it to his customers, and they had an arrangement whereby he'd pay him at a different, not at the time he delivered it. In most cases, he didn't do it directly to the bootlegger right, all at one time, cuz there's more apt to get the law on it, they'd be more apt to find, catch them.

JANICE TILAND: So they did it at different-

AI: Yeah, umm-umm. Yes, we had one case right here in town at that time where, ah, what do you call it--hijacking--that, where somebody else would find where 00:01:00the moonshiner had planted the whiskey for the bootlegger to pick up, and somebody else would go and hijack it. And they had one case of that here in Corvallis, in that era, where one individual had found out where another bootlegger was having the whiskey, ah, stashed, and in the meantime, he'd watch it, it was out under a tree across the river, kind of under the root of a big oak tree, and then covered up. And, he went out there several times and the whiskey, the moonshiner had delivered was gone.


And, there was another, competitors, competitive bootlegger in town that discovered where the, found out, he knew the other fellow was a bootlegger, and he found out, watched him until he found out where he went to get his, his whiskey. So, he, in other words, stole it. They called it hijacking.

JT: Well, the moonshiners always left it in the same place then?

AI: Oh, no, not always, no, not always. But at this particular case they had been doing it. And, ah, they, ah, they'd arrange any place they wanted to, and ah, sure they'd change places. And, this bootlegger that, had been using this particular spot, for his moonshiner to leave the whiskey, stealing it. So, he 00:03:00told him, it was down at the Benton, Julian Hotel, that, down in the, they had a pool room and a card room down in the basement of the Julian Hotel. So, he told this other fellow, he said "If that, whiskey disappears again, I'm going to shoot you, cuz you, tell you, you're stealing it, you're hijacking my-". And, the guy didn't really pay too much attention to him, but, ah. He had another, another delivery made, and it disappeared, and. I knew the names of both of the people, Bill Henderson, and, was the one, (was the bootlegger that was legitimately buying it from the moonshiner that was storing it. And Ebe Mills (sp?) was the, was the other bootlegger that was doing the stealing the whiskey. HIjacking.


JT: How do you spell Ebe? E.B.?

AI: Well, that was his name, I think, well I think that was his initials. I think; they called him E.B, maybe like E-B-E. At least they called him Ebe anyway, and ah, and so, he went out to do his, knew his moonshiner was delivering whiskey to this spot out there, under this oak tree, and the whiskey wasn't there. And, he came back to town, he went down and came across Palm(?) Street in front of the Julian Hotel, and, he went down and had this pistol on him, this revolver. Came back on the street and shot him, and walked right down and threw his gun in the river, and come back up and turned himself in,

JT: This was Ebe Wills that shot him, or that-


AI: No, it was Bill Henderson that did the, that shot Ebe Mills. And turned himself in, and of course they had (unclear) even for that case, and they, convinced the jury that, ah, course it was murder, but by the same token, I think they only gave him seven years and he got out in about three or four, something like that. That's about, that's about the basis of all there was to it. There were different bootleggers and there were different moonshiners. We had some local moonshiners that, made liquor out in the hills around here.

JT: What locations were there in Corvallis? Do you know any off hand that-

AI: Well, I know, the only still I ever saw was the one that was near Wren, up in the hills near Wren, Oregon. W-R-E-N. That's the only still that I ever went to.


JT: Then, how else were they made? How else was the (unclear).

AI: How else?

JT: If that was the only still, weren't there other operations?

AI: Well I said, no, this, this, oh, yes, dozens of them. But, this, this fellow that was leaving this, in this particular case that shot Ebe Mills, when Henderson shot Ebe Mills, he was bringing it from up, up, toward Portland, up in that area someplace. He was bringing it in from quite a distance, But, there were, oh, some people, some people had the still and just made their own whiskey, didn't sell it even, too. You know, just made if for their own use, and their friends maybe, too...But the ones that were really in the business of 00:07:00selling it for a profit were, were-well, there were lots of them, yeah. I don't know, I knew several of them were around in this area, but, had a still. But, I never had the proof of, by going to the still. So, that's about all I know, about all there is to it that I know. That's the way it was handled.

JT: What all was made? Was it mostly whiskey, or were there other kinds of things?

AI: What all was what?

JT: What all was made? What kind of moonshine was made? Was it mostly whiskey, that's all you've mentioned.

