22 May Profiles in Resistance: Major Lewis Redmond by John Meyers
Publisher’s Notes: John and I have been friends for several years and I highly prize his counsel in history and weapons lore. He and I have a propensity for indulging in the arcana of tactical details and interesting TTP of bygone eras.Please enjoy his great reading of the rebellious life of MAJ Redmond. This appeared in Forward Observer magazine for which he and I are both writers. -BB
One participant in the Southern Mountains’ Revenue Wars’ of the late 19th and early 20th centuries stands out. He has been described as the most famous man of whom you’ve never heard. He epitomizes Appalachia’s resistance to unjust authority. Not only did he essentially lead a war of evasion of which the likes of John Rambo would be proud, he lived to tell about it. Redmond is a shining example of the state-repellant qualities of the southern mountains.
The man who came to be known as “King of the Moonshiners” life is partially shrouded in myth. Accounts of his life vary greatly, largely because he was a leading cause du jour of fictitious dime novels of the 1870’s and 80’s, but the basic facts of his exploits remain true.
Lewis Redmond was most likely born in the northern corner of Georgia where it meets Western North Carolina on the eve of the War of Northern Aggression in the 1850’s, although some sources claim he was born in Swain County, NC. By 1856 the Lewis family had relocated to what is now Transylvania County, North Carolina. Lewis was obviously too young to join the war effort in defense of his southern homeland but his brothers reportedly served in the Confederate Army under Col. William Holland Thomas in his Legion of Highlanders and Cherokee. Lewis Redmond wasn’t actually a Major, but he did get that nickname while hanging around Confederate camps as a teenager.
Redmond was a product of the times. A time of guerrilla insurgency and resistance of an occupying army, with lines blurred between combatants and non-combatants. Mixed loyalties further fueled the fires, and ultimately Reconstruction was more than many people could take. Also thrown into the mix was a newly enacted federal tax on distilled spirits instituted to help pay federal war debt. A tax that criminalized a practice that mountaineers considered a sacred birthright that was handed down from generation to generation. The market rate for a gallon of corn whiskey in this period was around 1.10$ a gallon. The federal government’s excise tax on this product was $.90. (Raised to 1.10$ in 1894) Farmers in the mountains had the choice of either selling a bushel of corn for 50 cents, or turning that bushel of corn into 3 gallons of whiskey, which was easier to transport. It cost a farmer 10$ to haul 20 bushels of corn to town that sold for around 8$. The tax was more than people could take. It was a complete assault not only on their natural liberty, but their livelihood. And this all came at a time of military rule and the tax was viewed as nothing more than a tool of domination by the Northern State to further deny Home Rule to the besieged mountain dwellers. Mountain people slowly declared an all out declaration of refusal and used violence in defense of their lives, liberty and sacred honor against an all out federal assault.
The federal response was further escalation. The Bureau of Internal Revenue soon was granted authority under the Force Act of 1871 to call federal military to their aid in enforcing their will on the southern mountain population. President Grant responded in kind by sending in the 7th Cavalry and men from the 2nd and 8th Infantry regiments to aid the federal tax collection effort. Bayonet rule of a conquered people vying for the last vestiges of freedom was in full swing. Soon the people had a figure to rally behind.
In the 1870’s Lewis Redmond labored on his families farm by day and ran illicit liquor at night. The federal liquor law enforcement arm soon caught wind of this and warrants were issued for the arrest members of the Redmond clan. Lewis’s recalled that his father was then arrested and carried to Asheville to stand trial. He claimed his mother died a few days after from fright and shock, and his father died on the trip to Asheville from exposure.
The event that happened next threw the story into over drive. Later on a mountain road in the East Fork Section of Transylvania County, NC, the Revenue men caught up with Lewis Redmond and his colleague Amos Ladd. (Brother of Redmond’s future wife) Deputy Marshal Alfred Duckworth stopped Redmond and attempted to arrest him for the ‘crime’ of making and trafficking illegal and untaxed distilled spirits. There is speculation surrounding the event. The most likely story is that the agent did not have the arrest warrant in his possession at the time and when Duckworth attempted to apprehend Redmond, he defended himself, ultimately shooting Duckworth in the throat. Redmond and Ladd escaped, Duckworth fell dead shortly after, during the chase. Even though the mountain people viewed ridding the world of a revenue agent to be akin to killing a copperhead, federal authorities saw it differently.
