HERE IT IS, FOLKS! I HAVE HAD MY PARKING TICKET VALIDATED. If you look closely, you will find a reference to my play, "Prince of Dark Corners" in this Wall Street review of Bruce Stewart's book.
By STUART FERGUSON
King of the Moonshiners
Edited by Bruce E. Stewart
University of Tennessee, 127 pages, $19.95
"The time has come when an honest man can't take an honest drink without having a gang of revenue officers after him," complained Zebulon Vance, a former governor of North Carolina, in 1876. That same year Lewis R. Redmond, a fellow North Carolinian, killed a revenue agent near Brevard, N.C., when the agent tried to arrest him for making and transporting illegal whiskey.
The murder elevated Redmond (1854-1906) from obscure moonshiner to notorious outlaw and folk hero. Soon enough he had crossed the state line into South Carolina and, with the aid of friends, evaded attempts to bring him to justice. In fact, Redmond turned the tables and pursued his pursuers -- the government agents -- through the Blue Ridge mountains, invading their homes and rescuing his gang members from jail.
[Redmond] University of Tennessee Press
In June 1878, the Charleston News and Courier sent a reporter named C. McKinley to find Redmond and get his story. McKinley found himself in "the dark corners," the region where Georgia and both Carolinas meet, scrambling through the woods "directly upward to some veritable land of the sky." There he met Redmond, "one of the handsomest men I ever saw." Together they sampled Redmond's mountain dew. "Colored like a rose with the tonic of wild cherries, it constituted a draught which might have been likened to a nectar flowing down from some illicit still run in the private interest of the gods up there on the blue wooded Olympus above." The series of articles in the News and Courier were so favorable to Redmond that Wade Hampton, the governor of South Carolina, withdrew the reward he had offered for the outlaw's capture.
In "King of the Moonshiners," editor Bruce E. Stewart, who teaches history at Appalachian State University, offers a long and informative introduction and then gathers McKinley's interview and the text of a first-person account by Robert A. Cobb, a revenue agent who nearly caught up with Redmond in 1881, a week before his capture. Mr. Stewart also includes the text of a dime novel -- full title: "The Entwined Lives of Miss Gabrielle Austin, Daughter of the Late Rev. Ellis C. Austin, and of Redmond, the Outlaw, Leader of the North Carolina 'Moonshiners' " -- published when Redmond was still on the lam. Its narrative gives the bandit a distinguished ancestry, a European education and shoulder-length "curls of spun gold," all fictitious. (Redmond is still a figure of literary inspiration. "The Prince of Dark Corners," a play about Redmond's exploits by the contemporary playwright Gary Carden, will be broadcast in early April -- in a filmed version -- on WRLK, a Columbia, S.C., PBS station.)
[Moonshine] Neal Hutcheson
The "bloated brigand of the Blue Ridge," as Redmond's enemies had been known to call him, was finally cornered on April 7, 1881. When a party of six agents trapped him in his house, he tried to escape and was shot six times. He ran half a mile before exhaustion and blood loss caused him to collapse. Soon after, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
What was all this trouble really about? Mr. Stewart writes that, after the Civil War, "southern highlanders . . . resumed the antebellum practice of distilling their crops into alcohol." During the Civil War the U.S. had begun to levy taxes on alcohol and set up the Bureau of Internal Revenue to collect them; after the war the taxes were applied in the South, too, but Southern distillers were -- how to put it? -- reluctant to pay them. Adding insult to injury, most of the revenuers were home-grown Unionists, taking advantage of Republican patronage to make a living by hunting down their neighbors. The struggle of Southern mountain farmers to feed their families by selling their own spirits thus became entwined with a fight against the ravages of Reconstruction.
Public opinion would eventually turn against the moonshiners as Southerners made their uneasy peace with the post-Civil War world and came to prefer a semi-orderly new South to the wild and rebellious old one. Redmond himself was pardoned after serving just three years in prison. He returned to his wife and children and got a job running a licensed distillery. The bottle labels and barrel heads for "Redmond's Hand Mash" naturally featured his portrait. His legal whiskey proved to be even more popular than his contraband version.
Mr. Ferguson is the 2009 Rossetter House Foundation Scholar of the Florida Historical Society.
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