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[Click on the footnote numbers to go back and forth between text and footnotes.]


The 18th Amendment ratified in 1919, banning the manufacture, import, transport, sale and consumption of alcohol, became law in 1920.  Social reform was sweeping the country but many refused to conform to the national ideal popular at the time.  Wealthy or poor, people brewed beer or wine at home.  Others found an economic gold mine in bootlegging the good, bottled alcohol brought in by land or sea.  From ships to automobiles, liquor was on the move and able to command highly inflated prices.  Consumption in places as culturally diverse as New York, New York and Gueydan, Louisiana drove an economic venture of illicit means.  A pint of Golden Wedding Pure Rye Whiskey has quite a story to tell.

Patricia S. Heard Summer On The Rocks

By Patricia S. Heard

 

 

It was five o’clock in the morning when the schooner I’m Alone dropped anchor off the shore of Louisiana.  The weather was fair and the boat was gently rocking in the water.  A faint squeak of the ropes rubbing on the vessel accompanied the motion.  The captain was waiting.  Somewhere inland, a contact who always spoke few words was expected for the cargo.

The contact would motor out to the I’m Alone and return to shore with the “fresh off the boat,”[1] unload and return for a second haul.  Arrangements were made to take the shipment from the coast inland through the marsh and to some form of land transportation.  From there, it was destination Harrison, New Jersey,[2] where both the profit and the contents would be enjoyed.  Raise one to the Anti-Saloon League and another to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Such were the citizens groups that fostered Prohibition.  Progressivism was sweeping the nation.  The Republican, Calvin Coolidge, occupied the White House.   In just a few short months, the Great Bull Market would crash, beginning the longest depression the nation would as yet suffer.  Closer to home, the “Kingfish”, Huey P. Long, was into his second year as Louisiana’s governor.

John Thomas Randell, a decorated British naval officer from Newfoundland, sailed the I’m Alone out of Halifax, Nova Scotia on November 4, 1928.  She was a two-masted schooner originally commissioned for the rum trade and was capable of holding 2,800 cases of liquor.  She was not only equipped with sail but semi-Diesel oil-burning engines to help her speed along.

What worried Randell, when he was approached to take her under his command, was the fact that she had been black listed by the United States during Prohibition for her former illegal activities.  That is, illegal activities according to American legal standards of 1920.  Randell had been involved in rum running before, selling “over the rail … to the first boats that came alongside and paid the price.”[3]  He’d lost money and a ship in that venture and wasn’t sure that he wanted to reenter the trade.  But, $500 a month and a bonus after each job sounded better than a long, cold winter in Nova Scotia and a good way to return to another line of sailing once his bank account had been filled.

So, he took the offer and made several successful trips from Belize to his position thirty-five miles south of the Trinity Shoal Light Buoy and 60 miles south of the Louisiana coast with a cargo full of liquor.  His position was always the same: latitude 28, longitude 91.[4]  He received each trip’s orders from the Montreal businessmen that employed him and recognized his pickup man as one of the big bootleggers who headquartered in New York.  But, they were under orders not to speak more than necessary.  Randell knew his contact was genuine when he handed him the other half of torn one-dollar bills that Randell received with his orders.

Back in Belize he was told that this American bootlegger had “high financial and political connections.”  He knew the party’s boat held 1200 cases of liquor, which amounted to $60,000 or more.  The bootlegger always took a full load then returned from shore for a second haul making his total cost at least $120,000.  This money had to be in the bank before Randell would get the order to purchase and deliver any goods.  By contrast, the I’m Alone was worth $45,000.  The goods purchased in Belize for the Montreal businessmen generally cost $62,000-plus per trip depending on the type of liquor purchased[5]  American “wets” were paying the highest price of all.

According to Randell, everything was going well.  The entry of big business in the rum trade had improved things dramatically.  And, Prohibition hadn’t slowed down consumption.  It only created a new source of wealth for those willing to take the risks.  He picked up another load in Belize and had some repairs made on the schooner.  Randell was at his usual anchoring off the Louisiana coast in a quick two days that Wednesday morning, March 20, 1929[6]

As on all of his trips, Randell noticed the small fishing schooner near the coast that left him feeling suspicious.  His gut told him the crew wasn’t fishing.  On an earlier trip, the craft came close to the I’m Alone.  Suspecting that the fishing boat wanted to identify the I’m Alone and their purpose, Randell made a casting motion and called, “How’s the fishing?”  There was no response and he called again.  One of the crewmembers slowly shook his head ‘no’ and Randell knew instinctively that there were no fishermen on board.   In fact, he’d had trouble with the cutter Dexter a few times but had escaped capture.  Each time the Coast Guard showed up, the fishing schooner had been around.  He knew.

