The Legend of Whiskey Hollar
by The Bourbon Guys Contributor – Jim Nelson
It was 1843 on the banks of Knob Creek as Jimmy stopped to watch the riverboat, Whistlepig, floating silently along. He knew his pal, old Forester, was on board, but couldn’t know he was hatching a plan of a lifetime. He would find out about it at their agreed upon rendezvous later in the week.
Jimmy picked up his rod and rifle and continued along the shore toward Echo Spring, one of his favorite hunting spots. As he rounded the bend, a Kentucky owl flew just past his head. A sure sign of good fortune, he thought.
Moments later, a big ass buck wandered through the trees. Today however, Jimmy was looking for a wild turkey to bring home for dinner, not a stagg. Across the river, way up on heaven hill, as the locals call it, he spotted a bald eagle. Rare to be seen in these parts. But the peacefulness of nature surrounding Jimmy would not last long.
From the distance, gunshots rang out. Jimmy knew that the boat Doc Forester was on could not be far away, so he hurried back downstream toward the commotion. Two horses carrying the feared Garrison brothers came galloping by. “This can’t be good,” thought Jimmy. They almost knocked him down as something fell from the first Garrison’s horse . As Jimmy picked it up, he realized it was a bell, engraved with the letters “THE BOSS HOG”. He knew it came from the Whistlepig!
It wasn’t long before Jimmy saw that the boat had run ashore, and he began to recognize some familiar faces around the boat. Doc Forester was there of course, as was Gentleman Jack, Elmer T. Lee, Elijah Craig, James E. Pepper’s widow, Jane, and surprisingly, their five fathers!
“We were headed toward Lexington” Elmer told him, “but the Garrisons blocked the river and forced us ashore. I don’t think they expected all of us to be prepared to fight back. After a quick gunshot exchange, they galloped away upstream.” Yes,” Jane added, “we’re all ok. I was a bit worried, but all they got was a broken bell that fell off when we hit the shore.”
Suddenly Bill Fitch approached yelling, “They shot Billy! They shot my prize goat!” Doc ran over to the goat and saw that he had taken a bulleit. “I’m afraid he’s on death’s door” said Doc. “Poor Fitch’s goat” added Jane. And with that, the goat exhausted his last breath. “Dang those no-good brothers!” Fitch was defiant. “I’ll chase them to the ends of the earth!” And off he went toward Rock Hill Farms where Bill knew they might be holed up. They all knew that he was an old scout and would be fine on his own.
“Well,” sighed Doc, “this isn’t how I expected to meet up with you, Jimmy. But maybe that’s just as well. We have something to talk about with you, and the sooner the better.” Jimmy spoke up, “If you can stay onshore here, we can find some good whiskey at the little Kentucky tavern in old Bardstown. Not far at all.” “We can do that,” Doc said. “Our fathers have been guardians of an old charter for the small town of Pinhook, just outside of Lexington. They can go along to return the charter without us.”
Everyone pitched in and got the boat ready to sail again. Jimmy,Doc, Jack, Elmer, Elijah, and Jane headed toward the Old Crow for drinks. And a plot!
Following the trail to town, the Colonel piped up, “Jimmy, nice Stetson you’re sporting! “ “Thanks,” Jimmy replied, “It was my dad’s hat. And it’s Kentucky vintage made.” Elmer added, “Yep, but I see you have a small tear in the brim.” Jimmy laughed, “Yeah, that’s an old rip made by J. W. Dant’s fighting cock when I dropped it trying to make a bet against old Taylor’s crazy bird.” Always the flirt, Jane chimed in, “Well Jimmy, your pappy had good taste. It looks mighty good on you.”
Jack, always the gentleman, spied four roses, the red standing out in the forest, and picked them. He strolled up to Jane and said, “These remind me of you.” Jane smiled coyly. Elmer would later take Jack aside and tell him, “I know you just met Jane, but you should know, she is anything but pure. Kentucky girl all the way. Just so you know.” Jack just smiled.
Passing by Calumet Farm, the six friends saw Duke, J. T. S.Brown’s hound dog, running to greet them. They knew it wasn’t much further to town. Looking across the road, Jane remarked, “Wow, that log cabin still stands. That was where James and I met. Fond memories indeed.”
A little further along, they saw Jack Daniels sitting by a campfire, holding a tin cup looking for a handout. Elijah nodded and said, “Hey Jack, if you want to walk along with us, we’ll buy you a bourbon.” Jack declined the bourbon, “Yeah, well, er, no thanks.”
Then they saw the baker’s shop, run by Abraham Bowman. Outside the shop, Abe had four wood stools, inviting people to stop and enjoy some fresh pastries. E. H. Taylor and old Fitzgerald occupied two of the stools, enjoying some of Abe’s famous sweet mellow corn muffins. They crossed the rickety bridge over Woodstone creek and they knew they were at the edge of the small town (and close to sharing some fine whiskey!) Blanton’s and Booker’s houses, just over the bridge, marked the official town boundaries. In early times, Blanton’s was the only structure in the area. The house’s maker’s mark, MBR, could still be seen in the cornerstone. From Booker’s place they could hear voices singing out an old medley of familiar songs.
