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They called two dollar whiskey ‘long life’ and one dollar whiskey ‘early grave’

Posted by | April 14, 2015

Excerpt from ‘Cumberland, Maryland Through the Eyes of Herman J. Miller,’ (1978)

During the 1920’s and early 1930’s, so many arrests and convictions were made by dry agents that the Allegany County Jail could not hold all of the prisoners, so some were housed in the Garrett County Jail at Oakland, Maryland.

One bootlegger on North Mechanic Street had a box-like platform built out of a second story window over Wills Creek. If a raid should occur, the operator would just pull a rope and the bottom would drop out and the contents would drop down to the rocks below, for this is where he kept his whiskey. When the glass bottles hit the rocks, the bottles would shatter, and thus, no evidence.

One bootlegger I knew wore an overcoat all the time. People who didn’t know him thought he was an eccentric, but he had a half dozen pockets inside the coat in which he carried his stock of whiskey for sale.

One of the favorite places for good moonshine, to the ones in the know, was a well-known Liberty Street shop. Most speakeasies were ones that you got in, if they knew you, got your drink, and got out. Some were fixed up like club rooms, with chairs, tables and some with slot machines.

People referred to the quality of liquor bought in the prohibition era, calling two dollar whiskey “long life” and the one dollar whiskey, “early grave.” While some bootleggers sold only whiskey, mostly their places sold both whiskey and home brew. Most fraternal clubs were for members only, but had both whiskey and beer for sale.

Some speakeasies stole the idea from the strictly private clubs and had membership cards made for the patrons of their places. As an example of how many wanted to sell liquor when the country went dry, there were thirty-six licenses issued for 1921 for soft drink establishments. Not all sold liquor, but most did. Some bootleggers would deliver to your home. You would use a code over the telephone. If you wanted three pints, you would ask for three pounds.

speakeasy in Cumberland MD 1920s-1930sOn April 7, 1933, 3.2 beer became legal. Baltimore, Hagerstown and others parts of the state were selling the brew. Cumberland and Allegany County could not because a bill that had been passed in the General Assembly pertaining to county beer licenses stipulated that the applications became available on the day beer came back, but permits became effective only seven days later. You could buy beer on the first day of repeal in Pennsylvania. A store just over the state line on the Bedford Road was selling beer on the first day. A steady stream of Cumberlanders took advantage of the beer sale.

On Friday, April 14, 1933, beer could be bought in Allegany County. Those who could sell beer reported a good business. There were almost as many women as men customers. With the return of beer, many speakeasies came out in the open, applied for licenses and operated under regulations. It is worth noting that it has been only about two years since beer and liquor could be sold legally on Sunday in Allegany County. Many people of the area would go to Ridgeley, West Virginia, to buy beer on Sundays. Now, restaurants and private clubs in Allegany County can sell alcoholic drinks after 1:00 PM on Sundays.

When it was all over and the country was again wet, there seemed to be no attachment of lawlessness or the stigma of hoodlum attached to the convicted bootleggers who had served time in jail. Some, in later years, joined highly regarded fraternal orders. Others operated successful businesses. William Harvey, who was considered to be the outstanding prohibition enforcement officer in Allegany County, became sheriff of Allegany County for a time.

Herman Miller was a lifelong Cumberland, MD resident, serving on the City’s Advisory Commission on Historical Matters and the Historic Preservation Commission during the 1970s. He was a member of the Cumberland Fire Department until his retirement. In 1978, he was the subject of an oral history by Dr. Harry Stegmaier of the history department at Frostburg State University. The resulting text was entitled ‘Cumberland, Maryland Through the Eyes of Herman J. Miller.’

Source:  Western Maryland Regional Library

Cumberland+MD prohibition+in+MD speakeasies appalachia appalachian+history history+of+appalachia


When he drew his magic bow against his violin’s strings

Posted by | April 13, 2015

During the 1870s, William Murphy of Greenville, S. C., wandered through these mountains making music every day. He, like Stephen Foster, was regarded as a half-vagabond, but he was tolerated for the pleasure his enchanted violin gave whenever he drew his magic bow across its strings.

There can be little doubt that men of his genius feel the indifference and neglect of their contemporaries; and it may be that, from their Calvaries of poverty, they, too, realize that we know not what we do. For to them the making of music is their sole mission here upon earth, and come poverty, obscurity or death, ay, come even disgrace and obloquy, they, like Martin Luther at Worms, “can do no otherwise, God helping them.”

Indeed, it is the highest form of worship, and David’s Psalms still live while all the Ptolemies of the past have been forgotten. Foster’s songs are linking earth to heaven more and more as time goes on, and will be sung for eons and for eons. There can be no higher destiny than that a man should pour out his full soul in strains of haunting melody; and though Stephen Foster be dead and “the lark become a sightless song,” the legacy he has left behind him is more priceless and more bountiful than those of the builders of the pyramids or the conquests of Napoleon and Alexander.

