Letter to the editor: History on the
prohibition era in Emery County
Emery County Progress of 03-24-09 carried a report of Emery County Historical Meeting giving their version of prohibition years in Emery County. I cannot say anything about Arnold Williams and his "stills" in the 1980's as I was not there.
However, I do know a bit of what happened in the late 1920's and early 1930's. My father, Jesse R.Nelson, was elected as Emery County Sheriff in 1926 at the age of 36 and was reported to be the youngest sheriff in the whole United States at that time. He was reelected in 1930 but chose not to run for reelection in 1934. This was a great relief to mother as many attempts were made upon his life before the repeal of the liquor prohibition law in 1933.
There was a great amount of beer being brewed across the entire county and he did what he could to control the problem. When he confiscated beer or whiskey it had to be stored at our home until he got a destroy order from the court.
The real problem was hard liquor distilleries located in the San Rafael Desert that were well hidden and well guarded. He was fortunate to have as his deputy Rod Swasey as he had good knowledge of the desert. The county sheriff of Carbon County, Marion Bliss, was faced with the same problems as in Emery County. There were areas such as Morland-Hiawatha and Price River bottoms where either sheriff might be called. To solve that jurisdictional problem, Bliss and his deputy were deputized to operate in Emery County if needed, likewise dad and his deputy were deputized into the Carbon County Sheriff department.
About 1930 some Chicago gangsters set up a distillery in the Price River Bottoms that reported to be a big operation. The sheriffs and deputies of both counties joined forces and went into the area on horseback. After dismounting they proceeded deeper into the area on foot. Fortunately for my father his deputy Swasey was following a short distance behind dad and could see that one of the gangsters was waiting to get a clear shot at dad. Swasey shot and killed the man. No others were killed in the raid. Back at home, mother was anxiously awaiting a telephone call from dad. It was evening before the call came. Mother took my brother Andrew and I with her and off we went to pick up dad in our old 1929 Ford car. As I recall it was quite a long bumpy ride before we arrived at a log home east of Cleveland. We entered the darkened home lighted by a single kerosene lantern. There were three or more men standing there. We were really glad to see dad and he was glad to see us. He threw his saddle into the back seat of the car and we went home.
There were other incidents where dad's life was on the line. Fortunately for his family he survived it all.