Timothy J. Smith II and Tom Des Jean.
The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (National Area) was created by
an act of Congress in 1974. It consists of 125,000 acres of forest and cliffline resources in the
Upper Cumberland Plateau (UCP) of Tennessee and Kentucky, surrounding the Big South Fork
of the Cumberland River (Figure 1). Since the fall of 2005, park rangers and university
contractors have been engaged in relocating and documenting the condition of archaeological
sites in the National Area. The project, known as the Archaeological Site Condition Assessment
Project (CAP), has provided an abundance of information concerning the numerous (>150)
historic period distillery sites in the Big South Fork NRRA. This research report is the
culmination of efforts to document that vanishing activity and is based on that earlier work
(Smith and Des Jean 2007) as well as collected oral histories and interviews.
Historic Overview
Moonshine is one of the many terms given to a distilled alcoholic beverage that is
manufactured anywhere other than a legal distillery (Maurer 1974:24). Other names, aside from
the more familiar term moonshine, include corn whiskey, mule kick, corn squeezings, stumphole water, mountain dew, sugar-jack, and white lightning. Moonshining, the process of
Paper Presented at the 20th Annual meeting of the Current Research in Tennessee Archeology
Conference, Nashville, 2007.
Location of the Big South Fork NRRA
manufacturing illicit spirits, is one of the oldest illicit activities in the United States (Nichols
1973:112). The knowledge for its manufacture arrived in North America along with the first
European colonists and it was undoubtedly one of the first products made in the colonies.
Moonshining, along with gunpowder manufacture, was therefore among America’s first
chemical industries (Maurer 1974:xi).
Moonshining was so prevalent an activity in the United States that one of the first actions
that newly-elected President George Washington undertook was to crush the Pennsylvania
“Whiskey Rebellion”. Washington led an army larger in size than any single force he ever led to
fight the British. Approximately 15,000 troops were summoned to quell the violence brewing in
reaction to excise taxes imposed by the Federal government in 1791 (Maurer 1974:17, Nichols
1973:9). Troops fought with farmers that were running small scale manufacturing and whiskey
selling operations on the frontier to raise money to supplement their farm production. The
suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion encouraged many of these small-scale whiskey producers
to relocate farther south and west into Kentucky and Tennessee. These frontier areas were found
to have excellent soil for growing corn and other grains and the region was blessed with
limestone-filtered waters which were very eminently suited to whiskey making.
Moonshine manufacture has been an important clandestine activity in the hills and
mountains of Tennessee for almost 200 years (O’Dell 1946:1). Undeniably, the primary reason
it was produced was to make an intoxicating beverage. However, it was also much easier to
carry a barrel or two of liquor for sale or trade than it was to take hundreds of bushels of corn to
market. Pace and Gardner (1985:3) elaborate that “Alcohol was an important commodity for
farmers who had little else to trade and who were located too far from major markets to
profitably export the produce of their fields in its raw form (Figure 2). Rye, wheat, and corn,
reduced to their liquid state, could be more easily transported, had a much higher market value
relative to volume, and had ready local and export markets.” Additionally, local conditions
including poorly maintained roads, distant agricultural markets, and low-yield agricultural lands,
contributed to the reasons for the manufacture of illegal spirits in the region (Pace and Gardner
1985:4). Also, there was undoubtedly a ready but covert market for corn liquor and, while the
market for farm produce might fluctuate, the whiskey market was probably a bit more stable.
