Studies in the South

ONE of the things oftenest in my mind in the South during the war was the wish to see the country in time of peace, and in connection with the activities and conditions of the normal or ordinary industrial and social life of the regions visited by our armies. I desired to learn as much as possible about the country and the people, but found it extremely difficult to acquire any definite idea of the impressions and judgments which would result from traveling through the Southern States as a peaceable citizen of our common country. I felt that I could not rightly estimate the soil of a region, or any of its resources, from having passed through it when its fences had been destroyed, its houses dismantled, and its grain-fields trodden into mire or dust by the horses of our cavalry; and I knew that it would not be fair to judge the whole character of the people by the traits and feelings which were naturally brought into prominence by a state of civil war.

Always interested in persons, I often, at that time, met Southern men, officers accompanying flags of truce, surgeons, and prisoners in our hands, whose intellectual character appeared to be worthy of some study or observation, and I wished to know, more fully than I could then learn, what were the qualities or ideas which made them different from Northern men. I also saw something of Southern women as they appeared to foraging parties of Union soldiers, and in various other ways.

I remember a day when, after an engagement that had raged and wavered around a mountain farm, and had at last been decided by a struggle in the grounds about the farm-house, I walked across the green slopes and through the orchard and garden, where hundreds of dead and wounded men were lying, and felt the horror of having a battle in a place so fair. The fruit trees were broken and splintered by cannon-balls, and in the garden a young officer, with his sword still clutched in his dead hand, lay across a bed of pinks in bloom. The flowers were splashed with his blood, which had run two or three yards down the hard path or walk.

As we were gathering up the wounded, and bringing them to the surgeons’ tables in the door-yard, I was startled by a woman’s voice. Looking up, I saw a lady and two young girls. She was the mistress of the house, and had come, with her daughters, who were perhaps sixteen and eighteen years of age, to ask permission to look over the battle-ground to see if any of her relatives or friends had been left upon it, and to assist in caring for the Confederate wounded. As I went with them to headquarters, I noted the mother’s firm step and quiet tones, and the white, frightened faces of the girls. The officer in command allowed them to remain as nurses. Many days passed before we left the place. The house was full of wounded men, from cellar to garret, its very closets being occupied, and all the sheds and out-buildings which remained standing. Great tents were set up near by for additional hospital accommodations.

The Southern dead were buried in a great trench dug across the lawn. I thought I should like to see the place again, after time had in some measure healed the ruin the battle, had made, and to know what the war brought to this lady and her daughters. Their womanly strength, efficiency, and refinement interested me. Innumerable incidents and experiences contributed to strengthen the desire to know more of this portion of our country, and of its inhabitants, and since the war ended I have often wished to go back to the mountain farm, and learn what became of the family who had dwelt there, and whose home had been the very centre and object of the fiery storm of battle. And as time lias brought changes in the life and the thought of the nation, I have longed to return to the South, and study the country and the people under the new conditions of life which have arisen in that region.

What I saw as a soldier has given me a feeling of unreality, or at least of uncertainty, in regard to much that has been written respecting Southern affairs at various times during the last fifteen years. But I was never able to go back to the South, to see and judge for myself, until last winter. The opportunity which then came was a welcome one, and I made a journey of some months’ duration, passing through every Southern State except Florida (through most of the States twice), studying the country and the people from Norfolk and Savannah to San Antonio and Sherman, Texas, and from Memphis to New Orleans, with many excursions away from the railroads, and much observation of the life of the people in regions not often visited by writers for the press.


And now what have I to say of “ the South ” ? This, first of all, and most important: that the South is so extensive, and, in respect to the character of the country and its people, so complex, that no one statement or brief description which sums up or expresses by any one term its most important features or qualities can be true or valuable. The essential elements of the present condition of the Southern States of this country do not all belong to any one class. Contradictory accounts of things in the South may be true in a sense, for an impartial observer soon discovers contradictory facts. Opposite tendencies are manifest in the intellectual, social, and political life of the South, and the value of any comprehensive statement or final judgment regarding existing conditions there must be largely a matter of relative emphasis, and of the competence of the writer to distinguish what is essential or most significant, among the facts and tendencies of the time.

Since my return to New England I have met many persons who think the condition of the South can be accurately portrayed in very few words, and who are disappointed because I cannot assure them that their phrases fit the case exactly, or fully describe what I saw in my recent journey. And I observe that some writers for the press are inclined to dispose of the subject in similar epigrammatic fashion by saying that the South is “all Bourbon below a certain line,” that “ there is no improvement except where Northern people have gone in,” and by the use of familiar political epithets to describe the principal classes and types among the Southern people. But any presentation of the matter must be inadequate and superficial which does not recognize the existence of many types among the inhabitants of the Southern States. None of the names by which different classes are popularly designated have much value for thoughtful people. These terms do not, in any important degree, represent or suggest the character or qualities of the persons to whom they are applied. The Southern men whom I have seen are not all alike, and it is clear that Southern women do not all belong to the types that have been most written about since the war; and within the various special classes there is much variety of character. Even the negroes have developed several distinct types among themselves; and among both republicans and democrats individuals and classes differ from each other as widely as do these two parties, and in such cases the hostile factions bearing the same name often evince special bitterness of feeling against each other, and readily form alliances with their ancient political foes for the sake of temporary advantages in a struggle for the possession of office. The “ Bourbons ” themselves, as I have studied them, are not all alike, but represent many conflicting ideas and opinions. I write only of what I have seen, desiring to report accurately and without distortion or coloring what came under my own observation, with the impressions and conclusions resulting therefrom.


