Kephart: “People up North, and in the lowlands of the South as well, have a notion that there is little or nothing going on in these mountains except feuds and moonshining. They think that a stranger traveling here alone is in danger of being potted by a bullet from almost any laurel thicket that he passes, on mere suspicion that he may be a revenue officer or a spy.
“Of course, that is nonsense; but there is one thing that I’m as ignorant about as any novel-reader of them all. You know my habits; I like to explore–I never take a guide–and when I come to a place that’s particularly wild and primitive, that’s just the place I want to peer into. Now the dubious point is this: Suppose that, one of these days when I’m out hunting, or looking for rare plants, I should stumble upon a moonshine still in full operation–what would happen? What would they do?
Moonshiner: “Waal, sir, I’ll tell you whut they’d do. They’d fust-place ask you some questions about yourself, and whut you-uns was doin’ in that thar neck o’the woods. Then they’d git you to do some trifflin’ work about the still–feed the furnace, or stir the mash–jest so’s’t they could prove you took a hand in it your own self.”
“What good would that do?”
“Hit would make you one o’them in the eyes of the law.”
“I see. But, really, doesn’t that seem rather childish? I could easily convince any court that I did it under compulsion; for that’s what it would amount to.”
“I reckon you-uns would find a United States court purty hard to convince. The judge’d right up and want to know why you let grass go to seed afore you came and informed on them.”
He paused, watched my expression, and then continued quizzically: “I reckon you wouldn’t be in no great hurry to do that.”
“No! Then, if I stirred the mash and sampled their liquor, nobody would be likely to mistreat me?”
“Shucks! Why, man, whut could they gain by hurtin’ you? At the wust s’posin’ they was convicted by your own evidence, they’d only get a month or two in the pen. So why should they murder you and get hung for it? Hit’s all ‘tarnal foolishness, the notions some folks has!”
“I thought so. Now, here! The public has been fed all sorts of nonsense about this moonshining business. I’d like to learn the plain truth about it, without bias one way or the other. I have already learned that a stranger’s life and property are safer here than they would be on the streets of Chicago or of St. Louis. It will do your country good to have that known. But I can’t say that there is no moonshining going on here; for a man with a wooden nose could smell it. Now what is your excuse for defying the law? You don’t seem ashamed of it.”
The man’s face turned an angry red.
“Mister, we-uns hain’t no call to be ashamed of ourselves, nor of ary thing we do. We’re poor; but we don’t ax no favors. We stay ‘way up hyar in these coves, and mind our own business. When a stranger comes along, he’s welcome to the best we’ve got, such as t’is; but if he imposes on us, he gits his medicine purty damned quick!”
Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart
(Outing Publishing Company, 1913)