Journal-News, Wednesday, June 4, 1997
Area's first liquor hijacking in Fairfield Twp. legal load worth $22,000 heisted Sept. 10, 1920
By Jim Blount
A truck hauling 220 cases of whisky was the target of the first hijacking of record in Butler County during Prohibition. At $100 a case, the Friday afternoon, Sept. 10, 1920, heist was worth $22,000
The legal load -- bound from Cincinnati to New York -- was stopped on Dixie Highway in Fairfield Township in front of the J. A. Slade property. That was an isolated location with light traffic in 1920. Today it is in a commercial area of the City of Fairfield and part of busy Ohio 4 between Symmes and Winton roads.
Three men followed the truck from Spring Grove Avenue in Cincinnati through Winton Place, Glendale and Springdale. Posing as federal prohibition agents, they halted the truck in rural Fairfield Township.
The bogus agents confiscated the truck after taking the driver, a Cincinnatian, and a companion to the southern edge of Hamilton in their reputed government car. Then they drove the truck to Reading in Hamilton County where it was unloaded at the residence of a blind bootlegger. The empty truck was abandoned in Blue Ash.
Three men were arrested two days later and charged with hijacking. The trio -- ages 21, 25 and 34 -- gave Cincinnati and Newport addresses.
Such incidents multiplied and became commonplace in this area, known as Little Chicago during Prohibition. The controversial dry era in Ohio began in May 1919 and continued through December 1933.
One reason was Butler County's location on the rum-runner route south from Canada. Whisky could be secreted across the U.S.-Canadian border from Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, and then hauled south on such roads the Dixie Highway (later U. S. 25 and Ohio 4).
Several highways through the county were paved in the early 1920s, enhancing the appeal of local routes for rum runners heading south with Canadian whisky. Periodically the Canadian connection was blocked or threatened by the presence of prohibition agents, or the supply couldn't meet the demands of customers at big-city speakeasies.
By the mid 1920s, bootleggers were bringing imported liquor into the U. S. via Florida and other southern Atlantic and Gulf ports. The southern-based rum runners -- said to have included some Hamilton men -- also used routes through Butler County to haul booze to Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and other cities.
A second reason for the area's concentration of rum runners -- and the preying hijackers -- was its proximity to so many distilleries. About 80 percent of the liquor distilled in the U. S. before Prohibition had been processed within 300 miles of Cincinnati.
A third factor was the severity of prohibition laws in a neighboring state. In Indiana, on Butler County's western border, violators were more likely to go to jail and fines exceeded the Ohio penalties.
A fourth reason -- and, according to some people who lived through the period, the most crucial -- was the absence of law enforcement.
There are legends of collusion involving blatant liquor violators and law officers here. There is only meager circumstantial evidence to support claims that almost every local officer was paid not to see the illegal activities.
If, as some insist, bootleggers were paying off police in Butler County, it didn't cost much. There weren't many police officers and deputies in Hamilton and Butler County during most of the period. Their scarcity greatly reduced the odds that illicit whisky and beer would be confiscated along roads in the city or county.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 11, 1997
Horse era not always a pleasant time; blacksmiths demanded more money in 1907
By Jim Blount
"Shaping the iron into a shoe was the most picturesque process of the smithy of the old days. The sparks flew, the hammer rose and fell in a symphony of bell-like sound, the water bucket hissed and fumed as the finished piece dropped into it to cool," recalled a local writer in 1937 in reporting the disappearance of local blacksmiths and neighborhood shops.
That romantic description may be an accurate narrative of the blacksmith's most familiar task, producing shoes for horses.
But there also were unpleasant aspects of the vital horse industry that was so central to the local economy nearly a century ago. The good old days of the horse-and-buggy era weren't always good -- even in Hamilton blacksmith shops.
In June 1907, for example, a strike closed the local horse shoeing establishments.
In the city's blacksmith shops -- as in other crafts -- there were usually two levels of employment under the foreman or proprietor.
At the entry level was the apprentice, a worker learning the trade under the direction of a master blacksmith. A step higher was the journeyman, an employee who had passed tests to prove his smithing skills, often after a pre-determined time as an apprentice.
How and when an apprentice advanced to journeyman was specified in union agreements, which also covered wage levels.
