Marion Washington Gurganus
picture from “From a Hellenic Seed” by Leroy Gurganus

My curiosity was peaked as soon as I discovered the first newspaper article about Marion Gurganus and his moonshine.  I immediately began to dig to see what more I could learn about both Marion and about moonshining in the South. Neither subject disappointed me, although I will say that I did wish I could have learned just a little more about Marion himself as there are always more questions than answers, but this is what I did learn. 

To start with, I  learned that the principle difference in a moonshiner and a distiller was simple.  The distiller had a license and paid taxes, and a moonshiner did not.  In much of the South, farmers struggled to find ways to survive and many a farmer found that making and selling moonshine went a long ways in helping to make ends meet.  If they didn’t pay Uncle Sam, it helped their pocketbook that much more.

I learned that revenue agents were determined to catch moonshiners and used every tactic imaginable. Once they caught the moonshiner, some agents just destroyed the still while others arrested the men and helped send them to prison.  Moonshiners soon created their own network,  finding creative ways to signal each other when a revenuer was in the area.  But there were also individuals who saw other moonshiners as competitors and chose instead to tip off revenue agents about the location of neighboring stills.

I also learned that, according to newspaper articles, on April 13th 1910, Revenue Agent W. A. Anderson and Marshall Putnam had been tipped off and were riding through the woods near near Tuscaloosa, Alabama on their way to arrest Marion and his boys for making moonshine.  Anderson and Putnam inevitably had been through similar scenarios dozens of times.  Being a revenue agent was a dangerous and risky job at best, with shoot outs being fairly common.  I am sure that Agent Anderson and Marshall Putnam were painfully aware of the risk and came prepared for such an event, yet as Marion and his boys laid in wait for them, they were caught off guard.  Marion later testified that, as he watched the two men approaching in their buggy, he thought Anderson was about to shoot, so he shot first, killing Anderson instantly.  Putnam was wounded, but able to escape.

I assume that Putnam was able to make it back for help, for soon the word was out that Anderson was dead and Putnam was wounded.  Ten agents formed a posse and rode out to Marion’s property.  Undoubtedly tension was high on both sides as the posse entered the woods where a short time earlier Anderson and Putnam had been ambushed by gunfire.  While the original issue had been the operation of what the newspaper referred to as an “illicit still,”  this time much more was at stake. If the Gurganus men had reacted violently before, there was now an even greater potential for violence, however, a completely different scene awaited the posse.  According to newspaper accounts, as the men approached the area of the shooting, Johnny, Marion’s son, was standing outside and indicated that Marion had indeed fired the fatal shot and then he pointed out Marion’s house  The posse broke into Marion’s house, where they discovered him on the floor in agony, with burns covering his hands and feet.  Later in court, Marion would testify that he had intentionally burned himself in an effort to create an alibi.   I fail to see the logic in this act and apparently neither did the arresting officers or the judge, but somehow, in a moment of panic, it had made sense to Marion.  I am sure he was disappointed that his painful attempt at an alibi was all in vain.  

Marion Washington Gurganus, William Isaac Gurganus , Johnny Gurganus and John T. Morgan were then  arrested and taken to the county jail in Birmingham.  While Marion, Isaac and John T. were all adults, Johnny was only 14 years old at the time.
It is interesting to me that there were two charges made, neither of which included murder.  The first charge was “conspiracy to interfere with an officer in the discharge of his duties,” and the second was very similar and was the charge of “conspiracy to interfere with, or injure an officer of the government in the discharge of his duties.”  On June 10th, 1910, the men went to trial.  Details of that trial will follow in the next post. 
Meanwhile, there are many good articles on the internet about moonshining.  Below are links to two very interesting articles, including one about moonshine’s connection to Nascar. 

The Godfather of North Alabama

NASCAR’S Earliest Days Forever Connected to Bootlegging

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013

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9 thoughts on “Ambush on a Revenuer- Part 2

  1. How dramatic and exciting! So they weren't charged with murder. Very interesting. Maybe all the violence was interpreted as about "doing business." This reminds me of the old movie, Thunder Road, with Robert Mitchum, and the newer film "Lawless" with Jessica Chastain. I'll bet you would enjoy "Lawless."

  2. I really was surprised that they weren't charged with murder, but someone suggested that maybe somehow they felt satisfied that their intent was not to commit murder, but to interfere…..different times for sure. I was not aware of either of those movies, so I will have to look into them. Thanks Mariann!

  3. Hi, My name is Diane Dunn Drummond and I have heard parts of this story my whole life. My great-grandmother was Sarah Gurganus Dunn and John T Morgan was her son-in-law. He was married to my great-aunt Phebe Dunn. My Dad used to tell me this story but not is this many details! What a treasure to find!! My Dad and his brother Ozine Dunn at one time had a still (when they were both younger and before they had families) He had told me that moonshining was part of our family heritage. Thank you so much for posting this story!

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