Redmond’s escape and evasion plan led him to the Dark Corner of Upstate South Carolina in Pickens County. (No surprise but Pickens County is a hot bed of liberty and preparedness activity today) Redmond’s father was from this area and no doubt he maintained ties with his kin. The Pickens newspaper was an outspoken critic of federal power and was widely sympathetic to the Resistance in the moonshine wars. They published stories of agents of the Treasury Department conducting warrantless searches, accosting innocent widows, and haranguing locals and gunning them down like animals.
Internal Revenue Commissioner, Green Raum, soon had a Marshal by the name of Barton, operating out of Easley, SC, on the hunt for the Outlaw Lewis Redmond. With information from a Confidential Informant (CI) they located Redmond. The house was raided and Redmond was restrained. When the Marshal turned to get more lashing to secure his legs, Redmond sprang up and took to the brush and escaped. Later that night, Redmond and crew ambushed the Revenue agents and severely injured several. One agent had his entire groin blown to bits. Marshal Barton suffered buckshot to the forearm and thigh.
Lewis was not done. Roughly 3 days later he led 25 men to extract justice from Barton. 9 men including Redmond caught up with Barton at his residence. He didn’t kill Barton, but instead sought Rothbardian restitution for the horses and wagons the federal men had stolen from him during the raid. After learning that the property was miles away in town, Redmond took Barton’s wife to town to cash a check for $105 to cover the cost of the confiscated horses and wagons from the federal raid.
The New York Times soon caught wind of Redmond’s exploits in the summer 1877 and published the first of a series on him. It was said that the Times coverage of Redmond’s crusade against Yankee Authority was mentioned ten times more than Jesse James or Billy the Kid.
Of note during this time, Redmond’s activities had reached legendary status. He had overwhelming popular support. Legitimacy in the Mass Base was at an all time high and the ranks of his Underground and Auxiliary swelled. The Governor of SC even called for Amnesty for all Revenue related ‘offenders.’ Redmond filled the image of a common mountain man waging war against unjust taxation and an unreconstructed Confederate still carrying on the good fight in the face of tyranny. He was also seen as a just man, not extracting naked revenge against the Revenue, but his actions against Barton displayed fairness and proportionality. Redmond’s capture seemed dismal as federal activity was relayed to Redmond religiously by his unbeatable network. Lewis Redmond was also known to pay off the property taxes his neighbors and friends owed to the local government, that due to Reconstruction and the aftermath of the war, they were unable to pay.
Redmond layed low until 1878, when he and 15 men showed up armed and unmasked for all the world to see at the Pickens County Jail and liberated 3 prisoners. To further illustrate his popular support amongst the population, he rode back into town only a few days’ later and bought supplies, and paid a revenue collaborating innkeeper a visit. Redmond left with several coats belonging to Revenue agents.
Revenue Commissioner Raum was livid over the openly defiant prison break and coat theft episodes by Redmond and his men. Soon the State revenue officials and federal revenue officers in the Upstate of SC were sent 100 men to arrest Redmond at any cost and to use what ever means necessary to apprehend him. In April of 1878, they located Redmond, but he saw the federal surveillance element before they could act and fled. Deputy Collector Hoffman stated that shortly after, while laying in ambush for Redmond, their local guide and CI were shot. The Blockaders held no sympathy for collaborators, informants and guides actively working with the federal government. The local government under pressure from the federal government sought to indict Redmond and others in the jailbreak, to which the jury declined every time.
Several months later in the summer of 1878, Amos Ladd, the man who was accompanying Redmond during his first fatal encounter with the Federal Revenue Authorities in 1876, was pinned down and killed by alcohol agents in Pickens County, SC. The government’s story was that the agents acted in self-defense, however SC officials promptly charged 4 Revenue Agents with the murder of Amos Ladd. This further illustrates just how much support there was for the local blockaders, bootleggers and moonshiners. When was the last time you’ve heard of local or federal law enforcement agents indicted on 1st degree murder charges? But things turned out as they usually do for federal murderers, they were transferred to federal custody and through series of jurisdictional problems and other technicalities, the 4 agents were acquitted several years after the fact.
Revenue Fuhrer Raum, granted leniency and amnesty to moonshiners after realizing he was fighting an unwinnable war. He did not offer any amnesty for Redmond. Lewis’ refusal to surrender granted him folk hero status, a real life Outlaw Josey Wales. Due to the leniency tactic by federal authorities and a wane in popular support, Redmond and many others retreated to the mountains of North Carolina.
