Moving Liquor Joint
One Saturday in early 1905 a “moving liquor joint” pulled into Norcross and set up shop. Two men, Jim Reese and Artie Anderson, brought their mule-drawn wagon with its cargo of jugs of moonshine to town, planning to serve pent up demand for distilled beverages, since Norcross was a “dry” town in those days. They did indeed make some sales, but unfortunately for them reports of their activities quickly reached local law enforcement, and their venture came to a quick end. Here is the story.
First – a little background on the history of liquor production and taxes in the USA
In the early days of our republic cash was in short supply for farm families in Georgia and elsewhere, and transport of crops to market using the rudimentary road system of that time was difficult and expensive. As a result many farmers mastered the fermentation and distillation processes required to convert crops such as corn and apples into distilled liquors – whiskey, brandy and related beverages. These products, in liquid form, could be moved to market easier than bulky crops, and could be traded their more easily, or could sold there for cash.
The federal government, still saddled with debt from the Revolutionary War, was in need of money, and Congress in 1791 passed a law to tax the production of distilled spirits. The tax was highly unpopular, and many farmers on the frontier reacted violently to the efforts of the federal government to collect the tax. A force of 500 men assembled in Western Pennsylvania when a US Marshal arrived to lead efforts to collect the tax in 1794. This uprising has been called the Whiskey Rebellion, and in response George Washington, President at the time, raised an armed militia of over 10,000 men from the eastern states and led them west to enforce the law. (Tensions calmed at that point without widespread violence, but enforcement of the law still proved difficult, and it was repealed a few years later.)
However, during the Civil War the Union government reinstitute this tax (and added others, including an income tax) to help fund the war effort, and in 1862 Congress established the Internal Revenue Service to make sure that the taxes were collected. The courts of that era ruled that an income-based tax as passed by Congress was unconstitutional, so this was discontinued (until the 16 the amendment to the Constitution, explicitly allowing Congress to levy such taxes, was enacted in 1913.) But taxes on liquor and tobacco continued, and according to Wikipedia over the period from 1868 until 1913, 90 percent of all revenue to the IRS came from taxes on liquor, beer, wine and tobacco.
A number of commercial businesses grew up in the post-Civil War era that made and sold distilled alcoholic beverages legally – they got permits to operate by going through the required governmental approval process, and paid the required taxes. (One of the better known ones in North Georgia was R M Rose and Company – see the advertisement below, touting their product’s medicinal benefits.)
At the same time there were smaller producers who made and sold liquors on the sly, intending to avoid the taxes. These distillers came to be called “moonshiners” since they many times ran their production and distribution activities at night when they would be less noticeable. Rural North Georgia had many such operators a century or more ago, who sold their products directly to the public, or perhaps shipped them to larger markets via “bootleggers”.
Newspaper Accounts of the Whiskey Wagon’s Visit
There were two weekly newspapers in Lawrenceville in those days, the Gwinnett Journal and the News-Herald, and both had regular columns reporting the goings-on in Norcross. Both newspapers’ reporters from Norcross wrote about the incident with the whiskey wagon. The Journal had a column dated January 22 that stated:
Last Saturday night our popular and competent Chief of Police Crim, assisted by Frank Kimball, caught two moonshiners on the outskirts of the city. They hailed from tone of the upper counties and were on the road to Atlanta, it is supposed. In the wagon were 45 gallons of distilled corn, which was confiscated and turned over to Uncle Sam. Officer Crim is one of the best officers in the country and is giving Norcross good clean work.
The News Herald’s Norcross reporter had an article about the incident that was published a few days later, stating:
Captain Crim, our efficient marshal, captured a whisky wagon last Saturday night. Two men, Anderson and Reece, were on the wagon and they were arrested and sent to Atlanta. The wagon and mules were carried to a livery stable and about 50 gallons of liquor were stored away.
A third, more detailed, version of the story appeared in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper on February 2, 1905 stating:
Last Saturday afternoon a canopied wagon, known on the western land as a prairie schooner, appeared in the confines of Norcross, about 20 miles from Atlanta. The wagon was a new one, and the canvas covering did not show even the stains from rain, while alongside the pole were two large, fat attractive looking mules. Soon after the motive power came to a standstill, two men emerged from the covering, one from the rear end and the other from the front. Each carried a new jug in hand and within a short time all Norcross, a dry town, had been informed that mountain dew could be had at a point within the confines.
There were those who bought and imbibed, but within the city there were some who opposed the sale, and a wire was sent to the internal revenue office in Atlanta, conveying the information. The next train, it went out early Sunday morning carried Deputy Marshal Pat Moore, whose mission was to investigate the situation.
