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“Moonshine Heyday”

Looking Back with Mathews, originally printed July 13, 1977

 

The hills around Pulaski have always afforded good watersheds for fresh water, but water is not the only liquid refreshment that flowed down from the green hills. Before, during, and after the days of prohibition little workshops existed in many of the dark hemlock hollows where bold streams rushed down to aid in the manufacture of bootleg liquor. They say that some of the best corn likker in the world came out of the Gatewood Reservoir area. That was one section where a large amount of what was manufactured was consumed, which meant that it had to be good. Remains of stills can even now be found in some of those deep hollows, and it’s not unheard of for a real live still to be found in operation. Back in the days when they were much more plentiful, people gave Sheriff Henry Hall credit for being able to smell a still ten miles away. I’m not sure whether Henry’s sniffer wore out, or if people found easier and more profitable professions. Anyhow we don’t hear of as many being put out of business as we once did.

There was a place down Dora Highway where the road went up toward Peak Knob to a rocky section known as “Hole in the Wall.” Large quantities of moonshine were sold in this area. Very much like in the mountain dew song, a person wanting to buy some would leave his money at a certain place, move up to a turnaround, and when he returned his merchandise was waiting. This way no one ever saw the seller.

Pulaski has had its part of bootleggers. Some were fortunate enough that they never got caught, and others were caught at regular intervals. Some sold moonshine, but in more recent times they bought and resold whiskey transported from the A.B.C. Stores in surrounding towns. It used to be that on most any day of the week a group of buyers could be observed leaving town on what was referred to as the “Buttermilk Run.” The illegal operator would load up his car with these buyers, and each would make a purchase of the legal limit, and upon return to Pulaski each buyer would receive a jug of wine for his work. The operator would end up with a carload of whiskey that he sold at a substantial profit. When the voters approved a local A.B.C. Store a lot of people were robbed of their means of making a living. One more example a big government interfering with good old American free enterprise.

There have been many tales about how bootleggers outsmarted the hated revenuer, but there was one revenue officer in the area who had the name of being about two steps ahead of the illegal manufacturers. He had a racket going where he made his profession pay off in any direction he turned. As the story goes, Mr. Revenuer would sniff around until he caught a man running a still. He would confiscate all of the whiskey, then offer to spare the offender the expense and humiliation of facing trial if the man would agree to fork over a certain number of dollars. This gave the revenuer a double haul, but he wasn’t satisfied. He would bottle up the confiscated likker and sell it to his political buddies. Each month Mr. Revenuer received a nice fat check from the U.S. Government, plus his cash bribe money, plus the income from the sale of confiscated likker. This, on top of the fact that he had all he needed for his own thirst, made the position of Revenue Officer the most lucrative business around during the Great Depression. Surely if many politicians of this day would trace their roots, they would find that somewhere in the distant past a descendant was involved in the illegal likker traffic in one way or another.

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