Moonshining in the 1920s
Figure 2. Farmer/Laborer Moonshiners in a rockshelter still site in the 1920s
Yet another reason to produce a high-alcohol content liquor was for use in medicinal
products and herbal remedies. Rural farmers and the pioneers on the UCP had no trained
emergency responders and very limited access to professional medical care. They often had to
rely on their own knowledge and skills to deal with the vicissitudes of daily life (Blevins
1998:12). Alcohol was probably the only antiseptic available and it also served as a primary
ingredient in many herbal remedies (Blevins 2001; Sanderson 1958:166). Alcohol was used as a
preservative and added to keep medical concoctions like the cure for pellagra or worms from
spoiling (Blevins 2001). This cure requires the preparer to take the bark of wild cherry,
dogwood, red alder, and maple (any bark but pine) mix these together with water and boil them
up; strain the liquid and drink it daily but one must add one half glass of whiskey to prevent it
from souring. According to some sources (W. Linder, Personal Communication 2007) many old
timers kept a jar of ‘shine’ in the barn to use to medicate stock. A mixture of moonshine and
Epsom salts was used to create a poultice or liniment for chaffed cow udders. While it is not our
intent to “rationalize” the use of moonshine it seems quite evident that the necessity of home
medical treatment would itself create a relatively constant demand for moonshine.
Finally, moonshine was almost certainly manufactured and sold to supplement the
relatively marginal incomes of employees of the extractive industries that came to the area in the
early 20th century. Coal and timber companies paid low wages, often in company scrip that
could only be redeemed at the company store. This, combined with a paucity of job
opportunities in the area, resulted in a limited cash economy. Moonshine manufactured for sale
certainly added to the local economy and allowed moonshiners to earn cash to pay property
taxes, for example (Howell 1981:109, Kephart 1913:123). For all these reasons, along with a
general shortage of alcohol in the area during Prohibition, moonshining grew to become a very
popular, yet clandestine activity. Mr. Bill Miller (1980:16) related that (1930s?) whiskey sold
for $3.50 per gallon and if you bought a 100’ bag of sugar for $6.00 you could use 50’ for each
of two 55 gallon barrels of mash to produce 6 gallons of 100 proof. If you cut that then you could
make up to $42.00. Moonshiners would usually cut the first run with a second boil off (same
mash) which can produce two gallons of less high proof whiskey. Many times ‘shiners would
add Red Top Malt syrup which could produce two gallons per run but then that would usually be
cut making 4 gallons per run (Linder 2007). By the early to mid 1960s shine sold for 2-3$ a pint,
and with 8 pints per gallon and an average run of 2 gallons every 10 days during harvest season
(40 days), that could add up to $1200.00 in a month.
Moonshiners sold their products far and wide. When the product was purchased locally it
was usually by the pint or quart in the typical Mason Jar or Ball jar. These were easily acquired
in bulk for canning and because they had air-tight seals and were portable they were well suited
for this trade. Most of the moonshine was sold in small quantities to the occasional or small
consumers. Larger purchasers in the area were the numerous “Blind Tigers”, small shacks or
locations where an individual could purchase moonshine by the drink. These establishments had
larger quantities of illegal liquor which was delivered in numerous jars, kegs, or milk cans. Other
outlets were to be found in larger towns or cities and moonshine was carried to these locations in
gallon jars, false gasoline tanks and any number of available yet inconspicuous and ingenious
large volume containers.
Oral history information was collected by Anne Malenka who interviewed Harold Foster
in the early 1990s and much of the forgoing information was elicited.
“Was there much much moonshining that went on down here (the No Business
community of Big South Fork) in the depression”?
“Oh yeah, there was right smart of moonshining on back here. People round about
most everywhere, right smart of moonshining went on”.
“That was about the only way to make money at the time wasn't it?”
“That's right. They was so many of 'em making it they had to drink it mostly”.
Did many outsiders come to get moonshine?
They'd come from where they had work, and come in and get it. They'd come
from over on the Stearns Road. They'd carry it off over to them mines, a lot of
them would. They's been a lot of moonshine made around here.
When did they stop making it so much?
I don't know. It must have been in the sixties when it began slowing down. It got
to where they couldn't buy copper to make their still, one thing. And they got to
making old stuff, about killed a feller to drink it. I think they went on to other
drugs like merrywanna and stuff...”.
