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Ain't Going Back to No Cotton Patch
By Terry R. Thomas
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Terry R. Thomas
All rights reserved.
Cotton Chopping Time
* * *
Acton Bend, Cotton chopping time in early May. A short black guy about 5'5 plowing one mule and his name was Little Willy and a tall black guy named George was also plowing. James Acton, the boss man son, was also plowing a mule. Seventy-five yards over where the hoe hands were chopping cotton. Late in the evening little Willy made it to the end of the row first and decided to yell quitting time. Well the boss man's son James got mad and told little Willy that "you know that daddy tole yall that when he ain't here that I am the boss out here." He looks over to make sure the hoe hands are still working and puts his hands up to his mouth and hollers "Quitting Time!" "Quitting Time!"
A day or two later, on a typical summer day, when several of the farmers were in town sitting out front of the drugstore telling tales to each other, five or six sitting and standing talking about the weather or fishing, when here comes Deacon Brown from the only Baptist church in town. They greet each other and he says "Preacher Adams wants me to talk to you guys about making up money to buy light fixtures for the church. You know we are about to get electricity and Preacher Adams wants the best." Several of the men say "yea we'll help out" and gives him several dollars. After all, the pastor wanted the best. They all wound up giving him something. About that time a man by the name of Joe Steel about 35 years old came running around the corner yelling "Boys, Boys theys a load of Japs at the filling station on the main highway" and Deacon Brown hollered "Son of a Bitch!" They all took off over there. About the time they got over to the station there was a crowd gathered up around the car with about four or five japs in it. Everybody's anger was built up from the war ever since Pearl Harbor. The police was there and had everything kindly under control. They said "alright guys ya'll back off and go on about your business. These is good Japs. Their just traveling through from Philadelphia on their way to California." One old guy hollered "they ain't no good Japs." Old Dan Ledbetter pretty well the town drunk. He made his living doing odd jobs for people, like working in yards and stuff. He came running up with a hoe in his hand hollering "I'm gonna get me a Jap, I'm gonna get me a Jap." The law grabbed him and pulled him back and said "them's good Japs." Old Dan said "ain't no such a thang as a good Jap." "I tried to join to Navy in 1934," Dan was bout 45 years old, "and they wouldn't take me because I was flat feeted, well flat feeted I'm a gonna get me a dad dam Jap." And the police pulled him off to one side. Another guy hollered out, "yall better not stop in Mississippi."
* * *
Garden City Alabama is in the southern part of Cullman County. And right at the end of the southside is the Mulberry River. Across the river you got Blount County. To the West of Cullman Co is Walker Co and just to the south joining Blount and Walker Co is Jefferson Co where the big city of Birmingham is. All these other counties are dry, but Jefferson Co is wet. Over on the 78 hwy out of Birmingham toward Memphis right inside the Jefferson County Line was 6 or 8 girly dance halls and clubs. It was legal for them to sale beer but it was illegal to sale whiskey. Anytime you got people wanting to drank they gonna want whiskey. And they will get whiskey. There was this guy named Hollis, Bill Hollis. He owned the biggest juke joint on the strip. He had some little one pot moonshiners making whiskey to sale at his location and to sale at the other joints on the strip. Most of the moon shining was in the edge of Jefferson. Any kind of moonshine was illegal. The law got so bad about busting up their stills and in late 45 or early 46 he decided to move out of that area over into Blount co across the Mulberry River. He had some contacts from Garden City so they decided what all they were going to have to do to run the still. His contact that lived right outside Garden City suggested they get niggers to run the still. That way they would do most of the work at night and if the law tried to catch em they wouldn't be able to see them running through the woods at night. They hired Big George as the lead black man. After he was told he could make three or four times the money making whiskey then he decided he would do it. So he hires little Willy and a crew of five or six other niggers to work in the woods. The railroad runs right through Garden City. Mr Sam Johnson's store was on the street along with Prices and McAnnally's. The stores were on the west side of the street and the railroad was on the East side. Prices and McAnnally's stores ran a rolling store. They went out in the country and stop at people's houses selling flour, coffee, dishpans; some folks had no money but, they could sell eggs, chickens and butter and buy what they needed with the money. It didn't make any difference.
