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.
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.’
“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:
236 Cherry Street
Sylva, NC 28779