Moonshining as a trade, required only a few materials. Like other forms of alcohol
distillation, it is quite simple in theory, yet difficult in practice. The four main ingredients
include grain (usually corn meal, but sometimes wheat or rye), sugar, yeast, and water. Many
recipes for moonshine exist but the essentials are to mix one quart of corn meal and one quart of
corn malt (sprouted corn) with five gallons of water. Allow this to ferment for seven days. One
of the more colorful moonshiners in this area for many years was Le Roy Slaven (1916-1987).
Le Roy learned to make shine from his father Cal and began drinking at age 16. He made
moonshine with Jurdan Boyatt Jr. using Cal’s recipe for moonshine which is:
1 gallon - of Red Top Molasses
1 – 40 lb. bag of seed corn, soaked to swell up and after sprouting ground up into a mash.
25 lb. of sugar
set all in a 55 gal. Barrel filled 2/3 full of water until fermented.
At this point the mash was cooked, the alcohol was driven off and then condensed and collected.
The typical moonshiners of the UCP employed various recipes, but for the most part they
mixed about 50 pounds of sprouted corn meal with some sugar and warm water in a 55 gallon
barrel (Blevins 1998, Boyatt 1991). The stages in the process itself are fermentation, distillation,
and condensation. Fermentation is the chemical change that transforms sugar into ethyl alcohol
(Nichols 1973:34). To begin this stage, sprouted corn, also called malt, is added to a wooden or
metal box or barrel, along with water and sugar (Nichols1973:32). These mixed ingredients
constitute what is called “mash.” In this region, the yeast was often naturally obtained by
allowing corn or other grain to sprout, thereby attracting wild yeast spores already present in the
atmosphere (Nichols 1973:32). The mash was then heated by a small fire and allowed to ferment
into ethyl alcohol, chemically transforming the sugars into a product known as “sour mash.”
Once at its peak alcohol content, the sour mash was then transferred to a metal still set on top of
a firebox (Figure 3).
The next step in moonshine manufacture is called distillation. During distillation the sour
mash is heated by applying fire directly underneath the sealed still. Since ethyl alcohol has a
lower boiling point than the water solution in which it forms, the alcohol is first to vaporize
(Nichols 1973:36). This vapor rises and leaves the still boiler via an outlet pipe. At this point in
the process, different makers employed varying methods. As indicated by oral histories and still
sites themselves, many moonshiners at the Big South Fork NRRA made use of a device known
as a “thump-keg” (Blevins 1998:13). This was a small (approximately 10 gallon) barrel filled
with sour mash and placed just down the line from the still boiler. The thump-keg or “doubler,”
served three purposes. It was used to redistill the alcohol by using the heat of the vapor itself,
eliminating the need to distill twice or use separate stills. It also served to increase the alcohol
content of the final product (cf. Maurer 1974:117, Pace and Gardner 1985:9). Finally, the
thump-keg served to catch any solids or impurities that boiled over out of the mash (W. Linder,
personal communication, 2006).
Typical Components at a Moonshine Still:
Figure 3. Typical schematic of an illegal distillery in a rockshelter.
The last stage in the production of moonshine is known as condensation (Figures 4 & 5).
The vaporized alcohol leaves the thump-keg and travels down the line into the condenser.
Because the vapor would condense only when subjected to a lower temperature, it was critical
for the moonshiner to select his still location within reach of plenty of cool, circulating water. In
order for the moonshiner to condense the vaporized alcohol, the vapor was directed via system
pressure into a large barrel or box filled with continuously circulating cool water. Inside this
container, the vaporized alcohol passed through a “worm”, a helix-shaped, coiled copper tube,
not unlike that found in a modern radiator. The coiled worm provided greater surface area for
the vapor to condense. Because of the lower temperature of the water circulating outside the
Examples of Still-box Construction at the Big South Fork NRRA
Figure 4. Firebox construction examples from Big South Fork NRRA.
Examples of Still-box Construction at the Big South Fork NRRA
Figure 5. Firebox construction examples from Big South Fork NRRA.
worm, the pure grain alcohol, a.k.a. moonshine, condensed into liquid alcohol. The moonshine
was then collected from the end of the worm, and bottled for transport.
