These moonshine still photographs were captured by folklorist Vance Randolph in 1930. Born in Pittsburg, Kansas, Randolph moved to Pineville in the 1920s, and spent the rest of his life documenting and writing about life in the Ozarks. His first book, The Ozarks, offers a look into the customs and traditions of the region ranging from dialect and folk songs to moonshining. Randolph’s images depicting the latter include a still that he set up in his backyard with the help of McDonald County Sheriff Gifford Lee, who is also depicted in the photos.
Randolph’s 1931 book described the manufacture of moonshine as “the chief industry in the wilder parts of the Ozarks.” Despite its illicit nature, moonshine has existed in the region for centuries. Many early European settlers were of Scottish and Irish descent and migrated to the Ozarks from Appalachia, bringing the skill and recipes for making whiskey along with them. The demand for liquor during Prohibition made moonshining a profitable business, and by the 1930s, hundreds in the Ozarks turned to making moonshine to support their families through the Great Depression. Today, the folklore and tradition depicted in Randolph’s works live on in the Ozarks, albeit legally, as the region is home to several moonshine distilleries.
Creator: Vance Randolph
Subject: Illicit distilling; Moonshining; Alcohol
Contributing Institution: College of the Ozarks