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As It Was-Jobless Cowboys Produce Whiskey in Modoc County

Two cowboys in Modoc County, Calif., hit hard when cattle prices plummeted during The Great Depression, found another way to make a living.

The Swain brothers, Roy and Albert, worked cattle on several big ranches in the sprawling high desert of northeast California.  They saw opportunity in the rugged rimrock bordering the Madeline Plains, where just about anything could be hidden.

They already had a still that produced liquor for weekend parties, so they enlarged it to hold 350 gallons of mash of locally grown rye.  Their enormous still could produce 30 gallons of whiskey in about 10 hours, which they sold for $10 a gallon.

Soon they had a list of customers from several states for the best moonshine around.

They did so well they built a road to the still for hauling in supplies, which only made it easier for federal agents to find them. 

While dumping kegs, the agents said it was a shame to waste such good whiskey after all the rotgut they found in the area.

Source: Weigand, Glorianne. "There Was Never A Bronco Too Tough." Dusty Trails, 1994, pp. 139-41.

Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.