Once Upon A Lifetime In Baker County, Florida
The Moonshine Legacy

Part One

By La Viece Moore-Fraser Smallwood
Copyright © 1995

Copies available from the author complete with photos:
Rt 2 Box 543 Macclenny, Florida 32063

Permission has been granted by the author for posting to this page.



Dear Readers,

This volume in the Once Upon a Lifetime in Baker County series is different. It's subject is very sensitive, one that evokes strong emotions. For many, these stories have aroused pain, regret, remorse, and even shame, but still, for most, if they had it all to do over again, they would.

I think perhaps, to understand why this subject spurs such sensitive emotions, you would need to understand the history, the people, the times. This is the logic as to why this book has been written. It is for this reason, unlike other volumes in this series, that anyone using any portion or portions of this book for commercial reasons or for any other purpose, at any time, must have written permission from me, my heirs, or those individual persons who have signed their names to these stories, or their heirs.

I shall forever be grateful to the persons who contributed their stories to this book, for they have done so hoping to leave a glimpse of our history that otherwise would have developed into nothing more than myths, legends and fables.

Perhaps it was fate that I grew up during the '40's and '50's in the moonshine heyday, because it helped me to be sensitive to the interviewees and their situations.

I'm not saying that I advocate breaking the law, then or now, but what I am saying is that in that day and time, moonshine had been an inherited way of life. In the beginning, it was a way for families to survive, and somewhere along the way, it became a means of pulling oneself up by the bootstrings after a great Depression and two terrible world wars.

Prior to the '50's, you will read stories where men and woman felt fortunate to make 50 cents a day pushing a plow behind a mule from sun-up to sun-down. What illegal whiskey they made at night, down by the creek, still did not provide them with necessities. Some of them were grown before they were able to have their first pair of shoes.

There is an old adage that goes, I cannot feel my brother's pain, until I walk a mile in my brother's moccasins.' it is my sincere hope that this will be your analysis should you be tempted to pass any judgment.

It is realized, however, that at the end of the moonshine era, when it was considered more than just a way of sustaining life, the profession became marked by recklessness and turn-coat betrayals; it became a selfish and dangerous business. And I, along with the community, changed views from tolerance to unacceptacle and so an illogical moonshine, bootlegging, and fast-car era -- thankfully -- came to an end.

As you read these stories, I believe you will understand the evolution of the moonshine era, and you will also empathize with a group of men and women, who, despite the stigma, were basically honest, upright, God-fearing people, whose stories will not only warm your heart, but bring a tear to your eye, and sometimes even a chuckle to the soul.

To those whose unique stories and experiences appear within these pages, I would like to say that the expression of gratitude I desire to relate to you goes beyond my ability to describe. The privilege of having many of you gather in my home, on various occasions, seeing some of you meet socially for the first time in your lives, and others of you unite after decades, has been an advantage and remembrance I treasure. To those who were not already my long-time friends, I value your trust and confidence and genuinely appreciate the friendship and goodwill that developed between us.

May God's richest blessings be bestowed upon each of you.

Most respectfully,
La Viece


Moonshine Legacy
By La Viece Moore-Fraser Smallwood

No one is certain when illegal whiskey was first ,made in Baker County, but it was probably long before anyone living today was born. The industry is not just a backwoods affair. it has a history that extends all the way to the White House.

As early as 1794 there was a whiskey rebellion in America brought about by a federal tax imposed in 1791. The rebellion was led by angry farmers who found it more profitable to turn much of their corn and rye crop into whiskey which, they contended, was much easier to ship to markets than bulky grain. After several people were killed, President George Washington sent in troops to stop the rebellious farmers who protested arrests made by federal marshals trying to collect whiskey taxes. The Whiskey Rebellion was an early 'testing ground' on the use of federal power to enforce a federal law within a state.

During the 1870s an association of whiskey manufacturers and high government officials formed a whiskey ring and banded together to cheat the government of taxes imposed on distilled liquors. The 7 Whiskey Ring was one of the great political scandals of the Ulysses S. Grant administration because the chief clerk in the Department of the Treasury and President Grant's personal secretary were among the conspirators. The Treasury Department lost millions of dollars in liquor revenue, but eventually traced and convicted many of the ring leaders.

As settlers ambled into Baker County they hoped to make an honest living sustaining their families by growing crops and raising livestock, but mother nature, the boll-weevil, hookworms, and the Great Depression were among the stumbling blocks the settlers faced. As time advanced, the making of illegal whiskey afforded the farmers food for their tables and clothes for their backs. The people who worked in the art and profession became known as moonshiners. By day most farmers plowed their fields and planted their crops and by the light of the silvery moon, they made moonshine. This is their story.

In the '20s,'30s, and '40s, moonshine was primarily made by hard- working farmers who supplemented their livelihood by crudely brewing homemade whiskey with river water and homemade cane syrup or honey when sugar wasn't available or affordable. it wasn't considered immoral, but was recognized as illegal, and no more so than some folks, by today's standards, who'fudge' a little on their income tax.

Moonshine was made to drink and to supplement income, in the beginning. it was usually sold around turpentine camps and local bars. The term bootlegger emerged when it was hauled out of the county, first by horse and wagon, river travel, or on horse back. The industry grew and expanded over each decade and with each new generation.

World War II changed the industry. Most farmers quit the business when state and federal lawmen began to invade the area and destroy their primitive stills. However, after the war a new generation found ways to speed the illegal industry and advanced to a more elaborate system of making shine. it was hauled from Baker County in semi trucks and the county's reputation spread across the state and north and south. Things began to get out of control.

By the 1950s, some Baker County citizens banded together to find a way to clean up the county and end the notorious reputation it had acquired as the 'Shine Capitol of the State'.

In a Florida Times-Union article on Wednesday, March 24, 1954, headlines that blazed across page 25 screamed to the public,

'Baker County Sheriff Given 30 Days to Clean Up County'.

After a five-hour public hearing in Tallahassee, Acting Gov. Charlie Johns, charging neglect of duty, had issued an ultimatum to the county's sheriff, Asa Coleman. "You have thirty days to clean up the county or be suspended."

Governor Johns told the Baker sheriff, "Sheriff, I've weighed the testimony very carefully. I'm convinced you're honest but you just let law enforcement go in Baker County. As you know, I've tried to see that the people are protected. I want to tell you right now -- I'll give you 30 days to clean up Baker County. If you clean up in 30 days and don't let (blank) and (blank) run the county -- I won't remove you."

The article continued, 'Sheriff Coleman, who was appointed to office by Gov. Spessard Holland in 1942 and since has won four elections, told Johns at the hearing that 'I thought I was doing a good job ... I have had no complaints.'

The Governor asked Coleman, 'Don't you think that you can get out and get some of those moonshine still operators?' Coleman answered, "if you give me a chance I'll do my best, but I'll have to put on more men."

Former State Rep. B.R. Burnsed of Macclenny wound up the defense argument by mentioning the maxim, 'The least governed is the best governed' in saying to the Governor, 'I do not think you believe in the overthrow of local self government."

State Rep. John J. Crews, Jr. of Baker County took issue and said, "I resent the fact and intimation that the people of Baker County favor notorious bootlegging and gambling."

Crews, who did not testify, but was asked for remarks, said it was "tragic that a group of notorious bootleggers and bolita peddlers have caused a strong-hearted man to be called before you. I hope the governor instructs the sheriff to take a more active part in law enforcement."

The acting governor said he was in favor of self government, "but when self government breaks down and law enforcement is flaunted in our face, it is time for the governor's office to do something about it."

Frank W Watt of Jacksonville, a federal beverage agent, testified that Baker County in 1953 accounted for 47 percent of the stills seized in the 15-county Jacksonville district. The figures, he said, were 114 stills in Baker County and 241 in the district.

In four days last January, he said, the federal government destroyed 21 moonshine stills.

Another state witness, Beverage Dept. Agent Phillip Y. Tomberlin, said he swore out a warrant for one law violator and Sheriff Coleman did not arrest the fugitive for almost a year.

Baker County Judge J.C. Lyons testified that the man was in Baker county, that he made a tobacco crop during the time the arrest was pending and even came to the courthouse for purchase of an automobile tag.

The county judge also said the sheriffs office, located down the hall in the courthouse, "is not kept open regularly." In response to a question, Lyons said, "I do not believe it is kept open at all during the week. It's open maybe two or three times a month."

Asked if there had been any gambling arrests in Baker County recently, the county judge said, 'About three years ago they arrested a darky and he posted $ 100 bond and estreated it.'

Charles Ross, a Beverage Dept. investigator, said the sheriff's records showed that his office had made a total of eight arrests for moonshining during 1953. He said he was in Baker County five days and never saw the sheriff.

Other investigators had similar reports.

Asked why they and other Alcohol and Tax Division agents did not include Sheriff Coleman in their raids, investigator Spinks said, "We do not call on the sheriff because we are afraid the information would spread and the violator could not be apprehended."

State Trooper Ralph L. Hays told of the arrest of a Negro, Curtis Bones, in Baker County. In the trunk of Bones' car, he said were six five-gallon jugs. He pulled the stopper on one and determined by smell that it contained moonshine.

He took Bones' car key, jailed the Negro and left the locked car within a fence around the Baker County jail. When he and a beverage agent examined the 'evidence' the following morning, he said all six jugs contained water.

He testified that Bones, when arrested, told him 'to call Mr. Coleman or Mr. Barton (later identified as Deputy Sheriff James A. Barton) and they would say he was all right."

In his own defense, Sheriff Coleman testified that he was from a small county, with 5,300 people and 375,000 acres. His income last year was $5,500 from the sheriffs office, he said.

"My wife keeps my set of books at the Macclenny Cash Store," he said. I am in and out of the office all week. I have a two-way radio system and can be contacted at all times. I am on call 24 hours of the day."

Coleman said that, "in the last six or eight years no beverage agent has asked for aid. I have no facilities to locate stills, but I am willing to cooperate."

As for the year-long fugitive, he testified that the county judge had informed him the paper's were outdated and 'not to bother.' During the testimony, Gov. Johns asked him, "Why is there so much moonshine in Baker County?"

Coleman replied that the area was "thinly populated and full of swamps and ponds. You can't keep them out."

Witnesses testifying as to the sheriffs character and law enforcement efforts were Deputy Barton, Macclenny Chief of Police I.J. Hudson, Arthur Raulerson of Sanderson, former Macclenny Mayor B.J. Padgett, and Ray Dinkins, Macclenny oil distributor.

In the final arguments, Hodges, one of the sheriffs attorneys, said that "The grand jury is the remedy if law violations are open and notorious. The true remedy is at the polls, not here," he said.

And to the polls it was. The citizens turned out in droves in 1956. The race was on to elect either a political newcomer, Ed Yarbrough, a county native from Taylor, or deputy sheriff James Barton, serving under the present sheriff, Asa Coleman, who did not seek re-election.

Yarbrough took to the backwoods with a fiddle in one hand and a campaign promise in the other, to 'clean up the county of illegal activities.'

During the campaign a circular was distributed to the county citizens days before the election. (See copy at end of this article. [graphics omitted]

Yarbrough won the election, not by a landslide, but nonetheless, he won. A January 11, 1957 Florida Times Union article reported the 30-year-old sheriffs election and goal: 'He hopes to rid Baker county of its reputation as 'the moonshine capital of Florida'.'

The new sheriff announced the appointment of Wilbur Mobley as deputy, James A. Shuler and Lawton Connor as jailers, and Mrs. Margaret Sharman as office secretary.

On January 14th the Florida Times Union reported,

'Baker County Sheriff Ed Yarbrough today announced the seizure of three moonshine stills and the arrest of two men during his first week in office.

Yarbrough was assisted by a county native who was now a State Beverage Agent.

In February the Jacksonville Journal touted a photograph of the new sheriff and headlined,

NEW SHERIFF USES LIGHT SHOES TO CATCH MOONSHINERS ON THE RUN.

"Don't make me sound like a crusader," said Yarbrough. "Just say that I am a member of a progressive group of citizens who are determined to clean up the reputation of Baker County."

The article reported that Yarbrough felt his major problem was the rehabilitation of the citizens engaged in moonshine operations.

"I sincerely feel that moonshine in Baker County was overestimated in the past. It was going on all-right but not to the extent that Baker County was the operating base and capital of the moonshine industry, as it was called by law officers and newspapers throughout Florida.

"I don't think Baker County is entitled to that reputation when the figures of the State Beverage Department indicate that, in capacity, the Baker moonshine operations were not as large as some other Northeast Florida counties. Even the beverage investigators of Florida and the Internal Revenue Service know for a fact that the situation has been more serious in some sections of South Georgia.

"The good people of Baker county have had more than their share of embarrassment from the reputation given their county."

The Journal article reported Yarbrough's chasing a 'fleet-footed moonshiner' dashing for freedom, with Yarbrough in pursuit.

The sheriff had one big advantage over his opponent, reported the article, 'He was wearing his canvass basketball shoes.'

Yarbrough told the Journal reporter, Harry Crown, that on the day of his election, word got around Baker County that he would have to catch the stills within the next week or 10 days or he wouldn't catch them at all.

What the moonshiners meant was, that as soon as the mash now fermenting was ready to run, the liquor would be run off and the stills moved out of Baker County, he said.

Yarbrough said hunters came to his office giving directions to stills, but by the time he reached the locations, the stills had vanished.

He said that most of the operations were being moved across the St. Mary's River in the Big Bend area (that part of Georgia which penetrates into North Florida).

"Traffic in moonshine is avoiding Baker County like the plague." Yarbrough said.

In July of 1957 The Baker County Press headlined,

TAKE ANOTHER LOOK AT BAKER COUNTY.

It was written by a Journal correspondent Sam McGarvey. The article reported that the county, long known as the 'moonshine capital of Florida,' shackled with a bad reputation, was now growing and prospering. Moonshine has been virtually wiped out, the school system reorganized, a hospital is nearly completed, FHA insured homes are being built, a recreation program is planned, construction started on a big state hospital--and lots more.

One of the leaders in the reconstruction campaign, former Senator Ed Fraser, sums it up well, the article read.

"Baker County has taken a big step forward. Some things which were only a dream a few years ago are a reality now. And there's more to come."

City Manager W.F. Wells stated that the big change in Baker County just didn't happen. It was planned that way. He said that a few years ago, a group of responsible citizens met to analyze the situation and plan a campaign for community betterment.

"The law abiding citizens were concerned and determined to wipe out the moonshining and make their county a better place," said Wells.

Continuing, the article quoted Baker County Representative John J. Crews as saying, "One road block to the goal was that bootlegging and moonshining were an accepted part of the county's economy. The county was held down a number of years under a group of law violators, until it was a syndicated moonshine operation and the people accepted it under the false idea that illicit liquor traffic was contributing to the livelihood of many persons. But you cannot build a community without the foundation of decency and strict law enforcement," he said.

In the original meetings held by citizens to 'clean up the county', the article explained that the people and their leaders took a critical look at Baker County and Macclenny.

"They saw that they had other problems, in addition to a lack of law enforcement. We decided to clean house from top to bottom, before trying to interest industry and new residents." said Wells. "we needed better schools, adequate medical facilities, zoning, recreation and FHA financing, or, in short, just what people look for when they inspect a city as a future home," he added. Clean up of the moonshine operations was basic.

The article reported that the election of a new sheriff and the beginning of clean- up operations was a big step. A startling factor of success was the convictions of moonshiners by juries.

In the first trial, States Attorney T.E. Duncan, in summing up to the jury, said quietly: "The question for you to decide today is whether you are going to believe the defendant, or whether you are going to believe the sheriff."

Eight minutes after the jury retired, it returned with a verdict of guilty as charged.

Sheriff Yarbrough, World War II Air Force veteran, married an father of two children, credits state and federal agents with complete co-operation in his drive to wipe out illicit whiskey, the article stated.

He praises the public, too: "The people have supported me moraly," he said.

The sheriff also credits the law making possession of over a gallon of moonshine a felony, instead of a misdemeanor, as one of the factors his successful drive. The bill was sponsored in the '55 Legislature by Ed Fraser and Rep. John Crews.

(An interview with former sheriffs E. Ed Yarbrough and the Asa Coleman can be found in Volume I of once Upon A Lifetime in Baker County Florida. The two men admitted their past hatred of one another and recanted how their conversions to the Lord turned that hate eventally to one of love and respect In 1979, on the shores of the south Prong of the Little St. Mary's River, the Rev. Asa Coleman baptized his former rival, E. Ed Yarbrough.)

The following interviews are the personal accounts of a few of the men and women who were directly involved in the controversial moonshine industry of Baker County. Permission for the use of most names of individuals mentioned in the accounts have been obtained unless the names appear in a news article that has been previously published.

"IT HAPPENED THIS A WAY"


Marcus Gene Thrift
1934-1955

If ever there was an all American boy, it was Marcus Gene Thrift. If ever shock waves traveled throughout Baker County, it was when he was tragically killed while returning home one night from hauling a load of whiskey.

What made this outstanding, intelligent, respected, and popular young man resort to something he really didn't stand for or believe in? We may never know, but this is his story as told by many who knew him best and loved him most. After 40 years, memories of Marcus Gene Thrift continue to live on for many, and it's like one of his classmates said recently, "His memory is so vivid that it is just as if we had been together yesterday."

Marcus Gene Thrift's watch stopped on April 8, 1955, at 12 o'clock midnight. So did his heart.

As mangled as the car he was driving, so were the hearts in Baker County. The close-knit community had watched the All-Conference Wildcat Quarterback prance out onto the lighted football field for four years amid glaring lights and screaming fans. The team's co-captain was their hero.

As he dribbled the ball for four years up and down the slick, polished floor of the Macclenny-Glen High School gymnasium, every hair on his head was in place, and it stayed that way, as the All-Conference, point guard basketball player thrilled fans with his winning streak.

Just as effectively, he played shortstop on the school's baseball team.

"Marcus Gene was a very special person, well-loved by everyone who knew him," said Ann Piatt Tharpe, a classmate. "He had a great personality always smiling and fun to be with. I never heard him put anyone down, or knew him to drink alcohol, use tobacco in any form, or use profanity in any way. He was just a good all-round guy who had a lot of friends. I still miss him today, and I never knew of anyone who didn't like him. I couldn't believe it when I heard about it, and even today, it's hard for me to believe it happened.

