Popcorn Sutton: Whiskey Rebel by John Meyers

John penned this a couple years ago and the spirit of Popcorn deserves a mention today in these tumultuous times.He represented a more authentic America where he feared for nothing and made his own way without harming another human being.

Neal Hutcheson at Sucker Punch Pictures released his splendid documentary on Sutton. I urge all of you to watch this movie if you get a chance. This is a new age of documentary film-making that is taking it to the next level. This documentary is a sample of this golden age. You can see the trailer here. -BB

“Jesus turned water into wine, I turned it into damn likker”

– Popcorn Sutton

Appalachia’s history is largely comprised of tales of resistance of one form or another.  The poster child of Appalachia’s rebellion against unjust authority has always been the Moonshiner, the maker of non-government approved distilled spirits. These spirits were commonly referred to in the southern lexicon as moonshine, mountain dew, white lightning, “painter piss,” or perhaps more simply “likker.” There is no moonshiner more infamous than the Smoky Mountain’s own, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton. He was not only one of the most famous makers of illicit liquor, but he also led his entire life in defiance of government authority and was quite a character to boot.

Sutton was born in Haywood County, North Carolina, a rural mountainous county on the Tennessee border. At an early age he learned whiskey making from his family and local whiskey makers a like in Haywood and neighboring Cocke County, Tennessee. In due time, he became a well-known whiskey maker in the region. Taking full advantage of the legal jurisdictional confusion between the two states, he plied his trade to the fullest. This was a very common practice employed by bootleggers and moonshiners in years past, when one sheriff would get on your trail you hopped across the state or county line and continued your business.

The tradition of whiskey making as employed by mountain folk originates further back than many people realize. It comes from the Poitín tradition popular in the peat bogs and mountain regions of Scotland and Ireland where most of the ancestors of the southern mountain people originated. While the mountain region of the Southern states lacked wheat, rye or barley for malt historically, residents of the region adapted using Indian corn and malted corn for the fermenting agent. Whiskey making is considered as sacred a right as bearing military style and cosmetically offensive “assault weapons” or keeping livestock. Moonshining in the southern mountains is not only justified on the grounds of natural rights, but also on even simpler grounds. Many makers of illicit whiskey, when asked why they do it have the simple answer of “… my daddy made whiskey, and his daddy made whiskey, and his daddy before him made whiskey, so I’m just gonna keep makin’ it to.”

Popcorn was a dyed in the wool capitalist and largely libertarian in his dealings and belief system. What set him apart from the rest was his unique marketing strategy. He boasts in his book “Me and My Likker,” that him and his father were not political beings, but instead sold moonshine to folks at the polling place on Election Day. This is a much more effective use of time than trying to vote yourself free. He was fiercely independent even to the extent of purchasing his own casket, flowers and the shovels needed to bury him before he died. He is on record of stating that even though he was extremely sick late in life and had amassed a pile of medical bills, “the government nor the county doesn’t pay my bills, I do.”

Popcorn’s first run in with the law was in 1974. He was arrested and later convicted on illegal production of untaxed whiskey, among other charges. In typical mountain fashion, the day after he was released on bond after his arrest, he went right back to the same spot where he was arrested and set his still back up. He figured that was the safest place to be back in business.  When speaking of his arrests he was fond of saying “I didn’t steal anything here… I paid for the copper, the sugar, the corn…so I don’t see where I broke the law anywhere.”

Over the years he built up quite a reputation. From selling jars of likker directly out of his junk shop in Maggie Valley, NC to even being close friends with a Federal Judge. He had a unique marketing strategy of writing books about himself and even appearing in documentary films. Many stores in Maggie Valley, North Carolina carried his books and movies and for 50$ each they could be yours. Many still do to this day, years after his death. When confronted about why it might be a bad idea to appear in a movie that depicts him breaking the law, his response was, “You cant sell it if nobody knows you got it.”  He would charge $3 to have your picture made “with a real mountain moonshiner” at his store.

Popcorn set up whiskey making demonstrations at a number of public events and fairs throughout the area over the years. At one event at the Museum of Appalachia, he was running real whiskey out of his still and people were complaining to the owner that he was getting everyone drunk. When he was told to stop, he packed up and left. When he talked about quality of his product, he displayed a wonderful and basic free market sense. He stated that he didn’t sell any bad whiskey and he made the best because ‘no one would come back for more’ if it wasn’t the best. He was in it for repeat business, not a ‘one time show.’

