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The Dark Corner

January 4, 2010

 

In his book Smokin’ Shootin’ Irons in Dark Corner, James Walton Lawrence gives a detailed account of a raid on an illicit whiskey still. The episode occurred beside the headwaters of the South Pacolet River at the base of Hogback Mountain on January 31, 1924.

Reuben Gosnell, a Governor’s Constable with nineteen years experience, led a team of officers. The group included Constable Holland Howard, a life-long resident of the Dark Corner.

As the raiding party approached the suspected site, they met brothers, W. P. and Alexander Plumley, coming from the direction of the still. The experienced officers could tell by the condition of the brothers’ clothing they had been working at a still. They searched the two and found a pistol. The Plumley’s were placed under arrest and incarcerated in a small log corn crib about a half mile below the still site.

After Gosnell and Howard left, officers guarding the corn crib, came under rifle fire from a cave 100 yards away, across the South Pacolet River, a lookout post guarding the approach to the still.

Gosnell crept around to the head of the cove to cut off escape.  Howard ran toward the still to flush the moonshiners.  Gosnell heard cursing and several shots. He saw two men run from the still, one going west and one going east. He ran after the man going west. After a 400-yard chase, he caught Holland Pittman, who tried to draw a pistol.

Gosnell returned to the distillery and found Howard dead. Gosnell was fired upon from ambush as he tried to leave the scene. Holland Pittman was placed in Greenville County jail.  His father, Alexander Pittman, later surrendered in Greenville. Both father and son were charged with murder. The folk song, “The Ballad of Holland Howard,” memorialized the event.

Dark Corner is among the most intriguing places in Upstate South Carolina.  

Dean Stuart Campbell is known as the Squire of Dark Corner. An author, lecturer, photographer, story teller and tour guide, Dean Campbell has the perspective a native son whose maternal and paternal ancestors were early settlers. Campbell was the first to delineate the Dark Corner, the infamous mountain region in northern Greenville County. For Christmas this year, I was given a copy of Campbell’s book, His Eyes to the Hills—A Photographic Odyssey of the Dark Corner.

For years the Dark Corner was difficult to pinpoint. When local folks were asked the location of Dark Corner, the usual answer was, “Just a little piece further down the road.”

Over time, the entire northwest corner of South Carolina became know as the Dark Corner.

Dean Campbell’s Dark Corner is much more specific, confined entirely within the boundaries of Greenville County. It is generally defined as that area north of Highway 11 between Highway 14 and Highway 25. The land includes rolling foothills and the rugged Blue Ridge escarpment. The Cherokees called it the Blue Wall.

The first settlers were primarily Scots-Irish, granted their lands from the King of England before the Revolutionary War. Families of many of those pioneers still reside in the area, living on the original tracts of land.

Dark Corner was so named because there were few roads in and out. The land was densely forested. Farmsteads were away from the roads, hidden by the trees.

The people who lived in Dark Corner were good, hard-working people. Making and selling liquor was a legal way of earning money. Many residents of Dark Corner have made their own alcoholic beverages for generations, turning their corn and rye into whiskey.

President George Washington was the first to appoint High Sheriffs to collect taxes on homemade liquor. These officers were called Revenuers. The first sheriff dispatched to Dark Corner was shot and killed.

The people of Dark Corner felt that the government was unreasonable for imposing such laws. Government agents charged with enforcement of taxes and, later, prohibition, were looked on as enemies. Strangers who entered Dark Corner were regarded with suspicion.

An intruder literally took his life into his own hands. Folks who operated the stills, hidden in the laurel thickets, hollows, and coves along mountain streams, looked on Revenuers as fair game.

Troy Alverson lived on Von’s Creek near the old road that went from Tryon through Dark Corner. One day a wagon and seven men stopped at the Alverson cabin. The wagon was loaded with axes, picks, and guns. They asked Mr. Alverson if this was the road to Dark Corner.

“Do you fellers know anyone there?” he asked.

“No,” they answered.

They were advised that it was dangerous to go prowling around if they didn’t know anyone in the area.

One of the men spoke up, “We’ll take our chances. We’re Revenue Officers.”

Mr. Alverson shook his head, “Good luck, fellows.”

The seven men were never heard of again.

Dark Corner’s reputation has improved. Once known as an area of outlaws that rivaled the Old West for its gunfights and knife fights, these 150 square miles of rugged mountain country surrounding Glassy Mountain are now known as a delightful place to visit. From Pretty Place at Camp Greenville to the Greenville Watershed, from Campbell’s Covered Bridge to the Poinsett Bridge, the Dark Corner is rich in wonders to behold.

Dean Campbell says there are still moonshiners in the area.

When you visit, be careful!

Kirk H. Neely

© January 2010

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