News - from the past & the present

Shelby County once had the reputation as being the “moonshingest” county in the state of Alabama.

Interesting transcription of a story about Birmingham Moonshining From the Herald-Journal, Spartanburg, S.C.– April 9, 1935 by Robert H. Brown, Central Press Writer


Birmingham, Ala., April 8 –(1935)

One of biggest moonshining districts in the nation

I have just come from one of the biggest moonshining districts in the nation, located in a legally dry state which voted only a few weeks ago against repeal.

I went with a big-time bootlegger, one operating in the Birmingham market who has a moonshining plant in the hills. It was noon when we left Birmingham. The bootlegger said we would be back by 3 p.m. It was hard to believe that we could visit the biggest moonshining district in the state and be back in so short a time.

But good roads and fast automobiles have been as big a help to the bootlegging racket as to anybody. We sped over a paved highway at 70 miles an hour, and I understood immediately how the driver had repeatedly successfully evaded officers by clever driving. He simply sat there calmly smoking a cigaret, keeping alert eyes on the road, and sandwiched in and out between cars with an ease born of long experience.

Alabama barn, 1935 by Walker Evans (Library of Congress)

Settlement of ‘Shiners

Fifteen or 20 minutes after we left Birmingham we turned off into a dirt road in which he slowed down to 50 miles an hour. Ten miles further on, he turned again into a narrower and rougher road full of corkscrew curves.

I was admiring the little country lane and thinking of the peace and contentment the residents of the section must enjoy as compared to the hustle and bustle and noise of a city, when soon my companion remarked that about half of the houses we saw along the way were occupied by moonshiners.

“They’re all mighty nice people though. They mind their own business and never interfere with other people’s affairs. Nearly everyone has his own still, or sells liquor, he said.

“Now take that house over there. It isn’t much to look at but the people who live there are worth as much money as some of the big shots back in Birmingham. It’s run by an old woman who has salted away the dollars. She stands in well with the officers (probably pays them off), has been raided a few times but they’ve never caught her with anything. She’s too slick for them,” he added.

We were now entering Shelby County, which in the recent repeal referendum, voted 982 for modification against 1,400.

Old Shelby County Courthouse (Library of Congress)

Most Profitable Crop

This county has a reputation as being the “moonshingest” county in the state of Alabama. Every joke having to do with bootlegging in Alabama has a Shelby County twist. The principal reason is it adjoins Jefferson County (Birmingham), a big market for illicit liquor. Just how much liquor is manufactured in Shelby County no one can estimate, but it is certain its ‘shiners are doing a big business.

And “liquid corn,” made from cornmeal and sugar, is the most profitable crop these people can grow, it seems.

A half mile more and the driver said:

“Over there in those woods Federal agents wrecked a still yesterday. But there’s three more close by they didn’t find.”

Big Bosses seldom get caught

We came to a farm house, and encountered one of the men who worked for this big-timer. These men who “work” for the big timers usually are the ones who take the “rap” when a still is raided. The big bosses seldom are “caught with the goods.”

It’s no easy task to operate a big still in the woods because they are hard to hide. Yet these boys are good at it. They have spent most of their lives in the vicinity; they know the little springs of water, the hidden spots in the hills, and a stranger can pass within two hundred yards of a still when it isn’t operating and never suspect its presence. Revenue agents must spend weeks scouring a particular spot before it is located. Then they must remain undetected until the men arrive to put it in operation.

A man in his thirties comes from the farm house. My companion introduces me. He laughs, tells jokes and doesn’t hesitate to talk of liquor and how business is.

A fair night’s business

“I fell off the water wagon last night, Bill,” he tells his chief. “Got good and tight but I sold 55 gallons of whisky so I had a good reason,” he adds. Evidently, this was a fair night’s business.

We were invited into his house where we met his wife and his three children, all boys. She sat calmly smoking a cigaret as we talked. The house was elaborately furnished for a farm house. Many a city housewife could envy her its comforts. A radio was playing softly.

There before the children who varied in age from four to ten, we talked of stills and liquor. The children could not help but hear but didn’t seem particularly interested; evidently the conversation was not new to them.

Exporting White Mule

“We’ve had some big stills around these parts,” the shiner said. And to prove it brought some pictures of stills.

