Quill Rose and the Quiet Insurrection by John Meyers

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Never get ketched.” – Quill Rose.

The father of woodcraft in America, Horace Kephart, described the inhabitants of the Southern Appalachian chain, as the “most independent race on earth.” (527) One shining example of that very ideal is Quill Rose. He was a blockader, Confederate, fiddle player, farmer, logger, storyteller, hunter, blacksmith and freedomista writ large.

Aquilla Liam Rose, was born in 1841, on Anthony Creek at Cades Cove, Blount County, Tennessee. Quill was a picturesque 19th century mountaineer. Tall for the time at 6’1”, he sported a beard and was said to always have a rifle. In 1857, Quill married Lavisa Hyde who was half Cherokee and daughter of Qua-nee-gar-na-gar (otherwise known as Ben Hyde) from the North Carolina side of the Smoky’s. He affectionately referred to her as “Aunt Vicey.”

During the conflict of 1861-1865, he enlisted in the Confederate Army at Franklin, Macon County, North Carolina. He was a Private in Levi’s Battery Light Artillery, in the very unique Thomas Legion of Highlanders and Cherokee, which would be called the 69th North Carolina during a foray to the Virginia Valley later in the war. The Legion was composed local mountain people and approximately 400 outlaw Cherokee who resisted and evaded the slave patrols of Andrew Jackson on the Trail of Tears.

After the war, Quill returned to his normal life. He took up the art of illicit liquor making. The federal government had recently imposed another tax on distilled spirits in order to pay for the subjugation of the several southern states that attempted to CS-Exit from the Glorious Union. Quill was also a very active and legendary hunter.

Shortly after he returned home from the war, he was reported to have been on moonshine business on his way to Charleston, North Carolina, which is now present-day Bryson City, North Carolina. He got into an altercation with a man named Rhodes. After Rhodes threw verbal blows at Rose, he shot Quill through the body. Before Quill fell from the wound he managed to draw his knife and stab Rhodes. Quill lived, Rhodes bled out.

Though a fairly clear-cut case of self-defense, but given his natural aversion to government justice and his involvement in illicit liquor distillation, Quill fled to Texas for a few years until things cooled off. Rose returned to North Carolina. Quill had allegedly killed 2 other men in his time that aggressed upon him and escaped trial on all counts. The Quill Rose legend began to build.

Quill and his wife had decided to retreat even further into the mountains. This action was no different than the peoples of the geographic area known as Zomia, in the hills of south east Asia which James C Scott has written so eloquently about. The retreat to remote and inaccessible areas or “Non-State Space” is a form of escapism from the State. Historically governments have had trouble establishing and maintaining authority in challenging terrain, whether it was mountains or swamps. Add in a freedom culture and particularly one with self-defense as a chief plank, you end up with a pretty good recipe for maintaining at least some level of freedom even in a statist world. Quill made his home at the head of Eagle Creek, a very remote section of the Smoky Mountains on the Tennessee line, an area that Horace Kephart termed the “Back of Beyond.”

John Preston Arthur in his work Western North Carolina: A History 1730-1913 remarked, “If anyone were searching for a more inaccessible place… he could not have improved upon Quill’s choice.” (Arthur, 340) 15 homes on the creek had no wagon road and could barely be reached by horseback. In fact Quill and Aunt Vice were 5 miles from the closest wagon road. He built his house on a bank with full view of the only approach to his house. This was to keep an eye on the revenue galoot. If he saw or got word of any state or federal enforcement agent activity, he was but a mile and a half from the Tennessee line and he would high tail it across until things cooled down.

Rose operated his bootleg operation essentially out of his house due to this remote location, a rather uncommon practice for the time. His “eleventh commandment” was “never get ketched.” He hauled liquor as far as way as Knoxville. A “furriner” with a slick face from Knoxville once asked Rose if his blockade liquor, which he referred to as “Tangle foot,” improved with age. He told Quill that all good liquor was aged and told him “if I’d age my blockade it would bring a fancy price.” Rose said he “kept some for 3 months one time- and, by godlings, it ain’t so!” (Kephart, 137)

In 1881 when the authors of The Heart of the Alleghenies visited Rose at his Eagle Creek home looking for him to guide them on a hunt, they found a family living in idealistic freedom. Quill’s brother Jake was staying with him at the time. Wilbur Zeigler recounted that:

“The Rose brothers are known as good-natured men, but of desperate character when aroused. They have been blockaders. Living outside of school districts, and seemingly of all State protection, they refuse to pay any taxes; having only a trail way to their door, they pay no attention to notices for working the county roads. Thus recognizing no authority, they live in a pure state of natural liberty, depending for its continuance upon their own strength and daring, the fears of county officers, the seclusion of their home and their proximity to the Tennessee line. Only one and half mile of mountain ascent is required to place them beyond the pursuit of State authorities.” (149)

For breakfast the first morning at Casa-de-Quill, everyone had a wee dram of clear, pure corn before the food hit the table. Quill had 4 fingers himself, according to Zeigler.
As with most Southern Highlanders, Rose was happy to meet a friendly visitor on the road, as long as it was someone other than a Sheriff’s posse, revenue galoot or the walking boss for the road crew. (Instead of fuel taxes roads were constructed by conscripting locals to build them in the mountain south at the time) It was said that Rose road a white mule and that it was easier to transverse the mountains on it to get back to his homestead than a horse.

