The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Unlikeliest Revenuer

By Robert G. Back © 1985

Issue: February, 1985

Tully Beegard was a tall, burly man whose weight was in the neighborhood of three-hundred pounds. He wore a bushy, copper-colored moustache and, except for a tuft of red hair plastered to the front of his skull, like a stick-on Christmas bow, he was completely bald. Although he lived in a Harlan County, Kentucky coal camp, he definitely wasn't a coal miner. His occupation was that of making the best "moonshine" in that part of the Commonwealth.

Quite naturally, where moonshine was being made and sold, there were "Revenuers" close by trying to put the distillers out of business and into jail. Tully never worried much about them, however. His "still" was hidden on a mountainside so far back in a remote hollow the only way in and out was on horseback. And, of course everyone knew that Revenuers knew next to nothing about the rugged terrain, and most were terrified of the dense underbrush and rocky hillsides. Visions of deadly snakes and crack-shot snipers blunted their incentives and eroded their lofty resolves in a big hurry. It was much safer to admit defeat and ask their superiors to pull them out of the semi-wilderness for reassignment.

It wasn't until Malcom Drews, the most successful Revenuer in that part of the country, pulled up in front of Cecil Grant's general store in a pickup with racks on it that Tully became mildly concerned. Drew's white cowboy hat, black suit with red string tie, and the long, black cigars he smoked made him a tad nervous. Too, the noted Revenuer strutted self-confidence and acted as though fear was an affliction exclusive to lesser men than himself.

"Boys, I'm here to find the still that's been a-flourishin' in these parts," he told a line of men sitting on the store's front porch. Tully leaned against a post behind the line and listened intently. "I'm gonna find that rascal and dynamite it to Kingdom Come. Y'all can pass that word around," Drews added, puffing on his cigar.

"How ya aimin' to do that, gov'ment man?" Tully asked, grinning slightly.

"With my secret weapon, that's how. His name is Albert, and he's in the back of my truck over there," the Revenuer said.

Clovis Collins, an old gentleman with a bushy white beard and no teeth, got up from the porch and sauntered over to the truck. Squinting, he peered through a crack between the slats of the truck racks. A pair of black, beady eyes belonging to a two hundred pound Hampshire hog stared back at him.

The old man took a step backward, spun around and yelled, "There's a danged pig in there!"

"That's old Albert - the smartest hog on earth," Drews said. "All I gotta do is take him within a mile of a still where mash is a-cookin' and turn him loose. His nose leads me right to it."

"I never heard of such a thing!" Tully scoffed.

"Believe it, friend. Matter of fact, Albert's the only hog in history that's been awarded a government commendation," Drews added.

Tully frowned and scratched the top of his bald head. He wasn't prepared for what was happening, and sudden anxiety over the future of his business nagged at him. Revenuers he could handle, but he had no idea how to go about out-smarting a trained hog.

'You aimin' to keep that hog in the back of your truck while you're here?" Tully asked.

"Oh, no, I've made arrangements with Johnny Powell to keep him in a pen with his hogs. Albert likes company, ya know. Well, I'll see you boys. I gotta get Albert out to the Powell place."

After the Revenuer left, Clovis Collins turned to Tully and said, "Looks like ya gotcha self a heap of trouble, Tully."

"Not likely. Ain't no dumb hog gonna put Tully Beegard outta business," Tully snapped.

It was eleven o'clock that same night when Tully settled on what he had to do. He took his bold-action .22 rifle down from its' pegs above the kitchen door and headed for Johnny Powell's place. Albert had to go, and that's all there was to it. Tully wasn't about to allow him to earn another commendation at his expense.

Johnny Powell's place was located a half-mile east of Tully's house. Behind Powell's house was a small clearing where he kept four Duroc hogs inside a board fence lot. There was only one other house nearby and it belonged to Hargis Minton, Powell's next door neighbor. It set some twenty yards west of the hog pen. Tully figured he could slip back to the pen, drill ole Albert with one shot to the head, and make a clean getaway on foot. It'd be over before anyone knew what had happened, and Albert would cease to be a threat to all self-respecting moonshiners.

