Hoofing It

From 1920 through 1933, the sale, manufacturing, and/or transportation of alcohol was unlawful in the United States. This period, best known as Prohibition, sprouted a black market run by organized crime, selling illicit homemade alcohol known as moonshine. Moonshiners were often sought after by law enforcement. But this was during a time period well before criminals (and everyone else, for that matter) left digital paper trails leading to their current location. At the time, American society was still very agrarian — for example, the last working farm in Manhattan, seen here, closed in the early 1930s.

A lot of times, authorities had to track the alleged criminals by foot. So to avoid capture, some moonshiners changed their shoes. Specifically, they put on cow shoes, like the ones seen below, via the New Yorker.

A 1922 article from a now-defunct St. Petersburg, Florida newspaper called the Evening Independent described their use

The cow shoe is a strip of metal to which is tacked a wooden block carved to resemble the hoof of a cow, which may be strapped to the human foot. A man shod with a pair of them would leave a trail resembling that of a cow.

The ruse was discovered in Tampa when one runaway moonshiner accidentally left his behind, somehow. As the Evening Independent noted, officials believed that the cow shoe was inspired by a villain from the Sherlock Holmes universe. As the blog TYWKIWDBI discovered, in “The Adventures of Priory School” (available free, here) the villain outfitted his horse with faux cow hooves in order to avoid detection.


Bonus fact: Cows can be used illegally. “Cow Chip Bingo” is a game of chance where a numbered grid is drawn on a field and a cow is left to roam the area. Contestants each buy a numbered box, typically with the lion’s share of the revenue going to charity. The rest of the money? That’s determined by wherever the cow does its business, so to speak. If the cow “goes” in your box, you win the pot.

As this can be considered gambling, some jurisdictions regulate the game. For example, in 2011, in the closing days of the legislative session, the Connecticut state government debated how to best handle the game. They ended up requiring that the organizer of a cow chip bingo event fill out a form (see page four of this .pdf file) in order to obtain a license for the game. Some things organizers need to tell the state: the “dimensions of the cow-chip raffle land area,” whether the plots will be numbered consecutively, and whether each plot is the same size.

From the ArchivesLiquor, Sicker: Another tale from Prohibition.

RelatedCow shoes, of course. (Fleeing from the law while wearing these is not advised.)