Subject: moonshiner / "hillbilly"
Culture: Appalachian / Mountain Folk
Setting: family feuds, moonshining, Appalachia 1880s-1940s
Context (Event Photos, Period Sources)
* Rice 1982 p7-8
"The upbringing of the mountain boy requires special notice. He often grew up untempered by strong parental or social discipline and with 'neither training nor example in self-control.' Sometimes his father, in furious temper, whipped him, and at times his exasperated mother carried out an oft-made threat to 'wear him out with a hickory,' but most of the time he remained free to follow his own impulses. His diversions, such as hunting and fishing, were essentially solitary in nature, and his opportunities for acquiring self-control in social situations were limited.
"In many mountain neighborhoods a 'gang' spirit differentiated the boys 'up the branch,' for instance, from those 'down the creek.' Lacking constructive outlets for expression, this gang spirit often degenerated into a lawless independence and rural insularity manifested in 'rocking' individuals and objects that met with disfavor, burning property, robbing orchards, and similar offenses. The mountain youth, sensitive and quick to take umbrage, passionately desired to be the victor in any difference with others. As one observer noted, 'Ricidule or the suspicion that someone is 'throwing off on him' he cannot bear, and he is quicker with a knife, or, when he is older, with the pistol, than with his fists.'"
* Harkins 2004 p34
"Beginning in the 1880s and accelerating rapidly in the 1890s ... a ... conception of the region developed -- a notion that the people of the southern Appalachian mountains (and eventually of the southern mountains more generally) were not just out of step but were actually a threat to civilization. The new ideological construction of the mountains as a land of lawlessness, cursed by the twin 'evils' of 'moonshining' and 'feuding,' was not entirely without foundation. Organized resistance to federal excise tax collection and violent, interfamilial conflicts did indeed develop in the southeastern mountain region in the last two decades of the century. Small farmers in this region had long converted a portion of their corn crop to alcohol for personal consumption and to trade or sell to rural neighbors and townspeople. The federal government had sporadically tried to collect excise taxes on this product since the late eighteenth century ..., but not until the Civil War did they make a concerted effort to require licenses for and collect revenues from all distillers, no matter how small. Southern mountain farmers, who depended on the sale of corn whiskey to supplement their meager incomes and saw its production as a long-enjoyed right, deeply resented what they viewed as the unwarranted and dangerous intrusion of centralized power into properly local affairs. Many of these small-time distillers, increasingly labeled "moonshiners" and "blockaders" in the popular press, as much as their clientele, held deep grievances against the often heavy-handed and sometimes corrupt and illegal practices used by agents to enforce the law.
"These tensions and animosities climaxed during the 1890s when the combination of economic depression, the expansion of nationalizing market forces and urbanization into previously exclusively rural locales, and the spread of local prohibition legislation threatened the livelihood of many mountain distillers in northeast Georgia and elsewhere in the region. The result was semiformal organized efforts to maintain local control over liquor production through collective violence." ... "At the same time that moonshine-related violence was drawing widespread government and press attention, local, and often, interfamilial, conflict in the southeastern uplands (particularly eastern Kentucky) was also garnering national headlines. From the 1870s through the first decade of the next century, regional and national newspapers reported on dozens of family-oriented conflicts, forty-one between 1874 and 1893 alone. Although most of these disputes lasted only briefly and involved few casualties, some, such as the Martin-Tolliver conflict called the 'Rowan County War,' continued over three years and resulted in twenty deaths. Journalists initially tended to view such conflicts as southern, and later a Kentucky phenomenon, the inevitable result of ongoing political power struggles and a uniquely violent past. By the mid-1880s, however, a series of murders in Appalachia shifted the focus from the entire state to the mountains, in particular. Increasingly, newspapers of both political parties ... condemned the people of the mountains as degenerate barbarians whose conflicts stemmed not from political or economic disputes but from cultural, or even genetic, traits inherited from their wild Scottish highland ancestors. Reporters' shift in terminology from vendetta (with its Corsican context) to feud in labeling these battles, and their references to the disputing parties as family clans, underscored this new emphasis on Scottish heritage."
* Virginia Historical Society > Moonshining in the Blue Ridge
"Blue Ridge moonshining found itself in the national spotlight with the so-called Conspiracy Trial of 1935. Despite scores of still busts by revenuers in the 1920s and early 1930s, the moonshining industry continued to thrive. In Franklin County officials were accepting protection fees from moonshiners, and the Sheriff himself oversaw the complex bribery system. Small operators were squeezed out as money and power consolidated.