Soon Sutton’s business took a turn for the worse. In 2007 he found his still house on fire on his property in East Tennessee. The responding Fire department and Sheriff’s office quickly discovered his moonshine operation. Three 600 gallon stills were discovered and gallons of mash and whiskey. He urged them not to report him, however these state actors being the good little goons that they are, soon had ABC agents and ATF on the scene where he was charged with possession and manufacturing of illegal and untaxed distilled spirits and felony possession of firearms. Like many mountain men, Popcorn was commonly known to always carry a pistol in his pocket, no CCW permit or state permission needed.  Another Haywood County, NC resident, 5-Time Banjo Champion Raymond Fairchild carried what he refers to as “the law” in his pocket, a small revolver. This was during a time when the concept of a CCW permit didn’t even exist.


Popcorn was sentenced to probation. He didn’t quit making whiskey. He went bigger than before. He set up a few 1000 gal. stainless steel stills. He soon found himself the victim of under cover buying operations by federal and state alcohol enforcement agents. He was charged again with possession, manufacturing and selling of illegal and untaxed whiskey. They reportedly found 1700 gallons of whiskey in his possession. He was convicted soon after in federal court.

On an ironic note that is pertinent to us in the Liberty movement, the head of this ATF operation was none other than the Butcher of Waco, James Cavanaugh. This man had the audacity to claim he was ridding society of vermin by arresting Popcorn Sutton and that “the truth though, is that moonshine is a dangerous health issue and breeds other crime.”  This man has the audacity to say such a thing after he is personally responsible for being behind an operation in 1993 that killed and burned 80 innocent men, women and children at a church in Waco, Texas. It seems James Cavanaugh is still on the job keeping America “safe.” (Lord, help us)

While on house arrest waiting his sentencing to be handed down, Popcorn Sutton remained ever defiant. When the letter came for him to report to federal prison to serve 18 months for his ‘crimes,’ he channeled Patrick Henry. Sutton died for his beliefs. Instead of reporting to serve this unjust sentence to the federal gulag, he committed suicide by gassing himself to death in one of his automobiles, known as the “3 Jug Ford” (He paid 3 jugs of whiskey for the car). When news of Sutton’s death in 2009 was reported, an entire region mourned.

Appalachia celebrates The Resistance.  Mountain culture nullifies bad laws. Most of history is a celebration of the law-breakers. Do we celebrate the Jewish Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 or the Nazi Troops “just doing their jobs?” Stories abound to this day of Popcorn’s death. Some residents of Haywood and Cocke counties believe he faked his own death and is still alive. A Judge spoke at his public memorial service, praising this notorious outlaw. Hank Williams Jr., the country music legend, also appeared. It is nearly unanimous among folks in the region that the arrest of Popcorn for these non-crimes was not only unjust but also despicable. They cite nothing but the Non-Aggression principle in his defense.

While Popcorn had a troubled personal life and can be accurately described as a ‘dead beat father’ his estranged daughter, Sky Sutton, commented that Popcorn went out in a ‘blaze of glory’ and ‘on his own terms…flipping his middle finger as he went.’

The Appalachian region displays a unique example of resistance to arbitrary authority. It was not until the mid 20th century until the various governments had much affect on the region. For much of its history, the region was largely operated on a stateless model. Disputes to this day are often settled without interference of state sanctioned law enforcement. Federal revenue agents tasked with capturing moonshiners and busting up distilling operations in years past often never returned home after entering the mountains.

Due to geographical isolation and terrain, governments have historically had very little effective rule in mountainous areas. We need only mention the Pashtun’s of Afghanistan or the mountain peoples of Southeast Asia to illustrate this point. Nearly every community in the southern mountains from Georgia to Maryland has a story or three of how these men resisted authority they never consented to. During the Whiskey Rebellion in the late 18th century, it is reported that at least one tax collector’s nose was ground off on a grinding wheel in western North Carolina. The voluntary clan-like structure and kinship among mountain people created a sort of guerrilla underground. News of ATF and ALE/ABC agent activity was trafficked amongst this network. Mountain men are by nature suspicious of the outsiders or ‘outlanders’ due to being exploited by government and carpet baggers for generations. Informants are still considered the scum of the earth in these parts, as are ATF and alcohol enforcement agents. Historically, the ‘revenuers,’ a branch of the US treasury department, when they made their first big push into the mountains in the later 19th and 20th centuries, were largely comprised of agents recruited from prison and the criminal elements of society. Much like how most cops are now recruited from Middle-east war veterans.

