3: Diplomatic Scenes in Southern Locales
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Smuggling certainly was not a new activity in the Caribbean. The early history of the
Caribbean basin recalls seventeenth-century buccaneers, the slave trade, and the presence
of European navies. Rum played an important role in one of the triangular trades--with
molasses and slaves--that flourished between the Caribbean, New England, and Africa in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the twentieth century, the Caribbean again served
as an illicit distribution hub for distilled spirits and narcotics.
Much of the Caribbean fell under U.S. economic domination by
the early twentieth century. The economies of Mexico, Cuba, and Central America
subsequently came to depend on U.S. markets to help fuel local business growth and
development. In several instances, the U.S. decision to invoke national prohibition jarred
the economies of rum exporting areas in the Caribbean. For centuries, Cubans had diverted
some of the island's enormous sugar production to the manufacture of alcohol from
molasses. Until prohibition, Cuban rum production served as one of the principal
industries of the island. Milling and
grinding one ton of sugar became forty gallons of molasses, from which sixteen gallons of
alcohol could be distilled. Between 1912-16, Cuban alcohol exports from molasses
distillations increased dramatically from $52,000 annually to $1.8 million. In 1919,
Cuba's sugar crop totaled around four million tons, which farmers and producers sought to
market in the United States.
Whiskey served as another Caribbean export prior to the
enactment of prohibition. The whiskey trade from Mexico numbered 610,687 gallons from
1904-20, or 38,167 gallons annually; collective exports from the Central American
republics totaled 164,767 aggregate gallons, or about 10,300 gallons annually; Cuba,
meanwhile, shipped 342,239 gallons of whiskey northward, including 324,581 gallons in 1920
alone. As expected, upon enactment of
prohibition these exports fell to virtually zero. Thus, with perhaps their largest market
blocked by legislation, Caribbean sugar producers and distillers could not resist the
financial lure of moving their alcoholic production into the smuggling networks.
By December 1922, U.S. Customs identified numerous Caribbean
ports from where distilled alcohol moved to the Gulf Coast, particularly near New Orleans.
Customs officials believed that they seized only ten percent of the liquor entering the
United States illegally. Not surprisingly, the huge volume that escaped the Customs' drag
net encouraged more participants to enter the smuggling business.
Underworld characters in New Orleans, New York and Chicago
orchestrated much of the U.S.-Caribbean smuggling trade and used strategic points along
the Gulf Coast to land and subsequently move contraband inland. The loading and
transportation of distilled spirits was also highly organized. In many instances, trades
commenced only after the parties exchanged coded greetings or correspondence. Once a
schooner or steamship dispensed its cargo, the vessel headed back to its Caribbean port.
In some cases, resupplying a rumrunner did not necessarily
involve a voyage back to port. A second vessel, sometimes a steamship, might clear a Latin
American port "in ballast," or without any trading cargo, destined for a Gulf
Coast port. The steamship, meanwhile, picked up liquor at another foreign port and
resupplied the rum ship anchored off the Gulf Coast before proceeding into New Orleans or
some other port--again with only stabilizing ballast as cargo and proved by the ship's
Between 1920-25, Cuban and Bahamian ports meted out a sizable
share of the illicit liquor volume in the Gulf of Mexico. By 1923, scores of boats plied
routes between Havana and the mouth of the Mississippi River. Once liquor was loaded the
unit price increased from $2 per quart--the price a rumrunner paid in Havana--to $3 a
quart. Whenever possible Coast Guard cutters
shadowed the rumrunners along the U.S. southern coastline. Alcohol trafficking, however,
continued mostly unabated in the Gulf of Mexico, which eventually sparked U.S. government
calls for smuggling agreements with its Caribbean neighbors and demands for a new Coast
Guard base at New Orleans to bolster existing bases at Mobile and Galveston.
Up until the mid-twenties, the Cuban-Florida-Gulf of Mexico
region served as a haven for alcohol traffickers and eventually drew U.S. attention toward
its friendly neighbor. U.S. officials convened a series of meetings with Cuban authorities
in Havana to blunt liquor and alien smuggling emanating from the island. The two countries
signed a preventive smuggling accord in April 1926, in which Cuba agreed to grant U.S.
inspectors authority to board any private vessel flying the Cuban flag outside U.S.
territorial waters if U.S. authorities suspected contraband trafficking. Similar to the Anglo-American treaty of 1924, the U.S.
