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  Tales from the Boozorium

In the early 1920s, the late Butch Carroll had an after-school job quite unlike any that could be imagined by today's teens.

From 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, Butch loaded and drove booze out of a southeastern Saskatchewan "boozorium", a liquor warehouse licensed to export spirits to neighboring provinces but used primarily to supply American rum runners during Prohibition.

In a video interview recorded by a third party years ago, Butch said he was paid 50 cents a day. His job included preparing the booze for transit by packing it into gunny sacks at the Bienfait boozorium, and shuttling it to the nearby border into the waiting arms of American rum runners. Butch's boss was American gangster "Doc' Riley.

The gangsters often chose older boys to drive the booze because the police were less likely to stop them.

"Doc used to say: 'Who's gonna stop a kid?' That's why he hired us. He always told us not to drive over 35 miles per hour 'cause it will draw attention."

Butch said Doc was a nice guy, but one you didn't want to cross.

"One time he took a notion he'd beat the hell out of a Mountie (policeman) with the spring from a car.

"Riley and the policeman were going to make a deal. Riley was supposed to be able to cross the border at this particular spot, in return for money.

"Doc thought this would be a good gesture: After they'd done the deal, he stopped to give the Mountie a drink. And after he did, the Mountie said: 'Well, you know, I have to do my duty. I'll have to take you in'."

Butch said Doc, who was sitting in his car at this point, pretended to take the double-cross in stride.

"He just turned his back to get out of the car and when he did, he had a leaf spring in his hand. He took the Mountie on the side of the head with it. And then he robbed him.''

Butch saw Doc only once after the beating episode.

"He was walking down the street in Bienfait. I went over and asked him if there was anything I could help him with, and he said he just wanted to see if the Mountie died.

"Doc was a little bit tougher an egg than the average guy."

The Mountie recovered, and Butch and a friend bought a couple of big "overland" cars with the intention of getting into the rum-running business in earnest.

'Dutch' Shultz

Butch knew a few other gangsters - 'Dutch' Schultz was seen at the Bienfait hotel - and most of the local rum runners. He also knew many tricks of the trade, like the one used by a Canadian and an American who owned identical Buicks.

"When they came to the border, they never bothered to switch liquor from one car to the other, they just switched licence plates."

Another take on the old "switcheroo" ploy was used with great success by "Timmy", another one of Butch's rum-running pals. Unbeknownst to most people in the region - including the police - Timmy owned two, identical cars. One was kept in the garage at home, and the other was hidden behind the well-camouflaged entrance to a dugout in the side of a nearby hill.

"If Timmy got in trouble with the police up in this neck of the woods, he'd make that car disappear into the side of that hill, take a broom and brush away all the tracks, put on a dressing gown, and come out to meet the police back at his house.

"Of course, he'd never show them the hot car that they'd been chasing. He'd show them the cool one that had been sitting there in the garage for five days."

Butch's bootlegging days were cut short by the one and only murder ever associated with Saskatchewan's illicit liquor business of the 1920s.

The victim was Paul Matoff, general manager of the Bienfait boozorium and the employee and brother in law of bootlegging kingpin Harry Bronfman.

Matoff was murdered with a 12-gauge shotgun on the night of Oct. 4, 1922. The shooting occurred near the Bienfait grain elevator as Matoff was making a sale to American rum runners. A Canadian and an American were charged with the murder, but both were acquitted.

"After Matoff got shot, the Canadian government turned ornery. That about tied things up.

"And we were hooked with a couple of automobiles."

Context for this story comes from James H. Gray's excellent book Booze: When Whiskey Ruled the West, published in 1972 by Fifth House Ltd., of Saskatoon. Sadly, the video interview with Butch Carroll is no longer available for viewing, according to a 2012 email from the Estevan National Exhibition Centre.

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