When I first became interested in the History of distillation in these Hoosier Hills I was already very aware of Dubois county and its long association with distilling during prohibition and after and knew that eventually my research would turn in that direction, what I didn’t realize was just how pervasive into the surrounding counties that culture truly was.
Jasper, Ferdinand, and Huntingburg were all hotspots of illicit distillation tied to the tight nit community and traditions of the Germans who came to the area starting in 1835. Many more of these immigrants came in the years following as the German speaking Catholic Father. Joseph Kundek came in 1838 and held mass in the German tongue which encouraged expatriate Germans living in the states to the east of Indiana to move into the area as well. Most of these families were from the Black Forrest area in Germany and of course toted with them the traditional German distillation methods as taught to them by their forefathers and mothers, and I am sure many of these folks as I have often mentioned before viewed distillation as a birthright. These communities stayed very close nit over the years as for a time in the U.S. to be German or Irish was not seen favorably by the Nativist political movement (See Bloody Monday In Louisville Kentucky). Of course, the first World War certainly caused a biased eye to be cast in the direction of the community as well and by the time the second World War rolled around fears were spread within the communities that the German populous, much like the Japanese, would be put into work camps as they “could not be trusted”. This unique set of circumstances caused the Dubois communities to become very suspicious of any outsiders moving in and I imagine only tightened their reign on, and subsequent control of local illicit distillation and supplies. So keenly aware were these communities of outsiders they even created their own Hoosier-German dialect known as Jasper-Dutch which is still spoken by some to this day.
Dubois county became a full stop supplier of not only the famous Jasper Corn and Dubois County Dew to locals but also wholesale to every bootlegger in the Midwest. Subsequently the development of a supply chain for moonshiners via local hardware stores also emerged as the demand for raw materials and know how increased as those outside the community and living in the rural countryside became interested in distillation as a way to pay the bills. Interestingly I hear little of this connection/relationship in Washington County but it seems as if every single bootlegger, moonshiner, or relative thereof I have interviewed in Orange County who was in operation during prohibition has a Dubois county connection or story.
I recently interviewed an older gentleman who wished to remain anonymous who shed a little light on the Stampers Creek area moonshiners during prohibition and their link back to Jasper (all of this in conjunction with the recent entry on Chester Smith in French Lick as well). Carl Krodel ran a wholesale store (which is still in operation to this day) in Jasper from which one could buy all the accoutrements of the business including corn, sugar, and yeast as well as ten and 15 gallon barrels for ageing product. It seems as if all of the moonshiners in Orange county during prohibition purchased supplies from this store and went about producing their own whiskey from those supplies in conjunction to supplementing their home produced supply via the makers in Dubois county. In those times a bootlegger could buy whiskey wholesale for $4.00 a gal in Dubois and resale it for $1.00 a pint elsewhere. A good markup in any line of business.
One gentleman by the name of Floyd Terrell and his girlfriend were apparently large operators in the business around Stampers Creek in the late 1920’s and ran 3 large stills near Pumpkin Center. They didn’t purchase sugar from Dubois however as it was purchased from the local merchant Ad Gray. The lady of the operation would fetch sugar in 100 lb. sacks which she would carry and load into the rumble seat of their Willys-Knight convertible by herself, sometimes as many as ten bags at a time. The mash bill for this product was of the Jasper Corn/Dubois Dew persuasion being:
100 lbs. sugar to a 50-gal barrel
3 lbs. Cracked corn
1 block of yeast.
All in all, they were setting 10 barrels of “Jasper Corn” mash at a time.
Phillip Easterday, a 98-year-old gentleman living on the Orange-Washington county line whom I also interviewed added to this the information he had of his fathers distilling operation which relied on a 30-gallon copper pot still along with that same Jasper Corn recipe. Oddly enough Mr. Easterday’s still matches the exact description of that of Chester Smiths operation and of a woman named Hollis near Stampers Creek who also ran the same recipe according to my anonymous source. These were all 30-gallon copper pots with double walled copper condensers.
I don’t think any of those things are coincidences and my best deduction is that all of these folks either learned from the same person or were given their recipes and bought their stills from the same source, one likely associated with Dubois county and probably the Krodel store. Stills were very illegal but if one were to be in the business of selling everything else needed to make moonshine then one might be persuaded to sell a copper set up out the back door or to point someone in the direction of materials and instructions or to someone who could make you a small still. I also do not think that recipe is coincidental, it is an incredibly easy recipe to produce and would take little skill as a distiller to make a somewhat palatable sugarhead whiskey. My guess is the recipe may have been available from the store wherein a potential producer would buy his equipment. Perhaps written on a note and handed to the customer with a receipt. This falls in line with what Phillip Easterday told me when I asked him if the local shiners were working with one another to help each other out; “No, it seemed to me that these folks didn’t get along with one another or didn’t like one another.” Clearly, they considered one another competition in a crowded rural market, though their methodology is the same I think it is likely it was learned independently from someone outside the community of Orange County who passed the same information on to anyone who was looking for it.
Mr. Phillip Easterday was also kind enough to add a little detail to his and his fathers experience saying of his father; “His Clientele wasn’t just the town drunks, they were what I called the rich and famous, he didn’t just sell to anyone.” He also told of remembering his father heading to the local orchard to pickup windfall apples for apple brandy and how his grandfather owned an orchard and would deliver apples to the Wolfe distillery in trade for brandy. Apparently, Mr. Easterday’s father eventually got rattled of his illicit enterprise as he began to get scared of “The damn revenuers”. Eventually he cut up his own still and hid it away, presumably in hopes of fitting it all back together eventually. Mr. Easterday added that his memories of growing up during prohibition are some of his best; “I’m glad I got raised around all of that, I wouldn’t trade what I saw and heard for a million dollars.”
In time we plan to delve deeper into the Dubois county trade and felt this was a nice way to tie up our current research in Stampers Creek. If you have any information on either locality or other historic distillation, legal or illicit, in southern Indiana please feel free to contact us as we would love to share your stories.
The next year sees us involved in a project to put together a demonstration distillery showing off the equipment and techniques of the 1800’s farm-distillers at the John Hay Center in Salem Indiana (Via The Washington County Historical Society), we hope to also make this exhibit a mini museum of Southern Indiana distillation and will be searching for all manner of distilling related artifacts and stories, if you have anything you can contribute we would love to speak with you