The Moon Shines on the West Sterling Barrens
George Sornson of the Sornson family who lived on Hwy 87 a few miles north of Cushing sent a comment on moonshining along the St. Croix River Valley—in the Sterling Barrens north of Wolf Creek. He wrote:
I was hoping some day you might compose a column on the "stills" in the general area during the prohibition. You told me of a conversation a few years ago with LeRoy Hedberg and George Williamson about a still on my grandfather's/great-grandfather's property which was located in Sterling Township at the intersection of River Road and County Line Road---running three 40's to the east.of the intersection.
My mother [Hazel Danielson Sornson] and grandmother [Esther Nylen Danielson] occasionally talked about a button under a rug in front of the kitchen stove that was connected to a wire that ran out into the woods where a still was located.[Battery powered of course]. If someone came into the farm yard---the alarm was sounded. Mooney Blue lives in the log house now. In the 1920s and 1930s the road into the property was located in a different fashion than it is now---had to drive thru the woods a bit from north of the house. Very tippy road!! My grandfather's name was Claus E Danielson [liked his beverage!]. Great grandfather's name was Peter Erik Danielson [died in 1937].
I asked LeRoy Hedberg once about it in a phone message--but didn't get a follow through answer. He may not have understood my inquiry. He is a relative on my original grandmothers side who passed away with diptheria in 1907. Her nane was Anna Hedberg.
I like reading about the depression and prohibition--but don't know anybody who knows the "local" suppliers. The old dilapidated shed I have on the farm was built in 8 foot sections and was supposed to have been a moonshiners shed moved in from the Barrens--easily taken apart!
A few of my (Russ’) memories on the topic
LeRoy Hedberg is recovering from a heart attack suffered a few weeks ago. He had some stents put in and hopefully is doing better--haven't had an update for a few weeks.
I have never been able to get people to talk much about the stills. The Harris family was involved too--I know Vedon was arrested at least once and spent time in jail.
I will see if I can find out more about the moonshining. A man in Osceola has been trying to do this for many years too, but has not gotten very much from the Sterling area either.
Dad said that he visited a still in the 1930s (they continued after prohibition--as they were tax-free producers of alcohol) and remembered the exhaust from an old two flywheel engine pumping cooling water was piped into an underground barrel dug into the sand with holes in it to muffle the sound--from their trapping cabin in far nw Sterling they could hear the hushed "whoosh, whoosh" of the engine running and went to investigate.
People living near the bigger operations were very careful to not look or know anything about them for fear of being found out. Norman Larson told me this fall at the Ramble that when he was a teen aged pulp cutter out at Floyds Harris (Floyd ran the cook house), Floyd drank more than normal and told him of a car with two revenuers buried somewhere nearby in the barrens--but would never talk about it again when he was sober.
Dad and Mom's house on Evergreen had a still in the basement at one time when the Nelson's lived there. It blew up and caught fire and charred some of the basement ceiling. When dad moved in, the big cattle watering tank was left--it had been chopped many times with an axe and then carefully all soldered back together to hold water.
Mom's cousins, the Carnes family ran the Sunrise Ferry across the St. Croix River out in West Sterling from about 1909 to the early 1940s. They often had late night moon shiners taking the ferry across. "We were paid well and they were always nice to us--without them we probably wouldn't have had enough business to keep the ferry running!"
They used trucks and large cars specially equipped with tanks built in to haul the moonshine. Coming over they brought supplies for the still and returning they brought the liquor. Many of the stills were not run by local folks, but experts set up by Twin Cities bootleggers. Local people left these folks alone as they were as likely to shoot you as let you be.
The most difficult part of moonshining was getting the large amount of sugar needed, according to Emil Nelson. The law found out who bought a dozen 100 lb sacks of sugar and tracked the moonshiners that way. I am not sure about the moonshining process, but didn't know they needed sugar--thought the corn provided it--anyway I haven't studied the process of making corn liquor. Now it is done on a huge scale at the ethanol plants.