Largest Still West of Chicago
Five prohibition agents raided the ‘largest still west of Chicago’ on this date in 1932. It was on a farm five miles north of Jamestown. Special agents had suspected a still in the Jamestown vicinity since the first of July, when a truckload of corn sugar, the main ingredient of homemade moonshine, was tracked from Valley City to near Jamestown, where they lost the trail. Soon after, agents followed a truckload of piping from Fargo. Again, they lost the trail near Jamestown.
Agents scoured the area for weeks and began to suspect a farm nestled in the wooded hills between highways #20 and #281. It was in a picturesque spot, and its location between the two heavily traveled highways made it ideal for bootlegging.
The agents hit the farmyard at 3 a.m. on July 20th to discover a gigantic moonshine operation in two former hog sheds. Twelve-foot high boilers were steaming hot, but there was no one in sight.
Agents determined that six to eight men were involved in the operation, and that they lived in the farmhouse. In one of the bedrooms they discovered a buzzer – an advance-warning system linked to the sheds.
The operation turned out to be larger than anyone expected. Capable of producing a thousand gallons of liquor a day, it was quickly coined the ‘largest still west of Chicago.’ The still could hold 3,000 gallons – and it was nearly full when discovered. A dozen redwood vats were also found. The vats held 100,000 gallons of mash -- a mixture of water, sugar, and yeast that creates the alcohol.
Agents estimated that the still had been operating a mere eight days, but it had been efficient! In the rafters of the hog sheds, they found 2,500 gallons of moonshine.
Oscar Seiler owned the farm, but he’d been living in California for at least four years. Upon learning of the raid, Seiler immediately came back to check on his property. Seiler had rented the farm to Frank Bronk, who, along with another man, was arrested.
While an investigation took place, nine men demolished the still, a process viewed by hundreds of onlookers. Three large holes were dug and then filled with thousands of gallons liquor and mash.
The site of the ‘largest still west of Chicago’ can no longer be seen; it’s now covered by the Jamestown Reservoir.
Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm
The Jamestown Sun. July 21, 1932: 1, 6. July 22, 1932: 1.The Stutsman County Record. July 28, 1932: 6.