Prices and McAnnally's usually get their rolling stores back in the evening and take inventory and reload for the next morning. Prices and McAnnally's were competitors in the grocery store business. You could also buy mule gear, plow lines, and trace chains. They were competitors but they were also good neighbors. They would not run each other's route. They ran their routes five days a week.
Mr Sam Johnson was up the street from the others. He didn't run a rolling store, he was a wholesaler. Things like sugar, fertilizer, seed, and other things. Mr. Sam and Ms. Clara had a black family that lived next to them. The woman named Ruthie would help Ms. Clara around the house and when she was needed and she would help Mr. Sam in the store. Her husband was named Ben Rivers. He worked in the store selling fertilizer. He would also take Mr. Sam's little flat bed truck and deliver fertilize to the farmers who didn't have another way to come get it except on a mule and wagon. Ben and Ruthie had a boy in 1941 and named him Ben and became known as Little Ben. Mr. Sam and Ms. Clara took after him like he was there own. They had lost their son in the war. They treated him like their own son. When Little Ben got big enough every time you saw Mr. Sam you would see Little Ben. They would go fishing and things like that.
* * *
Getting back to the whiskey making deal, the contact that Hollis had in the community was a little bitty short guy about 5'1" stout as a mule about 40 years old. His name was William black but was known all over the country as Cracker Black. So Hollis could stay at his joint on the strip he was busy getting the set-up in the woods and organizing the niggers. Cracker Black had been in this kind of business most of his life.
They decided to put the still a couple of miles south of the Mulberry River across from the railroad tracks. They could haul their supplies in and the whiskey out with one of the hand pump railroad cars. He could get one from the section foreman out of Bangor. He had good friends there that could arrange it. He planned it that way where there would not be any tracks going into the woods off the main roads so they couldn't find their still.
The time they got a shipment of whiskey ready the plan was to haul it back up the railroad tracks across the mulberry river. There was a big scope of woods between the river and town and they would hide the whiskey in the woods until they got ready to ship it. Hollis was the ramrod of the whole thing. He was the one putting all the money into it. But now Cracker Black was running the show telling all the black folks what they needed to do. He would tell Big George what to do and he would make sure it was done. Cracker made a deal with Mr. Sam Johnson to buy the sugar. Mr. Sam knew that Cracker had been in the business before so he decided not to ask. So he didn't know but, he did know. As far as he knew he was selling sugar.
They finally got all their equipment in the woods and everything they needed to fire up. They decided to start off with a five hundred gallon vat. That was going to be plenty for what they were going to be selling. Cracker got his railroad buggy so they would haul out a little whiskey and carry in a load of sugar or corn, whatever they needed to make the whiskey. All this had to be done at night. Cracker had a deal with the section foremen at Bangor; everybody knew what time the train ran that's usually how they set their clocks. If there was ever a change in the time the train was running he would let Cracker know so the guys wouldn't be on the tracks that night or if it was a North Bound train they could use the south bound tracks.
