Thursday, March 30, 2023

KC’s Wiley Bros. Bet on “Fritz Spindle-Shanks”



At the end of the 19th Century when the Wiley Brothers, Harry and Ernest, entered the liquor trade, Kansas City, Missouri, already had dozens of similar houses selling whiskey.   How could they distinguish their business from this existing horde?  The Wileys decided that one strategy was to feature a hard-drinking raven known as “Fritz Spindle-Shanks” as a focus of their advertising.   They may have been unaware that they were tapping into the imagination of an artist, poet and author living far across the Atlantic Ocean in Germany.

He was Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908) who became famous for his picture stories executed through black and white wood and zinc engravings, many with short rhymed texts of his authorship.  Shown here, Busch is still widely known in Germany, especially for his children's stories.  Among them was “Hans Hucklebein,” below, where an out-of-control black bird first made an appearance.

Not long after its publication a printing firm saw the possibilities of rendering Busch’s creations in color, translating his verses into English, and producing a series of trade cards chronicling the rise and fall of Fritz.  They were offered for sale via a catalog to wholesale and retail enterprises.  The series proved popular, purchased by companies all over America, among them the Wiley Brothers.  My assumption is that Harry and Ernest gave away one or more of these cards with each liquor purchase. The objective was for customers to complete the series, as displayed here:

1.  Fritz Spindle-shanks The Raven Black, takes kindly to the applejack.

2.  Its taste is sweet, he thrusts his beak, into the liquor stiff and sleek.

3.  He takes a nip and with delight, it gurgles slowly out of sight.

4.  Immerse his beak again goes back, into the glass of applejack.

5.  The glass is raised, his spirit pains, to think that nothing more remains.

6.  Whew!  Whew!  He feels so very queer, with silly look and slinking leer.

7.  And screams with wild delight possessed, thus on three toes he blandly rests.

8.  But wantoness too often tends, to show the moral of such ends.

  9.  Thus roughly yanks with vulgar haste, these articles of female taste.

10.  He takes a flop and spindle shanks, will ne’re again renew his pranks.

Opened for business in 1887, Wiley Brothers moved frequently during its relatively short years in business, perhaps each time trying to tap into a larger customer base.  Their first location was 1002 Main Street, the address referenced on the Fritz series.  After two years, they moved to 220 West Fifth St.  Just two years later they moved again to 110-112 West Fifth.  Their marketing efforts continued to emphasize trade cards, epitomized by the portrait of a fetching little girl.  The Wiley’s also went upscale on their whiskey containers.  Below are two views of jugs that contained their blends.  These ceramics originated in Red Wing, Minnesota, some 350 miles north of Kansas City, and today are much prized by collectors.

Apparently neither trade cards nor attractive jugs could sustain Wiley Brothers against intense Kansas City competition.  The last business directory entry for the company was 1895.  Wiley Brothers whiskey house had lasted just nine years. Unfortunately I have been unable to obtain much personal information about Harry and Ernest.  They may have bachelors.  The brothers were recorded in 1891 as living together at 1324 Jefferson Street, now an address of a modern apartment building.  I am hopeful that a relative will see this post and help fill in personal details.

Note:  This post was made possible by the help of Dave Cheadle, a longtime colleague known widely as “The Trade Card Guy.”  Dave provided me with information and Internet sources that made possible this post after I had stumbled on the Wilhelm Busch-inspired series of cards.  In addition to Dave’s lively commerce in trade cards via the Internet, he maintains a retail presence in the historic Main Street District of Central City, Colorado.  The Dave Cheadle window booth and his “Central City Card Bar” inside the store contains exhibits and display for thousands of Victorian trade cards.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Bond and Lilliard, Kentucky Distillers — Revisited



Foreword:  On May 9, 2022, this website featured a post that celebrated the successful whiskey making partnership of brothers-in-law William F. Bond and Christopher C. Lillard in Anderson County, Kentucky.  At that time, it was evident that some Internet sources about the Bond family as distillers contained misinformation.  Subsequently a descendant, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been in touch with me about those errors.  The informant, whom I shall call “BD” for Bond Descendant, also has added interesting new information about this prominent distilling clan.  As a result I am devoting this post to BD’s commentary and suggest it be read along with the original article.