In the Heart of the Alleghenies, the authors recounted a hunting story of Quill’s. He told them of a hunting trip on nearby Bear Creek where he fell into a wolf’s den on a shelving rock above a waterfall. He stirred up the wolf that happened to have 3 legs, a result of chewing its own leg off to remove its self from a trap. Quill stated that he grabbed the wolf and could not let go to grab his knife so he held its head underwater to drown it, then threw it out to his dogs, who gave the dead carcass another thrashing.

The ironic twist to the story was that, despite Rose being a well known wolf hunter who collected many 5$ bounty payouts, the authors later found out that while the details of the story were true, it in fact wasn’t Quill who did the deed. It was another hunter. But no use letting small details get in the way of a good story.

Quill and Aunt Vicey raised two of his brother Jake’s kids. They had no kids of their own and Quills brother Jake and family did live with them off and on over the years. Quill had sold his farm he still owned at Cades Cove to his brother Jake for 5 cents an acre, thinking it would be a good place for Jake to raise a family and farm. One child that Quill grew found of was his nephew Aquilla Eagleton “Eagle” Rose. Eagle was killed by shotgun blast to the back of the head early in life by a gang of blockaders who thought that Eagle had snitched on them. It turned out he didn’t, but he was left laying dead in Yellow Creek, in Graham County, North Carolina for 40 days until being found. No one was ever prosecuted for the murder.

The late 1890s saw the timber industry penetrate the Smoky’s. W.M. Ritter and Champion Fiber among others soon build railroads all over the mountain chain. Quill took a job as a blacksmith for one of the companies, repairing equipment and shoeing horses. He built a black smith shop and reportedly men from the timber company gave him insight on how to use a water wheel on the creek to run his blower for the forge. He later turned this into a gristmill operation as well.

More importantly, Quill found that a very thirsty liquor market has just come to him. He no longer had to transverse un-passable mountain roads to haul his Tangle foot. The customers had come to him. There is no telling the amount of illicit liquor that Quill had cunningly slipped past lumber company officials as well as local and state law men, as well as federal revenue men.

Seymour Calhoun, son of the famous Granville Calhoun recounted a story of Rose being barricaded on his homestead by federal revenue enforcers. Quill reportedly came out with hands in the air at the demands of the revenue officers. Quill said he would go with them, but the officers would not make it home alive as his brother Jake has already set ambushes on the trail out and is set to waylay the party if anyone attempted to do any arresting that day. After studying about the most pragmatic course of action to take, the revenue men bought a gallon of whiskey from Quill and bid him good day and hurried back to their base at Bryson City hoping they would not be cut down on the road. If any such “terroristic” threats happened today, not only would the news media demonize such action by a free man as intolerable, evil and probably racist, the majority of people would probably level the same charge.

The independent Quill Rose was an avid hunter and trapper as well as a ginseng digger. Local historian and descendant of the original breeder of Plott bear dogs, Bob Plott, recounted a tale that Quill was out bear hunting one time and ran across a ‘sang’ patch of several acres. He kept the secret and vowed to return, but he could never find it again. Before his death he revealed the approximate location to another famous hunter, Sam Hunnicutt. In Hunnicutt’s memoirs he stated that he finally the patch Quill told him about near Chimney Rock Branch.

He was a famously happy-go-lucky man and many stories abound of Quill riding his mule on a trip, playing a fiddle and whoopin’ and hollering and having a good time to break the monotony.

Quill was said to have had bear dog training down to an art form. He generally used Plott dogs, a Haywood county breed which became the state dog of North Carolina. Legend has it that Rose went on a trip from Proctor, North Carolina by way of train to Bryson City. He couldn’t take his dogs on the train so he left his hat at the depot and told the dogs to guard the hat. After pitching a drunk with his friends at Bryson City, Quill arrived back home much later than expected. Upon return to the depot 2 days later, the Plott hounds were in the same spot he left them.

Quill’s 11th commandment of “never get ketched” was only violated once from what we can tell. In 1912 at age 71, (Some sources say he was 80, but this seems to be incorrect) he was brought to federal court at Asheville, North Carolina in front of Judge Boyd, on charges in violation of the Internal Revenue Code by having the audacity to convert corn into alcohol without the King’s permission. When the judge asked if he was going to plead guilty or not guilty, Quill’s response was “maybe.”

