Moonshining On The Rise in East Texas

Categories: Crime

joseph burton.jpg
Trinity County Constable Woody Wallace
Joseph Burton: The fresh face of resurgent East Texas moonshining
For the second time this month, East Texas cops have broken up a moonshining operation.

The latest case took place near Tyler, in tiny New Chapel Hill. Smith County Constables seized two stills belonging to one man whom they have charged with a misdemeanor, with more charges possibly pending.

Cops told the Tyler Morning Register that they couldn't remember the last white lightnin' seizure in the area -- they thought it came in the 1980s or maybe even the '70s, when Burt Reynolds, Jerry Reed and the Duke boys were frequently seen on area backroads, taunting red-faced cops and hurtling through the air in orange muscle cars.

Just kidding about that, but it looks like there is a pop-culture element to this case, and possibly another one in Trinity, where earlier this month, constables arrested 20-year-old Joseph Burton and seized his still along with some weed.

TABC Sgt. Marcus Stokke believes the Discovery Channel reality show Moonshiners is to blame.

Popcorn.jpg
Sucker Punch Pictures
Moonshiners star Popcorn Sutton: Legendary Appalachian moonshiner looked the part a little more than Joseph Burton.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, Texans have been making whiskey outside of the law since the earliest pioneer days, and the trade's heyday came during Prohibition. Continues the TSHA:

Though their activities were against the law, many moonshiners thought that they were unfairly persecuted and resented being treated as common criminals. In regions where the local economy provided few opportunities for material advancement or where the residents harbored a strong distrust of central authority, moonshiners occasionally attained the status of folk heroes who beat the system by earning good money and displayed guile and gall by outwitting meddlesome government agents.

During hard times some Texans turned to moonshining as a lucrative alternative to low-paying manual labor or no work at all. Quite a few illicit distillers pursued their trade on a seasonal basis, running their stills during the winter months when opportunities for legitimate employment were scarce. During the Great Depression some people viewed moonshining as an honorable alternative to the humiliation of employment lines or government relief.

Occasionally, the moonshiners' prosperity would irritate law-abiding or less successful citizens, but the whiskey makers frequently operated with the tacit support of the community, whose members appreciated a ready source of cheap liquor. Local law enforcers were often motivated by unofficial sympathy or well-placed bribes to turn a blind eye toward illegal whiskey operations.

With the repeal of Prohibition and the gradual disappearance of many of Texas' dry counties, moonshining has long been on the wane. At one point before World War II, US government agents -- the dreaded "revenooers" -- were seizing 25 stills a month in Southeast Texas alone. By 1970 that number had dwindled to six for the year, which was still enough to rank Texas fifth in the nation behind only Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia, where many of the Texas moonshiners' ancestors likely came from.

At any rate, a few years back, in James McMurtry's epic boogie "Choctaw Bingo," the uber-ornery ex-moonshiner Uncle Slayton "cooks that meth because the shine don't sell, he likes that money and he don't mind the smell."

So these latest developments are quite a turnabout. With three stills seized this quarter, Texas is on pace to double 1970s number. And say what you will about demon rum, but it is a hell of a lot better than meth.


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21 comments
Chinaglenn
Chinaglenn

I saw and enjoyed the Moonshiners TV series.

But it made me wonder, do people really drink moonshine in this day and age? Alcohol is legal in about 98% of America (minus the stray dry county). The show states that it is a $100 million dollar a year illegal industry. Again, I went, really???

Gvnidigardi
Gvnidigardi

Leave them stills alone and let an end to the meth cooking take over Texas. A little Whisky never hurt nobody like meth has. Shine on Texas and grow a whole new generation of Ridge-runners!Texas-born Tennessee Hillbilly

Wnc Puckdrop
Wnc Puckdrop

Well they have the Official Popcorn Sutton Tribute Page on FB. They are going to have Big Tribute Jam to the late Popcorn Sutton their 3rd annual in his hometown Of Maggie Valley,NC. Wonder where in the US Constitution it says you can not make Moonshine??? Seems to me like a lot of money grubbing people in elected  public servants in  office are wanting to make Rules God never gave them any right to do.  Well I know I am going to be there. As Disabled Vet I see him as true Icon of being a FREE MAN! I  am watching it  grow from Smackers Sports Bar and Grill Parking lot  in one year to the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds ,NC in one year . Here they are going the 3rd year Ms Pam Sutton and her dear friend Becky who knew Popcorn all her life are having it again. They have been over whelmed with response from all over and the young man who also was with Ms Pam and Ms Becky Billy Halterman is back to play his music with his band Shake Ragg  and MC the event as he did it the 1st one. People are going wild over the whole idea. Reports of logging in Maggie Valley , NC as of even yesterday is there are some that have been booked solid for this event already which is August 3rd and 4th,2012. Also Bogger Chris Knight " The Knightshift" Blogg is fan of Popcorn and been writing about his personal interest of the Legend of Popcorn Sutton. When he found out about the 2nd annual he came and enjoyed the celebration last year he can not wait to see the growth of this whole phenomenon of interest. this year Chris wants to bring his farther and share this great event.  Just thought I would pass the info along to you all;  LOL Law enforcement blaming a TV show??? LOL  I have to laugh at the Explanation of why Moonshine is on the Rise. LOL   Put the blame where it belongs the  economy sucks and people are needing money for food and to keep warm and keep roof over there head. Tell truth for crying out loud. Blaming a TV show how ridiculous. What do you think people are Stupid???

