Aghast at the ‘tone of morals’ in Mitchell County

“The tourist on horseback, in search of exercise and recreation, is not probably expected to take stock of moral conditions. But this Mitchell County [North Carolina], although it was a Union county during the war and is Republican in politics (the Southern reader will perhaps prefer another adverb to ‘although’), has had the worst possible reputation.

“The mountains were hiding-places of illicit distilleries; the woods were full of grog-shanties, where the inflaming fluid was sold as ‘native brandy,’ quarrels and neighborhood difficulties were frequent, and the knife and pistol were used on the slightest provocation. Fights arose about boundaries and the title to mica mines, and with the revenue officers; and force was the arbiter of all disputes. Within the year four murders were committed in the sparsely settled county. Travel on any of the roads was unsafe.

“The tone of morals was what might be expected with such lawlessness. A lady who came up on the road on the 4th of July, when an excursion party of country people took possession of the [railroad] cars, witnessed a scene and heard language past belief. Men, women, and children drank from whisky bottles that continually circulated, and a wild orgy resulted. Profanity, indecent talk on topics that even the license of the sixteenth century would not have tolerated, and freedom of manners that even Teniers would have shrunk from putting on canvas, made the journey horrible.

“The unrestrained license of whisky and assault and murder had produced a reaction a few months previous to our visit. The people had risen up in their indignation and broken up the groggeries. So far as we observed temperance prevailed, backed by public-opinion. In our whole ride through the mountain region we saw only one or two places where liquor was sold….”

— From “On Horseback”  by Charles Dudley Warner (1885)

 

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