Museum Exhibit Recalls Moonshine Industry


America's experiment with prohibition lasted some 14 years, an era some historians characterize as one of moral decay and social disorder.

But it was also a colorful, romantic time, the stuff that a good many legends were made of. In Chicago, of course, it was speakeasies, bathtubs full of gin, and the adventures of Elliot Ness and Al Capone.

But out west in the tiny town of Payson, Ariz, the locals also had a reputation for turning out a pretty fair moonshine. In fact, "Payson Dew" was coveted as far away as Los Angeles.

Now the Rim Country Museum is commemorating those storied years with the grand opening of its brand new exhibit, "Payson Dew," Saturday, Dec. 9. The exhibit, which will be permanent, officially opens at noon with a reception in the upstairs exhibit hall.

In the November-December issue of its newsletter, "Rim Country Echoes," the Northern Gila County Historical Society points out that Payson Dew was very much a part of the Rim country's cash economy during prohibition, and "a part of the livelihood of many." For that reason alone, "the Historical Society thought it quite appropriate to present this aspect of Payson to our visitors."

Among some of the better Rim country anecdotes from the era is the story of how moonshiners in these parts were warned of approaching revenuers, government agents come to destroy their stills. When the revenuers left Globe heading toward Payson, a series of phone calls would be placed that had a special ring and thus the word spread.

There is also the tale of one bootlegger who was headed south making his deliveries when he hit a sharp curve at Oxbow Hill. The barrels rolled, the weight shifted, and the man and his wagon plunged off the edge to an untimely death.

A more positive outcome was experienced by a U.S. Supreme Court justice who was fond of vacationing in these parts. The good justice also was exceptionally fond of Payson Dew and never failed to take a few jars back home with him, no doubt to help him ease his stressful deliberations.

For more information on the exhibit and the opening reception, call the museum at 474-3483.

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