Moonshiners: The Dukes of Haralson County

Moonshiners: The Dukes of Haralson County

If there is one truly iconic historic "key ingredient" among Haralson County consumables, few who know it well would disagree it is corn mash. No exposition dealing with food and drink here would be complete without an examination of the production of homemade whiskey, particularly "moonshining," its illicit, clandestine ("under the light of the moon") production to evade, originally, an ancient federal tax on such activity in the United States, and later, its prohibition under all circumstances. An excellent background article on alcoholic "moonshine" in Georgia is provided at the New Georgia Encyclopedia. Additional material is available at Wikipedia.

Moonshine Culture in Appalachia

A distiller ("still"), property of a retired Georgia sheriff, previously used to make illicit whiskey

An 80-second introduction to the art of moonshining

A low-key amateur musical celebration of Georgia moonshine

A modern commercial knockoff of a traditional home-made favorite

Vignettes from the History of
Alcohol Production in Haralson County strong as Haralson County moonshine!

- Haralson County native son Rhubarb Jones,
member, Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame

Peaceful Origins

The 50th anniversary of the 1857 incorporation of county seat Buchanan inspired a memoir recounting its early antebellum and pioneer days. It constitutes our earliest written account of the production of fortified alcoholic beverages in what would become Haralson County. Writing in the September 14, 1906 issue of a county mewspaper, The Tribune, under the title Some Early History of Buchanan, the author, self-styled "Old Timer," ended his four-part account this way:

In the days before Buchanan was built, Joseph Goggans kept a country store across the river and made peach and apple brandy. This is not a [malign] reflection on his memory, for in those days, no one was criticised or ostracised on account of drinking or dealing in liquor. Some of the best citizens made whiskey, and all drank it.

The Moonshine Wars

Historian Wilbur Miller estimated that in 1876 four-fifths of all federal law-enforcement efforts and court cases in the Georgia mountains involved illegal liquor issues, more than for the highland areas of any other state. NGE In early 1877, after the last federal occupation troops had departed the South with the close of Reconstruction, at least five newspapers on the other side of the world, in Australia and New Zealand, ran the following copy:

The 'whisky raids' in the United States still continue, and have lately led to fighting, with fatal results. The illicit distillers in the mountain regions of North and South Carolina and Georgia are, according to information received at the Internal Revenue Office, Washington, determined to resist by force of arms the attempts to break up their unlawful business. In a recent raid made in Haralson County, North Georgia, the revenue officers succeeded in capturing a great number of men and destroying numerous distilleries, with their contents. Among others captured was a Baptist minister and the County Sheriff, both accused of defrauding the Government by illicit distillation...

Describing circumstances in 1884, the October 8, 1887 issue of The New York Times would write this:

...Tallapoosa was an isolated village, hardly known to the people of Atlanta, in one of the least populated and most lawless counties of Georgia, the abode of moonshiners and shotgun gangs. The village then contained about 100 persons, and no man was ever sure of his life there.

The extreme violence in Haralson County associated with the struggle over moonshining is illustrated by the following elaborate report appearing on the front page of the November 3, 1887 issue of The New York Times:


ATLANTA, Ga., Nov. 2. --

Information reached the revenue agents office this morning that William A. Morgan, of Haralson County, was beaten to death with sticks by a party of moonshiners on the night of Oct. 30. The is the terrible sequel of a long story of crime in Haralson, which began last January. On the 16th of January, Revenue Agent W. T. Colquitt and a posse captured and broke up a large illicit distillery in the northwestern part of Haralson County. There they captured seven men, two of whom they turned loose, and also a mule. The mule was carried to Waco, 15 miles away, and that night it was stolen back by the moonshiners, who also burned the dwelling of Mr. Rowe, who was thought to be a guide to the revenue officers. About a month afterward, when Rowe was spending the night with a man named Cornell, the moonshiners fired into the house through the door, and several shots struck the bedstead and the cradle in which a child was lying.

About the same time there was at Tallapoosa an old man with a photograph gallery protected by a tent. The moonshiners for some reason suspected the photographer of being an informant, though he never had anything to do with the Revenue Service. Their vengeance was swift, and the artist's tent, with the instruments, was scattered to the four winds. On the 14th of last month, on a road in the same neighborhood, Revenue Agent Colquitt and Deputy Marshalls Johnson and Rowe attempted to stop a buggy loaded with whisky. As they walked around in front of it the moonshiners fired eight or ten shots at them, and finally got away.

A few days after, on the night of the 25th of October, the same party of revenue officers captured McAlpin's distillery, in the northwest of Haralson County, about three miles from the place where the big distillery was captured last January. John McAlpin was captured and his brother Alexander escaped. On Sunday night a party of men went to the house of William A. Morgan, who was suspected of having given the information on which the distillery was found, and beat him to death, in the presence of his wife, with heavy sticks, and when she begged piteously for his life they knocked her on the head with one of their clubs. The brutes probably left her insensible, thinking they had closed her mouth forever, but she recovered, and it is from her that the details of the crime went out. The facts were briefly told in an unsigned letter sent to Revenue Agent Chapman.

