Raney: Wauhatchie Pike was moonshine motorway

A law enforcement officer guards a raided still.Staff File PhotoDade County deputy sheriffs in the early 1980s examine a massive still found in the Big Woods community of Sand Mountain.
A law enforcement officer guards a raided still.Staff File PhotoDade County deputy sheriffs in the early 1980s examine a massive still found in the Big Woods community of Sand Mountain.

Prohibition brought on an era of bootlegging, stills and hidden bars. Sand Mountain in particular was a "cradle of moonshine," according to R.R. Connell in a 1920 article, and to get their product to market, bootleggers traveled Wauhatchie Pike the entire way into St. Elmo.

Running liquor could be perilous as bootleggers and lawmen often clashed. The Chattanooga Times (Sept. 9, 1919) noted that "officers of the law state that a blockade runner or a bootlegger is the most desperate and daring of law violators ... ." That year a total of three runners were killed evading the law on Wauhatchie Pike.

All three died within a half mile of each other, at the foot of Lookout Mountain. Wiley Thomas was killed by several bullets while transporting whiskey. Fitney Chunn was shot when he and his partner quarreled over whiskey brought from Sand Mountain in Chunn's automobile.

The third death involved the Love brothers, Clyde and Rube, of Alton Park, and Charles Morrison, special deputy sheriff, carrier and band leader. Reuben (known as Rube) K. Love lost his life on Wauhatchie Pike when Morrison shot him during a moonshine run. Rube, who lived at 28 Hooker Road was a glass worker at the Chattanooga Bottle and Glass Manufacturing Co.

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Deputy Morrison had tipped off Sheriff Bass that the Loves would be coming one night with at least 60 gallons of moonshine into Chattanooga on Wauhatchie Pike. The sheriff sent two officers to ambush the Loves as they came into town. Meanwhile, the sheriff and Deputy Morrison left the county jail with guns loaded with buckshot. Sheriff Bass reached the scene and parked his car across the road. He stationed Morrison next to the car while he stood 50 yards up the pike.

Two hours later the two lawmen spotted headlights. The sheriff called for the car to halt. The vehicle sped up and veered as if to pass the sheriff's parked car. Both the sheriff and the deputy fired. The car wrecked. The officers had intended to shoot to stop the vehicle. Upon opening the door, Sheriff Bass found Rube Love, dead with a shot to the head, and a back seat filled with 12 five-gallon drums of whiskey. A second car came after the first, but the officers found nothing, and the vehicle was allowed to pass. The lawmen later learned the occupants of the second car, a Ford, to be Clyde Love, brother of Rube, and Oliver P. Wilson, the driver. The cars had been searched earlier by Dade County Sheriff W.H. Cross.

Deputy Sheriff Morrison and the Loves had developed bad blood from past encounters. Morrison had prosecuted Clyde and Reuben for car theft in 1918, and the Love brothers were convicted of stealing Morrison's Ford. Morrison at that time pulled a pistol on one of the Loves and was arrested but released since he held a warrant to carry. Since that incident, rumors of the Loves running liquor had circulated widely around Alton Park, though Alton Park Mayor Dr. J.P. Hager told the newspaper that he had "never been told of receiving complaints that the Loves were selling liquor."

Deputy Morrison shot Reuben Love on Wauhatchie Pike just west of the town limits of St. Elmo. Morrison was charged with murder and placed under $2,000 bond. As the details of the case developed, it was learned Clyde Love had hired two large Ford automobiles for that night's haul. At issue in the case against the deputy was his position when he fired. To kill Rube Love, the shotgun charge would have been fired from a shoulder of a standing man and not on the ground. The Chattanooga Times reported "Sheriff Bass' statement was that Morrison stumbled before he fired and fell and that he regarded the killing as accidental on that account."

More than 100 glassblowers in the union attended Reuben Love's funeral. He left a wife and one daughter and was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery. His brother, Clyde, died in 1955 and also was buried in Forest Hills.

The result of the case against Special Deputy Morrison was never publicized. It is known that numerous stills and "easy money" made running moonshine highly profitable, despite the possibility of fatal consequences. As Attorney General Will Chamlee told the paper after Chunn's death in 1919, "It has come to pass where human life is twice as cheap as liquor."

Suzette Raney is the archivist of the Chattanooga Public Library. For more information, call the library at 423-643-7725 or visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.

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