Making a Run
* * *
They were really making more whiskey than Hollis needed on the strip. Cracker had some contacts in Memphis. And he told Hollis if he would keep funding the deal and Cracker would keep making the deals that he would start running a car once a week to Memphis. He had a guy up there that ran a lot of shot houses and he knew he could sell the extra whiskey. He would give Hollis his cut. In the meantime Cracker was getting ready to send his car to Memphis. He hired a guy about 23 years old named Red Turner and had just come out of the war. He had bought him a little 41 coup ford that was a pretty good hotrod. The guy was farming with his daddy but, was interested in making extra money with Cracker. They put extra blocks under the springs so when they loaded it down it would not appear low to the ground. Cracker got all that started and shipped out a couple of loads. A business man out of St Louis who was coming to Birmingham a couple times a month got to stopping in over at Hollis' joint on 78 hwy on his way back home Just getting a little taste of night life and whiskey and so forth. He got to asking about that good shine. He didn't ask where it comes from but, Hollis said that it can be got. So the man bought him a gallon or two on the third trip by to carry home with him. He shared it with some of his friends and they claimed that was the best shine he had ever drank in his life. One guy in the crowd was a guy that furnished about 150 shot houses with bonded and bootleg whiskey. He wanted to get some of this good shine. The business man told him he would ask around and see what he could find out. So on his next trip out of Birmingham he stopped in at Hollis' joint. He had a drank or two. He started talking to Bill about his friends and about the guy who furnished the shot houses that he was interested in buying some if he could get enough that would do him any good. Hollis asked "about how much are you talking about?" He said "if he buys he would like to get about at least 300 gallons at a time." Hollis said "I don't know man it would take a big truck, but let me do some checking and see. It would probably be a month before we could be ready to handle the deal." Hollis got in touch with Cracker and told him what the deal was. All the time they have been splitting the difference down the middle except what Hollis bought to sell at his joint. Cracker told him said "yea I can swing it but, it will take about a month to get ready to run that much." Old Cracker was slick and a fast thinker he told Hollis "we will be able to handle it but, it will take a month. Tell them what we have to have a gallon in Alabama, to get it up there. They will have to pay the freight. The watermelons and peaches and cantaloupes will be ready next month this is June. I know a guy who's got a 41 ford tractor with a 28ft foot trailer with sideboards. He hauls all kinds of produce and in the winter he hauls apples out of North Carolina and Virginia into Birmingham. I'm pretty sure I can get him to haul it."
Making a Plan
* * *
Cracker said to tell the guy up there to make a deal with a produce man up there to take the produce. "We can't just load 300 gallon of whiskey and haul it up the road. We will have to make this look good. We will have all the produce we need right here in the community." Cracker had to get on the ball to get the whiskey made, keep his car running to Memphis each week and get all the materials ready and get them hauled to the location of the still and get ready for the bigger operation.
One day Cracker went over to see Shorty Thomas about the truck and trailer he owned. He lived between Hayden and Bangor in Blount County. He was the one who would haul the produce up. Cracker went by there and asked for Shorty. Mrs. Thomas knew Cracker and told him Shorty was on a trip and when he comes in she would have him come see him. Cracker said "Yea just tell him to come over and see me and if I'm not home I'll be around town somewhere."
Mr. General Thomas had come into town he was a peach grower up on Oak Grove Mountain. He grew peaches and plums. He had come into Mr. Sam's to pick-up fertilizer for the farm. He had brought several of his toe headed boys in with him; He and Ms Pauline had ten boys that ranged in age from about 2 years till about 17-18 years. Mr. Sam spoke "Hey Mr. General I ain't seen you lately, how's the peaches looking?" Mr. General said "It looks like it's going to be a heavy crop it's looking real good. We are just beginning to pick a few. Not sure how the market is going to be but we are selling them. "General and Shorty by the way are brothers. Mr. General had several big trucks that he operated year round to haul apples out of the Carolinas, Virginia, and West Virginia. He operated year round. Mr. Sam says, "How are all them boys doing and Ms. Pauline?" Mr. General said "Well there doing fine, I've got all the boys working picking peaches and working there at the farm."
* * *
In the meantime Cracker had his deal there with Hollis and his car running into Memphis once a week. And it had been going on about a month, month and a half. The revenuers or FBI have people monitoring the action in the shot houses around town. And this happened to be in Memphis to find out how much whiskey comes in and to see where it comes from also to see if much wildcat comes in and a nose around to try to find out where it comes from. This one particular agent was talking to a few folks coming out of the shot houses. He walks up to this black guy that just came out and was higher than a Georgia Pine and he said to him "Is that good whiskey?" and the response was "Yes Suh that's good whiskey." The agent said "Well I guess I'll go in and get me some whiskey." The other fellow said "Yes Suh! Good Alabama Whiskey." Agent said "Alabama?" He said "Yes suh somewheres north of Birmingham." The agent goes on in and has a shot himself, and hoping he could talk to some more of the people to get more information. He leaves there and goes to three more shot houses. Each time he would ask for the wildcat whiskey. He didn't want any of that bonded whiskey. He had to drink some or the folks would get suspicious of him. He visited three or four more that afternoon but didn't really get any more information except that it had come from Alabama. He reports to the FBI in Memphis and let the FBI in Birmingham know that they had whiskey coming from Birmingham into Memphis. The FBI told them what area it might be coming from. This wasn't the first time the revenuers had been in town. They had a good idea what was going on. They sent agents into Walker, Blount, and Cullman and into north Jefferson County. And they would get some kind of old car would buy a car in that county they were working. Each one would have some kind of scheme to keep people from being so suspicious. He did have a Blount county tag and when people would ask he would make out like he was dealing in real estate telling the people he was looking for land for some people in Miami that had money to buy some cheap land for sale. Land wasn't very high back then anyhow.
