Last Of The Moonshiners Tell Their Stories

Moonshine production was prevalent from the 1850s through the 1960s, but few people are making it today and stories may soon be all that is left.

  • Patrick Schmitt

    Image 1 of 4

    Photo: Kyle Clayton/WFIU-WTIU News

    82-year-old Patrick Schmitt stands over an old 50 gallon oak barrel he now uses to make wine. A barrel that size was commonly used to ferment moonshine mash.

  • Patrick Schmitt rolls a charred oak barrel

    Image 2 of 4

    Photo: Kyle Clayton/WFIU-WTIU news

    Patrick Schmitt rolls a charred oak barrel outside his family's barn. This barrel was used by Schmitt and his father to ferment mash and age and color their whiskey.

  • Moonshine still

    Image 3 of 4

    Photo: Kyle Clayton/WFIU-WTIU News

    An old still sits on display in the Dubois County Museum. This is a common still one might have seen dotting the landscape.

  • historic moonshine photo

    Image 4 of 4

    Photo: Photo courtesy of Arthur Nordhoff

    Robert Nordhoff stands on the right in front of a pile of confinscated moonshine stills, the largest of which able to produce enough liquor to supply liquor to the community of Jasper for one day. Nordhoff was a Lieutenant in the State Excise police. The photograph is believed to have been taken sometime during 1937 or 1938.

Patrick Schmitt steps into the shadows of his old pole barn. A navy blue 1954 tractor faces the open barn door. Its tires, almost as tall as the 82-year-old farmer, are caked with mud and grass.

Back in a dark corner of the hayloft stands a dusty old worn oak barrel. Schmitt tilts the barrel on its side and rolls it over the barn’s gravel floor.

“It’s just one of them things that everybody talked about in Dubois County,” Schmitt says. “They’d say is that Dubois Dew? Everybody knew what it was.”

A Part of History

Almost anyone you talk to in Dubois County has a tale to tell about moonshine. Homemade liquor flowed like a river through the area during the 1850s, into Prohibition, through the Depression and well into the 1960s but those stories are about all that is left.

This area is  infamous for its white lightning. Dubois County historian Arthur Nordhoff says German settlers brought the art of distilling to the area.

“They were used to making schnapps, sherry and wine,” Nordhoff says.

The recipes were handed down over generations.  They knew how to mix the ingredients safely and they didn’t cut corners like using lead in the still or adding lye to decrease fermentation time.

Schmitt grew up cooking moonshine. His grandfather taught his father, and his father taught his brother. Every August, after the hay was in and before the corn was ready to harvest, Schmitt’s father set up the still. A typical recipe for Schmitt dew looks something like this:

  • 3 gallons of cracked corn
  • Put the corn in a barrel and add water
  • Add 100 pounds of sugar
  • Add six packets of Fleishman’s yeast
  • Stir it up and let the mixture ferment for about six days in the hot sun

Schmitt and his family strained the liquid mash through a burlap sack and poured what was left, the wash, into a copper pot. The wash boiled in the pot and created vapor that ran through a copper tube that was submerged and cooled in water.

“It comes out real white, no color to it at all, just crystal clear,” Schmitt says.

The Economics of Moonshine Production

Another old time farmer and distiller Francis Lindauer and his son Mike, like many Dubois County residents, still speak German. It was the language you heard floating around the still site.

In 1919, when Prohibition outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol, the people of Dubois County saw opportunity. And since they were distilling whiskey anyway, farmers who could not make enough money off their crops turned to bootlegging to pay the mortgage. Illegal whiskey was also used to trade for farm equipment or to pay off debt.

Dubois County Dew flowed as far as St. Louis, Louisville and Chicago.  Francis remembers a conversation he had about where he was from with a man during a bus ride in the 1940s.

“And he asked me where I’m from,” Francis says. “I said well, I’m from a small town in Southern Indiana you probably wouldn’t know where that was anyhow but the little town is Ferdinand and he said ‘oh well I get my whiskey from there’ and he was from Chicago.”

Bootlegging brought income for farmers, but it also brought revenuers looking to stop moonshine production and gangsters scheming to steal it. Mike Lindauer remembers a story about the gangsters, also known as raiders, who broke into his wife’s great uncle’s farm.

“Two of them were in the house with shotguns and they held the women and the kids in the bedroom over here on the left,” Mike says.

Mike is pointing to a room in a yellow house sitting on a hill overlooking the farm he works every day.

“Then they walked with Ed over here to this well sitting right here. It’s got a pump on top now but at that time there was an old barn on top and there was an empty well,” Mike says.

The raiders stole seven 55-gallon barrels of shine Ed had hidden in the well.  The uncle did not make his mortgage payment that year.

The illegal sale of alcohol not only helped some Dubois County farmers make ends meet, but it also fueled the local economy.

Today, old red brick factories line the streets of downtown Jasper.

During the 1920s and ‘30s, those furniture companies were just starting up.  Because revenuers checked bank accounts to see who was depositing suspicious amounts of cash, bootleggers invested their excess profits into company stocks, helping to make Jasper the furniture capital of the world at the time.

“When their parents died, a lot of their children asked how mom and dad had all this stock in local companies,” Nordhoff says. “Well, it was moonshine money.”

Pouring a glass of wine, Schmitt says he has not run a still in more than 60 years. Today the only alcohol he makes is wine.  In his basement he has a batch fermenting in an oak barrel similar to the one in his barn.  He serves it during holidays and gives bottles away to his friends.

Kyle Clayton

Kyle Clayton is a WFIU news producer. He is currently studying journalism at Indiana University and comes to WFIU following an internship in the fall of 2011. After serving in the U.S. Army, he returned home to Indiana in 2008 to begin his education and pursue his interests in writing.

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  • http://twitter.com/420MEDsmoker 420 Med Smoker

    Marijuana Prohibition is as mindless as Alcohol Prohibition.

    “The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably
    by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for
    the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot
    be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime
    in this country is closely connected with this.”

    Albert Einstein, “My First Impression of the U.S.A.”, 1921

  • TonyNefouse

    I had no idea Indiana had such a rich history in shine.

  • Pingback: WFIU-WTIU Newsroom Takes Home 17 SPJ Awards | About - Indiana Public Media

  • david tyler

    I would like to talk to the man who you interviewed for this story. I only know bits n pieces of my family’s history, but i do know that my grandfather might have been an aquantance of his or at the very least he would have known of him durring the prohibition days. Please ask him (if he is willing to get a hold of me. dtylercrow2@yahoo.com

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