Redmond moved around often and ultimately settled outside of modern Bryson City, NC, in a remote corner of Swain County, on the Little Tennessee River. The location of his residence at this time is most likely under the water of Fontana Lake, a TVA project that force evacuated entire communities to build in the 20th century. Swain County residents were chronicled in the early 20th century before the building of the lake in great detail by Horace Kephart in his seminal work, Our Southern Highlanders.
In 1881, a federal raiding party located Redmond’s domicile once again. After one botched attempt, they finally shot the notorious outlaw somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-15 times. (Accounts vary) Redmond channeled Revolutionary War hero Samuel Whittemore. Instead of dying, he lived. He was taken to the Asheville Jail. In fear of Redmond’s crew attempting a rescue mission, they moved Redmond to Greeneville, SC. Much to their chagrin, he received a hero’s welcome. Hundreds showed up to pay respects and woman gave him bouquets of flowers. Supposedly over 500 people visited him in jail and gave him cigars, whiskey and food.
It is no surprise that Redmond was put on trial, not for the original murder of Marshal Duckworth but for 8 offenses against the Internal Revenue code. This illustrates the federal governments willingness to enforce their mala prohibita regulations till the death. Redmond sat on trial with 4 rifle balls still in him. He was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in New York.
On an ironic note, in 1884, temperance reformers from South Carolina initiated a movement to release Lewis from jail. Due to suffering health, Redmond was moved back to a South Carolina jail. Perhaps the best twist to this story came on April 16, 1884 when President Chester Arthur pardoned Redmond. Upon his release the Governor of South Carolina accompanied him to the train station.
Redmond later settled back in the Upstate of South Carolina and farmed. Not being able to give up his past completely, he soon became the head distiller at a local government licensed distillery and produced whiskey with Redmond’s picture and called it Redmond’s Hand Mash.
When Redmond got older in age, a grandson of Marshal Barton came to visit with him several times. Redmond died quietly in 1906. His days as an outlaw, hero of the Lost Cause, and a leading figure in the Revenue Wars of the late 19th century had waned. His head stone reads, “He was the sunshine of our life.”
Despite having a good story to share, one of the takeaways is that with a critical mass and base of support in the populace, a small guerrilla force can be quite successful. The Underground, Auxiliary and legitimacy in the Mass Base are critical elements in successful execution of irregular and open source warfare. Redmond is a shining example. Although he didn’t have a trail of bodies lying behind him, he accomplished his objective of being free. That is all Redmond wished. Being free is all any of us are asking for.
Redmond is also a fairly good example that it is possible to resist tyranny and live to tell about it. There is much discussion in various circles today about how any possible attempt to defend ones self when a high technological foe is arrayed against them is impossible. Although this subject could encompass an entire book, we know success is possible.
There is no other region of the country that gets more false stereotypes flung at them than Appalachia. Much like the myth that the Old West was violent and chaotic, the eastern mountains may have largely operated for most of its European settled history on a semi-stateless or semi-autonomous model, it actually never lived up to the hype we are told in the collectivist stereotypes. The myth that Appalachia’s inhabitants are all backwards, ignorant, aggressive and dumb are quite false. Need we point out that there is a difference between aggressive violence and legitimate self-defense of life, liberty and property? That was all Lewis Redmond was engaged in. The Mountain Way is live and let live, Don’t Tread on Me. But if we are tread on, we may strike back.
The Southern Mountains have long stood as an example of an under-governed or state-repellant region. The federal government had relatively little control or authority in the region until well into the 20 century. And this says nothing at the blatant skirting of revenue laws (as well as all manor of other illegitimate laws and regulations) that continue to this day. Figures like Popcorn Sutton are merely the tip of the iceberg. Places like Cocke County, Tn., are still known as independent regions where the last vestiges of freedom simply cannot be squelched. Until the last 20 years, it was commonplace to go to underground bars in the dry county, and see illegal narcotics prepared right on the bar tops, brothels in operation in plain day light, and moonshine available for the asking essentially anywhere. I once listened to stories for hours about places like Del Rio and Cosby, TN back in the hey day while sitting in a log cabin on the NC/TN line. There are still parts of the southern mountains where the juice just isn’t quite worth the squeeze for an enforcement class to go in and try to force their will on the inhabitants. This may be due to the relative isolation of the region, but it may also have to do with the spirit of resistance still retained by many of the inhabitants, the spirit reminiscent of and embodied by men like Maj. Lewis Redmond.
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.
Originally appeared in Forward Observer Magazine.