The culture was so entrenched in nullification of so many of these tyrannical laws that it often allowed the laws to be broken out in the open, as Popcorn Sutton is a vivid example of. Much like Ireland’s guerrilla mastermind, Michael Collins when he appeared at a funeral with a very large bounty on his head, with support of the population, you can be successful. “Illegal Likker” and marijuana grow plots are still found in quantity nearly anywhere in the southern Appalachian region to this day.  A jar of likker can be found at any college party or bartered amongst neighbors. At one point, being in mere possession of a piece of a whiskey still was a “crime” punishable with prison time. Many people did not take lightly the idea of their family, friends and neighbors being sent to jail for possession of inanimate objects. Later in life, Popcorn Sutton drove around a restored Model T Ford with a retired copper whiskey still in the bed of the truck proudly on display.

Cocke County, Tennessee, where Sutton spent a large part of his time was once considered the “Moonshine Capital of the World.” Locals bragged that at one point you could buy whiskey every 100 yards on Cosby Creek. Brothels and Cock fighting rings were also common.

Appalachia remains a fiercely independent region to this day. An underlying theme in most stories relating to the region is that for every injustice, the government is generally behind it. Folks are taught to celebrate the outlaws and those that resist oppression. Someone who opposes the State is very likely to gain popular support in the hills. In one of his last and best acts of defiance, Sutton created a lasting legacy. He is featured in documentary films such as “This is the Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make” or “The Last Run” demonstrating his craft from beginning to end, ultimately teaching entire generations of people across the world how to make whiskey and defy government encroachment of their natural rights. Even in his death he is inspiring more folks to take up the cause. Popcorn defied authority until the end. His foot marker is shown below.

20 thoughts on “Popcorn Sutton: Whiskey Rebel by John Meyers”

  1. Pingback: Popcorn Sutton: Whiskey Rebel | From the Trenches World Report

  2. You get the Liberty you create.

    That Liberty, it all begins with each of us, always has, always will.

    That’s why Liberty is Liberty.

    Abolition can only happen if it begins with each of us also.

    Abolish from your life everything you are able to disconnect in the chain of tyranny, in that way you break the chains of slavery the state has bonded us with. Break that chain, in the smallest of things, you become free.

    It is not difficult, a tiny change in thinking, a bit of creativity, a little elbow grease, you can do it.

    The resources to do so are readily available. They are cost effective, fun, gratifying and of high quality.

    A garden. Sounds like Liberty? No?

    It is how you look at it. 25lb bag of seed potatoes for 20 bucks, gets you 3 100ft rows of tubers, if you tend it properly, that gets you a crop of approximately 150lbs of beautiful home grown taters. Can some, can some with deer meat you shot, throw in carrots you grew too. Best beef stew you ever tasted. You can get 20-30 qts of top shelf food, needs no refrigeration. You just beat the bastards running things out of their cut in a multitude of taxes because you cut out every sort of middleman that is taxed. Bingo!

    Build a small still, lots of great plans and resources on the interweb. You don’t have to sell it just make your own hooch, maybe barter with trusted ones. You can make vodka, brandy, whiskey, bourbon, cordials, gin, any kind of likker you like. You just denied the bastards their cut, 12 bucks a gallon to the federal regime, and each states cut. Screw em. They can pound sand.

    Build rifles and handguns from 80% receivers. AK pattern rifles, AR platform rifles, 1911 pistols, 10-22 carbines in 22lr & 22mg calibers. You deny the bastards their cut.

    Buy a early 90’s Chevy pickup. 4wheel drive, small block, standard. Parts are insanely cheap. Water pump, 15 bucks, every brake component all four corners cost about $250, radiator is $85, etc. You can refurbish one for 3 grand, new tires included, doing the work yourself. Body parts are stupid cheap. For the cost of the truck and parts, you get a super reliable cheap to feed vehicle you can haul firewood in.

    Tags and insurance are cheap too. With a throttle body spacer, a hi performance exhaust, platinum plugs and a low temp thermostat they get 18mpg on cheap gas.

    You just beat a line of state actors out of their cut of your dollar, from excise shakedown, to sales tax, to insurance, bank interest, and it is all yours buddy! No one owns it but you.

    Heat your home with wood. Do you know how many taxes are extracted in the stream of energy before you get it exist? Including the taxes extorted from your paycheck? Taxes for tolls, tires diesel fuel, the drives income taxes, road use tax, state taxes, license and tag taxes, the business taxes extracted by every enterprise that handles that energy? Can you understand why the EPA has banned woodstoves? They want that tribute, they want to indenture us, make us dependent so they have a captive populous who are forced to pay…taxes!

    It all adds up. The tax racket is rigged in percentage. It is how extortion rackets work. The thing with corruption is how it works too. Greed and avarice. Nothing else. So many hands are in the trough taking their cut of the cut, there is no reserve, every penny is divided as spoils of tyranny. See what this means? It is not a system of good will and intentions, it is organized crime and the take is treated as a right, a privilege, and an entitlement. When the take decreases, the pecking order suffers. The system has a built in failure mode. No one involved can tolerate a diminishing return in this spoils system.