Making a good quality moonshine requires an understanding of the whole process. Often
this knowledge was passed down but it was also learned. If a moonshine maker takes short cuts
in the process he could destroy or reduce the purity of the alcohol; if a moonshiner used
materials other than copper for critical pieces of the production hardware, a radiator instead of a
copper condenser, for example, his product could be lethal. In 1991, 78 year old Estel Payne
noted this:
AM: What were the stills made of? Were most of them copper?
EP: Copper.
AM: Did somebody around here used to make them?
EP: That John Henry Thomas used to make 'em. Boy, he'd take that old blowtorch,
and just like a factory. And then I think they got to making them on these old oil
drums. Making bad stuff. Used to be a feller down there at Crossroads made
it; claimed you better not buy any of it. I know I took about three drinks, and it
liked to kill me.
Moonshine was not always made with corn, either, pretty much whatever would ferment at
one time or another would be used to produce distilled spirits. Estel Payne related to Anne
Malanka that there were several different sources he was aware of that had been used to produce
AM: Did they always use corn, or did they sometimes use other materials for
Well, they used apples, and right over where you live at, the Devil's Den they
call it, me and a fellow, we put up some persimmon brandy there. Boy, it'd
taste good, but your mouth would draw!
Previous Investigations at the Big South Fork NRRA
There has been limited archaeological investigation completed with regard to historic
moonshine sites at the Big South Fork NRRA. From 1978 to 1979 a number of moonshine stills,
both open-air and rockshelter, were recorded by NPS archeologists Robert Wilson and Dennis
Finch. During another inventory survey in 1981, the University of Tennessee’s Department of
Anthropology located 18 isolated moonshine rockshelters (Ferguson et al. 1986). The authors of
this report found that moonshine sites “Appear to reflect similar levels of technological
complexity, suggested by the uniformly small scale of operations, and by the construction
techniques and materials observed on the sites” (Pace and Gardner 1985:21). Furthermore, “The
still sites exhibit a patterned relationship to natural and cultural features on the landscape and can
be associated with specific historic period settlement types, in this case, the upland farmstead
which developed in the area after the turn of the century (Pace and Gardner 1985:21; Figure 6).
Over a decade later, and for seven years, Middle Tennessee State University conducted summer
surveys of rockshelters located in various parts of the National Area. This survey work added
over 80 moonshine sites to the number of documented distillery sites in the National Area.
In an effort to preserve the cultural resources of the Big South Fork NRRA, an NPS
Archaeological Technician along with a group of University of Tennessee Archaeological
Research Laboratory researchers are in the process of relocating these sites and assessing the
amount of disturbance at each site. Throughout this Condition Assessment Project (CAP) many
new prehistoric and historic archaeological sites have been recorded. Since still sites
characteristically include above-ground features it is not surprising that a large number of these
newly documented sites are historic distilleries. Some of these sites remain relatively
Examples of Still-box Construction at the Big South Fork NRRA
Figure 6. Firebox construction examples from Big South Fork NRRA.
undisturbed, and surprisingly, some sites have produced a rare glimpse into the tools and
manufacturing techniques used by 20th century moonshiners on the UCP.
Findings Since the Start of the CAP
While previous investigations provided early documentation of the sites, recent site
condition assessments have added significantly to our understanding of historic moonshining
activities at the Big South Fork NRRA. First, similar to the findings of Pace and Gardner (1985),
we have observed a limited variability in site structure among moonshine sites. These sites can
be identified based on the following criteria. A moonshine still site will almost always have
some sort of readily distinguishable stacked stone furnace or remnants of such a feature. These
furnaces, known as fireboxes or stillboxes, are often cemented or clay mortared in an effort to
insulate the still from heat loss and temperature differences (Figures 7 & 8) . Charcoal and ash
from the fuels used to heat the still often remain in the firebox and attest to the excellent
preservation at many of these sites. Oftentimes the firebox was heated to such high temperatures
that the iron contained in the sandstone rocks used to make it has oxidized causing the rocks to
become friable and crumble into reddish-orange piles of sand (Figure 9). Other times the
firebox is in such a disturbed state that site use must be inferred from other features or artifacts
present in the immediate vicinity.
