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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

The “Indian” bootlegger

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

Tony Sanches, a Lufkin sawmill hand in the 1920s, not only made some of the best bootleg whiskey in East Texas; he had the best customers--people like singer Jimmy Rodgers, Clyde Barrow of the Bonnie and Clyde gang--even the local sheriff.

Sanches worked for the old Long-Bell Lumber Company at Lufkin Land, a sawmill town on Lufkin’s east side, but he had a house full of kids, so he needed some additional income.

He started making whiskey and found that he had a knack for it. His whiskey was soon being sold to some of Lufkin’s best-known families during the days when Lufkin was supposedly dry.

When Jimmy Rodgers traveled to the Lufkin area to perform, he came to Sanches’ home to pick up some hooch. The father of country music was so pleased with the taste that he gave Sanches a 78 speed record.

“We framed it, kept it on the wall and worshipped it,” recalled Linda Burgess, Sanches’ daughter.

Years later, the family gave the record to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, where it is on display.

When Bonnie and Clyde made one of their dashes through East Texas, with lawmen close on their heels, Clyde stopped long enough in Lufkin to search out Sanches’ house and buy a jug of whiskey.

“While Clyde was buying his whiskey on one side of our house, the local sheriff was buying his on the other side,” recalled Mrs. Burgess.

Sanches’ plank house at Lufkin Land was built so whiskey could be stored behind the walls in special, hidden compartments.

When Sanches went to work for Long-Bell in the 1920s, he was told to “be an Indian instead of a Mexican,” even though he was born in Nacogdoches County. But he dropped the Z from his name, substituted an S and followed his employer’s wishes.

When the Border Patrol came to Lufkin Land and wanted to move Sanches to Mexico, he carried the officers to Moral, a Spanish community in Nacogdoches County, and showed them his christening record in the local Catholic church.

“At Lufkin Land, we lived in what was probably the first mixed neighborhood in Lufkin,” said Sanches’ daughter. “On Long Street, the main road, there were Mexicans, blacks, whites and, of course, the Sanches Indian family,” she laughed.

When the sawmill closed at Lufkin Land, Sanches found a job building a paper mill near Lufkin. It was the first mill to make newsprint from Southern pine wood fiber.

Sanches could not read or write until he was sixty-five when the last of his four wives taught him how to do both.

Sanches gave up bootlegging in the 1930s when his children’s schoolmates started calling them “the bootlegger’s kids.”

Years later, while fourteen-year-old Linda Sanches was preparing a garden around the family’s home, she plowed up a five-gallon jug full of homemade whiskey. Any whiskey aged that long should have been placed in a hall of fame, too.

All Things Historical
January 28, 2008 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 35 books about East Texas, including “The Forgotten Towns of East Texas.” He can be reached at bob-bowman.com )

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