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  Texas : Feature : Columns : "They shoe horses, don't they?"

Marshall "High Pockets" Bailey of West, Texas

"The Long Arms of the Law"
and Pioneer Consumer Advocate


by John Troesser


Moonshine, Lead, and a Lightning-struck Guinea Pig
If moonshine couldn't be controlled,
then at least it could be monitored for quality.
City Marshall Robert "Highpockets" Bailey of West, Texas

Photo Courtesy West, Texas Library and Museum
A 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.


Robert 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 1938.

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
"They shoe horses, don't they?"
February 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.
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