Requests for a pay raise and a half-day reduction in the six-day work week prompted the short-lived 1907 strike by journeymen in Hamilton shops.
"We now pay the men $18 and $21 apiece for 53 hours work a week," a shop boss told a reporter as the strike began. "There isn't a blacksmith in town who has made any money for the last six months," he explained. "In that time, horse shoes have gone up $1.05 and nails and everything else has advanced.
"The Standard Oil Company controls the trade," the owner lamented, "and when I asked one of their agents the other day how much higher prices were going, he looked at me, laughed significantly and answered, 'Shut your eyes and see.' "
After a one-day stalemate, owners and journeymen horse shoers agreed to a 50 cents per day pay increase with no change in the work schedule. Under the new scale, floormen earned $3 a day instead of $2.50, and fireman were paid $3.50 daily instead of $3.
The agreement also meant higher prices for their Hamilton customers. Four horse shoes cost $2 instead of $1.50, a 33 percent increase. The cost of having the four shoes toed and set jumped from a dollar to $1.50, a 50 percent hike.
Other services escalated at comparable rates, including $2.50 instead of $2 for shoes for horses pulling fire department vehicles and the police department's patrol wagon.
The city government owned several horses. They required personnel and tax money to manage their daily use and care. Periodically, the city's animals were replaced.
Under the normal replacement procedure, a Hamilton funeral director, in need of a horse, purchased one from the city. The animal, slowed by age, had been declared surplus by the city, but its deliberate gate was appropriate for funeral duty.
According to undocumented reports, one day -- while solemnly pulling a hearse to Greenwood Cemetery -- the horse's experience betrayed its new owner.
As the procession approached a Hamilton firehouse, an alarm sounded and soon a horse-drawn pumper raced out of the station.
True to its training, the newly-acquired funeral horse broke into a gallop in a futile attempt to join the younger fire department horses.
As the aged, but eager horse dashed away from the line of buggies carrying mourners, according to the legend, the coffin slid out of the hearse and smashed on the street.
Some future columns will explore other elements of Hamilton's former horse culture.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 18, 1997
Motorcycle cop's death remains mystery; Emery Farmer was victim in 1922 crash
By Jim Blount
Among Butler County's unsolved mysteries is the death of a Fairfield Township officer assigned to enforcing the speed limit on the area's premier highway of the 1920s. Foul play was suspected, but never proved after Emery Farmer's body was found beside Dixie Highway, south of Hamilton.
The 26-year-old Farmer -- called a "speed cop" in the lingo of that era -- died Wednesday, Nov. 8, 1922, in Mercy Hospital in Hamilton.
Farmer -- who was survived by his wife and their two children -- was "regarded as the most efficient motor cop patrolling the Dixie Highway in these parts," the Journal said. He had been checking night-time speeders on the road for less than eight months.
Dixie Highway was the first road paved throughout Butler County. The local segment was part of a 5,100-mile road network in 10 states (Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida).
The 1,536-mile eastern division of the Dixie Highway stretched from Detroit through Middletown, Hamilton, Cincinnati and Lexington to Miami, Fla. By 1920, travelers could assume their trips would be over a well-marked route on roads paved with brick or concrete.
Farmer worked under the direction of Dr. William S. Reed, a man of many hats. In addition to practicing medicine at Stockton in the township, the 59-year-old physician was a Fairfield Township justice of the peace in 1922.
The officer had left Dr. Reed's house in Stockton (now about the 6600 block of Dixie Highway) at 9 o'clock Tuesday night. He was found unconscious at about 2 o'clock Wednesday morning near Winton Road. His motorcycle was beside the tracks of the Millcreek Valley interurban line. Farmer, who suffered a skull fracture, had been thrown 28 feet over the tracks.
Two northbound travelers discovered the victim and took him to the nearby residence of Earl Bittinger. From there, he was transported to the hospital, where he died at 3 a.m. The motorcycle officer never regained consciousness.
Investigators assumed Farmer had been crowded off the road by a speeder he was pursuing, or lost control during a chase.
Detectives said his motorcycle's speedometer had stuck on 58 miles an hour, the speed he may have been traveling when he went off the highway. They also reported finding no marks on the side of the motorcycle suggesting it had been struck by another vehicle.
