Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ambush on a Revenuer- Part 2

Marion Washington Gurganus
Marion Washington Gurganus
picture from
 "From A Helenic Seed"  by Leroy Gurganus
My curiosity was peaked as soon as I discovered the first newspaper article about Marion Gurganus and his moonshine.  I immediately began to dig to see what more I could learn about both Marion and about moonshining in the South. Neither subject disappointed me, although I will say that I did wish I could have learned just a little more about Marion himself as there are always more questions than answers, but this is what I did learn. 

To start with, I  learned that the principle difference in a moonshiner and a distiller was simple.  The distiller had a license and paid taxes, and a moonshiner did not.  In much of the South, farmers struggled to find ways to survive and many a farmer found that making and selling moonshine went a long ways in helping to make ends meet.  If they didn't pay Uncle Sam, it helped their pocketbook that much more.

I learned that revenue agents were determined to catch moonshiners and used every tactic imaginable. Once they caught the moonshiner, some agents just destroyed the still while others arrested the men and helped send them to prison.  Moonshiners soon created their own network,  finding creative ways to signal each other when a revenuer was in the area.  But there were also individuals who saw other moonshiners as competitors and chose instead to tip off revenue agents about the location of neighboring stills.

I also learned that, according to newspaper articles, on April 13th 1910, Revenue Agent W. A. Anderson and Marshall Putnam had been tipped off and were riding through the woods near near Tuscaloosa, Alabama on their way to arrest Marion and his boys for making moonshine.  Anderson and Putnam inevitably had been through similar scenarios dozens of times.  Being a revenue agent was a dangerous and risky job at best, with shoot outs being fairly common.  I am sure that Agent Anderson and Marshall Putnam were painfully aware of the risk and came prepared for such an event, yet as Marion and his boys laid in wait for them, they were caught off guard.  Marion later testified that, as he watched the two men approaching in their buggy, he thought Anderson was about to shoot, so he shot first, killing Anderson instantly.  Putnam was wounded, but able to escape.

I assume that Putnam was able to make it back for help, for soon the word was out that Anderson was dead and Putnam was wounded.  Ten agents formed a posse and rode out to Marion’s property.  Undoubtedly tension was high on both sides as the posse entered the woods where a short time earlier Anderson and Putnam had been ambushed by gunfire.  While the original issue had been the operation of what the newspaper referred to as an “illicit still,”  this time much more was at stake. If the Gurganus men had reacted violently before, there was now an even greater potential for violence, however, a completely different scene awaited the posse.  According to newspaper accounts, as the men approached the area of the shooting, Johnny, Marion’s son, was standing outside and indicated that Marion had indeed fired the fatal shot and then he pointed out Marion’s house  The posse broke into Marion’s house, where they discovered him on the floor in agony, with burns covering his hands and feet.  Later in court, Marion would testify that he had intentionally burned himself in an effort to create an alibi.   I fail to see the logic in this act and apparently neither did the arresting officers or the judge, but somehow, in a moment of panic, it had made sense to Marion.  I am sure he was disappointed that his painful attempt at an alibi was all in vain.  

Marion Washington Gurganus, William Isaac Gurganus , Johnny Gurganus and John T. Morgan were then  arrested and taken to the county jail in Birmingham.  While Marion, Isaac and John T. were all adults, Johnny was only 14 years old at the time.
It is interesting to me that there were two charges made, neither of which included murder.  The first charge was "conspiracy to interfere with an officer in the discharge of his duties," and the second was very similar and was the charge of "conspiracy to interfere with, or injure an officer of the government in the discharge of his duties."  On June 10th, 1910, the men went to trial.  Details of that trial will follow in the next post. 
Meanwhile, there are many good articles on the internet about moonshining.  Below are links to two very interesting articles, including one about moonshine's connection to Nascar. 

The Godfather of North Alabama

NASCAR'S Earliest Days Forever Connected to Bootlegging

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Moonshining in Alabama- Part 1


Laying on his floor of his house, writhing in pain from burns covering his hands and feet, Marion surely knew that it would only be a matter of time before officers of the law would begin to arrive.  One minute he was hiding in the woods and the next minute he was frantically running through the dense tangle of trees from a murder scene to the temporary safety of his home.  Once safely inside and desperate for an alibi, he intentionally burned his hands and feet and then, while in excruciating pain, he laid there and waited. Things had spun out of control so quickly. 

With the help of his son, Isaac, cousin Johnny Gurganus and John Morgan, a relative by marriage, Marion built and ran a still, tucked in the woods near Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Things had been going well until the thirteenth of April  in 1910, when they caught wind of a rumor that a revenuer was in route. There were often concerns and rumors circulating from time to time about revenuers and officers of the law on the lookout for moonshiners, but one could never risk ignoring such a rumor.  And so, they hid in the woods hoping that they would not be discovered.

I can imagine that the tension built as Marion and his boys crouched down in the underbrush and trees, watching and waiting.  I can imagine that they felt fear of what possibly might come, fear of getting caught, and fear of ending up in prison. It was while hiding in the dense thicket of trees, not far from their still, that they spotted Mr. Anderson, a revenuer, riding up in his buggy.  Believing that the revenuer was going to shoot, Marion raised his rifle, took aim and fired first. 

Marion Washington Gurganus was the son of William David Gurganus and Louisa E. Humphries.  Born 7 February 1859, in Alabama, he was one of eight children, seven of whom were boys.  His grandfather, John Wesley Gurganus was brother to James Gurganus, my third great grandfather.  Marion Washington Gurganus was a farmer and a moonshiner.  I will never forget the day that I ran across the first newspaper article about him and began to piece together his story.  Come back and I will share what happened next.  

Illustration showing men making moonshine originally published December 7, 1867 in Harper’s Weekly. Image in public domain. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013

May I Introduce to You . . .

A few weeks ago Gini from Ginisology contacted me and asked if she could interview me for the series at GeneaBloggers called "May I Introduce To You . . . . "  I was surprised and pleased to be asked!

If you would like to read the interview, then click on the link below:

                            May I Introduce To You . . . Michelle Ganus Taggart

 This series helps introduce bloggers to others. I was a little nervous, but Gini did a great job of explaining things and making me feel comfortable.  Thank you Gini and Thomas MacEntee for giving me the opportunity.

 GeneaBloggers is a wonderful group run by Thomas MacEntee that provides great resources and helps for genealogy bloggers.  If you are thinking of starting a blog, and even if you aren't, head on over to their website and look around! You will find great support and resources.

Thank you again Gini and Thomas!

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013