Cow Shoes that Moonshiners used to hide their footprints, 1924

Cow shoes being worn by an American police officer to show the tools that moonshiners use in order to hide their footprints, 1924.
Cow shoes used by moonshiners during the Prohibition Era to hide their footprints, June 18th, 1924. Library of Congress // Public Domain

Prohibition in America lasted from 1919-1933 banning all things booze. This strict commitment to preventing such a widespread part of culture and American life, was of course met with staunch opposition from the historic moonshiners who were continually crafting devious schemes to evade the strict crackdown from the cops. In order to achieve this, they used these funky contraptions shown in the picture above. Known as Cow Shoes, these were hoof attachments you could position on the bottom of your normal shoes using metal wire. Supposedly taken from an original idea in Sherlock Holmes, whereby the villain used this notion of fake tracks to underhand the protagonist.

Upon first viewing, you would presume these platforms were relics from either an 80s disco dance floor or a small man trying to steal a few inches. But this unassuming piece of attire has more to it than meets the eye. This ingenious equipment was not made from actual cow hooves, rather they were wood sculpted into cattle hooves shapes and attached to the bottom of moonshiners boots. 

Pictured here, an American police officer sports the confiscated pair of ‘Cow Shoes’ once they had sussed these sagacious Moonshiners. This 1924 snap, taken during the height of the Prohibition Era, perfectly displays the levels of ingenuity these criminals were willing to go to evade the authorities. The notion behind this piece of kit was simple, to swap human boot tracks with the more camouflaged cow hoof. Instead of attracting police attention to the sites through human footprints, by using these shoes the moonshiners could disguise their tracks from police attention. This was made easy by being a simple attachment to normal shoes, they could be easily transported, put on, and taken off.

A side angle of the Cow Shoes used by moonshiners to disguise their footprints from the police, June 28th, 1924.
A side angle of the Cow Shoes used by moonshiners to disguise their footprints from the police, June 28th, 1924. Library of Congress // Public Domain

The shoes allowed moonshiners to continue their lucrative trade with peace from the police. They erected their stills in secluded areas – such as swamps or woodland – far from public sight, but by following footprints the police remained on top of the stills and continued to expose this underground trade. However, by erasing human foot tracks, less suspicion would arise. Instead, blending their footprints with cow hooves so as to put the cops off the scent and allow for these moonshiners to continue brewing their whiskey-esque liquor in peace from any raids. These cunning brewers could easily ‘moo-ve’ out the cops’ trail (oh c’mon it had to be done!). 

However, it wouldn’t take long for the cops to catch onto this ploy. In fact, as early as 1922, there were reports from the Evening Independent – a Florida newspaper – documenting this trickery and exposing it. It seems these inventive crooks would need to come up with a new ruse in order to continue trading moonshine and providing the lucrative liquor to the rest of the country whilst evading the wrath of the authorities.


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One Response

  1. Were these common, as the text suggests, or was this a one-of-a-kind item? The Library of Congess source doesn’t say where these shoes were found.

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