Article Comment 

Birney Imes: Whiskey River don't run dry




Two moonshiners were arrested on Thursday. Here's an excerpt from press release we received from the Department of Revenue Friday (story on page 3 of today's paper): 


ABC Agents arrested P. E. Graham and J.W. "Dub" Woods in Winston County on charges related to the manufacture and sale of moonshine whiskey. 


Agents executed a search warrant at Graham's residence ... Forty gallons of moonshine and 300 pounds of sugar were seized at this location. 


A second search warrant was executed on property owned by Graham ... A six-barrel illicit distillery including 300 gallons rye mash and a 150-gallon stainless steel cooker were seized. The still was destroyed. 


I mention all this because it is so seldom we hear of a moonshine bust these days. While I doubt Mr. Graham and Mr. Woods would agree, it's a quaint notion considering all that goes down these days. 


The agents sent six pictures with their email. It was disappointing to learn that plastic has infiltrated the whiskey making business. The Winston County bootleggers put their product in plastic gallon jugs, the kind you get when you buy white vinegar for pickling eggs. 


Along with the requisite picture of an ABC agent taking ax to still, there was a shot titled "Moonshine found in vehicle." The picture shows inside a car trunk. Next to seven plastic gallon jugs of product, there is a battered can of Bengal roach spray, a can of citrus air freshener and a well-used fly swatter. 


I've only known a few moonshiners, but one in particular stands out. 


Sometime in the mid-1970s, I drove my Aunt Sarah over to Oxford to visit her sister Pauline, who lived on a farm outside town with her husband, Hubert. Sarah and Pauline had grown up in Oxford. We arrived late morning in time to enjoy a sumptuous home-cooked meal. Afterward we sat on the porch and talked. 


For the ride home, we took a back road that took us through the communities of Yocona and Toccopola. Somewhere along the way, we stopped at a country store for a soda. The place was ramshackle, made of unpainted wood with a couple of gas pumps out front. The proprietor was a lively, talkative sort, so we sat in the chairs scattered in front of the store and talked (I remember this because I have a picture taken that day of Sarah reared back laughing. She was sitting in a wooden chair next to a gas pump.) 


The man, Motee Daniels, was brimming with stories. Turned out he had been a bootlegger and William Faulkner had been a devoted customer. Motee and Sarah knew a lot of the same people. Both were world-class storytellers, and our visit lasted a lot longer than our Cokes. 


Not long after that Motee became a regular fixture at the Faulkner literary conferences and a local celebrity. 


A tribute written by Bill Ferris when he headed the Center for Southern Studies at Ole Miss recalls Motee's one (unsuccessful) foray into politics. At a courthouse political speaking, Motee appeared on stage with his campaign manager, a dog named Buster. According to Ferris, Motee had taught Buster to say "Momma." The sign on Buster's back said, "Motee Daniels for Coroner-Ranger. Buster Daniels, Campaign Manager." 


Later, after returning home, Sarah called her sister. Our chance encounter had loosened a distant memory, that of a bootlegger who showed up with flowers after their father's funeral. Both women were convinced it was Motee. 


Another bootlegging story concerns a restaurant not far from Talladega, Ala. There, in Riverside, on the banks of the Coosa River you will find The Ark, a down-home, bare-bones fish house cherished by locals and the occasional NASCAR driver. 


According to Warren Smith, whose mother has owned the place for about 30 years, the original owner was more interested in selling whiskey than catfish. He built the restaurant on a barge and moored it in the Coosa River, which happens to be the county line between St. Clair and Talladega counties. 


The man, whose name Smith could not remember, had allies in both sheriff departments. When he got word he was about to be raided, the owner weighed anchor and crossed the river to the other county. 


In the 60s, when that part of Alabama was still dry, The Ark had a shed out back where drive-thru customers could purchase beer and whiskey. 


"We have a lot of older customers who remember those days," Smith said. 


If you happen to be passing that way, say on the way to Atlanta, you might want to include The Ark on your itinerary. Should you do so, take note of the lounge next door. It's called Bootlegger's. 


Birney Imes is the publisher of The Commercial Dispatch. E-mail him at [email protected] 






















printer friendly version | back to top






Follow Us:

Follow Us on Facebook

Follow Us on Twitter

Follow Us via Email