    If you beat the motherfuckers out of a thousand dollars over a year, you just denied them a chunk of income. Think what 1 million people denying the sonofabitches a grand each does? But it is more than just cash. It disrupts the hierarchy, it scares them, because somebody knows why the cut is smaller, they know where every penny comes from, count on it.

    Now, it is not just money, but it is defiance, it is a fuck you, it is the middle finger of Liberty.

    Think about that.

    Popcorn Sutton is proof of how that works. He lived so free, nobody could take it away from him. He never surrendered to the bastards. They sent a blood thirsty genocidal psychopath after Popcorn. The prick probably volunteered. That bastard and his psychopath pals murdered, burnt to a crisp, all those moms and their kids in that bunker in Waco, and stood on the charred remains and took trophy photos of each other with their rifles smiling like they shot a trophy buck. That’s who they sent for Popcorn. They feared Popcorn, because he was free, just like they where scared of the Liberty the men and woman of Waco made for themselves. That is pure unadulterated tyranny.

    That is why Popcorn is a Hero. Because he proved you can live free, and people loved him for it.

    They couldn’t murder Popcorn, he would be an instant martyr, so they tried to cage a free bird. And they couldn’t do that. Popcorn gave them the middle finger of ultimate Liberty.

    It all begins with each of us.

    They can only murder and jail so many, carefully, under false flags and false pretenses using illegitimate means. They are no different than any crime gang who must make violent examples of enough people to scare the majority. Because they need that extortion money to remain in power. Because they understand if just enough of a plurality choose to defy and resist, they loose power and control. It is the ones who are not afraid who they fear. It is all they fear. Those who are free and brave represent the existential threat of existence to those running things. Get right with that truth, you get right with your Liberty.

    The Liberty you make is the Liberty you get.

        1. It may even be beauty itself but even if it’s not, it’s the key to beauty and splendor and all that is good.

          At least socially, there’s nothing perfectly good BUT Rightful Liberty. ALL interactions are derivative of it.

          And look how easy it is to get going—two huge heroes already, in a single blog post. Double that every few hours and count the numbers. “Plurality”…at the very least, huh?

          But Chevy, feh…when there’s Cummins and the 7.3 out there? And small block, you gotta be kidding. Oh wait…maybe those values are different than mine. Carry on then; that comment was truly beautiful.

          1. You crack me up Jim. Lol’s!

            Brand rivalry aside, the cheap cost and abundance of Chevy parts is my prime motivation on that score.

            Enterprise/free economy is so essential to Liberty they are inseparable. See the contrast to tyranny? Tyrants must control every aspect of the economy or they can’t be tyrants. If you are to have true liberty, you must exercise your primal freedom of free enterprise, or you are a slave.

            Rifles may be the queen of battle, and an armed violent revolution depends on the partisan and his rifle, it is essential to the struggle, but free enterprise is a powerful weapon against tyrants and their tyranny, they need money, lots of money to have any power. Take away their tribute, you got the fuckers by the balls.

            Then you can shoot the sonofabitches.

      1. Well thanks, it is really nice of you to say so PUSA, but I am inspired by Bill and the people he inspires. I feel indebted for their courage and indomitable spirit. They risk much in this day of tyrannical terror known as government by speaking out. Something we should never forget, at our peril.

        So in a sense Bill and others who provide these venues of freedom and constructive exchange of ideas across the blogosphere of liberty have much in common with the Popcorn Sutton’s of the world.

        I think we are blessed with their grace and faith.

    1. Sir, the finest response I’ve read in a long time. The hairs on my arms are standing up.

      Amen! “Give me liberty…or I’ll stand up and come take it!”

      The truth is, the psychopaths are weak. They’re empty shells of men, no better than sewer rats. They fear moral men, because they do not understand moral men.

      Their shows of force are pure bluster. The wicked flee when none pursueth.

  3. Pingback: Popcorn Sutton: Whiskey Rebel | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  4. The regime will stop at nothing to hound a true American to his death, all the while letting vermin like illegal mexicans and muslims, anti-American to their core, sup at the tit of uncle sam, (us the true Citizens). And also those sorry ragged ass blacks that think their troubles are because of slavery that ended over 150 years ago. There has been no country in the history of the world that has done more for a race than what has been given to the negroes in the U.S.A., the ungrateful badstards. This man asked nothing of anyone, he blamed no one for his trials in life, he stood on his own two legs as a man should, he is the epitome of the true American spirit, Freedom!