MaloneJavier911
MaloneJavier911

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NewsDog
NewsDog

When I was at SFA in the early '80s a buddy and I used to spend a lot of time in the woods hunting and fishing. Along the way we met a older guy that made his own in small amounts and we would occasionally get some from him. Man, that stuff was smooth. And it didn't need any kind of flavoring.

Blake
Blake

Buddy of mine has a West Virginian co-worker who occasionally brings back some good shit from his home state. Favorite flavors: Strawberry (take care when eating the actual berries; delayed drunkenness), peach, apple pie (more for taste - this one doesn't seem to be as strong). Minus the apple pie, that stuff doesn't mess around.

Cd
Cd

"TABC Sgt. Marcus Stokke believes the Discovery Channel reality show Moonshiners is to blame."

I think this tells us a lot about TABC and its regs

Sihaya
Sihaya

So what are the laws in Texas about the personal production of alcohol anymore?  I'm pretty sure it's legal to make a small batch of wine or beer in your home.  Is it just everything in the "hard liquor" category that's out?  Or did these guys run afoul of the law by producing large quantities, or maybe by selling it? 

big red
big red

Good grief. The next thing you know there will be a Texas version of Justified. How humiliating.

Nightmare on Bagby
Nightmare on Bagby

There was a fantastic article on the resurgence of moonshining - especially small-run, gourmet-grade shine - in Garden & Gun (my favorite magazine -sort of a Southern Living with an attitude) a while back. Apparently there is a huge network throughout the South of people (especially educated proffesionals) who have a 10-25 gallon still in the basement and run a batch or two a year of really high-quality corn likker to pass around to friends as a way of affirming their Southern heritage now that the Rebel flag has such an unpleasant connotation. The author recommended going to bluegrass festivals and praying that someone will pass you a Mason jar. There is a cinnamon-and-apple "apple pie" version that he had very nice things to say about. Confusion to the revenuers!

sickbassturd
sickbassturd

That shine gets in your blood alot like riding Harleys or growing weed and you just can't get it out.

Matthewh75
Matthewh75

lol the ATF is playing the "Blame Game" like someone else i see on t.v !  i booked my room a month ago for the popcorn fest, this will be my first time to go. but like u said FREE MAN!!!!!!!  if u pay taxes on sugar,yeast,corn& jars they still come and bust ya down!

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

This flavoring malarkey is new to me. Back in the '80s and '90s smoothness was the benchmark for quality shine.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

I got to sip some non-moonshine whiskey with the bluegrass / mountain music great Doug Dillard one time in Nashville. (He and his brothers were the "Darling Boys" on the Andy Griffith Show, among other highlights in his long career.) He got to reminiscing about how in his Ozark Mountain youth in southern Missouri, he was a moonshine taster. He let it be  known to all the area shiners that he would make sure that their batches wouldn't cause death or blindness so long as they gave him some for free. He also said he came across one shiner who'd been to Mexico. Inspired by the worms in mezcal bottles, he started putting a single lizard in each of his as his personal signature. 

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Selling it in the Tyler case; the Trinity kid was a minor, so he probably got an MIP.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

I've been to some of those fiddle festivals in the mountains and they are quite the spectacle, and yep, there are lots of Mason jars going around. Another time, at a Nashville video shoot for a band I knew, a guy who drove buses cross-country for C&W stars gave me a taste of what he swore was George Jones's private stash of white lightnin'.  

Fat Bass Turd
Fat Bass Turd

Yeah, but just hope ya don't accidentally stumble upon someone's set-up out in the woods.  It ain't so much the shine I'm worried about ... it's the meth lab or weed plot that'll get ya shot.

Blake
Blake

 Perhaps you heard me laughing from across the office at that last part. That's something.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

I thought you were just cackling maniacally at the news that John Edwards was found in that madam's little black book.

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