Daddy got caught the first time in about 1916 or ’17. The law was paying informers to tell on people. They put his bail bond at fifty dollars. That was on a Friday, and we didn’t have any money, so the next morning Mama gets me to hitch up the mule and we loaded up the wagon with what whiskey we had left. Back then, Saturday was the big trade day downtown and the streets would be so busy you could hardly walk.
“We tied the wagon in front of the courthouse and just sat there all day, selling whiskey. Everybody knew what Mama was doing, so a lot of people who didn’t even drink would stop and buy some. “For medicine,” they would say.
“On up in the morning a deputy came by and asked her what she thought she was doing.
“I’m gettin’ my man out of jail,” she replied. Back then no one messed with Mama. “Anything else you want to know?” she asked the deputy.
“No ma’am,” the deputy replied sheepishly, “but I reckon I’ll take a gallon if you got any left, my croup has been acting up lately.”
They got their dad out of jail that day, but he didn’t stay free long. When his trial came up, he was sentenced to 12 months on the county farm. “Pickin’ peas,” he called it.
“I was a pretty good size boy by then and with Daddy in jail it was up to me to run the business,” the younger Brasemore recalls. “Before he got caught, Daddy had hid the worm (copper condensation coil) and I got a neighbor to build me a pot.
“It wasn’t but just a couple of weeks ‘til I was back in business. When I run off my first batch they said the sheriff thought my father had escaped.”
“Nobody makes whiskey that good,” the sheriff said, “except for old man Brasemore!”
“I hadn’t forgotten about the cur dog that had informed on Daddy, though. Giles was his name. Him and the deputy that arrested Daddy were big drinking buddies. This deputy lived out next to Chase Nursery and every Sunday like clockwork, those two would pitch a big drunk.
“Some of my cousins helped me and we took this old worn-out still, it only had a ten-gallon pot, and we set it up out back of his house in a brush patch. First thing Sunday morning we loaded it with mash and started cooking. If you have ever been around a still, you know you can’t hide the smell, and sure enough, on up in the morning the deputy gets a strong whiff and decides to investigate.
“Well, here we are, me and my cousins are hiding in the brush, and the deputy and Giles are stretched out in front of the still sipping free whiskey and acting like they are in hog heaven.
“Next thing you know, there’s this big ruckus and when the deputy opened his eyes, there was the sheriff pointing this big pistol at him,” he relates.
“You and Giles are under arrest for making whiskey,” the sheriff said.
Seems as if someone had sent the sheriff a note.
“Like I said, while Daddy was in jail I was running the business. One of the first things I did, after I got a little ahead, was to buy me a truck. Daddy wouldn’t have nothing to do with automobiles, he had worked with a mule all of his life. Well I was bound and determined to impress him, so the day he was to get out I took the truck and loaded it down with as much whiskey as I could put on it. It hadn’t been picked up in a while and we had a sizable load.
“Things didn’t work out the way I figured and the truck broke down a couple of miles from the house. I got the mule, hitched it to the truck and began to pull it on home.
“Daddy was sitting on the front porch when I pulled up in front of the house. He took a long look at that truck I had bought and then took an even longer look at his mule that was pulling it. Finally, after spitting out a long stream of tobacco juice, he asked me, ‘Well, what else can it do?’
“He never did like that truck. Every time I got stuck in mud or whatever, he was always there to tell me that with a mule it would not have happened.”
Excerpt from “Making Whiskey,” by Tom Carney, Old Huntsville Magazine, 1992; profile of moonshiner Jim Brasemore, Madison County, AL