BD at the outset straightens out Bond family early relationships, beginning with William, who may or may not have operated a still, through the life of  his son, John, a known distiller:

Original pioneer William Bond was the Revolutionary War veteran so often referred to who travelled to Kentucky (circa 1785) from Hanover County, Virginia to claim his land grant awarded for his war service on Bailey’s Run in what is now Anderson County (Lawrenceburg), Kentucky.  After his first wife, Sarah Ballou, died in Virginia, he later married Sarah Cranson Bond of neighboring Woodford County, KY in December of 1790. 

William and Sarah Bond’s son, John, was operating his first distillery near Bailey’s Run by 1810.  This distillery was sold by John’s sons around 1850 to Jeff Mountjoy. (John had died in 1842. He was only 51 years old). This distillery was sold again and became the Waterfill and Frazier Distillery, which was eventually sold to the Dowlings, who moved it to Juarez, Mexico during Prohibition. 

John Bond’s first wife was Mary “Polly” Johnson.  John married his second wife Sarah (Sallie) Utterback after Mary died at only 29-30 years of age in 1825.  There were four children born to that first marriage of John and Polly Bond:  David, who was born in 1814; Melinda in 1816; John Wilkerson “Wix” in 1820 (my great-great grandfather); and Medley Shelton in 1822.  

After John’s second marriage to Sarah (Sallie) Utterback that took place in September of 1825, William Franklin Bond (namesake of his pioneer grandfather) was born in 1826.  Ben Jordan followed in 1829; then Lewis in 1833. Four more daughters completed the Bond family:  Eliza Jane in 1835; Frances in 1837;  Susan Margaret in 1840, and Sarah Elizabeth in 1842. 

John Bond's second distillery was operating in the vicinity of Bailey’s Run by 1820.  In 1836 John moved it close to his home (called Forest Hill) on the banks of Cedar Brook. 

BD now takes the story to a third generation of Bonds as they continued the family distilling tradition:

John Bond died intestate in October of 1842. Court appointed overseers divided the estate among John’s 11 children, with the two eldest males, David and John Wilkerson, inheriting the house, surrounding acreage and the still.  The remaining 9 children received parcels of land. David and John W. made improvements to both the still and the house and eventually clad the existing log structure in white clapboard and added the two story Greek Revival portico that still to this day adorns the front of the home.  They also added at least one cabin to the grounds; most likely to house the enslaved. 

John W. Bond sold his interest in Forest Hill (house, land and still) to brother David on May 30th, 1845 for $335.  John “Wix” and his wife, Margaret Penney Bond, then headed to what is  now known as the Bond’s Mill/Fox Creek Road area and built a two story clapboard home on their newly purchased farm. 

BD records the ascendancy of William F. Bond as the ultimate successor of his father to the Bond distillery:

David continued making improvements to the Bond Forest Hill property and then in February of 1852, David sold the still, house and grounds to his young half brother, William F. Bond, for $1,650.  William F. would have been 25 years old at that time and had married Susan (not Sarah) Mary Hanks, daughter of Turner and Nancy Holman Hanks.  (Incidentally, William F.’s older half brother, Medley Shelton Bond, married Mary Jane Hanks, the sister of William F’s wife, Susan). So sisters married brothers.

William F. later added the east wing to the existing structure of the house.  This addition completed the home to the structure that exists today (a picture of this home is posted in your blog).  After David and his wife, Lucy, sold Forest Hill to William F, they also headed to the area that is now known as Bonds Mill Road. David purchased and operated the mill located at Salt River, and also built a large brick home up on the hill just past the west bank of the river.  David and his family ran the mill for several generations—thus the area became known as Bond’s Mill Road. 

There are numerous indications that David and John Wilkerson were still involved in the operation of the Bond distillery even after David sold to his younger brother. Family documents exist that show contracts for future delivery of Bond brand bourbon written by John Wilkerson Bond (“Wix”) in 1856, and grain for the local distilleries was also ground at David’s mill. 