The character of the soil in different parts of the South is a matter of great interest, on account of the necessary relation between its qualities and the industries and civilization of the people of the country. The usual Southern idea or estimate of “ good land,” as expressed by Southern men whom I have met, differs somewhat from that which prevails in the most fertile portions of the Northern States. There is of course much rich land in the South, but there is a great deal which is called good by Southern farmers that would not be regarded as rich by men acquainted with the soils of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, or of the portions of Pennsylvania and New York which are best adapted to agriculture. The “pine land” in the Southern States is only moderately fertile, but, as the cotton-plant will grow upon it, and produce a fibre of marketable quality, it is always spoken of by its cultivators as “ very fair land.”

I have rarely heard Southern men say anything unfavorable or disparaging regarding the soil of their region. They seem usually to have an affection for it which sometimes appears to make them blind to its defects.

Where the soil is poor, the people often manifest a kind of good-natured, patient fatalism, submitting without complaint to the inconveniences resulting from the scantiness of the returns for their labor, as if poor crops were a part of the order of the universe, a divine ordainment not to be criticised or remedied; though in truth much of the sterility is in the methods of the cultivators rather than in the soil itself. But in many places in the South the soil will not yield what an average Northern farmer would regard as “ a living,” and many emigrants have gone thither and begun farming only to learn, too late, that they had made a ruinous mistake in selecting land. They often feel much resentment because they imagine they have been deceived by their Southern neighbors in regard to the quality of the soil; but of course there is, usually, no intentional misrepresentation in such cases, the error arising from the difference of standards just mentioned. (But the statements made by railroad companies having lands for sale in the South should commonly be taken with large allowance, as they frequently contain grossly exaggerated accounts of the productiveness of the land.) There is a large class of farmers or “ planters ” in the South who do not require or expect so much from the ground as Northern men demand. They are satisfied with a lower degree of fertility, and their comparative estimate of the grade or quality of land differs from that of most immigrants from the North. An average Southern family needs much less for “ a living ” than Northern people require, and on much of the land of the South Northern people are unable to live by the methods of agriculture to which they have been accustomed in their old homes ; nor can they succeed by those of the Southern men around them, unless they will adopt the scale of living and expenditure which satisfies their Southern neighbors. The habits and tastes of the poorer white people of the South are in a remarkable degree adapted to their circumstances and the conditions of their life, but Northern methods of living require a very different environment. But I shall have more to say of general impressions resulting from what I saw in the South, and by way of comparison with various elements and conditions of Northern life and character, after I have described some of the principal Southern types or classes of individuals studied during my recent journey.


One of these is the Southern optimist. Though neither so important nor so interesting as some other representative Southern characters, he is yet worth a moment’s attention. He is a white man, who regards everything Southern as very nearly perfect. I met a good specimen of the class in a prominent interior town, early in my journey. On making some inquiries of the courteous and communicative gentlemen around me at the breakfast-table at the hotel, the answer nearly always elicited was, “ I am sorry to say, sir, that I have not given the matter much attention ; but Judge Blank is sure to know all about it. Have you met the judge ? ” “I have not yet had that pleasure.” “ Then I shall be happy to introduce you, sir.” I soon found that the judge appeared to have in his keeping whatever information the community possessed regarding matters of interest, and concluded that it would be well to look around a little before calling on him. But everybody was desirous that I should see the judge at once, and I prevented the formation of a procession to escort me to his office only by setting off in a pouring rain on an errand to the railway station. This accomplished, I proceeded to the negro quarter of the town, where I spent some two hours in a rapid inspection of the huts, inside and outside, and in conversation with their inmates. Then I walked two or three miles into the country, to a settlement of “ poor whites.” I had seen the women and children in the streets, engaged in selling little bundles of “fat pine,” and their appearance, manners, and talk had made me aware that they belonged to a class which I had come to study, and that I ought to see them on their “ native heath.”


I found many of the black people in extreme poverty and squalor. Several of their cabins had no floor but the earth, and the rain was driving in at so many places that everything inside was extremely damp, often thoroughly wet. One very old man had “ de rheumatics powerful bad,” he said. He sat in the driest corner of his hut on a stool, and held an old umbrella over his head to protect him from the streams which came through the roof. Some of the cabins were the homes of women who supported their families by taking in washing. Many of the children and old people were sick. At one of these places I met a colored clergyman, and he accompanied me during the remainder of my round among “ the Kaffir huts,” as a lady in the town called them. Most of the houses were sadly in need of repairs, and several of them were fit only to be pulled down and burned, as their unwholesomeness was past all remedy. They were all on land belonging to the same estate, and the rent was in most cases unreasonably high. I wondered (as I do in Northern factory towns, sometimes) how any man with a heart or conscience could bring himself to rent houses which were so murderously unhealthy for their occupants. Some of these black people appeared to be industrious and honest, and to be making a brave fight against odds in the endeavor to “be respectable,” as they said. But there were too many of them; there was not work enough, no adequate demand for their services. The black minister was intelligent, and seemed to be a faithful man, a true friend to the poor people about him. He told me the stories of some of the families about us. Elements of pathos and tragedy were of course not wanting.


I found the “ poor white ” people very poor indeed, but more provident, and generally with more adaptation to their environment, than was apparent among the negroes. Some of the women were evidently persons of character in their way. They were reticent at first, but I soon found means to render them social and communicative. The children interested me, especially the girls approaching womanhood. Some of the men had drinking habits, and did but little work, so that the burden of care and toil for their families came chiefly upon the women. It was mostly a sad kind of life, with enough that was good and human in it to make one regretful for its evil, waste, and failure. There was much affection and helpfulness among the women and children, and a brave standing by each other through hardships brightened by no prospect of improvement; but the tendencies most manifest were, in the main, not hopeful or encouraging.

One thing I saw here which was repeated and emphasized by my observations everywhere in the South : that is, that “ the best society ” is not independent of the influence of what is vicious and injurious among either the negroes or the “poor whites,” or secure from its taint. Here, at the outset, I had glimpses of the evil and sorrow that may reach the highest along the lines of those relations which fate and circumstance sometimes develop between those who are separated most widely by social chasms.