AI: Oh, we had, like different, do you mean like corn, or-

JT: Yeah, what they used to make it, and what the outcome would be--what kinds 00:08:00of things were people drinking?

AI: Well, it was just turned into alcohol, was what it did. They made it from most, well you can make alcohol from with a still, you know, if, ah, heats it, and evaporates the, evaporates the moisture off, and the bottom, and what's left is alcohol. You can make it out of corn, you can make it out of apples, you can make it out of prunes, you can make it out of, ah, most any kind of things, ah, I think perhaps the most common one in corn, was corn whiskey.

JT: What year was it when Bill Henderson was shot? Ebe Mills?

AI: Well, I was living in the Corvallis Hotel, and I saw the, saw the shooting, 00:09:00I saw, aa, I heard-My wife and I were walking across the street to breakfast, to a late morning breakfast about 9:30 or 10:00 and heard his girlfriend let out a scream, and I ah, I knew her, of course she had worked in the restaurant where we were staying, and it's where we were. And I knew her voice, and I said to my wife, "That's Emma." She'd let a scream out, and she was Ebe Mills' girlfriend. And, ah, so then, we just looked around and Bill Henderson came up from und- from the basement of the Julian Hotel and shot him, and I just saw him fall on, on the street, and just heard the gun crack first, and then this scream from, from the girlfriend, and then he just-I wasn't a half a block away, over half a 00:10:00block from it at the time it happened right there, right in plain sight.

JT: About what street would that have been on?

AI: Well, the Julian Hotel was on second and Monroe.

JT: Was the Julian the Benton Hotel.

AI: No, no. The old Julian Hotel, it's still down there on the corner of second and Monroe, right at, well it's the old hotel standing on the corner-four stories, four story hotel there. On second and Monroe. It still has the name Julian Hotel.

JT: I guess I don't get downtown enough.

AI: Do you work in Fred's (Zwahlen) office?

JT: No, I'm just a student.

AI: Oh. Well, that's about all the information I can give you, just with the 00:11:00cases, depending on who, who you, who you dealt with, whether you had a bootlegger that, that usually they'd be like somebody else, they'd find out that you occasionally wanted a bottle of liquor for some purpose, or you were going to give a party, or something of that kind, why, they'd usually come out and ask, well do you want anything, do you want anything this, this trip? Do you want, do you need any, then, then, they'd be careful in making the delivery, they'd usually either, either had you meet them at another spot or, or leave it someplace for you to pick up.

JT: Did everyone pretty much know who the bootleggers were?

AI: Oh, the people, certain people knew, yes. Not the general public, no, it 00:12:00wasn't public, publicized, but ah, all the most all the people, most all the people that drank knew who, who was (unclear). One customer would tell another, maybe he, maybe when they wanted some, maybe he, he was out at that particular time, didn't have any. So, he'd have somebody else tell him, "Well, try so-and-so, he's, I got mine from him." You know, another moonshiner...Well, that's about all, that's about as far as I know about it.

JT: Were there any places in Corvallis that served it?

AI: Oh, no. No, no, no, heavens no, that, having alcohol in your possession was illegal.


JT: Just like, there were some cities where there were some places you could go, like little speak-easy type places.

AI: Well, I don't think they was going any places that were open, other than ah, some of the drinking people might get together, because usually, now like for example, you might have, have bought a jug as they called it in those days, and I knew it, and ah, I might come over to your house and say "Well, how are you, how are you fixed; you got anything to drink?" So, but they didn't, they didn't have places where they, well, not around here, where they, where they had a clientele that came in, you could buy it by the drink, no. Cuz it's too, they were ducking all the time to keep, keep away from the law even the other way, 00:14:00you know, cuz it was strictly, strictly illegal. Corvallis was one of the, one of the, I think the state of Oregon was one of the, ah, driest states, longer than the many other states in the country.

JT: Yeah, I read that, I read somewhere that the original law was in 1914 in Oregon which was long before the eighteenth amendment went through, and that doctors couldn't even prescribe it.

AI: Yeah, Oh, no there's no-well, they could prescribe it, I think they could prescribe alcohol for certain, for certain things, but not, as, not as liquor, but they, they ah, see drugstores couldn't carry it cuz they were, just cuz alcohol was illegal, see, to have in your possession, or to, even to, well I think during about the time we're talking about, I'm talking about, about 1928 00:15:00to 1932 or along in there.

JT: When was the prohibition lifted, was it about 1930-it was in the 30's wasn't it when it was lifted?

AI: I think it was in the 30's, I-I can't tell you the exact date, I haven't got the records on the top of-but you could find that out, you could find that out by, well, at the library or probably just calling the, calling the-

JT: Liquor Control Commission or something.

AI: Yeah, sure, sure you could call the, call the Liquor Control Commission, or 00:16:00probably some of these people working in the liquor stores here probably wouldn't remember. But, I think it was in the late thirties.

JT: Was it really enforced strongly in Corvallis?

AI: Just as strong as it could. Just like they'd try to stop robberies and thiefs, and stuff of that kind, they would enforce it just as much and as often as they could, just like they would trying to catch a robber or a thief or a murderer.

JT: What would happen if someone, just an average citizen got caught?

AI: Well, if they knew that he was just using it for consumption, the penalty wasn't, wasn't nearly as great as if you were selling. But if you were selling, 00:17:00if you were a bootlegger selling it, why they'd usually combine a fine with a, with a jail term too. And, ah, circumstances and all, whether he'd, whether they've had information about this particular bootlegger before and you know. And, it'd have to go to court, just like any other case, they'd go to court.

JT: Then, did they catch quite a few?

AI: Oh, yeah, they caught quite a few, of course there was quite a few they didn't too, yeah.

JT: What kind of people who were moonshiners? Were they the farmers?

AI: Well, they could be, this one I went to was a farmer, on a farm out west 00:18:00here, they could be-. They usually were someplace they had permission, either that or had permission to put a still on somebody else's property, and they usually, be back some place, where it'd be very inaccessible so that you wouldn't, wouldn't be easily found, you know, because that's where they'd locate their still where they made their whiskey, you know. (unclear section)...run it through the still and the alcohol came out and the residue was left, you know. But the (unclear) depending on what fruit or vegetable they were making, making 00:19:00it with.

JT: Did a lot of the scientists at the University get involved?

AI: Oh sure, they were drinking people, sure a lot of them were. Just like the general public, some drank, sure a lot of them, a lot of people that were on the faculty that had some favorite bootlegger that they bought, bought liquor from, bought moonshine from.

JT: I was wondering-I could picture some chemist in his lab trying to find new ways to make moonshine.

AI: Well, sure. Sure, somebody discovered originally, of being able to ferment the, to ferment it, then heat it, then it'd go through a process of copper 00:20:00tubing, copper pipes, and, ah, I don't know the process of doing it, but they'd, lots of times, they'd have a barrel of (unclear) and you talk about making wine or anything else, they'd mash it all before they did so they get the, get the-it had to ferment first, you see, to turn into alcohol. Kind of, kind of half spoiled to get the alcohol; I wouldn't call it spoiled now, but they did then because, well all it'd take off would be the alcohol so it wouldn't be like eating a rotten peaches, or plums or something, you know.

JT: Is it sort of--my mother's made wine like that of apricots-


AI: Yeah, something on that order. The only thing is they made it faster, the uh, this ran through a, ran through and heated and ah, alcohol content would (mumbled words). The one, the only still I ever saw was the one, oh, there was a little faster than a drip, a real small, a real small stream and it was almost straight alcohol, and then, then they would dilute it so it was probably maybe-. When you talk about proof of whiskey, you say most every, every whiskey sold now has a proof of 86 proof, to 100 proof, to 90 proof. That, ah, 100 proof whiskey 00:22:00is 50% alcohol, and so to ah, if you get 100 proof whiskey why it's, the content is 50% alcohol and 50%--well, just juice.

JT: What kind of juice? Just the juice that they made it from?

AI: Whatever it had been made by, um-hum.

JT: How did you get to see that still? Did you know the person?

AI: Yes, it was a, it was on a special holiday evening. I was in business, the automobile business with another fellow and we'd had some, we were going to have a party that night. I've forgotten whether it was a, whether it was New Years Eve, or something. Anyway, there was a party, I'd forgotten what it was about, and he'd, we had gotten some bootlegger had come in, and we had gotten it, and 00:23:00it was hidden down in the basement and he beat me to it, and he took it. When I went down to get, well I was supposed to get (unclear), and we had a couple of gallon jugs, I think. And, he had taken them both. So, I knew the name of the bootlegger and where he was. He didn't have any telephone, but I knew where he lived, out in Wren, out there. So I had made all the arrangements, we were going to have a little party, and have a few drinks.

