She was born Katherine Rose Daly in Oakland, California in 1872. Her father, Bill Daly, was from Roscrea, Co. Tipperary,
She was a wild child, one of twelve young Dalys, who was allowed to roam the heights around Oakland in her untutored youth. The knowledge she gained of the hills proved very useful to the family business. Her father manufactured what he called ‘poteen’ and his customers called ‘moonshine’ – Katherine’s intimate knowledge of her environment helped the Dalys to escape the clutches of the authorities who never seemed to be able to find the family’s illicit stills.
When the attentions of the forces of law and order became too intrusive the entire Oakland operation was moved in the 1880s to the boom town of Tombstone. However, the law eventually caught up with Bill Daly when he was killed in a shootout with Wyatt Earp not long after the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral. Daly, a supporter of the Clantons and the McLaurys, the losers in that shoot out, simply chose the wrong side. His daughter Katherine, however, kept the family business going.
If some of this seems a bit familiar to you it might be because of a certain well known folk sing that tells the story of Katherine Daly’s life. It begins …
‘Come down from the mountain Katie Daly
Come down from the mountain Katie do
Oh can’t you hear us calling Katie Daly
We want to drink your Irish mountain dew
Her old man Katie came from Tipperary
In the pioneering year of forty-two
Her old man he was shot in Tombstone city
For making of the Irish mountain dew
Soon after her father’s death Katherine Daly, better known as Katie, escaped the Earps and betook herself to the Chicago. There she continued to manufacture moonshine for the next three decades. Prohibition in the 1920s should have been good to her. Her famous ‘mountain dew’ was streets ahead of the bathtub gin of Al Capone. But the notorious Italian-American hoodlum had more guns at his disposal than the ageing Katie.
After the St. Valentine’s Day massacre Katie headed back home to the west coast and began operating in San Francisco. There she made a fatal error. Had she confined her activities to the Bay Area who knows what she might have achieved.
But she got just a little bit too greedy and began shifting bootleg whisky across the state border into Nevada. This brought down on her head the ire of the burgeoning criminal element in the Silver State and enabled the very non-Irish FBI to take an interest in her activities as well. She was probably fortunate in that the Feds got to her first. Hence the verse of the song that goes …
Wake up and pay attention, Katie Daly,
I am the judge, that’s goin’ to sentence you,
And all the boys in court, have drunk your whiskey,
And to tell the truth dear Kate, I drank some too
Katie went down for a fifteen year stretch. If you know the song well enough you will be aware that she did not survive her incarceration as the only female inmate of the notorious Alcatraz Island prison in San Francisco Harbour.
So off to jail, they took poor Katie Daly,
But very soon, the gates they opened wide,
An angel came, for poor old Katie Daly,
And took her, far across the great divide.
She may have derived some small satisfaction before her demise from the fact that she survived another famous inmate of Alcatraz, Alphonse ‘Scarface’ Capone who joined her on ‘The Rock’ after he was found guilty of evading Federal taxes.
Katherine Daly, bootlegger, distiller of Irish poteen based on an old Tipperary family recipe, was born one hundred and forty four years ago, on this day.