I returned to the town late at night, finding my way over unfamiliar ground with some difficulty, having refused the offer of “ company ” from tlie last house visited, as the man would have to return in the rain, which was still falling. I was eager to meet Judge Blank, and to learn how he regarded the social conditions and problems of the region. Early the next forenoon I called at his office, and received a cordial greeting. When I inquired regarding the state and prospects of the community in respect of education, morality, physical comfort, and the other chief elements of civilization, the judge entered upon a eulogy of the town and of the State, and of their inhabitants of both races and of all classes. Everything was lovely and perfect, and was rapidly improving. The negroes were all honest and industrious, and their homes were temples of all the virtues and graces of civilized life. They were all acquiring land, laying up money, and sending their children to excellent schools. The relations between the two races were all that could be desired. In answer to special inquiries, the judge admitted that some of the white people were “not very well off,” but insisted that they were all comfortable. They had enough, and were contented. In short, the judge made an eloquent little speech upon the various topics concerning which I sought information, and assured me particularly that there were “ no low-down negroes ” in that neighborhood, “ nor any poor whites.”

I had something of the sensation of having made a narrow escape. It was easy to imagine what kind of an account of the region might have been written by a “ special correspondent,” who had been so fortunate as to have a long conversation with “ the best informed and most distinguished citizen of the place.” The oration which he delivered in response to my inquiries was very fine and interesting, but this gentleman had really no acquaintance with the life around him outside of his own class in society. In regard to the history and fortunes of all “ the best families,” I found his information extensive and accurate, and his memory something remarkable. The careless “ hopefulness ” of such men is an evil influence in the South. It often prevents the attainment of any real knowledge of existing conditions and needs. No wise or successful work for improvement is so likely to be done while the most important features of the present state of things are unknown to the leaders of society. The popular optimism of our time is everywhere remarkable for its lack of any adequate sense of the value of facts.


It was wonderful to me to see howlarge a part of the conversation of the best Southern families is devoted to genealogy ; how much time and thought are given to repeating family histories. Some of the people appear to live almost wholly in the mental sphere of these stories and the subjects suggested by them, so as to have little attention or vitality for the present or its demands ; and I am sometimes inclined to wish that they did not care so much about the social or official position of their ancestors who lived two hundred years ago. But these habits of reminiscence are admirable as a means of preserving and strengthening family ties, and, within due bounds, they are useful in conversation. Before the time of cheap printing such recitation of genealogical narratives was a valuable part of the education of children and young people by their parents and older relatives and friends, and our modern life shows that we have lost much by the change which takes our children in so great measure out of the hands of their natural instructors, and delivers them over to any ill-educated and irresponsible person who can write “ stories ” and have them printed.


In the South one soon meets the young man, a lawyer, or editor, or physician, who will talk for hours, to any one who will listen, of the superiority of the South, its people and its civilization, over the North and everything Northern. He always talks well, and is usually a very good fellow, but he proceeds entirely upon the a priori method, and his conclusions have little relation to the facts of life. He knows little of his own region of the country, and nothing whatever of any other. Young men of this type always dwell with proud and endless iteration on “ the superior purity of Southern women.” Their persistence always brings the mere fact of chastity more nakedly and definitely before the mind than seems wholesome or desirable to persons who have seen more of life and of the world. These youthful eulogists appear to think that it is a virtue which is almost unknown except in the Southern States. They do not recognize the fact, which is of great importance in any real discussion of this feature of our civilization, that the women of another race, formerly helpless and now degraded, have always formed a protecting barrier between the licentious passions of Southern white men and the women of their own race. I do not suppose the best women of the South have any superiors on earth, but their immunity from temptation and wrong has cost other women dear.

What young men of this class most need is a wider observation and larger knowledge of the world, or, especially, of their own country. They would thus, in time, understand how much better it is for our young men to be penetrated and inspired by the idea of being Americans than to he always dwelling upon the fact that they are natives of Virginia, or Massachusetts, or Arkansas, or New Jersey. There is really no harm in these young gentlemen, although their vehement utterances regarding subjects with which they have but slight acquaintance have sometimes furnished convenient material for the use of Northern politicians who were hostile to the South.


I came to feel much more interest in the “ moonshiners,” or illicit distillers, than I had anticipated. This is a pretty numerous class in various parts of the South. I had sometimes thought there might be materials for a little study among them, and had wished that I could have such opportunities of seeing them and their life as had been given to many persons who had not found much that was worth their attention. After I had been long enough in the South to see clearly that my journey was not likely to be rendered interesting or picturesque by any experiences of difficulty or danger, and that I should probably be welcome to go anywhere and see everything precisely as in the North, I heard now and then of “trouble with the moonshiners.” Some people were very reticent in regard to them, but I heard many wild stories of their life and actions. I thought the matter over one evening, and concluded to try to see them at home. On my asking the landlord of my hotel at what point I should leave the railroad to obtain readiest access to one of the worst “ moonshining ” regions, he looked at me sharply, and asked if I was an officer. I said no. “ Got any business, so ’t ye hev to go ? ” “ No.” He advised me strongly to stay away. On the railroad, the next day, there was much talk about the region which I wished to see, and many stories were told of its peculiar inhabitants. I left the train at dark, at a station in the woods, and crossed the fields to a farm-house, where, as the railroad agent said, “ they keep people sometimes.” It began to rain, and I was glad to gain a haven and shelter for the night. Reaching “ the bars ” at the entrance to the door-yard, I shouted halloo. After a furious chorus by the dogs, a man’s voice replied from the door, “ Hello ! What ’ll ye hev ? ” “ Supper and lodging, if you please.”

