What Class of People Does the Informing

One day I asked a mountain man, “How about the revenue officers? What sort of men are they?”

“Torn down scoundrels, every one.”

“Oh, come, now!”

“Yes, they are; plumb onery—lock, stock, barrel and gun-stick.”

“Consider what they have to go through,” I remarked. “Like other detectives, they cannot secure evidence without practicing deception. Their occupation is hard and dangerous. Here in the mountains, every man’s hand is against them.”

“Why is it agin them? We ain’t all blockaders; yet you can search these mountains through with a fine-tooth comb and you wunt find ary critter as has a good word to say for the revenue. The reason is ’t we know them men from ’way back; we know whut they uster do afore they jined the sarvice, and why they did it. Most of them were blockaders their own selves, till they saw how they could make more money turncoatin’. They use their authority to abuse people who ain’t never done nothin’ nohow. Dangerous business? Shucks! There’s Jim Cody, for a sample [I suppress the real name]; he was principally raised in this county, and I’ve knowed him from a boy. He’s been eight years in the Government sarvice, and hain’t never been shot at once. But he’s killed a blockader—oh, yes! He arrested Tom Hayward, a chunk of a boy, that was scared most fitified and never resisted more’n a mouse. Cody, who was half drunk his-self, handcuffed Tom, quarreled with him, and shot the boy dead while the handcuffs was on him! Tom’s relations sued Cody in the County Court, but he carried the case to the Federal Court, and they were too poor to follow it up. I tell you, though, thar’s a settlement less ’n a thousand mile from the river whar Jim Cody ain’t never showed his nose sence. He knows there’d be another revenue ‘murdered.’”

“It must be ticklish business for an officer to prowl about the headwaters of these mountain streams, looking for ‘sign.’”

“Hell’s banjer! they don’t go prodjectin’ around looking for stills. They set at home on their hunkers till some feller comes and informs.”

“What class of people does the informing?”

“Oh, sometimes hit’s some pizen old bum who’s been refused credit. Sometimes hit’s the wife or mother of some feller who’s drinkin’ too much. Then, agin, hit may be some rival blockader who aims to cut off the other feller’s trade, and, same time, divert suspicion from his own self. But ginerally hit’s jest somebody who has a gredge agin the blockader fer family reasons, or business reasons, and turns informer to git even.”

It is only fair to present this side of the case, because there is much truth in it, and because it goes far to explain the bitter feeling against revenue agents personally that is almost universal in the mountains, and is shared even by the mountain preachers. It should be understood, too, in this connection, that the southern highlander has a long memory. Slights and injuries suffered by one generation have their scars transmitted to sons and grandsons. There is no denying that there have been officers in the revenue service who, stung by the contempt in which they were held as renegades from their own people, have used their authority in settling private scores, and have inflicted grievous wrongs upon innocent people. This is matter of official record. In his report for 1882, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue himself declared that “Instances have been brought to my attention where numerous prosecutions have been instituted for the most trivial violations of law, and the arrested parties taken long distances and subjected to great inconveniences and expense, not in the interest of the Government, but apparently for no other reason than to make costs.”

An ex-United States Commissioner told me that, in the darkest days of this struggle, when he himself was obliged to buckle on a revolver every time he put his head out of doors, he had more trouble with his own deputies than with the moonshiners. “As a rule, none but desperadoes could be hired for the service,” he declared. “For example, one time my deputy in your county wanted some liquor for himself. He and two of his cronies crossed the line into South Carolina, raided a still, and got beastly drunk. The blockaders bushwhacked them, riddled a mule and its rider with buckshot, and shot my deputy through the brain with a squirrel rifle. We went over there and buried the victims a few days later, during a snow storm, working with our holster flaps unbuttoned. I had all that work and worry simply because that rascal was bent on getting drunk without paying for it. However, it cost him his life.”