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2014 Essay 4

Garner Hester and Lumpkin County Moonshine

By Jacob Hester

 

My Great Grandfather was Garner F. Hester and he was born in 1933. He grew up on a farm in Lumpkin County and was the oldest of twelve children. During his lifetime he wore many “hats” as some would say. He was employed as a saw miller, a mechanic, a school bus driver, a poultry farmer, and a cattle farmer. He worked for many years at Owens Hatchery and even worked for a short time at the Pine Tree Plant (but he liked being outdoors so that didn’t last long). Later he worked for the Lumpkin County land fill, before going to the Lumpkin County Co-Op.

Garner went to school at the Lewis School building that was located in the Frogtown District of Lumpkin County. The Lewis School building was also used as the voting place for the Frogtown district for many years. After he grew up and got married, Garner actually purchased the land that the Lewis School building was built on. He and his family lived in the old Lewis School building for many years. The Lewis School building was later torn down and a new home was built in its place.

One of the most interesting “hats” or jobs that he held was that of making moonshine. Some refer to this as being white lighting. Garner started making moonshine when he was about eleven or twelve years old. He would go to the still site with the older members of his family. He taught himself how to make the copper kettles, wooden vats (boxes to hold the mash), and the condensers that were needed to make the moonshine.

Moonshine was not easy to make. The still had to be located around a good cold water supply. It would take weeks to set up the site, prepare the mash, run the mash, and finally process it into moonshine. The mash was made by mixing malted crushed corn, water, and a 100 lb bag of sugar. A typical three by six wooden vat would hold 400 gallons of mash. The corn meal, water, and sugar would become a thick gravy. After becoming gravy, it would then go through the condenser and moonshine would come out.

You would know when the mash was ready by tasting it. If it was sweet then it was not ready. It had to taste bitter to be ready to run. Once you had your original mash you could keep working a still site for many months by just adding more malted crushed corn, water, and sugar. Back when my great grandfather made moonshine, he would get seven (six gallons per case) cases off of one batch. A case would cost about twenty-five dollars to buy. However, it only took about eight dollars to make a case of moonshine. So there was a great profit in the making moonshine.

My great grandfather’s moonshiner career came to an end on Super Bowl Sunday in 1968. The ATF or better known back then as the revenuers raided the still site. Garner was actually at the site running a batch of moonshine at the time. It was cold that day and the revenuers had been waiting a week to see who was running the site. The story is that he let himself get caught so that his younger brother could get away. Channel 5 news was there when he was caught. He only got probation. Garner never made moonshine after that day.

Moonshine in Lumpkin County can be tracked all the way back in my family to my great, great, great, great, grandfather. It was a tradition in Lumpkin County for many large families to make a decent living by selling moonshine. Most of the time people would make moonshine to supplement their income, while they maintained another job.

 

Citations:  

Grandmother - Wanda Hester

Great Grandmother- Helen Hester! Widow of Garner Hester

Great Great Uncle - Russell Hester/Brother of Garner Hester

The Dahlonega Nugget - 1968

     Moonshiner’s Book  By Billie Ivie