Heart of the Alleghanies

By cody On August 3rd, 2011

Copyright, 1883

When near Brevard, just four years ago, while Redmond, the famous moonshiner, lived in the neighborhood, and a little blockading was still going on in the Balsams, I made a midnight journey, the details of which may be of general interest. One afternoon, during a deer drive through the wilds and over the rugged heights of the Tennessee Bald, I advanced far enough in my month’s acquaintance with a fellow, Joe Harran, to learn that he was formerly a distiller, and even then was acting as a carrier of illicit whisky from a hidden still to his neighbors.

After the hunt, as we walked toward my boarding-place, I expressed a wish to go with him on a moonshine expedition. He readily agreed to take me. We were to go that night.

I retired early to my room, ostensibly for the purpose of a ten-hour sleep. At nine o’clock there was a rap at my door, and a moment after Harran was inside. He had a bundle under his arm, which he tossed on the bed. Said he:

” The clothes ye hev on air tu fine fer this trip. My pards mout tak’ ye fer a revenoo, an’ let a hole thro’ ye. Put on them thar,” and he pointed to the articles he had brought with him.

“Is it necessary?”

“In course. Ef hit war’nt, I wouldn’t say so. Ef ye’r goin’ moonshinin’, ye must be like a moonshiner. Hurry an’ jump in the duds, fer we’ve got nigh onto seven mile ter go ter git to the still, an’ ef we don’t make tracks, the daylight ’11 catch us afore we gits back.”

I took off an ordinary business suit, and a short space after stood transformed into what appeared to me a veritable mountaineer, after the manner of Harran, except that my friend had granted me a tattered coat to cover the rough shirt, and my pants were not tucked in my boots, because the latter were not exactly of the pattern most suitable for the occasion.

“I reckon ye’ll do, tho’ ye don’t look ez rough ez ye mout ef yer har war long; but pull the brim o’ the hat down over yer eyes, an’ I ‘low when I tell ‘em yer a ‘stiller from Cocke county, over the line, they’ll believe hit, shore.”

We went outside, climbed the rail fence, and found ourselves in the road.

“Hold up,” said Harran, “we mustn’t fergit these things,” and from a brush pile he drew out two enormous jugs and a blanket.

“You don’t mean to say,” said I, in amazement, as he stood before me with a jug in each hand, “that you intend carrying those things seven miles, and then bring them back that distance filled with whisky!”

“In course. I mean that they’re goin’ to the still an’ back with us, but I don’t reckon me or you are goin’ to tote em.”

“What then?”

“Wait an’ see.”

We wound along the crooked valley road for several rods, until, in front of a cabin, my companion stopped, sat down his jugs, and unwound from his waist something that looked like a bridle.

“Hist!” said he, in a low tone, ” I reckon they be all asleep in the house. Ji’st ye stay hyar, an’ I’ll catch the filly in yan lot.”

This was more than I had bargained for. The expedition we were on was bad enough, but horse-stealing was a crime of too positive a kind. Of course I knew Harran only intended to borrow the horse for the evening, but if we were caught with the animal in our possession, and going in an opposite direction from the owner’s farm, what was simply a misdemeanor, might, from attendant circumstances, be construed into a crime to which no light penalty was attached. But Harran was over the fence and had the filly in charge before I could prevent him. Talking was then of no use. He had done the same thing a hundred times before. He said there was no danger. I was not convinced, but, having started, I determined to proceed, let come what might. He let down the rails of the fence, led the filly through, threw the blanket over her back, and, tying the jugs, by their handles, to the ends of a strap, slung them over the blanket. . •

“Now git up an’ ride ‘er,” said he, “an’ I’ll walk fer the first few mile.” p

“No riding for me until I get out of this locality,” I answered. “I have no intention of being seen by chance travelers on a stolen horse, with two demijohns hanging before me, and in the company of a moonshiner. It would be a little too suspicious, and next fall there might be a case in court in which I would be the most important party. You may ride.”