BD introduces William’s brother-in-law, Christopher C. Lillard, who has joined the Bond distilling operation as a full partner:

William F. Bond brought his brother in law, C. C. Lillard, into the distillery as partner in 1869.  This was the birth of the Bond & Lillard brand.  Incidentally (or not), 1869 is also the year that David Bond died.  1869 was a horrific year for the extended Bond family. Mother/step mother Sallie Utterback Bond, brothers Ben Jordan and David Bond, John Wix’s daughter, Malinda Bond Hackley, and her infant daughter, all died within just months of each other.  

Contrary to popular but misguided assumptions, the Bond and Lillard Distillery has NEVER been located on Bonds Mill Road.  There have been other Bond family distilleries located there, such as the M.S. Bond Distillery that is now Four Roses, as well as the post Prohibition Bonds Mill Distillery, later known as the Bond & Johnson Distillery (owned by Robert E. Johnson—great grandson of John Bond) and his father Jesse M. Johnson, but the Bond and Lillard Distillery was never located there.  From the time it was moved from Baileys Run in 1836 until local operations ceased, the Bond and Lillard Distillery was always located at the end of Bond Lillard Road, just past the Forest Hill estate (now privately owned property). 

BD concludes by clarifying the background of an ad for the Nancy Hanks whiskey brand that appeared in my original article, the image repeated below: 

Now, in reference to the John Bond & Co. Distillery advertisement you posted in reference to the Nancy Hanks brand—yes, this is the same extended Hanks family that produced the mother of Abraham Lincoln. Lots of families in Lawrenceburg have blood connections to Abraham Lincoln, including Yours Truly through Lincoln’s Abbott/White great grandparents.  The Hanks and Sparrow surnames are numerous and common in Lawrenceburg, both dating back to pioneer days.  In this case, however, I believe (if I’m not mistaken and I just cannot find my records where I came across this), I do believe that this particular distillery with the Bond name but based in Lexington was born from a descendant of William F.’s half brother, Medley Shelton Bond.  I just can’t remember which one it was.  

This bourbon was most likely a triple play on the Nancy Hanks name. Nancy Hanks, the mother of Abraham Lincoln, had a champion harness trotter horse named after her as pictured on the label.  Nancy Hanks was also the name of a Bond maternal grandmother (Nancy Holman Hanks, to be specific). 

Note:  My gratitude goes to the Bond Descendant who has added so much rich detail to the Bond and Lilliard story and helped straighten out details of the Bond family that have too often been garbled on the Internet.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Preachers As Whiskey Men

Foreword:  Given the leadership of Protestant clergy in the movement to halt the making and sales of alcoholic beverages in the United State, it may come as a surprise that a few preachers were themselves distillers of whiskey.  Following are vignettes of three such men, including one whose name today appears on a national selling brand.

Corn liquor distilled in central Virginia about 1620 has been cited as the first whiskey ever made in North America, sometimes hailed as “a predecessor to modern-day bourbon.”  The distiller was George Thorpe (1576-1622), who came to the New World from England with the objective of converting the indigenous population to Christianity.  It cost him his life.

Trained in British law and, by some accounts, an ordained priest of the Anglican Church, Thorpe arrived in The New World in March 1620. His contacts and reputation earned him immediate recognition as a leader at the Berkeley Hundred, a Virginia settlement on the James River.  The newly arrived Englishman put his efforts toward making Berkeley function agriculturally.  The colonists having been introduced to corn by the Indians, he looked to make the crop potable.  Earlier settlers providently had brought a copper still.  Thorpe set about to turn corn into alcohol.  In December 1620 he wrote a friend:  “Wee have found a waie to make soe good drink of Indian corn I have divers times refused to drink good stronge English beare and chose to drinke that.”   Those spirits would have been clear in color and more akin to “moonshine” or “white lightening”  than contemporary whiskey. 

