A Bootlegged History of Appalachia
A Bootlegged History of Appalachia
The understory of the forest shimmers in a gray hue as a full moon peeks through the canopy. The evening is so bright that you didn’t need to use a lantern to find your way to the still back up in the lost cove. After two years of making shine on this plot you didn’t need a light anyhow.
The hills of southern Appalachia are (were) home to some of the finest spirits ever made. The Scot-Irish immigrants of the early 18th century that largely populated the isolated coves brought with them banjos and a tradition of home brews. These spirits were concocted for personal consumption but a man with a good mash could turn quite the profit selling his product to the local community. The value of corn used for whiskey was much higher than just the raw product.
Money is good at the sawmill but cutting wood doesn’t pay nearly as well as running a little likker to the city folks. After bringing in a few cousins, your operation has developed quite the reputation for both its quality and timely delivery.
The origin of the bootlegger comes from early fur traders who would stow flasks of illicit spirits in their boots when they would meet up with Native American to negotiate trades between the two parties. With large demand and bigger loads, the boot top mentality was adapted to higher capacity transportation methods such as the automobile but the nickname stuck around.
Ol’ Betsy, the souped up Ford Model A that had never missed a shipment although quite a few had tried to stop her, is getting loaded with 150 gallons. Her reinforced springs groan against the weight. Just as the last jar hit the bed the bay of a hound rips through the hills with lights and yelling following closely behind.
The ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 declared the production and distribution of alcoholic beverages illegal. However, you could possess and consume without getting in trouble. Thirsty Americans didn’t stop getting drunk as they did so within the secrecy of a speakeasy. During Prohibition arises an occupation of bootlegging and a network of organized crime.
The cousins take off through the rhododendrons leaving you with a running truck full of 15 years behind bars and a reputation to uphold in Chicago. Flashlights sweep the clearing as bullets pepper the taillights. Navigating the switchbacks with 800 pounds of flammable liquid with cops closing in wasn’t nearly as fun as the races you and your buddies wagered on the weekends
Government regulations came and went but the stills remain hot and operating in the impenetrable Appalachian mountains. Post-Prohibition bootlegging was immensely reduced as legitimate distilleries began to lobby their local congressmen. Demand for high-proof shine wavered but never failed as counties began to vote on how dry or wet their communities would become, leaving lots of demand to be fulfilled. Bootleggers began to build reputations for themselves as highly skilled drivers with a competitive itch. Some were even good enough to start their own league of racing.
Blue lights illuminate up the truck’s cabin. At the exit of the cove is an old covered bridge, mostly washed from last month's flood. Out of boredom you fashioned a jump last week and managed to send Betsy across as a shortcut for a race. Now is your chance to see if she can do it with a full load. With pedal to metal and bullets whizzing by it seems like a good time to send it.
Charles Hargrove | Head Shopkeeper | Tight Line Enthusiast