“ Well, I 'm one of John Morgans horse thieves! Ye kin come in, ef ye ain't afraid.” “ All right ; I’m coming in,” I said; and the man came down to the bars to meet me, giving his name, to which I responded with my own. I found him somewhat rough, but a kind and obliging host. He was a man of powerful frame and great energy. Besides the family, there were three or four “ work-hands ” around the great fire-place, in which a huge pile of logs was blazing. As the children arose to give me the best place, there appeared to be enough of them for a pretty good Sunday-school.

We were soon called to the suppertable, where we at first all gave our attention strictly to the business before us ; but talk sprang up, and increased as our appetites wore appeased. Then came the usual courteous endeavors to find out what my business might be. “Lookin’ at land, I reckon.” “Yes.” “Think o’ bayin’ ’round hyur, now?” “ No. I wish to see the country and the people; am going farther South.” “Well, this is a rough country about hyur, an’ the people’s a sight rougher ’n the country. I’m afraid you wunt find ns mighty good-lookin’. Whar ye from, young man?” “I’m from the North,— from Boston.” “ Well, I ’m s'prised at ye. We eat people from Boston down hyur,—jest eat ’em alive. I reckon you wunt never see home ag'in.” “ Pass the bacon this way again,” I said. “ I must have something to eat myself, or I shall not make much of a meal for cannibals.” My host laughed with an animal-like roar, and afterward asked if I wanted to see any particular men in that neighborhood ; whereupon I told him I was going up into the mountains to see the moonshiners.

“Got any business with ’em?” “No; only to see them.” “ Better let ’em alone. They might have business with you.” “ Well,” I said, “ I want to see how they live and what kind of people they are, and hear what they have to say for themselves.’” “ They ’d jest as soon shoot ye as look at ye. How ye goin’ to do?” I told him that I should try to see their head man, put myself in their power, and tell them the exact truth about myself and the objects of my visit to their mountain region. “Well, I reckon it’s all right, ef ye’ve got sand in your craw.”

It grew cold in a few hours, and the next morning was clear and bright. “ Everything’s froze up solid. It’s a good day for your trip,” said my host, as we sat down to the early breakfast. I left my baggage, and set off on a woods-road that led up among the foothills. All trace of civilization and of human occupancy of the region, except the road, which was a mere winding wagon-track, was soon left behind. The snow deepened as I ascended. It had been mostly carried off from the low country by the rain. The air was pure and bracing, and the mountains seemed to be rising and closing in around me on every side. The utter wildness of the scene exhilarated me. After an hour and a half of steady climbing, as I approached a steeper ascent, at the foot of which the road forked, I saw two men standing by the path, leaning on their long guns. I said, “ Good-morning.” They returned my salutation, and the elder of the two added, “ Goin’ up this way ? ” “I want to see the head man of this part of the country ;-, is n’t it ? ” I said, — “ the man that’s the best shot anywhere about, and that kind o’ looks after things around here.” “ I reckon-’s the man ye ’re lookin’ fur. He’s got sand in his craw.” “ Well, can you tell me how to find him ? ” “ Got any business with —— ? ” “ I wish to see him. Take me to him, and I can satisfy you.” They were at first disposed to let me find my way alone, but I prevailed upon them to conduct me to the home of the leader, which they said was about four miles farther on. As I was about to set forward the younger man asked, with a grin, “ Got anything to shoot with, stranger ? ” “ No.” I had my overcoat on my arm, and now held it toward him, offering to lend it to him for the remainder of our journey over the hills, and added that I would walk in front, if they preferred that arrangement. But they laughed, and said that it made no difference, and we walked on, the elder man remarking, “ Heap o’ people gits shot about hyur.” “Well,” I said, “they ought to attend to their own business; then perhaps they would n’t get shot.” “That’s a fact, stranger,” he rejoined impressively; “that’s jest what I tell ’em.”

We traveled chiefly in silence for awhile. The walking was difficult and required most of our strength. But the elder mountaineer made several inquiries about my business, where I had come from, etc. I told him I preferred to say nothing of my objects in visiting them until I could see their leader. He “reckoned” that was “all right,” and after a little I drew them into conversation about game and hunting, and the mountains and streams of the region. Once or twice they seemed to remember that caution was necessary, but for the most part the talk was frankly natural and interesting.

When we reached the leader’s house, a substantial and rather large structure of logs, my two comrades went in first, but came to the door after some minutes, and invited me to enter. A tall, spare woman, with bright black eyes, sat at one side of the fire-place, smoking a pipe. She looked at me defiantly, but rose courteously to meet me. A young woman, with blue eyes and a good face, was at work in the room, and two little children, perhaps two and four years old, were playing near her. “ Take a cheer. You want to see my son, I reckon.” “Thank you. I want to see Mr.——,” I replied. “ Got any business with him ? ” “ Yes ; I wish to see him.” “ Well, he ain’t at home ; but you can stay hyur till he comes, I reckon.” “If you please. When will he be at home ? ” She did not answer, but took her pipe from her mouth, and seemed to be preparing to speak. The three other persons had drawn quite near, eager to hear what might be said, and I noted the dignity and naturalness of their bearing as they listened and waited. “ Got anything to shoot with, young man?” the elder woman ejaculated, so suddenly and fiercely that I was startled. But I laughed, and said, “ No; I don’t want to shoot anybody.” Taking up my overcoat, which I had laid on the back of a chair, I handed it to the young woman, telling her that she could see what was in it, and might take care of it for me, if she pleased, till I should be ready to go away. Then I stepped to the old lady’s side, took off my coat, handed it to her, and said, “ You can see what I have about me.” Her face brightened, and she passed her hands deftly over my various pockets. “ What’s this in hyur ? ” said she. I told her to take it out, and she held up my pocket-book and a package of my wife’s letters. “You can keep them while I stay, if you will.” The members of the group surrounding me looked at each other inquiringly, and the old woman said, “ No ; I hain’t no use for other people’s things.” Then, as the men were about goiug away, she added, “ Mebbe you’d like to see some more o’ the neighbors.” “ Oh, yes, I’d be glad to see any of them. Will you send for them to come in ? But I wish most to see your son.” “ Well, I reckon he ’ll be hyur before long.”


