Queen of the Mountain Bootleggers\' dies at age 101
My scanner is on the blilnk...This was published in the Lexington Herald, Tuesday, December 6,2005, Lexington, KY.
<font color="red"> 'Queen of the Mountain Bootleggers' dies at age 101...BAILEY/She knew the ins and outs of search and seizure law. By Jennifer Hewlett, HERALD LEADER STAFF WRITER </font>
Maggie Bailey, known as "The Queen of the Mountain Bootleggers", died of complications from pneumonia Saturday at Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital. The Kentucky legend, who began selling moonshine when she was 17 and was still selling alcohol from her modest home at Clovertown in Harlan County when she was 95, was 101.
Over and over again, often despite a preponderance of the evidence against her, Mrs. Bailey beat charges of illegally selling alcoholic beverages. Juries just would not convict her.
"Everybody knew her and she had helped everybody. Why do you bite the hand that feeds you, as the old saying goes", said Helen Halcomb, who is married to Mrs. Bailey's nephew.
Mrs. Bailey was well-liked and well-respected, and she often helped poor Harlan Countains, buying coal to heat their homes in the winter and giving them grocery money so they would not go hungry, friends said. Mrs. Bailey put several children through college.
Anybody who wanted to get elected went to see Maggie Bailey, Holcomb said.
She was very influential. "She had power", she said.
Former Gov. Albert B. "Happy Chandler was among the many politicians who paid Mrs. Bailey a visit while campaigning.
During one of his campaigns for governor he told her, "Mag, if you can help me get elected, I'm going to buy you some new shoes". Holcomb said. "Sure enough, when he got elected he sent his lieutenant governor in here with some new shoes".
<font color="red"> 'A delightful lady' </font>
While she spent money on other people, Mrs. Bailey lived like a pauper, Holcomb said.
For years, Mrs Bailey, perhaps appropriately, wore a uniform with the name "National Distillery" over a breast pocket when she greeted her customers. One of Mrs. Bailey's sister's worked at the distillery in Louisville and handed down her old uniforms to Mrs. Bailey, Halcomb said.
"I represented her for a number of years. I always thought she was a delightful lady," said U.S. District Judge Karl Forester.
"She was and expert on the Fourth Amendment. She knew the laws of search and seizure as well as any person I've known", he said.
Forester recalled once representing Mrs. Bailey on bootlegging charges at six trials on the same day.
"We had six acquittals at three different courts in the same day". he said.
On another occasion Mrs. Bailey lost in a circuit court trail, but he conviction was overturned on appeal, Forester said.
"I know that she must have been hauled into court at least 100 times...I do not remember a single time that she was convicted" said Harlan lawyer, Eugene Goss, who represented Mrs. Bailey many times.
"I don't care what the evidence was, the juries would not convict her".
He said that even state police troopers loved her, and law enforcement officers "finally quit trying" to catch her at illegal activities.
"She was very adroit. She had a million different place to hide it", Goss said of the moonshine. "She had a ladyrinth of buildings all around her dwelling". Often, search warrants for her property were thrown out because they weren't written to include certain buildings, he said.
"That happened about every time there was a case", he said.
<font color="red"> Starting Young </font>
Mrs. Bailey once told Halcomb that she started bootlegging to support her family. She helped raise five younger siblings. Later, Mrs. Bailey helped raise two nephews after their father was killed at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
"Maggie, she didn't have a lot of school education but Maggie educated herself, "Halcomb said. Mrs. Bailey read every newspaper she could get her hands on and was always watching news on television, she said.
"She could converse with you in anything you wanted to talk about. She was very intelligent", she said.
Mrs. Bailey was imprisoned at a federal reformatory for women in Alderson, W.Va. from May 1941 to May 1943 for selling moonshine. The federal indictment said she had 150 half gallons of moonshine on hand at the time she was charged.
In the 1960's Mrs. Bailey found herself dealing with federal authorities again, this time after police claimed to have found hundreds of thousands of dollars in a foot locker at her home.
The incident was written about by the late Lexington lawyer, Bill Bagby in a book called Queen Maggie Outfoxes the IRS Evil.
The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal carried articles about the case.
"She was a great lady. In fact, she was one of the finest people I ever met. In all the years I represented her, she never lied to me", said Harlan lawyer Otis Doan.
"She was a very well-spoken person. I never heard her curse. She sold whiskey, but she wouldn't sell it to anyone who had a whiskey problem", Goss said.
