Even before Prohibition, making moonshine had been fairly common in rural Arizona. However, after the law went into effect in 1920, illegal stills started springing up everywhere, especially in the rugged canyons near Payson, Winslow and Flagstaff.
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By Sally Benford
payson Al Capone and Bugs Moran weren't the only ones who profited from bootlegging in the days of Prohibition. Arizona ranchers and farmers got into the game as well. In fact, in the early 20th century, making moonshine was pretty common in hardscrabble places like Payson, Winslow and Flagstaff. Nevertheless, when Prohibition outlawed liquor, even more stills — hundreds of them — started popping up in the heavily wooded canyons of Northern Arizona and the Mogollon Rim.
According to an August 2009 story by Stan Brown in the Payson Roundup, when Prohibition went into effect on January 17, 1920, the Payson area was poised to experience an "economic boon." Payson was known for the quality of its forbidden brew, which was called "Payson Dew." Brown reports that at a time when cash was scarce, bootlegging increased the personal income of many Mogollon Rim residents. Prices of moonshine shot up from $5 a gallon to as much as $30. One local hangout was a speak-easy called The Dive, where the owner sold candy in the front and illegal liquor in the back.
Payson wasn't the only town where banned booze had an impact. Flagstaff, Prescott and Winslow were also bootlegging hotspots. Prescott, which had become famous for its saloon-crowded street known as Whiskey Row, was especially affected. There, everything was moved below ground — literally — to basements in the downtown area. The Gold Mine was one of many underground establishments.
Although Prohibition was repealed in 1933, for many years afterward, remnants of secret stills could be found scattered throughout the state's rocky ravines. To learn more about Arizona's bootlegging past, visit the exhibits at the Rim Country Museum in Payson and the Old Trails Museum in Winslow.
Information: Rim Country Museum, 928-474-3483 or www.rimcountrymuseums.com; Old Trails Museum, 928-289-5861 or www.oldtrailsmuseum.org.
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