Saturday, March 21, 2009


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.


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.

Copyright 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved



  1. Congrats Gary! It is a wonderful play and Neal did a fabulous job bringing it to film! I loved it! Lewis Redmond is one of my heroes now, along with you!


  2. Well, Gary, I include your increasingly well-known play in my community college classes, and the students love it! We study PRINCE for the various styles or methods of writing and communicating in both the stage play and Neal's filmed narration. The students really respond to the deeper cultural issues brought forth by the play, as well as the brevity and immediacy of dramatic monologue as an art form. It's a whole new artistic experience for most of them.

  3. Well, here we are, surrounded by Lewis's family, walking the ground where he terrified the Law -- which deserved it no end. We (and friends)are holders of probably all the photos known to exist, and you and Milton and Neal have long been taking this play everywhere and filling theaters with it repeatedly --and I, even, living at the house of Adeline Redmond's ancestors where I can't imagine Lewis had no "business."
    But who wants to know all this stuff?Bah humbug!
    Welcome to the modern world! I could write a big fat book of such incidents. I guess "creative writers" think they can make up a better story -- but I don't think so!
    This nice man, which I am sure he is, must have totally missed what to me is the highlight of the Lewis/Adeline saga -- in which she, in a near-continual state of gestating and birthing, picked the remains of Lewis out of the cornfield and sewed them together, sterilizing her work with new whiskey -- only to see the Fiends return and carry off her resurrected darling and plop his poor frail butt in jail! Somehow a little drama seems to creep in there. Seems like. Also, Adeline (missing from the play for practical reasons) is to me an equal icon. I wish so much I had asked the right questions while someone was alive who could have answered them.

  4. Congratulations, Gary!

    I was in Birmingham a while back at at Murder in the Magic City and a Lady in the audience told me that I write 'in the dark corners' and went on to reference your play.

    I loved meeting you at the NCWN fall conference and look forward to seeing you around the circuit.

    If you like, get in touch with me by email about trading blog posts. Sounds like an interesting idea! My email contact is on my website

  5. Gary,

    Looks like you may have snuck in under the wire.
    The Wall Street Journal may be destined to the
    dust bin along with the other big name newspapers. Congratulations. You, Neal, and Milton certainly deserve the national plug. It's a wonderfully written, staged, acted, and filmed play. I think of it more as an historical play that every high school needs a copy of to show in classes on a regular basis.


  6. Congrats, Gary!! Well deserved credit for an outstanding play. The accolades should have been far greater, but I guess you have to take the praise where you get it!! For those of you who haven't seen Dark Corners, get a copy and watch it soon. It's fantastic!! Gary is one of the most talented people that you will hear so little about, and that's a shame.

    An admirer and friend,

  7. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  8. Sarah,
    I would be delighted if you would become a member Just sign on at the top of the page. Half of the folks up there are "anonymous."

  9. Thanks for your story about Lewis Redmond.
    Lewis Redmond was my great great great grandfather I have alot of Picture's of him.

    1. Im an illegitimate descendant of the NC Redmonds. Do you have any history on his decedents? I would also love to see those pics. My email is

    2. Our side of this family would also love to trace the linage and see the pictures. My mother-in-law's grandfather was Oscar Redmand. Our contact email is

    3. My Great Grandmother applied for western Cherokee.Said her cherokee came from Major Redmond/Redman.
      Someone wrote Lewis Redmonds grandfather lived on the Qualla Boundery home of the cherokees.
      Does anyone know his ancestry?Thank You.....Linda Mae Woods

  10. Duckworth brutally raped Major Redmond's wife. That is why he killed him in rage and why the President pardoned him. Never made public to preserve wife's reputation.
    Great niece

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