Anytime Mrs. Bailey heard about someone doing something reprehensible she would say: "I'm glad I'm just a good old-fashioned bootlegger", Goss said.
Mrs. Bailey, the widow of Lora Bailey, is survived by her nephew, Don Halcomb and several great-nephews and great-nieces.
Services will be at 8 p.m. today at Rich Funeral Home in Harlan. Visitation will be after 5 p.m. today. Burial will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Resthaven Cemetery at Keith.
another legendary moonshiner
Bettye Jo's posting of the obit of a legendary moonshiner brought to mind another one, Coe DuPuis of Cajun country in Louisiana. I ran across this story in 2000, and believe that he died at about this time.
The thing that set DuPuis apart from other 'shiners is that he aged his whiskey six months to two years in ten gallon charred barrels. He apparently did use sugar, though, so he wasn't making boubon.
Gary will be interested to note that he blended his whiskey with flavoring - in his case, an extract of wild cherries (I suspect from the description either choke cherries or pin cherries).
I posted this story to a now moribund group that I was/am list owner of, Distilled Beverage Digest, and it was picked up by a homebrewing club in Florida, who has it on their newsletter website, but I felt it ought to be here as well. (I searched the archives without any hits, but since a search only goes back five years, it may have been posted before.)
It amazes me that moonshine production could be discussed so openly. It makes me believe that the revenooers are really only concerned with commercial operations.
This is long, but I hope you all find it worth reading.
Sunday, July 9, 2000
Section: FEATURES INQUIRER MAGAZINE
Memo: Craig LaBan is The Inquirer's restaurant critic.
Michael Bryant is an Inquirer staff photographer.
THE LEGENDARY COE DUPUIS
THE OLD MOONSHINER IS A CRAFTSMAN WHO'S GOT
STORIES TO TELL AND LESSONS TO TEACH.
STORY BY CRAIG LaBAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL BRYANT
This is the summer of Coe's last batch. At least that is what I hear from his friends in Cajun country who dread the day there will be no more of his magical moonshine. Each spring in Southern Louisiana, ever since the old man began feeding this terrible rumor, they repeat it without ever expecting it to become true.
Will this be the last year his copper still feels the slow heat of the flames he tends so meticulously? Since Prohibition, its coffin-shaped kettle has sent the sweet vapors steaming up through the cooling coils and down into the charred oak barrels. An American whiskey for the ages, kissed with a teaspoon of wild cherry bounce. Could this really be his last?
Edwin "Coe" Dupuis, 96, sits in the massive cedar rocking chair in his kitchen parlor, frail body cocked in contemplation, King Edward "cee-gar" chomped between his jaws. The smoke curls up and disappears into the white waves of hair that frame his regal face. He moves to speak, sometimes in Cajun French, sometimes in English, often a foggy melange of the two.
"Probably so," he says with a sly smile, but the question does not engage him. Hospitality does. "Have a drink."
On the table sits a large jug filled with whiskey. I pour a splash. "More," Coe tells me, "more," until I fill it to the brim.
I had always heard that moonshine could make you blind or crazy. It was the secretly distilled rotgut of mountain men and gangsters out to make a fortune cheap and rough. Ruckus juice. Pop skull. Preacher's lye. Dead man's dram.
But what Coe makes is another creation altogether. The pure amber liquid tickles my nostrils with inviting, sophisticated warmth. As it slips across my tongue, waves of caramel, charred oak and fruit flare but do not burn. The soft tease of a hum lingers, glowing long after the drink is gone.
Dickie Breaux, the restaurateur and former Louisiana state representative who brought me here, likens Coe's whiskey to fine Armagnac. Jim Bozeman, the retired cardiovascular surgeon and bourbon connoisseur who installed Coe's pacemaker 20 years ago, says, "it's not as good as Jack Daniels, it's much better." And Debbie Fleming Caffery, a photographer who is one of Coe's many devoted friends, tells him as they sway together on the porch swing, "It makes my cheeks hot after I drink it. It's a total aphrodisiac. Coe?" She wants his attention. "Can you hear me? Aph-ro-dis-i-ac!"
"Don't use such big words," he whispers coyly. "It just tastes like more."
