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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Dark Corner of South Carolina

The land of present-day Greenville was once the hunting ground of the Cherokee which was forbidden to colonists.

There were various treaties where the Cherokee ceded their hunting lands to the white settlers. When they released the upstate of SC, settlers began pouring into these lands. Most were the highly independent Scotch-Irish. This term is an American term that refers to Ulster Scots, an ethnic group in Ulster, Ireland, who trace their roots to settlers from Scotland. Scotch-Irish Americans, who first migrated to America in large numbers in the 18th and 19th centuries, were mostly descendants of Protestant Presbyterians who were dissenters that separated from the Church of England. Over 200,000 Scotch-Irish migrated to the Americas between 1717 and 1775. As a late arriving group, they found land in the coastal areas of the colonies was either already owned or too expensive, so they migrated to the more mountainous interior where land was cheap. They lived on the first frontier of America. Early frontier life was extremely challenging, but poverty and hardship were familiar to them. The term "hillbilly" has often been applied to their descendants in the mountains, carrying connotations of poverty, backwardness and violence; this word has its origins in Scotland and Ireland. These were fierce people who took care of their own business. They faced wild animals, poverty, Indian attacks. Being so far removed from the central and low country of SC made the South Carolina upstate a whole other world.

South Carolina has the flat coastal area called the lowlands or coastal plain. The middle portion of the state is flat, until you go north of Columbia, is the midlands. As you get into the upstate corner you begin to have rolling hills. The closer you get to the NC line, the more mountains you see. The rolling, hilly area of the upstate is called the Piedmont. Close to the the North Carolina line, it becomes the foothills to the Appalachian Mountains. Northern Spartanburg and Greenville counties, Pickens county, and Oconee county and a portion of Anderson county have mountains and dense forest areas and large lakes. It's this area that you have an area called "Dark Corners".

The first known record of the name was when it was used in a speech by Governor Perry at Glassy Mountain Baptist Church in 1832. But it was probably used before then.



 Hogback Mountain


 Glassy Mountain


Table Rock

Dark Corner became a hot bed because of the independence of it's people and it's inaccessibility. The mountain people of the area did not support the Articles of Secession. And during the War of Northern Aggression, there was some very complicated issues. Some of the men who didn't own slaves, didn't think the war belonged to them. They didn't want to serve and had to be conscripted. There may have been as many as 500 men who resisted and were called "skulkers". In this area, it was easy for men to hide from conscription patrols. As the War lasted longer than they imagined, many families wrote to their men in the Confederate Army telling them how they were suffering. Without men, the families were having a hard time raising food and were starving. Mothers, wives and sisters, left to run farms without fathers, husbands, brothers or uncles, ran the risk of ruin or being overrun by Union forces. So many men deserted to go home and take care of their families. Many soldiers simply felt their duty had been done, and went home. Some would go home, put the crops in and return. Some didn't return. For those deserters who streamed back home, they hid out in the woods and mountains. As it began to look, more and more, like the South was losing the War, many Confederate soldiers deserted to go to the other side and join the Union Army. They hoped this would save them problems after the War was over and the Union won.

After the War, the Reconstruction period put additional burdens on the people who lived in poverty. Between the War and the Reconstruction Era, people suffered and poverty was grinding. One way they found of making money was making moonshine. It was a matter of economics. Let's say you raised a bushel of corn. You could sell the bushel of corn for .50 cents/bushel or you could use that bushel of corn to make moonshine and make $12.50 from the same bushel. Moonshine not only made more money but was easier to transport. Which would you do? Many residents of Dark Corner were willing to run stills and and moonshine for the money, plain and simple. Of course, getting caught cost them jail time. Even those residents who didn't make or run 'shine understood why their neighbors did or were scared of those who did. During the 1920's, there was Prohibition. Those who made liquor, could make even more money. During the 1930's, the Great Depression, made moonshine earnings a necessity. Corn was raised on the river bottoms, ground into meal, made into mash and alcohol was distilled. Wagons (later automobiles) took their loads into Greenville and Spartanburg where it was sold to buy food and supplies. People who lived in this area were concentrated along places like Table Rock, Beaver Dam Creek, Devils Fork (under water at present day Lake Jocassee), Hogback and Glassy Mountains, Caesers Head (Saluda Mountain, SC).

There were few roads in and out of the area and it was densely forested. President George Washington was the first to appoint High Sheriffs to collect taxes on homemade liquor. These officers were called Revenuers. The first sheriff dispatched to Dark Corner was shot and killed. The people of Dark Corner felt such laws were unreasonable. They used their land and their labor to grow crops and then they processed the crops in a way that made it easier to transport and would make more money. So they didn't think it was the government's business. Government agents, especially during the prohibition, were looked on as enemies. And strangers could be the hated "Revenuers", so strangers took their life in their hands entering the Dark Corner area. From the 1930s up through the 1950s, moonshining was so common you could spot a still on every creek and stream in the mostly wooded northern part of Greenville County. There are probably 100's of abandoned stills in the woods in the Dark Corner area to this day.

Due to illicit activities, secretiveness, and limited roadways in and out, modernization of the area came slow to Dark Corners.


One well known outlaw in Pickens county, SC was Lewis Redmond. Sometimes referred to as the Prince of Dark Corners. He was a bootlegger but he was seen as a Robin Hood. Redmond ran a bootleg whiskey operation that ranged through three states. Raised as a farmer in Oconee County, Mr. Redmond brewed moonshine at night and turned to moonshining more after his parents died and he became the guardian and provider for his sisters. An attempted arrest by a federal marshal ended when Redmon murdered the Federal agent. The marshal did not have an arrest warrant and in the attempt to arrest Mr. Redmond the marshal was killed.


In the next few years Redmond's cabin hideout was raided three times. On the first raid, one of his mountain friends had warned him, and he slipped out of the cabin and down the river in his canoe 20 minutes before the law arrived. The second raid caught him, in his cabin, but he managed to get away, through a small escape hole in the rear of the cabin as the officers came in the front door. The third raid turned a little more intense when Redmond, being caught in the cabin without a means of escape, came out with a gun and attempted to run. He was shot six times for his efforts, arrested and taken to jail where he, some how, managed to survive. After the arrest he was held in the Bryson City jail, where his wife managed to slip him a pistol concealed under a pillow. The officers somehow found out about the pistol and confronted Redmond with the advice that if he didn't give up the pistol he would gladly be killed saving them the trouble of a trial. After surrendering the pistol, he was moved to Asheville, NC and then on to Greenville, South Carolina, for trial.

 He only served 22 months of the sentence before President Chester A. Arthur pardoned him in 1883.

Mr. Redmond returned to Walhalla and went to work for a government distillery that produced "Redmond's Hand Mash" and his picture was on the whiskey's barrels. He lived a quiet life and died in 1906 in Seneca.

These men had a reason for why they manufactured moonshine... money. But we mustn't forget that what they were doing was illegal and there were reasons why it was illegal. People could die from unregulated rot-gut moonshine. With no regulations concerning sanitation, and raw materials, you didn't know what you were getting. Just like illegal drugs manufactured today, people can die from what they buy on the streets. They don't know what's really in the cocaine or meth they buy. And alcohol is a drug that costs in heart ache and broken families just like addictive illegal drugs. People died doing these illegal deals and the it's how gangsters and mobsters got started. So, we should be careful about oversimplifying the issue or making heroes out of those who did this.



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