The fishing vessel obviously notified the Coast Guard when Randell anchored on that Wednesday morning and trouble came with the cutter Walcott.  It spotted the I’m Alone fourteen miles from shore.  The I’m Alone headed south for non-territorial waters.  Once again, the Walcott was right behind him.  A conversation between both captains ensued and the captain of the Walcott came aboard the I’m Alone, unarmed, with permission from Randell for an hour and forty-five minute discussion.  There was no denying by Randell what was aboard the ship but he refused to concede and knew what his rights were according to the British-U.S. bilateral treaty of 1927.[7]  He had a copy onboard.  According to Randell, the U. S. Coast Guard claimed many seizures in territorial waters when they were actually making the seizures out of them.

The Walcott gave Randell fifteen minutes to give himself up or force would be used to take the I’m Alone.  He refused and took two blank shells through the sails.  The Walcott loaded their Thompson machine gun and began firing wax bullets until sunset.  They ceased and Randell lowered the British flag at dusk.  When he saw it was shot through, his temper rose and things changed.  For two days they played cat and mouse and the Wolcott was joined by the Dexter.

The I’m Alone had eluded the Dexter before but this time the captain meant to bring the rumrunner in.  He asked if he was to fire at the I’m Alone and Randell yelled back that he had no jurisdiction over him.  By this time, Randell had sailed the I’m Alone two hundred miles south of the Louisiana coastline.  He was clearly not in U.S. territorial waters and within his legal rights as a British ship.  But, the Coast Guard began shelling and the I’m Alone was sunk two hundred miles offshore at 25.5° latitude and 91° longitude.[8]  That is something that both Randell and the Coast Guard agree on.  One man died and the rest of the crew was taken into custody in New Orleans.

Three months later, on a Saturday morning in June, a man arrived at a small southwest Louisiana railroad depot.  The Southern Pacific was located on the west end of Gueydan, a town separated from the Gulf of Mexico by marshland.  The settlement of Florence, a once thriving farming community in the early 1900s, is six miles south of town and provides direct access to the gulf through the Intracoastal Waterway on the east and the Mermentau River on the west.

The stranger who appeared in town that day arrived at the depot and asked to have “clean rice screenings … consigned to B.S. Solomon Co. of Harrison, New Jersey” shipped out right away.  According to newspaper accounts, the contents had already been loaded in a boxcar when the stranger, giving his name as R. L. Kellogg,[9] asked to have the car shipped without an inspection of the contents.  The depot manager, John Oliver Beauxis refused.[10]  Nothing was shipped without sealing the contents and the contents weren’t sealed until an inspection occurred.

Beauxis opened the car and found “sacks or rice chaff”[11] rather than the screenings that were listed on the bill.  He called the office in Lafayette and relayed the contents of the boxcar, the car’s identifying number, and its New Jersey destination.  He was told that particular car could not be used for shipping rice since it was not properly sealed to the elements.[12]  According to the Abbeville Progress, which closely followed the accounting in the Abbeville Meridional, the Lafayette office suspected the customers wanted to ship the grain in an inferior boxcar and make a claim against it for damaged goods when it arrived in New Jersey.  Beauxis followed orders and went to check on the condition of the car when he fell upon the discovery the shipment was actually a ruse for transporting liquor.