Thorpe also was charged with converting the Indians to Christianity. He seemed to score an early success when a chief of the Powhatan tribe named Opechancanough (meaning “Soul of White”) agreed to meet with him.  The Indian seemed welcoming and open to converting to Christianity. Far from conversion, however, Opechancanough was the leading tribal voice for expelling white men from Native American territory. On the night of March 22, 1622, the Indians struck in a coordinated attack against English settlements along the James.  An estimated 347 men, women and children were slaughtered.   Among them was George Thorpe, apparently the object of particular fury, his mutilated body parts found strewn widely over the bloody ground.


Anointing Thorpe as America’s first distiller seems reasonable, since he apparently was the first to write about it.  Whether his product is to be considered the forerunner of modern day whiskey requires examination.  Author Patrick Evans-Hylton makes the case that Thorpe’s “corn beer” was a predecessor of bourbon.  He cites an 1634 inventory of Thorpe’s estate in which a copper still with three small barrels of liquor were found, opened and drunk.  At that point the contents had aged at least 12 years and likely had achieved some color from the wood.  No longer just “moonshine,” the color of Thorpe’s spirits might have resembled bourbon even if the taste almost certainly did not.


Elijah Craig (1738-1808) was born in Orange County, Virginia.  From his boyhood he displayed unusual intellectual gifts, with a strong streak of religiosity.  Virginia was state where all residents were required by law to tithe to the Anglican Church and attend Anglican worship at least once a month.  The official faith was deemed by elite Virginians as essential element of the Commonwealth’s social structure.  Other theological ideas were in the air, however, with Baptists considered by many to be particularly dangerous.

Nevertheless,  Craig was drawn to Baptist beliefs and in the mid-1860s began to hold meetings in his tobacco barn.  In 1866, along with other family members, he was formally baptized.  Full of fervor, he began to preach even though still a layman, resulting in his being jailed in Fredericksburg for several weeks for preaching without a license.  Ordained in 1771 Craig became the pastor of a small Virginia church.  Unwilling to submit to obtaining a license, he was jailed several more times.  Following the American Revolution,  Craig pulled up stakes in Orange County and led his congregation west to the newly formed “Kentucky County” in western Virginia.   There he purchased 1,000 acres of land where he planned and laid out a town.

About 1789, Craig took his place in whiskey history by building a distillery, making use of the cold stream of pure water coming from a local spring, giving rise to a legend that the preacher “invented” bourbon.  At the time, however, dozens of small farmer-distillers west of the Alleghenies were making whiskey from corn that some called “bourbon” to distinguish it from the rye whiskies coming from Pennsylvania and Maryland.  

Nonetheless, the legend prevailed, repeated over and over.  Whiskey guru Michael Veach has a plausible suggestion of how the Elijah Craig story got started: “He was an early Kentucky preacher and he was a distiller, and that is why in the 1870s when the distilling industry was fighting the temperance movement, they decided to proclaim him the father of bourbon. They thought, well, let’s make a Baptist preacher the father of bourbon, and let the temperance people deal with that.”  

Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, Kentucky, is happy to perpetuate the bourbon legend.  Elijah Craig bourbon whiskey is made in both 12-year-old "Small Batch" and 18-year-old "Single Barrel" formats. The latter is touted by the distillery as "The oldest Single Barrel Bourbon in the world at 18 years ….” It is  said to be aged in hand selected oak barrels that lose nearly 2⁄3 of their contents through evaporation, known as the “Angel’s share.”  Needless to say, Preacher Craig’s whiskey is pricey.


A Civil War soldier, farmer, store keeper, and lay preacher of the conservative Union Lutheran Church in Lois, Tennessee, Daniel Houston Call (1836-1904)  might have fallen into the obscurity that history accords most of us, except for one decision.  Faced with the question of hiring and harboring a 16-year-old orphan boy of uncommonly small stature, Dan Call said yes and the rest is history.  The boy was Jack Daniels.

To feed and clothe his large family Call could rely in part on profits from a distillery he had built behind his general store before riding off to fight for the Confederacy.  The still apparently had been left idle during the Civil War but the machinery was still intact.  The facility was conveniently located on Louse (aka “Stillwater”) Creek, an odd name for a pristine stream that gushed from springs in a nearby glade.  The water maintained an ideal temperature and flowed in a stream a few yards from the Call homestead. With the abundance of corn grown on the family farm and some expertise at distilling, the prospects for a “cash cow” were evident.

