Moonshining has had a colorful history in Pasco County


At least two Pasco County sheriffs — Isaac Washington Hudson Jr. and Frank Leslie Bessenger — were known to be on both sides of the law when it came to moonlighting in Pasco County.

At a recent presentation at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, there was general consensus that it wasn’t always easy to separate the good guys from the bad guys.

Bessenger, for example, had a blind black man who sold the sheriff’s booze “…but if you gave him money he could tell if it was a dollar bill or a 20 dollar bill. according to Wayne Carter, who remembers helping his family moonshine when he was a child.

Pasco County Sheriff Isaac Washington Hudson Jr., left, and his deputies confiscated 164 moonshine stills during his first six months in office. (Courtesy of Pioneer Florida Museum & Village)

Speakers at that event, Madonna Wise, Susan Shelton and Carter, said people from all walks of life had gotten into trouble for selling moonshine in Pasco County — including a former slave, who would be 105 at the time. time of his arrest.

Also, there was Mayor George J. Frese, of San Antonio, who was on bail after his arrest for running a moonlight still on the second floor of his residence. The house was described as “the most important corner of town”, according to a news report at the time.

Making moonshine in Pasco County was a family affair and, in fact, children were known to be used as decoys to ward off intruders from stills, speakers said during the museum presentation.

The sale of moonshine became a source of income after Prohibition became the law of the land, thanks to the passage of the 18th Amendment in the United States.

It was illegal to manufacture or sell alcohol after January 16, 1919. The law went into effect on January 1, 1920, according to

The result? Illegal underground stills began to appear.

According to Shelton, Overstreet’s great-granddaughter, federal agents, known as “dealers”, were tasked with enforcing the law, often interfering in the lives of moonshiners, such as Preston Overstreet.

She explains how Overstreet had stills hidden in the woods and swamps along the Withlacoochee River in East Pasco County.

The Moonshiners used copper stills to ferment and distill corn, sugar and water into liquor, Carter recalls.

“You need 150 pounds of corn and 150 pounds of sugar to make about 5 gallons of moonshine,” he added during his part of the presentation at the museum.

At times, efforts to enforce laws against moonlighting have proven deadly.

Circa 1931, 19-year-old Lonnie Tucker monitors income. He is pictured at Wesley Chapel with his moonlight still. (Courtesy of Madonna Jervis Wise)

In October 1922, three years after Prohibition began, Federal Agent John Van Waters and Pasco County Deputy Arthur Fleece Crenshaw were killed, east of Dade City, according to The Dade City Banner .

In an October 6, 1922 account, “Prohibition Constable Waters and Deputy Sheriff Crenshaw Killed,” Banner reported that the Pasco County Commission had offered a $5,000 reward for the “arrest and conviction killers” by Waters and Crenshaw.

Several suspects were questioned.

Overstreet was charged with first degree murder.

His trial began on December 4, 1922.

After deliberating for 45 minutes, the jurors found Overstreet not guilty.

“The two men who shot Waters and Crenshaw were very close friends of the Overstreets and later married into the family,” Shelton explains. “Both men later became Baptist preachers!”

According to his family history, “The Overstreets of East Pasco County (1828-1981)”, Preston was an excellent marksman who could hit a 50-cent coin with one shot – and refused to pay a ” monthly insurance in the amount of $50. to Sheriff Hudson.

In early February 1925, Hudson’s chief deputy and the sheriff’s son, also a sworn deputy, had staked out the Overstreet family stills and were hiding in palm trees according to Shelton’s family history.

Spotted arriving at his photos, Overstreet suddenly heard, “You are under arrest!

Before he could turn around, Overstreet was shot in the back.

Seriously wounded, he died shortly afterwards in the woods.

Shelton writes: “The deputies put the body of Preston Overstreet in his car to take him to town. Along the way, they stopped at Preston’s house and showed his wife Lizzi what had happened to her husband. Two of his daughters remember seeing the deputies open the back door of Preston’s car and seeing their father’s arm dangling through that open door.

In her book, “Images of America: Wesley Chapel (2016)”, Madonna Wise describes a “difficult history” of the mudpockets in Pasco County and identifies Stanley Ryals as one of the leading mudpockets in that area.

With sugar and whiskey in the house, Ryals had a sleepless night after spotting an income that was on his property in an unmarked car.

Ryals, like most other moonshiners, decided to retire from the business for good.

“We got rid of everything,” Ryals recalls in Wise’s book. “Well, I might have used the rest of that sugar, but I was done making whiskey.”

Posted on March 23, 2022

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