More than just Spring Water… in that Wagon
Source: Geological survey of Georgia Report on the Mineral Springs of Georgia
I’ve always heard the stories of how my great-grandfather, William Clark Bryan drove his wagon around Union Point (Georgia) selling spring water from Daniel Mineral Spring – just outside of town on the old Washington Road, Hwy 44; pretty much dried up and overgrown with shrubbery now. After a recent visit with my cousin, Charles Bryan of Union Point, well it seems there may have been more than just spring water in those jugs jostling around in the back of that wagon.
William C. Bryan (1876-1954) moved to the Union Point area in the late 1920’s with his first wife, Sara Turner Bryan (1881-1939); remarried Evie Edwards Cochran in 1944, after Sara’s death in 1939. Besides the small amount of farming he did in supporting the family and driving his wagon up and down the streets of Union Point selling those vegetables… he also sold spring water… but was it really spring water?
There was also cornmeal in bags amongst the jugs in the back of his wagon… the women bought to make cornbread, while the men bought to make corn licquor; and if they wanted their own corn ground, old man Bryan could take care of that too…. taking half for his profit.Charles said his grandfather had a small grist mill on his small farm, which worked off electricity. He knew about this because as a small boy he shucked corn for him…. thinking it was fun. Once he grew older, and realized how what was once fun, is really now work… well he stopped helping, as it wasn’t fun any longer.
Before I divulge more of Charles’ moonshine tales….. let’s return back to mama’s remembered stories…
Mama says… “The only “shine” I knew was the watermelon rind whiskey W.C. Bryan made. I knew that because my father grew large fields of watermelons to feed his hogs and he saved the rinds for ‘old man Bryan; how he most often was referred to at that time.” I googled watermelon rind whiskey, and while I did find recipes, they seemed to pretty much include the inside of the watermelon as well, not just the rind…. so what did he make? Could he have made rind pickles? But, at this point, all I know is he indeed made something with those rinds, and I bet it wasn’t pickles!
Another tale by mama… “I remember daddy telling me that one time ‘old man Bryan asked him if he wanted some of the whiskey” and he replied...”I don’t want no damn rind whiskey!” Mama often spoke of W.C. Bryan as a character…. and so was her father!
My mother’s father, granddaddy McKinley, wasn’t one who did partake in a swig or two, and on one occasion mama remembers him quite soused! He only drank bonded liquor, he didn’t want any moonshine – never trusted it. Frank, one of the tenants who sharecropped on his farm, actually died from poisoned moonshine. The local bootleggers, tired of their stash being stolen, actually poisoned a still and waited. Whether Frank stole it or bought from someone who did, he died after drinking it.
Greene County, Georgia was a well-known moonshine county… and their moonshine even made its way, just a few counties over, to arrive in the state capitol of Atlanta. Until I began researching moonshine in Greene County… I never knew it had been so populated with bootleggers. Another name Charles mentioned was Sheriff Wyatt, and while mama has mentioned him through the years, I never realized his popularity.
In hearing Sheriff Wyatt’s name from Charles, I asked mama again and she had a couple of stories …. “Yes I remember Wyatt and Tuggle; his deputy who went everywhere with him. Sheriff Wyatt even pulled me over late one night on the road to Siloam from Greensboro; I was driving “old flizzy – daddy’s 1955 flat-head green Ford. He strolled up to my window and said, “girl do you know how fast you were going.” I replied, “now Sheriff Wyatt you know this old car can’t go that fast.” He slightly smiled, telling me to just slow it down; “I bet he chuckled as he slid back behind the wheel of his police car. Daddy’s car, “old fliz” as I always called it, could most certainly fly and I often pushed it to its limit late at night on the back roads. One night, Willie Mae (my girlfriend) and I lost one of his deputies on the back roads down from the farm. I knew those roads better than anyone and we left him out at Flat Rock area – him…wondering where the heck he was! We went back to the farm, shut all the lights and watched for headlights coming down the road – no one came! Later it was told around town that he had gotten lost in chasing someone out there and he thought he’d never find his way out. It wasn’t the first time this specific cop had threatened to pull me over, but eventually on the night I let him pull me over… I had state trooper friends following, and they pulled right over behind his car – had words with him and sent him on his way; he never bothered me again.”
While my father would have nothing to do with actually making moonshine, he didn’t have a problem with buying bonded liquor in a wet county to resell in the dry county of Greene; which was also an illegal activity. Granddaddy McKinley sold anything and everything to make a buck… banking his money slow and continuously. Whenever granddaddy visited his brother in Milledgeville, he always made a stop first at the liquor store to buy bottles for resale; ‘old fliz never came home with an empty trunk. If he paid $2 a bottle, he sold it for $4! One night after arriving at Uncle Lewis and Aunt Annie’s home late, I proceeded to tell them that granddaddy bought ‘friskey – after they asked why we were late! Never do or say anything in front of children – if you don’t want it told!
By this time, if you’re wondering did Sheriff Wyatt ever visit granddaddy McKinley’s farm in search of that bonded liquor – well YES he did – and on more than one occasion; but he always left empty handed! I can just picture that smile/smirk on granddaddy’s face after he left! Mama remembers how upset her mother became in the middle of the night when they knocked on the door – she stood in the house crying and wringing her hands, fearful that “daddy”, as she always called him, would be arrested.