He started nosing around north Blount County and all around, Garden City, Bangor, Hayden, and Blount Springs trying to see what all he could find out. It was real slow gathering any information. Time went on and some people began to tell things. He would ask questions and began to get answers. He started parking and walking the woods around. Big George and Cracker both had been seeing that car around. It through up a red flag so they got more on there toes with the operation.
Excerpted from Ain't Going Back to No Cotton Patch by Terry R. Thomas. Copyright © 2013 Terry R. Thomas. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One – Cotton Chopping Time.................... 1
Chapter Two – Garden City.................... 3
Chapter Three – Whiskey Makin.................... 6
Chapter Four – Making a Run.................... 8
Chapter Five – Making a Plan.................... 10
Chapter Six – Revenuers.................... 12
Chapter Seven – Old Dan.................... 16
Chapter Eight – Expanding the Deal.................... 18
Chapter Nine – The Hummingbird.................... 22
Chapter Ten – Peaches in the Crate.................... 24
Chapter Eleven – The Watchman.................... 27
Chapter Twelve – Shorty Goes to St Louis.................... 30
Chapter Thirteen – Red Turner.................... 33
Chapter Fourteen – Red Gets Arrested.................... 37
Chapter Fifteen – Old Dan and Judd Go to Court.................... 40
Chapter Sixteen – Jesse Taylor.................... 43
Chapter Seventeen – Momma Pearl.................... 46
Chapter Eighteen – Day After the Ride.................... 51
Chapter Nineteen – Securing the Load.................... 54
Chapter Twenty – Revenuer Still On the Trail.................... 56
Chapter Twenty-One – Nobody Knows for Sure.................... 59
Chapter Twenty-Two – Bangor Cave.................... 61
Chapter Twenty-Three – FBI Alerted.................... 70
Chapter Twenty-Four – Decoy.................... 73
Chapter Twenty-Five – The Baptism.................... 75
Chapter Twenty-Six – Goin Good.................... 81
Chapter Twenty-Seven – Big Jim.................... 83
Chapter Twenty-Eight – Nobody Gets Caught.................... 86
Chapter Twenty-Nine – Better Run Fast.................... 88
Chapter Thirty – A Clean Getaway.................... 90
Chapter Thirty-One – They Got Their Man or So They Thought................. 94
Chapter Thirty-Two – Trot Line Fishin.................... 98
Chapter Thirty-Three – He Better Not Be in There.................... 101
Chapter Thirty-Four – Fine Tooth Comb.................... 104
Chapter Thirty-Five – The Search.................... 107
Chapter Thirty-Six – Keep On Haulin.................... 111
Chapter Thirty-Seven – The Hank Williams Show.................... 114
Chapter Thirty-Eight – Red and Jesse Make Their Plans.................... 117
Chapter Thirty-Nine – Dan and Judd At It Again.................... 119
Chapter Forty – Let the Show Begin.................... 121
Chapter Forty-One – Momma Pearl Got Her Eye on the Situation............... 124
Chapter Forty-Two – Puttin the Brakes On.................... 126
Chapter Forty-Three – Just See What Happens.................... 129
Chapter Forty-Four – Shorty Goes to Court.................... 133
Chapter Forty-Five – The Accident.................... 140