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Issue 107 - The Last American hero

Whisky Magazine Issue 107
October 2012

 

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The Last American hero

Jim Leggettmeets the moonshiner legend from the glory days of liquor making

Farmhouse windows rattled, trees trembled, the very ground shook, while distant thunder echoed among the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills.

"Earthquake!" some proclaimed; valleys in North Carolina's high country do straddle primeval geological faults.

Locals smiled; they knew it was only moonshiner Junior Johnson blasting 'bootlegger' turns in his daddy's souped up Ford; the law hot on his tail again.

Varooming down twisty dirt roads Johnson, just turned 14, was already the fastest 'tripper', running untaxed corn whiskey to Atlanta, Charlotte and beyond.

Newspaper photos dated 1935 show the Johnson home in Ingle Holler, cases of moonshine piled high. Junior, then four years old, still remembers the drama.

"Our house was plum full of likker when the law showed up. My daddy had 7,100 gallons of whiskey stashed everywhere. The law laid planks on the stairs to slide them whiskey boxes out. So me and my brothers, we rode astride them boxes, down the planks, shoutin' ‘Get outa here! That's my daddy's whiskey.'"

This was the largest inland bust of untaxed whiskey ever made in the United States, and the record stands.

Junior, Robert Glen Johnson Jr., was born on June 28 1931. His family was known for making quality corn whiskey. Grandmother Lora Belle Mooney was Irish, Grandfather Robert Glen Johnson a Scotsman – a fine lineage for a whiskey maker.

Immigrating to America during the Irish potato famine, they settled in Wilkes County, N. C. a region fretted with sweet springs, ...

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