My Bootlegging Grandpa

By Bondurant, Matt | Newsweek, September 3, 2012 | Go to article overview

My Bootlegging Grandpa


Bondurant, Matt, Newsweek


Byline: Matt Bondurant

The real story behind the new movie 'Lawless.'

I think my grandfather would be delighted at being portrayed by as talented a young actor as Shia LaBeouf. He stars in the new film Lawless, based on my novel The Wettest County in the World, which dramatized the events surrounding my Grandpa Jack's bootlegging business--and a shooting that my family didn't discover for years.

We were all aware that my grandfather used to run liquor when he was young, but these were things that were never discussed in Franklin County, Va. Moonshine was a dangerous business: the distillation process involves fire, high pressure, and flammable liquids. Improper technique or materials could cause paralysis, blindness, or worse. Bootlegging, or what they called "blockading" in those days, was also fraught with danger; a car full of booze on the open road was fair game for hijackers or law enforcement.

We all just assumed that Grandpa Jack's trade was small and general. So when my father unearthed a series of newspaper articles about a shooting at Maggodee Creek Bridge in 1930, we were quite shocked. In these articles my grandfather and his brothers Forrest and Howard, "The Bondurant Boys," were described as a notorious group with a dangerous reputation. My grandfather was still alive then, and when my dad confronted him about the shooting he merely lifted his shirt to show the bullet hole. That was it. I was living across the country at the time, and didn't have a chance to question him further. He died the next year at 91 years old.

Like many young boys, I was afraid of my grandfather. He was an imposing man, and people around the county treated him with respect. I spent a lot of time in his back storage room staring at an old pair of brass knuckles hanging on the wall, understanding even then that my grandfather lived a very different life than anything I would know. …

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