White Mule, Red Whisky, & “Wicked Liquid” — Moonshining In, Around, & Under Dallas In the 1920s

by Paula Bosse


by Paula Bosse

I recently came across an article from 1925 describing a whole world of hidden activity that went on beneath Dallas’ downtown streets. This cartoon and paragraph about moonshiners and bootleggers conducting business in underground storm sewers was particularly interesting:


moonshine_sewer_dmn_050325-by-george-geeDallas Morning News, May 3, 1925

I searched and searched for news of this subterranean moonshining operation but was unable to find anything. I did, however, find some interesting stories from the ’20s, when it seems moonshining and bootlegging were going on absolutely everywhere.

For example, one such operation was going on in a “large cement-lined room” underneath a tailor shop in the 200 block of South Akard, which was accessed by a small “elevator” through a trapdoor.

moonshine_akard_dmn_121425DMN, Dec. 14, 1925

One was in operation underground in Oak Cliff in the 900 block of South Montclair (click to read).

moonshine_dmn_121125DMN, Dec. 11, 1924

Then there was a still operating in a South Dallas cemetery.

moonshine_dmn_090424-cemeteryDMN, Sept. 4, 1924

Over in Tarrant County — at Lake Worth — some outside-the-box-thinking moonshiners were hiding stills under the WATER.

moonshine_FWST_111921_lake-worthFort Worth Star-Telegram, Nov. 19, 1921

Up north on Preston Road, a massive still was discovered — one of the largest ever found in the Southwest. This operation was above ground, in a barn. 7,500 gallons of corn mash was emptied by legendary Texas Ranger M. T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullus, who “removed his shoes and rolled up his trousers when he began pouring out the mash. At one time a large room in the barn was four inches deep in mash, and Gonzaullus waded in the liquid” (DMN, Dec. 23, 1922).

moonshine_gonzaullas_dmn_122322DMN, Dec. 23, 1922

During this incredibly productive and creative period in DFW history, there were different levels of moonshining: there were people making small batches of so-called white lightning for “home use” (kind of like Mayberry’s Morrison sisters who provided small “medicinal quantities” of “elixir” to Otis Campbell), and then there were massive “distilleries” involving large networks of bootleggers and making big money. The former were usually “jest folks,” but the latter were generally professionals, often dangerous and armed-to-the-teeth. The quality of the product varied markedly. This was a handy primer:

moonshine_FWST_120420FWST, Dec. 4, 1920

My favorite moonshine-related story appeared in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It was about drunken rats “staggering” in the streets of Dallas. Star-Telegram publisher (and famous Dallas-hater) Amon Carter must have cackled as he read this. I’m surprised the headline wasn’t bigger.

moonshine_rats_FWST_062621FWST, June 26, 1921

A whole passel of confiscated stills — having been emptied of their contents into nearby gutters (the cause of Big D’s apparent rampant rodental inebriation problem) — can be seen in the photos below, displayed for the media in 1921 by the sheriff’s office in a “perp walk” of inanimate objects. “Your tax dollars at wok.” It’s a good thing Prohibition would last only another … twelve long years.

stills_dmn_050821DMN, May 8, 1921


Sources & Notes

Top photo — taken by Frank Rogers — appeared on eBay a few months ago. It shows a moonshine operation somewhere in Dallas County, with Deputy Sheriff Ed Castor in there somewhere.

All other newspaper clippings as noted.

The initial Dallas Morning News story about the goings-on in the sewers and tunnels beneath downtown was “A Peep Into Dallas’ Real Underworld” by George Gee (a very entertaining writer who doesn’t seem to have been with the DMN long — I wonder if his name is a pseudonym?); it appeared on May 3, 1925 and can be read here.

A very informative article on local moonshining and bootlegging appeared in the DMN — “Now Bootleggers May Weep At Sight of Strange Display” (meaning those photos just above of confiscated stills); it was written by Ted Dealey and appeared on May 8, 1921 — it can be read here.

Prohibition wasn’t ever going to work. Read the Handbook of Texas entry about the movement in Texas, here.

Read an entertaining WFAA article about how openly Prohibition laws were flouted in Dallas, here.

You know what Wikipedia is good for? Reading about moonshine, more moonshine, and corn whiskey. If fails me, however, on Mason jars, so I went here and learned a few things about why moonshine was usually sold in these famous “fruit jars.”

Another photo of confiscated stills displayed on the steps of the old Municipal Building/City Hall can be found in my previous post “Prohibition Killjoys,” here.

Check out a photo of the booming business in a Dallas speakeasy in the post “Hoisting a Few in the Basement Speakeasy,” here.

Since you’re in the mood, why not settle back and watch a scene from the “Alcohol and Old Lace” episode of The Andy Griffith Show, here. Otis Campbell’s darkest day.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.