The decade of the 1920s in Shawnee was a “wild and wooly” time. The city was growing at an astounding pace, mainly due to the “oil boom” going on around it. This brought all kinds of people to the area to seize upon the “cash flow” that was dripping even more than the oil. However, 1927 seemed to be especially wild. This can be verified by the count of deaths in the county that year.

The decade of the 1920s in Shawnee was a “wild and wooly” time. The city was growing at an astounding pace, mainly due to the “oil boom” going on around it. This brought all kinds of people to the area to seize upon the “cash flow” that was dripping even more than the oil. However, 1927 seemed to be especially wild. This can be verified by the count of deaths in the county that year.

Human lives snuffed out by violence in Pottawatomie County during 1927 reached a total of 52, according to a survey completed in early January of 1928. Killers accounted for 16 of the victims, autos sent 12 to their graves, trains killed six and eight others died violently, by suicide or by accident of one kind or another.

More innocent blood was shed by man’s carelessness and cruelty during the year than ever before in history. This was largely because of the huge increase in population caused by the oil boom, and the attendant crowds of lawless.

Thirteen were placed behind bars for perpetrating the shedding of blood, several murderers were convicted and sentenced to penalties ranging from death in the electric chair, life imprisonment, to a set number of years. Several others were awaiting trial in 1928.

Punishment by law was impossible in most of the cases, however, carelessness caused deaths that were not the fault of those who did the killing. In one or two cases, killers were exonerated as being justified.

While man’s chief means of transportation, the automobile, was helping decrease the population to the number of 12, those injured in auto accidents reached the astonishing figure of 28, spreading out over every month of the calendar.

In the killings, August led the list with five homicides. December, November, September, and March each recorded two each, caused by willful intent. Two auto accidents in January claimed as many lives. Another death was added in March, two more in July, one each in September and October, two in November, and the peak was reached in December with three.

Two persons died in crossing accidents and four others were killed in train wrecks and accidents. The list of injured by trains amounted to 13.

Although two killers were still at large, no murder in the county went unsolved. The people were placed in the jail during the year for being responsible to injury or death to human beings on the account of reckless driving. Almost every part of the county figured in the killings, with Shawnee and Earlsboro leading in the number of murders.


Drinkers of bootleg liquor in Shawnee, and there were a lot of them, perhaps did not realize that manufacturing process through which the corn or rye they buy went through before it was bottled and placed in their hands at so much per. If they knew the process, and could see some of the modern Pottawatomie County stills in operation, there was a probability that enthusiasm for the stuff would wane considerably.

Prohibition had been in effect so long that moonshiners were getting rather proficient in their trade. Some of them were rich enough to afford equipment that turned out a product that was very good. When they enter this major class of moonshiner, they cater to a trade with money and the march to prosperity was unbroken, unless a dry agent happened along.

Approaching one of those stills was a hazardous business. Officers who were “tipped” off to a still, had to approach with caution for two reasons. First, if the still operator was to be caught, he must be surprised. Another was that he may decide to resist intrusion with a gun and officers made good targets sometimes.

A news reporter said he recalled several raids in which he participated with officers. One of the largest ever found was in a ravine. The watercourse made a sudden drop of about 12 feet, making a waterfall when filled with water. The moonshiner had placed a roof over this part of the ravine, forcing the water to flow over it and fell at the mouth of the improvised cave.

Dampness necessarily resulted, and the slime gathered abundantly. When officers arrived, no one was around, as a can with stones fixed inside, had been rattled by a “look-out” on a nearby hill. His job was to warn the still operators of the approaching official party.

Two large barrels of mash were in a convenient corner. Both were emptied and in the bottom of each was found a can of lye, punctured full of small holes. This permitted the lye to work into the mash and added a generous “kick” to the resulting liquid. If it was short of lye, it could cause death by poisoning.

The slush on the floor, a mixture of mud, water, cinders, and ground corn, was ankle deep. It reeked of a foul odor, half alcoholic in its smell. The large copper still, an L-shaped affair, was sitting on an improvised furnace and a fire was burning steadily. From this large urn, a copper coil ran into another barrel, filled with cold water. It passed through the barrel and ended in a spout from which a trickle of colorless liquid showed that whiskey was in the making.

Officers said that the two extra barrels of mash were kept on hand to insure steady operation of the still. The ground corn was mixed with water and the lye and permitted to ferment, after the fashion of the old-time method of preparing a corn feed for boys. This large supply was in various stages of fermentation, with one barrel almost “ripe” when the officers arrived.

When the officers emptied the mash, a most nauseating effect resulted. Several dead field mice, luckless fellows that had fallen into the barrels, were revealed. It was presumed that the mice were cooked with the mash and steamed into the liquor jug. Roaches and bugs and flies were so numerous that the place fairly swarmed with them. A goodly portion of these also had collected in the mash.

Jugs containing the liquor were stored in a small compartment dug out of the bank. This kept the liquor cool and in good condition awaiting its removal to the plant of the bootlegger, the middle man, who was the go-between in the great struggle to evade the law.

The Red Hill country northeast of Shawnee was long famed for its moonshine stills. Because it was almost inaccessible, officers could enter the region only under the greatest difficulty. Several raids, however, were carried out, with stills being brought in.

Strange as it seemed, those who claimed they knew that liquor consumed in Shawnee was mostly “outside” manufactured goods. It seemed to be easier to make the liquor in the area and transport it to Oklahoma City and Tulsa, than it was to sell it locally.

Coalgate liquor also found a good market in the Shawnee area. So-called red liquor, corn liquid that was carefully distilled, treated and colored, was produced in that region. After that liquor was made as pure as moonshine handicaps permitted, it was dyed and placed in a charcoal barrel. Then it was bottled, bogus seals attached, and gaudy labels pronounced it to be “genuine Scotch or Canadian Club.”

Nocturnal visits to the moonshiners by local bootleggers gave them a “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde” existence that their neighbors seldom suspected.

(These stories, and many more will highlight the coming publication of the city of Shawnee. Look for it in the future.)