government agreed to respect Cuba's foreign liquor trade, which included allowing
sealed-liquor to pass through U.S. waters and ports provided the cargo was destined for a
The U.S.-Cuban pact represented one of only a few
anti-smuggling agreements that produced positive results, according to U.S. officials. In
fact, prohibition authorities contended the Cuban treaty worked so well that, combined
with beefed-up U.S. forces in the Gulf of Mexico, "practically no smuggling"
from Cuba occurred by fiscal year 1930. A
key element was Cuba's success in ferreting out unauthorized radio users and equipment
from within its borders. The crackdown played a significant role in disrupting
communications between the Cuban-U.S. liquor rings. Still, the Cuban-American syndicates exhibited creative--and in one
instance a macabre--talent for smuggling liquor. One case involved a group of American
smugglers operating out of Cuba who used the bones of animals shipped as containers for
contraband liquor. Smugglers sanitized the hollow parts of bone cavities and filled the
marrow spaces with liquor and drugs. This practice was quite successful until some of the
liquor leaked from the bones and Customs officials discovered the scheme.
U.S. diplomats and enforcers of prohibition had more than Cuba
to handle. The Bahamas, Belize, Honduras,
Panama, Puerto Rico and Mexico also held key roles in the maritime-border alcohol and
narcotic smuggling trade. Most governments, at least officially, attempted to cooperate
with U.S. authorities to curb smuggling from their own nations into the United States. For
instance, Panamanian, Honduran, Mexican and Puerto Rican leaders instigated restrictive
anti-alcohol legislation, but achieved only nominal successes in checking liquor smuggling
operations within their borders. U.S. officials, meanwhile, applied diplomatic pressure to
blunt alcohol manufacturing in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and
the Canal Zone in Panama. U.S. officials sought legislation that mirrored the Volstead
law, and in Panama invoked an absolute ban on alcohol consumption and production within
the Canal Zone. Although alcohol still held legal status in Panama, the Panamanian
government prohibited retail sales of high alcohol content liquor for businesses that did
not import or sell the products wholesale.
Many U.S. citizens living in the Canal Zone disregarded alcohol proscription, much like
the mainland residents back home. Since liquor was available outside the Canal Zone,
residents purchased distilled spirits outside the Canal Zone and simply smuggled them
Similarly, Puerto Rico enacted dry legislation, but other
surrounding islands remained wet, and the U.S. mainland--not its territory--absorbed most
of the enforcement resources. In fact, Washington did not send its first patrol boat into
the Caribbean until 1925, and only in response to overwhelming rum trafficking in the Gulf
of Mexico originating in Puerto Rico.
Mexico posed additional problems for prohibition enforcers and
diplomats. Not only did the United States and Mexico share common waters, but U.S.
authorities held the added burden of policing a large narcotics trade and illegal
immigration along a common land border. Unfortunately for the federal border agents,
separate groups generally trafficked in aliens and in alcohol. The nature of alcohol and
narcotic smuggling mostly excluded human trafficking because people were not easily
concealed and their presence jeopardized potential profits on liquor and narcotic
investments. In fact, Mexican liquor smuggling became so profitable that in many cases
traffickers resorted to violence more quickly than those who smuggled aliens. Gunfire and
death became frequent as liquor smugglers and U.S. authorities fought over booming
smuggling operations, particularly along the border cities of El Paso, Texas and Juarez,
Mexico. In several instances, liquor
trafficking stimulated economic growth along the Mexican border towns and profits financed
local political leaders who used smuggling income to remain autonomous from Mexico City
and its presidents.
Not all contraband trafficking along the Mexican border was so
turbulent. One case was particularly creative. Prohibition agents along the Rio Grande
discovered a smuggling operation with unmanned donkeys swimming down the Rio Grande. Texas
and Mexican bootleggers capitalized on the burros' natural homing instinct. They loaded
donkeys from Texas with kegs of tequila in Mexico, then allowed the animals to find their
way back across the border unattended. Instinct drove the animals back to their Texas
homes along various trails and paths. More significantly, the asses swam part of the way
in the Rio Grande to elude panthers and other predators, which also caused them to escape
the notice of prohibition agents. Since each bottle of tequila commanded between $4-$5 a
quart in San Antonio or Dallas, this particular scheme earned someone approximately
$240-$300 profit from each burro, since each animal could carry as much as sixty quarts.
Despite the burgeoning border smuggling trade, Mexican leaders
in Mexico City generally supported U.S. prohibition. A well-defined movement to make
Mexico City dry commenced as early as 1921, partly out the concern that heavy alcohol
consumption induced disorder. During the
provisional presidency of Adolfo de la Huerta, the Mexican leader invoked several
prohibition measures that were later rescinded because of violent protests by liquor
vendors and pro-wet advocates. Mexican presidents Alvaro Obregón, Plutarco Elías Calles,
and Emiliano Portes Gil also made strong anti-alcohol appeals during the twenties, but
none produced any tangible long-lasting results that satisfied U.S. authorities.
