During the Prohibition Era (1919 - 1933), it was illegal to brew, sell, import, or transport alcoholic beverages in the United States. Moonshiners, or blockaders as they were known at the time, worked on the wrong side of the law, making their own whiskey in secluded places and selling it. Popular culture usually depicts these moonshiners as degenerate, illiterate, hillbillies. As with most stereotypes, this wasn’t always the case. On May 27, 1922 a newspaper in Florida printed a story showcasing a piece of moonshiner ingenuity that was likely inspired by none other than Sherlock Holmes. In particular, “The Adventure of the Priory School” (published in the US in 1905).
In the story, Holmes investigates the kidnapping of a duke’s son. After solving the case, Holmes marvels that the kidnapper was able to hide the tracks of his horse so well. In response, the Duke take Holmes to his private collection of artifacts and shows him a unique set of ancient horseshoes, with the following inscription:
“These shoes … are for the use of horses; but they are shaped below with a cloven foot of iron, so as to throw pursuers off the track. They are supposed to have belonged to some of the marauding Barons of Holdernesse in the Middle Ages.”
The kidnapper had disguised his horse’s tracks by shoeing it with shoes that left cloven, cow shaped prints behind.
It’s likely that a blockader read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story and applied this idea to his own shoes. If it worked to throw Sherlock off the track of a kidnapper, why wouldn’t it prevent revenue officers from following the footprints of blockaders?