The dinner was made ready, but the family waited for the coming of its head, and there was not much conversation. When he presently came in there was a rapid exchange of glances between him and his mother, and then he laid his gun in its hooks on the wall, and greeted me with a frank, easy manner. His mother looked at me, and said, “ Bring your cheer, and take some dinner with us;” and he added, “We’ll talk about business after we’ve had something to eat.” The meal was a good one, and we all ate heartily and rapidly, and with little talk. Before we had finished three men came in, and were invited to join us at the hoard. Two of them did so, but the other said he had “ben to dinner.” As we left the table the man of the house turned to me with the inquiry, “ Well, stranger, is there anything I can do fur ye?” I replied that I was traveling through the South, and wished to see all I could of the country and the people; that I had heard and read much about the men who had trouble with the government because they made their own whisky, and that I wanted to see them and talk with them in their own homes. His face darkened, and he seemed surprised and angry. He again looked inquiringly at his mother, and after a short silence asked me, “ Do you belong to the government?” “No more than you do.” He then began a long course of questioning— in which some of the others joined from time to time — regarding my place of residence, my business, family, and acquaintances, the objects of my journey in the South, and the men I had met in various places which he named.

When I had answered everything, he observed, severely, that it was a foolish and dangerous undertaking, and added, “ What made ye think ye could git along without any trouble through hyur ? ” “ Oh, I supposed you would know an honest man when you saw him,” I answered, laughingly. But he replied with a growl, “ We don’t take nobody for honest in this part of the country till we’ve tried ’em. Why they’s men about hyur would shoot ye like a dog.” “ I presume they will do as you say about that.” At this he laughed, and went on : “ Well, I could tell ’em to shoot ye, then.” “ Oh, well, shoot, if you want to,” I said, scornfully ; “ but that can be done any time. It’s not worth while to talk so much about it.” I told him I wished to learn about their ways of living, and to hear their side of the story regarding the government prosecutions ; that there were many people in the North who would like to know the truth of these matters, and that I should write and publish an account of what I saw and heard among them ; that I could only give him my promise not to use my knowledge to injure them, or say anything that would help anybody to find the way to their region. “ I should like to stay among you a day or two. You can all watch me, and if you think I lie to you, then you may shoot.”

By this time there were about a dozen men present, and they debated the matter. Most of them thought I might be allowed to remain, but two or three distrusted me, and said that I should be sent back to the railroad at once. The mother of my host was evidently the real leader, and the question was at last left to her for decision. “ I don’t believe he ’s a lyin’,” she said ; “ he seems like a human sort of a man, an’ I ’d like to hev some more talk with him.” So it was arranged that I should stay there that night. I did not care for any farther promise. The assembly broke up. Two old men stayed, and towards evening the young wife of one of them and the daughter of the other came in for a visit, and to see the stranger. They all became frankly communicative, and we talked incessantly. I learned much regarding their methods of living, their ideas of the objects of life, and their thoughts about the great world of which they had seen so little. In return, I told them of New England, of the life and people there, of my home and family, and of my plans and wishes in regard to my Southern journey.


It was late when our talk ceased. The neighbors who had come in for the evening went home. The day had been a busy one, and I thought I had but just fallen into a deep sleep when I was summoned to breakfast next morning. Before we left the table the man of the house asked me what I would like to do during the day. I told him I wished to go up to their camp in the hills, and see the men at work. He smiled, and asked if I thought I could “ stan’ it; ” and his mother said, “ It’s a pretty rough road up thar, an’ pretty rough after ye git thar, but I reckon you can make out.”

The morning was clear and cold. We set out a little after sunrise, my host and I, accompanied by three dogs. My comrade carried his gun, a long rifle, and a basket of provisions. I had no incumbrance but my overcoat. We struck into the woods, and soon came to a small river, which ran through a rather narrow but deep valley, which we began to ascend. In some places the stream ran close at the foot of a precipice on one side; in others the hills were so near on both sides that the valley was a mere chasm or cañon. It seemed all the way, indeed, to be only the channel worn or carved out by the river, which in other ages may have been much larger than now. Along the sides of the valley the rocks in some places rose in a sheer wall to a height of from one hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty feet, and now and then projected overhead some distance beyond the base, so that our path at these places lay beneath the overhanging shelf or mass of rock. There was a peculiar ice formation along the sides of the valley,with which I was not before familiar. During the recent warm weather, the rain and melting snow had run in streams over the precipices from above, and, as it again grew colder, these had frozen in enormous icicles, which extended from the top of the cliff to its base, and were often of the thickness of a barrel, and were sometimes four or five feet in diameter. These great columns of crystal glittered in the sunlight, reflecting it in rainbow hues; and where the valley was narrow, and they appeared on both sides at the same time, they suggested the lofty pillars and interminable corridors of a vast temple. At several points where the cliff jutted beyond its base, the ice formed a great sheet, or apron, reaching to the ground, behind which we walked, with a wall of rock on one side of us, and a wall of ice on the other. This ice scenery was so strange to me, and on so grand a scale, that I could not repress exclamations of wonder and pleasure. My companion glanced apprehensively along the cliffs from time to time, and at last observed, “ It ’ll be bad for us if it keeps giftin' warmer.” “ Why ? ” said I. Just then a strange crash and roar came down the valley, followed by echoes, which repeated the sounds with increasing faintness for some seconds. “ You see,” said my guide, “the snow’s a meltin’ up there, an’ it ’ll loosen these big icicles, an’ we ’ll have to look out for ’em, I reckon.” We heard the sound of the fall of ice-columns with increasing frequency as we went on, and we came to three or four places where great masses, of many tons weight, had fallen and been shattered to pieces in our path, or plunged farther down into the river below. We did not happen to see any such fall on outside of the valley, but once an immense ice-column, loosened from the face of the cliff on the other side of the stream, came flashing and thundering down almost opposite to us, and the noise and concussion were so great that I almost feared the whole wall or line of columns near us might be shaken down at once. At one point, where the cliff overhead projected far beyond our path, a seam in the rock had allowed the water to come through from above, and it had frozen into a wall which completely barred our way. My guide crept dexterously around the foot of the outermost column of the ice to a secure footing on the other side, and then reached the breech of his gun back to me. Clinging to this, and finding such precarious foothold as I could, I scrambled around the pillar of ice, and was drawn up by my companion. If it had been worth while to wish, just then, I should have wished that I had not come.

