Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Moonshine in Itawamba County

This is a scene out of the 1940s - a moonshine operation in Itawamba County busted by the sheriff, who is pictured in the photo. The fellow sitting to the left of the sheriff is James O. Shaw. Moonshine stills existed throughout Itawamba County for most of the 20th century although as the century progressed the moonshining operations died out, probably due to the fact that liquor became legal in Lee County. Even into the 1960s however, sheriffs were continuing to raid moonshine stills in the back country of Itawamba County. Occasionally the sheriff would place the raided stills on the courthouse lawn for all to see, especially when election time was nearing!

Operators of moonshine stills weren't always looked down upon. In fact, in early Scotch-Irish communities, the distiller was usually a respected member of the community, both socially and in the church. The copper worm used in the distillery process was a valuable item, and I've seen copies of wills where the copper worm was included as a bequest.

James Shaw was born December 16, 1895 in Itawamba County and died March 1971 in Itawamba County. He was the son of Mack Shaw and Sina Earnest.

After finding the photo on ancestry.com, I contacted the poster, Aimee Smith, who graciously allowed me to post it here. The original photo belongs to her mother.


Anonymous said...

Mona, this story about a moonshiner and his young sons was told to me almost 60 years ago by one then adult son. The moonshiner also raised coon dogs of great stature. One day the Sheriff paid a visit to see about buying one of the prized dogs. The 2 or 3 young sons answered the door, invited the guest inside and promptly offered him a drink of their dad's prized moonshine!

When one of the sons brought their father in to greet their guest, the sheriff reminded the father that maybe he should spend as much time training his sons as he did in training his dogs so they knew who NOT to offer a drink of his moonshine!

No, this isn't a tale about an Itawamba Co. still, but it did happen in Walker County, AL in I'm assuming the 1930's.

Janice Tracy said...

Loved your story, Mona. It seems that making moonshine was fairly common during those days - especially where corn could be grown and stills could be hidden in dense woods!