"And I can't help but wonder," she said, "what kind of person he would be today, and what he would be doing. I think he would have done a lot of good had he lived."

Marcus was born August 9, 1934, to Earl and Doris Combs Thrift who farmed in the Georgia Bend area. For the first two years of Marcus's life, he and his parents lived with his paternal grandparents, Jode and Caroline (Raulerson) Thrift.

By the time he was in the fifth grade, WW II was raging in Europe, and school teachers were scarce in Georgia. His parents, concerned about his education, boarded him in Macclenny with his aunt and uncle, Josie and Daisy Thrift, who sent him to school under the watchful eye of fifth-grade teacher Gladys Crews. Their only child's absence from their home grew too hard to bear, so the couple moved to Macclenny and never returned to Georgia. They eventually built a home on Highway 228 North where Marcus lived the rest of his life.

Earl Thrift was one of 13 children born to Jode and Caroline during a time of mounting poverty that climaxed with The Great Depression era. The family turned to brewing moonshine to help with necessities. Doris's father, Joel Combs, sustained their family of seven children by making moonshine. And Doris remembers those times well.

"The Sheriff used to call and let daddy and all that bunch out there at Taylor know when the revenuers was coming. I was about 11 or 12 years old and since I was the fastest runner in the family, Mama would always say, 'Run, tell your daddy that they're coming.' Then all the men would gather at the Taylor store and be looking for them when they rode by," she said.

"I used to pump water for daddy to keep the coil or something or other cool. Me and my sister-in-law, Daisy, used to go with the buyers in the woods to show them where the shine was hid. They'd load it up and tear out with it. People wasn't scared to make it, back then, and to us it was just an exciting thing to do."

While Marcus was growing up, his father worked at local service stations and occasionally hauled some shine to supplement his income.

By the time Marcus was in the sixth grade, he was showing signs of being industrious. He came home one day and announced to his parents that someone down town had a shoe shine business and they wanted to sell it for $12. His mother remembers the incident well.

"He said, 'I'd like to buy it but I don't have the money' so Earl's mama called him over to the side and said, 'Come here, son, now don't tell the rest I gave you this,' and she gave Marcus the money. He was adored by his grandparents,." she said.

While 12-year-old Marcus shined shoes in front of Lautice Dugger's Barber Shop on Main Street, he would also sell boiled peanuts to passers-by. When the Greyhound Bus stopped at Power's Sundry, Marcus was standing there to sell bags of peanuts to passengers.

"He did real good and made enough money that he seldom ever asked us for any," said his mother.

As he grew older, he worked afternoons and on weekends at the local pool room owned by Dolice Rhoden.

He excelled in sports, and was a popular player on the Wildcat team.

"His daddy had never seen a football game until he went to see Marcus play," said his mother. "I had seen one once when my daddy moved our family to Jasper and I was a cheerleader. I remember Marcus only weighed 110 pounds and I didn't think they'd put him in the game, but they did. He made a touchdown that very first time, but me and Earl didn't know it. We saw him lying out there on the field and Earl jumped the fence to go to him. I remember Mike Gazdick told Earl, 'He's not hurt, he just got the breath knocked out of him, he'll be alright.' And he was."

In 1950, Doris Thrift gave birth to a baby girl, Vicki. Marcus was proud of his sister.

When he graduated from high school in June of 1953, he was elected 'Most Athletic' and 'Most Popular' by his classmates. His father made a down payment on a new Chevrolet and gave it to his son. Hugh Griffin, owner of the local Chevrolet Dealership, gave Marcus a job, but soon business became slack and Marcus was out of work. Hugh even took him to Jacksonville trying to help him find work, but jobs were scarce, especially for the untrained. For a while he worked in the office for the railroad in Baldwin, but once again when business was slow, he was laid off. He finally found a job in Jacksonville working for an oil company inspecting service stations in need of repairs or painting. But that job was not steady either.

With regular employment a problem, the prospect of making a few extra dollars by hauling an occasional load of moonshine was enticing, explained his mother. After all, his father did it, as did many of his relatives, friends and neighbors. And his car payments had to be made.

In March of 1955, he married his high school sweetheart, a popular senior at Macclenny-Glen High School. Until her graduation in June, and until he could find a steady job, they made their home with his parents. While he was out of work, he hauled a few loads of moonshine for Jule Rhoden. He told his mother he needed the money.

In March of 1955, he and his new bride gave his sister, Vicki, a birthday party to celebrate her fifth birthday. on that occasion, he presented his sister a little gold chain with a heart. Then he told his mother to take some of his money that she kept for him, and take Vicki to town to buy her an Easter outfit.

'Buy yourself one too, Mama,' he told her.

On the afternoon of April 8, after hauling a load of whiskey for Jule Rhoden, he told his mother that he could make more money hauling whiskey for himself instead of someone else.

I'll be back about 9 p.m., he said. He left while his wife of three weeks was attending classes, and headed up through Georgia.

"It was his first load for himself," said his mother. "I didn't want Marcus to do it, but he said he needed the money."

No one may ever know what really happened, but out there on the dark and nearly deserted stretch of Highway 441, three miles south of Homerville, Marcus Gene Thrift met a semi head-on as it rounded a curve. He died instantly.

'I think Marcus went to sleep," said his mother. "He had on an ID bracelet and maybe that's how they identified him. I really don't know, but the Georgia authorities phoned Sheriff Asa Coleman, and since we didn't have a phone, he phoned our neighbor Wallace Dupree, whose wife Dorothy is kin to me. They got some of our neighbors together and they came over about three o'clock in the morning to tell us.

"I heard them call and went to the door. I heard Dorothy say, 'Open the door, Aunt Doris.'

"When I opened the door and saw them, I said, 'Oh no, don't tell me, Marcus Gene got killed didn't he? And that's the last I remember."

The days that followed are blurred for Doris and Earl Thrift. They brought their son's body home, where he lay before his funeral service on Easter Day. The First Baptist Church in Macclenny was filled to overflowing and crowds of friends stood outside. The funeral procession to Taylor Cemetery was one of the longest in Baker County's history. Grown men and women mourned, classmates and friends wept openly. Vicki, wearing her new dress from her brother and the cherished little gold necklace, nervously bit the little heart during the funeral service and it left two tiny teeth marks, a reminder 40 years later of her grief.

"Losing Marcus was like losing a member of my own family," said his longtime friend, former teacher and coach, Mike Gazdick. "He played outstanding sports and was the recipient of many awards. He never missed practice and was a role model for all the students. Marcus never used foul language, was an above-average student. He was always willing to assist anyone in need. He was always well dressed and well groomed. He never criticized others, never used alcohol or narcotics. He was always considerate of others and had respect for his teachers, coaches and fellow students. I'll always miss Marcus," he said.

Fellow classmate Maurice Prevatt remembers playing sports with Marcus from 1949 until their graduation in 1953. "He was one of the most gifted athletes that ever came out of Baker County," he said.

"Not only was he talented on the playing fields, but he was also well-respected by his team-mates and the people in the community. He was a clean-cut guy with a winning personality and always had a smile for everyone," he said.

Marcus's life was cut short at an early age, but his team-mates and class-mates will always remember him and the joy that he brought into everyone's life that he touched, like his team-mate and class-mate, Kingsley Tharpe.

"Marcus was my closest friend. We had no secrets from each other. His death was a very traumatic experience for me and left a big void in my life that I feel even today.

"We played football, baseball and basketball together in high school and dreamed of playing professional baseball. I have so many fond memories of him, playing sports together, going to the movies at the Edray Theater, eating lunch at the Custard Shoppe, dragging U.S. 90 in Mr. Earl's Chevrolet pick-up, double dating -- so many memories."

And for many, Kingsley's closing sentiments are chorused: "I lost my best friend, and the world lost one of its best."


E. W. (Junior) Crockett

January 29, 1953. Headlines in The Florida Times-Union blared, 'SHINE KING SUSPECT NABBED'. U.S. Agents, long on the trail of E.W. 'Junior' Crockett had at last fulfilled their quest and captured their man. They thought that anyway. Like always, the Robin Hood of Baker County got away. And did so legally.

Junior Crockett was never reared in poverty like most of the people in Baker County's rural backwoods, but he had an affinity for those who were. When circumstances beyond his control invaded his life, he used his genius and enterprising qualities to assist the poor and become a Robin hood legend of the people, not only of Baker County, but throughout the south Georgia backlands and other areas where struggling Americans dwelled as well.

When Crockett's father, Dr. E.W. Crockett, Sr., was senselessly murdered by his third wife, Ella Dykes Crockett, Junior Crockett was a 17-year-old-lad from a broken home (See Dr. E.W. Crockett's story in Volume V of Once Upon A Lifetime).

Dr. Crockett owned valuable property in downtown Macclenny where he maintained an office and a sundry store. His son worked in the sundry store.

"After daddy's death, I wanted to keep the Sundry Store, and since it had perishables, such as ice cream, fountain drinks, etc, a public auction was quickly held to settle the estate," said Junior. "I remember that several successful businessmen wanted the store and had planned to bid on it, but when they found out I was trying to keep it, only one of them made a bid, and fortunately, I outbid him."

He soon discovered that the local bank had permitted loans to be taken out on his father's property by his estranged wife, Ella, whose name did not even appear on the deed. Young Crockett quickly sought a way to block bank officials who said they would have to foreclose on the buildings.

Dr. E.W. Crockett had developed a friendship with a man from Thomasville, Georgia, who often stopped by the sundry store when in town. Junior told his father's friend about the problem.

"He asked me how much I needed and when I told him, he was more than willing to make me a loan."

To the shock of bank officials, Crockett paid the mortgage off in the nick of time and saved his only inheritance.

That incident set the scene that would change his life forever and launch him in a direction that he had never considered or even thought about.

"The way I got started in the moonshine business was, in a way, a necessity," he said. "I needed to pay back the significant loan to the friend who had helped me salvage what daddy had worked so hard for. Despite what some people thought, I did not inherit any money when my daddy died. Times were hard and commodities were short. People couldn't always pay daddy for his services and he never sent them a bill. He never kept books and never refused to attend a person who owed him for a previous service. That's just the way daddy was," he said.

"The only way some people in the county could put food on their tables and clothes on their backs in those Depression years was from a small income they could earn from making and selling moonshine when they couldn't find work doing something else. One day some of them were in the sundry store talking about how they couldn't get sugar, syrup, etc to make the 'shine, so I told them about the people in Thomasville who had helped me. I knew that was their business, so we drove over there and found out that a lot of the farmers were selling their syrup to the big Roddenberry people for 50 cents a gallon. I saw how poor these people were and I offered to buy their syrup for 65 cents a gallon. The people in Baker County were glad to pay me a dollar, so I made 35 cents off of every gallon I bought and sold. One of the most pleasurable things that can happen to you is when people need you and you are able to help.

"As I became more acquainted with my friend in Thomasville, I saw a chance to make some money for myself to repay the loan and help the people in south Georgia and Baker County as well. Most of the farmers made from 1,000--1,500 gallons of syrup a year. Pretty. soon those farmers would not talk to anybody but Crockett. I'd go up there 2-3 o'clock in the morning, load up and go right back for more. Those old people would be up at all hours with long tables set up in their kitchen. While we loaded syrup, they were cooking a meal for us regardless of the hour. I think we started hauling syrup in November and news got around like wildfire: 'Don't sell your syrup to Roddenberry, this man we know down in Florida will come get it and pay you more,' they'd say. I didn't have the money to finance their crop like Roddenberry did some of them, but I told them 'if you got to have your money, tell me and I'll come get the syrup from you instead of making the rounds, so you'll have your money when you need it.' And it didn't take long before they knew I'd do what I told them I'd do. They'd have dinner or breakfast ready for us when we'd get there. I'd go for days on days that I didn't pull my shoes off.

"That brought in good money for me, hauling and selling syrup. Then I found out that the farmers had a hard time selling the whiskey. They'd get caught on the road and lose their haul. Some didn't have transportation to even get out and sell what they'd made. And the revenuers would come along and bust up their expensive stills while they waited for a buyer. So I got the idea, well, if I'm in this part of it, why not help these people sell their whiskey. I found reliable people that would come here and buy the whiskey from the people I had sold the syrup to. Then the people could pay me for the syrup and that happened the same way with sugar. I made connections right there in Jacksonville at Winn Lovett for sugar. They had a big warehouse and I used to buy it and haul it out by the truck load. Most people had to have ration stamps back there during the war, because there was supposed to be a shortage, but I found out there was plenty of sugar, the government was just mishandling it. I went as far as New Orleans to buy sugar and hired people to drive trucks to Florida with it. Their warehouse floors were sagging with it stacked to the ceiling. Just tons of it! There was no sugar shortage. Those people didn't know what to do with it, they had so much of it, so I didn't have any trouble supplying the people with sugar or syrup to make the 'shine.

"In Macclenny, I rented the old Walker warehouse and had it full and stacked to the ceiling on the porch with sugar. When I started helping the people to move their whiskey, I got paid for the supplies and they got to work more. This was good because it was always a matter of time before their stills were raided and the more they could use the stills and make more shine, the more profitable for them. We all worked well together. They sold more whiskey, made more money and no one was trying to take advantage of them. The revenuers didn't know at the time what was going on. I didn't figure what we were doing was immoral, just illegal.

"Later on, as things got bigger and bigger and more people got involved, it got to the point where I had to make more contacts with people all over the country in order for these people to stay in business, so it kind of boomeranged. It really made me feel good to pay those real poor people more money; they didn't have anything and the moonshine industry was helping them have something.

"I'll never forget how happy they were when they'd see me come up there. Whole families would be involved. I especially remember one night when a little boy was helping us load syrup in Jennings. He couldn't have been more than four years old and he was carrying those heavy gallons to be loaded on the truck. Then someone would take it from him and put it on the truck. Afterwards I gave him a dollar. I said, 'Now remember, this is the first dollar you ever earned.' Years later I met him as a successful lawyer in the Miami area and he showed me that first dollar he earned. He had it framed.

"What ever the moonshiners needed to make whiskey, I got it for'em. Sugar, syrup, automobiles, etc. I was their supplier. I'd find surplus supplies, get good prices for 'em, and pass it on. We all worked so good together and I can't even remember one case where anyone got tricked by an undercover. There was just a trust during that time with people. That's how it all got started," he said.

"Pretty soon the industry grew so big that I had to start looking for people to help me. I had people coming from as far away as Illinois to buy shine. They made their own shine in the summer time, but in winter, that's when we usually sold so much of it. It was like a steam roller, it just kept going, and I felt very fortunate when the money started rolling in. I don't feel I was doing anything wrong, or influencing anyone for bad.

"During the war when cars were scarce, I found cars and tires for people. I found out where they were and I'd go get 'em and make a profit. If people got sick, or in trouble, and needed money, they'd seek me out for help and I'd try to assist with whatever it was they needed. I liked helping people and they knew it.

Crockett said he had no respect for some of the professional law makers involved because they were fooling the people and were not trustworthy.

"In fact, they used the moonshine industry in order to gain votes when they were corrupt themselves. You lose respect for those kind," he said.

"One state trooper lied and said I shot at him, but later he was fired when it was noticed the window of his car was fired on from inside the vehicle and he was just trying to set me up."

Crockett is talking about Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Hershel Owens, who was stationed in Baldwin at the time. Headlines screamed out from the front page of the Florida Times Union on Sunday, November 18, 1954, that the investigation of the fray was being made by Lt. J.W. Jordan of the FHP. He reported that the driver of the Cadillac, who shot and struck the windshield of Owens' car, was positively identified as Junior Crockett of Macclenny. Owens claimed that he was struck by a piece of flying glass as four bullets hit his windshield and a fifth bullet entered the hood of his FHP car.

The article stated, "Crockett, who is scheduled to appear in Federal court here Nov. 29 for trial on charges of conspiracy to violate internal revenue liquor laws, has been giving troopers and beverage agents trouble for several years.

"One of the wealthiest men in Macclenny, Crockett has long been called by beverage agents a king-pin in North Florida's leading industry, the illicit manufacture of whisky."

The article further stated that the gunfire came from Crockett's Bootlegger car after it crossed into Georgia during the 90-mile-per-hour chase.

The Lake City Reporter headlined,

'Murder Attempt Charge Sought in Georgia for Alleged Bootlegger'.

Crockett said that Trooper Hershal Owens was fired from the FHP when it was proven that he made a false report.

"Owens actually shot his own FHP car windshield out which was verified by Columbia County Sheriff Ralph Witt," he said.

At the time, the Crocketts lived comfortably in a modest home on SR 121 in North Macclenny, but one day someone knocked on their door. He said he had come to buy their house.

"My daughter attended a shower here last week, and she liked your house. I want to buy her a house before I return to my home in California and this is the one she wants," he said.

"Well, you must be mistaken," said Doris, "This house is not for sale."

But a good deal was struck and Doris moved out immediately so Paula and John Crews could move in. That's when they built what some citizens called, "the mansion on the hill." It's still known as the Crockett house today and one of the finest in Baker County. It is situated on a hill between Macclenny and Glen and is bordered on the west by the St. Mary's River. Today it is surrounded by a subdivision of houses, instead of the 140 acres of green, rolling pastures and grazing horses that once cast a picturesque spell. Still, it's aged majesty reflects the affluence the Crocketts attained.

"I didn't just deal in moonshine supplies," said Junior. "I also owned the Dodge/Plymouth Dealership and Doris and I built the EdRay Theatre with Lucy and Ray Dinkins. We ran it until television came in. And we ran the Sundry Store."

During the time the Crocketts owned the sundry store, most of the businesses that served food or drinks offered curb-side service. The Sundry store was no exception.

"We sold cokes for five cents. People would drive up in their car and toot their car horn and we'd go out to take the order, whether it was one person or more. We would attach a little tray to the car window and put their order on it. When they finished, they would toot their car horn again and we would have to go back out and get the dirty glasses. All for a five-cent sale. Can you imagine?" said Doris. "It was really work running back and forth four or five times for just one sale and then having to wait on customers inside, too."

When Doris arrived at the sundry store each morning, she had to sweep and clean up. The ice man brought ice in blocks, which was stored in an ice box. She had to chip pieces of it with an ice pick, then grind it by hand for the soda fountain drinks. In addition, they sold milk shakes, vanilla cokes, lime sours, cherry cokes, root beer floats, etc.

After the war Junior sold the Sundry Store to his friend, Paul Rhoden, who had been hired years before by Dr. E.W. Crockett as the sundry's first soda-jerk. The name was changed to Paul's Rexal Drugs and Paul soon after became the county's first pharmacist (See Paul Rhoden's story in Volume V of Once Upon A Lifetime).

Junior Crockett carries fond memories of his Baker County friends, especially those with whom he dealt with in the moonshine industry.

"I will tell you real quick that the moonshiners I knew were the greatest people I've ever known in my life. I never lost a penny dealing with them. After I moved away and met affluent people who belonged to the fancy country clubs, I quickly found that I couldn't say that about them," said Junior.

Crockett eventually moved to Valdosta and successfully went into the coin- operated machine business. He has constructed a luxurious 105-bed nursing home, owns apartment houses and other real estate.

I have met people from all over the United States, but I was never obligated to them for anything. We were loyal to one another when we needed help or favors, but we didn't expect anything in return. We just couldn't do enough for one another. We still keep in touch with all those wonderful people who are still good friends," he said.

Although he was characterized by the law as the notorious kingpin moonshiner, Crockett was never convicted in a court of law for breaking liquor laws.

"I never made a drop of moonshine or had a drop made," he said. "I never let anyone work for me that hadn't previously worked in the whiskey business. In other words, I never hired anyone that wasn't already in the business. I never got anyone started in the business or influenced them to come in, in fact I discouraged anyone wanting to come in," he said.

Crockett said his activities in the moonshine enterprise consisted of buying and selling to the moonshiners. He freely admits the action brought him financial gain; however, he wisely invested in other lucrative business ventures as well.

"At one time, we owned a private plane and have taken trips to entertain our friends, as well as professional people like lawyers, judges, politicians, sports figures and business acquaintances. We flew to places like Las Vegas, Mexico, South America, Washington and California. It's been a full life, one that brings back many fond memories," he said.

"I don't know of any enemies I have in Baker County. I feel I have many close friends here and it will always be home to us. We've led a very interesting life, and it has made me feel as though I was on top of the world," he said. "I remember with fondness all of the great people I have known, especially the honest folks that were 100 per cent true and loyal to their word. They are still true friends now, as they were 40 years ago. I feel very fortunate to have been born and raised up among the people in Baker County," he said.

In 1978, the Crocketts purchased the first of many motor homes and have since enjoyed their myriad travelling adventures, including visiting every one of the United States but Hawaii. They have travelled through the Canadian Provinces, including the Nova Scotia and the Maritimes.

"The most fun was driving Old U.S. 50, called the loneliest road in America by Life Magazine," said Doris. "We've been from the east coast to Carson City, Nevada; old western ghost towns and been on The Oregon Trail from St. Louis, Mo., to Salem, Oregon."

The Crocketts say their love of travelling will keep them on the road in the future. However, they won't go too far, or stay too long, because their greatest interest is still their family. Their son, Edward Wray III, and his wife, Pam, have two children, Crystal and Austin Edward Wray. Edward Wray launched his own very successful coin- operated machine business in Valdosta.

The Crockett's son, David, and his wife, Kay, also live in Valdosta where David is affiliated with the Lincoln-Mercury Dealership.

More than half a century has passed since the tragedy occurred that changed the life of Edward Wray Crockett, Jr. He had planned to be a physician like his dad, but a turn of events, and fate, cast him in another direction. Misfortune? I doubt it. He holds a distinction in Baker County that belongs only to him. Like his legendary father, the immortal sphere of his era of time is cast in history. His quest as a humanitarian was simply woven into the trail of events that occurred in his lifetime and his legacy will be around for as long as there is a Baker County and a history to remember.

NOTE: Read the life of Dr. E.W. Crockett, Sr. in Once Upon A Life Time Volume V.


Jimmy Lyons
Macclenny, Florida

Sitting in his office behind his desk at North East Florida State Hospital, Jimmy Lyons feels sheltered and unscathed. He has been there for 34 years working his way up through the ranks from aide to supervisor of the laundry department. Reaching back to an era that is surely a time of reflection for Baker Countians, Jimmy speeds through it almost as fast as he once did on the highways and by-ways of Florida and Georgia. With a memory sharp and keen, he is an endless reservoir of stories reflecting the age of the moonshine days of Baker County.

Born in the neck of the Georgia Bend in 1934, about five miles from Moniac, he was next to the youngest of seven children born to John Westly and Pearlie Thrift Lyons.

The family toiled to make a living on their farm. There were the usual plowing, hoeing, planting, reaping, canning, preserving, hog-killing, beef-butchering days. Down by the branch, the family's crude moonshine still offered a supplemental income to buy shoes, clothes, and some household staples.

"It was just a way of life and I grew up thinking that was what you were supposed to do," he reflected in a recent interview. "We all helped from the time we could. I can still remember being barely big enough to carry a gallon of cane syrup to the still for daddy to make the shine. It was as common to me as hoeing the corn growing in the field," he said.

In time, John Westly Lyons was caught by the revenuers and served time in prison.

"Mama had a nervous breakdown. I went to live with my Aunt Lula Thrift, who was already like a second mama to me, and the other younguns were scattered around somewhere. I think it was too much for mama, with daddy being sent off, and she was left with all of us younguns to take care of. She was in Milledgeville for about two years," he said.

When the family re-united, they moved to Macclenny. John Westly Lyons took a job in Jacksonville and left the farm and moonshine behind.

"But me and my brothers continued working in it," said Jimmy. "That's the only way we knew to get an income. I didn't ever own a still, but I always helped my brothers."

Eventually he quit school. "I got to thinking I knew everything in the world. You know how some young people are, you just can't tell them anything. I was a teen-ager and I wanted me a car. I'd growed up in it, I knowed there was money to be made in it."

When he was 16 years old, a revenuer by the name of Spanks raided a still in Taylor. He was there. He was lucky. He received probation.

"Me and another guy were coming out from the still with a full load of liquor. Them revenuers watched us until we got through and loaded it on an old cut-down Model-A truck. We had started out to the main road and that's when one jumped on the truck on one side and one on the other. The old truck didn't have a top on it. They took us to Jacksonville to jail and we made bond easy.

"I dropped out of school and continued working for my brothers. Then I got to hauling it for them. Eventually, I hauled for Dub Sands and a few more. Dub was an expert mechanic, he could build them old cars, and make them go so fast they'd out-run anything on the road. I loved it. I spent most of my money going to the races in Daytona when I wasn't hauling. It was during the time when they raced on the beach over there and they'd let us race cars if we wanted to. I was so young and foolish, I don't know how I lived through those days. Sometimes I hauled as many as two loads a night, but always on the average of nine or ten loads a week. I guess if I was going to work in it that much I should have done it for myself instead of working for someone else, but I just never did.

"My brothers had moonshine stills in Baker County as well as places outside the county. One of their stills was on a lake in Winter Haven. We boated our sugar and supplies over to the still and boated the shine back. When it was raided, one of our still workers had to escape by swimming the lake.

"There are just so many experiences that happened during those days. I remember one night me and my first cousin were working at a still up there on the Santa Fe River near Branford. We were always careful when we drove by the state's truck-checking station. We had hauled a load of liquor up to Thomasville this particular time and were bringing back a load of sugar. Sugar had become very scarce and was getting critical because the law had so many people scared to sell it to us.

"We were supposed to store the sugar in an old tobacco barn, so when I passed by that weigh-station that morning, there was a trooper there and he motioned me to stop. Well, I had no intentions of stopping with that load of sugar, so the race was on. It started about 10 a.m. that morning and it had been raining just a little bit, just enough to wet the road. I had outrun him and got away, but I had peeled a tire, so I turned to get off the road because I knowed I was having tire problems. It had rained just enough that he seen where I had turned, so he backs up and comes in there behind me. So we have another race until the tire finally went flat. I reached a dead end and went straight out through the pines. I was driving a New York Chrysler and I told my cousin I'd just tear it all to pieces before I'd let them have it. I knocked down several trees before it stopped. I told my cousin to grab the turpentine in the glove compartment and run. Well, the state trooper called the sheriff and they put the dogs on us. We could hear them. I knew the Fort White highway was only a couple miles over from us, so I told my cousin that when we got to the highway we needed to quickly stand on the shoulder of the road and douse all of our clothing and shoes with the turpentine, then cross the road to the other side. That way the dogs would be unable to trail us, the turpentine would throw them off. So that's what we did. We crossed the road and hid in the woods. We were looking at'em when the dogs stopped at the road. We heard one of them say, 'Well, they've been picked up,' so it worked just like I thought it would. In a few minutes we were picked up by my brothers in the car trailing us. They knew something had happened and it didn't take long for them to figure it out.

"During those times we had our own little codes. Wherever we were hiding, we would put a little bush or something heavy enough on the edge of the highway that it wouldn't get blown off and they would just drive until they saw it. It was really a cat-and-mouse game.

"Another time, I was up in Albany, Georgia. Apparently, someone had tipped them off that we'd be coming up there. For some reason that night I felt like taking another road. I had to go over an old one-way wooden bridge. I didn't know it but I had come out on the road in front of where the sheriff was supposed to cut me off. I eased up on the bridge, and there was a deputy who had been stationed on the other side. When he saw me, he headed up on the bridge from the other way. When I saw that, I started backing off, but the deputy's car started bumping me. The Georgia state revenuer who was on the passenger side of the deputy's car jumps out and starts shooting at my front tire on the left-hand side of the car. It bounced off and hit the right rear instead, before I got off the bridge. When I went around him, he was shooting. I had the flat tire or I'd have outrun the bunch of 'em, but after they chased me about 10 miles, I was down to the hub; the rim was gone. I don't know how many times they shot at me, and I never have figured out how they could shoot so many times and never hit another tire. I was scared, anyone in their right mind would have been.

"By this time, they had notified the sheriff and he was trailing me. Flying pieces of metal from my car had beat the grill out of the sheriff's car and metal was flying everywhere. I finally decided to abandon the car and run, so I pulled up by an old fence and by the time I got out of the car, I was over the fence, running. I was young and I knew it would have taken a race-horse to catch me.

"I was out there in the woods all night, not knowing where I was, but finally about 10 o'clock the next morning I came up on a feller's house. I didn't no more than get out of his sight when he'd done called the sheriff, and they jumped the dogs back on me from there. They finally caught me, and the old revenuer from back at the bridge grabbed me and was cussing. He said, 'You old S.O.B., you're the one who tried to run over me.' I told him all I was doing was trying to get away. The sheriff was nice. He asked me if I was hurt. Georgia makes their own law, at least they did back then in some places, and all he was seeing were dollar signs. I knew that's all he wanted was money.

"I asked him if I could make a phone call and he said I could. I told him I needed to know just how much it was going to cost me. He said, 'Well, it will be $1,000,' and if I wanted the car back, it would be another $ 1,000.

"I only had about 15 jugs of liquor in the car, because I had already delivered some. I asked him if I was going to have to stay in jail, and he said, 'No, you call someone to bring the money and I'll have the judge standing by.' So I did and I never will forget it. The judge had one of these old, long, wheel-barrow mustaches. He was skinny as a bean pole and looked like he was about six foot and a half. He was all drooped over and the old codger said, 'Mr. Lyons, the county has got you charged with possession and transporting of illegal moonshine. How do you plead?" I said, 'I plead guilty, judge,' and he said, 'Well, it's going to be $250 for possession and $250 for transporting.' The sheriff spoke up and said, 'No, No, judge, you got it all wrong,' and he goes up to talk to the judge and the judge looks at his secretary and said, 'Strike that! It will be $500 for possession and $500 for transporting.' They meant to get $1,000 from me and they did.

"The next time I was caught, me and my brothers were delivering some liquor to an undercover man, but we didn't know it. It was a set up. We had been regularly delivering to a black man by the name of Red. We learned later that he had been caught and told if he'd help them catch us, he wouldn't have to serve time. Actually, they didn't care about me, they wanted the man I was working for.

"Well, they knew we were coming, but they didn't know exactly how. They knew who we were, but they didn't know what we were driving, or what route we were coming. It was up around Pearson, Georgia, where they set up a road-block on the bridge. We never stopped at filling stations on our hauls; we always took along our own gas in cans, so we had stopped on the side of the road to gas up. We had two cars loaded with more than 45 cans of liquor each, a total of 95 gallons. My brother was driving the lookout car ahead of us.

"While we were pouring the gas in the car, a state trooper drove up behind us. We jumped in the cars, throwing the gas cans down. There was a sheriff's car across the bridge and I was running so fast I couldn't stop. I was probably going 120 miles per hour, or more, in one of them cars Dub had built. I just picked the biggest hole I could see and tried to go through. I hit the police car and it went spinning around. My brother was driving the car behind me, and he hits it, too, and goes down an embankment about 20 feet. The impact had knocked the frame out from under my car and it had no control. My first cousin was with me, because earlier that evening I had been visiting my dad in the hospital because he had cancer, and for some reason I had fainted. So my brothers thought I ought to have someone ride with me, just in case, and that's why he was with me. We both jumped out of the car and went running off in the woods together. One of the deputies up on the bridge, who had a sawed off shot gun was shooting at us.

"Meanwhile, they caught my brother and beat him so bad he had to have several pints of blood and something like 160 stitches in his head. They called in the dogs to put on me and my first cousin. We ran for about an hour and we could hear the dogs coming. We didn't know exactly where we were, but we knew it couldn't be too far from Douglas. Then, it come the damdest flood you have ever seen in your life and it rained on us all night long. We were just drenched. Can you imagine how miserable we were with no cover, soaked through and it in the winter time? The only good thing was when it stopped, the dogs had not been able to track us because of the rain.

"We finally got over to the road and caught a ride with a farmer into town. I got to a phone and called the Amoco station in Macclenny and a friend answered the phone. I told him I was in Douglas and to get airborne and come get us. He was there an hour and a half later. Even though I got away, they knew who I was. We had lost two loads of liquor and two cars in the skirmish.

"It was a week or so before Wilford was even able to leave the hospital and come home. The law told my other brother that they knew who I was and started trying to negotiate with him. They told him they knew who I was, and if I'd come on up and plead guilty, they would charge me $2,000 and Wilford $2,000 and that would clear it up and I wouldn't have a record or outstanding warrant there.

"When my brother came back and told me, I said, 'No! I ain't going back up there to Pearson where that sheriff is.' So they told my brother to bring the $4,000 and Wilford could plead for me, too. So, when they tried me, they found me guilty. They fined me $2,000 and they ain't never put their hands on me. I never seen any of them. Then the sheriff told my brother he could come back through there with loads for the next three months to make the money back for the lost liquor and cars, but he said that each time we came through we'd have to pay him something. He said that after the three months we would be subject to arrest again. But we didn't go back up that way again because there was just no way to trust the law. Our motto was, 'When you see it, out-run it.'

"One night I had gone out about ten miles in the woods to pick up some liquor to haul. It was a full moon, not a cloud in the sky, so after I loaded up, I said, 'I'm just going to ease out of here with my lights off.' I don't know why I felt that way that night, but I was just riding along there when I saw a light pop on up ahead, like a car light or something. They had backed up there in those woods, waiting on me. I was working for Dub that night and he and his partner had already gone out before me. I guess the law knew just a little more than I thought they did about us, so when I saw the light, I turned my lights on and popped the fuel to it and started on by them. One of 'em run out there in the road and started shooting. I knew they had hit the car at least twice. I out-ran them and went on up to find Dub and them. We looked the car over and found where one bullet hit. If it hadn't hit where it did and bounced off, I would have been shot right through the back of the head. The next morning Dub looked the car over and the second bullet had gone right up the tail pipe. He must have shot a dozen times and never hit the car as big as it was but twice. I don't know what he thought he was shooting at.

"It wasn't hard for us to get away from them. Our cars just were faster. Back then, we had them old cars fixed where you could turn out one headlight, or you could turn out both headlights; you could turn out one tail light, or both; you could open the door and not turn on the car light. We could just switch 'em all on, or all around or off. We didn't have stop lights. We had one little light that would just shine down on the white center line in the middle of the highway to keep us on the road while they were chasing us. If they were chasing us, they couldn't see it, but we could tell where we were going, and we always 'cased' out the area and knew where the curves in the road were. We got familiar with where we were going most of the time.

"You could tell a loaded moonshine car from anything else. It would roar and biller. I've been through many of them little old towns at night and have to stop at a red light while trying to ease through. You could actually hear them plate glass windows rattle just from setting at a red light and the car idling. Anyone at all who knew about automobiles knew when they saw you what you were doing. We got more attention when we were trying to slip through a town than on the highway running a 100 miles per hour. I learned how to go all the way to Tallahassee on a dirt road, just crossing the highway, never driving on it.

"Dub Sands was the man to be with in this business. He was a genius building the cars we drove. Each morning when I'd come in from taking a load, Dub would want to know if the car was running right or needed any repairs or adjustments and I'd discuss this every morning with him. If it did, he would make them during the day before I went out again that night. He got to where he liked to go with me in the escort car.

"One such night, he wanted to test this Dodge, so he and his partner got up to 140 miles per hour and Dub wanted me to pass him. I got in all the wind that happens sometime when you get in back of a big truck and it actually blowed the floor boards out of that old Dodge. It had an old wooden floor board. Now Dub was shook up, and it took a lot to get him shook up because he didn't get shook up easy. He said, 'I bet you it won't blow up out of there anymore,' so he went and got some sheet metal and he welded it down, and we never had any more problems. That little Dodge was something.

"I stayed with my brothers sometimes, but mostly I stayed with Mama. I let her drive that Dodge with the Chrysler engine, and you just could see her peeping over the steering wheel. It was my personal car and she loved it, but she'd say, 'Son, that thing's just got too much power. You need to get something done to it,' and I'd tell her, 'Mama, I want all that power, I might need it.' It had two four-barrel carburetors with a Chrysler engine. Mama would squall them tires every time the gears changed.

"She knew I was into shine. She'd say something to me about it all the time. Daddy knowed it, too. They both wanted us out, but they had raised us in it. Daddy never got into hauling it, he just made a little bit, but we just kept right on.

"Right after Ed Yarbrough got to be sheriff, there was a Florida Highway Patrol Trooper named L.B. Boyette that was stationed in Baker County and he loved to run us more than anything. I think he would have taken a load just for the experience, if he could have. He would aggravate us to death; he was never out there on Highway 90, or places for normal traffic. You never caught Boyette anywhere else but up there on the Fargo Road, that's where he stayed, always trying to catch us with a load of shine.

"G.W. Rhoden was Ed's deputy and he talked Ed into buying one of them big Chevrolets with a 454 engine and three two-barrel carburetors. It was supposed to fly. It was a time when everyone was really impressed with big fast cars. I told Dub, after G.W got this car, that we needed to try him against one of our cars while it was empty and not wait until it was full with a load. So Dub said maybe we'd run up with him and check him out.

"About a week or so later, no one had tried G.W. with that car. One of our buyers up in Georgia called and said he needed some liquor right then, So Dub said we needed to run the liquor up there. He went up to the Fargo Road to see if the law was on the road. Well, G.W. and L.B. Boyette were up there that night, so Dub said, 'Well, we're just not going to go because we just don't know how good that car of G.W.'s will run; we haven't tried it, so we had better call this off.'

"They went back to check one more time and came back and said, 'They're gone,' I said, 'Well, get out of my way and let me go.' I was sitting there loaded, just across the Georgia line over there by Moniac, so I took off. When I came out and made my turn there was G.W. and the race was on. Boyette was with him. It was a cat-and-mouse game; they were having as much fun with it as we were ... it was a man's game, like, who out-smarted the other wins. "G.W. told me, after the race, that Boyette said, 'We got him now.' Well, that old Chrysler that I was in was slow getting wound up even though I had stomped it to the bottom. Anyway, they whipped right around and were at me for four or five miles. They were not close enough to shoot, but I think they would have if they could have gotten a little closer. Anyhow, I just knew he was going to run up there on me. I never thought that Chrysler would take off and it loaded; in fact I think I had 47 cans of liquor and two cans of gas with me too.

"I crossed the railroad, which is a bad bump running wide open, and the old car kept a-moaning and a-groaning and gettin' it. There came a little rain and I was going so fast the windshield wipers were blowing away from the glass. All I could see at one time was the white line. Pretty soon they started falling back and I could tell the lights were not as close as they had been. Something was wrong with my car, the carburetor had been jerked wide open. I wasn't sure I could make the up-coming curve so I switched the car off to slow down and almost lost control when I got there anyway.

"When I drove into Fargo, I knew I needed to hide until I could get the car fixed, so I drove into the negro quarters and hid behind a house. I knew Dub would be coming behind me and know where to look. When he got there, he told me that G.W. and Boyette had stopped him, and Boyette had said, 'Well, we thought we had him, but we ain't got nothing to catch that car. Just tell Jimmy we'll buzz him again tornorrow.' And he would, he'd be up there every night.

"Boyette thought he could out-run that old Chrysler I had and one night we had a race on the Taylor Road. We started at the Griffis curve and when we got to Cedar Creek I just eat him up. Next night, he'd be right up there on the Fargo Road to try and catch me again. He'd give the revenuers all the information he could.

"Boyette once took two big army blankets and sewed them together to drape over his car. Then he took a machete, cut down some trees and stood them up in front of the car to camouflage himself. Dub had gone up there to a place Boyette liked to go, called Little and Big Moccasin Swamp, to see if he was backed up there in his car waiting for us. He didn't find him, so when I got there he was waiting for me. When I came by the race was on, but I out-ran him.

"The following night, he was back up there with his car covered up with that blanket and all those trees and Dub made out like he didn't see him. We'd gone back up there and found where he had cut the trees down so we were on to him. Dub came back that night and said, 'Well, he's in the same place, what are you going to do?' I said, 'Well, I'll fix him,' and he said, 'You're not going back up there knowing he's going to come out, are you?' But I told him I'd be all right.

"So I went up to the weight-checking station and when I saw these two big trucks pulling out, I pulled in between them and was going about 50 miles per hour with my lights off. The truckers knew what I was doing, I guess. When I got up there to the curve where I thought Boyette would be, I switched my lights on. I saw Boyette standing up there beside the road listening for the sound of my car. When my lights popped on him, man, he run for his car and he slipped down and I was totally gone when he got up and got to his car. He tried to drive out so fast his car got stuck and later I found out someone had to go up there and get him out. He never did come after me and I wondered what happened until they told me.

"I have out-run Boyette more times than I got fingers and toes. He ran me more times than any man to be the same man," he said, smiling.

"There are so many stories. It was hard work and dangerous. One morning, me and Dub were coming through Fargo just before daylight and a feller pulled right out in front of us. He had a mule in the back of his truck. There wasn't much to Fargo, just a couple of filling stations there. This old feller pulled right out in front of me and I ran into him. The car I was driving ended up 50 yards up the road, turned upside down. We knocked the mule out of the truck, and the old man was injured pretty bad. So was I, but we had seat belts, those regular airplane kind and I'd say they saved us. They carried me to the hospital in Homerville. I had a guard the whole time I was there. If the old feller had died, I probably would be in the penitentiary today.

"Being who we were, we had no insurance on the car and it wasn't in anybody's name. We had to come up with the money to pay the man's hospital bills, and mine. We had to buy the man another truck to replace his. I was driving for Dub and he was responsible, him and his partner, but I think Dub ended up paying most of it. Dub was faithful to do all he could do, he bent over backwards and he would have done what he had to do even if he would have had to sell his home. His partner was a little different. It was always understood that if you were working for someone and something happened, they would be responsible to pay the bills. I think that incident cost about $15,000 and that was a lot of money in those days.

Things finally came to an end for the Lyons' brothers one day up around Adelle, Georgia. "We got a call from this man saying he needed us to haul him a load. We hauled it up to him and he paid us fine, but I felt something was wrong, that he was a crook. But it was one of them times when liquor was moving slow and we were needing to move it, so on the second trip, the law was there with badges. They got me and Wilford at the same time. They tried us by jury in Valdosta. We tried to get off by saying the federal man had tricked us by trying to get us to come up there and party with women and money. We tried to convince them it was entrapment, but they didn't buy it. The old Judge sentenced me and Wilford to 15 months apiece. He said, 'Son, I'm going to do you a favor,' and he sent me to federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

"When I got up there, the people said, 'Well, what in the world are you doing up here?' and I said, 'I don't know, the judge said he was going to do me a favor and sent me here.' I tried to transfer to Tallahassee, but I never did get there. I spent a few days in Atlanta. If you ever go to prison in Atlanta, you never get through hearing all the doors close when you're in there. They sent me from Atlanta to Lewisburg on a Greyhound bus with a guard in back and a couple of guards in front. The guards had machine guns in Atlanta. They had me handcuffed and shackled and that's the way I rode the bus. I was about 25 years old at the time. They kept me in minimum custody on a farm. When they discharged me, they wouldn't do it before midnight, but my family was there waiting for me. That was the last of my moonshine career. I had to report to a parole officer in Jacksonville after prison. I got a job in Jacksonville with a water company. I didn't care about that, so I put in an application with NEFSH and went to work for them."

Jimmy married Lois Smith of Taylor. They have two lovely daughters.

"If I had to go back and live the life over I wouldn't do that. I think I'd rather be racing on a race track. I did it because I love to drive the fast cars. I blew the money partying.

"There is one thing for sure in my life I'd do differently, if I had it to go over. I'd have me an education. If I'd had an education, I could have been no telling what out here at NEFSH. As it was, I started out in 1961 as an aide for $185 a month and I've worked up to department head in the laundry, but that was having friends help me up the way. Many opportunities had to be passed up because of the lack of an education.

"I remember once my daddy said to me, 'Son, you're making a little money, why don't you invest it.' And I said, 'Invest in what?', and he said, 'Son, I'm going to tell you, bootlegging ain't going to be here forever.' And I said, 'Daddy, there will be bootlegging here as long as the world's here. It's been here all your life,' and he said, 'Yes, but everything changes.' And I said, 'Well, this ain't going to change, there will be bootlegging from now on.' And he said, 'Son, see that big oak tree out there?' and I said, 'Yes,' and he said, 'Does it stay the same all the time?' I said, 'No, it grows, sheds it leaves and puts more on,' and he said, 'it changes,' and I said, 'Well, you talk about investment, what am I going to invest in?' He said, 'Buy land up there in the woods,' and I said, 'Daddy, ain't nobody ever going to want that old land up there in them woods.' And I didn't think they ever would.

"That was back in them days when lots of that old land up there around Taylor didn't even belong to anyone; I think you could homestead it. I thought it would always be worthless. I could have bought land right here in Macclenny for two to three hundred dollars a lot and almost all of 221 for nothing. But who had the insight for that?

"My money was usually always on me, or stashed away somewhere. I didn't use no bank, I mostly kept it on me or in the car. I really never had more than eight or ten thousand dollars at one time. I partied a lot, and I gave mama some, whatever she wanted. As I said, I was young and foolish. I was hauling shine every night all up in Georgia or down in south Florida, east and west, north and south.

"The law wasn't always honest, either -- especially those in Georgia. One night, the law raided one of our stills up there in Stattenville, Georgia, and run the boys off working it. They hauled the liquor and condenser, water pump and an old jeep off and locked it up in the jail yard. That night, Dub's partner went to see the sheriff up there and he gave him the key to the jail and we went over there and hauled all that off from the jail yard. It was in the papers that they had raided the still and the bootleggers had stolen it back from the sheriff. But it was a payoff. So many of them were interested in was what they could get out of it and not so much sending you off for doing it. All they could see was dollar signs.

"I would never get involved in this dope and stuff that ruins people's lives. Anyone that wants to can go right down to the corner and buy a bottle of liquor. All I was doing was giving them a cheaper drink and it was just as good a liquor, maybe better. In other words, if I was the only one producing liquor, it would be different, but the government is in the business, the state is in the business, and all I did was cheat the government out of taxes, no more than when some people today cheat the government out of taxes. I was raised up thinking there wasn't anything wrong with it. Either you did it or you starved to death. Jobs were not available and when they were, you didn't get paid enough to live on. Things changed when the times changed, but I don't regret it at all. If it came back down to those choices and I had no other way to make a living, I'd do it again."


The Londa Thrift Family
of North Macclenny With Lillie Thrift, Willard Thrift and Kaye Thrift Warner

The Londa Thrift family lived on land that was once occupied by their forefathers on Rt. 1 in north rural Baker County, five miles from Macclenny. The family is not sure just when Londa began making moonshine or manufacturing moonshine stills for boot- leggers, a term meant to evade legal prohibition to avoid payment of taxes. They aren't sure if their grandfather Jim Thrift made 'shine', but they remember that he regularly carried a long barrel pistol that was consistently visible hanging from his back pocket.

During the Depression, Londa worked for the WPA (Works Progress Administration) for three dollars a week and watched his children go to school dressed poorly while he grubbed a scant existence from farming in any spare hours of the day and night. At some time, Londa and his wife Lillie (Pierce) grabbed an opportunity to have a better life by making a little moonshine to supplement their meager income. They joined a legion of Baker Countians who did the same thing. Making moonshine from necessity, to survive those lean years, touched almost every family in the county in some way.

"I remember I was in the Seventh grade when I first became aware of the way I dressed," said the couple's son, Willard. "It seemed like all the other boys had jeans to wear, and I can remember I only had two pairs of old overalls to my name. I would wear my shirt on the outside to cover my overalls hoping they would think I had on jeans," he said. "We were real poor and things were real bad back there when I was born in 1933."

Londa passed away in 1992 and left his family heart-broken. The man who built and supplied moonshine stills of every size and make to Baker County bootleggers was their idol. Making moonshine in the creek back of their house was a way of life they now see as a legacy and they recall with pride how they once banded together to protect their enterprise.

"We knew to shoot the gun three times, or blow the car horn, if strangers came around," said Willard. "If anyone in the area was working at their still they would scatter until the danger of being raided was over," he said.

"I've shot that gun three times many a time," said Lillie, smiling smugly.

"Daddy gave us a good life," said his doting daughter, Kay. "We, never thought anything about the moonshine then and we don't today.' The things I remember about my daddy are priceless. I never heard him say a harm's word about anyone, I never knew him to drink an I never heard him and mama argue or have a cross word between them. Daddy never said bad words-, oh, he might grumble if someone got his fishing place, but nothing bad. He never gossiped and his word was his bond. If he told you he'd do something he would stick by his word. And anyone could count on daddy to help them if they needed it" she said.

During the war, Londa went to work for the Jacksonville Shipyards. That's where he learned to weld, said his family. The trade gave him the skill and experience he would need to manufacture the moonshine stills to be used by bootleggers in his shed at home. "I started working in the moonshine business my senior year of high school," said Willard. "I drove the shine car. I enjoyed that part of it. I can remember the stress of going with a loaded car or truck, and after delivery the exhilaration returning home. I felt like the wheels of the car were off the ground and I was driving along on air," he said.

"I knew all the back roads and could drive all the way to Macon, Georgia, without going through one red light. We'd take cans of gas with us so we wouldn't need to stop for gas while our car was loaded with 'shine'. Sometimes a follow-up car would come behind me. We had a signal between us that at certain check points I'd leave a pile of gallberry sticks and if something happened they'd know how far I'd gotten and they would be able to back track and see what happened. I usually hauled 'shine' several times a week and received about $50 a load, depending on the size. Sometimes it was more. I remember telling someone once that I was making more money than I could ever spend. "We didn't keep our money in the bank. We hid it, sometimes in the freezer and sometimes we'd bury it. Daddy buried some of his and we could never find it," he said. "Silver dollars were plentiful back then and someone paid me with a big bag of them once, so I drove up to a bank window in Jacksonville to cash them in. The cashier left and went to the back of the bank and when she returned she said for me to drive around and come inside. I got scared and left," he said.

The family remembers an occasion when one Friday afternoon in 1953 the revenuers came calling.

"I was in the house watching Howdy-Doody on TV," said Kay. "I was about five years old and Willard came running in the house for the shotgun and told me to stay in and not come out," she said.

"The two revenuers didn't have proper warrants to come on the property," said Willard. "Daddy wasn't home and I wouldn't let them come past the gate to search so they looked over at my sister and said something about taking her with them. That's when I went in to get the gun. They left right after that," he said.

An account in the Florida Times Union concerning the incident that happened in 1953 reported that warrants were issued on Monday charging Londa with possession and failing to register a distillery. Five other persons, charged with 'resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating and interfering with' the agents, 'by force of arms, to-wit, with a shotgun and hammer did oppose, impede, interfere and intimidate,' the officers in the execution of their official duties.

The article stated that the agents had parked their car on a paved road and carried dynamite to a still they found behind the Thrift's farm on Friday. After using up all explosives carried to the still, the agents went for more to finish the job. They found a road leading out of the still area to a gate near the Thrift's house. When the agents returned to the gate in their car with intentions to return to the still, they were met by the Thrift's and two of their cousins. The agents reported they were told they would be killed if they entered the gate.

The Thrifts were taken into custody without a show of resistance, and later released that day. Nothing ever evolved concerning the incident. The news clipping failed to mention that the agents had threatened to take one of the Thrift children with them, which had started the whole fray.

Londa Thrift was from a family of seven children born to Jim and Nancy Thrift. He never had an opportunity to attend school and learn to read and write.

"He could write his name, though," said Kay, proudly. "I used to take him to the doctor and I'd always fill out the necessary papers and he'd sign," she said.

In 1964 Londa made a still for someone introduced to him by a friend. That night he told his wife and son, 'I believe I made a mistake today-' He was right. The following day, he was arrested by federal agents who had photographed the whole deal from a cornfield across the road from the Thrift's farm. He was sentenced to prison.

"Daddy sold some of his land to provide money for us while he was gone," said Kay. "Mama got a job at North East Florida State Hospital. What money he had saved went for lawyer and legal fees.

"I drove him into Jacksonville to the courthouse and let him out the day he was to begin serving his time," said Willard. "We didn't say a word as we drove in and when he got out of the car I watched him walk across the street and disappear from my sight. It was a pretty sad time. A few days before, me and him went out in the back yard and set out a few orange trees. That was our way of saying good-bye. Over the years, we had travelled many miles together in silence. Daddy wasn't a man that liked to talk and I didn't talk much either. We'd drive all the way to places like Macon and neither one of us would say a word to each other, but we knew when it was time to stop and get a drink, but we'd never say a word. We didn't even play the radio.

"When daddy worked in the fields with us, he didn't talk to us except to tell us just what he wanted done. It was just his way and we never thought anything about it. He just liked everything quiet and peaceful," said his son.

In March, 1964, registered under the number 21860-TF, Londa began serving a year and a day in the Federal Correctional institution in Tallahassee in the shadow of a huge moonshine operation he helped to set up on a large farm in sight of the area. Later, he was transferred to the Federal Prison Camp at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, under number 558-EF.

"Daddy learned to read and write in prison and I got my first letter from him while he was there," beamed his youngest daughter. "He may not have spelled all the words right but I cherish that letter," she said. "The only time I ever remember him going to church was when we'd go over there and go to church with him."

Londa was paroled on September 22 of the same year after serving only six months.

"My brother Jimmy, Mama, and I went to pick daddy up in Pensacola," said Kay. "I remember they gave him some clothes and a $20 bill. I never felt embarrassed over that incident, ever. In fact, the same day my daddy left to serve his time, my best friend's daddy was sentenced to prison, too.

Londa never dealt in the moonshine industry again, said Kay. Instead he plowed the land of his heritage and began a chicken farm. He found quiet time to walk in the woods behind his home and fish with his son-in-law, Marvin, in the near-by river. He spent quality time with his family while he nursed an ailing heart.

When he died April 9, 1992, his family was devastated.

"He had been plowing corn all day," said Kay.

Today, the same house where Londa and Lillie reared their family still stands, but it has been moved to the back of the field down a peaceful country lane and renovated by Kaye and her husband, Marvin Warner. And when an empty five gallon wooden barrel with a faint trace and aroma of aging moonshine chips was found in the attic after Londa's death, a flood of memories befell the family. Undaunted in their convictions, the barrel reflected the life and times they lived in the specter of the moonshine era and surfaced as an historical monument.

