The two revenue agents for the federal government crept into the woods around Oldtown on November 15, 1931. William R. Harvey was the senior agent so he led the raid. They were after three bootleggers who they had been watching lately.
While making illegal liquor during Prohibition was a problem in Western Maryland due to its abundance of forests and lack of population, it usually wasn’t a fatal one like it could be in the larger cities. For the most part, it was a game of hide and seek between the bootleggers who would try and hide their stills and federal agents who would try and find them. If a bootlegger was caught, he would serve a few months in prison and then start all over again when he got out.
Two of the bootleggers had been arrested previously for manufacturing illegal liquor. Now they would be arrested again.
Harvey and the other agent hurried into the clearing with their weapons drawn. One of the men nearest the woods dashed away, but it wasn’t like Harvey didn’t know who the men were. The two remaining men were John Ralph Davis and Emmett Judy, both of Oldtown. They had been caught with a 50-gallon still, six barrels of mash and two gallons of rye whiskey.
“After the officers had handcuffed Davis and Judy, they were fired upon by an unseen assailant from the woods, the shot narrowly escaping both the officers and the prisoners,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.
Harvey returned fire with his .45 pistol. The unknown shooter appeared further away up a hill firing a double-barreled shotgun, then he retreated back into the shelter of the woods. The gunfire exchange lasted for several minutes. Harvey fired 21 shots and the unknown attacker fired around 20 times. Since the agents had bound prisoners, they took cover and circled around their attacker in order to get the prisoners safely to the agents’ car.
The newspaper reported that the attacker with the shotgun “is believed to have been the lookout stationed near the still and when he saw the officers arresting the other bootleggers, opened fire in an effort to obtain their release.” He was also believed to have been drunk at the time of the shooting.
The third bootlegger, Lemuel Keifer, was arrested at his home near midnight on November 15. Lewis Davis was also arrested on November 16 as the man who had fired on the agents.
Oddly, the newspaper also made note of some of the agents’ investigative techniques, which undoubtedly gave bootleggers in the county food for thought. The Cumberland Evening Times said that many bootleggers were being arrested on Sunday because they let the stills be idle during the week and worked them on the weekends. “The bootleggers appear to believe that the officers work only during the week, but the large squad stationed here make it possible for men to be on the job at all times,” the newspaper reported.
When the case came to trial the following May, Davis was released because there were not enough proof that he was the attackers, but the three moonshiners were given sentences of 3 to 6 months in the county jail. Some served time in the Allegany County jail, but when it was too crowded, other prisoners would be taken to the Garrett County jail in Oakland.