Other features at moonshine sites include the presence of a pair of adjacent stacked
sandstone platforms. Because these features extend in a linear pattern outward from the firebox,
they are considered to be directly associated with the firebox. As such, they likely served as
bases for the thump-keg and the still condenser (Pace and Wagner 1985:11). As stated
previously, water is an essential ingredient for making moonshine. It is therefore not surprising
that most still sites have either a cool creek running nearby, a waterfall pouring over the shelter
drip-line, or an excavated water storage pit in the shelter floor (Figure 10). In fact, almost every
still site that did not have a spring or creek nearby has a large excavated feature for water
storage. Some sites even have small diameter, steel pipes that were carried in and set up to route
water to the manufacturing location.
Artifacts are not always observed at moonshine still sites. Pace and Gardner (1985:15)
speculated that this was due to several factors, and we agree with their assertions. First, because
Examples of Still-box Construction at the Big South Fork NRRA
Figure 7. Firebox construction examples from Big South Fork NRRA.
Examples of Still-box Construction at the Big South Fork NRRA
Figure 8. Firebox construction examples from Big South Fork NRRA.
Examples of Degraded Still-boxes at the Big South Fork NRRA
Figure 9. Examples of oxidized fireboxes from still sites atfrom Big South Fork NRRA.
Features of still sites:
Creeks / springs / waterfalls
Water storage pits
Firebox & stacked stone piers
Figure 10. Examples of water features from still sites from Big South Fork NRRA.
a moonshiner did not want to leave recent evidence of his activities for the revenuer to find, he
would often make his stills in several different rockshelters in the same drainage. Presumably,
the moonshiner would therefore scatter most of the materials associated with moonshining out of
the shelter and into the surrounding woods. In the past several years of conducting site condition
assessments, Big South Fork archaeologists have often found Mason jars, washtubs, and barrels
some distance from a known moonshine site. A second factor possibly influencing the low
density of artifacts present at moonshine sites is the high value of the still components. Most
moonshine stills were made of copper, an expensive metal. It can therefore be expected that
these components would be removed from the site and re-used or recycled once the still was no
longer in use. Indeed, we have encountered only one still with copper remaining (Figure 11). It
also appears as though most moonshiners went to great lengths to remove any metal from the
still site. Perhaps the moonshiner re-used these components as he moved to avoid detection.
This would also account for the partial destruction of many fireboxes, as many of the stills had
iron still supports built into their base (Pace and Gardner 1985:15).
A large percentage of moonshine stills at the Big South Fork NRRA do have a substantial
assemblage of portable artifacts. Most common among these artifacts are the remains of wooden
or metal containers used at different stages in the manufacturing process. These include oak
barrels, the iron rings used to bind oak barrels, wooden barrel staves, various metal drums or
barrels, and galvanized metal washtubs (Figure 12). Interestingly, several sites at the Big South
Fork NRRA exhibited evidence of intentional destruction of these large containers. We can only
speculate that this was either the result of competition between moonshiners, or perhaps even the
mark of the revenuer (Figures 14, 15 & 16).
Figure 12. The one most intact still found at Big South Fork NRRA.
Figure 13. Examples of barrels found at still sites from Big South Fork NRRA.
Mark of the revenuer?
Photo courtesy Louisville Times
Figure 14. “Revnoor” at work and examples of barrels found with marks that indicate seizures.
Shackling Moonshiners in the 1930s
Figure 15. Examples of barrels found at still sites from Big South Fork NRRA.
More Recent Moonshining Materials
Figure 16. Examples of recent “revenoor” actions found at still sites at Big South Fork NRRA.