Today, Willard lives close by with his wife, Mary Sue (Crawford), and tends the long string of gleaming white chicken houses where his daddy once quietly labored with him. Kay has honored her father's wishes never to let the land stand idle. She and her husband and 15-year-old daughter, Loni, named for her grandfather, have planted 91 peach trees.

"I just couldn't stand to see the land barren and idle because daddy always had something growing," she said.

Stashed away in a decorative trunk in the bedroom of her home where she grew up is a small revered box. Inside, tied with thin red ribbon is a nostalgic stack of cherished letters that her father wrote her from prison, the sprawled handwriting a constant reminder to her of what life is really all about. It's respect for the memories and a legacy that will not come their way again.

LETTER FROM LONDA THRIFT TO HIS DAUGHTER KAY
June 14, 1964
Macclenny, Florida

Dear Kay
I am fine and hope you ar too. Kay I wont you to plosh my black shews for me and i will think you and help bess with the hose work. Well the sun is going don and it look prety . Maby befour long I will be home. I think we all will have a good time. I try to rit more next time.

Londa


Jenell Rewis Heath*
Taylor, Florida

Jenell Rewis grew up in Taylor, Florida, the daughter of Wintford 'Wint'and Myrel Williams Rewis. Her father was thrust into the moonshine business when he was a youth, and eventually led big-time gambling operations in Baker and surrounding counties. How it affected Jenell is told by her in this observation as well as her outlook on society then and now.

Today, Jenell runs a million-dollar golf business in Orlando and is a very successful businesswoman and mother. Her heritage in Baker County is one of pride. She is the granddaughter of the late Lonnie and Bessie Rewis, Sr.

An observation

"I was born in 1939 at the closing of the Great Depression, so I don't know anything about that but what I was told. However, I am very familiar with some of the fall-out of the Depression. Every time a young person was planning to get married, at least three different people would comment that the boy in question was too lazy to feed the girl. People, then, put a lot emphasis in having food, and that rather puzzled me. I thought, 'Who needs someone to feed them? I can feed myself,' and I couldn't think of one person that I knew that was hungry.

"Finally, I asked an aunt why they always made comments about putting food on the table. She said it was because they were hungry back in the Depression.

"That was alien to me. My teen years were the '50's, better known as the years of prosperity.

"Looking back, I can see that those were good years to grow up. The second World War ended in 1945 and the country was in a growth mode. The years of industry and factories were in and people had jobs. The sort of crime we know about today didn't exist in Baker County. The only drugs we knew about were cigarettes and whiskey, and only adults indulged in that. Kids didn't run things then, like they do now. It was unheard of for a parent not to know where his child was. We didn't have all these so-called rights. We had a right to keep our mouth shut until we were asked to speak. We had a right to go to school, if we obeyed the teacher and gave respect to whom it was due. We had a right to bed and board if we worked and did what was understood by God and man alike.

"In return, my parents were always home. Nobody left me by myself, or let any harm come to me. The streets were safe and we could sleep with our windows open without fear. I was never denied anything that I had a real need of. I was taught the difference between a need and a want early in life and that has served me well.

"My mother, Myrel Williams Rewis, was a person who liked the printed word. She was good at it and she was a person with integrity and high moral values. She did her best to teach that to her family.

"My father, Wintford Rewis, was a person you didn't tell 'no' to a lot. He didn't know a lot about a book, but he knew people and how to survive, and he tried to teach us that. Personally I think they both did a good job.

"I think how nowadays, people call that tough love -- learning to pay the price of your actions.

"Back then, it was simply just a way of life. We didn't have set rules except one. The adults were the sole authority. We were the children and it was kept that way. Other than that, you did whatever was necessary to get where you needed to be. What worked today may not work tomorrow. That was my daddy's way. It taught me to think, to discern and to develop wisdom.

"I remember that folks used to speak well of a person who didn't talk much and was quiet as far as talking went. They even had a saying for it, 'Empty wagon's rattle most.' Folks seemed to think if a person was quiet, they were listening to others, therefore they knew more.

"One day my daddy said, 'There ain't but two reasons for a man not to talk. One, he don't know a damn thing or, two, he can't afford to talk.'

"I thought about that and I decided he had something there, and it has been my experience that the second reason is more often the reason.

"When I was growing up people didn't hand out so many material things. What all you had didn't count so much in your development. What they did hand out a lot were lessons in life. A lot of wisdom was taught. They wanted you to think because they knew that your mind and character would serve you well all your days.

"My Grandma and Grandpa, Lonnie and Bessie Rewis, lived right across the creek from our home and I always liked going there. Grandma was funny and made me laugh a lot. She was a woman who lived in the present. She kept her mind on today, and she was always watching out for me. She was the type to uphold what she considered right or wrong, especially with her grandchildren. My Grandpa didn't try to make me right if I was wrong, but he did imply that I would receive a full pardon without question. He seemed to think it his job to talk to me and show me a better and wiser way. He would tell me, Honey, what you have in your head, no man can steal. If you gain great material riches, you could lose it, but if you gain great wisdom and knowledge, you can use it to gain great riches again.'

"I considered my Grandma a very necessary person in my life and I considered My Grandpa a thinker of wise teachings.

"My mother was a person of integrity and moral character. My father was a person of courage, street-wise and worldly.

"I still rely on things each one taught me.

"Back in the days when I grew up in Baker County, most of the people made or hauled moonshine whiskey, or someone in their family did at one time or another. That, and farming, were about all there was unless you had some sort of education and even then, them kind of jobs were few and far between.

"My daddy made some money at making shine. We lived pretty good for then. We had a Delco system for electricity, a gas stove, a gas refrigerator and a gas iron. Most people didn't have any of that. I was a teen-ager when electricity came through the area.

"My daddy grew up in the moonshine business. When my grandpa, Lonnie Rewis, started to lose his eyesight, my daddy started driving for him. Daddy told me once that he was hauling whiskey down the state when he was just a teen-ager.

"I understand that my daddy made and hauled moonshine a lot when I was real small, but I don't remember any of that. Mama said that once daddy got worried that the law was on to him, so he loaded up the whiskey, put blankets over it and put us kids asleep on it. He took her, too. Sure enough, the law stopped him, but when they saw her and us kids asleep in the back, they told him to go on, without looking any farther.

By the time I was old enough to know anything, my daddy wasn't making the whiskey himself, or hauling it, but he ran the operation. I never saw any moonshine until I was almost grown. It was in a quart jar and it looked like water to me. I soon knew it wasn't water when daddy used it to start a fire. I never saw a moonshine still, only parts of one. However, I did know it was going on. Daddy was paying others to make it and he had drivers who hauled it. It was daddy's money, his truck and his connections. He would be gone for a week, then he would be back for a week or two before he was gone again.

"On one of these trips, he got shot. I guess I was in about the 6th grade. A policeman in Miami was the one who shot him.

"Daddy's cousin, Vernon Rewis, was driving the truck, so when the telegram came to Macclenny that Rewis had been shot, we didn't know which one it was, daddy or Vernon.

I remember my Uncle came to tell Mama she better get ready in case it was daddy, that he was trying to find out which one it was. We knew something was bad wrong when we saw my uncle coming, because he was driving real fast on a dirt road and no one did that.

"They soon found out it was daddy. He had eight holes in his intestines. Some of my aunts and uncles went with Mama to Miami. When they got there they had chains on daddy in the hospital bed. The doctor was upset about it. He said, 'The man can die because he is in serious condition.'

"My uncle went ballistic when he saw how they were doing daddy.

"The policeman that shot him claimed daddy had a gun, but that was a lie. Daddy didn't own a gun. He hated guns. As it turned out, a lady on the street saw the whole thing. She said when the policeman stopped daddy, that daddy got out of his car and walked toward the policeman. She said that the policeman pulled his gun and shot him without any cause at all. She began screaming and then another woman came up and made them call an ambulance. They just let him lay there. If it had not been for the two women, daddy would have died. The police gave a different story to the news people, but that lady came forward and said the policeman was lying.

"Daddy got okay, and the police had to give him back his property. My uncle wanted daddy to sue the Miami Police Department, but daddy just wanted out of there.

"After that, daddy lost his taste for running moonshine and as far as Miami, he never went back there. He didn't mess with any more moonshine, either.

"I remember when I went to school the next day after they shot daddy, people were surprised. They said they didn't think I would come to school so soon. I said, 'Why, nobody shot me.' They said, 'But your daddy might die,' and I said, 'No, he won't, he has four kids to feed. God knows that, so he won't die.' And so God didn't let him die.

"Daddy used to tell us if anyone asked us kids what he did for a living, just say, 'Traffic and trade.' I always just said, 'Ask him. He knows more about his business than I do. I just go to school.'

"After daddy got out of the moonshining business, he went into gambling. That was illegal too, but so were many of the people who were being paid to uphold the law. They were being paid to look the other way.

"They called it Cuba, because the number came from Cuba, that is until Castro took over Cuba. After that the number came from New York City. The number was called Bolita.

"The man who ran the number in an area was referred to as 'The Man.' That man had people he called writers. They wrote the gambling tickets.

"A lay-off man was someone in the business who was very powerful and who had large sums of money.

"Then they had a thing they called 'Night House.' And it is just like the name says. Small wooden balls were placed in a cloth bag that was pitched to someone in the crowd. A rubber band was put around the ball while it was still in the bag. Then all the balls would be emptied out and the ball with the rubber band was the ball that revealed what the number was.

"That was done every night, except for Saturday and Sunday. It was always done in someone's home. What the pay-off on that number was, was left up to 'The Man.'

"Bolita payoff was on Saturday across the nation as far as I know.

"Sunday was the Lord's day. No one did business on Sunday. That may sound strange, seeing that it was illegal. But those people were different than one might think. They didn't see it as wrong. They felt it was their business and it didn't hurt anyone. It was just fun to them. They could make a whole night out of $1. They also felt the government didn't have any business sticking its nose in their business.

"Today, we have Lotto that is legal because the state says it is. Over half the legal businesses are open on Sunday. Sunday does not mean a thing to them. But I am here to tell you, them so called 'criminals' did no business on Sunday. They would say, 'No, siree', that's the Lord's day. My people were Hardshell Baptist. They didn't steal, or tell tales on their neighbors. My Mama and Daddy didn't tell anything about their neighbors or anyone else. They were big on people minding their own business.

"My Grandpa used to tell me if I didn't have a good word I could say about a fellow, then I shouldn't say anything.

"This much I know. Moonshine or gambling, people lived cleaner lives back in the '50's than they do today. Things that teenagers do today would have shocked the world back then, and the things done to them by adults would also have shocked the world. In those days, the people in Baker County did what they could to survive, but they were not criminals. They did not rob, kill, rape, or molest children. They didn't kidnap them, or steal them and sell them. They didn't give birth to a child and stuff them in a garbage can or leave them at a hospital full of cocaine and never come back.

"They did not even think to kill their own child. Today, it is commonplace. Today, children kill children. Going to school is unsafe. It would never have entered my mind to be afraid of going to school, or that a teacher would molest me The worst thing that could happen was my teacher [would] send me to the principal's office and he would tell my daddy. The worst thing another student would have done is push me. The worst thing that ever happened to me was I got my butt whipped. Today, they want to take a child away from a parent that spanks a child.

"My grandpa told me a yarn about a fellow who was the worst man in the county and when the man died, all the men were standing around and it being the custom to speak well of the dead, they were all trying to think about something good the man did. For a long time, no one spoke. Then, finally, a man spoke up and said, 'Well, boys, he could have been worse.' So that spoke well of the man doing the talking. I figured my Grandpa told me that yarn to make his point, because I was sure he didn't know of any such man.

"Parents, today, need to make an effective point and leave a rich heritage of wisdom and knowledge for their children."


Glen Johnson
Macclenny, Florida

Back in the early '50's, law enforcement officers found it difficult to out-run, or out- smart the shrewd and ofttimes daredevil men who made a living in the moonshine industry. Glen Johnson was one of them. Tall, lean, and masculine, handsome and personable, he earned a reputation as being fast as a speeding bullet on the highways and byways of the moonshine trails. With his 'souped-up' Chryslers and Cadillacs, it was almost futile to try and stop him once he got started, so when law enforcement officers saw him coming, they got out of his way. Road blocks parted to let him through, lawmen marveled at his nerve, and his fame spread.

Glen Johnson was the man to hire if you wanted moonshine safely hauled out of the county. He was trustworthy, he was smart, and he was capable. So it was no wonder that many of the top men in the moonshine industry hired him to work for them.

He was two years old in 1930 when he moved with his parents, Riley and Ann Gibbs Johnson, to Baker County from Mount Vernon, Georgia. They settled in south Macclenny and Riley Johnson did odd jobs to support his family. He died when Glen was 12 years old and left behind three additional children, Margaret, Laverne, and George, for his wife, Ann, to care for alone.

Glen was about 15 years old when he dropped out of school in the fifth grade. He went to work driving an ice truck for Lawrence Douberly. His top wage was $24 a week. He was 17 years old when he entered the world of the moonshine industry, a fast-growing, fast-buck operation that at one time touched the lives of almost ever family in Baker County.

"At that time, I was sorta the man of the house -- or though I was," he said. "Mama knew I was hauling it, but she didn't approve of it. One time, my younger brother George, wanted to go with me and I remember mama saying, 'Glen, don't take that youngun' with you, you gonna get him killed,' and no doubt she was right about that. I was young and crazy."

Glen said he hauled moonshine as far away as Virginia, loading up his vehicle with five-gallon jugs that had been stashed away by the moonshine makers in the woods. Or, he said, he sometimes went directly to the the stills for his load. Occasionally, he gathered the cache from various areas until the car, truck, van or semi was loaded.

"Sometimes I drove a car with two carburetors, sometimes four and some times six. It wasn't a matter of slowing down if I needed to; sometimes I couldn't slow down if I wanted to," he said.

Former Baker County Sheriff Ed Yarbrough agreed. "Sometimes I wondered if he had eight carburetors," he said.

Yarbrough said he could only remember one incident with Johnson, personally, but he knew of his reputation. "Most law men just got out of his way. He drove like crazy and nobody was willing to risk their life to catch him," he said.

"I remember stopping him once and he didn't have a driver's license. I took him right on to the judge right then , but that was about all the dealings I had with him. He was driving a big old Chrysler and the seats had been removed. I remember that well," he said.

Yarbrough said he remembered an incident concerning Johnson told to him by state troopers. "I wasn't in on the chase, but they had blocked the road somewhere around Turkey Creek and when they saw him coming with his lights off, they just got out of his way because he was crazy. He went straight on across the Highway 90 and 121 intersection and shot through the red light at 120 miles an hour with his lights off and went right on into Georgia."

Yarbrough's deputy, G.W. Rhoden, encountered Johnson one night. "I didn't know who was driving, but I suspected it was Glen," he said. "He was driving a Dodge car with a Chrysler motor in it. If you ever got after him, he'd get away from you most of the time and he probably would have gotten away that time, but the alternator or something went out on him.

"I was parked up there on the Baxter Road that goes to Fargo, and he passed by. I started trailing him and he started going speeds up to 130 miles per hour. I started closing in on him because he was having some car trouble. He turned off all the car lights except the one that was specially installed that would show that yellow streak in the road just enough he'd know he was straddling the middle line of the road. After he turned out his lights, I turned out my lights so he couldn't tell if I was following. I was going 130 miles per hour. He stopped his car in the ditch when it malfunctioned and ran off leaving behind the 250 gallons of shine he was hauling."

Johnson said that he remembers the incident well. "Dub Sands had fixed the car up, and I told him I didn't think the carburetor was putting out and I didn't think the car was going to run right, but he thought it was okay. After Rhoden got to running me and I got up to speeds of about 95 miles per hour, it just went out on me. I just pulled it over in the ditch and ran, leaving the whiskey behind. Dub and them were following behind me and they came back later and picked me up."

Vince Smallwood, who retired as a major with the Florida Highway Patrol in 1985, remembers Johnson well during the time he was a trooper stationed in Duval, and later Baker counties. "Glen provided a lot of excitement for law enforcement officers all over north Florida and south Georgia. I have listened to many high speed chases over the FHP car radio with Glen leading the pack with his Dodge 'shine car' with the Chrysler engine," he said. "Being restricted to my assigned beat or territory, as we called it in Duval County, with the high speed chase in counties west and south of where I was, you could always tell if it was Glen Johnson that they were chasing by the description of the car he was driving and the fearless or crazy way he drove at speeds up to 140 miles per hour or more with his headlights off.

"I have been parked by the highway several times when the hot Dodge he drove came by wide open and it would be out of sight before I got started good. The only personal encounter with Glen that I can recall happened one night while I was listening to a high speed chase that started around Gainesville. Glen was headed for Macclenny with numerous officers in pursuit. I stretched the county line on US 90 slightly and was on 121 south of Macclenny when the high speed chase came through Lake Butler. I stopped in the middle of the Turkey Creek Bridge south of Macclenny with my emergency lights flashing to block the road where Glen couldn't pass, and waited.

"I could hear the tires whining on Glen's Dodge. It sounded like the whine of tires on a heavily-loaded semi. I couldn't see him because he was driving without headlights. My experience told me that his car was doing 140 miles per hour or more. I knew from experience that slowing down or stopping was not in Glen Johnson's vocabulary, so I accelerated rapidly and pulled off the bridge just barely in time as Glen came by like a blue streak and passed through town, crossing main street without slowing. Three minutes later he was in Georgia. Our FHP vehicles could not match the speed of his Dodge.

"It was kind of an unwritten custom or code among law enforcement officers that if a bootlegger out-ran a patrol car, we did not get an arrest warrant for him -- you simply waited until 'next time'."

Reflecting on the past, Johnson said, "I really enjoyed outrunning the law and I think they kinda enjoyed it too. It was like a cat-and-mouse game with us."

He especially remembers the countless brushes he had around Tallahassee with the late Florida Highway Patrol Director, Eldridge Beach.

"He was on the Beverage Department for awhile, and we had lots of races, but I'd always out-run him," he said.

