Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area

By Harry M. Caudill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
Moonshine and Mayhem

AFTER 1920, the Federal Government's war against the "stillers" rose to an ever higher crescendo. In this Prohibition era the mountaineers could manufacture whiskey for the great nationwide underground market as well as for the local "fruitjar trade" in the towns and camps. In each of the major cities, hooch gangs grew rich dealing in illicit alcohol -- and one of the big sources of supply was the Cumberland Plateau.

A dependable and well-managed transportation system was required to get the whiskey out of the narrow valleys of the highlands and into the big city markets. After the building of the arterial highways trucks were increasingly relied upon, but most barrels of "white mule" were carried out in freightcars where they were hidden with the connivance of railroad crewmen. Kegs were buried under the coal in the gondolas, to be dug out again at some pre-arranged stopping point in Ohio or Illinois. The business of smuggling whiskey out of the mountains became scandalously big and complex.

The Federal Government hired gangs of new special agents to assist in tracking down the stills and "stillers," and in some counties the sheriffs became fired with the "Prohibition fever" and assigned gangs of deputies to assist the agents. These heavily armed teams of local and national peace officers traversed hill and mountain in a never-ending campaign to destroy the stills and to arrest their operators.

Thousands of mountaineers were arrested, tried and convicted in the Federal courts, and hundreds of them were sent in chartered

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