Their search failed to recover Farmer's revolver.
"At present, we have no clues," declared Coroner Cook the afternoon following the tragedy. "Some motorists will now be glad," said Dr. Reed, speaking as a justice of the peace, "but I assure them that our township will go the limit to prosecute if it is found that Farmer was the victim of a manslaughter plot."
Unmentioned in newspaper accounts in 1922 was the possibility that Farmer may have been a Prohibition victim. Ohio Prohibition had started May 1919 -- three and a half years 1before the motorcycle officer's death.
Among Dixie Highway (now Ohio 4) travelers were the bootleggers, rum runners, hijackers and others who ignored state and federal laws banning the manufacture, transport, sale and possession of intoxicating beverages.
Did Farmer see or hear something which would have caused one or more prohibition violators to want him dead?
As a former official of that era once told this writer, "A lot of illegal booze was hauled over that road." Farmer's beat also was a popular route for people intent on consuming it.
Along or near two-lane Dixie Highway were some of the area's most popular roadhouses and speakeasies.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 25, 1997
John F. Sutherland adept as U. S. Army horse trader
By Jim Blount
John F. Sutherland was a horse trader, an occupation which didn't command much respect because of the presence of some unscrupulous dealers. The Hamilton native was an exception. In local and national transactions, Sutherland built an honorable reputation.
"When I first knew him, no man in Hamilton would think of buying a fine, high-priced horse without first consulting John Sutherland," wrote Dr. Henry Mallory. "His love of horse is only exceeded by his love of mankind," said the physician of his Civil War comrade.
Sutherland was born in Hamilton in 1820, a son of John and Nancy Ramsey Sutherland. His father, an immigrant from Scotland, is considered Hamilton's first resident merchant. He settled here after serving General Anthony Wayne's army as a packhorseman.
The son, after attending an academy or college in Springfield, returned to his father's 287-acre farm outside Hamilton (in the vicinity of present Millville Avenue and Washington Boulevard).
By the early 1840s, the younger Sutherland was an active horse dealer. His business extended beyond Butler County. In pursuit of his occupation, his obituary said, "many trips were made south as far as New Orleans and east to New York."
In 1861, at the start of the Civil War, he interrupted his business to attempt the formation of a company of cavalry. Other men assumed leadership of the unit, allowing the 41-year-old Sutherland to concentrate on utilizing his horse knowledge.
Through a letter from a friend of his father, Sutherland was introduced to Winfield Scott, general in chief of the U. S. Army. Scott, learning of the Hamiltonian's equine knowledge and experience, assigned Sutherland to direct the packhorse trains which hauled supplies from Wheeling to Union soldiers in the mountains of western Virginia. It was similar to the duty his father had performed about 65 years earlier at Fort Hamilton.
Soon his full attention was on acquiring horses suitable for army service. The quartermaster department awarded Sutherland several large contracts.
"One of these contracts was to supply 12 cavalry regiments with horses. Mr. Sutherland was so careful in his purchase of the stock that not a single horse was rejected by the government," noted the writer of his obituary. Based on about 900 men to a regiment, that contract would have involved more than 10,500 horses at about $130 a head.
Such an accomplishment was unusual. Mismanagement and scandal dominated the Civil War horse procurement system. There are numerous examples of the army receiving shipments of horses that had been unfit when purchased, and abused and neglected during transport to camps and supply depots.
Sutherland's experience in buying and transporting horses led to another war-time venture that backfired. In partnership with several New York investors, Sutherland "established a trade by steamers along the Mississippi."
The two-way trade involved shipping much-needed supplies to the liberated areas of the devastated South in exchange for cotton. The bales of cotton were hauled on steamboats to Cincinnati.
When some shipments reached the Queen City, government agents seized and sold the cotton as Confederate contraband.
For several years after the Civil War, Sutherland spent extended time in Washington, lobbying Congress to compensate his associates for the confiscated cotton. He wasn't able to convince enough congressmen and Sutherland and his partners absorbed the loss of several thousand dollars.
He had limited involvement in several businesses after the war, "but never devoted himself to business exclusively," his obit noted. He died in 1899 in Mercy Hospital and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
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