"Well, almost always," he noted. "I had let a friend ride with me on a haul and I shouldn't have done it. He was innocent, just wanting to go along for the ride. I had warned him it might get him into trouble, but he wanted to go anyway. We had passed through Madison with no problems until we saw this policeman sitting in his car up under the filing station. I said to my friend, 1 guarantee he is going to come after us,' and just as I got out of sight on the curve, I saw him shoot out. Of course, there was no problem outrunning him, so I just switched off my tail lights and went on, but when we got to Monticello, I told my friend, 'Well, if they ain't got the road blocked in Monticello, we'll have it made.' I had five gallons of gas in the back of my car and I was running early with the load, so I stopped and poured the gas in my car, in case I might have another race.

"Well, they'd done called Beach in Tallahassee by this time. They told him it was either a Lincoln, Cadillac, or Chrysler, but they described it as a big, dark, colored car coming that way. I ran into Beach waiting for me just out of Tallahassee and when I looked up he was right there next to my car. I could have stuck my hand out and touched his. We skirted fenders along there. You had to light up on the Chrysler to get it up to 80 miles an hour, so he knocked me off the road and I went on down there in the bushes. I don't know how I managed to get it back on the road, but I did, and when I came up on the road, I hit the tail end of his car and turned him around sideways and pushed him off on a little old road. I went into the ditch and jumped out and ran. My friend couldn't get out on the passenger side, he had to crawl out behind me, so Beach ran up and grabbed him. I heard my friend shout, 'Damn it, turn me loose. You done shot me.' I didn't know if he had or not, but I ran on so I could call back to Baker County for someone to come get us.

"Well, my friend had been shot through the back of the neck and the bullet came out the right cheek. I went to the hospital the next day, so did a bunch of 'em from home. Beach was there too, but he didn't know I was the one driving the car. I was all stove up from the accident, but he didn't notice. The doctor told us that if the bullet had gone one quarter inch more to the left, it would have been fatal."

A news article reporting the incident related that the man was wounded after Beverage Supervisor Eldridge Beach forced his car off the road east of Tallahassee. Beach said one of the occupants of the auto shot at him and he returned the fire, hitting the man in the back of the neck.

The Leon County Sheriff quoted the man as saying the car had backfired as it was driven off the road and that no shot had been fired at Beach.

And that, said Glen, was the truth. No shots had been fired.

Johnson abandoned his car and the state confiscated the 15 gallons of moonshine he left behind.

"It was a dangerous job. Back then I was young and foolish. I ain't sorry I done it, I did it for about 13 years. In fact, just about anything you could mention, I done some of it and most of it was crazy and foolish. I got credit for doing a lot of things I didn't do, and of course there was a lot of things I didn't get credit for that I done," he said.

Johnson was present when the big raid was made in north Baker County that closed down one of the largest underground moonshine still operations.

"I had been to Harley Thrift's house and picked up 123 five-gallon jugs of shine and headed on out north of Sanderson to pick up enough to fill a semi. I saw someone with a flashlight when I drove up, and suddenly the door of the truck was opened and a man said, 'I'm a Federal officer.' He ought not to have said that," said Johnson. "We scuffled around there a little bit and he came on up in the truck with me. I finally got the door opened and I don't know whether he turned me loose or I broke loose, but anyhow we scrambled around a little on the dirt and I broke and got away. I was arrested the next day, but three years later I got off and so did all the others that they had arrested.

"I made good money and I blew it all." he said.

Johnson admits living in the fast lane in more ways than one. "I had a lot of luck because I drove like something crazy. You couldn't put all the pills I took in a car. I took all kinds of pills, anything that would keep me awake. I took reducing pills, prescription pills, over-the-counter pills, and any kind I could find," he said.

A marriage in 1955 resulted in three children. His profession was not easy for a family. The marriage broke up in 1970. So did the moonshine industry.

"It just lost something. People began to tell on each other and turn each other in. At one time, it was a tight-knit group and everyone could be trusted, but it just got out of hand. Right after I got involved in it, I worked almost exclusively for Junior Crockett. He was a square shooter, never asking you to do anything he wouldn't do, nor would he treat you any other way than the way he wanted to be treated," he said.

Johnson said he took his first and only flight on an airplane at the insistence of his friend, Junior Crockett. "I told him I didn't want to go, that I was scared to get on that plane." Crockett convinced him to go despite his protests.

"When that plane started up, there was a red light that started blinking and I thought for sure it was getting ready to fall right then.

That was my last plane ride, but Junior was always inviting me to go on trips with him. He liked to do things for you and he never expected any favor in return. He was just a nice guy to everyone and I've never met anyone that didn't like him. He always treated me fair, paid me many times much more than we had agreed on. I knew he would have helped me all he could if I needed it, and still would today if I called him."

With the state and federal government in constant pursuit, fines getting stiffer, and prison sentences longer through new laws being enacted, Johnson began to seriously think about slowing down his moonshine career. He was offered a job in 1967 working for Ray Gatlin at Blair's Nursery, driving a semi. This time he would be hauling nursery stock.

"Sometimes I worked as many as 80 hours without sleeping, driving that semi for the nursery all the way to New York. I could take one of them pills and get as far as Richmond, Virginia, then take another one and run on to New York, going about 56 hours without sleep."

Today, Johnson lives in a mobile home about three miles north of Sanderson with some friends. His health is broken, funds are out except for Social Security, and he finds little to do with his time. Except for a few of his friends who faithfully come by and keep in touch, he doesn't roam far from home. He often frequents the local tavern in downtown Sanderson where he likes to reminisce about his moonshine days with those willing to listen.

"I could tell you a lot more," he muses. "I never ratted on nobody and don't plan on starting it now. They can tell their own story. One thing is for sure, I didn't save any money. I was broker when I quit than when I started. Like I said, I was young and foolish."

Even the young and foolish can make and leave legends and, as long as there is a story to be told about the moonshine days in Baker County, Glen Johnson's name will come up... like the one I heard the other day -- 'Well, you see it was like this: He came storming through Glen St. Mary one night with his car lights out and his engine wide open, the law chasing right behind. And I saw him when he shot around the corner, his hub caps a flying in the air, and like a flash in the night he was gone, travelling on down the road with his load of shine, and the law officers all left behind.


Hamp Register
SANDERSON, FLORIDA 1995

Seventy-seven-year-old Hamp Register sits in the living room of his modest frame home north of Sanderson looking westward across a vast pasture where a mixed breed of roaming cattle graze. In the distance he can see the simple home where his 93-year-old mother, Daisy Harris Register, lives. To the south flows the cool, dark waters of Cedar Creek beneath an old plank bridge. Up and down sandy Hamp Register Lane, that passes in front of his dwelling, he is surrounded by five generations of his family.

Amid triumph and tragedy, this son of a poor, but honorable and hard-working tenant farmer has amassed a 900-acre family compound by the sweat of the brow. He is more than just a tobacco farmer, cattleman, dairy farmer, timberman and rancher. He is also a former moonshiner and this is his story, and that of his wife, Lettie.

"We were just two sharecropper's children, and didn't get much education," he said. "We've stayed right here and put all this together, and I work right on just like I always did. The way I look at it, and have always looked at it, if I can work for you and make you a living, then why can't I skimp around here and do something for myself, and that includes making a little shine. It helped me get the land to grow the timber that made us a living. I get up at 6 o'clock every morning, and work until the sun goes down. I ain't proud of it, but it was a way of life. I'd do anything to feed and support my family, and that's why I did it."

Hamp came with his parents, Bart and Daisy Register, to Baker County from Union when he was about 16 years old. They settled on land north of Macclenny, near the present-day Thrift sawmill.

"That's where I grew up," he said. "Mr. T.J. Knabb had died, and daddy looked after the place for a Mr. Howard, who was some kin to Mrs. Leona Knabb."

Bart and Daisy Register had five children -- Hamp, Tommy, Alma Lee, Sadie and Pauline.

Daddy run about five or six mules and I plowed along with the rest of 'em from sun- up to sun-down," he said. "There were several pieces of land daddy tended for the Knabbs , so wherever we were plowing, we'd take an hour off at noon and walk home and get dinner. At one o'clock we'd walk back and go to plowing again until the sun went down, at least until you couldn't see it."

He was able to attend Garrett school until it was moved to Macclenny. It was there he met and fell in love with Layton and Zilphia Thrift Crew's daughter, Lettie. Lettie's family were sharecroppers who lived across the field from the Registers.

"It was in walking distance, and his sister, Sadie, was one of my very good friends, so that gave me a good excuse to go see him," said Lettie. "That's kinda how courtin' was done back then."

"Sometimes, they'd be a medicine show come to town and I remember a bunch of us children would walk into Macclenny and see it," said Hamp. "They had some kind of old screen they'd set out and show one of those movies that didn't have no sound. They peddled all kinds of liniment," he said.

Hamp went as far as the eighth grade in school and Lettie the sixth. "I had to quit and help work because daddy got sick," said Lettie. "I had two brothers and two sisters younger than I was. For a while, I worked at a dime store making $4.50 a week."

The young couple married when Hamp returned from a two-year stint with the CCC camp where he was able to save about $75. They were married in Folkston, Georgia, on October 16, 1938. She was 17 and he was 21.

"Back then, they didn't have all them laws and rules. If you wanted to get married you could," said Lettie. "When we came back and told our families, we were welcomed. We stayed with my parents because back then that was common. It was just expected."

The young couple helped plow and work on the Crews' farm until Hamp took a job working for Fraser's Nursery for $1.25 a day.

"We moved south of Macclenny and rented the Earn Rhoden place, which was a little old frame house that had wooden shutters to cover the windows and a fireplace for heat. It had no indoor plumbing or electricity," she said, " but we bought us some furniture from Sears Roebuck, and Hamp walked to work everyday.

"We didn't realize that those days were bad, because we lived just like most other people did," she said.

When Hamp had an opportunity to go to work for Marion Construction Company making 30 cents an hour, he took it. "That was a considerable better job," said Lettie.

"When I first started working with the company, it was back when they limited the hours you could work," said Hamp. "When I was helping to build SR 301 we could make 42 hours a week. If I made the 42 hours I made $12 a week.

"I rode to work with a man who was foreman. Later, I rode with another man, in the back of his pickup and I remember I liked to have froze to death."

Tragedy struck one day at work when the work crew was clearing the road right-of- way of stumps with a cable. In a freak accident, his fingers were mangled and he lost three of them on his right hand. He was rushed to St. Lukes Hospital where all efforts were made to save his fingers, but after five days they had to be amputated. Fortunately, his thumb and forefinger remained intact.

When the insurance company settled with Hamp for the loss of his fingers, he bought his first car, said Lettie.

"Back then they had just started workman's compensation. They paid him so much per finger that he lost," she said. "They figured I'd lost 50 percent use of my hands," said Hamp.

"He bought him an old Model-A Ford," said Lettie. "And we've never been without a car since then," she said.

"I followed the construction work until our first son, Sonny, was about five years old," said Hamp. "I didn't want Sonny moved around from school to school like he would be when my job didn't last long in one place and we had to move on, so I just quit, and we moved back to Macclenny and in with Lettie's parents again."

Hamp took a job with the Jacksonville Shipyards and bought a car. "I was trading with Ray Dinkins, buying gasoline, going back and forth to work," said Hamp. "One day Ray said to me, 'Hamp, I got a farm out yonder I want to sell you,' and I said, 'Where 'bouts, Ray?' and he said, 'Out there on Cedar Creek,' and he said, 'Let's go out there sometime and look at it.' So one day we rode out to see it. I said, 'Ray, how much you got to have for this place?' It was 100 acres. Ray said, 'Hamp, I'll tell you what, I'll take $1,100 for it.' And I said, 'Ray, I ain't got no $1,100.' And he said, 'How much you Got?', and I said, 'I got $800.' And he said, 'Hamp, I'll tell you what I'll do. You give me that $800 dollars, and I'll go on a note with you at the bank for the other $300.' So we went in the bank and Mr. Johnny Dugger went right along with it and I bought it. We moved out here in this same house in November of 1943," he said.

The following year, their second son, Leman, was born, and eventually a daughter, Glenda, and another son, Terrell.

"I had bought me a mule and six cows with the $75 I had earned while I worked on the CCC camp, and they'd been at my daddy's house, so I brought them out here to the farm and we got started farming.

"Me and my brother-in-law put us up a little still over there by his house in north Macclenny. I'd work every day and go back over to his place at night where he was staying with his mama on the Donald Crews place. I think he was still in school at the time. We didn't have but about five or six barrels, but we got us up a little stock and we didn't know who to sell it to until Wallace Dupree came along. His wife's uncle was living at winter Haven so he took our moonshine down there and when he came back he gave me a stack of dollar bills this high. I think my part came to $300. I said, 'Now, what am I going to do with this money, keep it, farm with it or what?' I paid my farm off with it.

"We kept on making it and selling it to Wallace and I made a little money. Then we put us up a little bit of beer down here in my pond," he said.

"One time, he and his brother-in-law had a little still somewhere up the creek, I never did know exactly where it was," said Nettle laughing. "But me and his wife and the kids would go down and fish off the bridge and keep a watch out for 'em. They had a little old rowboat and they'd take the sugar off the truck and put it on the little old boat and carry it down the stream to their still. They sweetened that river two or three times when the boat would turn over. They'd come out of there so disappointed because they had lost their sugar. I had Glenda down there in a basket one time. It was usually on a Sunday afternoon when they did such as that," said Lettie.

"Revenuers would come around all the time and we usually knew when they were out," she said. " We had our ways of letting the men know. We'd raise an old sheet or some kind of flag up on the house and when they'd see that they knew to be cautious. They could see it from the branch when they were down there working," she said.

The Registers handled their money cautiously and frugally, slowly investing in property as it became available around them.

"The first was our neighbor, Willis Crews, who wanted to sell his place. It had some timber on it," said Hamp. "So we bought it. The timber helped me pay for it. Then we just kept buying up land that joined up with ours. Seemed like when I'd get out of debt somebody else would want to sell. We ended up with 900 acres. Most of the land had timber on it, and that helped me pay for it with what I was making on the side with moonshine. I knew I was no more than a little old sharecropper's boy, and I could never be like the Knabbs, but I could see what the Knabbs had done with land, and I said I would just go along with buying up land."

"We moved in here at an opportune time," said Lettie. "Most of the old-timers were having to sell out and go to town because they couldn't afford to live in the country anymore. Most of them all growed tobacco and had got too old to do that. Their children had moved to town to find work and didn't want the farms, so we've stayed here and struggled all these years. It's been a lot of hard work."

As time progressed, so did bigger ideas for the moonshine industry. "We never did let our children mess with it," said Lettie. "I helped him, but they didn't."

In the early 1950's, state beverage agents began coming around more often and it was getting harder to hide moonshine stills, no matter how deep in the woods or far down the creeks.

"We started doing business with Junior Crockett. He would buy all we could make," said Hamp. "The revenuers were tearing stills up a-going and a-coming, and we decided we'd put one underground. So junior got someone to come in from Jacksonville with a drag line and dig the hole. We had bought the old Oscar Kelly place that had been turned into a turkey farm. It had a big two-story house there that was partly finished. We let, Herman Ruis, who had been turpentining with us, and his family move into the house so he could work at the still and look after things. It was a pretty good-sized hole they dug. We walled it up with lumber after that man dug the hole. We covered the top of it up with dirt and placed a chicken pen on top of the entrance. We had to move the old chicken coop to even go down in it. We had about thirty barrels down there. It had electricity and water, but that was all a bunch of bull that there was a television and couch and chairs and such down there," he said, adding, "All that was exaggerated."

Hamp said he couldn't remember just how big the still was, but he thought it was about a 20x3O. He couldn't remember the yield, because it varied, he said. And word leaked of the undertaking, even though those connected with it were expected to be loyal and not talk.

And about a year after the elaborate underground operation was built, the revenuers made a house call.

"It was about dark and I'd gone over to see Herman Ruis, to take some bedding," began Hamp. "I was standing out in the yard with Herman when we saw a man walking up the road about a quarter way from the house. I got in my truck and started to leave and Herman said, 'Don't let that man come up here.' So I stopped to talk to him, and he got in the truck with me and asked me who lived there. I told him, and he said, 'Let's go back up there,' so we did. Then two more men came up there. I had to figure out a story, so I had rye seed in the truck and I told them I'd gone there to get Herman to help me plant it. I stuck to that story. Just then Junior drove up, looking for me, and Lewis Moore right behind him. So we were all arrested.

"We learned later that they had been watching us for a week. They were parking their car and walking through the woods where they found a safe place to watch from. Later we went back and found the stakeout where they had been watching the still from. We found their chewing gum wrappers, empty cigarette packs, and such. They took me and Junior to jail that night, in the same car, and put us in the same cell."

Meanwhile, one of the black men who helped at the still ran to the house and hid behind a TV. The federal agents knew they had seen two black men there, so they searched for him throughout the house. They looked upstairs, under the beds and every where.

"He was hunkered down there behind the TV and they never found him. Later he told us he had to cough and was trying to stifle it. The people that lived there had a little boy and they told him to make all the noise he could to distract the agents while the man was behind the TV. He just sat there until we all left. One agent, he stayed behind to watch out for things and he was parked on one side of the house. So this black man, he picked up a little old puppy to keep it from barking and went to the other side of the house where he crawled out the back window. He carried that little old puppy all the way to the back field where he put him down and made his getaway. He never was called in, " explained Hamp.

"I think that may be where all that talk came from, us having a television inside the underground still, but the TV was in the house, not the still," said Hamp.

Contrary to what some people have speculated, Hamp said the revenuers did not follow Junior Crockett to the still the evening they were arrested.

"No, they'd been watching us for awhile," he said. "And the way things were changing, people had started reporting everybody and they had reported us. They knew it was inside a chicken pen. All the speculation about it being elaborate with a TV, furniture and such was just loose talk," he said.

"It was my still, and my still alone." said Hamp. "Junior Crockett was the middle man. He bought my whiskey and Glen Johnson hauled it for him. And there was no television, or furniture in it."

Lettie was home the evening the raid took place. She remembers the incident well. "I had started to go over to the still that night, but before I did, Glen came running up to the house and told me not to go," she said. "We went to Doris's house to tell her."

