Lewis Redmond – the Prince of Dark Corners

Posted by | November 1, 2010

Pickens County SC’s most famous outlaw — and in his time, the nation’s best-known bad-man — is coming back to The Oconee Community Theatre, in Seneca, near where he lies dead, but not forgotten.

Lewis Redmond, whose monologue paints a life of local bootlegging, a regretted murder, popular adoration and a rough few years in the Federal pen, will come to life on the Oconee stage in mountain playwright Gary Carden’s “The Prince of Dark Corners,” on the evenings of Nov. 5 and 6.

Lewis Redmond, South Carolina mountain outlaw.

Lewis Redmond, South Carolina mountain outlaw.

Milton Higgins, the extraordinary Carolina mountain actor for whom the part was written, will return as the genial – and beloved — scoff-law, who ‘went wrong’ at least in part to save his sisters and widowed mother from starvation.

“My family has always had a sympathy for outlaws,” says playwright Carden. “I remember going to the local theater with my grandfather to see Henry Fonda in Jesse James. The whole family went every time it was shown and we dressed like we were going to church.”

“My best reference when writing the play turned out to be Dot Jackson, the novelist who lives in Six Mile, SC, who knew the ‘old stories’ that had been passed down by oral tradition.”

Jackson is one of the founders and the current on-site manager of the Birchwood Center for Arts and Folklife, which is co-sponsoring the play’s production.

“Fact is, Lewis Redmond was one of our most fascinating citizens — also one very much loved by probably most of the region’s population, at the time,” she notes.

“The murder of a Federal agent, back then, was about as dastardly a deed, in the public forum, as the “offing” of a copperhead, or a chicken-killing varmint. Lewis Redmond may in fact have felt much worse about shooting his one-time friend than any of the locals mourned the deed or the loss.

“When I was a kid,” says Jackson, “people in the remote section where we once lived could not even have a mailbox — because it was linked in all minds with the federal government –and the Revenue. The mailman left everything at the general store, and we all went there to pick up our mail.

“Anyway, what has come down about Lewis was that he had a certain amount of class, and was good to people who were not in league with the Feds. And, people he liked were wretchedly persecuted by the “powers” because of their friendship.”

Gary Carden’s first exposure to Lewis Redmond was an article in the Asheville Citizen in 1956 titled ‘Lewis Redmond, the Jesse James of the Mountains.’

“I kept it for years and finally about ten years ago, I started doing research,” says Carden. “There wasn’t much.”

“A man named Joe Bob Tinsley in Brevard, NC did a book on waterfalls and added a ten-page account of Redmond’s life complete with a picture of the Redmond family. I blundered on a book in the Walhalla Library in which a retired sheriff of that town wrote a chapter in his autobiography entitled ‘A Visit to the Outlaw, Redmond.’

Milton Higgins as Lewis Redmond, in 'The Prince of Darkness.'

Milton Higgins as Lewis Redmond, in 'The Prince of Darkness.'

“Then, I discovered the South Carolina newspaper accounts of Redmond’s life and came to realize he was a kind of Robin Hood in Oconee County.

“When I started writing the play, I sensed that it was a “one-man show” and wrote it with a specific actor in mind: Milton Higgins, who moved and talked like the man I was reading about. Filmmaker Neal Hutcheson saw the play and decided to film it. It went to regional PBS.

“A live performance can still pack a theatre in South Carolina, where half the audience will claim to be Lewis Redmond’s great-grandchildren.”

Seneca performances of “The Prince of Dark Corners” will be at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 5 and 6, at the Oconee Community Theatre. A reception will follow each performance. Tickets are $14, $10 group-rate, and $8 for students of any age. For tickets and more information call the box office at (864) 882-7700.

The ‘Prince of Darkness’ film can be purchased directly from the playwright for $20 plus $3 for postage and handling:
Gary Carden
236 Cherry Street
Sylva, NC 28779

6 Responses

  • Gary Carden says:

    Dave,
    Thank you, kindly. I enjoyed writing “Prince of Dark Corners,” and I especially enjoyed doing performances in isolated rural areas where our stage was little more than an empty space in the back of a room. I am an advocate of that kind of theater.
    Gary

  • Dot Jackson says:

    Many, many thanks, Dave — We had a grand two nights at the Oconee Community Theater. A lot of Redmond relatives were there. There was a great crowd both nights, and Milton was in top form. He got a standing ovation each night. People around here love The Prince of Dark Corners — genetically, we relate to it! Gary did a flawless job on the language, which is the Mother Tongue — for Milton, and for most of his audience. Your help in publicizing this production is SOOOO appreciated!

  • Dee Adams says:

    We were so sad to be unable to attend Dark Corners right here at home and would love to know if there are any other performances on the books anywhere? Thanks, A History Buff in Oconee

  • Matt Dillon says:

    Mr. Higgins, performance of Lewis Redmond, was first class thor ! I’ve watched it many times on PBS…it is a jewel. Mountain folk…were only trying to make a liv’in the best way they knew how and making moonshine was the only thing there was which made any kinda money. Supply and demand…if’f it don’t make dollars…it don’t make cents !!!

  • Alice says:

    Will Miton Higgins be returning to Pickens to tell the story live this year? I’ve seen it on PBS a few times and it always impresses me how true to life the story is. I would love to see him perform this live. Very captivating!

  • keith farley OD says:

    I was privileged again to watch Mr Higgins wonderful portrayl of “Major Redmond” last night on PBS. Ive backpacked and fished many of the areas mentioned. It gave me chills to see and have described some of the scenes in the story.
    Wouldnt it be something to have a movie crafted around this presentation. Then filmed in the area.
    thanks again
    Keith Farley
    Mt Pleasant

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