Murphy, too, is dead, but while he lived, like the grasshopper “beating his tiny cymbals in the sun,” he poured forth those matchless orisons that none who ever heard them can soon forget. For, while he was not a creator, he was the slave and seneschal of the masters who have left their melodies behind them for the ravishment of a money-mad and sordid world.

And when he drew his magic bow across his violin’s sentient strings, his genius thence evoked sweet strains formed with soul to all who had the heart to comprehend their message and their meaning.

Was it a jig or waltz or stately minuet? One’s feet moved rhythmically to the “sweet melodic phrase.” Was it dirge, lament or lovelorn lilt? One saw again the hearse-plumes nod, sobbed out his heart with pallid Jeane, or caught the note of bonny bird Blythe fluting by the Doon. Was it martial air or battle-hymn? Then, once again, came forth the bagpipe’s skirl, the pibroch’s wail, “what time the plaided clans came down to battle with Montrose.” Again, with change of air, there dawned once more that “reddest day in history, when Pickett’s legions, undismayed, leapt forth to ruin’s red embrace.”

But best, ah, far, far best of all, was that wonder-woven race his fine dramatic instinct had translated into song, in which the section-riven days of ‘Sixty-One were conjured back again from out their graves and ghostly cerements, and masqueraded full of life and hate and jealousy. For then we saw, as if by magic, the mighty racer, Black Hawk, typifying the North, and his unconquerable rival, Gray Eagle, the steel-sinewed champion of the South, start once again on that matchless contest on the turf at Louisville.

We heard again the wild, divided concourse cheer its favorite steed along the track, and saw the straining stallions, foam-flecked with sweat—now neck and neck, then one ahead, but soon overtaken, and both flying side by side again, their flame-shot nostrils dripping blood—till Gray Hawk, spent, but in the lead, dropped dead an inch without the goal, his great heart broken, as the South’s was doomed to be a few years thence, when

Men saw a gray gigantic ghost
Receding through the battle-cloud
And head across the tempest loud
The death-cry of a nation lost!

‘A Wandering Minstrel He’ from “Western North Carolina: A History, 1730- 1913,” by John Preston Arthur, 1914, Raleigh, N.C., Edwards & Broughton Printing Co.

online at


He deserted the Confederate AND the Union armies

Posted by | April 10, 2015

John Denton fought for the Confederate Army, but deserted it. Then he joined the Union Army, but deserted it even faster. And that was just the beginning of his troubles.

Denton volunteered for Company B (Monroe County, TN), 3rd Tennessee Regiment of Confederate Volunteers in Knoxville, TN on May 23, 1861 and fought at Manassas. We know he was still present for duty as of February 1862, but on May 7, 1863 he switched sides and enlisted for three years at Lebanon, KY in Company D, 11th Tennessee Cavalry, Union Army Volunteers.

That didn’t last long. By July Denton was listed as a deserter from Camp Nelson, KY. The following month’s muster rolls reported Private John Denton absent from recruiting duty.

“While on leave (from Union Army) in Monroe County he was captured by a band of Confederate guerillas or bushwackers from the area,” begins a letter found in Cocke County, Tennessee’s Stokely Memorial Library.

“They stripped Uncle John, tied a rope around his neck, threw it over a tree limb and pulled him off the ground until he about choked. They’d let him down and then repeat the process. While this amusement was going on word came that a Union patrol was in the area.

“Two men were assigned to take Uncle John deeper into the woods and shoot him. When they arrived at a rail fence Uncle John managed to push one of his guards over the fence and knock the other one down and run away.

“Instead of hiding in the deep woods he managed to get to a lightly wooded section and cover himself with leaves while the search for him went on in the more heavily forested area. Subsequently he managed to get to the cabin of a couple of Union women whose husbands were gone away to serve in the Union Army. They dressed him in women’s clothes, put a bonnet on his head and managed to smuggle him through the lines.

“Some time after the war, knowing some of his captors, they being from the same area, he killed a couple of them and was sent to prison for a few years until pardoned.”

John DentonOn April 10, 1864, Denton, his brother Charles, their cousin William Click, and another associated family member, Pink Gentry, murdered Patrick T. Trotter. The men hung Trotter by the thumbs and severely beat him, before shooting him in the presence of his elderly mother.

Several months later, on the 4th of July, brothers William Riley and David Burton Curtis had headed home on leave from the Confederate Army. They arrived just in time to discover one of the women in their family being raped by bushwackers. The attackers had the element of surprise in their favor, and they shot and killed the two brothers before they even got past the front porch.

Family members “dressed in women’s clothing” waited across the river for the escaping offenders. Jackson Denton, Grief Ragsdale, and William Hartsell were later charged with this murder, but historians think John Denton also may have been involved.