A problem stemmed from diffidence on the part of Call.  He had become a lay preacher in a rural Lutheran Church not far from his home, a rustic house of worship. Lutherans were known to be ambivalent about alcohol. This same uncertainty seems to have infected Call.  Although his distillery was making whiskey and he was selling it, he forbade drinking on his farm or in his general store.  As Lutheran churches increasingly went “dry,” Call decided that soon he would have to give up making whiskey or lose his ministry.

While Call had been away at war, his wife had hired an orphan boy named Jack Daniels to help her with the farm and general store.  Call let Jack stay on.  Although raised a Baptist, Daniels had no compunctions about alcohol.  He was drawn to the distillery.  In his biography of Daniels, Author Peter Krass observes:  “As young Jack mulled over the contraption, he quickly grasped that whiskey was a means to escaping poverty.  He determined to learn the noble art of distilling.”   Faced with vigorous importuning from young Daniels, Call instructed his African-American former slave and master distiller, “Uncle” Nearis Green, to teach the boy all he knew about making whiskey.  And the rest is history.

Notes:  Longer pieces on each of the preacher “whiskey men” may be found elsewhere on this website:  George Thorpe, October 28, 2021;  Elijah Craig, November 30, 2021; and Dan Call, Novmber 14, 2021.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Rhombergs: Dubuque’s Dynasty of Drink

When Franz “Frank” Rhomberg arrived in the United States in 1889, he headed directly to Dubuque, Iowa, where other members of the Rhomberg clan of Dornbirn, Austria, had settled years earlier.   Among them was a Rhomberg whose reputation had been tarnished 13 years earlier in a headline-making scandal over the distiller’s cheating on taxes from making whiskey.  Undeterred by this family disgrace, Frank, shown here, and other Rhombergs earned straight reputations in the liquor trade and were recognized as eminent citizens of Dubuque.

What initially drew the Rhombergs to Dubuque goes unexplained.  It may have been the city’s heavily German Catholic character.   An internet site on the diaspora of Dornbirn residents lists three towns,  two in Germany and “Dubuque” with an asterisk and “U.S.”  Among the first Rhombergs to settle in Dubuque was Joseph, who arrived in 1854.   Shown here, this immigrant prospered right from the beginning.  Within a decade he had built and operated a distillery that boasted sixteen fermenting tubs, each with a capacity of 300 barrels.  When working at full capacity, Joseph’s distillery could mash 1,000 bushels of grain a day.

Unfortunately, Joseph apparently had a propensity to cheat.  In 1876 the U.S. Government sued the J.A. Rhomberg Company for $755,000, claiming that Joseph’s enterprise had distilled 9,000 to 10,000 barrels of whiskey upon which it had paid no revenue.  The Rhomberg distillery was seized.  The story made headline news all over Iowa and well beyond.  Claiming innocence Joseph fought the charges vigorously in the courts.  The United State Circuit Court in Des Moines, however, ultimately found him guilty and fined him $103,000 (equivalent to $2.8 million today). The Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Green B. Raum, told reporters:  “There is no doubt as to the justice of the government’s contentions.”  Joseph subsequently turned the distillery into a flour mill.

Still rich from investments in the railway industry and real estate in Iowa and Texas, Joseph sought to redeem his reputation and the Rhomberg name by gifts to the community.  He designated a 95 acre parcel of land for a public park that eventually would bear his name.  On a street leading to the park, Joseph planted and cared for a line of towering elm trees.  When drought threatened, he is said to personally have watered the trees from a specially constructed cart pulled by his horse and buggy.  Joseph also announced plans to use several hundred acres he owned four miles north of Dubuque as a vacation resort for the working classes to be called “Lakeview."  Many in the city were willing to believe Joseph innocent.

Meanwhile a second family member, was forging his own way in Dubuque’s liquor 

trade.  He was Libertat A. Rhomberg who had established the wholesale wine and liquor firm of L.A. Rhomberg & Bro. in 1864.  This company about 1880 became Jaeger and Rhomberg when Libertat joined with his brother-in-law Adam Jaeger in a wholesale house, shown here, located at 453-465 Main Street.  [See post on Jaeger July 6, 2019.]

