The Moonshine Investigation

The information we gathered indicated moonshining started in the area in the late 1800s. We uncovered bits and scraps of information that made it look like it was pretty widespread and involved most people and businesses in the area. Although we never found any stills, information gathered made reference to farmers, haulers, law enforcement personnel and a few local whiskey sellers.

Historical records of sales of sugar, bottles, and cans by local businesses indicates the amount of moonshine produced must have been tremendous. Considering the population of the entire Slokey County area, each and every person living there — men, women and children, would have had to drink a gallon a day each to even put a dent in the liquor being made. We surmised, without any proof whatsoever, that the shine must have been going out of state. There just were not enough people in the area to consume what was made.

Making Molasses
Making Molasses

The applicant’s family owned over a hundred acres of farmland and there are a few remaining apple trees but stories say there was a big apple orchard there at one time and apple orchards still exist around Decatur and Huntsville. Peaches are everywhere.  We found recipes for peach and apple brandy, applejack and plenty of corn whiskey recipes. Some of the elderly people interviewed said their family made moonshine with molasses and put it in glass jars with molasses labels on it. They said most of it went to nip joints in Birmingham.

Plenty of people we interviewed had family photos of their family stills. Most of them were wood-fired turnip stills and they had them set up close to a stream or creek. One family, the Campbell family, showed us pictures of their grandaddy’s submarine still. Family members said he built the still after he moved to the area. Before that he had been working in the coal mines up in Campbell County Tennessee . 

All the families we talked with said making moonshine back in the day was a matter of survival and only a few did it to make big money; most just wanted to pay a mortgage or buy farm equipment. But, then again, the woods up there are full of lies about things past and most people are pretty thick with their neighbors. One thing’s for sure; most of them said their ancestors fought for the right to live on their own terms until dead and gone. Some even had mementos such as cow shoes. One old lady showed me a pair of shoes her father used when moonshining — the doggone things had a second sole glued to the bottom that was facing backwards. She said it kept the revenue agents confused — ‘hard to tell if the guy was coming or going’ she said. 

An old man we interviewed said he used to help the applicants granddaddy make moonshine in return for the slop which he carried home to feed the family pigs. According to him, Pappy Cane, that’s what he called him, gave a lot of his moonshine to local folks so they could trade it for things they needed. Most of the families helped him look out for revenue agents. If they had a phone, they would call one another and get the word out if they saw anyone that looked like revenuers. Others would ring dinner bells or shoot off guns and one of the ladies said her grandmother used to send signals by putting clothes out on a clothes line.

We found some information that would make one believe that liquor was hauled to a couple of railroad stops in the county. There is still faint signs of wagon tracks coming out of the Sipsey area leading to the railroad tracks. To further flavor the story that the railroad was somehow involved, we found old railroad maps in some of the items people kept from their ancestors’ moonshining activities. 

Looks like shine was sold to the coal mine camps in the area and a few retailers, stores and such in nearby towns — mainly Boar Tush, Arkadelphia, Hanceville, Bug Tussle, Crane Hill, Holly Pond and some places with weird names like Batts Nest and Booger Tree.

In summary, there was nothing directly connected to the applicant. All the accusations are more or less folk lore. Local legend says that five of the applicant’s ancestors were arrested for moonshine related charges but there are no records to verify the tales.