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Moonshine: A Smoky Mountain Pastime

The Whisky Rebellion. Prohibition. The Roaring Twenties. From carriages to cars, the moonshine business has rumbled along mountain roads for hundreds of years, thriving on secrecy and darkness. Moonshine isn’t just a piece of history here in the Smokies; it’s a point of pride and a booming modernized business. Where and how did this mysterious business begin?

Hiding Place in Old Cabin the National Park
Hiding Place in Old Cabin the National Park

Moonshine was born at the same time as our country, and as a direct result of it. After the Revolutionary War, the newly formed federal government had to pay for the lengthy war they’d just finished. Their way to do that was based on an alcohol tax. The former colonists, now American citizens, were less than pleased that one taxing government entity was replaced by another taxing government entity. Many people decided to make their own liquor and spirits in defiance of the new tax, and moonshine was born.

The birth of moonshine wasn’t a hobby or a way to get back at the government. It was a means of survival. Early moonshiners were trying to support their families. If a farmer had a hard season, he could turn his corn harvest into whisky and survive to farm another year, as long as he didn’t have to pay the liquor tax. Tensions rose amongst the moonshiners and the federal government. This came to a head at the Whisky Rebellion, when several hundred people collided with several thousand militiamen sent by President George Washington. The rebellious leaders were captured and the rebellion snuffed out, but illegal moonshining continued.

On back roads and in secret, moonshine making continued. Emotions heightened as the government intensified their efforts to collect the taxes in the mid-1800s, with violence resulting between the moonshiners and the tax collectors. Often, families of each side would be threatened. Tipping off the government to the location of stills or the routes taken was nearly guaranteed to result in more violence against the tattletale. The government was now trying to finance another war: the Civil War. Once again, the moonshiners were on the losing side of the battle. But the moonshine business continued, and reached a boom in the 1920s thanks to Prohibition and the rise of Speakeasies. With all alcohol becoming illegal, moonshiners had more business than they could handle. They began making moonshine out of sugar and watering all moonshine down to increase overall production. Smoky speakeasies had secret entrances and exits in case the government raided the place.

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are tied to this history as well. The Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine company touts a 100-year-old recipe, dozens of variations, and locations in both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. For more on their personal history or to see where you can buy their product, go to These local places will be glad to share their histories and moonshine with you:

After visiting one of our local legends, let us know if we can help you find a cozy cabin or home to call your own in this history-rich area. We have homes available in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville. We have listings of cabins and distressed homes as well. We’re happy to be your guide to our beloved Smoky Mountains!

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The people on the Terrell-Drager Team are absolutely the BEST! We have used them for both selling and buying, several times, and they always have worked hard, going above and beyond to make deals happen. Very professional, very efficient, and extremely easy to work with. They have a deep knowledge of the areas, the market conditions, and they don’t cut corners. I highly recommend them to anyone who is needing to sell or buy. They are the best!
Sandra Sudduth

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