• Leta McCurry

Grandpa and the Feds


During the earlier part of the Great Depression, my Grandpa Levi Brawley, Grandma Bertha, and their five kids lived in the sand hills of Oklahoma. Times were really hard.


Drought had destroyed farming; there were no jobs of any kind to be had anywhere. There were some oil rigs in the area, but men who had those jobs held on to them, no matter what.


It was a time of hand to mouth. The only thing that wasn't scarce was sand. Desperate people do

desperate things, so Grandpa decided to go into the bootleg business and set up a still out in the hills. Many of the workers on the oil rigs were Native Americans. Not only was bootlegging illegal, but at that time, selling alcohol to Native Americans was also against the law.


Moonshiners make high proof alcohol by using distillation to separate alcohol from water.

Distillation is actually the last step in the process of making moonshine. In the first part of the process, moonshiners essentially make a low proof beer, which gets distilled later.


My dad, who was a young man at the time, said this "beer" product was very warm and sweet. While moonshining one day, Grandpa told my Dad to take a quart jar of this stuff up to the house to my grandma. Now she was a panty-waist when it came to alcohol. I doubt she'd ever had a drink in her life.



The tale goes that Grandma like the "beer" so much she drank the entire quart jar and went on quite the toot. Her sister-in-law, Lillie Estes, lived a piece down the road, so Grandma rang her up on the party line telephone. The operator was one twist of the handle, everyone else on the line was a specific number of rings. The problem was, everyone on the line heard the rings and knew who was calling who and when. Most everybody listened to every conversation. (There was very little entertainment in those days.)


When Aunt Lillie came of the line, Grandma said, "Lillie, Levi's out in the hills making moonshine and I'm drunk as a skunk!"


Naturally the whole neighborhood was party to the conversation. My dad happened to overhear and he ran and told my grandpa. They dismantled the still and buried it and the barrels of booze they already had in the sand around the property.


Two days later a team of Feds showed up. They walked the property, driving metal rods into the ground, trying to find the evidence.


Fortunately, they found nothing. The incident scared Grandpa so bad, he gave up bootlegging for good. I don't know what they did with the booze they had on hand. I'm pretty sure they didn't give any of it to Grandma.



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