"High Pockets" Bailey of West, Texas "The Long Arms of the Law"
and Pioneer Consumer Advocate
by John Troesser
Lead, and a Lightning-struck Guinea Pig
moonshine couldn't be controlled,
then at least it could be monitored for quality.
Marshall Robert "Highpockets" Bailey of West, Texas
Photo Courtesy West, Texas Library and Museum
visit to the town of West to investigate the town's purchase of a
B17 bomber during WWII led us to the tidy and comfortable West Library
and Museum. One of their many display cases featured a photo of and
memorabilia on former City Marshall Robert Bailey. The following information
comes from facts in an article by West native Raymond J. Snokhous,
and was written for the Centennial Edition of the West News in 1990.
Bailey was tall and imposing. It may have been his "Keystone Cop"
type helmet, but even after removing that, he still stood 6 feet 7
inches tall. There are several doorframes in West today that hold
samples of Marshall Bailey's DNA.
Bailey, who was born in 1861, took the oath of office in 1913 and
served West for twenty-five years before dying of natural causes in
In the early 1930s, Marshall Bailey's beat was Main Street. On his
rounds he cut through the Snokhous Blacksmith shop (a business started
by the father of the author of the newspaper story).
Most readers will remember that the 30s were the days of Prohibition
and that all liquor and spirits (other than medicinal alcohol) were
outlawed by a constitutional amendment.
Marshall Bailey would cut through the smitty several times a day,
going to or from the jail (inside city hall). On these trips he would
pause to take a swallow or two from a Mason jar of moonshine. This
jar was a sample of what was currently being sold in and around West.
But he didn't drink alone.
Inside the shop was a man named Alec who spent his long days soaking
up the atmosphere of the place. Alec had once had the misfortune of
being struck by lightning which not only made him a sort of local
celebrity, but also left him "disabled" and unemployable (according
to Alec). But between Alec and the Marshall, they came up with a novel
way for Alec to serve the community.
The distilling of moonshine whiskey back then included running the
batch through a car or truck radiator. Lead solder was used on radiator
repair jobs and if the batch was run through a repaired radiator,
there was a danger that lead might find its way into the end product,
thus endangering the health of consumers.
Alec volunteered to be the town's guinea pig and quaffed many a jar
of bootleg hooch. The Marshall did too, but only after waiting to
see if Alec survived his drink. The process was an early win-win-win
situation. If bootlegging couldn't be controlled, then at least it
could be monitored for quality.
While we know that Marshall Bailey died of natural causes, the article
fails to mention what happened to Alec.
© John Troesser
shoe horses, don't they?"
29, 2004 Column
Our thanks to the library staff for opening their display case and
for photocopying the story so that we could share it with our readers.