Bootleggers In Rim Country

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Metro Creative Connection

In the late 1910s, 1920s, and early 1930s, Rim Country became host to a number of bootleggers as prohibition took effect. Some were locals who had been born and bred here; others came from across the country. The moonshine was known as “Payson Dew” and gained a positive reputation with many. Today we look at a few producers of these goods.

The first story is one I was put onto by a radio interview. A few weeks ago I was on the radio with John Gould and Leilah Breitler discussing home brewing.

One of the people who called in mentioned their grandfather, Henry McKee. According to the caller, he was a bootlegger who ran with the Haughts. I researched this some and it turns out that Henry’s daughter Susie married Alfred C. Haught, and amongst their kids is former Gila County Recorder Linda Haught Ortega.

Henry McKee was born on April 14, 1883 in McKee, Ga. McKee is located in northern Georgia, just south of the Chattahoochee National Forest. According to the Haught Family History by Linda Haught Ortega, Henry’s family was all educated, but he quit college to go into bootlegging.

Now that may seem early by national prohibition standards (McKee was 18 in 1901), but prohibition started in Georgia in 1908, and the temperance movement was strong there by the turn of the century.

Seemingly though, it didn’t take long for Henry to get in trouble. According to Haught, “He got thrown in prison in Georgia. Then he came on to Arkansas and Missouri. Then he got word that Green Valley Sam Haught needed somebody to make whiskey for him. He came out and made whiskey for the Haughts.”

Yet that was not the end of Henry’s troubles.

Haught further explains: “The Prohis tricked them, and sent some Indians in there to buy some whiskey. They had it in quart jars in the woodpile next to the wood stove. Grandpa went to get a jar of whiskey out, and here come the Prohis.”

Henry McKee went to jail, and according to Haught, he got out of the moonshine business when he got out.

Another moonshine story involves another bunch of Haughts, this time the Peter Haught family. Peter Haught was born in April 1862 in Dallas, Texas. He had three children including “Red-Headed” Henry Haught, who homesteaded Tonto Village.

According to the publication Archival Research For Historical Archaeological Sites in the Payson Flex III Project Area, “these Haughts are perhaps best remembered as moonshiners par excellence of the Mogollon Rim.”

The report continues, “Vernon Haught recalled how his grandfather used to hide his whiskey barrels in a willow thicket near the homestead; ‘he’d take his wife with him when he hid those barrels ‘cause he couldn’t find them again, even if he broke willow branches along the trail’ (Vernon Haught cited in Counsellor c1990).

“Peter Haught’s market for his home brew appears to have been local. When Peter would appear on the streets of Payson wearing a World War I overcoat — even in the hottest months — customers would know he had moonshine to sell because sewn into the interior of the coat were 20 pockets containing 20 flasks” (Counsellor c1990).

It should be noted that the Peter Haught homestead was located on the north side of where 260 now is, in Star Valley. The Payson Flex III report also mentions a possible location of the still. It appears to have been located about where the end of Filaree Circle is now located in the Chaparral Pines subdivision. Peter Haught died in Star Valley in 1937.

Moonshine wasn’t just a Payson thing, nor was it just a Haught thing. Another out of state connection was the Kisers, who settled in See Canyon near Christopher Creek. According to Bob Collins, whose uncle knew Ralph Kiser back in Kentucky, Ralph Kiser was a bigtime moonshiner. The authorities back there told him that they couldn’t shut him down, but that if he kept practicing his trade, someone would probably kill him. So Kiser moved to Oregon, found it too wet, and eventually bought Ernest Sweat’s place in See Canyon, where he continued to moonshine. Much like the thick chaparral of the Chaparral Pines area, See Canyon provides ample hiding places for illicit objects. The rich flora that surrounds the creek would easily have covered Kiser’s creations.

Payson’s still got some fermenting going on these days, though now legally done by an avid and adventuresome bunch of home brewers. If you’d like more information about the club that’s being formed, please email thebrewbarn@localnet.com.

If you have any further information about moonshine in this area, I’d love to talk to you. You can best reach me at timothy@zanegrey.net.

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