Moonshining Remembered
From an Article in the Mountain Eagle
Wednesday, October 11, 1995
Sent 15 Nov 1995 to Marty Potter by Ruby Collier
By Clifton Caudill

In the early years of my life, which began in 1913, many places and things on our 200 acre farm had names that indicated what and where they were so when talking to family members or anyone, the location of the place or object could be determined. This was true in most all mountain households, but is fast disappearing and seldom heard in conversations of today. Mention the Hoe Ding, the Narrows, the Whirl Hole or Pig Pen Gap and you may suddenly become a prime candidate for the bug house. Today's talk would like be about Bluegrass and Standiford Field airports, Interstate 75, a concert in Rupp Arena, or how to cure the ills of the U. S. government. How time and tides do change. Change is good and necessary if well thought out and everyone given a voice in making that change.

Some names and descriptions of places I remember from 75 plus years ago: the upper half mile of the Rockhouse fork of Bull Creek above our home was called the Cindy Caudill Hollow by our Jent Mountain neighbors. My grandmother was Lucinda Burton Caudill and she lived and raised her family and three grandchildren at this homestead which she and husband James D Caudill had built in 1876. Thus the name, the Cindy Caudill Hollow. Until about 1928, this part of the farm was in timberland and there were many large oak, poplar, maple and other species growing there. At this time mountain families lived well by using the resources put here by the Master in the beginning.

In early spring, brother James and I went into these woods and "tapped" sugar maple trees. With an axe we cut a small notch in the tree a few feet above the ground, with an auger bore a 3/4 or one inch hole through the notch into the tree maybe two inches deep. We inserted an 8 o 10 inch piece of hollow elderberry bush into the hole to form a spout which carried the sap or sugar water into a pail or or jar placed on the ground beneath the spout. If several trees had been tapped and the juice collected each day, there would soon be enough to start boiling in a large pot or boiler - the end result being a small amount of maple sugar. It took many gallons of sugar water to produce a tea cup sized piece of maple sugar. But it was well worth the effort. It was pure, the flavor and taste excelled, and the surplus, if any, could be sold to the passing cattle buyer, peddler or drummer (salesman of salves and cure-alls) for 25 cents per piece. After all, a quarter was a quarter in the 1920's.

There was a problem with our sugar making venture. The making of moonshine whiskey was flourishing at this time due to the Prohibition Law of 1918. Most moonshiners preferred putting their operation on someone else's land so if the revenue men found it they could say they knew nothing about it. Our Cindy Caudill Hollow was the ideal place for these characters and attracted a good number of them. A dense forest, a good stream of water and the use of our pails and jars. Many times we went for the sugar water and it would be dripping on the ground or if the jar was there it smelled strongly of whiskey, which I truthfully admit was not too offensive to us even at our early age. Oft times we would discover their barrels of mash (beer) either buried in the ground or covered with brush. Since we thought turnabout to be fair play, we usually sampled the beer liberally and left with a feeling of goodwill and thinking maybe their use of our pails and jars was not so bad after all.


One fall I stood in our back yard after dark and counted five still place fires in the head of our Cindy Caudill Hollow. Why didn't we report them or give them away to the sheriff? Sure, they were violating the law. A manmade law. They were not bothering us, just borrowing a pail or jar once in a while and borrowing has been a way of life among mountain families since the beginning. Borrow a bucket of meal to last until mill day, a middling of meat until hog killing time. Borrow a mule to plow the garden, a broad axe, a crosscut saw or sledge hammer. Neighbor helping neighbor. All would be returned at the appointed time.

So why didn't we report them for violating the law? That is why. Most had large families. They all worked and produced sufficient food from the land. Jobs were scarce or nonexistent. The Great Depression of 1929 was coming on. The children had to have shoes for winter, clothes, books, tablets and pencils for school. Taxes on the farm were due and must be paid. So some of these otherwise law abiding people made a run of whiskey each spring and fall thus converting a few bushels of their corn into the much needed cash. They themselves were not drunks or alcoholics and would not sell to know drunks or rabble rousers. They sold to respectable doctors, lawyers and businessmen who kept it in the home for a "hot toddy" or to serve a visiting friend.

A moonshiner might tend his still in mid week and be at church on Sunday. He was not a hypocrite. He was a sober, hard working man providing for his family. He was your neighbor, he was your friend.

