Andy Duggin offers free rides during the March 23, 2013, celebration of the first anniversary of Short Mountain Distillery near Woodbury, Tenn. The distillery legally produces moonshine in Cannon County. (TMP Photo/D. Whittle)
SHORT MOUNTAIN, Tenn. – For parts of three centuries, moonshine whiskey has drawn consumers to mystical and majestic Short Mountain, Cannon County’s highest geographical elevation point and largest claim to fame.
But in this new century, the manufacturing of clear whiskey on the mountain is legal.
On Saturday, between 1,500 and 2,000 visitors again flocked to the mountain top where Short Mountain Distillery’s professional moonshine makers celebrated their firm’s one-year anniversary with a mountain-top hootenanny.
For the past year, Short Mountain Distillery has been an official legal manufacturer of white, clear whiskey, known as moonshine, a slang term given to the product back in the early 1900s when it was illegally made at night, by the light of moon.
“Here, have a legal snort on Short,” said Director of Hospitality John Whittemore to Allen Morse, a resident of nearby Gassaway, an unincorporated village that sits nestled down in a valley at the foot of majestic Short Mountain.
“We’re giving (out) free samples of product,” Whittemore said, as Lascassass resident Willie Davenport and his brother, David, lined up for sampling purposes along with Smyrna residents Bill “Doc” Nash, Paul “Sky King” Lamb, Eddie “Lumber Man” Crosslin and Randolph Sawyers.
Jeff Shuler is the distillery’s locally recognized historian who volunteers regularly as a tour director.
“When the distillery first opened, I developed a keen interest in the history of moonshine in Cannon County, but also the important history and heritage of Short Mountain,” Shuler said. “As you can tell by the turnout of visitors today, other folks like to experience colorful Short Mountain history, up close and personal.”
Cannon County native Ronald Lawson said he was at the hootenanny for several reasons.
First, as a prized moonshine-making employee of the distillery, a card-toting Mule Skinner, and being the grandson of the late Hershel Lawson, a legendary moonshine-man from over in nearby DeKalb County back in the early part of last century.
“I never dreamed as a little boy, that one day, as an adult, I would be making legal moonshine up here on this mountain,” Lawson said, as blue smoke floated skyward from the distillery’s nearby model moonshine still on display for the tourists.
“We’re no longer ashamed to be seen on the mountain for moonshine purposes,” explained Jeffery Lambert, of nearby DeKalb County. “Early last century, my folks made 'shine,’ for economic survival and sold it in and around Gassaway, Liberty and Alexandria.”
But, the white lightning wasn’t the only draw.
A colorful little rooster, belonging to musician Richard “Squirrel” McLain, proved to be one of the biggest fan attractions at the Short Mountain celebration.
“I’ve only had my rooster a few days, so he has no name as we speak, but you can see he’s already a crowd pleaser,” McLain said, as he measured his tiny fowl’s huge fan appeal.
Amazingly, the little cock of the mountain seemed to strut more when his owner strummed and tuned his banjo as a member of The Jimalong Josies, a Smyrna-based group that plays music from the ‘50s.
High-priced, lop-eared mules were even gussied up for the daylong celebration.
“Me and my mules are here today, giving city folks free rides in our wagons,” said Woodbury resident Andy Duggin, the president of the Middle Tennessee Mule Skinners.
“My mules hauled a man from Liberty, a lady from Wisconsin, a gent from Miami and a former moonshiner from the East Kentucky mountains,” said Rutherford County mule man Danny Fraley.
Short Mountain whiskey making has been known far and near for a long time, as evidenced last century when infamous gangster Al Capone marketed it as “city rum” on the streets of Chicago.