Packer’s Bend


In my column about not meeting Harper Lee I suggested that  if I had, one of the things we might have talked about was the  odd boundary line between her county, Monroe, and mine, Clarke, down in South Alabama.
Not surprisingly, some folks wrote and asked what I was talking about.
Here it is.
Mostly  hearsay.
If any of it has been confirmed by scholarly research I know none of it.
If any of it has been contradicted by scholarly research I’ll have none of it.
In short, as my late, beloved cousin-in-law Kathryn Tucker Windham was wont to say, “if it didn’t happen that way, it should have.”
So there.
As you know, rivers serve as convenient boundaries between different political units – nations, states, counties, cities.  There might be some dispute over whether the dividing line goes down the middle of the stream or is located on one bank or the other, but that the river separates is generally accepted.
Unless, of course, there is something on one side of the river that someone on the other side wants.
Which, I have been led to believe happened in the counties of Monroe and Clarke.
The boundary between the counties follows the Alabama River –with three exceptions. In each case Monroe County picked up land that would have gone to Clarke, if the river was the line.
One of these exceptions is a parcel of rich bottom land between the river and the little village of Gosport.
According to the story told to me, the land belonged to a prominent Monroe Countian who did not want his property, and perhaps his political future, tied to the other county.  So he got the line moved.
The second is a little plat close to Silver Creek Park.
The third, and largest exception is Packers Bend.
Packers Bend was a prize. It was first class cotton country with good river access.  But as time passed, roads replaced the river as the way to travel, and Packers Bend, without a bridge connecting it to the rest of Monroe County, became isolated.
Isolation suited one element of the county’s population just fine.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Alabama self-appointed moral arbiters and do-gooding busybodies tried to  stop people from distilling, selling, and drinking alcoholic beverages. As a result the making and selling of moonshine whiskey became one of the most lucrative professions in the state.
Folks who normally would have scratched out a living on little one mule farms became experts in measuring, mixing, boiling, condensing, and running off the popular product. Then, having turned bulk corn into jugged whiskey, they mastered the economics of supply, demand, and distribution to become part of an extensive market economy that put food on the family table and clothes on their children’s backs.
Naturally upright and uptight prohibitionists urged the government to stop them.
Now let’s be honest.  Some of the stuff they made was pure poison.  Lacking the copper coils (the “worm”) for cooling the alcohol vapors, they turned to automobile radiators, which contained lead and left the consumer crippled or, in some cases, dead.
In addition, folk tradition inspired such unhealthy innovations as adding a snake head to the mash to give it bite or throwing in horseshoes and nails for iron.
Because the kettles were often topless during the cooking, “things” occasionally fell in and added a special flavor to the brew — hence the origin of the little Packers Bend village of Cat Mash.
But Packers Bend’s isolation did more than hide whiskey making from the prying eyes of the authorities.  Its boundary also enabled officials in Clarke County to get a measure of revenge on Monroe County for taking a Bend that they felt should have been theirs.
You see, if the Monroe County sheriff wished to go after Packers Bend moonshiners the lawmen had two choices.
They could ferry across the bridgeless river and raid the illegal operations.
But lookouts along the river could easily spot them and warn the distillers, who would pack up and move a little west, into Clarke County, where friendly (or maybe bribed) officials would protect them.
Or Monroe authorities could ask those same Clarke officials to let them come through their county and enter the bend by land.
You can imagine how far Monroe County got with that.
Clarke County’s position was simple.  Monroe County took the Bend and got the problems that came with it.  Don’t come running to us for help.
So moonshining thrived in Packers Bend.
I would have loved to have talked with Harper Lee about that.
And I bet she would have gotten a giggle knowing that two of the Clarke County sheriffs who were in office during those decades of dispute were my great-grandfather and a great-uncle.
It’s always more fun when its family.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and occasional op-ed/features writer for The Star.  He can be reached at


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