Locals report that the liquor was sewn into sacks filled with packing straw.[13]  That certainly is corroborated as standard procedure by accounts of rum running in Boston and New York, the area this shipment was consigned to.[14]  What was passing through town that day was not bayou bootlegging.  When Beauxis discovered the rice was a cover, he called Lafayette once again but not before he was offered $1000 to let it go undetected.[15]  He refused.  In fact, locals say he was offered several bribes but flatly refused the offers each time.[16]  Meanwhile, Mr. R. L. Kellogg fainted on the depot floor when his deception was brought to light.  “When he was revived he quickly disappeared, going in the direction of Abbeville in an automobile.”[17]

According to newspaper accounts, federal Prohibition agents and local authorities including Sheriff Broussard of Vermilion parish descended upon Gueydan to seize the liquor that found its way there by way of the Vermilion River.  The account seems to reveal that no time was wasted before men in black automobiles and fedoras pulled up in great numbers at the tiny Southern Pacific railway station.  Word travels fast in small towns and it doesn’t take much imagination to envision the buzz of activity.  But the locals contend that the federal authorities didn’t actually seem to be in too much of a hurry to dispose of the liquor.  According to some townspeople, who talked about the event for years, the call came from federal authorities that they were on their way early that very morning but didn’t actually arrive until midnight.[18]

Locals were hired to break the bottles in order to dispose of the liquor.  Several showed up to aid the cause, one way or another.  Accounts from those present at the time state that the boxcar was pulled away from the depot to a spot on the southeast side of First Street next to the Republic Rice Mill.  There, using mallets, they beat the sacks and threw them out the boxcar.

Other locals were standing nearby opening the sacks and pulling out all of the bottles that were still intact.  It’s said that at least one half to three quarters of the liquor survived.[19]  Enough did in fact survive to keep the local population well supplied for months.  There was no need to make homemade wine or beer during the summer of ‘29.

Certainly, some of the bottles were broken.  The town reportedly smelled like whiskey for a couple of days.[20]  Even the local girls, who were not allowed in the area because of their gender and age, remember standing in the front yard watching the comings and goings and the smell of whiskey permeating the air.[21]  One very enterprising gentleman ran home to get his wife’s washtub and lay beneath the boxcar collecting the assortment of liquor as it seeped through the floorboards.  He took his mixed bounty home and strained the contents into bottles and jars and was said to be in jovial spirits for months.

Some locals have also stated that the pile of glass at the Republic Rice Mill remained for years and others say that some of the whiskey was hauled off in trucks.  Very few people in Gueydan owned trucks in those days.  I. H. Boatner, a local businessman, is said to have hauled away some of the bounty in his business truck and thrown the broken bottles and the sacks off a canal bridge south of town on present day Burnell Road.[22]

The newspapers recount that any liquor at all fell into local hands by that method.  According to the source, the discovered shipment was on its way to meet a larger shipment stored at a southwest Louisiana warehouse.  When the discovery of the rail shipment was made in Gueydan, the owners of the warehouse shipment immediately began to dispose of the contents thereby putting a good amount of liquor into local hands.

But, don’t let Mr. J. C. Hungerford hear that, may he rest in peace.  He insisted that he purchased his first car, a Model A or T with a rumble seat, with cash made from “the great train robbery”.  He told that story for years and people still remember him talking about it.  According to his son,[23] Mr. Hungerford “realized that the locals would soon run out of their name brand booze so he decided to take advantage of the situation by making a number of trips carrying as many bottles as he could and hiding them in a barn owned by his uncle, George Dugas, with whom he was living at the time.  Months later, when the locals had consumed their supply, Dad was able to sell his supply at greatly inflated prices.  He did so well, in fact, that he was able to pay cash to buy a new car.”

According to Mr. Hungerford, the federal authorities didn’t have their heart into making sure the liquor was disposed of.  His son states, “…in fact they were downright careless, resulting in many quarts, fifths and pints being virtually untouched to the delight of many Gueydan citizens who were quick to take advantage of the situation.  Needless to say, the sale of moonshine suffered in Gueydan for weeks …”

Not all of the whiskey was consumed in a short period of time.  Many of the townspeople ran off with several bottles of liquor and hid them in outdoor buildings and barns.  One local recently recounted a weekend home from college in 1940 or ’41.[24]  He and a friend sat on the steps of the Bank of Gueydan and consumed a bottle of the long hidden bounty pulled out of the family barn.  He couldn’t remember the bottled name of the alcohol because of time, not consumption of the contents’ potency, which still worked just fine after a dozen years or so.

