Articles & Stories


Old "Red Bob," Owsley County Moonshiner, Arrested In 1897

Revenue Officers Destroyed An 80-Gallon-Capacity Still

Author Unknown - 1897

Old "Red Bob" Baker, who has been the leading moonshine distiller of Eastern Kentucky for 30 years and who has defied the authorities during this long period, has been captured. He stopped over in Lexington on his way to Frankfort, where he will be tried before Judge Barr. "Red Bob" lives on Laurel Fork of Buffalo Creek in Owsley County, about 13 miles from Booneville, and about 25 miles from Hyden. He is located on the road which runs from Sebastian Post Office to Hyden, and his still was not over 300 yards from that road. The still was so carefully concealed among the hills that the authorities have passed it scores of times without dreaming that they were near the place.
The officers who succeeded in capturing this grizzly moonshiner were Revenue Agent J. W. Colyer, Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue John A. Burton, and United States Deputy Marshal, A. A. Brandenberg. The latter, who lives at Booneville, learned of the location of the Baker still and notified his superiors immediately. When the officers arrived at a point near the Baker still they saw two young men come from the direction of the still, and after they had disappeared over the mountain, the officers quietly went up the hollow with Brandenburg, some 30 yards in the lead.

Hollis Gibson, a legendary revenue agent, along with the Kentucky State Police, investigated a moonshine still during the 1950s. The brewing of illegal alcohol was a family operation in Kentucky for many years, and the moonshiner prided himself on producing high-quality whiskey, since he counted on repeat customers from his community. Moonshiners were very clever at concealing and protecting their equipment. From 1895 to 1900 six revenue agents were wounded in battles with moonshiners. Mr. Gibson, a resident of Jackson, Breathitt County, Kentucky, who could tell many stories of his moonshine investigations, recently died at the age of 96.


After going several hundred yards they saw a peculiar structure of logs built against a large rock that had tumbled down from the cliff centuries ago. The rock formed one wall of the rude structure, and the logs the other three. The roof slanted one way only and was made of boards held down by cedar poles. The only entrance to the structure was a hole, about four feet high and three feet wide, in the logs. Brandenberg walked close to this hole and peeped in. He saw Baker at work stirring the brew in the still and could see the fire burning briskly under it. He then climbed up on the rock and looked down through a hole in the roof, which had been left as an escape for the smoke. He got a good view of Baker at work at the still, and after he had been looking for about a minute he said, "Hello, Bob, what are you doing here?' "What are you doing here?" was the reply. At the same instant Mr. Colyer crawled through the aperture and leveled his pistol at Baker, who promptly surrendered.
The officers found that Baker was armed with an old Springfield rifle, nearly half-full of powder and slugs, but it was sitting over in the corner out of Baker's reach when Colyer entered.
The officers destroyed the still, which capacity was about 80 gallons.