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Meet Lewis Raymond, the Robinhood among Moonshiners, Who Became a Legend with One Gun Shot

Image for representation.  (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

Image for representation. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

Lewis Raymond was born in 1854 in the mountains of Swain County, North Carolina. Right from an early age, he dabbled in what was considered to be a passion for many youngsters of his time - illegal distilling of whiskey and its sale.

News18 Tippling Point“All right, put up your pistol, Alf. I will go along with you.”

On March 1, 1876, when Lewis Redmond, a moonshiner, asked Deputy US Marshall Alfred Duckworth to put away his gun as he was ready to surrender with a wagon full of illegal whiskey, the latter had no reason to be wary. After all, this was a tiny minnow in the troubled waters of American moonshine industry.

But the moment the officer lowered his gun, Redmon flipped out a small derringer from his pocket and shot him in the neck. Duckworth staggered away, fell, tried to reach for some water, but found to his horror, whatever went in drained out through a hole in his neck.

Poor Duckworth, he was only 24 when he bled to death that evening.

Lewis Raymond was born in 1854 in the mountains of Swain County, North Carolina. Right from an early age, he dabbled in what was considered to be a passion for many youngsters of his time - illegal distilling of whiskey and its sale.

Like his fellowmen, he was also least interested in sharing his profits as tax with the authorities. So alongside honing his skills as a distiller to make his hooch perfect, Raymond developed ingenious methods to stash away his wares from the eyes of the uniformed men. But it was getting more and more difficult to contain the scent of Raymond's whiskey from spreading. People began to talk about his special product.

Lewis Raymond was soon marked for the kill. On his part, Raymond was still one shot away from becoming a legend.

In 1867, federal revenue authorities obtained an arrest warrant for Raymond. It was when he was making a home delivery into Transylvania County that Deputy US Marshall Alfred Duckworth stood firmly on Raymond's path pointing a gun at his head.

The cold blood murder of a federal officer made Raymond an instant legend. People read the incident against the unpopular federal tax laws. Now they suddenly found in their midst a cult hero in the name of Lewis Raymond.

Tall and handsome, his dashing ways made Raymond popular among ladies too. He became a modern-day Robinhood, of course with a twist, that even though he made the authorities squirm in their seats like the legendary model, he made profits just for himself.

Based on his life a dime novel soon hit the stands.

Inspired by all this newfound fame, Raymond put up a strong fight all across the Carolina mountains as well as the front pages of tabloids, for defending his murky business from officers who dared to tread his side of the border.

The lines were drawn. The authorities understood they had no other way but to confront this new menace from South Carolina. Bloody shootouts began.

Raymond's cabin in the mountains of Western North Carolina was a soft target for the officers. In the first raid, they managed to reach the log cabin but found to their dismay that the alerted target had moved, and was now heading down a nearby river at breakneck speed in a canoe.

In January 1877, along with his help Amos Ladd, Raymond was asked to wait in a house in South Carolina for a delivery. When the party arrived in uniform, Raymond was shocked, but he slipped out the cabin through a hole at the back of the cabin. He was no coward to throw his assistant to fate, so Raymond came back and ambushed the officers who were relieved that they could at least nab Amos Ladd.

When darkness fell on the west that evening, the officers were seen climbing down the hill empty-handed.

A lot of planning might have gone into the third raid. Raymond tried to get away once again but the officers were quicker on the heels and shot him six times. The New York Times pronounced him dead. Legends do not die easily.

In custody, Raymond was taken to Charleston, where his wife procured permission to visit him occasionally. Raymond could have made away with another brilliant escape had it not been for the officers who were tipped off that the woman had secretly slipped in a small pistol to one of the most dangerous persons they had seen in their life. Raymond was cornered, warned. If he would not surrender the weapon, there was no trial. Instead, he would see the same fate that he dished out to a 24-year old officer long ago. Raymond gave up his gun.

He was moved to Ashville and then to Greenville, South Carolina, convicted for the murder of Alfred Duckworth. But destiny was kind to him. After three years in prison, he was pardoned by President Chester A. Arthur. Raymond lived the rest of his life as a law-abiding citizen, telling his grandchildren the heroic tales of a Robinhood he knew so closely, and overseeing the production in a government-run distillery.

For how can one dismiss one's brilliance as a moonshiner!
first published:April 26, 2020, 14:29 IST