I've come all the way from Philadelphia to speak with Coe, who is no ordinary backwoods moonshiner. Coe Dupuis is a wizard of whiskey, a Stravinsky at the still, a maestro of the mash. He has done for outlaw liquor what Robert Johnson did for the Delta blues, instinctively elevating a folk tradition into golden, liquid art. He makes it for a hobby now rather than profit, but he still infuses it with the flavor and legend of a place that is rapidly disappearing.
I flew into New Orleans and drove two hours west to Cajun country, crossed the Mississippi and Atchafalaya, passed over stump-filled cypress swamps and moss-covered bayous, and arrived at his little cabin with a list of questions two pages long. How is the moonshine made? What about the old bootlegging days? What about Megan Barra, his student?
At first he indulges my interest. But an hour into my weekend visit, his gray eyes become misty with indifference. He leans away from me with suspicious distaste and waves as if brushing off a fly. "Quit talkin' about this whiskey business! You're not going to make none anyhow."
I have misjudged the moment. Today's interview is done.
But Coe doesn't simmer for long. And besides, there's a party to prepare for tonight.
It was at Dickie and Cynthia Breaux's Cafe des Amis four years ago that Megan Barra, a graphic designer, and her boyfriend, world-renowned slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, had their first taste of Coe's moonshine.
"It was so smooth, everything else since tastes like gasoline," Megan says. "I went up to him and said, `I love your whiskey.' And he said, `Don't drink too much!' "
"Something about this extraordinary drink taps you inside and helps you use your own personal powers," Sonny says. "One guy I know got inspired to contact his biological mother after he drank it. And my road manager, well, he didn't have any back pain for months and months."
For Megan, it was also the beginning of something special. She painted an image of Coe as a younger man on a whiskey jug and gave it to him. They became friends, sharing stories and recollections. She took him more painted jugs: Coe beside his still. His late wife, Angeline, eternally pretty in her black hair and blue dress. And Sam, the pony that used to walk into his house and eat ashtrays full of cigar butts. Her visits soon evolved into something more intriguing: She became the moonshiner's apprentice.
"He said he was going to quit maybe two years ago, and we were like, `Gosh, we love this stuff, what are we going to do?' I wanted to watch him and learn how, just like I learned to make gumbo from my grandmother."
This isn't the first time Coe has attracted followers. But none, he says, bothered to listen for very long.
"They always start cuttin' corners, they start to try tellin' me how to make it," he says with disgust. "But Megan might. She might make it. She looks very interested, and she doesn't mind spending the time.
"I'm taking a chance, I s'ppose" - Coe catches my eye - "but I've always picked good-looking girls."
He gives Megan a mischievous smile, knowing her intense shyness. She blushes.
I am surprised to learn that Coe Dupuis is not a drinker, save for a porch-swing nip or a little whiff when he is blending.
"He can't handle that firewater," says his nephew, Adley Dupuis. "He gets mean if he drinks too much."
It seems a strange contradiction, considering moonshine has been a constant in his life since 1928. Then 24, he decided to supplement the modest income he made fishing the Atchafalaya River with a little home brew. He acquired his copper kettles and the finer points of distilling from some Kentuckians who were installing high-power lines in the region. To compete with other local bootleggers, who sold their whiskey fresh out of the still, he aged his spirits from six months to two years in burnt oak casks, and then sold it for nearly twice as much, $5 a gallon.
A good bootlegger needs a poker face, he says, raising a hand with a ring finger that was shortened by a fan belt: "Don't be afraid. Nuh-uh."
A great bootlegger knows quality sells: "Take your time, and don't sell cheap. . . . C'est dans les barils, c'est dans les ans." The secret is in the barrels. It's in the years.
The significance of Coe's whiskey goes far beyond the occasional sip. It is his claim to fame. It is his way of marking seasons. He sets his mash to ferment only when the bayou sun reaches the peak of its summer swelter. And it is what Debbie Caffery calls his "mystic magnet," the force that draws all walks of people to his front porch.
After director Francis Ford Coppola showed up a couple weeks before I arrived, Megan began planning a portrait of Coe and "Francis" on a jug.
Recent episodes of heart failure have given Coe's friends a scare, but he insists on living alone where he can watch The Price Is Right every day and listen to his tape of country singer Jimmie Rodgers. Coe still drives his truck to town, although not always in a straight line. He has a daughter, but she lives in Indiana; friends whisper that a son committed suicide some years ago. Nephews and friends keep him in their sights.