We reached “the camp” safely, and found it in a shelf or notch in the face of a precipitous cliff, where a considerable stream, falling over the face of the rock, appeared to have worn and cut its way backward and downward from the top of the fall. About one third of the way down the rock was harder, and therefore was not disintegrated, as was that above. This harder stone remained, as a floor, or tolerably even surface, which had been leveled and extended for the purposes of the distillers. The stream still descended at this point, thus affording, at all times of the year, suflicient water for the industry pursued here. The rock-walls above this platform were so steep that they could be ascended only by means of ladders, and were, I should judge, from fifty to sixty feet high. The corn to be distilled was brought on horseback along trails or paths through the woods and over the hills above, and was let down by ropes, and sometimes from a windlass, from the top of the wall.


We found fourteen men at the camp, as it was a time of unusual activity. A house, or large hut or shed, had been built of logs, boards, and rocks, at one side of the open space of the camp. It had a rude fire-place, which extended nearly across one end of the building. The machinery or apparatus for distillation used here is very simple, all that is essential being a closed boiler with a long pipe running from the top. This is coiled in a box or barrel, through which a stream of cold water is kept flowing. Some “improvements” were in use at this camp, and, as I was informed, at other similar places ; but I found that some of the men felt disturbed and apprehensive when I began to examine the stills, and at the suggestion of my guide I proposed not to describe them particularly. Of course I cared little about the machinery, being chiefly desirous to see the men ; but they were under obligations to the makers or dealers from whom they had purchased some of the fixtures, and feared they might be wronging their friends, and “gittin’ them into trouble, by showin’ the works.” If I were not restrained on this account, I should like to tell my Northern readers where some of the stills were made.

My guide was the “foreman ” or commander of this company of men, and when we arrived he introduced me to them as they came around to meet him. He told them I was a stranger from the North, but that he thought I was “ all right.” Said he, “ I am satisfied, but he’ll not stay unless you’re satisfied.” Then, turning to me, he said, “ The men ’ll want to talk to you, stranger, an’ you ’d better answer fur yourself.” “ All right,” I said, and sat down on the end of a log, drawing my overcoat on as I did so. I saw they waited for me to begin, so I told them briefly where I lived and why I wished to visit them. They were evidently surprised and somewhat excited, and several of them asked questions rapidly. I was tired, and allowed them to do most of the talking. There was no rudeness, but they denounced “ reformers ” with great bitterness, and referred to cases of treachery on the part of strangers, who, after having received much kindness at their hands, came back to the mountains as guides to the government officers, and assisted in making arrests and in procuring testimony “ agin the moonshiners.” Some of the younger men “warmed up ” as they talked, and seemed to assume either that I sympathized with the men who had repaid their hospitality with treachery, or that every stranger was to be suspected of hostility. But as I had come to hear them talk, I did not care to interrupt them to suggest any other view. They soon felt that they had gone rather far in taking so much for granted, and good-naturedly recognized the one-sided character of the conversation. “ But you ain’t a sayin’ anything, stranger,” said one of the principal speakers. I laughed, and replied, “ I’m in no hurry.” “ The boys is ruther rough on ye,” remarked an old man, who stood behind those who had been talking, and chewed tobacco with much energy. “ We ’re a ruther rough set about hyur, but you shall have a chance to speak for yourself. I’ve sarved my time, young man, an’ they ’s some things I know, an’ they’s a heap o’ things I don’t know. I should like to hev a talk with ye.” I said I should enjoy it. “Well, I want to ask ye ef ye expect to git along comfortable, a goin’ through this country an’ inquirin’ into everybody’s business like.” “ No,” said I, “ I do not wish to meddle with anybody’s private affairs. I try to be civil and polite to people. Of course I have no right to go into any man’s house or place of business unless he is willing to have me visit him, but I have a right to travel everywhere, if I behave myself. It’s a free country,” “No, it ain’t a free country, nuther; not by a long shot. I ’d orta know, for I ’ve surved my time.” This old man’s talk was interesting, from its quaint forms of expression, and from its qualities of shrewd good sense and just perception. He had evidently been a keen observer of the life around him. Besides the saying about having served his time, he had another, with which he often concluded his remarks : “ I’ve thought about things a good deal, accordin’ to the light I’ve hed hyur in the woods, but mebbe ye can tell me whar I’m wrong.”

There was no decision of the question whether I should be permitted to stay or not. We had soon gone too far for that. We talked till supper was ready, and after the repast, a very substantial one, was finished, the conversation was resumed. It continued till nearly midnight. Before going to bed I looked around the camp for a few minutes, and noted the glitter of the firelight reflected from the ice and snow on the surrounding cliffs, the solid darkness of the pines, and the soft, deep, steady roar coming up from the foot of the waterfall, which seemed not to disturb or displace the silence of the great forest. The stars sparkled, and the pure air seemed like draughts of an ethereal wine, it was so exhilarating; yet it had a softness which is of the South, and is not known in New England. As I turned to go into the hut I remembered the counsel of a friend to “ stay as much as possible at the best hotels, and avoid rough, out-of-the-way places.” I mentioned this advice as I rejoined the company, and it caused much amusement.

