Looking back on darker days

Is it any peculiar coincidence that at just the moment Iowa beer laws are making an overdue leap forward I happen to be doing research for a completely different article and pouring through newspapers from 1929 and 1930? Guess what happened? I got distracted by beer. First it was a Country Club beer ad–during prohibition, so it was of the NA variety, though you couldn’t tell it from the ad.

And then it was a headline: “Officers made booze raid last Saturday night–large quantity home brew taken.”

As Morris Day would say, “Here ’tis:”

Officers made booze raid last Saturday night

Large quantity home brew taken

(Originally published in the Adams County Free Press on Thursday, August 14, 1930)

Last Saturday night, in the midst of the very heavy rain, Sheriff C.E. Rubin, assisted by Deputy Tom Hendrickson and Day Marshall Chas. Smith, pulled a liquor raid on the Lewis Washington home in Corning which netted the largest amount of wet goods, speaking in terms of liquid measure, which has ever been secured in a single raid in this county. Five persons, all colored folks, were arrested in the raid and taken before Mayor Wm. McKelvy for preliminary hearing. Those taken by the officers were Mr. and Mrs. Dude Price, Miss Yvonne Wilson, Frank Welcome and Lewis Washington. All are free on bond at this time.

The officers for some time have been receiving complaints concerning the place raided being a liquor nuisance and twice before the place was raided without results. Lately it is alleged the violation of the law had been rather open. Saturday Sheriff Rubin received a search warrant issued out of the court of Mayor McKelvy and immediately made plans to pull the raid early Saturday evening. The officers walked in uninvited about seven o’clock and proceeded to make the search. Lewis Washington operates a barber shop in his home and was occupied with a customer in his chair when the officers arrived. The law was met at the door by another customer who was just leaving and it is said the customer lost no time in continuing on his way. Some say the customer in the chair also pulled his freight in a hurry with only about half of his whiskers cleared away. After stepping into the house the officers state that three young men came up from the basement of the house. The officers took their names for future reference but they were not placed under arrest. All live in and near Corning and will probably be used as witnesses before the grand jury.

A search of the cellar or basement of the house by the officers revealed the alleged liquor which was later loaded into a truck and taken to the county jail. An invoice of the haul amounted to 234 bottles of so-called home brew or home made beer in bottles a little smaller than quarts. We are informed that to those familiar with the profession this size as known as “fifths,” it requiring five bottles to make a gallon. There were also 24 quart bottles, full of what is supposed to be of the same brand that is in the “fifths.” Quite a number of the botlles were distinguished by having a rubber band around the neck. Whether this band denoted a special brand or a certain age we are not informed. Forty-seven empty bottles, two capping outfits and two siphons were also captured. Sixty of the full bottles were found in a tub and wash boiler, packed with about 100 pounds of ice. The officers believe this was the liquor ready to serve and they further state that while the raid was going on several whom they believe to have been prospective customers came to the house but of course lost no time in getting away when they saw what was going on. The names of these would be quite familiar to most of our local citizens, the officers state. In addition to the bottled liquor the officers found about fifty gallons “in the making.” There was one twenty-gallon stone jar full of “brew” that was brewing with a lighted lantern beneath and covered to keep in the heat; there was a twelve-gallon stone jar full, a ten-gallon jar and an eight-gallon jar. The officers took a sample of the liquid in each container and dumped all but a small portion of each but took the jars to jail for evidence before the grand jury. In each of the jars were found three or four old tin cans. After completing the raid a large truck was secured and the liquor taken to jail.

Next came the preliminary hearing before Mayor Wm. McKelvy which got under way about 9:00 o’clock Saturday night. The five defendants, Mr. and Mrs. Dude Price, Yvonne Wilson, Frank Welcome and Lewis Washington were each booked on two counts, that of illegal possession of intoxicating liquor and that of maintaining a liquor nuisance. In the preliminary hearing the state was represented by county attorney A.M. Frazier and the interests of the defendants were looked after by attorney Ed Fackler, Jr. The defense attorney stated that his clients were ready to waive to the next term of the grand jury, providing the mayor would set the bonds low enough to suit the defendants. The mayor placed the bonds at $1,000 for each defendant ($500 on each charge) or a total of $5,000 for the five defendants. The defense attorney believed this too high a figure and immediately asked for a change of venue to the court of justice Ralph Bayles, which the mayor granted, as required to do by law. The scene of the hearing then shifted across the street to the court of Justice Bayles but in crossing the street one “0” was lost from the figure of the bonds as Justice Bayles placed the bonds at $100 for each defendant ($50 on each count) of a total of $500. The defendants then waived to the grand jury and made arrangements to furnish bonds. The bonds are signed by a local business man who, it is said, is protected by a deed to the property owned by part of the defendants. It pays to shop around, even when it comes to selecting a justice court before which to waive to the grand jury. If a conviction is received the minimum fine on each count is $300 and the maximum $1,000.

So endeth the first chapter of Corning’s most spectacular liquor raid in months. The next chapter will open with the September session of the grand jury, unless the county attorney files a county attorney’s information before that time. The raid has caused considerable comment about town, with the usual number of wise cracks from the wags. There is always something going on in Corning.

Later—Since the above story was written and put in type a new angle of the case has developed. County attorney A.M. Frazier late Monday went before the district court judge A. Ray Maxwell with a county attorney’s information on two counts against each of the five defendants. Judge Maxwell immediately issued bench warrants for their arrest and set the bond of each defendant at $1,000 or $500 on each count. The defendants were able to furnish the required bond and are at liberty. The bonds are signed by the same person who signed the justice court bonds. Filing of a county attorney’s information after a defendant has waived to the grand jury in a preliminary hearing is said to be a rather unusual procedure. Filing of county attorney’s information does away with the grand jury investigation and brings the cases on for trial in the next term of court unless continued until a later term.

Curious, I skipped ahead in the archives to find the outcome, which arrived in the October 2 issue:

“The only criminal case to come to the attention of the court so far this term is the one in which Frank Welcome and Lillian Price entered a plea of guilty to a charge of maintaining a liquor nuisance. It will be remembered that a few weeks ago the local officers made a liquor raid on the Lew Washington home in north Corning where they found a large amount of home brew. Frank Welcome, Harold Price, Lew Washington, Yvonne Wilson and Lillian Price were all placed under arrest at the time of the raid and at the preliminary hearing were bound over to the September grand jury. After investigating the case the state compromised by accepting a plea of guilty from Welcome and Lillian Price and then dismissed the charges against the other defendants. Judge Maxwell heard the plea Tuesday morning and imposed a fine of $500 and a jail sentence of six months on Frank Welcome while Lillian Price was sentenced to serve a term of three months in the women’s reformatory at Rockwell City and also pay a fine of $300. Sheriff and Mrs. Rubin took Mrs. Price to Rockwell City Wednesday afternoon.”

What’s interesting here (aside from some of the heresay-ish style of the original article and the phrase “all colored folks”) is that not only did the guy who owned the house not get charged, but it’s not even the husband-wife team that took the fall–it was the wife and some other noble gentleman. Nice of them.

Also, on a coincidental personal connection, I know who Yvonne Wilson is. No relation, but her name came up as I interviewed the last known/alive performer at the Corning Opera House (I’m also on the Board working on renovating this historic structure) a few months back. Yvonne performed with my subject (who has since passed on) and went on to have a respectable theatre career in Omaha.

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One Response to Looking back on darker days

  1. [...] back on darker days, part 2 On the heels of yesterday’s post, I became a little curious about Iowa during [...]

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