"When you're around him, you realize that it's all about how you look at life," Sonny says. "He sees us young people running around at a frantic pace, always trying to accomplish, trying to be successful. But he has a more simplistic view: `Don't worry `bout nothin.' Be you're own man. And don't take anything for granted.'
"The moonshine is incredible, but it's really Coe. If there was no more, not even a drop of moonshine, I'd still come over to visit because I've never met anyone like him."
Megan and Adley take me inside the stuffy shack Coe calls his office. Wasps hover overhead, attracted by the cane sugar in the plastic trash cans in the corner. These are where the mash ferments, a slurry of water, sugar, cracked corn and yeast that foams and gurgles from four to 12 days before it's ripe. Coe stirs it with a paddle, filling the room with the smell of yeast.
When it's ready to be distilled, the mash goes into the kettle. The joints are sealed with thick dough and the three gas burners below are set just enough to boil, but not enough to stir up any impurities. The pure vapors rise up through a copper cone and into a tube that spirals down through a 75-foot coil into a barrel of cool condensing water. When the alcohol comes out - 50 gallons take 24 hours - it drips down a little thread, ready to be distilled a second time.
Coe can stay up for 48 hours on end, a perfectionist tweaking the flames, discarding the toxic first half-gallon, unperturbed by temperatures above 100 degrees.
"All he wants is alcohol," Adley says. "And it's just as clear as water, man, just as clear as can be. That's white lightning."
The fresh liquor goes into 10-gallon charred oak barrels he only uses once. Then, after two years of wooden slumber, the rich caramel-colored whiskey emerges. Coe keeps a hydrometer for proofing alcohol in the box it came in 72 years ago. It happens to be the only thing he can read, but he rarely needs it anymore. His whiskey, Jim Bozeman says, is almost always exactly 80 proof.
How will the novice become so proficient?
"I came every other day last fall just to watch that batch," Megan says. "I felt like I could do it. I'm still not sure that mine will taste like his. But I want it to. Because when he goes, there's no more. And I would hate for this recipe to die with him. Just to carry it on is important. Because it's a good thing. Simple as that. It's good."
When Coe gets ready for his public, he puts on pancake makeup, smearing the deep pores in his nose. He spritzes on perfume and rinses blue tint through his hair. (Sometimes it comes out green.) His dark pants are sharply creased, a white handkerchief billows from his back pocket. He gives his shoes a fresh buff. "I shine them every day; that way they're easy to find."
And then he prepares the whiskey. Over to the sink he shuffles, tapping along on a cane that is wrapped with a wooden serpent. He takes a bottle from a recent batch - "the man's drink" - and spoons in warm sugar syrup and a dose of bounce, the sweetened essence of tiny black cherries he harvests from backyard trees.
He sets his cane aside, grabs the bottle at each end and begins a gentle sloshing. Back and forth, swish swish swish. Soon Coe puts his whole bowlegged body into the mix, twisting, swerving, levitating in the gyroscopic gravity of the whiskey's tide.
The blend is done. The "woman's drink" is ready.
Coe's whiskey is not for sale these days. You have to be a friend. Rather than money, he receives presents of artwork or sugar-dusted beignets or sometimes Crown Royal, the most expensive whiskey Coe could find in the liquor store, and therefore, he feels, a fair exchange. He doesn't drink it, of course, but sometimes he gives it as a wedding present.
When moonshine was Coe's livelihood, most customers lived between Lafayette and Baton Rouge. During Prohibition, local parish bosses - sheriff, judge and clerk of court - were among his most ardent fans.
"If you can't get along with the law," he says, "that's tough."
Work on oil and dredge boats gave Coe useful contacts in the North. One of Coe's best customers, Jim Bozeman tells me, was a seafood purveyor in Cincinnati whose regular train shipments of buffalo fish from Atchafalaya station concealed barrels of whiskey.
"J'ai fait quelques sous," Coe admits. He made a few pennies.
Coe's small cabin belies the accumulation of many pennies with its rusting metal roof and gloomy wood-paneled rooms stagnant with late spring heat. "Joliment chaud!" says Coe, reveling in the "beautiful warmth."
"He is not the destitute-looking person you see in this old house. He could have a very nice house, but doesn't want it," Bozeman says. "He bought a truck a year ago that must have been the only one sold in the entire state the last 10 years without air-conditioning or radio."