According to Glenn Johnson, he had been hauling moonshine for Junior Crockett for many years. On this particular night, he had driven a truck there to be loaded with the whiskey when two men stopped him, jumped in the truck, and identified themselves as federal agents, one being Phillip Tomberlin. He jumped to run, but they wrestled him to the ground. In the scuffle, he got away, and ran through the woods toward the Register home, where he found Lettie.

"Doris said Junior had always told her that if something went wrong, to stay out of it and he would take care of things, so I stayed there with her awhile and then went back home," said Lettie.

It took three trials over a period of ten years to acquit those arrested that evening, explained Hamp. "We had five lawyers. None of us was convicted," he said. "They blowed the still up with dynamite. I wasn't around. I was so upset I didn't want to think of that thing any more. We don't know when they did it, but they told us they did it."

"Eventually, we did go back over there and it was a great big old hole, everything had fell in," said Lettie. "Trees had all growed up in it. Everyone used it for a trash pit for a long time. There's no sign of it now."

Not only was the trial long and drawn out, but the Registers' had to raise the money to pay lawyers, not only for Hamp, but for those working for him who were arrested at the still.

"That's just a gentlemen's agreement among those who owned moonshine stills, or those who hired others to work for them," said Hamp. "We were responsible if anything happened to them."

"We didn't have any cash," said Lettie. "We had tied all our assets up in land, so we had to cut some timber to raise the money, since the lawyers insisted on cash. We had quit the moonshining, so we had an old truck with sides to it. It was really a cow truck and Hamp had been arrested driving it once with a load of sugar. So we removed the sides and began to cut that timber and haul it to the sawmill. I drove the tractor and helped Hamp. We sold the timber to the pulpwood people and Hamp hauled logs to the sawmill in Macclenny. Me and him done the logging. As we got paid for the timber, we were so scared to keep the cash money around, so we did put it in jars and buried it in the chicken house. But honestly, that is the only time we ever had any cash money around," she said.

State and Federal agents for years had sought to corner Junior Crockett, the man they pegged as the 'Shine King' or 'Kingpin' in Baker County moonshine operations. Headlines blared of the arrest in the Florida Times Union on Thursday, January 29, 1953.

The article described the still as being "elaborate" and located about seven miles northwest of Macclenny. It reported that the still operation consisted of a 600-gallon capacity distilling pot and 70 barrel fermenters, containing 3,500 gallons of mash. The agents reported seizing approximately 1,000 gallons of moonshine liquor in one-gallon cans, wrapped in onion sacks.

The still was said to be in an underground hole, about 40 feet, by 40 feet, with shoring to hold up the ceiling and about two feet of earth above the ceiling. The article said that on the surface, the site appeared to be a chicken yard with out-buildings covering the vents. Below the ground, bottled gas had been used to heat the pot and the mash was fermented from the fermenter to the pot by an electric pump. The place was outfitted with electric lights.

One Cadillac and two trucks were seized as well as the land and the still, the article reported.

Temporary bond was $500 each for Crockett, Register, Herman Ruis, Lewis Moore, and Albert Mitchell.

M.H. Myerson was reported to be the attorney representing the defendants.

The Registers turned to farming, exclusively, and extended their efforts in the dairy, timber, cattle and tobacco enterprises. They did well through hard work and long hours. They determined to educate their children and shield them from the poverty they had known and the moonshine industry that helped them escape from it.

"It took the moonshine to help me get my feet on the ground, but that don't mean I didn't work for it," said Hamp. "All my children have got homes out here on this place and the grandchildren are coming back all the time. I told my mama she wouldn't have to go to a nursing home as long as I can help it so she stays here on the property with us, making five generations.

"I don't tell Lettie too much, but I wouldn't trade her for nothing; in fact I wouldn't change a thing about my life except that I might take off a little more time. But as long as I can go out there and mess with my old cows and can get someone to help me work, I'm better off. In the summer time I have a little trouble getting my tobacco together, but the tobacco crops have been good to me. It just seems like I get along better when I'm doing something and I thank the Lord for giving me good health to get along good."

Lettie is proud of the fact that she was eventually able to return to school. She received her high school diploma the same year her oldest child, Sonny, graduated from high school.

Hamp Register's eyes light up when he describes the joy he finds in attending the Christian Fellowship Temple in Macclenny, where the Rev. Leslie Thomas is pastor and music is part of the ministry. "We have three fiddle players there all the time," said Hamp, with a big smile. "There's Chubby Wise, Albert Eddy and Robert Combs," he said.

From the patter of their children's feet upon the land to the pitter-patter of grandchildren running up and down Hamp Register Road, to the squeals and delight of their great-grandchildren running in and out, it all pleases the Registers.

"We've give all the youngun's 120 acres apiece," he said, in his slow Southern drawl. "Having our children around us is a wonderful thing, you just love them and them little grandchildren so much. But there are drawbacks to it, too. They have always lived here on the place and if there is any troubles in the families, you know about it, but we try and look out for each other, and I wouldn't want it any other way."

Last year, the Register's second son, 50-year-old Leamon (PeeWee) died. "He had always lived right here on the land with us, and it's hard," said Hamp. "I try to stay busy and that helps, but I'm afraid even staying busy won't help his mother. Lettie and I will never get over losing him," he said.

Lloyd A. Register, Jr. -- 'Sonny', as he is called -- is married to Peggy Prevatt and they have three children, Douglas, Darrell, and Debra. PeeWee was married to Ruth Johns and their two children are Ruthia and Clinton Bart. Glenda, and her former husband, John Walker, have two children, Sarah and Clayton. Terrell and his former wife, Brenda Higginbotham, have three children, Scott, Jim Bob and Marci.

"Darrell and his wife, Denette, gave us our first great-grandchildren, Crystal and Garrett. Then Doug and Penny gave us Joel. Debra and Bryan Lowry gave us Curtis and Cason. We are so proud of our five great-grandchildren," said Lettie.

The Registers are friendly, jovial people who are rich in friends and family as well as the surrounding fertile land. The life they live is simple, just like the home they moved into more than half a century ago, which has only undergone remodeling a couple of times. But no amount of remodeling will ever change the open-door hospitality which still beckons as you pass by the simple frame home by the side of the road where a part of Baker County's history is buried, except for the memories.


Edward Clifton 'Catfish' Stokes
Sanderson-Macclenny

At one time, Edward 'Catfish' Stokes manufactured more whiskey stills than anyone in Baker County and more than likely, anyone in the north Florida and south Georgia areas. His ingenious inventions served the moonshiners so well that they were almost limitless in the production of the illicit white lightning moonshine operations that spiralled to great heights during the'50 and'60 decades.

Catfish, as he was tagged early in his life by classmate Jeanette Harvey, was born west of Sanderson in the 'reforest' section to a poor, farm-working couple named Obie and Mae Stokes. Mae was the daughter of Charlie and Easter Combs of Sanderson. obie's father died when he was young, but Catfish remembers his grandmother, Annie Stokes. The Stokes couple had two other children, Loretha and Owen.

"We moved around quite a lot when I was growing up," said the quiet-spoken man who now spends much of his time mulling over the sensational past that gave Baker County its most renowned status of the century.

"Most of the people I new back then are all dead now," he says, surprise rising in his voice. "They didn't last too long." The Stokes family moved to Bradenton when their son was young, and returned to Baker County when he was about six. He attended school in Sanderson where his family farmed 'some' and occasionally drove the mule and wagon into Sanderson.

"It took all day just to drive there and back," he said.

Eventually they settled in north Macclenny on Ivy Street and sharecropped a 40- acre farm that belonged to Luther Williams.

"My parents worked from before sun-up to after dark," he said.

At one time he worked on a dairy farm located at Ivy Street and Highway 121 for the late Duncan Rhoden. "I had to get up at 4 a.m., work on the farm, come in, grab a mouthful to eat, rush to get to school, and when I would come in from school, I'd run get me a biscuit and a piece of meat or something and go back to working. I worked most of my life and didn't make any money, at least not enough of it to count," he said.

Two days after Christmas, when he was in the 7 grade and about 15 years old, he quit school.

"Mr, Rhoden paid me S3.50 a week, I delivered all the milk that was delivered to the stores and houses in M8cclenny and was still trying to go to school," he said.

At one time he worked on a farm out from Glen St. Mary for his uncle.

"He paid me $15 a month with room and board. That was about enough to buy my tobacco. I was smoking then, Mama talked me into coming back and I stayed at home until I was drafted. I declare, I believe they must have had my draft papers already filled out when I turned 18, 'cause they were there shortly after." he laughed.

Eight weeks after his induction, he was sailing the Pacific Ocean on an oil tanker.

"We were like a filling station for the ships. I saw a lot of the ships get hit, mostly by suicide planes. I saw one ammunition ship get hit. No one survived because it was just one big ball of fire," he said.

Twenty months later he was headed back home to Baker County. Little did he know that what he had learned in the Navy would thrust him into a business that would determine his career at least for the next two decades.

"When I came home, I was supposed to be given about $20 a month by the Navy, but the red tape got so bogged down that I got disgusted and left the office before I filled out the papers for it. I just said, 'I don't need it, I'll find another way,' and so I went home.

"Before I left for the Navy, I'd done a little bit of bootlegging. Back in them days it was not a big operation. There was several of the guys around that were still in it after I came out of the service in 1946 and I got more into it. I really don't remember just when or how I got started," he said, trying to recall.

"That was a long time ago," he smiled.

"I remember that in the beginning whiskey was made mostly with two-barrel stills, There wasn't much money in it. They'd work the mash off in 50-gallon barrels. I do remember when it started moving over into Baker County because at first most of the moonshining was done over in Georgia.

"Back then, they fired a still with lightered knots and you could ride all those dirt roads over there in Georgia and see the location of the stills by the black smoke coming up through the pine trees. The revenuers didn't hardly ever mess with them. That's when they made scratch-fed whiskey back in the '30s and '40s. When the government started treating scratch feed for bugs, that messed up the scratch feed and you couldn't make whiskey out of it. People lost a lot of money before they found out what the problem was. They had to start buying scratch feed that wasn't treated.

"When I first got started, I used a hand pump to pump water. In fact most a11 of us did it that way. What little bit we made was made out in the woods. We'd drive the pipe down about 10 feet or so in the ground, and we could tell when we'd hit water. It was hard work. We'd have to stand there and pump water continuously. Later we used gasoline pumps.

"When they started making what they called Groundhog whiskey, the quantities got larger; it went from two barrels, to four barrels and then six barrels. It finally got on up to where they'd have seven or eight 40-barrel stills in one place. Now that's a bunch of alcohol. I've built seven in one place twice in my life and I got caught at one of 'em. I was just finishing up the last one when the law come in there. They didn't charge me with making whiskey, they just charged me with making the still. I think they charged me a $3 fine."

At first, Catfish said, the primitive moonshine stills were copper and round and small in size. The groundhog stills were square and constructed from steel. A 40-barrel still was six feet wide, three feet high and 10 feet long.

"In winter time you could put twenty 100-pound sacks of sugar in it, three sacks of wheat brand and 15 pounds of yeast and that would work off in three or four days. If it was doing good, you'd make about 57 five-gallon jugs of whiskey from it," he said.

It's obvious that the local moonshiners, and those in south Georgia, owed much of their prosperity to Catfish.

"I built the first gas burners ever used around here," he said. "When I got it built I took it to a friend's still and it worked real good for him. It was so clean and just about everybody went to it at one time. It just took over. I had a right smart of work going on. Then I built the shot-gun type condenser. It replaced the copper condenser. It was seven feet long and had 50 tubes in it. You had your water going in on the outside of the tubes and you'd have 50 little old streams of alcohol running out. Everybody went to that right away. It's the most interesting thing that I ever got into," he said, with obvious excitement as he recalled those days.

Just how did Catfish get into it? Well, it started when he cashed in on the experience he gained while serving in the Navy, he said.

"I got the idea while I was on the ship. We had condensers because we had to make fresh water from salt water, and it was the condenser that condensed the steam into water that I got the idea.

"After I got out of the service I bought a little piece of land next to my Mama and Daddy for one hundred dollars. Then when a restaurant burned downtown I bought it, moved it to my property and repaired it myself. It didn't cost much money, Then I went and bought me a welding machine. I didn't know anymore about welding than you do. I didn't know how to buy rods. I thought you just went and told 'em you wanted welding rods. I got some information from the place where I bought the machine from, and also from the people where I bought the rods. I knew how to turn the machine on, and that's all. Marvin Prevatt, a friend, had learned to weld, I think in the shipyard, and I got him to come and help me a little bit, and he did maybe 30-40 minutes. I started making the stills right there on Ivy Street. It pretty well wasn't against the law to do that then. Nobody ever said anything for many years, but all that eventually changed. I even built stills right on Highway 90. I rented a place from Ray Phillips and built stills there for a long time until I sold out to Lonzie Altman. He soon quit because he wasn't making no money, so I started up again then.

"One day the revenuers pulled up there and they started talking to me. I don't remember how the conversation went, but anyway they said, 'if you don't quit this, you are going to jail.' And I said, 'Well, give me to the morning and I'll be locked up.' And I did. I hauled everything off the property and put a lock on the door. Then I went and got me a truck and started going to the woods and building them. I did that for a long time. Sometimes I'd build them at the site of the still, but usually I would construct them in the woods. one day someone took me to their still and it happened that the Federal men were watching the still. They took a picture of me building it. That night, someone came to warn me that they had a warrant for me, so I took my truck and welding machine over to Georgia and hid it. I got charged a fine of $500 that time and that's when I just finally quit. I'd already been caught several times and I knew if the Federal ever got me I'd have to serve time. Joe Newmans helped me get on with the Pipe Fitters Union. I was 40 years old."

Catfish says he has forgotten many details of his moonshine days involvement.

"It's been a long time. If I tell something that is wrong it won't be my intention," he said.

Bootlegging was always hard work," he said. "I hauled some, made some, but I mostly built the stills," he said.

"After those revenuers stopped by my business that day, and I bought the truck, a lot of the stills I made were partly constructed at the house and partly in the woods. It took me about two hours to put one together. I'd spend about an hour at the house and after I got in the woods, another hour. I built a compartment in the truck beneath the floor bed, where I could store four of the steel sheets. If I got stopped they wouldn't think to look there for it. At first we didn't need to do things like that, but then times got tougher. If I was going very far, like up in Georgia, I usually tried to build four stills at a time. I charged $125 each.

"At first I didn't make too much money because I wasn't much of a welder and didn't do too good of a job, and was slow, but I got better. In fact, one of those revenuers who had been in on taking pictures of me working at the still told me that if I ever needed a recommendation for welding, then come get him. He said he'd be glad to recommend me. One year, I kept up with how many I made, and I built 175. That's just the stills, not counting the condensers and burners and stuff. "I did a lot of the work on a credit, and most everyone paid me, just a few never did. I'll tell you, most of the bootleggers were more honest than the people you'd find out there on the street. Most did just exactly what they said they'd do. I even built some of those stills in people's houses, in their barns, and one in sight of the prison in Reidsville, Ga. In fact, it was in the woods on the prison property, and you could see the prison from where it was.

"I'll tell you, when I see that whiskey running out of that condenser, well, that's the prettiest sight I've ever saw in my life. I mean, it's just something you can't explain. You know, homemade whiskey is more pure and good than bonded whiskey. The majority of the people made good whiskey. You could tell if it was good shine by testing it. The way we did that was to shake it and see if there were any beads on it. There were some people that were real good at that. They could tell you what proof it was and you could stick a tester in there and it would be awful close to it. I could do it pretty good.

"Alcohol, when it first comes out, will have big bubbles and they'll flash right off. When it gets down to let's say 100-proof, the beads will be smaller and they'll be in clusters, and they will stay there a little bit. The size of the bead pretty well tells you what proof it is. I experimented with it a lot. Some of us just bought a few testers at the last to see how good we were. Good shine is 100-105 proof and it don't give you a hangover like bonded whiskey.

"I guess you could call me an alcoholic at one time because I drank a lot, but I haven't drank in about 15 years now. I drank a lot of shine and I drank a lot from the bar, too. Sometimes I'd go to the bar after dinner and stay there until after midnight when I wasn't working. I have never been too healthy and it made me feel good, and that's one of the big reasons I drank it. I could drink a fifth of whiskey in a day."

At one time Catfish and some friends had a still that was down state. It was unique.

"I was continuously thinking about something that nobody else had ever done," he said. "So we got this old power wagon and we pulled the body off of it and left the cab on . We installed a 500-gallon tank on it and it looked just like one of them old water-tank trucks. We drove it everywhere and nobody suspected it held moonshine."

The group lived in a rented house in an orange grove. "If anyone came around, they would have just thought it was a watering truck for the grove trees. What we did, we buried five of those big tanks just like the one we had on the truck. We ploughed the rows over them just like we were getting ready to plant a garden. Actually that was where the beer was working off down in the tanks. It worked out okay except that it would work up a heat and get too hot and not make as much liquor as it ought to. When it was ready we'd pump one of those buried tanks out into the truck's tank, turn on the burner and make the shine," he said, smiling.

Catfish said bootlegging was not good for a marriage. "I've proved that," he said with a wry smile. "I been married to four women seven times. I can tell you first hand that it does cause a lot of trouble. You are out at night and the work is not consistent. It's just not good for a marriage," he lamented.

He was 22 when he married the first time. He and his wife raised two children before divorcing.

In his lifetime and experience, he watched the industry grow from a small one- farmer dealer to big-time operations. He remembers when Ed Yarbrough was elected sheriff and had campaigned to clean up the moonshine in Baker County.

"The best I've ever known of anyone doing in the shine business is when five days before Ed Yarbrough took over as sheriff, these two guys set them up two 40s. They were on a good clean spring branch, the water was cold, the weather was cold. Everything was ideal. They used forty 100-pound sacks of sugar, six bags of wheat brand, and thirty pounds of yeast, and it took about three days to work it off. Then they sweetened it back up with the same amount and another three days to run it again. They made 1,185 gallons of whiskey in those two runs and about $1,300. That's the best I've ever knowed of. They made a little over a gallon a minute, and that was a good turn out. After Ed took office they closed down and sold their outfit to somebody that moved it to Columbia County."