Moore dropped from the train at Norcross and within a short time had succeeded in locating the moving liquor joint. The men were quickly placed under arrest , while the liquor and the mules and wagon were seized because the law gives the government the right to all property used for illegal purposes. The liquor, and there was a quantity of it, was shipped direct to Atlanta. The mules and wagon were placed in a livery stable, with instructions to charge the feed and care to the government. Then with the prisoners Deputy Moore came to Atlanta. The two men, Jim Reese and Artie Anderson, were escorted to the Fulton County jail, where they remained until brought before commissioner Colquitt yesterday morning. The commissioner heard the story and then demanded of the two detained men a bond for each in the sum of $200.
What happened to the mules?
The article in the Constitution continues its report of events on Monday, when it was found that another, related, crime had been committed over the weekend in Norcross:
And just as Deputy Moore was thinking well of his work, he was handed a telegram from Norcross, in which he was informed that some time during the previous night the livery stable had been entered and that mules, harness and wagon had been taken away. Of course, the message did not give the names of the parties who had carried away the moving saloon.
But Deputy Moore will try to trace the property to its present location.
However, the Constitution and other available newspapers of the day are silent on any later recovery of the mules and other stolen items.
Who were the folks involved in the story, and what do we know of their lives?
Research has revealed some information about the folks mentioned in these newspaper articles.
J M Crim
The “Chief of Police Crim” referenced in the story was J M Crim, who was the town marshal for Norcross in 1905 – the one-man police force for the city (perhaps supplemented at times by a night watchman). In those days the town marshal was usually appointed by the city council to serve an annual term. A February 1904 article in the News Herald listed Crim among new citizens coming to Norcross, noting:
Mr. Crim has recently been elected marshal of Norcross at a salary of $25 per month and the marshal’s part of all costs.
He and his wife bought a house at a prominent location in town – on the “Durham Corner”, where the streets presently named Thrasher and North Peachtree intersect. (This property had previously been owned by members of the Lewis Durham family, thus the name.) Mrs. Crim opened a millinery shop there, and they added a son to the family, born at the end of 1904.
Crim also maintained several bloodhounds, dogs which were sometimes used in tracking down criminals in those days. He advertised these as available for use in other jurisdictions:
In 1906 Crim moved on to become marshal in Lawrenceville, staying there for several years. He then went to a similar position in Manchester GA, in the Warm Springs area. He was serving as a deputy sheriff of Meriwether County in 1917 when he died, the victim of an accidental gunshot – he was in Columbus GA to testify in a trial and while there his pistol dropped out of his coat pocket and fired, the bullet striking him in the chest, resulting in his death the following day.
Pat Moore, who was born in Scotland in 1863, was well-known in Atlanta by the time of the whiskey wagon incident. His name had appeared in newspaper stories on numerous occasions, as a result of two of his activities of long standing in the community:
- By 1905 he had been an agent for the Internal Revenue Service for ten years or more, and was active in their main law enforcement activity in that era, working to ensure that everyone who owed taxes on alcoholic beverages actually paid them. His name appeared regularly in Constitution stories such as the one quoted above, where he was arresting moonshiners. Another story detailed in December 1908 his prominent role in auctioning off at public outcry 550 gallons of confiscated spirits (540 gallons of whiskey and ten gallons of peach brandy) to a crowd thirsty Georgians (estimated at 2000 persons) gathered on the steps in front of the federal building in downtown Atlanta. (At that time the state of Georgia had passed a law-prohibiting the sale of alcohol, but the federal government could still sell the spirits legally, their
activities not being constrained by the state law.)
- He was a longtime leader of the organized labor movement in Atlanta, having served as the
president of the Atlanta Association of Trades in 1892 when the first local celebration of Labor
Day was held in Atlanta. When prominent labor leader Samuel Gompers, the first president of
the American Federation of Labor, came to Atlanta to speak in 1907 Moore was one of the
organizers of the event at the Grand Opera House – guests included the Governor-elect of Georgia, Hoke Smith.
Moore developed health problems in the years after the Norcross incident, and passed away in Atlanta in 1909.
Walter T Colquitt
Walter T Colquitt II (named for his grandfather) was the “Commissioner Colquitt” who set the bond for the two men arrested in Norcross. His father, Alfred Holt Colquitt, had served as Governor of Georgia and then as United States Senator from the state in years after the Civil War. The younger Colquitt practiced law in Atlanta and was prominent in civic affairs. He served for some years as a United States Commissioner in the federal government’s Northern Judicial District of Georgia, where his duties were similar to those of a Justice of the Peace at the county level in Georgia – he administered oaths, set bonds, issued warrants and the like. Colquitt died suddenly on a train near Cincinnati in 1937 while returning to Atlanta, having been on a business trip that had taken him to New York City and other northern locations.
Jim Reese and Artie Anderson
Research has failed to find records of any trial that the two men might have had in federal court, and the author has had no success in finding definitive information about the rest of their lives.
- There was an Arthur Anderson sent to the Georgia state prison system in April 1915, convicted of Burglary.
- There was a Jim Reese sent to the Georgia state prison system in September 1923, convicted of Shooting at Another.
Were they the same men who visited Norcross in 1905? We will likely never know.