Nevertheless, speculators aren't uncommon at Coe's door. A Louisiana senator came by not long ago, Bozeman says, his eyes asparkle with designs of making lots of money.
"Coe told me, `He was just a couillon, a big shot. Doesn't he understand you can't make any money on this because the taxes are so high?' "
The tense relationship between illegal distillers and the government dates back to George Washington's 54- cent-per-gallon whiskey tax of 1791, which led to a farmer rebellion in southwestern Pennsylvania. At one time the tariff made up 60 percent of the domestic taxes the government collected.
The antagonism hit its apex during Prohibition, when small-time bootleggers like Coe Dupuis got their start, contributing both to the local trade and the flow north of Southern booze and smuggled European liquor. Louisiana's swampy maze of a coastline and easy access to the Mississippi have always attracted smugglers, from the pirate Jean Laffite to the drug runners of today. Even during Prohibition, New Orleans was a party town. Legendary government agent Izzy Einstein set a record there for finding a drink - within 35 seconds of his arrival.
Even though amateurs may now brew beer and make wine, distilling spirits at home is still illegal, whether for sale or personal consumption.
Temperance is no longer the issue; but taxes are. The federal tax on a gallon of 100-proof alcohol is now up to $13.50, and the government doesn't want to lose that revenue to home distillers. Health concerns are another matter. Poorly made moonshine - sometimes condensed in lead-contaminated radiators - can cause brain damage, blindness or even death.
And yet the renegade art of moonshine persists. Every so often the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes across huge illegal distilleries, capable of distributing millions of dollars in untaxed hooch. During Operation Desert Storm GIs made moonshine in far smaller quantities to relieve the stress of war in the dry Middle East.
And then there are the legendary craftsmen like Coe.
Norbert LeBlanc, an alligator hunter, is showing me the swamp near Coe's house. His people do a little moonshining, too, using a recipe that's been in the family for generations, but they ferment their mash with dried peaches instead of cherries.
"Anybody can buy whiskey in town, but when you make it, it gives you something a little extra. It's a novelty now, really. But it's something the Cajuns are going to lose if they don't keep it up, like how younger generations don't speak French anymore."
He uncovers a recycled Crown Royal bottle filled with deep red liquid. I can smell peach peels when I don't breathe too deeply. But then I do, and fire fills my nostrils. The taste is even more vivid than the smell, with buttery richness fizzling into a rough and heady burn. At 106 proof, only a few sips leave me punchy.
"Coe's is pretty good," Norbert says. "Course, mine is better, naturally."
From Coe's front porch, you can see the fields of sugarcane across the street rising into the horizon like a vast green fringe. His cabin is set like a surprise in the shaded bend of a two-lane road, corralled by a woven bamboo fence painted red, green and white. Twirling in the front yard is a funky menagerie of wagon-wheel mobiles, dangling ax picks, wrenches, a grinding stone, a ship's bell.
Dickie Breaux says the irrepressible Cajun urge to render something beautiful out of nothing is responsible for Coe's lawn fantasies. And his whiskey.
What better seat could there be than the porch swing where Coe receives his guests with all his creative wares on view? The mobiles clang in the breeze, and the whiskey bottles move between us in perpetual pouring motion.
Women circle around Coe, urging him to sing.
"Have another drink," he replies.
"Oh, that tastes illicit," says Alice Landry, licking her lips, holding her 3-month-old daughter, Alix Basden, in her left hand.
Debbie tells of the time when Coe, sporting a diamond stick pin and his trademark polished shoes, kissed her two years ago on her 50th birthday.
"He kissed me so powerfully, I felt as if I'd kissed the moonshine sage," she says, taking a sip. "He has very soft lips."
Without warning Coe's quavering voice rises into a tune, a husky lilt that sounds like wind passing through dry tobacco.
"When I was single, ah had no worries. Now that I'm married, I'm in trouble all the time. Lord, I wish I was single again. . . ."
Sonny Landreth takes his steel guitar and slides a bottleneck up its frets. Another cup of whiskey. The strings hum and buzz, leaping from the instrument with mesmerizing syncopation. And whiskey flows through our little cups as effortlessly as the music moves, swaying sweetly into an impromptu lullaby called "The Bayou Teche Waltz."
They say you can calm a baby by rubbing moonshine on its feet. But the touch of a real moonshiner is even better. As the amber sun sets beyond the cane fields, and the steel guitar fills the cooling air, Coe reaches out to caress Alix's tiny heel. Before the waltz is over, the baby is sound asleep.
