Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Bell County Incident

Our psychiatric hospital is not entirely suited to cases of dementia, and I have little doubt that one patient here pushing nearly 100 years old is suffering from some mental ailment associated with his advanced years. Surely his anecdotes are the product of a sickness, but I will admit that his story is corroborated by another tale I was able to piece together from several folklorists in rural Appalachia.

Figure 4.1 - Former ____ ______ Mental Hospital staff prepare for a patient autopsy, 1951.

The Bell County Incident

     Far back in a holler, in the shadows of a mountain shunned even by the Indians before the arrival of the white man, lived a pair of brothers, bachelors and crotchety old bastards named Eber and Shem. One long and lean, the other short and fat, the brothers both had stringy hair and long beards and piercing eyes but something other than their unkempt appearance frightened the locals.

     There were the rumors, for sure. Of slaughtered livestock in those hills, and of blood-curdling howls under the harvest moon. And then there were the whispers – two Godless old bachelors are sure to attract attention anywhere – but most folks respected Eber and Shem on some strange level. There seemed to be a mutual understanding that the occasional calf or mare found butchered was preferable to a murdered child.

Figure 4.2 - Revenuers dump illegal hooch circa 1925
     Apart from their trips to town they likely would have been forgotten altogether if the brothers hadn’t made the finest mountain dew this side of the Cumberland Gap. This was shortly after the repeal of the Volstead Act but a quality jug of moonshine was still worth its weight in gold. Plenty of folks made the trip back to Eber and Shem’s holler for a bottle of hooch – but none visited after dark and sure as hell never made the trip on a full moon. 

     That’s not to say there wasn’t drinking on full moons in Bell County – there was more than most, but it wasn’t the joyous, sociable kind of drinking. It was more a lock the livestock in the barn, bar the doors and clutch your shotgun sort of drinking.

Figure 4.3 - Another unsolicited visit from a "revenuer"

     And then there were the revenuers. Drink wasn’t illegal, but it was if you sold it without cutting in Uncle Sam with taxes. The federal boys started sniffing around the county – Eber and Shem had a minor local notoriety as local eccentrics and probable lycanthropes but had amassed a considerable degree of genuine fame as bootleggers not only in the state but surrounding states.

     Now everyone around feared Eber and Shem, but everyone also resented the creeping federal influence into the mountains. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the college boys were finally tipped off about the whereabouts of Eber and Shem during a full moon that October of 1934. What exactly happened that night whenever the Ford full of G-men, accompanied with one of the most prominent revenuers in the state, pulled up to Eber and Shem’s place is still anyone’s guess.

Figure 4.4 - The revenuers strike again

     Some say two survived out of eight men – and that of the two survivors, one died not long afterward from his wounds. The other ended his career as a revenue man and was scarred for life. No one knows who tipped off the feds, but no doubt many in the county wouldn’t have minded for the werewolves and the revenuers to both be gone for good.

     At least partially, that did hold to be true - Eber and Shem disappeared and were never seen again.

     Having been told the various versions of the story (and my own version is a composite), one of the only consistencies was of a sole survivor, badly injured, who never again worked as a revenuer. And in our patient I couldn’t help but notice the tell-tale old scars on his left cheek – perhaps claws, perhaps something else. His own tale is rather disjointed, a loose collection of waking nightmares involving those “damned whiskey boys”.

Figure 4.5 - The surviving revenuer, who was said to take on unusual physical characteristics after the infamous Bell County Raid, in 1937
     We are currently not best suited to fit his needs - every full moon he experiences a temporary psychosis and wanders away from our facility, necessitating a Silver Alert nearly every month. There is a quaint little rest home, not far from here, which I think will be far more appropriate. It has admittedly not been without its own incidents in the past but I think it’ll be suitable place for our retired revenuer.

Figure 4.6 - A former orderly of ____ ______ prepares a light afternoon snack for one of the many guests

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