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Tears flow as spilled liquor drains into Klamath Reservoir

A 1916 article in the Klamath Falls Evening Herald described how tears flowed as people watched the sheriff smash with an ax 168 bottles of “good Wieland’s beer and four kegs of dago red and gin” that drained into Lake Ewauna.

The sheriff had seized the booze in a raid on a bootlegging joint. Oregon had that year banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, four years before national Prohibition. It wasn’t illegal to possess alcohol, so people would drive across the border into California to buy their booze. That ended four years later with Prohibition’s national ban that included possession.

Bootlegging offered big profits because ingredients were cheap and beer and liquor were easy to make, requiring only a rustic still, barrels, starch, yeast, fresh water, fuel and some storage casks and bottles.

A member of the Klamath County Historical Society said in a museum presentation in 2013 that most Klamath stills were hidden on ranches, in the woods, or at the Lava Beds in Northern California.

The Prohibition era was relatively nonviolent in the Klamath Basin, consisting of only a few shots fired and no related deaths in Klamath County.

Sources: “Booze Seized in Raid Goes in the Lake.” Evening Herald 5 Oct. 1916 [Klamath Falls, Ore.]: Historic Oregon Newspapers. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. .

As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.

Southern Oregon Historical Society PhotoCharlie Terrell confiscates whiskey stills in 1922.