The month following the raid, Mr. Clarence A. Arbaugh of Lake Arthur was arrested for “conspiring to violate the National Prohibition Act”.[25]  He ran a café on the wharf in Lake Arthur, a few miles north of Gueydan on the Mermentau River.  As it turned out, Mr. Arbaugh and Mr. Kellogg were one and the same.  When he was taken into custody, Mr. Arbaugh suffered another “attack” similar to the kind that overtook him in the depot that Saturday morning in June when it was reported that he “fainted”.  However, this time it failed to spare him and he was jailed in Jeff Davis parish before being transported to Opelousas for his arraignment.

Clarence Arbaugh’s arrest led to the arrest of several prominent New York, New Orleans and Houston associates, all of whom were involved and arraigned before a federal grand jury.  They were believed to take the fall for the head of the bootlegging organization.

All in all, the federal authorities reported seizing 1000 cases of liquor worth $100,000 from the Gueydan boxcar.  The liquor included “French champagne, White Satin gin, Haig and Haig scotch, Cutty Sark scotch and Wedding Bell Canadian whiskey”.[26]  Who is to say if the newspaper reporter threw back a couple of glasses before sitting at his typewriter to recount the story because ‘Wedding Bell’ is actually Golden Wedding, which has survived as a testament to the events described here.[27]

Of course, illegal cargo doesn’t carry paperwork stating destinations, dollar amounts and names of contacts.  There’s nothing on the one surviving bottle of Golden Wedding to actually say that this shipment found in Gueydan came from the I’m Alone.  Other rumrunners besides the I’m Alone made profits off Louisiana waters during Prohibition.  The Abbeville Meridional of 1928 reported the Cherie, a pleasure boat turned rumrunner, was burned in December of that year.  The timing of activities and locations for these two vessels certainly points toward the I’m Alone since the Cherie was sunk before the I’m Alone ever entered Louisiana waters.

What makes the I’m Alone such an enticing story is her reputation and the fall out that the sinking caused.  The Coast Guard clearly sank the I’m Alone in non-territorial waters, which violated the rum running treaty between the U. S. and Britain.[28]  The Coast Guard’s determination to bend treaty rules by capturing sly sailing vessels seemed to coincide with their captain’s egos.  Randell was not uneducated nor undecorated by the Crown and his voice was heard when he cried foul with the way the ship went down.  One man died and the United States coast guard contended that no life preservers were aboard the ship that could have saved his life.

Canada sued the United States over the loss on behalf of her owners.  The States finally conceded in 1935 and paid $25,000 to Canada and $25,666.50 to the crew.  It became a widely known international affair and spawned a popular song about the event.[29]  This incident is still used to shape Canadian maritime law today.

Randell went back home to Nova Scotia and, according to his granddaughter in Vancouver, served the Crown in World War II.  He died of natural causes during the conflict.  J. O. Beauxis moved his family to Scott and became involved with the community by way of the School Board.  The Railroad granted his family lifetime passes for “loyalty … on the occasion of a certain whiskey transaction”[30] that summer of ’29.  Many of the locals enjoyed the spoils meant for a New York bootlegger and northern entertainment.  Who knows if clothes were ever washed in that whiskey-gathering washtub again?  But, those in Gueydan know at least one who drove off into the sunset with proceeds earned from a boxcar just meant to be passing through.  J. C. Hungerford talked about that rumble seat for years to come.

In 1979, a home in Gueydan was put up for sale when the owner died.  Mrs. Favalora had no children.  When the heirs were going through the contents, a bottle of Golden Wedding was discovered and the lawyer brokering the sale asked for it.  He knew the history behind the pint and the fact that “Fav” had gotten a few bottles for himself.  The Gueydan Museum and Cultural Arts Society has possession of the pint.  Half of the contents have evaporated but the wax seal remains intact.

