Bootlegging
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Bootlegging brothers' joy short-lived

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from the Beaumont Enterprise, November 14, 1998

NEDERLAND -- I remember in January 1927, when most kids played "catch,'' "Annie-over," marbles or hopscotch, my brother Broomtail and I were the "kingpin bootleggers" of Port Neches.

Moonshine Still Captured at Port Neches, TX ca. 1931

Moonshine Still Captured at Port Neches, TX ca. 1931

Come to think of it, though, I don't think we ever produced enough moonshine to offer much competition for the Jim Beam distillery.

Dad and another police officer often raided the moonshine stills up and down the Neches River, from Beard's Bayou to Sabine Lake, and as a result I often watched as our motor launch and cattle barge docked at Our boat landing, loaded with sacks of sugar and corn "chops," copper stills and tubing, and other paraphernalia of that illicit trade.

A county truck usually carried away the sacks of sugar and corn immediately, for they were the most valuable items. But the other moonshine gear, the copper stills and tubing, Wooden barrels and gallon jugs often remained stacked near our house for months before being hauled to the courthouse in Beaumont.

One day Broomtail and I, then ages 7 and 4, decided we would become "bootleggers" ourselves. There was a large clump of sea cane on our marsh land near Block's Bayou, so we took a cane knife and chopped out a space 10 feet square to be our "still house."

We then selected a 40-gallon still from the stack, some copper tubing and a couple wooden barrels for sour mash, and we rolled or carried them down to our "still site." We even had a bench there to sit on while we were cooking the "mash."

One day Dad came home from town, and we asked him to come see our still. He looked at us rather incredulously, but followed us anyway.

Now Will Block was a very reserved person, not the least inclined to laugh or smile often, but that day he sat down 6n our bench and guffawed, roaring with laughter, such as I had never seen him do previously. Upon regaining his composure, he said, "I guess I haven't been a very good role model if all my sons want to be is bootleggers!''

In fact Dad found the situation so amusing that he bragged at the store and the bank, "Would you believe I have a moonshine still down in the marsh on my farm?"

Of course, everyone in Port Neches knew he was jesting, because moonshine did not belong on the same planet with him. Several of them came down to see the still anyway, and ended up with a good laugh. One of them remarked, "Will, you'd better steer them boys back to the 'straight and narrow,' cause we don't need no more bootleggers around Port Neches than we already got!"

Our "still house," however, came to an end much too soon to suit us. The county truck came to our house to pick up the scrap copper metal, so we had to take the still and copper tubing and load it on the truck.

Like I said, all the other kids of that day got to play "catch," marbles, hopscotch or even with doll houses, but Broomtail and I got to play "bootlegger" instead. That was something very special for us that we did not have to share with anyone else.

W. T. Block of Nederland is a historian and author.

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