Some stories recount that Rose, his lawyer and the judge all met behind closed doors the night before and had a healthy laugh at the charges and circumstances at hand and that the federal judge was one of Quill’s customers. Regardless of the validity or truth of informal plea deals or the backroom gathering, we do know that Quill never went to jail and was turned loose after the trial.

Don E. Rose, author of “Quill” recounts that late in life, Quill had given his Eagle Creek homestead to a relative as a wedding gift and him and Aunt Vicey moved to her family’s property on Forney Creek, on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains. He was said to reminisce about his childhood home at Cades Cove in later years. He purportedly made a yearly trip back to Cades Cove. Quill died at age 81 in Blount County, Tennessee and is buried at Townsend, Tennessee at the Tuckaleechee Methodist Church.

Despite gaining popularity in the late 19th and early 20 centuries from writers such as Horace Kephart, Quill’s life in reality wasn’t much different than many other inhabitants of the Back of Beyond during the same time period. He didn’t lead an armed revolution or engage in daring exploits confronting the authorities. He lived a simple life without much concern for busy bodies, regulators and enforcement agents. While he didn’t lead the life of the daring Lewis Redmond and what undoubtedly was a small scale insurgency against federal supremacy in the upstate South Carolina hills and Western North Carolina mountains, no one can argue that Quill Rose didn’t live life as a free man. He lived independently and largely free from state control, taxation, and dependence on much else than himself and his family. His remote location afforded him privacy and put him out of reach of the affects of the State. What if you applied some of these concepts to your life today?

When the topic of freedom vs. tyranny comes up, people inevitably want a solution to the problem. People want a formula to unshackle themselves from the chains of the overarching state. Some want to affect a certain brand of politics and vote it away. Some want to use legal semantics, capitalization of certain words and technicalities to remove themselves from federal jurisdiction. Some want a shooting war. I’m of the opinion that a final liberty solution doesn’t exist in practical terms and that mans eternal struggle is between freedom and slavery. Our only option may indeed be is to forever seek methods and ways to carve out niches of freedom and use various means of dissolution of the mechanisms of slavery.

We must first identify our goals. If our goal is to be as free as humanely possible there are avenues to take. Do not confuse being as free as possible in our daily lives with a political victory. In general most people in these united States love their shackles. Our limited span of control cannot change that easily, if at all. But we can use examples such as the life of Quill Rose of Eagle Creek as a blueprint on how to affect the art of being free in the proverbial un-free world. Individuals on the side of Team Freedom right now can lead a quiet social and cultural insurrection by ignoring Power and acting like the free men we are intended to be.

Be free. Be Quill Rose.

Montani Semper Liberi.

About the author: John Meyers traces his Appalachian ancestry back nine generations to the 1750’s. He lives with his family on the high ridges of the Smoky Mountains.

Works Cited:

Arthur, John Preston. Western North Carolina; A History (1730-1913). Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Co. 1914

Kephart, Horace. Field and Stream Volume 14. CBS Publications, 1909.

Kephart, Horace. Our Southern Highlanders. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 1983.

Plott, Bob. A History of Hunting in the Great Smoky Mountains. Charleston: The History Press. 2008

Rose, Don E. Quill. Raleigh: Ivy House Publishing Group. 2003.

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9 thoughts on “Quill Rose and the Quiet Insurrection by John Meyers

  1. Pingback: Don’t Git Ketched | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  2. Having hiked in Cataloochee Valley in NC years ago (Confiscated Nat’l Park now) this story really came to life for me. I love these mountains, living now in the GA. mountains.
    The allure of freedom is still here if not the reality anymore.

    • One of my best friends in the world is a descendant of probably the most prominent family from Catalooch’. I don’t think there is any place quite like the valley.

      • I had an Uncle and his family live in the valley for a while myself, just long enough for some terrain features to bear his name

  3. Great story. I live that kind of life, didn’t think of it that way till reading this. I have steadily withdrawn either monetary, physical or philosophical connections in any way possible to the state over time.

    A large hurdle to personal freedom, I think from experience, is even thinking you can.
    You got want to give up the trappings of the non Agrarian way of life. See there, “trappings”, well are they? Lot of what liberty is begins in the heart and mind. That through my journey so far, I can say it really all begins with each of us. If we are to be free, to live liberty, the way we get there is by starting with ourselves. Because there you go, you have become free right there. How else you gonna do it? Somebody doesn’t hand you liberty. It is an epiphany if you get it.

    Imagine a plurality Roses. In fact, up in these Allegheny mountains of West by God Virginia, there are many Roses. And “foriners” laugh at them Hillbillies. Goes to show you can’t always judge a book by it’s covers. How little do they realize.

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