Most still sites also contain the remains of some type of smaller containers used for
collecting and transporting the final product. These include Mason jars or Ball jars and zinc
Mason jar lids with milk-glass lid-liners, one gallon amber glass bleach bottles, medicine bottles,
re-used liquor bottles (wine), stoneware jugs, metal cans, and the occasional plastic jug (Figure
17). Several large cashes of containers were found during our investigations. A thorough
examination of the site is required to locate these caches (Figure 18). One site even had sealed
Mason jars with zinc lids and what we presume to be the remains of leftover sour mash inside
(Figure 19)! One informant told me that ‘shiners were superstitious and that mason and ball jars
were manufactured in large “lots” and each lot of jars had a number stamped on the bottom of it.
But the ‘shiners would always break those jars with number 13 embossed on the bottom because
Glass artifacts:
Figure 17. Examples of glass containers found at still sites from Big South Fork NRRA.
Figure 18. Examples of caches of glass containers found at still sites at Big South Fork NRRA.
Sour mash?
Figure 19. An intact “Ball” canning jar with what is most probably mash residue.
they were considered bad luck. This seems to be true, since as these canning jars have become
collectables, locating a jar with a number 13 is very difficult.
Moonshine stills at the Big South Fork NRRA also had a surprising number of other
artifacts present. These include, but are not limited to, axes, iron stoves, soldering wire, iron
skillets, and handcrafted wooden implements used in the moonshining process (Figure 20). The
latter include what we have determined to be a “mash stick,” used for stirring the mash so it did
not burn to the bottom of the still, and a “cinder stick” used to spread the hot ashes in the firebox
to keep a constant temperature (Blevins 1998:20).
Figure 20. Moonshine implements “in-situ” and close up, found at Big South Fork NRRA.
Despite the disturbances that moonshiners often create at their still sites, prehistoric
artifacts were rarely encountered at moonshine still sites. The infrequent occurrence of
prehistoric artifacts at historic moonshine still locations suggests that site selection criteria for
these two cultural uses of rockshelters differ significantly. However, it is strikingly apparent that
site selection criteria for moonshine stills are consistent throughout the research area. A cursory
map analysis indicates that moonshining sites at the Big South Fork NRRA are constrained by
geographical, topographical, and environmental factors. These factors include: first, a proximity
to the market, in this case coal mining towns and logging camps; second, a covert location with a
steady supply of water such as a seep, spring, or creek; and third, a rock overhang that provided
protection from the elements and discouraged easy detection by the authorities.
A majority of the moonshine sites documented at the Big South Fork NRRA are found at
the heads of hollows where small drainages have eroded small, inconspicuous rock overhangs
with relatively easy access to water. The terrain in these hollows is typically rough, providing
the moonshiner with a location that was relatively safe from discovery by law enforcement
officials. These areas are thick with undergrowth, and the forest canopy helped diffuse the
smoke emanating from the still. Site access was typically gained by traveling along logging and
timbering roads down below the sandstone cap-rock. However, a moonshiner was always
careful to never create an easy path to the still.
After visiting over 150 moonshine sites in the Big South Fork NRRA, we have found that
these sites consistently exhibit similar levels of technological complexity as Pace and Gardner
noted (1985:15). The majority of fireboxes identified are similar in construction. As we have
seen, these fireboxes are typically built in a semi-circular or U-shaped pattern, with metal bars to
support the still boiler. According to Wiggington (1972:323) the firebox construction techniques
typically observed in the CAP project area are called “return” or “blockade” stills. In most of the
moonshining regions of the southeastern United States, fireboxes of this type typically represent
older and more primitive moonshining techniques. However, as Pace and Gardner (1985:15)
found, it is apparent that traditional construction techniques such as these are likely the result of
moonshiners that were content with time-established techniques and limited production.
We believe that these still sites were utilized during the early to middle 20th century. A
date range for these sites, estimated from oral histories and diagnostic artifacts, indicates that a
majority of the stills were in use from 1930 to 1960 (Boyatt 1991, Davis 1984:35, Miller
1991:21, Pace and Gardner 1985:15). However, a much tighter timeline for moonshining in the
area could be established by tree-ring dating wooden implements present at still sites. Other
methods of establishing time of site use would require calculating a mean age of glass and
ceramic artifacts discovered at the sites. Interestingly, a few moonshine sites even have exact
dates of use, as indicated by tree carvings that detail the initials and dates of use!
