Friday, July 22, 2011

Booty: I'm Alone (with my booze)

I am personally opposed to anything that smacks of prohibition. History will show that whatever a government is prohibiting, be it weapons, foreign goods, alcohol, or drugs, the laws made and money spent to accomplish the task is wasted. The flow of contraband does not stop just because it’s contraband. Instead, a whole new entity – usually criminal – steps in to keep the wheels greased. From the Laffite brothers in Barataria to the mob in the 1920s to modern drug lords, the only entity making big money is organized crime. That said, there are the people who move the product too, and their stories are sometimes even more interesting if more often forgotten.

That’s why I was thrilled to come across a brief entry at the Louisiana State Museum’s Facebook page. It’s a short but interesting glimpse into yet another episode in the Gulf Coast’s smuggling history.

In 1929 the Canadian registered brig I’m Alone was on one of her usual cruises in the Gulf of Mexico. Her habit was to drop anchor off the coast of Belize in Central America, load up with cases of booze and then head for the Louisiana coast. I’m Alone’s usual drop off point was Vermilion Bay where small craft would take on her cargo and ferry it inland on the bayou waterways once used by smugglers like Big Rene Beluche and the Laffite brothers. On March 22nd, however, the usual habits went right out the window for I’m Alone and her crew.

She was spotted by U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dexter after nightfall. Dexter demanded the unknown ship hove to for inspection and, when she did not, the Coast Guard opened fire. I’m Alone sank near Marshall Island. Her captain, Jack Randall, and most of her crew managed to escape drowning in the dory pictured above. They were taken into custody (as this short but amazing contemporary video shows) and it appeared they would serve time on smuggling charges.

Captain Randall, however, argued loudly that he had been in international waters at the time of the attack and was therefore not in violation of U.S. prohibition laws. The Canadian government got involved and a joint commission was formed with U.S. and Canadian members to hash out the issue. The commission found in favor of Captain Randall and his crew. The U.S. eventually paid reparations to Canada in the amount of $25,000 along with the captain and crew of I’m Alone ($25,000) and the widow of a seaman who drown ($10,000). Find a brief but in depth evaluation of the case from April, 1929 here.

This is but one of so many forgotten incidents, albeit with an interesting twist, that proves once again: nothing good comes out of prohibition.

Header: Dory from I’m Alone in the Louisiana State Museum


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Captain Randall certainly looks dapper in his bowtie in that video clip.

Pauline said...

He clearly took a page from Jean Laffite's book. Being in charge of a smuggling craft is no excuse to look like a slob!

Capt. John Swallow said...

Brilliant piece o' history! Canada, Pyrates & Rum Running have a long history - from the big guys like Blackbeard, Peter Easton, etc. along the east coast to the likes o' Bill Johnston (and family) in the St. Lawrence River, Roaring Dan Seavey and others in the great lake...right up to Canada's Al Capone - Rocco Perri in Hamilton.

During prohibition there were "rum runners" crossing Lake Erie as much as 4x a night!
It was legal to make booze in Canada - but not drink to drink booze in the US, but not make it!

Pauline said...

Thankee for the added info; as usual you come through with a great addition to the discussion!

My grandparents lived in Aberdeen, Washington during prohibition and went to a "speak easy" every Saturday night that was supplied by little boats from British Columbia. My Grandpa worked at the docks and did some caulking in exchange for the occasional bottle of gin as well.

Makes me want to hoist a perfectly legal tankard right bleedin' now!