 

Patricia Saltzman Heard, May 2003


Time Line

Local and National Events Surrounding the Gueydan Whiskey Seizure

 

1916 – Woodrow Wilson, Democrat, elected US President

1919 – 18th Amendment, outlawing the use of alcohol, is ratified

1920 – 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, is ratified

Warren G. Harding, Republican, elected US President

1923 – Harding dies and Coolidge becomes President

1924 – Calvin Coolidge, Republican, elected US President

International rum running agreement between Britain and the US signed

Dudley J. LeBlanc elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives

1926 – Whiskey raids occurred in Abbeville, Crowley, New Iberia, Lake

Arthur, Opelousas and various other south Louisiana locations

1927 – Charles Lindbergh solos across the Atlantic

The first “talking” film is introduced to the public

1928 – Huey P. Long, Democrat, elected Governor of Louisiana

Herbert Hoover elected US President

“Great Bull Market” begins to peak

Captain Jack Randell sails from Halifax on rum schooner, I’m Alone

1929 – Stock market crashes and the Great Depression begins

New York bootlegger arranges for whiskey shipment to arrive on Louisiana shores via I’m Alone en route to New Jersey

Federal authorities seize 1000 cases of whiskey in Gueydan boxcar

Locals make off with much of the whiskey shipment

Clarence A. Arbaugh arrested for receiving a portion of illegal whiskey

S&P Railroad grants “lifetime” rail pass to Beauxis family

1932 – Huey P. Long resigns as Governor to become US Senator 

1933 – Franklin D. Roosevelt elected US President

Blizzards begin to form the Dust Bowl

21st Amendment is ratified repealing Prohibition

Civil suit filed by Canada over loss of I’m Alone

1934 – Huey P. Long organizes the Share Our Wealth Society, to redistribute the nation’s wealth

1935 – First color film introduced to the public

Huey P. Long assassinated in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Civil suit over I’m Alone is settled

1945 – Happy Day Company established, manufacturing Hadacol health tonic


[1] Donald L. Canney, “Rum War: The U.S. Coast Guard & Prohibition,” Rum War: Prohibition and the U.S. Coast Guard, June 2000, www.uscg.mil, April 19, 2003.

[2] “Large Shipment of Liquor Discovered in S.P. Freight Car at Gueydan,” Abbeville Meridional, June 29, 1929.

[3] Captain Jack Randell, I’m Alone, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1930, pp. 198-99.

[4] Randell, p. 267.

[5] Randell, p. 283.

[6] Randell, p. 285.

[7] Randell, p. 291.

[8] Randell, p. 300.

[9] “Large Shipment.”

[10] Doris Beauxis Futral, Port Barre, La., personal conversations with her father, John Oliver Beauxis, to this writer, March 3, 2003.  Also, “Large Shipment."

[11] “Large Shipment."

[12] Joseph G. Bougard, Sr., “The Liquor Beverage Raid”, The Gueydan Journal, Town of Gueydan Centennial Souvenir Edition, July 1999, page 107, cols. 1-2.

[13] Ed Saal, Sr., Gueydan, La., to this writer, March 31, 2003.

[14] Jack Braginton-Smith, Duncan Oliver and Haynes Mahoney, “Mid-Cape rum-running during Prohibition,” Boston Globe, www.townonline.com, February 20, 2003.

[15] “Shipment of Liquor Is Discovered,” Abbeville Progress, June 29, 1929.

[16] Ed Saal, Sr., to this writer.

[17] “Shipment … Discovered.”

[18] Floyd Touchet, Gueydan, La., conversation with Rodney Simon, to this writer, April 11, 2003.

[19] Ed Saal, Sr., to this writer.

[20] Margaret Chauvin Steen Villemez, Abbeville, La., to this writer, February 26, 2003.

[21] Margaret Stebbins Finnerty, Gueydan, La., to this writer, February 28, 2003.

[22] Floyd Touchet, to this writer.

[23] “Liquor Train Comes Through Gueydan,” The Gueydan Journal, Town of Gueydan Centennial Souvenir Edition, cols. 2-1, pps. 107-108.

[24] Warren dePerrodil, Duson, La., to this writer, April 18, 2003.

[25] Lake Arthur Man Arrested Charged with Conspiracy to Violate Prohibition Laws,” Abbeville Meridional, July 6, 1929.

[26] “Large Shipment."

[27] Cassie Fontenot Rives, Gueydan, La., in possession of the bottle ‘Golden Wedding’ for the Gueydan Museum & Cultural Arts Society, to this writer, March 25, 2003.

[28]Claim of the British Ship ‘I’m Alone’ v. United States, www.dal.ca, March 10, 2003.

[29] “The Sinking of the I’m Alone”, Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, www.druglibrary.org, March 10, 2003.

[30] Gary Theall, Abbeville, La., files of the Vermilion Parish Historical Society, February 28, 2003.