The State Department solicited and subsequently negotiated an
anti-smuggling agreement with Mexico with hope of easing alcohol trafficking along the
southern border. Federal officials anticipated that an anti-alcohol agreement with Mexico
would permit a shift of federal manpower from the South to the Canadian border where a
less favorable agreement existed. The
U.S.-Mexican Treaty of 1925 predated the U.S.-Cuban accord, but unlike the Cuban pact,
State Department officials quickly soured on the Mexican agreement. U.S. officials
asserted that they had increased the presence of border inspectors along the southern
border with Mexico to stem rampant smuggling, which they felt impeached the value of the
accord. State Department officials,
however, were in fact more upset that Mexico's political leadership ran afoul of U.S.
corporate interests in other areas such as access to Mexico's lucrative petroleum fields.
U.S. officials thereby linked two very different issues--prohibition and oil--into their
diplomatic reasoning toward dissolving the anti-alcohol accord with Mexico.
The post-revolutionary Mexican presidents indeed came under
extreme pressure to mollify the United States in the wake of Mexico's land reform edicts
associated with the Mexican Constitution of 1917. The United States viewed the new
constitution as hostile to American interests in an emerging Mexican oil industry. Mexican leaders, meanwhile, craved U.S.
capital to finance Mexico's internal growth. While Mexican leaders supported alcohol
temperance, their enthusiasm might also have been politically motivated as a pragmatic
tool to assuage U.S.-Mexican tensions involved in other, certainly more economically
significant, issues. President Alvaro Obregón, whose government in 1923 desperately
sought U.S. recognition and investment, in many cases co-mingled his anti-liquor
proclamations with Mexico's need for capital. In one instance, Obregón hoped to appease
U.S. concerns over Mexican oil and land reforms by moving to establish a
"dry-zone" fifty-miles wide along Mexico's northern border and establishing an
aviation field at Juarez to serve as a base for surveillance flights along the border. U.S. and Mexican diplomatic tensions,
however, continued to mount over the petroleum issue; and it eventually came to a head
during the presidency of Plutarco Calles. The Mexican petroleum and land reforms called
for greater land redistribution and tighter restrictions over U.S. corporate access to
Mexican oil fields. Not surprisingly, vehement protests by U.S. oil companies resulted in
Washington's not renewing the U.S.-Mexican smuggling treaty the following year. The U.S.
decision also placed President Calles on notice that Washington was upset about perceived
mistreatment of American citizens and their Mexican properties. In effect, U.S. officials
used the smuggling treaty to prod Calles into acquiescing to U.S. interests on the
The U.S. government officials, however, held even more cynical
motives for abrogating the treaty. Under terms of the agreement, the U.S. government
embargoed the movement of military arms into Mexico in return for Mexican cooperation
toward stemming border and marine smuggling. U.S. officials believed that any lifting of
the arms embargo would topple Calles's government. The official U.S. defense for
termination, of course, declared that the treaty proved of no significance and was
unworkable. According to the New York Times, the State Department actually wanted
to abrogate the treaty to pry a new commercial treaty out of Mexico specifically for
safe-guarding American commerce against discrimination. The U.S. decision to abrogate the treaty did produce the desired effect and
destabilized Calles's administration, although the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately required
that American oil companies secure new Mexican oil concessions.
A leading Mexican newspaper, meanwhile, labeled U.S. actions
toward Mexico as "Mysterious Dollar Diplomacy," and criticized U.S. policy by
drawing a parallel between the Eighteenth Amendment and Mexico's new oil regulations. The
Mexican editorial maintained that U.S. prohibition legislation was similarly retroactive
and confiscatory by its failing to compensate investors who had invested millions in the
liquor business. The Mexican law, by contrast, did not deprive oil companies of wealth
because the new legislation allowed U.S. corporations to obtain new, fifty-year
concessions on properties they currently held. Moreover, the newspaper charged:
The revolutionaries incorporated in Article 27 in the new Constitution [of 1917] and
made the agrarian and political reforms that [President Woodrow] Wilson demanded, and are
now applying them and complying with the program in all its aspects . . . We ask the
officials at the White House, will you follow the policy which Wilson adopted against
Huerta, throwing him from power. . . or will you recognize the advice of the American
President to the constitutionalist revolutionaries in which he suggested the agrarian and
political reforms, or must the Mexican government bend itself to the will and demands of
every new President that goes to the White House?
