Bootleggers of the Metolius
copyright Guy Swanson
In 1920 the 18th Amendment went into effect but prohibition had already passed in Oregon in a 1916 law that some called Prohibition Lite. That gave Oregon a head start, with speakeasies, smuggling routes and hidden-away stills.
"During Prohibition, the Oregon Outback became the principal source of bootleg whiskey on the West Coast,” according to Prineville historian David Braly. Central Oregon became a moonshine capital and the Metolius region was a popular location where its wide open spaces and tight-knit community made busting bootleggers difficult.
Prohibition came just in time the for the dry-land homesteaders of Grandview who were hanging on by their fingernails, trying to eke a living out of 160 acres that barely had enough forage for a cow or two. With a two-dollar investment in sugar and yeast a farmer could make enough money to put groceries on the table and pay the bills for a couple months.
In 1924 Gussie Foley shot her ever-violent husband, who was in a drunken rage. At the ranch the sherrif found a large still, 15 gallons of moonshine whiskey, 190 quarts of beer, and 4oo gallons of mash. As he lay dying, he told the sheriff "I had it coming", and "mother" wasn't to blame.
A bootlegger could put his still in an abandoned homesteader's cabin and watch from a safe distance until the batch was ready. People approaching the still who were not recognized as lawmen were ofter warned away with a rifle shot.
So well hidden were the moonshiners' cabins and dugouts that they were still being found decades later. Few were foolish enough to be caught, but a couple of prominent resort proprietors on the Metolius were arrested in April of 1926. When the 21st Amendment was repealed in 1933 hundreds of stills were discovered in abandoned and knocked-up shacks deep in the canyons and juniper thickets.
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