Moonshiners weren’t much for conversation

Published 10:38 pm Monday, February 1, 2010

Lots of us knew of him, but very few really knew him. If there are any left that care, you can forget about them telling you anything.I wish I had met him, but I have a good idea that I would still not know Dick Brown. Everybody knew that he was in the “moonshine” business. He would give you that much—catch me and prove it!

He was indeed a legend on Lake Mitchell, and about all you could find out was that, “one day, he just appeared—come down the river, he did!” Nobody knew him, and he knew nobody. He was “in the business” and intended to continue. They lived by and did business by an unwritten code.

He took on some loyal friends and taught them the trade. They were a close-knit group—very little talk! Most of this was before my time, but I became close to a lot of people that were close to him. The more I asked, the more I learned not to ask! Very well. Never heard anyone say they didn’t like him. In fact, he was known for being a thoughtful and generous man.

Of course, I knew a lot of his customers, and I noticed one thing. When referring to him, they always put a title before his name: Mr. Dick Brown or Uncle Dick Brown. I sometimes think that is a sign of respect, whether you respect the business that he’s in or not.

Lots of folks were “in the business” back then. Ma once told me, “Honey there’s so many of them, they have to wear badges to keep from selling it to one another!” Lots of them were caught, but I never heard anybody say that he was caught. I’m sure that he was—goes back to that “code” again. Was it because he was so careful about who he talked too? I think silence was part of the prerequisite of his students—like, “keep your mouth shut!”

I knew Ma’s brother, Pete Caton, from when I was a little boy, so when I moved down here he used to come to visit me some and we would talk. As much as he liked to talk, he would talk to me about the business—not much about names and nothing about Dick Brown. He did tell me, “You and Estelle [Ma] think you know so much— you don’t know nothing!” Look out there, brother Pete!

My friends in Clanton and the Lake Mitchell society liked to laugh about the sophisticated means of delivery or drop-off. Were they worried more about the law or their neighbors knowing about it?

The closest I ever came, I guess, was when late one evening I noticed a trotline tied to the walkway at the boat launch. What! Anybody knows better than to put a trotline here. I pulled it up, and only a clear gallon jug was tied to the end, filled with that suspicious clear liquid. I went to get my knife to cut the line off, and would you believe the line and jug were gone!I never worried too much about that, even though I could make a good guess. Did we in that short span of time take a step back in history?