Pace and Gardner (1985:21) found that still sites could be associated with specific
historic period settlement types, specifically, the upland farmstead. However, the authors of this
paper find that moonshining sites cluster more often around historic mining towns and semipermanent lumber camps. Our research indicates that there is a greater density of still sites in the
hollows and bluff lines surrounding mining towns and Lumber camps. Oral interviews have
shown that moonshiners purchased many of the materials for moonshine manufacture from local
stores. This indicates that the moonshiner did not need to be a farmer to obtain grains. Also, the
resident populations present at mining towns and timbering camps provided an obvious market
for a moonshiner’s products. Oral interviews conducted with former camp residents and
moonshiners of the Big South Fork NRRA also have revealed that these moonshiners typically
sold their products locally. An example of this information was collected by Tom Sussenbach
(TS) and Doni Spivey from an interview with Mr. Leo Lynch (LL) and Mr. Thurman Jones (TJ),
former residents of the Barren Fork Coal Camp (Sussenbach and Spivey 1979). When asked
about the availability of illegal liquor both respondents stated that moonshine was readily had
and imply that it was locally made:
LL: They were a lot of these moonshiners you was talking about, used to come
here and sell their wares on the weekends.
TS : Drive in?
LL: Walk in.
TS: Pretty open were they, about that?
Fifty cents a pint.
LL: They wasn’t too open and everybody knew, more or less, who they was, and if
They wanted it they just go to them and ask them, and give them their money
and that was about all there was to it.
Although statistics on still seizures for the area do not indicate that moonshining occurred
in high frequency in these locations, the high density of the archeological remains of still sites
recorded around mining towns and lumber camps, coupled with oral interview data, indicate that
a large number of individuals were likely involved in these activities in one form or another.
Just as in any illegal trade there were violent confrontations between United States
Internal Revenue officers and moonshiners, oftentimes resulting in jail time, injuries, and
fatalities. Imbibers would also get violent as their inhibitions were dulled. One such incident at
the Zenith Coal Camp occurred in 1940 when a transient, befriended by one of the mine
foremen, got drunk and shot several people including the foreman. The transient was eventually
shot and killed by that foreman but he was also shot and killed while his teen-aged sons watched
this and held their dying father (Slaven 1989). Another effect of what happens when illegal
trafficking develops in an area is that “turf” protection becomes a dominant trend. One incident
of this occurred that gained national media coverage after it resulted in seven deaths. The Jerome
“Rome” Boyatt tragedy all began over Rome’s attempt to move his liquor sales in on his uncles
logging camp. After all of the smoke had cleared Rome, his father, the Pickett County sheriff and
his son, a Wayne county, Kentucky, deputy, and another moonshiner were all dead. It appears
then that violence goes hand-in-hand with what was at this time and illegal business.
Moonshining was clearly a very important male activity on the UCP but women also
played a part in this process. Women would often build a fire, whistle, bang on pots or send
children to the still to warn of the arrival of strangers (Often suspected of being Revenue
Agents). This is a typical pattern for the covert production of illegal liquor anywhere
moonshining was being done (Kephart 1922). Women were also often the marketers of
moonshine, trading it for commodities, services, or cash. They would sometimes deliver
moonshine house to house while selling butter or eggs (W. Linder, personal communication
In closing, we suggest some future research topics to be addressed with regard to
moonshining on the UCP (Figure 21). First, who was involved in moonshine manufacture?
Oral histories have already identified the upland farmer as a principle moonshine manufacturer.