Harran laughed long and rather too loudly for safety; but seeing I was in earnest, he mounted. We started. It was a clear, moonlight night. The air was just cool enough to be comfortable. We followed the country road for four miles without meeting a person, and only being barked at once by a farmer’s dog; then we turned into a narrow trail through a dense chestnut forest. At this point my fellow traveler dismounted and I filled his place. He walked ahead, leading the way along the shaded aisles, while after him I jogged with the two jugs rubbing my knees with every step the horse made. We were to ascend and cross the ridge that rose before us, and then wind down through the ravines on the opposite slope until we reached the still. The top was gained by a steep climb of two miles, during part of which ascent the filly carried nothing but the earthenware luggage. On the summit we found ourselves in a dense balsam forest.

Down the opposite side, as we descended, even with the bright light of a full moon overhead, we were surrounded by a darkness, formed by the shadows of the trees, that made the path almost imperceptible to me. Harran seemed to have no trouble in tracing it.

“Almost thar,” said the moonshiner, as he slapped my leg, while the filly stopped for a drink at a cold, bubbling stream coursing along the roots of the laurel: ” Now, swar by God and all thet’% holy, ye’ll never breathe to a livin’ soul the whereabouts o’ this hyar place.”

I swore, reserving at the same time all an author’s rights of revelation except as to the whereabouts.

“The spot’s not a hundred yards from hyar.”

We turned into a ravine, and went upward along the stream. The sides of the ravine grew steeper. Suddenly I heard a coarse laugh, then caught a glimmer of fire-light, and by its blaze, for the first time in my life, I saw the mountain still of an illicit distiller. We paused for a moment and Harran whistled three times shrilly.

“All right. Come ahead!” yelled some one. A minute later, obedient to this return signal, we had stopped at our destination. The ravine had narrowed, and the sides were much steeper and higher. The place was well shut in. An open shed, roofed, and with one side boarded, stood before us. At an Illicit Still. 361

Within it was a low furnace throwing out the light of a hot fire. Over the furnace was a copper still, capable of holding twenty-five gallons. Several wash-tubs, a cold water hogshead, and two casks, evidently containing corn in a diluted state, stood around under the roof. Close to this still-house was a little log cabin. The two distillers, who greeted our arrival, ate and slept within this latter domicil. The smoke from the still curled up through the immense balsams and hemlocks that almost crossed themselves over the top of the ravine.

The two distillers looked smoky and black, and smelled strongly of the illicit. They, like my friend, were in their shirt sleeves, and dressed as he was. Their hats were off, and their long brown locks shaking loosely over their ears and grizzled faces, gave them a barbarous appearance.

“We’lowed ye would’nt come, Joe, afore to-morrer night. Who’ve ye got thar on the filly?” inquired one of the pair.

“He? thet’s John Shales, a kin o’ mine. He’s started up a still over’n the side, an’ not knowin’ exact how tu run hit, he kum along with me tu see yer’s an’ pick up a bit,” answered Harran by way of introduction, as I jumped from the horse, and he, removing the jugs, tied the animal to a post of the still.

“Thet’s all right. Glad to see yer,” said the first speaker in a hearty, good-natured voice, extending his hand to me for a fraternal grasp, which he received, continuing at the same time, “My name’s Mont Giller.”

“And mine’s Bob Daves,” sang out the second of the pair as he clinched my hand.

“Hev ye enny o’ the dew ready fer my jugs, an’ fer my throat, which is ez dry ez a bald mounting?” asked Harran.

“I reckon we kin manage to set yer off,” answered Daves.

One of the casks in the shed was tipped, a plug drawn from its top, and a stream like the purest spring water gushed into a pail set below it. This was whiskey. The jugs were filled. Each of us then imbibed from a rusty tin dipper. In keeping with my assumed character, I was obliged to partake with them. We took it straight, my companion emptying a half-pint of the liquid without a gurgle of disapproval or a wink of his eyes.

