After the Civil War, Issac Pitts, my granddads father, homesteaded 160 acres near the present Dogwood Lakes. He traded the homestead when my grandpa was about 6 years old, in about 1885. He said it was the George Rich place from which they operated a rural rolling store operation in the 1930's. Granddad said the trade was for $150.00 and a yoke of steers and wagon so as to move his family to the wilds of Old Majette/Youngstown, FL area down on Bear Creek in Washing County as "the game and fish has been hunted and fished out in Holmes."
Granddad said the family was dumped in saw grass about waist high, later a cabin was constructed, and life in the wilds began in earnest. At night, the hogs had to barricaded under the house to keep the bears from killing and eating them.
Living in the frontier wilds required ingenuity. For soap making certain treed were felled as I recall and burned to possibly use the ashes. Once when they were out of lard, they butchered a bear for grease, but Granddad said the stink from the grease made it almost impossible to be in the cabin when trying to cook.
When necessity required, he and his brothers or dad would take a load of skins and pole them down the creeks, sleeping on the banks at night. Eventually they poled into the bayous and finally to Harrisontown ( a trading post and what then existed of present day Panama City. The main street is now Harrison Avenue). Or they could pole into St. Andrews as it then existed. There they traded their skins etc. for salt, coffee, and other necessities they could not produce in their pea patch.
Anyway my granddad and some of his brothers came back to Holmes County as young men, married and he settled 160 acres on Ten Mile Creek in the Bethlehem Community. His brothers held nearby lands and the old Pitts graveyard was on the hill of Granddads place which has been forgotten and overgrown since the graves did not have permanent markers.
These settlers worked hard clearing their lands for farming and stock raising and for entertainment after their weeks work, a country hoedown or frolic was often held at a settlers place. May of Granddads relatives played musical instruments for such and I have heard that he could do some pretty good dancing as a young man.
Refreshments at these frolics included a wooden tub full of moonshine set on a kitchen table with a gourd or dipper used by all who wanted a drink. Granddad said nobody ever got out of hand and these occasions might last most of the night, dancing and visiting by torchlight or lantern. For those that drank, if they frank too much, they were pulled out under a tree to sleep it off.
After a time as the county became more settled we had big straightening of the ways. Apparently the Conservative Right of the times had determined there was too much Sin, Iniquity and Depravity being enjoyed by these settlers, so the Government sent revenue officers into the county to straighten them out. Granddad said heretofore moonshine had been made in the front yards in wash pots, etc., if the settler wanted to do so. When the revenue officers came through on horses and carriages, they broke wash pots, turned over barrels of syrup and raised general havoc. These officers were then said to have stayed at the Hotel Eureka in Bonifay. Rumors and stories were that after nightfall about 8 or 10 of the settlers shot up the hotel hitting and wounding 1 or 2 of the officer who were said to have hidden under the bedsteads.
The government was not through. They began a search for these desperadoes, some of whom had to remain in hiding in the swamps for some time. Finally a mock hanging with a noose around the neck of one of my distant relatives, with the other end over and oak tree limb, was said to have occurred. He immediately confessed his sins and saw the rightfulness of the Government's position, and further wanted all his brotherhood brought to justice so they could also change their ways. It isn't clear what happened next, but all the settlers survived, but the making of the favorite drink was more subdued.
It continued to be enjoyed by many and I've been told that close friends might even get my granddad to find them a quart of well-beaded brew if they were very discrete.
My granddad apparently used it in place of medicine, enjoying a little each day but never under the influence as far as I. know. And even though he never learned to read and write, he knew plenty about common sense living. He worked hard, lived to be 89 years of age, was at peace with himself, and in good health and content with his way of life. He always enjoyed fishing the creeks and pea patch farming he had learned in his early years.
As to the magic of the occasional drink, I've never eaten better fresh turnip green, fat back and pone corn bread that that prepared by my step-grandma, eaten just after Granddad and I had a nip cut to about half strength.
But that was living then, today with all our drug problems, it might behoove us all to observe the rightfulness of the Government's position.
This article originally appeared on Washington County News: Frontier Life, Sin, Iniquity and Prohibition