Bolus Augustus Jowdy – Washington County Indiana folk fruit distiller.
Sometimes the subject of a Historical sketch comes easy with information relatively easily gleaned from Historical documents or from first hand accounts, other times it’s a needle in a haystack based on speculation, hearsay, and rumor. Many years ago former Washington County Historical Society vice president Willie Harlin mentioned “Old man” Jowdy to me as having been a Moonshiner near Delaney Creek and that he was an immigrant but didn’t know from where. No more information was given at that time and I filed the name away as interesting but one I wasn’t likely to find much about.
More recently Washington County Historian Jeremy Elliott put me in contact with a Mr. Romie Early in his 90’s now and a lifetime resident of the bottoms who filled in a scant few details about illicit distillers in the vicinity of the Baptist Church and two schoolhouses including Archie Howard and Jesse Tompkins (who was arrested at least twice in the 1920’s for violations of the liqour law and whom would send to town for 100 lb bags of sugar from the grocery located on the square).
Of Mr. Jowdy Romie mentioned he originated from Syria and lived some time in Kentucky where he owned a store. This store was robbed at gunpoint once and Mr. Jowdy was shot in the knee leaving him with a lifetime limp. He had been a veteran of World War 1 and was drafted and at some point lost an eye. He moved to Delaney bottom and planted an extensive 3-5 acre orchard of all types of fruit which he would share with the neighborhood ladies (they bringing him canned fruit for winter use in exchange). Mr. Jowdy always lived as a bachelor and had no known family to speak of although he maintained a menagerie of mules, donkeys, poultry, and dogs. He never left the valley and relied on a mule and a sled to get him to the crossroads to meet a little ferry on the river which would deliver him groceries as needed. Mr. Jowdy was well known to all the locals as a fine purveyor of good peach brandy and had, according to local legend, at least one run in with the local liqour law.
In the early 1960’s his home apparently burned down and Sheriff Clyde Nichols had legitimate fears for Jowdy’s safety and subsequently decided the state hospital was the best place for him. After Mr.Jowdy’s death he was burried in East Bearnsted Kentucky. Included here are the only photograph, bio, and artifact that the Stevens Museum in Salem Indiana has representing this lost Hoosier Distillers life. Hopefully we will find more yet and when we do we will update this post.