The object was metal, round and rusted. It had coils and pipes and it sat on a low bank of a creek where is was secured by portions of a foot-thick stone foundation, no remains of an upper story or roof anywhere. Hunks of one wall had fallen or been pushed out and lay on the ground beside the mossy bank.
Ah-ha! It just had to be the remains of a still, there in Golden Gate Canyon. A place notorious for making fiery “white lighting,” the illegal liquor people drank during prohibition.
It was so exciting to find the remains of the distillery apparatus actually used to make the bootleg contraband, that it brought on a high I thought might be equal to one a person may have had from drinking what I thought had been made there.
The term “bootleg” was a general term used for the distilled product, also called “white lightning,” especially in the South, to decribe the jolt the stuff gave a person. Also, “white mule,” as it had a quite a kick; “moonshine,” made in secret by the light of the moon, and “John Barleycorn,” the latter surname defining two of the grains ” corn and barley ” most comonly used for the basic “mash.”
Some few years back when traveling some of the few remaining back woods, narrow, two-lane, black-top roads in the southern Ozark Mountains I remarked to a companion that they were “white lightning roads.” I explained that they were not much different than when the moonshiners of the region traveled them to deliver their goods. They drove them, I said, at top speed, never bothering to give a warning horn blast even when they were going two abreast over a hill top. I warned my campanion that, though they may not be delivering any moonshine now, they still drove that way.
Back to the “kettle” along the creek … I took lots of pictures, then came the let down “hangover.” Upon showing them to some of the canyon residents, I learned that it was definitely not a still.
It was … are you ready for this? A water heater!
Bart Strang, now of Meeker, Colo., had a story. In the 1930s, in what was then the remote boonies of the canyon, his family had a dude ranch where people paid money to pitch hay, round up cattle and so on.
Besides hard work there was additional entertainment such as “melerdramers” and do-si-do dancing with great western fare and hot water in each cabin. From a hillside spring the water was piped into the heaters.
Continuing into the 1950’s, the business came to a flaming halt when the main ranch house burned. The land was sold to the Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Now only this old water heater and some cabin foundations of the house are left as symbols of when this was a thriving enterprise.
It was even romantic. “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain,” sung by the famed Kate Smith was probably playing on the radio and the moon was coming, huge and golden, over the mountain and shining down luminously into the canyon. Young people met, looked and listened, fell in love and lived happily every after.
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Part 4 of a six-part series about basic water law in the United States, predominately in the western part of the country, and how it affects this finite resource. Water law can be traced back…