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Spirits of Just Men

Spirits of Just Men: Mountaineers, Liquor Bosses, and Lawmen in the Moonshine Capital of the World

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Spirits of Just Men
    Book Description:

    Spirits of Just Men tells the story of moonshine in 1930s America, as seen through the remarkable location of Franklin County, Virginia, a place that many still refer to as the "moonshine capital of the world." Charles D. Thompson Jr. chronicles the Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935, which made national news and exposed the far-reaching and pervasive tendrils of Appalachia's local moonshine economy. Thompson, whose ancestors were involved in the area's moonshine trade and trial as well as local law enforcement, uses the event as a stepping-off point to explore Blue Ridge Mountain culture, economy, and political engagement in the 1930s. Drawing from extensive oral histories and local archival material, he illustrates how the moonshine trade was a rational and savvy choice for struggling farmers and community members during the Great Depression. Local characters come alive through this richly colorful narrative, including the stories of Miss Ora Harrison, a key witness for the defense and an Episcopalian missionary to the region, and Elder Goode Hash, an itinerant Primitive Baptist preacher and juror in a related murder trial. Considering the complex interactions of religion, economics, local history, Appalachian culture, and immigration, Thompson's sensitive analysis examines the people and processes involved in turning a basic agricultural commodity into such a sought-after and essentially American spirit.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09526-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VIII)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. IX-X)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XI-XII)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. XIII-XXXII)

    I STEERED THE PICKUP TO A STOP on a gravel road alongside a thicket of dried honeysuckle and blackberry canes near Shively Branch in Endicott, Virginia. “It’s right over yonder,” said my grandfather pointing through the brush. I got out in the crisp October air to search while he and my mother waited in the truck. I had to fight through yards of dry briars higher than my head before I found, nearly rotted through, a wooden floor perched on top of stacked rock corners. The roof and the walls had fallen in, leaving a heap of rubble that people...

  5. 1 Conspiracy Trial in the Moonshine Capital of the World
    (pp. 1-28)

    IN 1934, THE ROAD UP Thompson Ridge was red dirt or mud, depending on the weather. No road grader or state gravel had ever touched it. After a rain or snow, people parked their roadsters or trucks, the few who had them, that is, at the foot of the hill and walked home. Sometimes they used their teams of horses or mules to pull the stuck vehicles up the hill to their farms. Sometimes they just left them at the bottom of the hill by the store until the road dried out.

    Pete Thompson’s store sat at the foot of...

  6. 2 Wettest Section in the U.S.A.
    (pp. 29-58)

    ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL Joseph B. Keenan, one of the prosecutors of the conspiracy, knew right away how formidable his Franklin County opponents would be. On April 12, 1935, ten days before the trial was to begin, Keenan wrote a letter to his boss in Washington, DC, calling to his attention how the Wickersham Crime Commission had singled out Franklin County as “the most notorious spot in the country for liquor violations.” Then he added that during the latest Treasury Department’s investigation of the county, “Considerable political and other pressure has been brought on the case, the Government’s witnesses intimidated,...

  7. 3 Appalachian Spring
    (pp. 59-84)

    THE ANCESTORS OF THOSE who packed into the Roanoke courthouse had moved into the western Virginia hill country generations before, seeking farms they could settle on and call their own. Finding mountain farms was a godsend for them, a fulfillment of their search for independence and a way to raise their children with the hope for a better future. Yet as the nation’s economy and infrastructure began to develop during the industrial boom of the late 1800s, the people of the mountains were “left out in the cold,” as Sherwood Anderson put it. But these were resourceful people, and they...

  8. 4 Elder Goode
    (pp. 85-120)

    REELING FROM THE ACQUITTAL of Commonwealth Attorney Carter Lee, Col. Thomas Bailey, now working with coinvestigator C. S. Roth, received permission from the Treasury Department to continue his investigation. He headed into Salem and the rural counties surrounding Roanoke to talk with the jurors who had sat through the long weeks of the case and the closed-door deliberations. He met first with the jury foreman, E. H. Carlton, on Carlton’s farm in neighboring Montgomery County. The head juror was quick to speak his mind. Like Bailey, he, too, had been deeply disturbed by what he had seen and heard at...

  9. 5 Last Old Dollar Is Gone
    (pp. 121-144)

    ELDER GOODE HASH WROTE more about corn in his calendar records than any other crop. He noted the dates he planted it in May or June and the dates when, usually about four weeks later, it had grown high enough for him to begin working it with his horse-drawn, walk-behind cultivator. He planted as much as a half-bushel of seed he had saved from the previous year’s crop. The corn planter he owned looked a lot like his other farm implements: two hardwood handles and the necessary connections for horse harness. But what distinguished it was the galvanized metal canister...

  10. 6 Entrepreneurial Spirits
    (pp. 145-176)

    THREE OF THE HASH CHILDREN were hoeing corn down near the creek with their parents one summer morning in 1929 when a barrage of gunshots rang out on the other side of the hill looming above them. Minutes later, two men running at full speed, one of them carrying copper still parts in his hands, ran through the Hashes’ cornfield, hightailing it for cover in the woods on the other side of Runnett Bag Creek. The Hashes stood aside and braced themselves for the aftermath. But no one followed, and the two men—the Hashes’ neighbors from over the mountain...

  11. 7 Her Moonshine Neighbor as Herself
    (pp. 177-208)

    BY THE TIME SHE TESTIFIED as a character witness for Amos Rakes at the 1936 jury-tampering trial, Ora Harrison had lived in Endicott for twenty-seven years. Always single, Miss Ora, age fifty-two, had devoted her entire adult life to teaching and relief work, serving as an Episcopal missionary and director of the St. John’s-in-the-Mountains Mission for most of it. After nearly three decades of life and work in the Blue Ridge, her testimony before the judge and jury on behalf of a bootlegger came as no surprise in Endicott, yet how strange her association with him must have seemed to...

  12. 8 Murder Trial in Franklin County
    (pp. 209-238)

    STANDING GUARD OUTSIDE THE Franklin County courthouse is a tall statue of a Confederate soldier gazing northward, rifle at the ready. The statue commemorates the Franklin County men who fought for the Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Robert E. Lee’s command. Jubal Early, a wealthy planter and slaveholder from the Piedmont section of Franklin County, served as one of Lee’s generals. Over three hundred men from the county died serving under those generals; countless others returned wounded and maimed. Though several days’ march from the nearest Virginia battle-field, Franklin County suffered not only these direct losses from combat but...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 239-250)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 251-258)
  15. Index
    (pp. 259-270)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-273)