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.