Friday, October 28, 2016

Volstead Act (Prohibition) Turmoil in Idaho, Death at Caldron Linn [otd 10/28]

On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act to provide a framework for the enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Prohibition, as it has always been known, did not ban the consumption of alcoholic beverages, per se. What it did was to ban the manufacture, transport, or delivery of beverages containing more than 0.5% alcohol – except for specific research and development uses.
Illegal brewery busted. National Archives.

Unfortunately, Prohibition became a prime example of good intentions gone awry – and a classic case of unintended consequences. Illegal sources and channels quickly moved to fill the void created by the almost total elimination of an entire industry. There’s no need to recount the entire story here: rampant corruption and violent gang wars. Even members of “respectable” society became lawbreakers.

Before Prohibition was repealed in 1933, a dramatic case occurred in Idaho. (Idaho was generally spared the worst of the crime and violence that plagued the big cities and more populous states.) In February of 1923, the Idaho Statesman revealed that “the Feds” had indicted several high level Ada County and Boise officials, including the county sheriff and the Boise police chief, for conspiring to produce and sell moonshine whiskey.

Nearly a half dozen other men were charged, including a well-known Boise physician and a local rancher. (Presumably the rancher provided an out-of-the way location for their illegal still.) In the end, six conspirators were found guilty on each of six different counts – the police chief was exonerated. It is impossible to know how many other illegal operations were never caught.

In his journal for October 28, 1811, Wilson Price Hunt wrote, “Our journey was less fortunate on the 28th; for after passing through several rapids, we came to the entrance of a narrow gorge.  Mr. Crook's canoe capsized, one of his companions drowned, and we lost a great deal of merchandise.”
Caldron Linn.

As noted for the October 5th blog, the Hunt party represented the Pacific Fur Company, which was founded by fur trade magnate John Jacob Astor and several British-Canadian partners. Their expedition had entered Idaho just over three week earlier. They then left their horses at Fort Henry, near today’s St. Anthony, and took to the Snake River in dugout canoes.

Despite some problems with earlier rapids and falls, they had escaped serious trouble until the fatality at the dangerous constriction that came to be called Caldron Linn. Located near today's Murtaugh, the Caldron features some of the most dangerous water on the Snake east of Hells Canyon.

They tried to portage around the whitewater, but lost a canoe and more supplies. Hunt sent men downstream to try to find a better place to return to the river. Oddly enough, the scouts apparently did not find Shoshone Falls, which are higher than Niagara Falls [blog, Aug 15] and could have been fatal had they floated into them unawares.

Yet even without that knowledge, the scouts' report convinced Hunt that the canyon was too dangerous to attempt. He wrote, “Its bed is no more than sixty to ninety feet wide, it is full of rapids, and its course is broken by falls ten to forty feet high.  Except at two spots where I went down to get water, the banks are precipitous everywhere.”

The Astorians basically walked out of Idaho and on to the Columbia River.
References: [Brit]
Arthur Hart, “Boise moonshine operation busted in 1923,” Idaho Statesman, October 31, 2006.
Wilson Price Hunt, Hoyt C. Franchère (ed. and translator), Overland diary of Wilson Price Hunt, translated from the original French Nouvelles Annales des Voyages (Paris, 1821), Ashland Oregon Book Society (1973).
Washington Irving, Astoria, or Anecdotes of an enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains, G. P. Putnam and Son, New York (1868). Author’s revised edition.

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