  5. MtTopPatriot:

    Thanks for the info on various subjects. Much appreciated. I’ve got a similar view on trucks. Old Toyota’s are also fantastic, too. My 96 runs like a champ.

    The sad part of this story is, though, that eventually they did get him. Committing suicide to avoid prison is not a happy ending. So I think there are some cautionary lessons from his tale, too.

    1. He went out a free man. That’s liberty. He stuck to his principles, no matter the cost to him. There is everything to be said for that. We all are going to have to make choices like that if events and history tell us anything.
      Like the saying goes, “Those who ignore the past, take the dirt nap first”.

      What would a true abolitionists choose, go down fighting, or surrender liberty?

      It’s fight like no tomorrow with everything I have for me. I made that choice. All there remains is to fully understand that choice, so I’m prepared best as I can.

      It is all I can do. And have faith in God and the gifts of liberty he bestowed upon me. I think I can’t but not fight on that score. Maybe that is the real choice.

      I like to think Popcorn understood that too.

      That is what I see as indomitable spirit in Popcorn, and others through history, who said never give the bastards the pleasure of winning their game. That is liberty too.

      Maybe it is all just a matter of perceptions and beliefs. But you got to stand for something.

  6. Jeffery in Alabama

    Re-blogged at https://theferalirishman.blogspot.com/2015/01/whiskey-rebel.html

    I am proud to be cut from the same type of cloth. I grew up with people who viewed the world in the same light as Mr. Sutton. Not that they were in the “likker” business, but that they did not meddle in other folk’s business and they did not like people prying into theirs. None of my people (that I know of) ran liquor. My wife’s people on the other hand were big time whiskey makers. While Mr. Sutton, in later life, made whiskey to drink, they made whiskey to sell. At times they made thousands of gallons per week. That is right. Thousands. Their whiskey was just as palatable as Mr. Sutton’s, but they mass produced, hauled, and sold thousands of gallons. Multiply this times hundreds if not thousands of moonshiners and one can see why the “revoonooers” would be a little pissed at missing that kind of income. Several families in this area made fortunes in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and into the early 1970’s doing the same thing. My wife’s daddy was on probation at fourteen for distilling illegal liquor. Her grandpa went to the penitentiary four times for making liquor. His name was Ellie Reno. He never had a “job”. He wrecked thirty-six ’36 Ford’s. His daddy went to prison for making whiskey as did that man’s daddy. She comes from four generations of moonshiner’s. She is rebel if I ever saw one! LOL

    A great piece and well written!

    Jeffery in Alabama

  7. Pingback: Famous Yet Obscure Historical Figures - Page 9 - Political Wrinkles

  8. All my kin live in WV but I remain in the west. I’d love to go back where my family has lived since the beginning of time but it’s just too damned close to Mordor on the Potomac. Helicopters like the Nazgul are just too close for me to be able to live.

  9. I was traveling through western TN the other day and noticed several billboards advertising “Popcorn Sutton Whiskey” made in Nashville. Two things: 1) The distillery, undoubtedly, is state sanctioned. Of which I am certain Mr. Sutton would never approve. 2) Unless the state-approved distillery is paying some royalty to his heirs, use of his likeness and name is dirty pool and trademark theft.

    I’m sure Popcorn Sutton never actually “trademarked” his picture and name, but anyone NOT his actual kin using it for their own profit is pretty despicable, if you ask me.

    1. TN actually ‘legalized’ moonshine 2-3 or so years ago. It can be distilled and sold with the proper licenses, how many folk in my neck of the woods still make shine sans license — I am not real sure. But it’s easy enough to get.

      A little something to contribute to the article is the legend behind the nickname “Popcorn” – Story goes that Sutton drunk in a bar and in the midst of some sort of argument – took a pool cue and smashed the front of a popcorn making appliance, hence his nickname. It followed him for well over three decades. That’s one local legend – I live about an hour from Maggy Valley, so legends abound.

      I am not at all sure about using his legacy, When I first noticed the “moonshine” being sold in stores in NE Tennessee I asked the store owner if it was for real, I was thinking it was just a marketing gimmick to snare the unwary tourist. He said it was authentic moonshine – I think it was called “White Lighting” as a brand name – how original. We got to chatting …That’s when I learned about the legalization of “moonshine” in TN, and caught onto the legend of Popcorn Sutton.

      BTW love the blog – just found it. Keep up the good work.

  10. Pingback: Profiles in Resistance: Major Lewis Redmond by John Meyers | ZeroGov

  11. Pingback: Popcorn Sutton: Whiskey Rebel | Western Rifle Shooters Association

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