Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Taft Davis, July 18, 1986

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:16 - Introduction / an anecdote about a goat

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Partial Transcript: Okay, this interview is with Mr. Taft Davis, in Wayne County, Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Betty Ellison, the interviewer, introduces Taft Davis, the interviewee. Davis briefly touches on how he got into the business of making moonshine whiskey. He also tells a story about being frightened by a goat.

Keywords: Sherman Davis; The Bellow (??); bulldogs; friends; goats; stills; wood

Subjects: Wayne County (Ky.).; Whiskey.

00:02:36 - The whiskey making process / selling whiskey

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Partial Transcript: ...Tell us, tell us about the, uh, uh, the process...

Segment Synopsis: Davis shares the process of distilling whiskey and mentions the ingredients needed for it. He also talks about the profits made from selling moonshine and why it wasn't very profitable on the whole.

Keywords: corn; cornmeal; cost of whiskey; gambling; grain corn; making whiskey; mash; money; moonshine; processes; profits; stills; sugar; water

Subjects: Distilling, illicit.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky.; Whiskey.

00:06:17 - Being stolen from / getting revenge

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Partial Transcript: Uh, Taft? What, uh, what year do you remember that, uh...

Segment Synopsis: Davis tells a story about having money stolen from him by a young boy. He describes what he did to get his money back and get revenge on the boy.

Subjects: Distilling, illicit.; Whiskey.

00:10:39 - Number of stills / refining whiskey

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Partial Transcript: ...About how many, how many stills during your lifetime... about how many...

Segment Synopsis: Davis gives some idea of the number of stills that he operated while he made moonshine whiskey. He also talks about the process of refining whiskey.

Keywords: Earle Ramsey (??); alcohol; barrels; cleanliness; cooking; mash; operating stills; sleds; soft water; stills; straining

Subjects: Distilling, illicit.; Whiskey.

00:12:54 - Being caught by the law / serving time in prison

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Partial Transcript: How many times was you ever caught...

Segment Synopsis: Davis describes the two times that he was caught by the revenuers. He talks about being sentenced to prison and why he never distilled whiskey again after he finished his sentence.

Keywords: Doc Tate; Indiana; Matt Dillow (??); Ray Jones; arrests; county clerks; drunkenness; friends; guns; judges; law enforcement; letters; prison; sheriffs; warrants; water; weapons

Subjects: Distilling, illicit.; Law enforcement.

00:19:09 - Ways to tell if others have been at the still / nearly being caught

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Partial Transcript: Uh, what did, what did you... when you's a making, uh, and you'd go to the still...

Segment Synopsis: Davis shares some of the precautions that he took to find out if someone else had been around his still. He also shares a story about nearly being caught when his still was found.

Keywords: Pilot Mountain (??); Prince Albert (tobacco); Robert; bait; being taught; darkness; graves; knives; marks; shoe prints; singing; smoke; stills; trading; wristwatches

Subjects: Distilling, illicit.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky.; Whiskey.

00:24:56 - Avoiding the law

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Partial Transcript: I never did get mad at the law.

Segment Synopsis: Davis talks about some of the ways that he would avoid the law. This included keeping the snakes around the still alive, because if the revenuers shot one, the sound would give him enough warning to be able to escape. He contradicts his earlier statement that he didn't make any more whiskey after returning from Indiana.

Keywords: Everett and Joe Booth (??); Indiana; arrests; authority; being kicked; copperhead snakes; guiltiness; law; listening; nervousness; shooting; snakes; sneaking; stills; tracks; watching

Subjects: Distilling, illicit.; Law enforcement.

00:28:51 - Selling the whiskey / making a worm for the still

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Partial Transcript: How long would it take you to, to make a run?

Segment Synopsis: Davis talks about how he sold the whiskey that he made. He also describes the process of making a worm, which is a coil of copper tubing that is an essential part of a still.

Keywords: Kentucky; Tennessee; alcohol; copper; delivery; pine trees; selling moonshine; stills; streams; tubing; water; worm (whiskey making)

Subjects: Distilling, illicit.; Whiskey.

00:32:18 - Double distilling vs. using a thump keg / an incident with the law

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Partial Transcript: Uh, Taft, did you use a... did you double... did you use a...

Segment Synopsis: Davis states his reasons for double distilling his whiskey rather than using a thump keg. He also shares a story about another moonshiner being caught by the revenuers.

Keywords: Dobbs Creek (??); Kentucky; Tennessee; barrels; dogs; double; federal marshals; fires; gas lines; jars; law; moonshine; police; revenuers; sheriffs; stills; thump kegs; trees

Subjects: Distilling, illicit.; Law enforcement.; Whiskey.

00:36:34 - federal vs. state law enforcement / signals used to alert other moonshiners

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Partial Transcript: Well you had more trouble with the, uh, federal revenue people than you...

Segment Synopsis: Davis contrasts the trouble that he had with federal and state law enforcement. He also describes the signals that he and others used to alert each other to approaching or leaving law enforcement.

Keywords: Dobbs Creek (??); Joe; code; federal revenue; law enforcement; laws; local police; signals; white powder shotgun

Subjects: Law enforcement.; Whiskey.

00:38:47 - Jugs and jars used / building a still / seasons for making and selling whiskey

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Partial Transcript: Did you, um... mostly, did you use the gallon jars, the half gallon jars?

Segment Synopsis: Davis describes the containers used to hold the whiskey and the process of building a still. He also talks about how the weather influenced making and selling whiskey. He states that the whiskey would be terrible if it was made in freezing conditions.

Keywords: "groundhog furnaces"; buildings; carrying things; coke bottles; freezing; furnaces; gallons; hardwood; heat; jars; jugs; mason jars; night; noise; scent; seasons; smoke; stills; weather; wood

Subjects: Distilling, illicit.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky.; Whiskey.

00:42:31 - 120 proof whiskey / years making whiskey

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Partial Transcript: What, do you know what proof your whiskey usually ran?

Segment Synopsis: Davis states that he made mainly 120 proof whiskey and shares a method of gauging what proof whiskey is. He states that he made moonshine whiskey for around thirty years and compares legally made whiskey to its illegal counterpart.

Keywords: 120 proof; alcohol; avoidance; drinking; legally made whiskey; moonshine; proof; selling whiskey; wives; years

Subjects: Distilling, illicit.; Whiskey.

00:46:09 - Law enforcement during prohibition / a shooting incident / difference between moonshiners and drug makers

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Partial Transcript: Well, back in the '20's, that was, that was during Prohibition, too, wasn't it?

Segment Synopsis: Davis talks about the strict laws about making alcohol during Prohibition. He recounts a shooting incident between the revenuers and moonshiners, but states that it was the only one that he remembered hearing about. He contrasts moonshiners to modern drug growers and states that the former were much less dangerous.

Keywords: Bob Soneman (??); Will Ryan; courthouses; danger; drug use; drugs; guns; horses; illicit drugs; lawyers; moonshiners; prison time; revenuers; shooting; squirrels; stills

Subjects: Distilling, illicit.; Law enforcement.; Liquor laws.; Prohibition.