The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

White Lightning

By Yvonne M. Cole © 1988

Issue: January-February, 1988

It's easy to recall all of the nice things about growing up in the hills of Virginia with it's many fields of green corn, and fields of sugar cane swaying in the cool breezes, but as with anything on earth, it seems that man can take these things intended for our good and make a mess out of it, but this depends on which mountain folk you are talking to as to whether they prefer their corn on the cob or in the jar.

Setting back deep in these hills you could find men in business for themselves, for it was not uncommon for a moonshine still to be found sitting in the middle of the many plants such as ginseng, may apple, and others that we as children would comb the woods daily to dig, dry and sell for a few pieces of candy. Sometimes we would speed up this drying process by putting the ginseng in the oven of the old American Beauty stove, and since it sold by weight some of our brothers were not above putting a small nail in these roots for more weight as the old gentleman that bought this could not see as well as he used to.

Getting back to the moonshine stills, they were most always worked in the moonlight as no self respecting revenuer sent in from the big city would be caught dead, (or they probably knew they would be caught dead) if they should come prowling these mountains in the dark of night along with the rattlers and copperheads, not to mention the shotguns these mountain men always kept leaning against a tree.

The men would take these things intended for our good, set up this contraption known as a still, and run off a batch of White Lightning. I have known families to go hungry because they would spend their last dollar on moonshine, I have also known men to go blind because of the rare bootlegger who had no scruples and would not hesitate to use an old car radiator for the still, which has been known to poison some and cause death.

Mountain store owners knowing why these men bought such large quantities of such things as sugar, jars and other items, were not about to give this information to an outsider, even though they might not agree with the moonshiner's right to make the white lightning, neither did they want the responsibility for sending these government men into these hills with so much against them. I have also known the revenuers to come into the hills and in the process of trying to get close to the men, themselves got hooked on the white stuff, and not come back out of the hills.