The Legitimate Wine Industry

It is important to note that not all large-scale alcohol production in the county has been illegal! Indeed, as the 19th century approached its close, Haralson County led all other counties in Georgia in the (legal) production of wines from locally grown grapes. The following history is offered by Haralson County, Georgia, Comprehensive Plan, 1994-2014: Including the Cities of Bremen, Buchanan, Tallapoosa, and Waco prepared by the Coosa Valley Regional Development Center in October 1994:

...rhe most interesting agricultural phenomenon in the 1890s was the development of a significant grape growing venture within the county in c. 1893-97. Most of the vineyards were located east of Tallapoosa, including the communities of Buda and Nitra which developed during the period, and in the vicinity of Steadman. According to the U. S. Census on Agriculture in 1900, Haralson County had 665,885 grapevines and produced 1,593,536 pounds of grapes. No other county in Georgia even came close to these figures. Coweta County was second with less than one-fourth of the production. According to Georgia: Historical and Industrial (1900), Haralson County was "a great county for vineyards, of which there are 500, covering 5,000 acres." Only about 25 percent of the grape production was marketed. The great majority was used in wine making. Two wineries were located in Tallapoosa, and according to the 1900 U. S. Census, 64,115 gallons of wine were produced in Haralson County--more than 15 times the production of second place Houston County...

[By 1910] the most notable change in agricultural production was the dramatic demise of the grape-wine venture in the county. What had been an exclamation point in the agricultural statistics of 1900 was just a whisper in 1910. The 1910 census reported only 8,978 vines in the county and a production of only 23,876 pounds of grapes -- just 1.5 percent of the 1900 production and less production than 40 other Georgia counties. The vineyards generally did not prove profitable to the many nonresident owners, and the passage of a state prohibition act in 1907 effectively put the wineries out of business as of January 1, 1908. Consequently, the vineyards disappeared about as rapidly as they had appeared a decade earlier.

Amother source here (sadly, none too meticulous about its geography) alleges evidence that the county vineyards may have even been more extensive than the coverage figure cited above claims:
An 1896 map reveals that vineyards then covered approximately 12,726 acres of land in Haralson County, Georgia.
A brief, lay account of the Haralson County wine boom appears here. Retired economics professor Carole E. Scott offers further details in The Colonization of Tallapoosa, and late amateur historian Lee S. Trimble, Sr. writes extensively on this era of county history in his 1952 study, Tallapoosa Territory.

Moving the Product To Market

Haralson Boy State Champion Grower of Corn

Atlanta Constitution Jan. 24, 1926

According to records compiled by the Georgia boys' club department, Ira Murphy, of Route 1, Felton, Ga., Haralson county, is...

Within a few decades after the end of World War II, farm acreage in Haralson County fell four-fold. Today, very little county income is derived from any type of farm produce.

But long ago, when the people of Haralson County largely earned their living from the land, there were two big crops - cotton for cash and corn (maize) for food and fodder. Typically, comparable amounts of acreage were planted with each of them. But some of the corn also provided the basic ingredient for a cash product called moonshine (no one can say how much) and in the days when roads were very poor or non-existent, shipping a high value-per-weight product like alcohol often made pretty good business sense.

The distribution and transportation of moonshine entered a new era with the advent of the automobile, and would give birth to so-called "stock-car" racing as a form of entertainment especially popular in areas where the moonshiner had plied his trade.

The Ballad of Thunder Road

What's in a name?

The immensely popular television (TV) series of three decades ago, The Dukes of Hazzard, featured the adventures of a moonshining family and was set in the Georgia countryside around Atlanta, namely fictional Hazzard County (which contained a town also named Hazzard). This writer opines the byzantine etymology of the fictional name "Hazzard" reflects the confluence of three real-world location names. First is the town (very far from metro Atlanta) of Hazard [N.B. one "z"], in the state (Kentucky) where TV series creator Gy Waldron was born. Completing the precursor triplet are two Georgia locations both within similar and drivable distances of Atlanta, and both called "Haralson" because they share an antebellum namesake. One is Haralson County, located in hilly countryside west of Atlanta, with the extensive moonshining legacy noted on this page. The other is the microscopic hamlet of Haralson, where some actual location footage was shot for the ( Thunder Road-inspired) film Moonrunners, a de facto pilot for the TV show. Now, if "Hazzard County" is a proxy for "Haralson County," then surely its county seat, named Buchanan, is the real-world conjugate to the mythical town of "Hazzard." And who should be mayor of Buchanan as we write this, but an extra from the TV show, the Honorable Benjamin "Buster" Biggers, depicted with the series stars in the (photographic!) still featured below.

(The image above is derived from a low-resolution, single-frame excerpt from a copyrighted motion-picture work, and is thus believed to constitute Fair Use of the original material.)

For a thoughtful discussion on how the drama of moonshining has endlessly inspired the motion picture industry through decades, read Moonshine Movies

The Moonshine Era in Local Fine Art

The eminent late Victorian era American painter, Lyell Carr, for a time called Haralson County's boomtown Tallapoosa his home. He executed a series of works based on contemporary scenes in and around the city, focusing on rustic themes like the production of cotton and other local specialties. Among these was a now-obscure painting on the moonshine culture whose copy this writer cannot yet locate. It was was reviewed by the The New York Times on November 19, 1892, which wrote:
Mr. Lyell Carr continues to send Georgia types, but he is beginning to paint very hard again... 'The Moonshiner's Daughter' is a trifle conventional in pose and hard in painting. But Mr. Carr is on the right track.
Absent a copy of Carr's paiting, The Moonshiner's Daughter, at the right we instead offer some comic musical relief with a song of almost identical title. Hayseed Dixie's humorous Moonshiner's Daughter, an ambiguously blue tune in the spirit of the late Benny Hill, whose signature theme, Yaketty Sax, follows as an instrumental coda in this well-orchestrated but imperfectly articulated and disciplined performance by Britain's The Bouviers.