By Herb Dengler
Views -- Winter 1997
Illegal StillThe rainy-season streams that drain from the mountains into San Francisquito Creek bear the names of early settlers, or relate to some past event or circumstance. Each of the names that appear on maps of today are of the last century.
Alambique Creek, originally Arroyo del Alambique--Spanish for "still house creek"-- derives its name from an illegal still built on the creek in 1842 by Tom Bowen of San Jose. Nicholas "Cheyenne" Dawson, an overland immigrant, helped in the construction.
An Immediate SuccessThe still was an immediate success, due to the increase in settlement of the surrounding lands by sawyers-foreigners without permits or passports, living in the Santa Cruz Mountains and cutting the timber. Often sailors who had deserted, sawyers were a rough lot. The redwoods were open to any who chose to fell the immense trees and to dig a sawpit. Shingle cutting and splitting also was important. Money was scarce, but lumber and shingles were negotiable instruments. Sales of land and the payment of taxes and fines could be settled with board feet of lumber or numbers of shingles.
Target of the AuthoritiesAlthough the still had many a customer, it was a target of the authorities. In November of 1842, Antonio Suñol, the alcade or mayor of San Jose, sent a terse note to the justice of the peace. "I am aware that aguardiente de semillas (grain liquor) is being manufactured in the mountains. You know that this is prohibited and consequently there can be no license for it, and I have several times notified you to have it stopped." But this type of small-scale illegal activity was almost impossible to control, and in all likelihood, the operation of the still continued for some time.
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