John & Charles Denton were arrested by Union troops on October 3 in Roane County, but by February 1865 they’d been released at Knoxville. In May 1866 the two brothers, William Click and Pink Gentry were indicted for their role in Trotter’s murder; that September the sheriff was directed to arrest them and bring them to court. The ensuing trial was moved to Blount County, where the two were convicted of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

However, they filed an appeal with the Supreme Court over the change of venue, the conviction was overturned on a technicality, and the case was sent back to Monroe County for further disposition in 1869.

After numerous delays and postponements, Charles and John Denton were brought to trial in 1872 in Monroe County and found guilty of 1st degree murder. They again filed an appeal, but it never transpired. John Denton went to prison from 1873 till 1880. His brother fled to Missouri and apparently was never apprehended.

John Denton filed for a government pension in late summer of 1890, but was rejected in 1891 because he’d served less than the required 90 days of service, and because he did not have an honorable discharge.

He died on Aug 12, 1912.


Sources: Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Tennessee, by Thomas Harvey Coldwell, Tennessee Supreme Court, publ. S.C. Mercer, 1870



A mill built plenty sturdy

Posted by | April 9, 2015

The western Algonquin called it the ‘Mooskingom,’ and to the Narragansett tribe it was the ‘Mooshingung’ —“water clear as an elk’s eye.” The Muskingum River, which empties into the mighty Ohio River from the furthest point in Columbiana County, is at 112 miles long the longest river lying wholly within Ohio. And the last remaining mill on the Muskingum River is the Stockport Mill in the town of the same name.

In 1839, G.W. Sanburn laid out Stockport next to Windsor Village. Later on, Stockport and Windsor Village merged to be called the Village of Stockport, named after a town in England by Postmaster Samuel Beswick. Stockport became one of the most important shipping and trading points on the Muskingum River between Zanesville and Marietta.

Stockport Mill, Stockport OHThe first mill at this site was built in 1842 and operated only a few years before it burned. A second mill was built in 1849 and operated for 54 years until it too caught fire and burned to the ground, around 2 a.m. on July 1, 1903. In 1906, the Dover Brothers began construction of the current mill. A local boy, Fred James, stated that it was built “plenty sturdy,” which was proved true enough when the 1913 flood took out many other mills on the Muskingum but left the Stockport Mill standing.

The mill was powered by two 40-inch Leffel turbines used for grinding. In 1908, the mill began fulfilling a contract to supply the village with electricity for street lights. On April 6, 1928, the Suburban Power Company was given the light contract and hydroelectric operation in the mill was shut down.

The Stockport Mill produced Gold Bond Pastry Flour, Pride of the Valley (bread) Flour, and it also ground feed for livestock. The Stockport Milling Company shipped its products by steam packet boat and over the Ohio & Little Kanawha Railroad before the era of all-weather roads. The mill also functioned as a community hub where local farmers obtained supplies and shared news.

In 1942, Fred James and Ray Devitt purchased the mill from the Dover heirs for $4,000. They then sold it to the Farm Bureau and it was operated as the Landmark Mill with Dow Kasler as the manager. The mill operation ceased in 1997 and today the refurbished building houses a bed & breakfast.


Christopher Gist’s Journals with Historical, Geographical and Ethnological…by Christopher Gist, ed. William McCullough Darlington, 1893, J.R. Weldin & co.
Ohio historic marker:



Yellow Mama claims her first victim in AL

Posted by | April 8, 2015

“Some time between 1 o’clock and daybreak, Horace Devaughn will be led into the death chamber to pay the penalty for the murder of A.B. Moore and Mrs. Ruby Thornton in Birmingham last January,” reported The St. Petersburg Times on April 5, 1927. Three days later Devaughn, a black man, was executed at Kilby Prison, marking Alabama’s first use of the electric chair. Two weeks later, Virgil Murphy, a veteran of World War I who was convicted in Houston County of murdering his wife, became the first white man electrocuted in the chair.

In 1923, legislation had provided for state-performed executions to be carried out by electrocution. Prior to 1923, executions were the responsibility of the counties, and in Alabama, that generally meant hanging.

Yellow Mama electric chairThe electric chair was first used in 1890. The execution box consisted of a simple electrical panel with three buttons: an orange power button, a red stop button and a solemnly black execute button. The chair was subsequently used by more than 25 states throughout the 20th century, acquiring nicknames such as Sizzlin’ Sally, Old Smokey, Old Sparky, and Gruesome Gertie.

Alabamans referred to their electric chair as Yellow Mama; the chair acquired its yellow color from a contribution of highway line paint from the adjacent State Highway Department lab. It was built by a British inmate in 1927.

Yellow Mama now sits unused, inside the execution chamber at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. The last execution to occur in the chair was that of Lynda Lyon Block on May 10, 2002. Following her execution, a bill was passed that would allow for execution by either lethal injection or electrocution.



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