Saturday, July 6, 2013

Cow Shoes and Booze

Photo courtesy of Homesteading Self Sufficiency Survival
"Cow shoes" were used by Moonshiners in the Prohibition days to disguise their footprints.  This picture dates from about 1922.  The attached pieces, shaped like a cow's hoof, would disguise the fact of human presence at a still site and drop off points in secluded areas where animal prints would not seem out of place.  These were either permanently affixed to the chosen shoes or a crampon of sorts was created bearing the specific animal print."

(Maybe I'm being more immature than usual tonight, but I just totally giggled at the word "crampon" in that last sentence!)

It may seem funny to us today, but these were real concerns for people who lived back in the day and depended on making 'shine for their livelihood.

My mom was born in this era and often told stories of her dad home-brewing beer in big ceramic crocks in the backyard.  I guess it was widely known in their small town and he had a steady stream of customers but every so often the Sheriff would show up, saying there'd been complaints from the neighbors, and make him dump it out.  But the law never took the crockery so within hours he had a new batch brewing.  It seems that a few times that story included something about the Sheriff admitting that it was painful to see it running down the hill and that always made me wonder if, in his off-duty hours, he was a customer.

I never really knew much about either of my grandfathers... One, my dad's father, I have a couple of faint hazy memories of meeting him when I was 7 or 8 and there's a prolific amount of genealogical information already collected, but this particular grandpa, my mother's father, I knew only from random facts picked up during visits with older relatives.  He died more than 20 years before I was born from a disease much like one I suffered.  I guess that gave me a unique connection to him...  And the stories of his life, even though not always grounded in truth, grew into grand adventures embellished even more by my imagination.

I also wondered about the things that he passed down like the beaded silk purse he brought home from his (underage) stint with the Army in France during WWI.  Even though it was burned in a house fire at my uncle's place many years ago, I was always curious about the French lady where he might have obtained it... but, since he came home and gave it to his wife he'd have to be a complete jerk if there was such a French lady.  I don't know.  Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't.  Maybe someday, if my views on our coming afterlife are correct, I'll get to meet him and decide that for myself.  But for now all I have are a few stories and the obscure facts about his life that are recorded in public documents like censuses and birth, marriage and death records.

He was already a bit of a history buff and looking through my mishmash collection of family history worksheets, old photographs and funeral programs with Derek has ignited a curiosity in him to find out more about his origins.  We've started collecting those random facts, family stories and old photographs for him, too.  And he's got a bootlegging heritage all his own... including some currently engaged in the avocation.  I'm kind of looking forward to the day I get to meet them!

I wonder if they have any cow shoes?

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