I got to know Amos several years ago. He had a fairly fancy house in town, but spent most of his time at what he called his homestead. I drove to his homestead expecting to see a crusty, bedraggled old fellow, but an urbane gentleman with wavy white hair and a twinkly grin greeted me at his front gate.
I hid my surprise as best I could as we shook hands. He invited me inside his spotless log house and offered coffee – like every cowboy I’ve ever met.
I was there to ask about his Charolais cattle he’d just brought over from France, but he seemed to enjoy having an interested listener (which I certainly was) and ended up telling me more than he intended I’m sure.
As we drove through the pasture and I photographed those big white Charolais cattle I happened to notice many of the cedar posts along his fence lines had little piles of dirt around their bases. After complimenting my powers of observation he told me the story. During the Prohibition years (1919-1933) Amos’s father, to stave off starvation on their homestead, became a whiskey maker — a mighty good one. His white lightning was bottled in Mason canning jars and delivered in a Stutz Bearcat. “If necessary, my Pop could outrun anybody – anybody,” Amos declared.
About the fence posts. “My Pop never trusted banks, so those same Mason jars were our bank. They were buried, money inside, beside fence posts. I was full-grown before I knew about those buildings in town called banks. When we needed money we just dug some up.”
Amos’s dad’s whiskey-making stills never were found by the “revenooers,” which was saying something in Prohibition days. How did he manage that, I wondered.
Amos explained: “In those days often times the local preacher also had a homestead and raised a few cattle, horses, chickens, pigs, just like everybody else every day except Sunday. My Pop always put his still in one of the preacher’s pastures, way back among the junipers where even the cattle didn’t go.” Amos couldn’t hide his grin when he revealed that little secret.
By the time Prohibition was repealed, the Depression had shut everything down. Amos talked about seeing pictures in the newspapers of crowds of angry people standing in front of buildings with the word “Bank” printed on them.
In all, 9,000 banks failed during the decade of the 30s. It’s estimated that 4,000 banks failed during the year of 1933 alone. By then, depositors had lost $140 billion through bank failures.
That’s when Amos figured out his Pop was even smarter than he’d thought, so he eschewed banks as well.
I couldn’t help wondering if money might be beside some of those fence posts even then, but I dared not ask. As if reading my mind Amos said, “No, I’ve gotten all the money out of the ground.” After a short pause he added, “I think.”
I laughed. “Those old Charolais bulls would be good guardians, anyway. They don’t like strangers walking among them afoot.”
Amos just grinned.