In this instance, the New York Times defended the White
House logic claiming that government destruction or confiscation of property did not occur
with respect to prohibition; and that the Mexican newspaper's parallel of pouring
"Mexican oil on troubled American liquor must seem more academic and amusing than
Smugglers and syndicates garnered success and profits by
exploiting diplomatic, political and social divisions in Mexico and the Caribbean. Not
only did the Caribbean islands serve as ideal sanctuaries for smuggling operations, but
unstable social and political climates in these areas proved disruptive to enforcement
checks. Moreover, many Caribbean
governments could not render much policing aid themselves because local leaders came to
depend on U.S. capital, business and manpower as one remedy for quelling local social
disorder. The U.S. government quite effectively invoked its economic and military might in
Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala during the first two decades of the
twentieth-century, which occurred mostly to preserve U.S. business and political interests
in the Caribbean basin. The U.S. interventions, however, spawned resentment among many
Latin workers who believed U.S. corporations pilfered and exploited local land and labor.
The ensuing instability thus provided apt conditions for most anyone who wished to engage
in the surreptitious transportation of alcoholic spirits into the United States during the
Likewise, the British colony of Belize (British Honduras)
along with independent Honduras featured hordes of rumrunners and ports from which liquor
was sold to buyers along the Gulf Coast. The Honduran-registered schooner Jo Ann
was a notorious rumrunner that cruised along the Louisiana coastline. In one case, Coast
Guard authorities acted on information that the Jo Ann embarked from Belize along
with an oyster lugger with a shipment of distilled spirits destined for a New Orleans
smuggling ring. The Coast Guard sent its patrol boats Forward and Eleanora
based at Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Grand Isle, Louisiana, to interdict. The Eleanora,
formerly a rumrunning vessel, halted the oyster boat near the Jo Ann's course with
its cargo of about 1,000 gallons of assorted liquors. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard cutter Forward
overtook the Jo Ann in the Southwest Pass (See Mississippi Delta Region map
after Navy vessels earlier chased the rumrunner out of the Gulf of Mexico.
According to the ship's log, the Jo Ann cleared port
under a Belize flag for a trip to Bermuda. The Coast Guard eventually captured it with
19,860 gallons of rum aboard in January 1929.
Total value of her cargo amounted to $175,000, not accounting for more than 600 cases
listed by port authorities as missing cargo that had been logged on the ship's manifest.
U.S. authorities assumed the missing cargo already made its way onto the Louisiana coast. More significantly, the Coast Guard
seizures linked both Honduran and Belizean ports to organized crime syndicates within the
United States. The follow-up investigation supplied insight into the activity levels of
rumrunning ships that operated in southern waters, especially those based in Caribbean
The Jo Ann incident was not unique. The Honduran vessel
Aurora, an old and barely seaworthy rumrunner, had also long operated in the Gulf
of Mexico. In March 1933, the Forward pursued the Aurora off Pass a Loutre at the
mouth of the Mississippi River (see the Mississippi Delta Region map on page 56). The Forward
eventually overtook the Aurora outside the twelve-mile limit. According to
authorities, the liquor-laden vessel had sailed from Belize and, according to the ship
papers, headed to Nassau. The Coast Guard took the vessel in tow, which created a
dangerous situation for the federal seaman because the Aurora was taking on water.
Rough water conditions disrupted towing and touched off a collision between the two
vessels. The accident caused the Aurora to leak even more profusely. The Forward
crew, however, managed to transfer the Aurora's liquor cargo and crew before the
vessel sank about twenty-five miles south of Mobile Bay.
The court case resulting from the capture of the Aurora
proved bitter for Coast Guard authorities. The court found that federal police produced no
evidence showing the Aurora sailed inside the legal twelve-mile limit when first
sighted by the Coast Guard cutters. The seizure was ruled illegal because no authority, by
law or treaty, existed to justify confiscating the vessel's cargo beyond the twelve-mile
limit. The court returned the salvaged cargo to the claimants; the released prisoners
returned to Honduras.
One of the more notable conflicts in southern waters between a
foreign-registered vessel and the Coast Guard occurred when the Coast Guard sank the
Canadian schooner I'm Alone off the Louisiana coast. This 1929 incident touched off
a six-year conflict between Canada and the United States that not only illustrated the
weaknesses of the Anglo-American Treaty of 1924, but also fully revealed the major role
that liquor smuggling held in Southern waters and its relationship to the national market.
Meanwhile, the United States and Canadian government authorities wrangled but could not
reconcile their disagreements over the sinking of the I'm Alone. The debate even
reached Secretary of State Henry Stimson, who also attempted to mitigate the feud. The
case eventually appeared before an international arbitration panel comprised of one
justice each from Canada and the United States. Long before the incident reached
arbitration, however, the components of the I'm Alone operation became a web of
fraudulent claims, murder, and underworld conspiracies.
Most of the basic facts were clear. The Canadian schooner I'm
Alone operated as a rumrunner off the Louisiana coast until March 1929 when it was
sunk by a Coast Guard cutter. The Coast Guard vessel Dexter engaged, chased and
subsequently sank the rumrunning ship approximately 200 miles off the Louisiana coastline.