Mama says… “I never did think to ask daddy years later exactly where his secret hiding spot for his whiskey had been, but I’m betting it was under the corn crib. What makes me think that is because anytime we had family over for Sunday dinner, the men always went up to the barn where the corn was stored; that was their gathering place after dinner. They never returned being able to walk a straight line!”
I’m told that Siloam, where granddaddy McKinley lived, didn’t turn wet until around 1979 – he didn’t live to see the change. In further googling, I discovered that there were 446 dry counties in the southeastern United States… Georgia alone had 116 dry “vs” 43 wet ones. Those rural counties didn’t begin changing until the 1970’s, and then the change to go wet actually went city by city, not county wide.
Now let’s return to my cousin Charles’ well remembered stories along these lines…
Charles… “My grandfather drove his old wagon all around Union Point, up and down the side streets peddling jugs of spring water he filled daily at Daniel’s Spring.” Back in its day, the Daniel Spring area was filled with people travelling there by wagon to picnic and enjoy a weekend stay at the hotel. Through the years, times changed, the hotel became no more, and the spring eventually followed; today, most people no longer even recognize the name when asked. If you are lucky enough to remember where it was, and you look hard enough, you’ll probably find a trickle of water underneath the now overgrown area.
Charles… “I learned quickly as a young boy that it really wasn’t spring water in those jugs rattling around in the back of my grandfather’s wagon. Instead, what he really peddled was… his home-made corn-fed moonshine; a recipe most likely learned from his father, William Madison Bryan.” Hopefully he had some legit jugs of spring water in the wagon for the ladies, imagine selling the wrong jug… well someone would have been happy all day!
Charles… “Another beverage I remember him making was Cinnamon Beer and it was brewed in a barrel stuffed with broom straw in the bottom. He added cinnamon, black locust pods, ripe persimmons and sugar on top. – covered and waited.” I googled cinnamon beer and discovered that indeed persimmons were used in making beer, but they stressed the use of ripe persimmons, definitely not green; if you’ve ever eaten a green persimmon, you know what I mean as your mouth will feel like it’s just been turned inside out. The seeds, which are used to brew beer and wine, actually give a cinnamon taste when dried. I think I’m going to have to get myself a persimmon and check out that taste, but I’ll definitely make sure it’s ripe as I remember mama talking about that; they had a persimmon tree on the farm and as stubborn as she was, I’m thinking she learned the hard way. It would be so like her to bite into a green one… thick headed and never listening.
Making moonshine was the drink of the North Georgia mountains; the men grew up learning how to brew and sell.
Charles: “Remember how I told you that William Madison Bryan moved around many times, your great-great grandfather; he moved often from county to county, and there was a reason for that. Whenever the law got after him for selling moonshine, he’d moved on to another county. He also was one of the Bryan men who added the “t” at the end of his name – off and on. If he was in trouble in one county, he moved and changed his name from Bryan to Bryant.” I often wondered why I found him in the census records as Bryan in one county and then Bryant in the next county, never thinking of that reason.
Charles father (Leon Bryan) didn’t follow in his dad’s (William Clark Bryan) footsteps of making bootleg moonshine, but he did make beer. “I think I found my dad’s beer on more than one occasion. The saddest thing was when we’d hear “pop” “pop” “pop” on a hot summer day… we knew the bottles had become over -heated and the beer was lost as the exploded bottle caps allowed the liquid to flow out.”
Charles… “I also remember daddy’s brother Gordon selling moonshine. Daddy often told the tale of when Gordon and his wife moved back to his father’s farm in Union Point. While standing on the back porch one evening, he saw something move down by the hog pens. He sensed that someone was down there so he went inside and told his father (W.C. Bryan), who walked down there and threw slop out to the pigs. He looked over to where Wyatt stood and said, “if I’d known you were down here, I wouldn’t have thrown the slop.” Hiding and spying down there was Sheriff Wyatt, well known in Greene County for catching moonshiners; I guess the Bryan men were on his list!
Charles… “After my grandmother, Sara (Turner) Bryan, died in 1939, ‘old man Bryan moved in with his son Gordon, and while Gordon didn’t actually make whiskey, he did buy moonshine and bonded liquor in a wet county to bring back into the dry county of Greene – which was also against the law. It was also illegal to bring it over the borders for consumption or resell, but that didn’t often stop anyone; Sheriff Wyatt looked to sniff you out on those back door sales as well as the moonshiners. I remember Gordon keeping his bottles hidden on the back porch, high above under a loose plank. One night Sheriff Wyatt lay in wait…watching and waiting, he was good at that. Gordon walked out on the back porch and before he took down a bottle, suddenly Wyatt appeared, telling him, “If you stay here I’m going to catch you. Gordon was another one of the Bryan men who used the “T” on their name.”
Gordon packed up all he owned in one suitcase, and with his pregnant wife, they left on the bus for High Point, N.C. – never leaving that area again. One thing about Wyatt, he often gave you warning, but if you didn’t heed that warning, then eventually he caught you.”
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