“Prohibition, Pistols, and a Fast-Running Sheriff”
This is the rest of an interview I did with my father in January 2005, when I was still writing for The Harris County Journal…hope you enjoy.
“When my father — your grandfather — told his family he was moving from Randolph County, Alabama, to Chipley, Georgia, they tried to discourage him from doing so. You see, in 1919, Chipley had a notorious reputation as being a pistol-toting town,” said my dad with a twinkle in his eye.
“On election day, there would always be shootings and all sorts of goings-on in Chipley. Folks carried pistols and used them, too.”
My father was born at Jones Crossroads in 1922. It was a cold January morning, and my grandmother told me there were six-inch icicles hanging from the roof of the house. Harris County’s economy, along with the rest of the country’s, was in a depressed state.
“Harris County was very rural back then. It was like a jungle down on the river, with places so remote that only a few locals knew about them.
“Those conditions contributed to making the county famous for the production of moonshine whiskey. Sugar was the top-selling commodity for most of the country stores.
“During Prohibition, there were regular visitors to the county, but they weren’t tourists. They were involved in commerce, and they came here from West Point, LaGrange, and Columbus to buy and transport moonshine to their respective towns. Harris County was the main supplier of whiskey in this area.”
Prohibition lasted from 1920 until 1933. Both nationally and locally, law enforcement was heavily involved in fighting the illegal production and sale of whiskey.
“On any given court day down in Hamilton, 95% of the cases involved the illicit manufacturing of moonshine whiskey,” stated my dad, “and the most famous sheriff during that time was a man named William Spence.”
“Sheriff Spence was not known for being the good politician he was or for being honest — which he also was. Sheriff Spence was famous for being the fastest running law man in these parts.”
“To catch moon shiners, you had to be able to sneak up on them. Stills were found deep in the woods — places that were often accessible only by foot. When folks got busted, they would scatter like the wind; but if Sheriff Spence was the one doing the sneaking, it was unfortunate for the moon shiners. He would always catch them.
“He wore boots and rugged, outdoor clothes and came through the Crossroads about once a week. He would generally stop at the store to visit your grandmother. I was just a little boy and loved hearing his stories of subterfuge and subsequent apprehension of criminals.”
The end of Prohibition, however, did not mark the end of white lighting’s popularity among some partakers.
The story goes that a local resident kept his supply in the barn to keep his wife from knowing he took a nip at night. He continued this practice even after her death because, as he told my dad, “it just tastes better when I drink it out there.”
When the same farmer visited his doctor for a routine check-up, he informed the physician that each night, “I have me about this much moonshine (holding up his fingers in a gesture to describe about two to three inches of liquid). Do you think I should stop, doc?”
“Mr. Andrews,” the doctor replied, “I do not want you to stop doing a thing you have been doing for the last ninety years.”
So his patient promptly went out and bought two new mules to pull his plow…
…and he took a shot of shine that evening.