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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

White Lightnin'

Part history and part novel, Matt Bondurant's The Wettest County in the World (Excellent Wikipedia entry!) is a riveting read and relates some of the history of the illegal liquor trade in Franklin County, Virginia.   The author is a grandson of one of the Bondurant Gang, around whom the book revolves.

Actually, the Bondurant Brothers wasn't a gang at all.  Rather, they were folks living on the edge of poverty and trying to survive the Great Depression.  Prohibition was the game changer!

Until Prohibition, Franklin County farmers made liquor from leftover crops at the end of the harvest season primarily for personal use: imbibing, anesthetic, cough syrup, and antiseptic.  During Prohibition, the area fell on hard times; during that era, liquor was made in sizable quantities to the point that the mountainsides looked like Christmas trees.  Large buyers came from as far away as New York City and Chicago for the purpose of stocking their speak easies.   After Prohibition, Franklin County became less lawless — although, even today, blockaders, liquor runners, do occasionally make runs to Washington, D.C., to sell the 'shine in back alleys.

As the author Matt Bondurant points out in an essay about Franklin County today:
...If you are offered a drink in Franklin, better put on your coat and kiss the wife goodbye, because you are definitely going outside, and I'll guarantee a vehicle is involved.

In fact you will almost never see a man in Franklin County drink anything in front of women and children. If you do, it will be in an opaque cup, plastic or paper, and it will remain off the table. I was in Franklin a few years ago for an aunt's birthday party, held in a large barn on my cousin's land. They had several long tables set up, laden with food, at least 50 cousins and friends, and when we sat down to eat, I was the only person there with a can of beer at the table. I wasn't the only one drinking — some of my uncles and cousins were positively ripped — but I was the only one that anybody saw drinking. And this is the county that, as the New York Times reported recently, produces half-a-million gallons of illegal liquor a year. You could spend years there and never see it, even as it is all around you....
Not covered in the book and something that I recently learned from my veterinarian, who hails from that area: the supposed demise of the making of bootleg liquor in Franklin County led to the replacement of that particular activity, one that dates back as far as the 19th Century and continues to a smaller extent today.  What has largely replaced the making of illegal liquor in Franklin County?  Marijuana and meth.   Not an improvement!

I do recommend The Wettest County in the World, available in all formats.  The audio version is particularly good.

Lawless, the film based on the novel, lacks luster in comparison to the book, however, and is a waste of time.


  1. Bootleg booze is pretty big in Henry County, too. Those people are so muddle headed, driving into that county is much like going through a time warp to the Great Depression.

    I imagine that Henry County is what this country will look like once the progressives have finished their work.

  2. I love lawlessness wherever the law proves itself to be an ass -- that is to say when it comes to all legislation designed to protect people from themselves. The only kind of control worth having is SELF control, and most people have to learn that in The School of Hard Knocks.

    I was amused to learn of the institutionalized hypocrisy of drinking pure moonshine from milk glasses and coffee cups, etc. -- as if no one knew it wasn't moonshine.

  3. I agree with FT's sentiments but with one caveat: don't come to me and ask for money to rehabilitate someone who is nothing if not utterly worthless to himself, his family, or his community. Such conditions may be worthy of expenditures from a community chest, but not some federal program that has no purpose other than asserting its own power over the people.

  4. You and I agree, Sam. I believe that every village should take care of its own idiot or idiots -- or not take care of them -- depending in the values, the mood and needs of the particular community involved.

    I do not believe that all of us should be expected to take care of all village idiots everywhere collectively.

    Generally, I advocate dealing with aberrant behavior on a case by case basis. One size rarely-if-ever fits all.


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