When the United States entered into its prohibition era from 1920 – 1933, prohibiting the consumption, manufacturing, storing or transporting of alcohol, many turned to an alternative — moonshine.
Even those living in Morrison County were affected in one way or another. For many, because of the depression and recession the country was in, manufacturing moonshine became a way of survival, said Mary Warner, executive director of the Morrison County Historical Society.
“There are still some states that have ‘dry’ counties, where you cannot buy any alcohol,” she said.
Even Minnesotans are affected by some laws from the prohibition era.
“In Minnesota, there is a law still in place that states you cannot buy alcohol off-sale on Sundays, but you can buy a drink at a bar,” Warner said.
This year, the Morrison County Historical Society (MCHS) plan to set up an exhibit in the Santa House at the Morrison County Fair in Little Falls, Aug. 11-14, that will tell the history of the prohibition.
The MCHS has also collected several stories from Morrison County residents of family members who were affected by the prohibition. Visitors will be able to read those stories at the exhibit.
Warner encourages people to share their family’s prohibition stories.
“Some may feel it still carries a stigma or embarrassment, but at this point we are so far beyond the prohibition. Many have also passed away since,” she said.
“We look at it as history in the larger context. By telling their story, it is a way to preserve what families experienced during that time frame. By sharing, people also understand that they are not alone,” Warner said.
Jerry Smude of Little Falls said he heard many stories from his dad, Stanley Smude, growing up.
“Back then, it was a matter of survival and supporting his family and his parents,” he said.
Smude said Stanley manufactured moonshine and instead of selling it locally at a lower cost, he transported it to the Twin Cities where he was paid more for it.
“One time he was stopped by a local sheriff in Elk River. The sheriff gave him three choices: To either pay a fine, go to jail or give him the car, the moonshine and walk home,” Smude said.
“So he started walking, hitchhiked home and started over.”
Smude is loaning the MCHS a still from the prohibition era he received from his uncle to put on display at the Fair.
Many breweries were forced to close once the prohibition came into effect. Others went into a different kind of production, such as the Kiewel Brewery in Little Falls, said Cathy Braud of Little Falls.
The brewery then started manufacturing ice cream and dairy products under the name Kiewel Associated Products. Growing up, she heard many stories from her grandpa, William Reintjes, who worked at the new production.
“Kiewel hired him and another man to be in charge of the new ice cream and dairy product lines. Since Kiewel knew about brewing beer, but nothing about making ice cream or dairy products, he hired people who were knowledgeable in that field,” said Braud.
Reintjes had previously worked as a dairy product and ice cream maker at factories in Thief River Falls and Crookston. Braud believes he moved to Little Falls because of the better job opportunity at the Kiewel Associated Products.
One time Reintjes discovered that some of the workers were somewhat under the influence of alcohol.
“After some inquiry, he found that the workers had gotten creative. Knowing that the barrels of vanilla were an alcohol mixture, the workers had passed some of the mixture through a loaf of bread after the ends had been removed. The bread filtered out the vanilla and alcohol dropped out from the bottom of the loaf,” Braud said.
Those who would like to contribute a prohibition story may contact the MCHS at (320) 632-4007 or tell it to volunteers at the Fair exhibit.