The ensuing testimony in connection with ownership of the I'm Alone, however,
involved details cloaked in international intrigue, which featured a cast of underworld
characters that quashed any hope of an easy resolution.
The I'm Alone first sailed as a two-masted schooner
built in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia in 1924. Twin 100-horsepower auxiliary motors could move
the vessel about nine knots and the boat featured a spacious interior, enough to hold
about 2,800 cases of liquor. The I'm Alone initially transported liquor along the
eastern seaboard before being sold and moved to the Gulf of Mexico in 1928. The schooner's
captain, John T. Randell, kept the vessel mostly in international waters where the vessel
was protected from seizure by U.S. authorities.
The Coast Guard knew about the I'm Alone's smuggling
activities and often shadowed the vessel around the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The I'm Alone skipper, however was
an experienced seaman and also a decorated former World War I craft commander in the Royal
Navy. In his memoirs, Randell said he
took the job for the money, and the assurance that his role as captain would not include
piloting the ship within the twelve-mile treaty limit. Around mid-March 1929, the Coast Guard cutter Wolcott spotted the I'm
Alone off the passes of the Mississippi River and tailed the schooner for two days,
harrying the rumrunner's attempt to make contact with a shore boat.See Map 2) The following evening,
Randell recorded that he shook off the U.S. cutter with the aid of darkness, but continued
to hold the
I'm Alone off the Louisiana shoreline in hope of making
contact with the individuals who were to take the ship's liquor-laden cargo ashore.
Specifically, the captain waited for a man who possessed the other halves of fifteen
American dollar bills, which were included in Randell's sailing orders given to him
earlier in Cuba. The I'm Alone
captain eventually linked up with his contact, who took the distilled spirits that Randell
had ferried from Belize.
On March 20, 1929, the I'm Alone again dropped anchor
off the Louisiana coast and soon thereafter the Coast Guard cutter Wolcott
reappeared. The exact location of the I'm Alone prior to being challenged by the
U.S. vessel eventually plunged the U.S. and Canadian governments into contested
negotiations over the validity of the Anglo-American Treaty of 1924. The Wolcott,
meanwhile, tailed the I'm Alone southward and in several instances ordered Captain
Randell to stop or be fired upon. The I'm
Alone captain, who believed that he had been accosted by the U.S. ship in
international waters, refused to yield his ship to the U.S. cutter. The Wolcott
continued to tail the I'm Alone, and two days later the Coast Guard vessel Dexter
joined the pursuit. Randell later testified that the Dexter began firing four-pound
explosive shells, coupled with machine-gun and rifle rounds from ranges of less than two
hundred yards. Eventually the shells found their way through the hull of the I'm Alone.
The crew jumped into the rough seas, and the I'm Alone quickly sank. One of the I'm
Alone's crew, a Frenchman and a decorated World I veteran, died from his injuries.
Meanwhile, the Dexter and Wolcott gathered up the I'm Alone's seven
crewman, and headed North to New Orleans where police shackled Randell and his crew and
jailed them at the U.S. Custom's House.
The Coast Guard sinking of the I'm Alone, however,
created international complications that perhaps no one foresaw. As Canadian incidents of
liquor smuggling escalated throughout the twenties, the United States looked toward
Britain for support, which created triangular diplomatic quandaries regarding enforcement. In this case, British, Canadian and
Washington diplomats began quarreling over the circumstances of the
I'm Alone sinking. Also, because the dead crew member
was of French decent, French officials jumped into the fray. The critical issue was never
the actual sinking, rather at what point exactly did U.S. authorities begin their pursuit.
Coast Guardsmen testified that the I'm Alone had been anchored ten- to eleven-miles
off shore, therefore legally subject to a search under the terms of the Anglo-American
Treaty, which the Canadians agreed to abide by in 1924. The I'm Alone captain,
however, claimed he was fourteen- to fifteen-miles off the coast when first hailed by the
U.S. cutter Wolcott. The Dexter's role further complicated matters since it
delivered the fatal ordnance to the I'm Alone despite not being the initial
pursuer--a circumstance that brought the Coast Guard into conflict with the terms for
engagement outlined by the treaty.
Although the I'm Alone incident never seriously damaged
diplomatic relations between the United States, Britain or Canada, it provided one of the
high points of prohibition enforcement drama.
