Moonshiners Wore Special Shoes To Evade the Law During Prohibition

In order to protect their stores and their operation, moonshiners would use the terrain to their advantage. They would put their distilleries deep into the woods where they would be hard to find to anyone that did not know the way. One of the ways that the authorities would be able to find these hidden stills was to follow the tracks of suspected moonshiners. It was a good bet that footprints leading into the woods would lead to a moonshine operation.

Moonshiners caught on quickly and found a way to fool the authorities that allowed them to keep the alcohol flowing. In order to hide their tracks in and out of the forest they would employ what was called the “cow shoe.” The cow shoe is believed to have its origins in a Sherlock Holmes story in which a crook uses fake cow hoofs on the feet of his horse in order to escape detection.

Moonshiners decided that they could do the same thing in order to hide their footprints. By attaching cow hooves to the bottoms of their shoes they could make the trail look like that of a lost cow and not that of a moonshiner.

The cow shoe, much like the Sherlock Holmes story, did not use actual cow hooves. Instead it was a metal strip that was tacked onto a wooden block. The wooden block was then carved to look like two cow hooves and strapped to a man’s foot or attached to the bottom of their shoes. The use of cow shoes was discovered early on in prohibition days. One pair was found in Port Tampa was sent to the prohibition department in Washington.

An officer trying on cow shoes. rarehistoricalphotos.com

The shoe was described in a Florida newspaper in 1922 which led to many people, including the authorities, knowing a great deal about the moonshiners’ ingenious way of preventing detection. The knowledge of the shoe didn’t immediately stop its use nor did it stop the moonshiners who just continued to think of new ways to evade police and get their product to an increasingly thirsty public.

It was not long before the terrifying effects of prohibition led to discussions of better enforcement or repeal. Crime had increased by 24%, homicides were up 12.7% and drug addiction was up by 44.6%. Organized crime, bootlegging and moonshiners never stopped no matter what the government did to try and enforce prohibition. The government grew increasingly desperate and even went as far as to poison industrial alcohol which led to thousands of deaths.

Prohibition-era cow shoes. rarehistoricalphotos.com

In the end the government deemed that prohibition was more dangerous that allowing the legal consumption of alcohol. According to one moonshiner most of the leaders of government were just as guilty as the rest with some claiming that as many as 80% of representatives and senators continued to consume alcohol during prohibition. In 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment was ratified and it completely repealed the Eighteenth Amendment.

Sadly, there was little that could be done to roll back the clock. Organized crime had flourished due to the massive amounts of cash that had flowed into their pockets for over a decade. All that cash allowed to them to expand and continue their operations. Moonshiners went back to business as normal, getting the profits they were used to for their moonshine which continued to be much more valuable than corn itself.

The years of prohibition had taught the moonshiners had to be even more cunning and they were able to continue their operations even as moonshine skirted the edge of the law due to being un-taxed alcohol.