Oregon adopted Prohibition in 1914, six years before the national law. Although illegal, private production and distribution of alcoholic beverages continued in order to satisfy demand. Many stills existed near Charleston, in the winding South Slough area. Some operators became quite creative.
Frank Younker, Sr., logged, fished, ran his sawmill, and made whiskey, feeding the mash to his pigs. After law officers destroyed his still and 11 50-gallon barrels of liquor, he decided he needed an alarm system. Familiar with South Slough, he thought of great blue herons, birds that make a loud, raucous call when disturbed. He relocated his still in a remote area, accessible only by water, where blue herons gathered.
In 1931 government “revenuers” burned the still of Nels Peterson and took Nels to Coquille, the county seat. He told authorities, “There’s five kids, a cow, and three calves; someone’s going to have to feed them the rest of the winter.” He was released.
A young Charleston woman bought and sold liquor by the barrel. Driving one day with a load of whiskey, she quickly drove around a roadblock. By the time the revenuers found her, she had unloaded the whiskey, assumed an innocent look, and contrived an excuse for not stopping.
Sources: Caldera, Melody J., Editor. South Slough Adventures: Life on a Southern Oregon Estuary, Coos Bay, Oregon: Friends of South Slough, 1995; Phone call to South Slough Research Reserve headquarters.
— As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.