Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Great Americans series

In a previous post, I touched upon the bootleg whiskey business. An anonymous commenter sent a link to a story over at Reason marking the demise of the great Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, a legendary practitioner of untaxed alcoholic distillation (note: the first link in the Reason piece is to an AP story pertaining to Sutton’s defiant death; that story is no longer available, but here’s a link to the full obituary, which appeared in the WSJ). A very interesting slice of Americana.

And here's a wiki article on a North Carolina bootlegger that Old Paco chased for years - a fellow with the highly improbable name of Percy Flowers. The feds never could get a conviction; Old Paco told me that Percy bought and sold juries with the ease of a used car dealer buying and selling dubious clunkers. My father said that the man was a genius - for example, he taught himself basic structural and electrical engineering from scratch and built a huge underground still - and could easily have made a fortune doing honest work, but just seemed drawn to the excitement of the "game" (I'm reminded of one of Wodehouse's robber-barons: "He preferred his millions tainted. His attitude toward an untainted million was that of a sportsman toward the sitting bird.")

1 comment:

JorgXMcKie said...

Ummmm. There has been a still behind my late mother's house [not our family's, but neighbors] in continuous usage [well, it gets re-modeled and/or re-built from time to time] since at least 1796. And that's in western IL. [Many of our ancestors followed various rivers there from what was then western Virginia.]

It's called "clear liquor" back home, and you can still buy it in Mason jars.

Back in that day, you walked and or rafted your stuff and your livestock to a likely looking place and then cut down oak trees to build a shelter which would eventually become a cabin. You fed the hogs on acorns and offal from your game kill, used the branches to burn in the fireplace, used the ashes to make lye, and then soap.

You also grubbed or burned out the stumps and planted corn in the cleared ground. The next fall you ground some corn for meal, fed some to the hogs, and turned some into whiskey.

You continued to cut down oaks, made barrels [or casks] for the whiskey, build onto the cabin, and finally to make a raft to float down-river to St. Louis with whiskey and hogs foe market. In St. Louis you sold the whiskey and hogs and the logs from the raft, bought goods and walked home.

Or so my grandpa told me his grandpa said his grandpa told him.