"Goodnight, Coe. See you tomorrow."
He looks at me suspiciously: "What time?"
I say, "Three," and he gives a wheezy groan.
"You got lipstick?" he asks Megan.
She applies a fresh coat and kisses him on the cheek.
"Aaah, that tastes better," he says. "You come back tomorrow and I'll show you the real McCoy."
"Watch out for quicksand!"Norbert calls to me over his shoulder, but I've already slipped off a cypress log and sunk knee-deep into the sandy clay banks of the Atchafalaya River. We are just below Bayou des Ourses, near where the Dupuis clan lived in the 1920s.
We've motored for hours in Norbert's boat through the twisting bayous, entered the powerful river and circled around an island. We have pulled over to do some exploring.
Coe Dupuis' original stills were not too far away. We pass the ruins of railroad pilings where Atchafalaya station used to be. As I sink into the soft suction, surrounded by deer tracks and dragonflies, it is easy to imagine nimble-footed swampers like Coe - 100-pound sacks of sugar on their backs - disappearing into the thick veil of willows and cottonwoods as their government pursuers struggle in the mud.
In his most productive years, Coe says he made up to 800 gallons of moonshine a trip. Even in 1929 he made a nice profit. Somehow people found the money for his whiskey: "Oh, yeah, 800 gallons wouldn't last too long."
Coe was caught once, in 1928 when a customer's irate wife tipped off revenuers, who burned his kettles. When Coe went to court in Opelousas with 27 other bootleggers, his attorney - the lieutenant governor of Louisiana - got him acquitted.
"The poor fellas," he says of the revenuers, "were people just like us. They had their job, I had mine."
Even so, Coe tells the epilogue with sweet satisfaction. A man approached him one day and asked for a match. The man's whiskey-loving brother was angry, he told Coe, because he'd been one of the revenuers who had burned Coe's camp.
"Yeah? Well, tell your brother to come back," Coe said. " 'Cause y'all didn't burn it all. Tell your brother to come back 'cause I got plenty left."
The government men had missed the 50-gallon barrels buried under their feet.
Today is my last day with Coe, and for the first time we will be alone together. No more protective nephews to translate his foggy dialect. No more parties or beautiful women to distract us. Just a pesky couillon, as he calls me (in jest, I think), and the reluctant subject.
Debbie encouraged me last night as she prepared to leave for New Mexico, a bottle of moonshine tucked into her suitcase, ready to test her latest boyfriend.
Coe can be a demanding friend, she said, especially as his health declines. He wants his friends around when he wants them around.
"But it's still always fun to go over. A lot of old people are crotchety and nobody wants to be around them. But Coe is lovable. He is like some kind of mystical being that wears the same perfume my grandmother did. And it's the smell of good memories.
"Here, bring him this," she said, handing me an empty Crown Royal bottle. "This'll score you points."
"Bonjour, Coe! Ca va?""Ca ne va pas," he groans as I creak through his screen door. "I'm not so great. Have a drink."
Coe looks at me funny, noting the fierce pink sunburn I'd acquired that morning.
"I went out to the Atchafalaya River today with Norbert."
"I wanted to see everything - where you grew up, the old train station, Bayou des Ourses. It was beautiful. I got stuck in the mud."
He laughs at my dirt-caked shoes.
"That sand is somethin'. Need to know where you are going. I'm glad that you saw that. I haven't seen that for 50 years."
He is pleased when I give him Debbie's Crown Royal empty. Then I bring up the subject of Father Allen Breaux, whom I'd also seen that morning, and he becomes unusually sheepish.
Coe's relatives sent for Father Allen, who is Dickie's brother, when he was ill. They asked the priest to give Coe the anointing of the sick. He went, but he knew not to push too hard. Coe has been to church only four times in his life, and though he believes in God ("My buddy!"), he has little use for ritual.
"He's a nice guy," Coe says of Allen, whose own grandfather was a moonshiner. "But a priest is a priest, and when he came, I didn't know what to do."
What Allen found was a man at peace.
"In fact, I find myself attracted to what he's about," Father Allen says. "He's a real craftsman, and there's no greed in his operation. He has lived a really full life."
I tell Coe this and he smiles.