Catfish said he didn't slow down his operations even when the newly elected sheriff, Ed Yarbrough, took office.

"I continued to make them after Ed took office. That didn't slow me up a bit because I didn't do it here in this county at that time. Most all my business then was up in Georgia," he said.

"I been in 16 cars that turned over and never had a broken bone," he said. "Now that story would be good for anybody that don't believe in prayer. All the time I was drinking and doing all that kind of stuff, my Mama and my sister was home praying for me. And that's the reason I'm alive today," he said.

Catfish eventually bought 13 acres on the Big St. Mary's River and settled down more than three decades ago. He sold his brother, Owen, seven acres and Owen built a home next door. Sometimes, the two talk about the past.

"Owen got shot at a still when he was young and that wound him up," said Catfish. "He quit. He was at a still in Pin Hook Swamp when Slim Horton, a deputy sheriff in Columbia County, shot him in the foot, but he didn't catch him. Owen ran in the swamp and got away. The boys who were working with him found him about midnight. He had been lost and crawling around in that swamp all night. He didn't even know he was shot for a long time. It broke all three of those center bones in his foot."

After that, Owen worked as a mechanic, then for North East Florida State Hospital.

Does he have any regrets?

"Well, you look back and you have all kind of feelings about it," he said. "Some are good and some are not so good.

"I never got mad when the Federal men arrested me or when they tore my stills up. They were just doing their job, and I was doing mine. There was no need to get mad," he said.

From his porch he can look out at the beautiful and serene river flowing by, gently rippling small waves upon a sandy shoreline. At the age of 69, he still trims trees and shrubs and has a vegetable garden. Looking toward a big oak tree, the path to it obscured by underbrush, he remembers the small still operation he once ran just to have 'drinking liquor.' He remembers the day a scouting plane flew over and spotted it from the air.

"My wife, at the time, was watching television and she heard their radio coming through on the television. She called me and told me what she had heard, so I just picked up the phone and called a local deputy and told him someone had set up a moonshine still on my property and I'd like for him to come out and destroy it. So he did."

Sometimes, his old buddies, the few that are left, stop by, and they talk about 'those days.' Sometimes he finds pleasure in the solitude of sitting quietly by the shore of the river watching the mesmerizing water flow by.

Today, he does not drink liquor, nor does he smoke. For more than a decade he has been a regular attendant of the Church of God in Glen St. Mary. He has never been baptized, although he agrees it might not be a bad idea to do so.

"I'm just waiting for the rapture," he says with conviction. "And I think it will come in the next five years. I'm not planning on dying," he smiles with confidence. "I'm just planning to be caught up in it!"


A moonshine incident
With Odis Yarbrough

The earliest arrest by federal revenuers in Baker County may have been in 1922. As Odis Yarbrough tells the story, he and Lee Burnsed were hauling stove wood for John Burnsed with two mules and a wagon about mid-day when they heard gun fire down by the creek.

"I knew something was up," said Odis. I told Lee the revenuers had got the still.

"We knew it was there, but we didn't have anything to do with it," he said, "but try and tell that to them revenuers. We were just sittin' there in the wagon when them revenuers came out of the gallberry bushes. They'd been sittin' there watching for someone to come up to the still. They told us to drive on up to the still and they kept us there until they tore it up. It was a big one, too, running 300 gallons a day. I had me a ringside seat as they chopped it up with axes. They'd already caught some of 'em working there and I think they charged 'em a $50 fine," he said. "We just told 'em we didn't have nothing to do with the still. Lee had some of their dinners in the wagon. If they had told us they were going to take me to jail I could have out-run everyone of 'em because back then I could run as fast as a deer," said the 93-year-old Yarbrough family patriarch as he gave a first-hand account of the incident.

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Reverend Wilford Lyons
Macclenny/Georgia Bend

When Wilford Lyons was born to a poor, but hard-working farm couple in the Georgia Bend April 8, 1925, it was during The Great Depression, and times were hard. There was little or no money, and like most people in the area, families were surviving on what they could scrounge from the poor soil to grow their vegetables, or glean from the woodlands and fishing streams. Down by the creek, his father, John Wesley Lyons, set up a little one-barrel copper still to brew a little moonshine that often brought in a few dollars for necessities. He would parch red oak and age some of his shine in four wooden barrels because it brought more "money.

With a family of six growing sons and one daughter, Wesley took a job with a sash and door place in Jacksonville, making $15 a week, while his sons stayed home to work the 40-acre farm and tend the still. Their father rented a room for a dollar during the week and found he could survive by eating baloney for 15 cents a day. He came home to the family on weekends, driving on crude, unpaved roads because, at the time, only one paved road existed in the county and that was highway 90. On his return trip into town each Monday morning about 4 a.m., he would stop in Hart Haven, where two brothers ran a convenience store. Then he would lift up the back seat of his 1936 Chevrolet where there was just room for four five-gallon jugs of 'shine' to be stored, and sell it to the brothers.

"Daddy had been stopped several times by the law because they knew he had been making it, and they'd search all over his car, but they never found it," said Wilford. "What little bit of money he made working in Jacksonville and selling the small amount of shine barely covered our necessities," he said.

"Almost every family in the Georgia Bend had a small still to pick up a few dollars back in them days, but it was a small operation," he explained. "There was actually so little shine made by individual farmers, like daddy, that if someone came to buy a load they'd have to buy from four or five families to benefit someone to drive over to pick it up and haul it out. My grandpa, Jode Thrift, didn't deal in it except to age it. He had a little place down by the creek where he'd keep it for years. He would mark the date on it when he put it there and he had doctors and lawyers and all kinds of people coming on weekends to get them a gallon of his aged moonshine because he had the reputation of having the best moonshine around. It was made clean and as far as alcohol was concerned, most people liked it better than that you could buy in the store and bars.

"Grandpa always said we weren't really breaking the law, we just weren't paying taxes on it. He thought a fellow ought to have the right to make a little money like that, just the same as some people do today who think they ought to have the right to make a little home-made wine."

"One day, luck ran out and the still was raided by Federal agents and John Wesley Lyons was sent to prison. The strain was too much for his wife, Pearlie Mae. When she suffered a nervous breakdown, her children were scattered around with relatives while she was sent to a hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia, to recover.

"That made a big change in my daddy" remembered Wilford. While he was gone to prison, we boys ran the farm. I had to drop out of school. Uncle Lonnie Thrift had a truck and we cut timber with a cross cut saw and cut pines on our own property and Uncle Lonnie hauled them to the saw mill for us. We sold the timber to help mama have some money while daddy was gone. All our neighbors helped and Grandma Thrift always had some food for us to eat."

When the family re-united, they moved to Macclenny. Wesley Lyons gained employment in Jacksonville again, and this time took his son with him.

"I must have been about 14," said Wilford. "I stayed with the same couple dad stayed with. I made eight dollars a week, and like dad, gave them a dollar for my room. That's where I learned to drink goats milk," he said.

And that's not all he learned. He discovered he was quick to absorb all he was taught. His employer at Jones Furniture Company considered him so intelligent and trustworthy that he encouraged him to remain in his employment, promising to train him to someday take over his business. Wilford declined because he turned 17 and his mama signed for him to join the Navy.

"At that time, I didn't have a record, so I didn't have any problem being accepted by the Navy," recalled Wilford. "I'd been picked up a time or two by this man named Spinks, a federal agent, but me being a youngun' they never made a case against me."

Almost immediately, Wilford began to learn new skills. The Navy provided a training ground in the aviation field and soon he was off to southern England where a cold WW II raged. More than one third of his 180-member crew was lost. Once again he was noticed by his superiors for his intelligence and unusual ability to excel. He was strongly encouraged to make the Navy his career but after 42 months of service he came home to Baker County.

By this time his dad had a cabinet shop in downtown Macclenny and while Wilford was there one day, he looked out to see a special girl walk by with a friend. "I said, 'I believe she is going to be the one.'

She was Eveline Davis, daughter of Dan Davis. Soon after, while attending a square dance, 'around in the old log cabin where they danced until one or two in the morning,' he caught himself by surprise when he boldly walked up to her and her date and asked her out. He was even more surprised when she accepted.

On August 9, 1947, we went over and got Farley Burnsed out of bed and with his overalls on, he married us," said Wilford.

"While I was away serving in the war, one of my brothers had done real well making and selling moonshine because it was really in demand during that time. The economy was better and the price of the whiskey was up, so even though I had all these other opportunities to do things, I knew enough about moonshine that I knew how it worked and how to make it, so I went back into it," he said. And "I got to talking with men like Wallace Dupree and they offered to back me if I went into it. If I made it, they would buy it from me," he said. "I think they were among the first that started hauling it out of Baker County, but later on, me and my brothers started hauling it too. My younger brother Jimmy was our number one driver. A lot of times I drove, too. I had an Oldsmobile that Dub Sands fixed up and I could out-run the law. Back then, there were no radios in their cars and we never did get run down and caught.

For the next few years, Wilford Lyons lived on the edge of the law and fate. This was made evident late one night when he was following his brother, Jimmy, who was driving with a car loaded with whiskey. As the cars sped down the Georgia highway at rates of speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour, their car lights suddenly beamed on a set of police cars at the end of a narrow, one-way bridge.

"When you are running about 115-120 mph and your headlights see something in the road, you can't stop. I was right on Jimmy's bumper. He hit the cars first. Then my car hit Jimmy's car and knocked him on down the road far enough that he was able to get out of his car and run. I went down a 20-foot embankment, but I didn't have a scratch on me. "Almost immediately, there was the sheriff and and two Georgia State patrolmen pulling me out of the car. They beat me over my head with their black jacks, and said it was for running over their cars. I kept trying to tell them I couldn't help it. What they really wanted was money. They carried me to a doctor who sewed my head up. It took about 100 stitches, and the doctor told them to take me on over to Douglas because I had lost a lot of blood and needed to be in the hospital. Well, they gave me several pints of blood. In a few days I was transferred to the jail. My brother came up there and the law claimed I had received my injuries in the accident. When Willie came to see, I told him what happened. He was kinda quick tempered and was wanting to whip 'em right then. He told them, 'It's alright to run him, and it's alright to catch him, but it's not alright to beat him.'

"We were finally put into an office where there was a judge and what it all came down to was money. He wanted us to pay a $3,000 fine and they'd give us the car, a '51 Chrysler. So we paid it and left. Dub Sands went after the car and couldn't find one bit of blood inside. I kept my bloody clothes as evidence and went to the FBI in Jacksonville and told them what happened to me. I believe the two deputies would have beaten me to death had the sheriff not come up there. The FBI went up to investigate whether my civil rights had been violated, and they had. I went to a lawyer and he said, 'Well, you can't sue the state, and the only one you can sue is the sheriff and he don't have anything,' so I dropped it. But you know, in the next five to six years, every one of those men died violent deaths. Several years later, saw the game warden that was there the night I was beat and he told me about them.

"Well, I recovered from that and you would have thought that would have been enough to have stopped anybody, but my brothers helped me to take care of everything and I went right back into the moonshine business again. I made it and hauled it.

"I had another real close call. We had bought a farm and moved up to Live Oak to get away from here for awhile. We made arrangements to pay off the sheriff and the deputies for protection in that area. I was selling to a state senator from there. He liked good moonshine to give to his friends.

"On this night, his brother was with me and we were going out to the farm to get some whiskey when a car pulled out in front of us. I told him, 'Oh, no, there ain't supposed to be nobody around here. I told him to hold on because I wasn't going to stop. I hit the front fender of the car, going so fast that I went in the ditch, but I came right on out. We turned down a woods road, got out and ran. Before daylight we came up to some people's house that he knew, so we got away.

They got my car, a 1951 Oldsmobile. I had already taken it out of my name when I started using it to haul whiskey. I didn't have insurance because there were no laws like that back then. Well, the law traced the car back to me anyway and they picked me up. I hired M. H. Myerson, a lawyer out of Jacksonville, and he said, 'Give me $500 and I'll get you out of this.' I had two friends from Baker County who said they would swear I was at their New Year's party because that happened on New Year's night. So they were my witnesses. Back then if were a buddy, or a good friend, that's what you would do. Of course, it helped having the registration changed. The jury deliberated 10 minutes and found me 'Not Guilty."

Wilford admits there were many more times and many more close calls, but one particularly he remembers that changed him forever. "Actually, I was just riding in the car on this particular night. Jimmy was hauling and my partner was driving the car I was in. He and Jimmy had been talking to a man in Georgia about some moonshine and the man turned out to be an undercover agent. We were arrested. Actually, Junior Crockett came to our rescue and paid our bail. He really put himself in a bad position to do it, but he was our only way of getting out of jail. That's just the way Junior was, he wouldn't let you down, even though he was putting himself in a bad position, making it look more and more that he was guilty of what he was accused of. They let him go on our bond and we were free to go. But when the trial came the judge gave me 18 months, Jimmy 18 months and my partner three years.

"I was really upset. What upset me the most was, I was leaving Eveline and my two children without any support. Eveline was working, but it was still hard on me knowing she had all the responsibility.

"They sent me to Valdosta first, then to Atlanta, which is a maximum security prison. While I was in there, Frank Costello was in there. At the time he was head of the whole mafia. And he was regarded as Mr. Costello in that prison. He had his own private guard around him. I was only one cell over at one time. While there, I was tempted very bad. Costello's bookkeeper was there and one day he said to me, 'Lyons, you're from Florida?, and I said, 'Yes,' and he said, 'You know, you are in the wrong business. Everybody's into moonshine, but I can put you onto something when you get out of here that will make you a couple million dollars.' I said, 'What's that?' and he said, 'Marijuana,' and I said, 'Marijuana, what's that?, and he explained it to me. Back then there wasn't no marijuana around Baker County, but he explained that it grew wild in the woods and he said more, but I told him I wasn't interested. That was in 1959 and a few years later it popped up everywhere around here.

"The warden called me into his office one day and questioned why I was in a maximum security prison on a first conviction on moonshine. He said it would take about 90 days but he was going to transfer me to a minimum security prison. And that's what happened. I was sent to Tallahassee. While there, I worked in the canvas shop where I made 25 cents an hour. I learned to make duffle bags for the service and hammocks for the navy. When I left prison, I had about $200 that I had saved. Eveline and her dad came for me, and they wouldn't let me go until midnight. I told Eveline on the way home, I'd learned my lesson and she'd never have to worry about me messing with moonshine again.

"I began to look for work. I got on at the Cool-Aire Corporation in Jacksonville starting out at $1.35 an hour. My work was so praise-worthy there that I got a raise every month. In the latter part of 1961, I went to work for Florida Fruit Company, where once again I began to excel in advancements. Since I had no more than an elementary education, I felt very grateful. All my life I have been an avid reader and while in the Navy I took advantage of every training program they offered.

Eveline and I had bought a little house across the street from the Church of God and she had been attending a revival there. Me and that boy of mine went off to the races on Friday night while she went in there. I stopped by and bought me a half-pint of whiskey, but I didn't open it. When I got home that night, Eveline had been crying, and I asked her what was wrong. She said I'd just have to go over there to the revival to know, and she couldn't stop crying.

On Saturday, when I came home from work, she was still crying. She asked me if I was going to church with her that night and I said, 'No, I'm too tired.' So she kept on crying and went on alone. She cried that night, but on Sunday her tears had kinda dried up, but I could tell she had been crying two or three days. So that night, she said, 'Please, please, go to church with me tonight,' and I said, 'alright, alright, alright! I've heard all this crying I can stand, and if it will shut you up I'll go to church.' She said, 'It will.'

"So we walked across the street to the church and when we walked in everyone grabbed us by the hand and said they were glad to see us. Just as I walked through the door I heard a voice and I looked around to see who was talking to me. That voice said, 'The same man that walked through that door tonight won't leave here,' and I just shook it off and walked on down the isle. Mama was with us, so we went about half-way down before we set down. The choir singing was good, and then the preacher got up to preach. He talked about how he'd had a two-week revival and nobody had got saved. Then he preached on dying and going to hell. A lot more preachers preached on it back then than they do now. Then he kept saying, 'There's a man here tonight,' pointing his finger out and it looked just like he was pointing at me, but I looked around and thought there must be 100 men tonight, he couldn't be talking to me, and he said, 'I feel like in my spirit if that man don't make it right tonight it may be the last chance he may get,' and when he kept on saying that tears began to run down my cheeks, and I looked over at Eveline. She was crying, too. I felt like my feet was tied, bound, and I looked at her and said, 'It's time to go,' and when I said that it was like my feet were released and I took her by the hand and got up heading down to the front of that church. About 30 or 40 minutes later, when I got through begging God to forgive me for all I'd done, I said, 'Lord, I've got a lot to be forgiven for, and I do feel it may have been my last chance.' That whole church had been praying for us for 12 years and they just came alive that night. I got up from there so happy, and when I left home that night I'd left my cigar right by my table. I kept a cigar in my mouth all the time, I was never without one. So I said, 'Well, I'll be back for you- later,' but when God saved me that night He took away all desire for cigars. And I mean to tell you, I loved them cigars like a pig does slop.

"I was 43 years old when that happened. Immediately after that, I couldn't wait to get to church. If the pastor didn't ask somebody to testify, I'd jump up and say, 'I want to testify. I want to tell you... and I'd just go on and on praising God and what he'd done for me. Eveline used to say I sounded like I was preaching. We'd visit other churches and I'd stand up and tell them what a rotten, low-down scoundrel I was and finally Eveline asked me when I planned to answer God's call for me to preach. At times when I'd been in church and I would testify, people would go to the altar and get saved. So I began to think about it."

The rest is history. Once again, Wilford Lyons had been shown that anything he did was above average, and when it becomes above average with the Lord, miracles abound. His career as a minister is another book in itself, but through his ability, his talents and spiritual gifts, he spearheaded the building of the first Church of God in Glen St. Mary. Through his devotion and dedication, many people were brought to the altar of God who made commitments to serve Him.

Today, he has retired. He and Eveline have been to the Holy Land 11 times. He has walked and talked with God for more than three decades.

Looking back, he uses his experiences to help others, to lift them up from their troubled lives and bring them into a sphere where they can deal with life, walking down another road, which is the straight and narrow way.

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