The next morning I went home with the old man whom I have described. We climbed the ladders, and took our way up the ravine through which the stream descended to supply the camp. It was narrow and rugged, and we soon came to a house which had been built in one side of the gorge, so as completely to command and protect the only approach to the camp from that direction. This was a residence and boarding-house for some of the men, whenever the camp was occupied. I stayed with the old man during most of two days. He lived near the home of the leader of the company, and I had calls from various neighbors, and much talk with the family first visited.


I asked these people, “ Why do you go on with this business ? Why make whisky, when you know it is a crime, a violation of the laws of your country, and will bring so much trouble on you ? ” The men said that they had always made whisky. Their fathers and grandfathers had made it. “It don’t do nobody any harm. It’s about all the way we hev of makin’ any money in this wooden country. It don’t go into the general trade of the country enough to amount to anything.” And the old man went on, while his neighbors expressed approval of what he said : “Who made it a crime to make our own liquor out o' our own corn, an’ sell it to git somethin’ for our women an’ children to eat an’ wear? We didn’t make the laws that says it’s a crime. Who did make ’em? Some o’ the men at Washin’ton, that wants to make whisky theirselves, or that’s ben paid by the big manufacturers. S’pose they’d see they was money in it, an’ a good chance for stealin’, would n’t they make it a crime for a pore man to keep a cow an’ sell milk without a big license ? Course they would. I know, for I’ve sarved my time. Would that make it railly a crime to make milk an’ sell it? Ef I was a painter,” he continued, “ I’d make a pictur’ of a lot o’ ’nited States officers, with their eppalets an’ fine feathers, a chargin’ on to a little ole man up hyur in the bresh, an’ a knockin’ down his wife an’ darters with the butt-eends o’ their pistols, to uphole the l-a-w-s o’ the country ; an’ up thar at Washin’ton I ’d make the head gineral an’ the presidunt a takin' pay from the whisky thieves, what’s stole millions o’ dollars, an’ broke all the laws, an’ a lettin’ ’em git away, when they ’d orta every one be put where the dogs would n’t bite ’em.”

I had remarked a scar on the forehead of the young woman of the house where I first called, — the wife of the captain of the band. One evening her husband bade her show it to me, and then gave me its history. A revenue officer and two soldiers, accompanied by “ the reformer,” had come to the house to arrest the husband, a few mouths after their marriage. The distillers rarely resist arrest at their homes, and the young man submitted; but the wife was greatly excited, and clung to her husband, disregarding alike his entreaties and the commands of his captor. But at last, loosing her hold around her husband’s neck, she sprang at the officer, and seized him by the hair, whereupon he struck her in the face with his revolver, knocking her down. A fierce struggle ensued, but the moonshiner was overpowered, and had to content himself with warning the officer that his life would certainly pay for this outrage. They did not tell me, but others did, how the threat was fulfilled. The young man was convicted and imprisoned, and “ served his time,” and a few months after its expiration the officer was surprised in the woods, in a distant part of the State, by two of the band. He was seized before he could make any efficient defense, and his hands were tied behind him. He was reminded of the scene in the moonshiner’s cabin, and of the “ promise ” made to him there, and was then slowly shot to pieces. This was their story. I have no means of knowing whether it was true ; but business men in the towns of the region told me there bad been several such cases, and added that these mountaineers never allow any insult to their women to pass unrevenged.

They all seemed to think it entirely right to go on making whisky and selling it, as their fathers had done before them. For law in general they appeared to have as much regard as any Northern community with which I am acquainted, but they did not think it wrong to disobey the revenue laws. They said that all the prosecutions were “ got up by low fellows that has some old spite agin their neighbors,” and who took this method of obtaining revenge; or by the more degraded and despicable wretches who undertook to obtain information and aid in prosecuting the distillers for the sake of their share of the fines. Everywhere the moonshiners reminded me again and again, with great earnestness, that “ the reformer gits half.” They have a degree of respect for the ruffian who brings about a prosecution to gratify a long-standing grudge ; that is legitimate warfare. But to do such a thing for money is the lowest possible depth of baseness, and the man who is guilty of it has forfeited all natural rights, He is an outlaw, and may properly be killed by anybody, or tortured or mutilated in any imaginable way.

The moonshiners all use whisky, but none of them that I saw appeared to drink very much. The men whom I met are by no means low, or in any sense, so far as I could discover, bad people, if we leave out of consideration their offenses against the revenue laws. Many of them were leading and substantial members of the churches of their region. The business men in the towns said that the moonshiners were strictly honest and truthful, “first-rate people in everything but this whisky business,” as good citizens as could be found anywhere. The business men all sympathize with the moonshiners. I talked afterward with a prominent revenue officer about them. He praised them highly, and said he was always sorry to have to arrest them, as it did no good. He told me that on one occasion he received information against a very poor man who lived far back in the hills.

“ He was one of the best men I ever knew,” the officer said, “ honest and kind, and he had had a great deal of sickness in his family, and I felt bad to be obliged to take him from his home.” He confessed to having felt some dread of the reception which the man’s neighbors would probably give him, when he should attempt to arrest their comrade. But one day he saw the man in town. He halted him in the street, and told him he had information against him.

