Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
VAN BUREN’S WHISKEY-A-GO-GO
Carry Nation was famous around 1900, when as a prominent, vocal Kansas temperance leader, she and her followers raided several saloons with hatchets.
Years before, women in Van Buren County led similar raids on taverns in Bonaparte and Pittsburg. Marsha Wagner in Bonaparte has been known to portray the lady who broke up taverns in that city. (And she’s good at it!)
When Pittsburg was raided in October of 1856, fifteen women wrecked two stores and one dwelling. These ladies were concerned over the volume of whiskey being sold in the establishments to their men, whom they wanted sober, accounted for, and at home. The Pittsburg women destroyed the liquor and made a shambles out of the stores. When they discovered a barrel of whiskey in the basement of the Des Moines River Improvement Outlet, they rolled the barrel outdoors and split it open with an axe. They found a 15-gallon jug of whiskey under the bed of the owner of the building, which they poured into the street, and kept the jug.
Next day, the sheriff came to Pittsburg with warrants for the arrest of the fifteen women, and for two men who had helped them. The men had watched them with hands in pocket offering no assistance, but were considered "guilty by association."
Prominent lawyers defended them, but the prosecution had also hired excellent attorneys, so that excitement mounted during the hearing. The courtroom was packed with spectators, about evenly divided in terms of favor. But when one of the attorneys made a negative remark about women in general, the court had all it could do to prevent a riot.
In 15 minutes the jury reach a verdict. They found the men "not guilty" and the women "guilty as charged," set the fine for the entire group at $5, then proceeded to pay it with money they had collected from among themselves. However, Ralph Arnold says that the trial must have been held in a Justice of Peace Court, because there is no record of this case ever going to trial at the Van Buren County Court House.
Less than a decade after the Pittsburg raid, William Funk and his son Charles opened a four-story distillery just south of their three-story steam flour mill on the west bank of the Des Moines River. Although the flour mill operated until 1908, the distillery ran only a few years during the Civil War. Ironically, the building stood along the river as a reminder for nearly a century.
Another distilling venture at Black Hawk, next to New Market, across from Iowaville, was a mile above Selma and operated from 1848-1861. Iowa’s tax levies on distilled liquor caused the angered owner to move the operation to Idaho where he made millions.
Thus, Iowa taxes and the aggressive Van Buren County temperance ladies proved too much for the whiskey makers.
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick