Then-Letcher County Sheriff Robert B. Collins, acting on a tip, discovered one of the largest moonshine stills in the history of Letcher County on August 21, 1954. The still was located near Eolia at the home of Willard Sturgill. The following account of the raid appeared in the August 26, 1954 edition of The Mountain Eagle.
Willard Sturgill of Eolia, and his housekeeper, Mrs. Lillie Bowman, have been cited before the Federal Grand Jury after being charged with the possession and selling of moonshine whiskey.
The charge came after a raid on the Sturgill home on the Cumberland River last Saturday by Letcher County Sheriff Robert B. Collins when one of the largest and most complete steamtype stills ever captured in this section was found under Sturgill’s house.
According to Sheriff Collins, this operation was strictly push button type, and when one walked in on a floor that had a rug on it and a button was pushed the floor parted and the underground layout began to open up.
The sheriff stated that hundreds of people had come to see the parts of the still that was brought to the courthouse lawn. Said the Sheriff: “In order to get the whole outfit the house will have to be dismantled.”
Collins said a small lake of water in the back of the insignificant looking little brick-sided house provided running water, and that the mash was pumped back into the hill.
The still, which was only about 50 feet off U. S. Highway 119, is said to have been in operation for about 10 years.
Sheriff Collins said, “I believe that Sturgill was more or less a watchman for bigger and more capable fellows, as he is blind and I don’t think he could have done much himself.”
Sturgill said when captured that he had not made any big money although the still has a 1,000-gallon capacity.
When asked how he found out about the still, Sheriff Collins said he couldn’t reveal the source of his information, but did say: “A man whom I don’t know called me and told me that if I would be at the Sturgill home at 4 p.m. that I would make a good capture. Being cautious about traps, I did not go at four but later. After working for quite some time and finally locating the still and confiscating about 45 gallons of liquor besides pouring out a large drum that we could not carry, and coming back to my office, the same man called again and said if I had been there at four I would have gotten a trailer load of liquor, yellow corn meal, and sugar.”
The case has been turned over to federal authorities and other arrests are expected.
According to Sturgill, none of the moonshine was sold in Letcher County.
Assisting the Sheriff in the raid were Jim Short and Boyd of the Sheriff ’s force and Ottis Anderson of the State Highway Patrol.