Liquor stills in Alabama ca. 1950s (by Photographer Roy Green, Jr. Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Pretend to farm

Time doesn’t hang heavily on the moonshiner. He is a busy man because he must hold two jobs. First, he must pretend that he is farming or at least engaged in a legitimate business. If he doesn’t the “Law” will get suspicious. But the man I visited had some time for reading — and his reading consisted of detective and western stories.

Automobiles are plentiful in the district. They are fine and fast cars, too. They have to be because their owners never know when, from some cross-road or some hidden spot, an officers’ car will dart out after them. They can fix some officers, but not all. And they frequently move out of their immediate territory, for there is an export business in white mule, too, which extends into wet states. Many distillers have had to bring out close to “rot gut” concoctions, in order to compete in the price field in wet state with the illegal product. Word has drifted down here that Tennessee moonshiners are sending a lot of their product even into the East.

Cars purchased often

New cars are purchased often. Many of them are seized and sold for carrying liquor. When a liquor man buys a new car he has to plank down the cash because once he has a reputation as a liquor hauler his automobile credit vanishes. But auto dealers are close-mouthed: the raiders don’t get information from them.

We visited three other families, looked over a still in operation, and sped back to town again at 70 miles an hour! The time on the clock as we hit Twentieth Street, Birmingham, was 2:30 p.m. Distance doesn’t mean a thing to these men who make their living off a desire on the part of men and women for alcoholic beverages – law or no law.

Faith and Courage: 2nd edition -A Novel of Colonial America by Alabama author – 

Faith and Courage: 2nd edition -A Novel of Colonial America (Tapestry of Love Book 2): Book 2 in Tapestry of Love Series (Kindle Edition)


By (author):  Donna R Causey
List Price:Price Not Listed
Kindle Edition:Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only
buy now

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

Liked it? Take a second to support Alabama Pioneers on Patreon!
Tags:

13 comments

    1. The article was transcribed as written and that was the way the word was spelled in the article.

  1. Walt Sanders

    Still is, but in a different form….meth

  2. Back in the early part of 1961 my husband and I purchased 5 acres of ground to build a new home on . It was part of a subdiviosion owned by Real Estate developer Emmette Cloud . The section was called Indian Springs . The hilltop property which we had purchased looked down on the Indian Springs School on Cahaba Valley Road in Shelby County. As the ground was being prepared for the foundation of our new home , our contractor showed us one day something that the bulldozer had dug up …while digging the footings for the foundation. It was definitely parts of a still which had been used for making ” moonshine” at some point in time. We later were told by locals that the ridge we had bought ha done time build known as ” Nat’s Knob ” , and yes “moonshine” had been made there high on that hilltop well hidden away in the underbrush and dense growth of trees. Whomever had been making it, could see the revenuers coming a long time before they could reach the top of the hill , because there was no roadway at that time.We took pictures of the old still before it was carried away with the rest of the debris.That area of Shelby County obviously had quite a history of “making moonshine ” in years past.

  3. Mary Clyne Forbus

    Lots of hills and creeks

  4. James Davis Sr.

    This was a necessity during the Depression Era because with no jobs available, there was no cash for anything. My grandfather, a good Christian man, had to do this. The Tutwiler Hotel in Birmingham bought all he would make because they knew he used only copper components and the quality was excellent. My mother told me about helping carry sugar through the woods when she and her sister were young kids.

  5. Shelby County may have had the top honor, But Chilton was not far behind. Growing up in Chilton County in the fifties, was an experience of stories rife with moonshiners. Every child in the county knew where the most notorious lived. I long ago left the area, but can entertain people for a long time recounting the most audatious stories.

  6. Ray Zardoust

    Lol still is better than store bought stuff

  7. Shelby County really hasn’t changed much

  8. Sherlyn Tate

    My great grandfather lived in Alabaster they all called him Doc- they had to go up to docs to get their medicine lol.
    They did what they had to do to feed their families.

  9. Bobby Joe Seales

    Also read what The Birmingham News had to say about Shelby County Alabama in their August 18, 1929 newspaper …. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~alshelby/Columbiana3.html

  10. Interesting comments, folks. Glad you shared some history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.