There wasn't a light on in either house when Tully sneaked back to Johnny's hog pen. The moon was bright and he had no trouble spotting Albert. The hog was lying on its side in one corner of the lot by itself. Tully lifted the rifle to his shoulder and drew a fine bead between Albert's eyes. Slowly he squeezed the trigger.


The rifle had misfired! Tully hissed curses at everything from Albert's good luck to Mr. Winchester's incompetence. He then stuck the stock of the rifle under his right arm and began to jerk the jammed bolt backwards and forward. His manipulations proved to be highly effective. The rifle cracked, propelling a slug right through Hargis Minton's living room window and burying itself in the wall behind his mother-in-law's picture. She'd been drilled right between the eyes.

The lights in both houses came on. Tully took off running just as Johnny Powell burst through his kitchen door, blazing away with a twelve gauge shotgun. Tully ran toward Hargis Minton's house and made a perfect swan dive over a woven wire fence that enclosed his backyard. He landed with a skidding, crunching thud right on top of Hargis's coal pile. The coal's sharp edges skinned both his arms from wrists to elbows, and his right shin was barked from his kneecap down to his ankle. Although he would have traded a year off his life-span for the opportunity to cuss a purple streak, he lay plastered to the top of the coal pile like a crafty squirrel hiding from a hunter.

Johnny finally stopped pumping a lead mine into the side of the mountain beyond the hog pen and looked over at Hargis who was standing on his back porch holding a pistol in each hand.

Is everybody alright over there, Hargis?" Johnny yelled.

"Yeah, but he broke my living room winda and put a hole slap through my mother-in-law's pitcher," Hargis yelled back. "Didja get a look at him?"

"Naw, all I seed was his shadder."

"Well, with all that lead you throwed at him, he ain't likely to come back," Hargis said.

Both men finally went back inside their houses and the lights soon blinked out. Tully pulled his aching and bleeding body to its feet and limped back to his house. While Albert was still alive and doing just fine, he felt half dead.

At two o'clock the next morning, Tully made his way back to Johnny's hog pen with a five pound sledge hammer in his hands. One right-smart blow to Albert's head would end matters once and for all. Quiet and clean.

Very quietly, Tully stepped over the fence and into the lot. Albert stirred and slowly got to his feet, watching Tully ease toward him with the sledge hammer held at the ready position. When Tully got within striking distance, he swung the hammer in a mighty arc toward Albert's head. The hog snorted, jerked his head backwards, and the hammer whistled just past his snout. The weight of the sledge hammer spun Tully all the way around and it went sailing out of his hands. It flew all the way across the lot and smacked one of Johnny's Durocs alongside the shoulder, setting off a maddening chorus of piercing squeals from every hog in the lot.

Tully figured it was time to make a hasty retreat again before Johnny showed up for an encore with his shotgun. He bolted to the fence only to come face to face with a grinning Malcom Drews. The Revenuer was leaning against a fence post, puffing contently on one of his cigars.

"Well, it looks like me and Albert got us another one, doesn't it?" he said.

"Yep," Tully sighed, after confessing, "But you'd a got me anyway when ya turned that dadburned hog loose to root out my still."

"Ole Albert? Nah, he couldn't have done you no harm. He's never been near a still in his life."

"But you said he could find stills by follerin' the smell of cookin' mash," Tully snapped angrily.

"That's what I said, alright. I've said that same thing four times this month, and I've managed to catch four moonshiners," the Revenuer chuckled.

"Are you a-tellin' me that slop-eater can't do nuthin' special a'tall?" Tully groaned.

"Well, he can catch moonshiners," Drews said, as a wide grin spread across his face. "He can sure enough do that."