The author of this book, Bruce E. Stewart, is a history professor at Appalachian State University and specializes in the history of Appalachia. This book is very well researched and an interesting read, but the author’s tone leaves no doubt that his sympathies lie more with the Prohibitionists than the moonshiners. That is the main reason I would recommend that you read this book. He does not glorify moonshining in any way. However, in the end, Stewart points out that there was no way to enforce Prohibition in the region. There is no bias in his conclusions.
Moonshiners and Prohibitionists: The Battle Over Alcohol in Southern Appalachia, Bruce E. Stewart, Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2011Contents, introduction, Bibliography, Index, Illustrations, 325 pp.
This book is a history of the struggle against moonshining in Appalachia, mostly western North Carolina. The author, Bruce E. Stewart, attempts to keep a neutral tone when discussing this struggle, but the reader can tell that it is the Prohibitionists that he respects. This is subtle, but he does tend to use kinder descriptions of the Prohibitionists than the moonshiners.
Even so, Stewart is very fair about his conclusions. His argument is that Prohibitionists had a hard time in Appalachia because the Celtic culture of Appalachia included a fondness of drinking alcohol and because of the poor land, distilling alcohol could make a farmer more money than selling the grain. High taxation after the American Civil War made moonshining very profitable because legal distillers could not sell their whiskey as cheaply as moonshiners. The United States Army stationed in the region during reconstruction was called out to stop moonshining but had very little success in doing so. The only reduction in moonshining happened when the government lowered the taxes to make legal whiskey competitive in the market.
The moonshiners were involved in the local economy and in many cases, major contributors to the economy. They were involved in the local politics. Moonshining was considered part of their heritage and culture. The Prohibitionists had an uphill battle in the region. Stewart discusses the setbacks, as well as the successes made by the Prohibitionists.
The book is well written and designed. Stewart has illustrations and photographs scattered throughout the book. These include magazine illustrations and photographs from the late 19th century showing the people and places he is writing about. There are many footnotes in each chapter and it is interesting to read some of the further explanations offered in these footnotes. The bibliography is extensive and the book is well-indexed.
Stewart has written a very good book that should be read by anyone who wants to understand Prohibition better. He describes the tactics of the Prohibitionists as well as their limitations and why they could not be successful in the long run. His research is strong and his conclusions are fair. The book is one I would recommend as part of any good Whiskey Library.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller