Uncle Jack Fultz’s Memories of Carter County: Of legal booze and moonshine stills

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

Alcohol wasn’t made illegal on a national level until January 1920, but the temperance movement had been going for quite some time at that point, and illegal moonshine stills were being raided and destroyed long before Prohibition became the law of the land. 

Then, though, as today and during much of Prohibition, the problem with homemade booze wasn’t that the booze itself was illegal – you could still get alcohol by prescription, even during Prohibition – it was that the manufacturers weren’t paying the state and federal government their share of taxes on their under-the-table, bootleg sales. 

You can see this in a 1916 article detailing the seizures of moonshine stills in Menifee and Elliott Counties that was followed by an advertisement for mail order corn liquor by the gallon. The only obvious distinction between the products of those illegal stills and what could be ordered through the mail was that tax, and the state still wasn’t completely dry as late as 1918, when Kentucky law made it illegal to transport liquor from a wet to a dry county or community. 

The state as a whole didn’t go dry until 1919, and of course once the 18th Amendment passed and was implemented in January of the following year, the entire nation went dry. But having the federal government uphold their convictions wasn’t enough for some temperance advocates. Some, like Miss Nan Danner, of Smoky Valley, who in winter of 1922 ran off two moonshiners from an old fire clay mine and smashed up their operation, including “75 gallons of mash and a lard can of moonshine whiskey,” felt the need to take matters into their own hands. 

Of course, a prohibition on liquor means a thriving underground trade, and the sort of operations that Danner destroyed. But the lack of regulation that came along with prohibition, and the thriving underground trade, also meant the whiskey drinker was gambling with his or her life and health when they chose to imbibe in liquor of unknown provenance, so maybe folks like Danner really were doing the Lord’s work when busting up stills. 

Or maybe they needed to mind their own business. Regardless, for the next 11 years, until 1933, the Danner’s of the world were heroes while the men distilling the whiskey she found were on the wrong side of the law – whether their motivation was profit or personal consumption was irrelevant. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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