BY KINNEY RORRER—
“Going up Shootin’ Creek, going in a run—Charlie Poole “SHOOTIN’ CREEK” 1928
Going up Shootin’ Creek, have a little fun”
If Franklin County, Virginia was the so-called “Moonshine Capital” of the world during Prohibition in the 1920’s, then Shootin’ Creek – located in the southwest corner of the county – might qualify as the “Moonshine Capital” of Franklin County.
T. Keister Greer, in his magnum opus, THE GREAT MOONSHINE CONSPIRACY TRIAL OF 1935, mentions Shootin’ Creek no less than eight times as a center of moonshining and revenuer raids. One revenue agent testified to cutting up more than 30 moonshine stills at Shootin’ Creek in a space of 90 days.
It was said that everyone in the community made whiskey except the local Baptist preacher – and he made barrels. Some locals said that the creek got its name from the fact that the water shot down the side of the mountain while others said that it came from the finding the remains of revenue agents whose bodies were dumped in the creek after a shooting over whiskey.
“Going up Shootin’ Creek, going in a run—Charlie Poole “SHOOTIN’ CREEK “1928
Take my razor and a Gatling gun.”
Franklin County had been settled in part by Scots-Irish and German settlers who were known for their whiskey making skills. It was said that when the pioneer settlers moved into the Blue Ridge, the first structure built by an English settler was a barn, while the first building constructed by a German was a cabin and the first thing built by Scots-Irish settler was a whiskey still.
The American Civil War had left Franklin County greatly impoverished in part due to the heavy losses in manpower. The county lost more than 300 men in a population of just over 20,000 (1860 census) compared to 33 deaths for World War I and 55 deaths from World War II. The depression of agricultural prices in the 1890’s created more poverty in the county. These descendants of the original Scots-Irish and German settlers fell back on their whiskey making skills to survive. In many cases they obtained licenses and operated legal distilleries in the county until the state of Virginia voted in prohibition in 1916. As they knew how to make whiskey and brandy already, they simply went up a hollow and continued to turn their corn and apples into liquid assets.
The profits from their “moonshine” put food on the table and shoes on their kids’ feet. By the 1920’s some moonshiners were making so called “sugar head liquor” which required 10 pounds of sugar to make one gallon of whiskey. A mercantile company located in Ferrum, Virginia – not far from Shootin’ Creek – hauled in almost 13,000,000 pounds of sugar between 1928 and 1935. No doubt a substantial portion of that sugar went to Shootin’ Creek for “sugar head liquor.”
One of the key moonshiners at Shootin’ Creek owned a very isolated, large, two story farm house that could be reached only by turning off a dirt country road and fording several hairpin turns in Shootin’ Creek.
“Up the road and across the creek
Can’t get a letter but once a week”
—Charlie Poole SHOOTIN’ CREEK 1928
The distiller rented rooms in his rambling house to traveling salesmen, school teachers, travelers and others who might be passing through the area. Frequent guests at his home were string band musicians Charlie Poole. Posey Rorer, Lonnie Austin and Odell Smith among others. Rorer, who had grown up not far from Shootin’ Creek, likely brought Charlie Poole with him to the area. They often used the house as their headquarters during the week while they went out to houses and stores in the community to play for dances at night. While they stayed at the home of the moonshiner they enjoyed his hospitality while sampling his latest product. The son of the moonshiner enjoyed telling me how Charlie Poole would stand on the porch fussing at Posey Rorer for drinking too much before an upcoming dance that night. All the while, Poole himself was holding on to the bannister to keep from falling off of the porch. Charlie Poole loved the people and good times at Shootin’ Creek so much that at his July 1928 recording session with Columbia Phonograph Company he recorded a song paying tribute to the fine people and fine times at Shootin’ Creek.
“Best people in the world”
—Roy Harvey and Charlie Poole SHOOTIN’ CREEK 1928
Poole’s early death in 1931 followed by Rorer’s just five years later put an end to their old time music at Shootin’ Creek; however people would fondly recall the good times had upon Shootin’ Creek for many years to come. A 1926 publication celebrating the achievements of Franklin County singled out Charlie Poole and Posey Rorer in an article entitled “Franklin County Home of Talented Musicians” writing “They are geniuses, and someday they will, in all probability, be world famed”. Some of that fame they earned at Shootin’ Creek!
J.C. CLAIBORNE FRANKLIN COUNTY VIRGINIA: HISTORICAL AND INDUSTRIAL – PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE 1926
KINNEY RORRER “RAMBLIN’ BLUES: THE LIFE AND SONGS OF CHARLIE POOLE” 1982