Was moonshine also made by individuals living at coal mining and logging camps? On a related
note, was moonshining a seasonal or after harvest activity? Warmer weather would certainly
have provided better seclusion for the moonshiner, but the demand for moonshine was certainly
not seasonally influenced. Finally, how much additional income could the typical moonshiner
make per year compared to those that were not involved in this illicit activity? Also, while some
oral histories indicate that women would act as lookouts when moonshine was being made and
Future Research Topics:
Who was involved in moonshine manufacture? Was
moonshine made by individuals living at coal and logging
settlements, in addition to the upland farmers?
Was moonshining a seasonal activity?
How much income could the average moonshiner make per
year compared to others that did not manufacture illegal
What was the role of women in moonshining?
Figure 22. Suggested topics for researching moonshine at Big South Fork NRRA.
would occasionally sell and deliver moonshine, along with produce, eggs or poultry, what was
the role that women played in the task of manufacturing this elixir? Further analysis of our data
will hopefully reveal even more about this clandestine historic activity.
Thanks to:
Ron Cornelius - NPS BISO
Meagan Dotson - MTSU
Dr. Joe Douglas – TTU
Howard Ray Duncan – NPS BISO
Jessie Duncan - UTK ARL
Wally Linder – NPS BISO
Myra Marcum - NPS BISO
Rico Nurabas - UTK ARL
Bryon Tate - UTK ARL
Mr. Jerry O’Neil,
Tennessee State Library and Archives,
and the National Park Service
Blevins, P.
Blevins, N.
Interview. Jamestown, TN and Big South Fork NRRA. Big South Fork
National River and Recreation Area.
Big South Fork NRRA Oral History Transcripts. Tape Number BSF 9801.
Boyatt, B.
1991 Big South Fork NRRA Oral History Transcripts. Tape Number BISO 25.
Davis, R.N.
1984 Big South Fork NRRA Oral History Transcripts. Tape Number 84-OH-50C.
Ferguson, T.A, R.A Pace, J.W. Gardner, and R.W. Hoffman
1986 An Archaeological Reconnaissance and Testing of Indirect Impact Areas
Within Selected Development Sites of the Big South Fork National River and
Recreation Area. Final Report submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers. Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Howell, B.J.
Kephart, H.
A Survey of Folklife Along the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.
Report of Investigations 30. Department of Anthropology, University of
Tennessee, Knoxville.
Our Southern Highlanders: A Narrative Adventure in the Southern Appalachians
and a Study of Life Among the Mountineers. Outing Publishing Company,
New York.
Linder, Wallace
2006 Personal Communication, Big South Fork NRRA
2007 Personal Communication, Big South Fork NRRA
Maurer, D.W.
1974 Kentucky Moonshine. The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington.
Miller, E.
Big South Fork NRRA Oral History Transcripts. Interview # 3.
Nichols, E.R.
1973 The Geography of Moonshining in Tennessee. Unpublished Masters Thesis,
Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
O’Dell, R.
Moonshine in the Tennessee Mountains. Tennessee Folklore Society, XII.
Pace, R.A and J.W. Gardner
1985 Exploring Dimensions of Illegal Liquor Manufacture: Moonshining as a Cottage
Industry in the Southern Appalachians. Tennessee Anthropologist. 10(1).
Sanderson, E. S.
1974 Scott Gem of the Cumberlands. Williams Printing Co., Nashville, Tennessee.
1958 County Scott and its Mountain Folk. Williams Printing Co., Nashville, Tennessee
Smith II, Timothy J. and Tom Des Jean
2007 Paper Presented at the 20th Annual meeting of the Current Research in Tennessee
Archeology Conference, Nashville, 2007.
Sussenbach, Thomas and Doni Spivey
1991 Personal Interview with Mr. Leo Lynch, April 24, 1991. Transcript on file,
Daniel Boone National Forest. Sterns District,
Wiggington, E.
1972 The Foxfire Book. Anchor Books, New York.
Wilson, R.C. and D.W. Finch
1980 The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area: Phase I Archaeological
Reconnaissance Survey in McCreary County, Kentucky, Pickett, Fentress, Scott,
and Morgan Counties, Tennessee. Draft Report submitted to the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers, Nashville District.