“ Well,” said the moonshiner, “ ef ye can let me go home to-night, I ’ll come back to morrer. My wife’s ben mighty bad, an' I ’m afeared ef I don’t go home to-night she’ll worry so ’t 'll be hard for her, bein’ she ’s so peakéd.” “ I told him to go,” said the officer ; “ an’ how I wished he would lie, an’ would stay away ! But I k no wed he’d come back, as be said, an’ so he did. He never saw his wife again. He was convicted an’ sent to a Northern prison, an’ she died while he was away. He has no grudge agin me, but the man who gave me the information aginst him was found dead in the road a few days after the prisoner got home.”

Many of the men thus arrested are taken long distances from their homes for trial, and it often occurs that when brought into court they have no money, and no acquaintance with anybody in the region where the court is held, and in consequence cannot employ any one to conduct their defense. The lawyers say that in many cases the “trial” is extremely brief, and before the dazed backwoodsman is aware that even the preliminary arrangements for the examination have been entered upon, he is ordered to “stand up,” and the sentence is pronounced which consigns him for many months to confinement in a distant prison. It was frequently asserted that some of the judges seemed to feel required to convict and punish every man charged with offenses of this class ; of course I do not report this as true, but merely as what was said by prominent men in various parts of the South. I was told of one “ poor devil,” as the narrator called him, who “raised” a little tobacco on spots where he had burned brush-heaps, near his cabin in the woods. When it was ready, and he wished to press it, he pried up one corner of his house, which was a mere pen of light logs, and placing the tobacco between two boards, let the building down upon them to serve as a press. But some one gave information against him, and it was held that he had violated the law against “ pressing tobacco ” without a license, and he was imprisoned accordingly.


These mountaineers are a race of aristocrats. They despise the life of towns and cities, and think the inhabitants of such places much inferior to themselves in wisdom, character, and happiness. They are all republicans in politics. I asked the leaders in the mountains how they could support the political party which makes and executes all the laws and carries on all the prosecutions against them ; but they said, “ Jest so ; yes, we know ; but that makes: no difference. We know a lot o’ them big men ’s got the gov’ment now, an’ runs it for what they can steal. But we ’ve always voted agin them fine chaps down thar in the towns, an’ we always shell.” Both the moonshiners and the business men in the towns said that the continued manufacture of whisky in violation of the laws was partly a feature of the old warfare of the mountaineers against the civilization and the people of the towns, Yet, in many instances, this caste feeling seemed to be an abstract or general idea, rather than a personal feeling, as the relations between individuals belonging to these two opposite classes are often very kindly. But whenever there is any display of the patronizing spirit, or feeling of class superiority, it is on the side of the mountaineers.

I was soon informed of the meaning and origin of the old man’s oftenrepeated saying, “ I ’d orta know, fur I’ve sarved my time.” He was one of the first men ever convicted and punished under the revenue laws in that part of the country, and he had really “ served his time ” in a Northern penitentiary. On his way home he had been in New York and Philadelphia, and had acquired some definite — if not entirely correct — ideas regarding Northern civilization. Neither he nor any of his class felt that there was any degradation or disgrace involved in their punishment for crime against the revenue laws. They did not regard themselves as criminals, but appeared to accept the resulting hardships as a part of the “ fortunes of war.” They seemed to feel no personal hatred against officers who had arrested them without unnecessary harshness or insult. They often used the expression, I ain’t nothin’agin him. He only done his duty.” But their detestation of “ the reformer,” as their phrase is, is most intense, and their thirst for revenge is not extinguishable by time.


I asked the old man if the unlawful distilling would always be kept up. “ No,” he said, “ it won’t last long. But the gov’ment will never put it down. But this hyur country’s all a goin’ to change. It’s a goin’ to be most everlastin’ly improved, ye see. I sha’n’t never be improved ; I ’m too old. But the old ways is a comin’ to an end. They’s men a buyin’ up thousan’s of acres of this land. They ’ll be railroads built, direc'ly, hither an’ yan, more ’n ’ll do anybody any good. They ’ll cut off the woods for fuel an' lumber, an’ they ’ll be mines an’ quarries up hyur, they say. An’ they ’ll be mean, dirty little towns laid out, all about. Then, instid o’ people drinkin’ a little healthy whisky, as we’ve always done, they ’ll be forty times as much miser’ble p’ison stuff sold an' drunk, an’ whoever drinks it ’ll begin to steal an’ lie. I reckon they ’ll be some mighty fine houses built som’eres along this river, an’ they ’ll put big scientific locks on to their doors, an’ thieves ’ll come up from Cincinnarter an’ Chat’noog’, an’ break into ’em. They ain’t never ben a lock on to a door in these mountains. But they’s a goin’ to be the all-firedest improvements about hyur, an’ I s’pose our people ’ll larn to steal too ; haf to, to keep up an’ live. An’ they ’ll be some o’ them city women hyur, I reckon, from them big places, with their fine feathers, an’ their dresses a draggin’ on to the ground, an’ they ’ll be the devil to pay among our young men. That’s what they call civ’lyzalion, ain’t it, stranger ? I tell ye, this country ’ll soon be improvin’ like hell, but I sha’n’t live to see much of it, I reckon. I ’ve pretty nigh about sarved my time ; but ef you come round hyur in about twenty years, mebbe ye ’ll remember what I’ve said. Our folks is been hyur nigh on to a hunderd years, an’ no man ’u’d ever say that one o’ the name ’u’d lie, or that anybody ever needed help an’ did n’t git it from the Fol jambes ; but they ’ll be more enterprise arter a while, I reckon, an’ we ’ll all be a cuttin’ one another’s throats.”

After my visit to this neighborhood and camp, I had no difficulty in gaining access to the people who were engaged in the same occupation, wherever I went, or in obtaining any desired information from them ; and I visited some of them in various parts of the South. I found that as to the principal features of their character they commonly belonged, everywhere, to nearly the same type, except that the illicit distillers in level portions of the country were usually lower and coarser in personal qualities, and appeared to have much less independence and strength of character, than those of the mountain regions.