Bob Mitchell: Dirt streets and moonshine

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Pictorial evidence is readily available concerning Cassville before Main Street was paved.

Back in those days, about all the equipment needed by municipal workers was a road grader to take out the bumps in the road and a sprinkler truck to lay down some water when dust got so thick downtown that it was difficult to breathe.

This was also the time when law enforcement quite frequently was proud to display their accomplishments, most usually along Main on the east side of the courthouse for the public to view. Their purpose was a way of possibly campaigning for re-election. There were two main efforts along these lines that seemed to be most important to the elected officials, especially those in law enforcement.

Whiskey stills

Probably the most famous and maybe the event that attracted the largest crowds were the whiskey stills that were actually pretty active in the early days of Barry County’s history.

Their equipment, some very sophisticated and others the bare minimum, used to make White Lightning, would be hauled out of the hills and displayed at the usual spot for perhaps a day or two, most usually under guard, and then completely demolished — never to be used again! The act of finding and destroying equipment to make the potent whiskey was most usually at the pleasure of the law enforcement people, but in no way did it put a stop to the whiskey-making stills in the hill country or the region.

Even in my early high school years, while we were living in Springfield, there were frequent trips to Cassville, especially while my grandmother Jennie Ray was living. On virtually each one of these, some of my dad’s friends, knowing of the trip, would request “something special” coming out of this area.

On a couple of these, we would take what is now the Airport Road, and go a little farther west to a residence. The person would come outside and walk to the road ditch that had not been mowed, gently kick a clump of weeds and out would roll a jar of Moonshine. Payment would be made.

The jar could have been a pint or quart, depending on what had been ordered back in Greene County.

Later the question was asked, “why no source in or around Springfield?” The most common answer was “the quality was better coming out of Barry County.”

Prisoners to court

In those same days, the jail was located on East Eighth Street, now what was once Barry County Bank’s parking lot. From this location, it was a short walk to the courthouse where those about to be charged with a crime were about to have a hearing or go on trial.

Their shoe leather was transportation on this trip resulting with a rush to the front door or window of each and every business or office in view to get sight of the prisoner or multiple individuals being escorted the short way that would eventually decide their fate.

This went on for several years when all of a sudden, without any explanation, jail prisoners started getting a ride to their day in court.

Thus ended the days of knowing who might be charged with a crime simply by watching foot traffic along Main Street.

CCC to the movies

Another event viewed about every weekend, usually on Sunday afternoon, was the arrival in town of Civilian Conservation Corps personnel from their Roaring River State Park headquarters to attend the Ozark Theater, then on the south side of the square and owned by Mrs. Noland.

Work trucks used by the CCC crews in their projects at the park would bring them to town about the time a Sunday afternoon movie was to begin. This meant locals would be in their theater seats early to ensure getting in the theater.

Crews from the park didn’t go through the ticket booth for entrance to the movie, they were met at the door when chips or tokens that they had been issued before leaving the park were used, and later redeemed for cash. There probably was never a more congenial or disciplined group that large that attended the theater.

An Army lieutenant, Gene Orton, my cousin by marriage, was sometimes in charge of the group.

Worked as usher

Working as an usher in later years for Mrs. Nolan was probably my first job outside the family, and it was also where I learned a new word and something about employment.

Playing basketball on the elementary school team was a game that interfered with work, so absence was requested and eventually granted with a “payroll docking” required. Right off the top that was first figured for a dismissal, but later explained a small reduction in pay would be forthcoming.

There were just a few cents involved, but the lesson had been received, loud and clear

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.