The above writing is briefly how it was in Cindy Caudill Hollow, my home 65 years ago. The following is how the same hollow is today will be in the near future. This is the same hollow where my father in 1930 had a 10 acre new ground cleared for a cornfield. As described in the book I wrote, "Carcassonne - People, Places and Events", as there was no market for the timber, it was cut and burned or rolled into the hollow to decay. The preparation, fencing with 445 panels of split rail fence and cultivation of the crops in the field, is also described in the book.

The field was last planted in 1935 and a good stand of timber later grew there. After the death of my parents, this part of the farm passed into the ownership of my brother, nephews and nieces. It has been permitted for stripping and the bulldozers and blasting crews are near. The Cindy Caudill Hollow as I have known it for 82 years is being changed forever.. I will hold on to the memories of those days.

Near the head of this hollow is the Sulfur Spring Hollow, so named because there is a spring of never failing water there. The spring was discovered when my grandfather with mattock and shovel and a lot of sweat and will power, removed the three feet of dirt overlying the 30 inch seam of coal. This was probably one of the first, if not the first, strip jobs in the area, but no harm was done since it only covered about a 100 foot square area. The spring was cut out in the rock bottom and never went dry. One summer when I was about 12 years old there was a severe drought upon the land, creeks and wells were dry. From mid summer until Christmas we carried water for more than one quarter mile from the spring to our home. Since the water came from the coal seam there was a trace of sulfur in it and so the name.

There was a winding trail up this Sulfur Spring Hollow which led to the top of the ridge, there joining a path from Jent Mountain. I have made many trips afoot and by horseback up this path to the top and turned left one mile to Mint Banks home on the head of Montgomery Creek to get Dr Ferdinand Roark to come see some ailing member of the family. Dr Roark spent his life riding horseback over a 40 or 50 mile area, day in and day out, much like the circuit riding preacher we have read so much about. Between the tow, the doctor to soother and heal our bodily aches and pains and the good reverend to save us from Satan's clutches, we were pretty well taken care of. Dr Roark has never been given the credit due him. I will write what I know of him later.

There is one thing that happened in this hollow that is unforgettable. In the 1920's the making of home brew became suddenly fashionable or maybe there was a huge thirst in the land due to the Prohibition Act of 1918. Anyway, having a half gallon fruit jar or two of home brew around the place was not looked upon as if we were sots, lushes or alcoholics. If a neighbor and friend came by and you could not offer him dinner, a Prince Albert or buffalo cigarette topped off with a glass of home brew, you would not be looked upon as a very gracious host. We were not punks, potheads or drunks, but worked hard six days a week in the cornfield and a little refreshment was an accepted way of life.

My brother James and I were no exceptions to this theory. Since our father was a Regular Baptist minister, we had to be quite secretive when planning to make a batch of brew. Mom had a five gallon crock which we stole out in summertime. Somehow she seemed to know when we were thinking of taking the crock and fruit jars. She would say, "now, don't you boys be sneaking that crock and jars out." Of course, we paid no attention to this and managed to get away with them.

Up the hollow a little ways there was a sinkhole where a small stream had gone underground. We put the crock in this hole, dumped the malt syrup, sugar and yeast in and filled it up with water, tying a cloth over the top of the crock and laying a little brush and twigs for concealment.

Three days later the brew was ready and we visited it each evening after work, sometimes taking a friend or two with us. In a few days the level of the brew was near the bottom of the crock and what would you think we saw there? We saw floating there one very bloated, intoxicated, dead rat who had paid the supreme penalty because of his curiosity. Maybe this has had something to do with the fact that as of this day, we are both absolute teetotalers.

The book, "Carcassonne - People, Places and Events" may be had by sending #13.50 postpaid to Clifton Caudill, HC 67 Box 740, Carcassonne, KY, 41804. The book is also for sale at Mega Electronics, Highway 15, Dry Fork, KY and Joseph Beth Booksellers, Lexington Green, Lexington. The book is $12.00 if picked up at the author's home. This book of 121 pages plus 40 pictures depicts early mountain lifestyles and culture of Letcher County (Kentucky) and surrounding areas.

From Annette: I found a link to a place on line that sells this book "Carcassonne - People, Places and Events" ... I've not ordered it from there, so I can't really say a lot about it. The website advertising the book is at the following link: The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum Company Store - Their price is $16.00.

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