The ensuing testimony in this case set the stage for a foreign relations showdown relating
to the validity of anti-liquor marine agreements. Aggregating past incidents, the Canadian
government believed that the sinking of the
I'm Alone finally created a serious enough incident to
use as leverage to bring up the anti-liquor smuggling agreement up for formal
It soon became clear that the Canadians sought mostly to
clarify the terms of the treaty rather than determining guilt or innocence. The 1924
treaty bestowed certain reciprocal rights on Great Britain for British cooperation against
rum smuggling. The Anglo-American agreement, however, proved of little value to the
Canadians since the marine trade dynamics differed between Canadian and European nations.
Common borders and waters shared by the United States and Canada precipitated many
shipping conflicts between the two nations, which posed huge hassles for legal Canadian
shippers who might be carrying distilled spirits bound for a foreign destination along
with other cargo bound for a U.S. port. International boundary tributaries such as the
Great Lakes, the Yukon River or land routes became constant sites of conflict between U.S.
and Canadian authorities. In the
meantime, the sinking of the I'm Alone revealed treaty ambiguities that Canadian
diplomats exploited--namely the one-hour pursuit clause. "Hot-pursuit" was not
to last more than one-hour upon sighting a potential rumrunner, Canadian officials said.
Moreover, the Canadians balked that the I'm Alone sank as a result of the guns from
a U.S. vessel that did not the initiate the chase.
The diplomatic negotiations over the I'm Alone circumstances, coupled with disputed
treaty terms, thus began fanning out in many different directions.
The Canadian government demanded remuneration and an apology
from the United States for sinking the I'm Alone. On April 9, 1929, Canadian
Minister Vincent Massey and U.S. Secretary of State Stimson exchanged views on the
incident. The meeting between the two high government officials yielded nothing, and by
mid-April, the I'm Alone case moved toward arbitration under the terms of the
Anglo-American Treaty. Curiously, on the same day that Stimson and Massey met, U.S.
Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the release of the I'm Alone crew for
lack of evidence. The U.S. government, however, did not admit any guilt in connection with
the sinking. In fact, the U.S. government contended that the treaty indeed justified the
Coast Guard actions.
A significant piece of evidence in connection with the case
came to light in the fall of 1929. New information revealed that American, not Canadians,
owned the I'm Alone, although the vessel sailed under Canadian registry. This
evidence put the Canadian government in the peculiar position of seeking to collect
compensation for an American. More significantly, the probe to establish ownership turned
up a vast collection of company names that suggested that an intricate rumrunning
syndicate in fact possessed the I'm Alone. In December 1929, federal authorities in
New York announced that Daniel Halpan, alias Daniel Hogan, a U.S. citizen, owned the I'm
Alone. U.S. authorities apparently knew about Hogan and began searching for him soon
after the sinking, but they kept his arrest a secret. Hogan joined a conspiracy that
included the smuggling of liquor from St. Pierre, Halifax, Montreal and Belize from
January 1, 1927 to April 1, 1929. Cable telegrams from Belize first alerted authorities to
the conspiracy and pinpointed Hogan's location in New York City. According to the subsequent indictment, the
I'm Alone sailed for Louisiana after taking on a load of
liquor and transferred the cargo to more than a half-dozen small boats. Portions of these
shipments moved through Abbeville, Louisiana, where railroad connections were made. The
smugglers disguised the liquor cargo as rice shipments in railroad freight cars, then sent
the contraband on its way to New York, Chicago, or other areas where the syndicate
dominated the liquor markets. Hogan was later convicted of violating the National
Prohibition Act on May 13, 1930 in the Western District of Louisiana Court at Lake Charles
for conspiracy to smuggle liquor in a companion case to the I'm Alone. Three years
later, Hogan and two others stood trial again in Opelousas, Louisiana, this time for the I'm
Alone indictment. During the trial, however, the judge instructed the jury not to
convict Hogan on the conspiracy charge since the judge believed Hogan's previous
conspiracy conviction applied to the I'm Alone case. Hogan later served jail time
in Shreveport, Louisiana; a federal penitentiary at Atlanta, Georgia and the Northeastern
Penitentiary in Lewisberg, Pennsylvania.
Several years later, the American-Canadian Judicial
Commission, which arbitrated the case, learned that the I'm Alone operated in fact
as only one vehicle linked to a large and extensive New York rumrunning syndicate that
used the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts as entry points into the U.S. market. Canada,
meanwhile, continued to demand damages totaling $386,000 and an apology to settle the
case. The Canadians argued that records placed the vessel under the charge of the Eugene
Creaser Shipping Company Ltd., a Canadian company that could prove ownership at the time
the I'm Alone sank. The Americans protested, claiming that the Canadian
shareholders acted merely as dummies; the real owners were all American citizens. Meanwhile, a witness who identified Hogan
as the principal owner of the I'm Alone was slain shortly after giving his
deposition to federal authorities, presumably in retaliation for revealing the underworld
information. Serving as arbiters in the I'm
Alone hearings were Willis Vandevanter, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court,
and Sir Lyman Poore Duff, Chief Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court. Captain Randell
testified before the commission that he never knew the ship's actual owner. The
I'm Alone had flown a British flag and was legally under
Canadian registry--a fact that solidified Canada's claim for damages.