In 1889 Liberat left this partnership and opened his own wholesale liquor business at 531 Main.  Two years later his son, L.A. Rhomberg Jr., known as “Ollie,” joined the company.  It subsequently was renamed L.A. Rhomberg and Son.  These Rhombergs featured a variety of whiskey brands, including  “Rhomberg's Private Stock,”  “Beaver Run,”  ”L.A. Rhomberg's Sour Mash,” “Silver Spring,” “Rhomberg Club,” and “The Celebrated Pride,” The senior Rhomberg retired about 1900 and Ollie, shown here, kept the liquor house operating until 1906.

Meanwhile Frank Rhomberg had moved temporarily to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he worked two years in a furniture store owned by a relative.  About 1891, he moved back to Dubuque and like other Rhombergs was drawn to the liquor trade, working for his uncle, Libertat, as a traveling salesman.  After nine years at that occupation, when apparently it became clear to Frank that Ollie, not he, would be the inheritor of L.A. Rhomberg Company, he determined to strike out on his own.

About 1900 Frank formed a partnership with his younger sibling Alphonse J. called the Rhomberg Brothers Company, a wholesale liquor house.  They were not distillers but “rectifiers” who blended whiskey from manufacturers in the Midwest and beyond.  Dubuque’s position as a railroad center made it possible for the brothers to access stocks even from a distance.  They featured a number of proprietary brands, including “Key City Club” a reference to Dubuque as a key gateway to the pioneer West.  As shown here, the brand was sold as both sour mash bourbon and straight whiskey.

Other Rhomberg Brothers brands were “Thornwick Rye,” “Thornwick High Grade Rye,”  “Thornwick Blend,” “Ben Hur Whiskey,” “Rhomberg Pride,” and “Ben Hur Whiskey Blend.” Documents indicate the brothers registered the trademarks for both Thornwick and Ben Hur in 1905.  They also issued advertising shot glasses for those labels. 
The shots would have been given to the saloons, restaurants and hotels carrying their liquor.


Although at the repeal of National Prohibition the U.S. Congress mandated that fancy “back of the bar” bottles were no longer legal alcohol containers, the result of their pre-Prohibition rampant misuse, whiskey wholesalers of the Rhomberg’s era were almost obliged to offer them as give-away items to customers.   Frank and Alphonse were no exceptions.  Shown here are two of their offerings advertising Key City Club Whiskey.  Perhaps the most unusual item gifted by the 

Rhombergs was a cigar case advertising “Rhomberg Pride” whiskey.

As Frank was maintaining the Rhomberg liquor dynasty in Dubuque, he was also having a personal life.  At age 25, he married a local woman, Mary H, Altman, 23.  They would have two children before Mary’s untimely death at 38 in 1907.  Three years later Frank remarried.  His bride was Minnie Bertha Kruse.  The couple would have an additional three children. Frank housed his family in a prominent Queen Anne architectural home at 2500 Broadway.

When Iowa in 1916 passed laws banning all alcohol sales, Frank was quick to pivot to other enterprises.  He founded and became president and CEO of the Dubuque Tanning and Robe Company, an organization that later became the Rhomberg Fur Company, an enterprise that recently celebrated 100 years in business.  Frank died in 1919 and was buried in Dubuque’s Catholic Mt. Calvary Cemetery where many of the Rhomberg clan are interred.

Beginning with Joseph in 1864 and ending with statewide prohibition, the Rhombergs from Dornbirn had been involved in making and selling whiskey in Dubuque for more than half a century.  In their efforts they successfully unlocked the doors to wealth and recognition in the “Key City.”  Today Rhomberg Street in Dubuque keeps alive the memory of this distilling dynasty.

Notes:  Although this post relied on a number of sources, an essential resource was the Encyclopedia Dubuque that contained biographical material on each of the Rhomberg whiskey men.  This excellent online research tool is affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.   To quote a CNN authority:  "Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”