So I drove out to his place, and he was all sold out. It was some sort of special, and he didn't have any made. So he said, and I knew him pretty well, he had a lot of confidence in me, "I got the still working, I got the still running. Do you want to go up?" and you, of course, the raw, raw alcohol coming 00:24:00out, the raw liquor coming off of the still right then, and I was, it was awful raw. And so I said, yeah I'd like to see, yeah, I'd like to see it. So I went up to his still, walked about a half a mile up back in the woods where he had it operating. And, he knew I'd never mention it, at least while he was in business, because I wouldn't. And, so, I put a little glass under the, under the where the alcohol was coming out, warm, which was terrible. I just tasted it when-it was still warm, just coming out of the still. But that's the only time I ever-I 00:25:00didn't drink a lot of it, but I-a lot of the people that I knew did, (unclear). It'd be no different then, than stopping in at a cocktail lounge someplace and having a drink, you know. Now that it's legal.

JT: Where there some, what is it - Anti-Saloon Leagues - and that sort of thing? Were they really strong?

AI: Oh sure, oh yes. You bet they were here. What they called the white, White Ladies.

JT: Did they parade around?

AI: Oh yes, and they did everything in the world to try to catch bootleggers, you know, and get them hauled in for, best that they could, and they called 00:26:00themselves the white ladies. But, that, that's about as far as I know of it. I got kind of a processive mind; that the moonshiner made it and the bootlegger sold it and-- (unclear section)

JT: Was it mostly all whiskey in this area or were there ever beer or any other strange concoctions that they came up with in other parts of the country?

AI: Oh yes. Oh everybody. People made beer at home a lot. Lots of times, made 00:27:00beer for their own use, made beer at home, homemade beer, yeah. Oh yes, that's quite common, homebrew, we called it. They didn't sell it, they'd just have it, keep it for friends, and stuff of that kind, you know. But they didn't really make a special effort for those people who were just making it for their own, making homebrew for their own consumption. They didn't make such a real effort to try to force the law on that, like they did on bootleggers, you know, hard liquor.

JT: What would be the average that the moonshiner would drop off, how many gallons would that be?

AI: Well, it would depend on the bootlegger, probably, maybe, maybe, say maybe 00:28:00he made a trip, maybe ten, it'd depend on how much this particular bootlegger on the average was selling, how much he wanted to buy, maybe ten gallons at a time put up in gallon jugs or in quart bottles.

JT: How often would (unclear)?

AI: Oh, probably once a week. That depended on, those are figures that are just depending on, - and sometimes they'd ah, the bootlegger, say the local bootlegger would go pick it up someplace else and bring it in and they'd deliver it around to people that you knew that wanted some. And, they used to be competitive, they'd try to get each other in trouble. I remember one time, yeah, 00:29:00maybe cuz it was their business and they didn't-well that happened right here in town where one bootlegger planted a bottle in, planted a bottle in another bootleggers' car. Back in those days most of them delivered, they'd ride in Model-T Fords or you know, cars of that age, or a little Chevrolet. And tell somebody else to tell the law that so-and-so was (unclear) and go and check his car, see. Get him In trouble.

JT: Did it work?

AI: Oh, sure, sure, you bet! Sure, they'd go down and find a bottle in the car, and then they'd, then they'd, they wouldn't just take the bottle, they'd wait till he came to pick up his car and then they'd get him, see.

JT: Quite a bit of competition.

AI: Sure, sure, like other businesses. They're doing it for money.


JT: How much did it cost on the average? Did they charge quite a bit for it?

AI: Depends quite a bit on the age of the whiskey, about, the average, of course money wasn't worth what, I mean money was worth a lot more. Kind of the going price on, on moonshine whiskey was $20 a gallon. That was kind of a, then it would depend on how slow the market was or how much they had, and it wouldn't always be the same, but that was kind of a standard, the gallon jug was $20. It'd be more than four fifths you'd buy today. Now you buy the fifth of whiskey today, you can't hardly buy a fifth or anything for under, under six dollars, 00:31:00you know. From $5-10 , And that, they were taking a lot more chances, they were taking a chance.


INTERVIEWER'S NOTE: Side Two didn't record properly. Among things discussed were: bootleggers had a route and built up a clientele; bootleggers wouldn't have a phone because people could possibly call them and misrepresent themselves; the widow of Bill Henderson took over his business while he was serving his term in prison.