Old Moe Clifton
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Every community in the Southeastern United States has a person or persons used by local
mothers as a “boogieman”. The usual threat would be, “If you’re not good I’ll let old man Cline get you. Or it may be “old man Elswick,”
One such old man was accustomed to walk daily up the highway by our house on Grassy
Creek. In each hand he carried a white jug. His name was Moe Clifton and he came from a community called Clifton Fork.
Most children in our community were afraid of Old Moe because of his scraggly appearance and especially because of a dirty, gray beard
that extended almost to his waistline. His garments were of the type worn by most mountaineer farmers; bibbed overalls and faded flannel
shirt. If any of the local children got out of line, during this period, we were threatened with, “I’m gonna let Old Moe Clifton carry
We certainly didn’t want to end up in some deep, dark hollow of Clifton
Fork! Who knows what our fate would be.
It was assumed that Moe Clifton carried milk in
his white jugs. He owned several cows, known to be good milkers, so everyone in our community naturally assumed that he was delivering
milk to the residents of our community who did not own cows.
A couple of my uncles, who
were still at home, were lately turning up intoxicated more than usual. Grandma couldn’t figure out where these overgrown, healthy
young men could possibly be getting alcohol. She knew they had no visible means of support other than her scratched out income. She
recollected that some of her hard-earned wealth was disappearing as of late. She attributed it to her absent-mindedness.
The most common means of “getting drunk” was from drinking ‘moonshine’ or “white lightning” made in some dark hollow where the revenuers
could not find the still. Someone in our vicinity was definitely making “shine”.
inclination that something was awry in our community, known as Shortt Gap, was that the high sheriff, Burl Wright, was showing up
a little more often. His inquiries let us know that he was seeking out some unknown culprit. Someone local must have tipped him off.
While playing in the creek below grandma’s house one sultry summer day in the 1950’s, I
was about ten years old, was when I first found out who was polluting our neighborhood with moonshine. The only fish left in the dwindling
creek were horny-heads. The only means of catching them was to run them under a rock, search until we felt their slimy bodies, then
nab them with my bare hands. I was hopeful I didn’t encounter a crawdad or a water snake in the process. Some of these serpents were
My reveries were interrupted by male voices.
“How much hooch would you be a’wantin’ today”?
“Oh, a quart oughta be enough,” came the
“That’ll be seven dollars,” the voice opined.
“You sure are raising your prices a lot” the second voice whined. “Hey, who else would walk this far with two heavy jugs and take
the chance of being arrested by the high sheriff”, why I’ve gotta be constantly watching my back to avoid goin’ to jail.”
“I still think your prices are too high,” came the reply.
I was scared stiff as I peeked
over a moss covered knoll. I knew one of the voices, but to make sure of the second one, I had to take a long, hard look. To my surprise,
and consternation, my uncle was buying liquor from old Moe Clifton, the milk vendor.
had only one alternative. I lay hidden until the deal was made then I stealthily crept home. I didn’t dare report my uncle and even
worse, I was too frightened to even consider reporting Moe Clifton.
This terrible secret
haunted me night and day. I had no appetite, which was very unusual for me. I usually cleaned my plate and begged for more. Sleep
alluded me. I would jump at the slightest noise. I peeked around corners before proceeding.
Should I tell my father what I had witnessed? Did I dare even share it with my brother Wendell? I sometimes awakened at night with
Moe Clifton’s blood-shot, angry eyes staring out at me from the darkness. I was clearly panicked!! Mom knew something was wrong but
she could not pry the secret out of me with a crowbar.
A report came a few days later that
gave me some peace of mind. Moe Clifton had been arrested for peddling illegal whiskey. The sheriff caught him in the act of selling
his contraband to another relative of mine in the Shortt Gap area. Talk about relief! I felt as if a giant boulder had been lifted
off my shoulders. Once again I could go to the creek and try to catch the illusive “horny head” and smoke a little ‘rabbit tobacco’.
Moe Clifton was arraigned at the Buchanan County Courthouse, the chief witness being, Burl
Wright, the high-sheriff. Not one person in the county would dare to openly contest the sheriff’s findings. His testimony stated ,
“Moe Clifton was caught in the act of transporting and selling illegal whiskey to the residents of Buchanan County” and furthermore,
his mode of transportation of said “moonshine” was in two jugs painted white to give the impression that milk was being delivered.”
Moe was given ample time in the Richmond State Prison to mull over his crimes and possibly
be rejuvenated enough to become a responsible citizen.
The way of a transgressor is mighty