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Hidden History: Creative moonshiners defied Prohibition

Fighting alcohol before Prohibition

The Twin Falls chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union destroys bottles of bootleg whiskey along Shoshone Street North in this 1922 Clarence E. Bisbee photograph. Twin Falls County Sheriff E.R. Sherman is seen at the top left.

The “Noble Experiment” — better known as Prohibition — had taken root in Idaho long before the 18th Amendment was ratified.

In 1905, Twin Falls city trustees tried to discourage the sale of alcohol by charging saloon operators an exorbitant amount for an annual liquor license. The following year, a local chapter of the decades-old Women’s Christian Temperance Union was organized to create a “sober and pure world,” according to its publications.

Momentum for prohibition increased.

In November 1909, Twin Falls County voted to abolish liquor, and saloons in the county closed two months later. In 1916, the entire state of Idaho went “dry.”

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in January 1919 and took effect the following year. But that didn’t stop residents from making their own liquor.

In 1923, word of an illegal still on Orville Fairchild’s farm near Buhl made its way to Twin Falls Sheriff’s Deputy Virgil Ormsby.

While the case was not isolated, it was unique, Ormsby told the Twin Falls Weekly News.

The ambitious deputy raided the Fairchild farm and found nothing unusual. He then spotted smoke trickling from a culvert under a road about 400 feet away from the farmhouse. Ormsby climbed into the culvert and knocked on the wall of the pipe; his knuckles were met with an echo.

Ormsby and the other deputies dug into the road surface and found four-inch-thick planks, then found an 8-by-15 room under the planks. Inside the room, they found a complete still, a woodstove and shelves full of reading material, including a book on liquor manufacturing.

Eight jars of moonshine and the still and coils were confiscated. Six barrels of mash were destroyed.

Fairchild claimed the still was not his but pleaded guilty at his hearing.

Mychel Matthews is the senior reporter for the Times-News. The Hidden History feature runs every Thursday in the Times-News and at


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