Corn meal, water, yeast, sugar, and time -- the primary ingredients for moonshine -- have always been easy to come by.
Laws surrounding the distilling of spirits are numerous and varied.
During Prohibition in the 1920s, making moonshine was a regular activity all over the United States.
Manatee County certainly wasn't immune to the presence of bootleggers, the name given to those who illegally made, sold or transported liquor. This term originated back in the 1800s from the trick of concealing a flask of liquor down the leg of a high boot.
In the city of Palmetto in
1922, Mayor L. P. Thomas Sr. wanted to rid the community of this illegal activity and knew just who to get to help him out.
James "Pistol Pete" Bowdoin, born in Alabama but a well-traveled adult, was well known in West Florida for the work he had been doing in Arcadia, DeSoto County. Arcadia had just about been cleared of bootlegging through Pistol Pete's expertise in locating stills and arresting the offenders.
Bowdoin evidently earned his nickname by his marksmanship and several "shooting affairs" in which he was the victor. He carried a pistol on which he had carved six notches, one for each moonshiner he had killed in shootouts.
In 1919, he became chief of police in Arcadia and Palmetto's Mayor Thomas lured him away to become Palmetto's chief of police in 1922.
As the new leader of the police force, Bowdoin made quite an impression not only with his preceding reputation and his notched pistol, but his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame was a threatening sight.
In just two years, Pistol Pete not only did his best to successfully seek out moonshiners in town, but he was diligent in exploring the dense woods and palmetto thickets away from most of the population.
There is one report of him destroying 11 one-man stills in just one afternoon.
During his time in Manatee County, Bowdoin ran an unsuccessful campaign for sheriff. The votes that defeated him may well have belonged to bootleggers.
According to U.S. Department of Justice Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms records, Bowdoin was appointed a federal Prohibition agent in 1924 with an annual salary of $1,800 and assigned to the Tampa field office.
He became the second federal agent killed in Florida in a Feb. 16, 1925, gun battle with three bootleggers in Caryville.
Victim of plot to kill
The Bradentown Evening Herald reported: "Bowdoin was the victim of a plot to kill him because of his active work to stamp out liquor-making."
He definitely didn't go down without a fight.
Moonshine stills were not only seen during Prohibition.
In 1984, a still was confiscated by federal agents from the front porch of Crawford Lundy, a resident of Parrish. Crawford and a friend restored the still, which had belonged to Crawford's grandfather, "Tubb" Lundy. It was displayed on his front porch in good working condition when confiscated, and though spirits were detected inside, it was never proved Crawford was actually using it.
He was fined $150 and the still was taken away, as it was and is still illegal to own and operate a still.
At the time, the Manatee County Agricultural Museum was still a concept slowly moving forward to reality. State and county authorities allowed the still to be returned to Manatee County for use in a museum. When the ag museum opened in 2002, the moonshine still became part of the permanent collection.
When the State's Department of Business Regulation, Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco released the still back to Manatee County, it came with the provision: "Should the facility at which the still apparatus is displayed decide to remove the still from display or to use the still for purposes other than display, the still apparatus shall be returned to the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, for its use."
You can see the "still apparatus" on exhibit at the Ag Museum -- where it is being used only for display!
Diane Ingram, Manatee County Agricultural Museum Inc. supervisor, likes her "moonshine" in the form of drinks that disguise the taste of alcohol no moonshine for her! Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 941-721-2034.