While the men worked in the light of the furnace fire, and talked in loud tones above the noise of the running water flowing down troughs into the hogshead, through which wound the worm from the copper still, I listened and “j’ined” in at intervals, and this I learned:

One of the men was a widower, the other a bachelor. It was two miles down that side of the mountain to a road. The corn used in distilling they bought at from twenty-five to fifty cents per bushel, and “toted” it or brought it on mule-back up the trail to the still. They had no occasion to take the whisky below for sale. It was all sold on the spot at from seventy-five cents to one dollar per gallon, according to the price of corn. Those who came after the liquor, came, as we had, with jugs, and thereby supplied the tipplers in the valley, usually charging a quarter of a dollar extra for the trip up and back—nothing for the danger incurred by dealing in it.

The older man, Giller, I noticed, had been eyeing me rather suspiciously for some time. His observation made me rather uneasy. At last, while I was seated on a large log before the fire, Giller approached me, and, as though by accident, brushed off my hat. Not thinking what he was up to, as I naturally would do I turned my face toward him.

“By—!” exclaimed he. “Hit’s all a blasted lie. You’re no moonshiner. You’re a revenoo; but yer tricked right hyar.”

1 saw a big, murderous-looking pistol in his hand and heard it click. I suppose I threw up my hands. “Hold on, hold
on!” I exclaimed. “Don’t shoot! for heaven’s sake, man, don’t shoot! it’s a mistake.”

“Wal, I don’t know ’bout thet.’ We’ll hev Harran explain this thing while I keep a bead on yer head.”

Of course, Harran and the other moonshiner were by us immediately.

“What’s the matter with you, Mont, yer goin’ to shoot my cousin? That’s a perlite way to treat yer comp’ny. What to hell air ye up to?”

He had grabbed the excited and suspicious moonshiner by the arm.

“Let go ‘c me,” said the latter, “I know thet man thar is no kin o’ yours, Joe Harran. He’s cl’ar too fine a sort fer thet, and ef ye don’t prove to me thet he haint a revenoo an* ye haint a sneak, I’ll shoot him first an’ then turn ye adrift on the same road.”

Daves, on hearing this speech, surveyed me critically with an unfavorable result for myself, and then, in turn, drew a horse pistol, and cocked it swearing as he did so.

I saw the game was up as far as my being John Shales was concerned, so I decided to come out if possible in true colors, and also as wholly antagonistic to revenue officers. It took some time for an explanation; but on Harran’s vouching in decidedly strong terms as to the truth of what I said, they lowered, uncocked and slipped their “shootin’-irons” into their pockets.

They were by no means satisfied, though, and we left them with lowering countenances and malicious muttering, against my companion for daring to bring a stranger into their camp.

We made a safe trip across the mountain, and at 2 o’clock in the morning struck the road. I was riding.

“Hold on hyar,” said Harran.

I held in the horse. We were before an unpretentious farm house. The moon had just disappeared behind the western ranges, and the landscape was dark and uncomfortably cheerless, for a chill wind had sprung up. Harran went up to the yard fence, reached over and lifted up a jug. He brought it to me, shaking it as he did so. A ringing sound came from it. ” That s silver,” said he.

“What does that mean?” I inquired in a curious tone.

“Why,” he returned, while he turned the jug upside down in his hat and shook it, “here’stwo dollars an’ a half in dimes. I reckon thet Winters wants two gallon o’ the dew, an’ this hoi’s two gallon, jist.” He said he ‘llowed he’d be wantin’ some soon, an the jug, he sed, would be in the ole place. Ye see, now, he’ll find hit thar in the mornin’ but he’ll never know how hit cum thar, or who tuk his money.”

“What is the object of being so secret about it?”

“Why, what ef I’m arrested, ah’ he’s hauled up ez a witness. What kin he swar to about buying whiskey o’ me? Nothin’. He’ll hev the whiskey all the same though, won’t he? Ha, ha!”

He filled the jug and four others on the way down. All had money with them, either inside or lying on the corn-cob stopper. It was a cash business. At the proper place he turned the filly in the barn lot, and a few minutes after we were at my boarding-house. Before we parted for the night—it was almost daylight—I reckoned up for him his account of purchases and sales for the expedition. He had a profit in his favor of two dollars and a quarter, and a little more than a gallon of the “dew.” All I had gained was experience.

page 357-364. Copyright, 1883