How Mingo County Owes Its Existence to an Illegal Moonshine Still

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Mingo shineIt seems only fitting for the place known as “America’s bloodiest county” to owe its entire existence to an illegal moonshine still.

In a desperate attempt to bring law and order into this vast and secluded wilderness, in 1895, the state legislature of West Virginia created Mingo County.

Dating back to the days prior to the American Civil War, the imposing mountains and unconquerable terrain of southwestern West Virginia made administering the rule of law difficult at best.

At the time of the American Revolutionary, the land that is now known as Mingo County was merely a tiny section of an enormous expanse known as Montgomery County, Virginia.

In 1776, the county stretched from Virginia’s southern borders with Tennessee and North Carolina to the Commonwealth’s far western extents along the Big Sandy and Ohio Rivers.

Being literally weeks away from the county court house was a selling point for many of the county’s early Scotch-Irish settlers; a segment of the American population said to have been good at only two things: brawling and distilling liquor.

A popular anecdote from early colonial days alleged, “When the English would arrive in the new world, the first thing they would do would be to build a church, the Germans would build a barn, but the Scotch-Irish would build a whiskey still.”

Unwelcomed nearly everywhere they settled, the Scotch-Irish were forced to move westward into the remote Appalachian Mountains, where they found the privacy to continue their practice of turning corn and grain into alcohol.

The word moonshine is believed to be derived from the term “moonrakers,” an ancient name used to describe illegal brewers and smugglers who would often pretend to be raking by the moonlight.

Moonshining has a long and bloody history in the Appalachian Mountains and Mingo County, West Virginia, is no exception.

Though laws had existed for several years taxing the practice of making homebrewed alcohol, many Appalachian residents scoffed at these decrees, believing themselves to be safe from what they s aw viewed as laws far too intrusive.

By the 1870s, however, federal lawmen began actively patrolling the Appalachian Mountains.

Appalachian State’s Jason Sumich wrote the following regarding moonshine in the mountains:
“The tax soon bred informers, vengeance raids, moonshining clans that ruled entire counties, and shoot outs with the tax collectors. The sides in this conflict were not always clear cut. Moonshiners would inform on each other to gain their rival’s market.”

With few lawmen tasked with patrolling such a giant backwoods expanse, Logan County, West Virginia, proved to be a prime location for moonshiners.

Just a handful of years before the turn of the twentieth century, authorities in Logan stumbled upon of a moonshine still.

In an attempt to follow the law, local law enforcement officers arrested the still’s owner and charged him with operating an illegal moonshine still in Logan County.

When the case went to trial, the owner of the still surprised a crowded courtroom of curious onlookers by admitting to not only owning the moonshine still, but also to operating it.

“I ain’t denying I got a still but the truth is yeh ain’t got no authority to stop me here in Logan County. That there still is in Lincoln County, not Logan,” the man is reported to have told the Logan County magistrate.

Following the man’s revelations, the Logan County judge ordered a land survey to be conducted in the disputed region.

Much to the chagrin of Logan County authorities, the survey found the defendant’s assertion to be correct. The land in question was actually part of Lincoln County, West Virginia.

Charges against the man were dropped in Logan County and West Virginia lawmakers were faced with the realization of just how lawless and untamed portions of the former Virginia county really were.

In 1895, the West Virginia legislature created what remains the state’s youngest county, Mingo.

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