In January 1935, nearly six years after the sinking, the
arbitration panel--without commenting on any of the treaty disputes--found that the Coast
Guard sinking of the I'm Alone indeed was illegal. The judicial panel directed the
U.S. government to pay damages totaling $50,666--a figure far below the $386,000 sought.
The justices awarded nothing for the vessel or cargo, but declared Captain Randell and
crew as only simple employees and innocent of any conspiracy to smuggle liquor. The panel
charged the United States to pay the crew damages for the "wrongful act" of the
Coast Guard and their subsequent imprisonment. The widow of the drowned sailor received
$10,000, and the commissioners recommend that the U.S. government apologize for the
results of its Coast Guard. The U.S. protested, but only mildly and made the apology.
The pervasive smuggling trade in the South indeed created
quandaries for the State Department along several diplomatic fronts. Officials contended
with organized criminal activity within the Caribbean basin, which served as supply ports
to U.S. markets. Rumrunners and their vessels, in many cases, hauled illicit cargo in
foreign-registered vessels, which attracted a flurry of inquiries, or protests, from
foreign governments upon seizure by U.S. authorities. Also, the anti-smuggling agreements
the U.S. received from its Caribbean neighbors did not contain enough power in any
significant sense to force smuggling declines. Many Latin governments pledged its support,
but lacked the practical resources to help in anti-smuggling efforts, or other diplomatic
conflicts erupted that soured cooperation.
Some State Department moves designed to quell southern
trafficking caused hard feelings among some Latin neighbors, especially after U.S. leaders
linked anti-alcohol cooperation to unrelated trade issues, as with Mexico. U.S. diplomatic
intimidation, coupled with numerous insurrectional movements that occurred frequently in
the Caribbean basin, heightened tensions and contributed to conditions enabling smuggling
activity to flourish. Moreover, foreign
countries which exported distilled spirits prior to prohibition--Bermuda, Canada, Central
America, Cuba and England--often found themselves in diplomatic entanglements with
American authorities because of their nationals' roles in the illicit alcohol trade. State
Department officials, meanwhile, struggled in bureaucratic fights to control liquor
diplomacy. The desire of the State Department to resolve prohibition disputes through
diplomacy and the determination of other executive departments to champion incompatible
domestic interests resulted in inertia, inaction and confusion.
Foreign and domestic hurdles relative to checking alcohol
activity placed diplomatic officials in untenable roles. Caribbean locales served as
willing vendors of distilled liquor; the U.S. Gulf Coast shoreline proved too
geographically accommodating and socially accepting for smugglers to ignore. The highly
Catholic natives of the Caribbean held more or less indifferent views to alcohol
consumption, and moved distilled spirits into Gulf Coast areas that were much the same. As
in the Caribbean, the lure of profits subsequently fueled a domestic cast of receivers,
transporters and consumers of alcoholic beverages that further weakened the federal
government's will to preserve the integrity of its Eighteenth Amendment.
Picayune, December 25, 1922, December 29, 1923, July 30, 1924; The bulk of the
narcotics smuggled into the United States during the prohibition era originated in Europe
and Asia and was smuggled along with the illegal alcohol traffic onto U.S. shores; refer
to the narcotics reports in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Prohibition,
fiscal years 1927-30, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office).
Union of American Republics, Bulletin of the Pan American Union, (January 1919),
Ibid.; also see Peter Foster, Family Spirits: The Bacardi Saga, (Toronto:
MacFarlane, Walter and Ross, 1990), 7.
Concerning Intoxicating Liquors, December 1933, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing
Picayune, December 25, 1922.
Ibid., December 25, 1922, April 19, 1923, December 29, 1923, July 30, 1924, June 6,
Ibid., June 14, 1925.
Ibid., April 23, 1923.
Ibid., April 22, 1923, May 26, 1923, and December 6, 1924.
New York Times, December 24, 1925; Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations
of the United States, 1926, vol. 2, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office),
18-27; Malcom F. Willoughby, Rum War at Sea, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing
Office, 1964), 117.
Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1926, vol. 2,
(Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office), 18-27.
Annual Report of the Commissioner of Prohibition for Fiscal Year ending June 30,
1930, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office), 6.
New York Times, April 17, 1929.
Belize, a British protectorate, was officially known as British Honduras until its
independence from Britain in September 1981.
Union of American Republics, Bulletin of the Pan American Union, vol. 53
(July-December, 1921), 412; New York Times, June 19, 1929; Times Picayune,
January 27, 1929.