"Between 1930 and 1935 local still operators and their business partners sold a volume of whiskey that would have generated $5,500,000 in excise taxes at the old 1920 tax rate. A federal investigation resulted in 34 people being indicted. Those charges included 19 moonshiners, one corporation, and nine government officials. "The tense trial was at the time the longest in Virginia history. In an atmosphere of threats and jury tampering, one key witness (the treasurer of the sheriff's 'granny fee' operation) was murdered. Oral history tells us of another person scheduled to testifiy dying under suspicious circumstances. Newspaper readers loved the tales of whiskey making and hauling, including those of Mrs. Willie Carter Sharpe, 'queen of Roanoke rum runners.' "Thirty-one people were found guilty. Sentences were relatively light -- two years or less -- and 13 conspirators only received probation. The fines levied were miniscule compared to the earnings of the major conspiracy participants. Even the short term impact of the trial on Blue Ridge moonshining is difficult to judge. The industry certainly continued. Over 70 years later some old-timers voice strong opinions about the men who were acquitted. Adding to the mystery, parts of the trial records have disappeared from courthouse files."
* Virginia Historical Society > Moonshining in the Blue Ridge
"The image of the gun-toting moonshiner is largely a stereotype, and rarely did any gunplay take place between bootleggers and revenue agents. However, Virginia eventually passed a law making it a crime to have a firearm at a still site." [CONTRA Kellner 1971 p89, Harkins 2004 p34]
* Kellner 1971 p83
"The mountaineer who was descended from the pioneers of Kentucky was a man of singular character, hardy, strong, and lean, with the wary ears, silent steps, and watchful eyes of the hunter. Years in the rugged wilderness land had given him the sinewy muscles, incredible endurance, and wily resourcefulness necessary to backwoods survival. He walked like an Indian, fought like an Indian, hunted like an Indian, and never missed a shot. Living in an isolated hollow in the depths of the mountain country, defending himself and his family against the rigors of their lonely life, had endowed him with a proud independence which made him restless, suspicious, ingenious, and unconquerable.
"These qualities he inherited from his forefathers as he had inherited their guns, a .45 caliber for large game and a .30 caliber for smaller targets both cherished and handed down with great tenderness for many generations. In the same way, the first settlers handed down their woodsy learning, so that their sons and grandsons could have matched skills with a Shawnee in shooting or barking squirrels, tracking men and animals, reading 'sign' and interpreting the language of the woods. One of the difficulties encountered by revenue men, especially the first to invade the mountain regions, was that the canny moonshiners could detect their presence from wildlife behavior."
* Kellner 1971 p89
"In the early 1900s, shoot-outs between moonshiners and investigators reached such violent proportions that the words 'raid' and 'killing' became synonymous."
* Nelson 1995 p149
"Writing in Revenuers & Moonshiners, Miller described the situation as 'perpetual guerrilla warfare' in some regions between revenuers and moonshiners. On behalf of the gun-toting, itchy-trigger-fingered moonshiners, an anonymous mountain man is on record as threatening, 'Come out and tell me who ye be, fer if ye be one of them damned revenuers, I'll mince yer shivering slats with the contents of my barker.'
"Several full-scale, long-term shoot-outs appear in the documented history of illicit liquor, in such books as George Atkinson's After the Moonshiners: By One of the Raiders, published in 1881. In the late 1800s, revenue agents in a southern state once ran into some moonshiners who had an old Civil War cannon loaded with metal and nails, but they fired too high.
"From July 1876 through July 1905, fifty-four 'revenue-raiders' were killed, thirty-five in the six years from 1876 to 1882. In the early 1900s, another historian wrote, 'shoot-outs between moonshiners and investigators reached such violent proportions that the words 'raid' and 'killing' became synonymous.' The statistics of fatalities and seizures, however, show that this statement is exaggerated.
"The use of handguns -- at least as props, but often as weapons -- skyrocketed during Prohibition. Bootleggers packed guns to defend themselves against hijackers and occasionally to trade shots with law-enforcement agents. Police were already armed, and thieves had to ante up with weapons of their own if they wanted to bluff or scare bootleggers into surrendering their contraband cargoes. Some accounts of the period make it sound like the shoot-'em-up television version of the old Wild West."