The productions and consumption of alcoholic beverages has always been a part of Napa County living, regardless of their legality. During this long history, especially during Prohibition, the local newspaper coverage of these libations and lifestyle ranged from tragic to sensational in sentiment and subject.
During the first eight years of Prohibition, 1920-1928, bootlegged alcohol caused more than just criminal records for offenders of the law. Tragically, at least 1,565 Americans had died from drinking bad liquor, and hundreds more Americans were blinded as a result of drinking toxic brews. Also, other Americans were killed in “bootleg wars.”
Locally, bootlegged or lethal concoctions claimed lives of Napa County residents, too. In 1930, two Veteran Home residents died from drinking denatured alcohol.
The first death caused by a toxic brew was reported in a July 1921 Napa Daily Journal article. Its headline read, “Home Brew Caused Death.” The article continued, “Emmet Delgazio, a well-known resident of this city (Napa), died at his home, 122 N. Main Street, at 11:45 p.m. Thursday. Death was due, stated Dr. Bulson, who attended the man, to drinking a home brew of the meat of apricot pits, several days before.”
Delgazio left behind his wife and their five children, ages 14 to 2 years old. The Journal added, “It is said, the family is left in destitute circumstances.”
Other local “hooch” makers were more fortunate in that they were still alive. But, many faced another type of severe consequence for their illegal actions. “Palmer Dealt With Bootleggers Tuesday,” The Journal reported. “A large number of alleged ‘bootleggers’ appeared for a preliminary hearing before U.S. Commissioner James M. Palmer, at his chambers in this city (Napa), Tuesday afternoon, having been gathered in raids made during the past few days by law enforcement officers attached to the office of Prohibition Director of San Francisco, in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties.”
The defendants were cited en masse and then ordered to reappear individually before Palmer at a later date. The Journal added, “They each furnished a bond for their appearance in the sum of $500 (a considerable sum of money in 1921).” The Journal also noted, the individual cases were quickly processed with a 100-percent conviction rate.
A couple of years later, one bootlegger in particular garnered considerable attention from the local law, press and public. Her name was Mrs. M.F. Evits.
An October 1923 Journal article reported, “Proceeding by automobile into the vicinity of the Oat Hill mine yesterday, Sheriff J.R. Harris, Under Sheriff Jack Steckter and Deputy Sheriff Ramon Asedo swooped down upon an illicit distillery, seized two stills and 20-gallons of the sure enough ‘old white mule.’”
All of the confiscated equipment was brought back to Napa, but no arrests were made during the raid because of the question of jurisdiction. Napa County District Attorney Thomas C. Anglim had to clarify whether Lake or Napa County possessed the legal power to prosecute. A few days later, it was decided the case belonged to Lake County.
The Journal continued, “The raid was made on what is known as the Evits place. Part of the ranch is in Napa County and part is in Lake County.” Mrs. M.F. Evits and her sons were eventually arrested, tried and convicted for their illegal operation. These legal actions generated considerable attention and unwanted notoriety, especially for Mrs. Evits. The Journal added, “The raid is the first in this county in which a woman has been found to be an owner and operator of liquor manufacturing equipment.”
Life in Napa County during Prohibition was far from quiet and mundane.