Sauk County Had Its Moonshiners
By Bill Schuette
The National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, was passed by Congress in 1919, to carry out the intent of the eighteenth amendment, thereby establishing the prohibition of the sale of liquor in the United States. It forbade the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors. But that did not stop enterprising moonshiners from making the stuff anyway, nor did it prevent taverns from selling it undercover.
Victor Rehr shared his recollection of those days, in a 1995 interview: "This is the area [Sauk County] most rich in the history of prohibition of anywhere around because it was one of the biggest suppliers of Chicago. There were two large operations—which I was told by my dad who has been gone since 1935 — of Al Capone's operation, which had a two-thousand gallon capacity per day. They rated a still by how much they could evaporate in 24 hours.”
Rehr recalled that one of the operations was located on a farm south of the Reedsburg golf course on Hwy 33. Since the moonshiners needed to have a front to prevent detection these men told people they were running a dog farm and raising police dogs. Ray said that one night about 50 of the dogs got out and raided his father’s pig farm, killing all the hogs. He reported the incident to the sheriff and told him who he suspected. The sheriff told him “You can’t go over there or there’s going to be shooting. So you have to figure out just how much they were worth. Tell them what you told me, that it had to be their dogs.” The sheriff told him where to drive in and not to try to pull anything on them and that he thought he’d get his money.
Victor continued. “So my dad drove down in there with his old open touring car and he got down in there back across the 40 where the road turned to the south, and there sat a man with a heavy old mackinaw coat and a deer rifle across his lap. He was sitting on a nail keg. [The man] stopped him, and wanted to know what he wanted. My dad explained it to him. [The man asked] ‘Well are you sure it was our dogs?’ It was quite obvious they were. ‘Well how much were the pigs worth?’
The man said very little, but he got out a big roll of currency from his shirt pocket. He wet his thumb and counted it off just what they were worth. Then he stopped, ‘is that right?’ he asked. I think my dad said that he gave him three extra twenty dollar bills. Then he took his rifle and motioned he should turn around and get the heck out of there.”
Rehr said that the liquor was shipped to Chicago in ten gallon milk cans. There was a false bottom in the cans which held nine gallons of hooch and a gallon of milk on top.
The operation was terminated a year later when they were raided.
Moonshiners had some cute tricks too, said Rehr. “One guy worked the Sauk County Fair and that was about the only time he made a haul. He’d hang around the barns and he had a bottle of the stuff. He would get somebody off by himself — people like that could smell each other out, I guess—anyway they’d say, ‘I'd like a drink of cold tea.’ He'd give them a sample drink of his booze. ‘Can I get some of it from you?’ ‘Yeah, you come back and leave your dollar under a brick in the straw, and there’ll be quart of it there. But don't dig in there if there's anybody around. Also, don’t drink it until you get home.’ This guy sold a lot of it. Imagine the surprise of the buyer, when, on the way home he’d hoist the bottle for a swig, and what he tasted was really cold tea!”
That moonshine still had a two gallon capacity and Victor recalled another funny incident that happened when he was a little boy.
“There was a church up in Westﬁeld where Highways W and D divide — there’s a little cemetery there yet. They had church in the afternoon and the minister would stop at our place on the way back. At least once a month or so we’d have a late afternoon lunch. In the beginning of the dust bowl days, it was extremely hot; nobody had refrigeration or packed any ice. But we were fortunate; we had a basement 14 feet deep for potato storage, with a clay floor. My dad would call the neighbors over and entertain them under the shade trees out by the road. Anyway, my dad sent me in to get a bottle of beer. Dad and the neighbor wore straw hats [because of the hot summer days] and the minister wore a felt hat. When I went down cellar and got the bottle of beer I dropped it at the top of the long stairs and it bounced all the way down. But it didn‘t break because it landed on the clay floor, and I took it to my dad standing out there in the open. He pulled the cap off that bottle and the beer shot out of there until the bottle was dry inside. The comical thing was to see my dad, along with our neighbor with their straw hats and the minister with his felt hat held by the rims trying to catch some of that beer on its way back down.”
There were several bands in the village of Loganville during the prohibition years. One of them was the Village Marching Band. Their uniforms looked very much like the police uniform of the day. Bill Thies, an area farmer, recalled that one time the band went somewhere to march in a parade, and on the way back to Loganville, they became a bit thirsty, so they stopped at a place they knew to be a “speakeasy.”
The cars all stopped and the entire band got out—still in their uniforms—and walked to the door and knocked. After rapping several times, a voice finally called out, “Wait a minute.”
Soon they heard bottles breaking and the sound of liquid being poured down the drain.
Finally, the owner opened the door and the band walked in to be greeted by a stunned silence—which soon turned to anger!
It seems the lookout had spotted their uniforms and mistook them to be the law, and sounded the alarm.
The band decided they weren’t as thirsty as they thought and headed out the door as fast as they could.
Prohibition finally ended, after 13 years, when Congress repealed the Volstead Act in December, 1933.