"I ain't got much, but you see what I got. Maybe I can do better than that, but that's enough for me. If I could only work a bit to keep my yard the way I like, I'd be glad.
"You ever see a crawfish pond?" He grabs the serpent cane and rises out of his chair. "C'mon, let's go."
I drive Coe down a dusty street, an arid strip of dirt and gravel that he himself carved alongside a narrow bayou. The water is low today, its banks dry and parched. But as we turn a corner, the landscape that unfolds takes my breath away with its lushness.
A vast grass-fringed pond opens under the blue sky for a half-mile in either direction. Its glassy surface is entirely covered with purple water lilies and the air is full of graceful long-necked birds. It could be a sanctuary for great blue and white herons, snowy egrets and ibis, loping down to perch over the flooded crawfish traps.
"This is mine," Coe says, waving his cane toward the acres he bought in 1937. For each acre he paid $6, just about the cost of a gallon of moonshine. The price was right.
This is the place where Bozeman met Coe 30 years ago, sloshing methodically through the muddy pond in his rain slicker while younger men checked their traps in boats. Today two people wave from the pond, thick-necked and sweaty beneath their straw hats as they haul 40-pound sacks of crawfish onto a truck. They salute Monsieur Coe in French.
His whiskey, they tell me, is the best: "C'est du bon l'ouvrage. Ca se boit bien." It's fine work. Drinks nice.
We drive back toward his house, but turn first onto a shaded drive nearby. It leads to a compound of two attractive houses, rustic-looking contemporaries with big glass windows. Modern sculptures of figures crinkle-wrapped in metal sheets dot the manicured lawn.
"This was my boy's house," he says. It is the only time he has mentioned his son. "I sold it."
My tour of Coe's empire is over, and we are back where we began, sitting in the beautiful heat of his dark kitchen, savoring a last cup of moonshine. It is just barely on the sweet side of a man's drink. Dark with wild cherry, charred with a bourbony oak that makes my gums tingle.
I will miss this taste.
"You can't be in too much of a hurry to make something like that," he tells me.
"What about Megan? Think she's going to do it?"
"Peut-etre," he says with a thin grin, baring his blunted teeth. "Maybe."
"Did you ever show her the real McCoy?"
"Oooh no. Not yet."
"Well, what are you waiting for, Coe? Isn't this your last batch?"
"Nuh-uh," he says with a smoky sigh. "I'm going to make some this summer, and next summer and the next summer. I got gallons of it left."
I toast the news and drink another. Then I rise to thank him. From his cedar rocking chair, he grasps my hand and holds it. His misty gray eyes suddenly bore into me with rings of white sharpness.
"When you comin' back?"
"Soon, I hope. Soon. Goodbye, Coe."
He stops me, holding up his stubby-fingered hand.
"Goodbye is for dead people. The right word is au revoir. Au revoir, au revoir. I'll see you again."
Craig LaBan's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Coe stands in his backyard shed in Louisiana's Cajun country. He lives simply, yet his whiskey has a delicate complexity.
Mash is heated in a copper kettle (top), then distilled into oak barrels and aged. In his kitchen (above), Coe adds a touch of cherry bounce.
Megan Barra, a graphic designer, shows Coe a sketch. The family of Norbert LeBlanc, a swamp guide (right), use peaches in their moonshine.
Coe Dupuis has many friends. Debbie Caffery, a photographer, holds Alix, Alice Landry's baby. Alice (top right) sits with Coe listening to slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, who often comes by to play. Visitors pour Coe's whiskey from an assortment of containers. (Photography by Michael Bryant)
Re: another legendary moonshiner
I just figured this out last week: If you clear the newer than date and put in 5 years as the older than date, you get the older posts.
(I searched the archives without any hits, but since a search only goes back five years, it may have been posted before.)
Re: another legendary moonshiner
Thanks for the tip, Timothy. I just repeated the search for > five years with no results, so I guess this is a new topic.
I just figured this out last week: If you clear the newer than date and put in 5 years as the older than date, you get the older posts.
Hope you enjoyed it.
Re: another legendary moonshiner
I did. Given the general directions of where he lived, he must have been quite close to where I attend college. I knew those swamps were good for something.
Hope you enjoyed it.
Re: another legendary moonshiner
That was a fine story, fine American journalism full of insights and poetry, too.
I grew up in Montreal and can relate to the French in the story, "c'est dans les barils", "dans les ans". Et moi je suis ben d'accord.