Whiskey Runners by Steve Batson
Deep in the mountain glade they had started out in the late afternoon. The Fox had
warned them to avoid leaving sign. This was especially difficult when you were using a
mule to pack stuff out with. It was the Fall and showers were a common afternoon event
especially on day like this one. Hot was the only way to describe it . . . that tropical
heat, rare in the mountains but well known to those who inhabit the coastal areas.
The mules plodded along each carrying about 60 gallons of whiskey in the containers
made and designed especially for that purpose by Mr. Brookshire. A blacksmith and
blockader of some note in the dark corner, he was a community legacy and served the
mountains well. It was said that his father had left Merritsville to go to war and that
before the war was finished; the old man had fought for both sides and brought more Yankee
bacon over the mountains from Tennessee and carried more southern whiskey into Tennessee
than could have been carried by all of Longstreet's men. Along the way it was said that
the old man had an adventure or two as well, but that is a story for another day.
That the Fox had known "Old Man" Brookshire and his son and his grandson . .
. that is enough for today. That he respected both of them and their ways and their craft
should go without saying. It was for the Fox that these saddles had been built but they
were designed for fast packing of a special sort. A little taste of life's sweetest elixir
for our Yankee brethren during the war, a Brookshire original, made special . . . 'cause
Yankees always have two things with them . . . hard cash (greenbacks or gold) . . . and
that powerful thirst.
The mules broke the trees onto the main road about one hundred yards from the cabin.
Ebiot and Bad Eye followed close to the tree line and headed the animals to the small
outbuilding that was twice as large as the log hut. It was a peculiar arrangement.
Obviously someone cared much more for their livestock than their comfort or so it seemed.
In truth, it was the barn of a large farm, not in use at the moment, as the land close by
was long since burned to red clay by a lack of crop rotation. It was a tenant farmers
cabin . . . occupied by no one but used occasionally by sporting gents like Ebiot, Bad
Eye, and the Fox.
As they opened the doors on the barn, the Fox sat high on the seat of a two horse wagon
with an empty tongue. "Ebiot," he said, "Get the jugs and drain 'em
The bung was opened on one side of the thirty-gallon container on one mule and five
gallons was drained out and handed up to the Fox who poured it into the barrels on the
wagon. Moving from side to side to even the load; the first mule was unloaded and the
first barrel on the wagon was filled. The same process was applied to the second mule and
the second barrel on the wagon.
"Break them kegs out of that saddle rig and hand the rig up to me," the Fox
said. He carefully placed the leather and wood pack harnesses under the seat of the wagon
and got Ebiot and Bad Eye to help him position the barrels and then cover the load with
Ebiot and Bad Eye stood around waiting with anxious anticipation for pay day. They had
the look of all long time drinkers who are waiting for a taste. The Fox pointed to a long
neglected stall. "Go take a look over there" he said as he inspected the hidden
barrels in the wagon and the concealed empties in the barn.
"Fox how come you don't just sling dem four thirties up and carry them to
town?" Bad Eye inquired.
"Special-made barrels for the harness," the Fox replied. "Cost more than
six times as much as regular barrels. How many times you ever seen a square long barrel
curved to fit a mule's side?"
Bad Eye had now found the five-gallon keg he had worked so hard for. "Boy,"
Ebiot said, "you getting downright generous in your old age Fox. Five gallons for us
and sixty for you . . . that's one helluva cut."
"All you boys did was carry it out with my rig" the Fox replied. "More
than you deserve, I reckon."
Bad Eye found an old tin can, he shook out the spiders and bugs rubbed it with a greasy
hand and filled it from his keg. He drank quickly and swallowed the liquid fire. It
settled his nerves. He offered the can to Ebiot who followed suit.
"D--- Fox, Ebiot said, this is the worst whiskey I ever put in my mouth."
"I got to agree," chimed in Bad Eye, "tastes like kerosene to me. You
shore this is whiskey?" Bad Eye's hand belied his words as he reached to tilt the
"Say I didn't see you fill our keg from that stuff you taking to town, and where
is the second keg," said Ebiot, "What you doing Fox?"
The mules were in harness by now and the Fox was headed out the barn. "Whoa
hoss," he said as he grinned. "Well you see boys, the Fox said, "Old Man
West down at the store said you all had been drinking so long that you probably couldn't
tell whiskey from kerosene . . . so I bet him five dollars and five gallons of kerosene
that you could . . . if he would furnish the kerosene and I would furnish the keg. Your
whisky's on the other side of the barn and I got five gallons of kerosene and Old Man's
West five dollars to boot. Kerosene best be here when I get back too."
"By the way boys, Old Man West said to tell you if you didn't pay up your tab at
the store . . . well next time it might be cyanide or that arsenic he uses for killing
rats. So I reckon I'd pay up something to him a'for he got real mad or you get real drunk,
least wise that's what I would do I was y'all."
"Go Hoss . . . git on . . . git" the Fox clicked for the horse and once again
was gone in the darkness.
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