Stories of bootlegging and a simpler way of life
Imagine yourself in a little shack by the main railroad track that led into Franklin County, Virginia, from 1929 to 1934. Your job is to weigh all the inbound goods related to making moonshine. So today I ask you: How many pounds of sugar passed your shack during those hard Depression years?
You say, Over thirty-three million pounds.
Yeast: thirty-five tons.
Copper: over 115,000 pounds.
Five-gallon metal cans: about 1,250,000.
Cornmeal: over thirteen million pounds.
That’s into one county in southwestern Virginia.
A lot of money was made from selling those goods. And of course far more money was made from selling the moonshine produced with those goods—moonshine bootlegged to textile and coal-mining communities, to towns and cities north, south, east, and west, satisfying thirsts honed by Prohibition.
Charles D. Thompson Jr.’s gentle grandfather told Charles on a late-night drive, when Charles was an adult, that he’d once been a bootlegger. “All that we children knew from our grandfather,” Thompson reports in his new book, Spirits of Just Men (University of Illinois Press), “was his love for his family, his way with cattle, his soft heart…. So, with these revelations…my innocence ended, and my questions about my family’s past got all the more serious.”
Thompson started digging for information, and he dug and dug for about a decade—old newspapers, court records, history books, archives, interviews with family members and others in the know.