There has never been a shortage of moonshine in Clay County, even during Prohibition (1919-1933). It was the one sure source of cash when you had nothing else to sell. Clay voters voted to become a “dry” county in 1918 and remained so even after Prohibition.

Sheriffs made varying degrees of effort at cleaning up the county. The “Whiskey” (available at the Archives) lists alcohol seizures at the beginning of the Great Depression 1928-1933: 58 stills, 4 trucks, 17 cars, 1 mule and wagon, 1 motorboat, 600 gallons of moonshine, and 175 barrels of mash. While most of the pints of whiskey had owner’s names next to them, almost all of the stills’ owners are listed as unknown. Even the exact areas where moonshine stills were found aren’t generally recorded, except in West Tocoi and Highland, which are, coincidentally, near the county lines.

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office records show that five-gallon jars were the most common size.

A typical moonshine setup with the mash on the right, and the whiskey barrel on the left.

A typical set up with the mash on the right, and the whiskey barrel on the left.


The Murder of Sheriff Cherry

The official story is that Sheriff Cherry went out to arrest a man and the man shot and killed him.  The more detailed version of the story is, two weeks beforehand, Cherry had a fist-fight with a moonshiner who ran a juke joint in Middleburg.  The man who was accused of killing Sheriff Cherry was that moonshiner’s stable hand.

Two years before he was murdered he had arrested five or six moonshiners.  The year before, he had arrested four moonshiners.  The month before he died he had arrested twenty-three moonshiners.  On the day he died, he went to Yellow Water on the Duval County border. Cherry turned his back on the man he was going to arrest and was  shot in the back with 00 buckshot. The pattern was clearly visible in his back and obviously from close range.

The investigation of Sheriff Cherry’s murder was conducted by Sheriff Dowling of Duval County, who later served five years in a federal penitentiary himself for moonshining, an arrest that occurred shortly after Cherry’s death. Sheriff Dowling was using the fast boat the Feds had given him to chase blockade runners off the coast to actually ship his own moonshine. The going rate for a sheriff to turn a blind eye was a dollar a barrel.

A portrait of Sheriff Cherry

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