New York Times, June 19, 1929; Times Picayune, January 27, 1929.
New York Times, March 16, 1925.
New York Times, May 10, 1925 and July 16, 1925.
New York Times, May 10, 1925 and July 16, 1925; Colin M MacLachlan and William
H. Beezley, El Gran Pueblo, A History of Greater Mexico, (Englewood Cliffs, New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1994), 288.
New York Times, November 8, 1925.
New York Times, September 9, 1920, September 13, 1920, August 22, 1921.
New York Times, February 21, 1923, August 22, 1921, January 11, 1923; Times
Picayune, August 23, 1923 and June 7, 1925.
New York Times, April 20, 1925 and December 24, 1925.
Times Picayune, June 14, 1925 and August 2, 1925; also see the Mexican
Secretary of Foreign Relations A.J. Pani's correspondence to the American Charge'
(Summerlin), June 5, 1923 in Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United
States, 1923, vol. 1, (Washington D.C: Government Printing Office, 1923), 147-9.
New York Times, March 23, 1927.
Joan Hoff Wilson, American Business and Foreign Policy, 1920-1933, (Lexington:
The University of Kentucky Press, 1971), 187 and 199.
New York Times, August 22, 1921, January 11, 1923, February 21, 1923; Times
Picayune, August 23, 1923 and June 7, 1925.
New York Times, March 23, 1927.
Ibid.; Michael Meyer and William L. Sherman, The Course of Mexican History, 2d.
ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 586-7.
Excelsior comments reprinted in the New York Times, February 6, 1927.
New York Times, February 7, 1927.
A. Hyatt Verill, Smugglers and Smuggling, (New York: Duffield and Company,
Times Picayune, January 25, 1929.
Times Picayune, January 25, 1929.
Ibid., January 26-8, 1929 and February 2, 1929.
Ibid., January 25, 1929.
New York Times, March 13, 1933; Willoughby, Rum War at Sea, 125.
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, Arbitration Series No. 2 vol. 6
(Washington D.C: Government Printing Office, 1935), 3-111.
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol. 4, 58, and 23-32; Captain John
Randell as told to Meigs O. Frost, I'm Alone, (Indianapolis, Indiana: The
Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1930), 266; Willoughby, Rum War at Sea, 128.
The I'm Alone first smuggled liquor along the eastern seaboard before being
sold and moved to the Gulf of Mexico in 1928; see U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case,
vol.4, 21; Willoughby, Rum War at Sea, 128.
New York Times, December 30, 1934.
It should be noted that Randell's association with the I'm Alone and the vessel
being directed into Southern waters occurred contemporaneously; Randell, I'm Alone,
Affidavit by Marvin J. Clark, U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol. 6,
103-11; Randell, I'm Alone, 266 and 269.
Ibid., 270-76. Randell recorded in his memoirs that he knew his contact by reputation
as one of the big bootleggers in New York; also see Willoughby, Rum War at Sea,
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol. 1, 1-36; Randell, I'm Alone,
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol. 4, 58-66; Randell, I'm Alone,
311; New York Times, April 10, 1929.
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol. 3, 1-11; Lawrence Spinelli, Dry
Diplomacy: the United States, Great Britain and Prohibition, (Wilmington, Delaware:
Scholarly Resources Inc., 1993), 127-8.
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol. 4, 18-9; New York Times,
March 26, 1929; also see Willoughby, Rum War at Sea, 129.
Spinelli, Dry Diplomacy, 128.
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol 4, 73-113; Papers Relating to the
Foreign Relations of the United States, 1924, vol. 1, (Washington D.C.: Government
Printing Office, 1939), 157-97; also see New York Times, April 5, 1929.
Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1923, vol. 1,
(Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1938), 228.
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol 4, 23-32;
New York Times, April 5, 1929.
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol 1, 37-9;
New York Times, April 10, 1929.
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol 6, 113-202
New York Times, April 27, 1929.
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol. 6, 199-202;
New York Times, April 27, 1929 and December 29, 1934.
U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol. 6, 9-15 and 81-5; New York Times,
December 30, 1934.
Deposition of Marvin J. Clark, U.S. State Department, I'm Alone Case, vol. 6,
103-11; New York Times, December 29, 1934 identified Marvin J. (Big Jim) Clark as
the individual murdered following his giving a deposition to federal authorities that
named Daniel Halpin, alias Daniel Hogan, as principal owner of the I'm Alone.
New York Times, January 10, 1935 and January 22, 1935; U.S. State Department, I'm
Alone Case, vol. 7, 1-6.
A. Hyatt Verill, Smugglers and Smuggling, 7.
Spinelli, Dry Diplomacy, 156.
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