Gentlemen Bootleggers: The True Story of Templeton Rye, Prohibition, and a Small Town in Cahoots

Gentlemen Bootleggers: The True Story of Templeton Rye, Prohibition, and a Small Town in Cahoots

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 1613735227

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

During Prohibition, while Al Capone was rising to worldwide prominence as Public Enemy Number One, the townspeople of rural Templeton, Iowa—population just 428—were busy with a bootlegging empire of their own. Led by Joe Irlbeck, the whip-smart and gregarious son of a Bavarian immigrant, the outfit of farmers, small merchants, and even the church monsignor worked together to create a whiskey so excellent it was ordered by name: "Templeton rye."

Just as Al Capone had Eliot Ness, Templeton’s bootleggers had as their own enemy a respected Prohibition agent from the adjacent county named Benjamin Franklin Wilson. Wilson was ardent in his fight against alcohol, and he chased Irlbeck for over a decade. But Irlbeck was not Capone, and Templeton would not be ruled by violence like Chicago.

Gentlemen Bootleggers tells a never-before-told tale of ingenuity, bootstrapping, and perseverance in one small town, showcasing a group of immigrants and first-generation Americans who embraced the ideals of self-reliance, dynamism, and democratic justice. It relies on previously classified Prohibition Bureau investigation files, federal court case files, extensive newspaper archive research, and a recently disclosed interview with kingpin Joe Irlbeck. Unlike other Prohibition-era tales of big-city gangsters, it provides an important reminder that bootlegging wasn’t only about glory and riches, but could be in the service of a higher goal: producing the best whiskey money could buy.



















did it, as he did all things, with more vim and vitriol than anyone else. He began promoting Liberty Bonds at the pulpit—demanding that his congregants either purchase them or stay away from his tabernacle. And he decided that if America was God’s chosen country—and to Sunday, America was God’s chosen country—then Germany must be the domain of the devil. The Kaiser and the Huns became Satan incarnate, and he spared them no consideration, even going so far as to state, in a prayer before the

dealers and mechanics to retrofit and keep their vehicles well maintained for the rigors of high-speed rum-running. They needed friends in public office to keep the local law enforcement away, and they, of course, needed workers to run the stills, bottle the whiskey, and transport it to buyers. As the rye industry took off, nearly every household in Templeton was involved in some aspect of its production. Whiskey making so permeated the city, even some of the children knew what was going on: one

gone with a feeling of disgust, ready to challenge anything he said that they thought was too far out of line. The most striking sight was not the swelling crowd, nor, certainly, Lowe himself, who was never famous and never would be, but the pointy white hoods that stuck above the throng like beacons. Milling about, standing in groups close to where Lowe would speak, the men under the shrouds that draped down past their knees constituted a shallow mystery: no one knew exactly who they were, but

on the farm of Max Kastl near Templeton. There Kastl had built a thirty-gallon still below ground, and kept the tanks and condensing coil cool with a steady stream of chilled water from a large, elevated tank erected nearby—saving the still operator from having to haul water in whenever he needed to distill off another run of liquor or mix up another batch of mash. Someone in the party remarked that it was the most complete distillery ever found in Iowa, by which he apparently meant it nearly

no more important function, except in the emergency of war, than to enforce the revenue laws, and if the time ever comes when people will pay taxes only when the government seeks to find out what they owe, or when it begins an investigation of their affairs to determine their tax, the government will fail, and organized society will revert to the days of the jungle, where every man will be for himself,” he said. For their part, Capone’s lawyers accused the government of going after Capone purely

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