Then came Jefferson’s place, which used to be Noah’s mill a few years back. As Basil Hayden strolled out of the mill, he exclaimed, “Jimmy! Been wondering where you were off to. Let’s get a drink.” “You read my mind,” said Jimmy. “Come join us!” Jimmy noticed the large diamond ring on his right hand. When asked about it, Basil told him, “When old Pogue passed away, he left it to me. I wear it proudly. He was a good and righteous man.” “A rare breed indeed” added Elijah.
Just past the old Barter house, they saw their destination. And standing in the front door was barkeep, George Remus. George shouted to them, “Jimmy, glad to see you brought some friends! C’mon in.”
As they entered the warm atmosphere, they saw some familiar faces and surroundings. In the corner, they could smell the stew cooking, the pot still the one from when the place was built. The stew maker’s 46 secret ingredients were closely guarded by Evan Williams, the longtime cook. On the end bar stool sat Jim Beam, who oddly, always seems to be in every bar they visit.
At the far table Booker raised his glass to his friends. “George,” said Jimmy, “set us up with some shots. We need to toast Booker’s 25th anniversary!” As George quickly poured the drinks, he exclaimed, “That’s right! I forgot that was today. To your lovely wife too!” Then he added, “Next we need a birthday bourbon for Jimmy! We can’t miss that tradition.”
The whiskey flowed freely. Then Jimmy turned to Forester, “So Doc, what was it that you wanted to talk about?” Doc looked around. All friendly faces, so he spoke freely. “Jimmy, we think we can get back the cherished town Branch.” The Branch was an old respected symbol for the town, dating back sixty years to 1783. No one knows the exact story, but it’s told that it was shaped like a snake, of an unknown but ancient age, and was given to the town founders by Henry McKenna. McKenna was given the Branch by some Native Americans who carved it from a hickory tree on the American prairie. It disappeared in 1792. Rumor has it that Jacob Garrison and his family raided the town and have held it ever since.
Doc continued, “Before heading downriver, we overheard the youngest Garrison brother, talking about it. He was a bit drunk but seemed to regret what his family had done. Anyhow we think we can finally get it back!” Jimmy’s jaw dropped. The temptation was too much. “Hundreds have tried but no one has come close. If your info is correct, let’s not waste any time. Where do we go?”
“Fitch should have the Garrisons busy for a while, so now is the time to strike,” continued Doc. “At the far end of town, we need to follow Catoctin creek for about a mile. There should be a yellow stone marking the path toward one of their hideouts. Way up high, west of the stone on a tall catalpa tree should be a key. Once we get that, we can get into the attic of the Garrison house.” “But,” added Jack, “we need to be careful as it sounds like the sheriff, Sam Houston, is on their side.” “Ah, Sam and I go way back,” said Jimmy. “He’s a good one, just went down the wrong road… a true contradiction. Let’s go. if we can get that back, it would be a benchmark day!” Jane warned, “It’s said that Jacob’s ghost guards the valued Branch.”
Evan, Booker, Jim, Basil, and George chimed in, “We’re with you. Let’s do it!” Jack winked at Jimmy and told him, “Jane and I will stay behind and keep an eye on things.” Jimmy smiled and said, ”You’ll have the place to yourselves. Have fun.”
The crew headed north, made their way up river, and found the stone. They turned west, looked up high in the old tree. Jack climbed up two-thirds of the way to the top, and found the key. So far, so good. They headed toward the hideout.
It looked deserted, not even a ghost, but they remembered Jack’s warning about the sheriff. Jimmy found an open window and went inside, found his way to the attic, unlocked the door, and there it was! He picked up the prized Branch and tossed it down to the others who remained below as lookouts.
Suddenly they heard the galloping of a horse. Shouting to warn Jimmy, they scattered, heading back to town. The sheriff rode up just as Jimmy climbed out the downstairs window. Sam hopped down and yelled, “Jimmy, willett finally be the day I get some revenge? I’m taking you in for breaking and entering.”
Sam brought Jimmy in to a cell at Precinct No. 6. Jimmy wasn’t worried. After all, they just accomplished something three generations have not been able to do. All the jailers knew of Jimmy’s feat, and they treated him well, even planning his breakout if it came to that.
Judge Van Winkle would see him the next day, figuring to send him to the big house. But Jimmy’s friends, the sly attorneys Robinson and Brandt, were ready to defend. They knew the old blowhard judge was full of hot air and rhetoric.
Jimmy was charged with petty larceny, but when the judge found out who the prisoner was, he remarked, “The sheriff’s term was over 2 days ago, and so this was an unlawful arrest. Jimmy is no rogue. All is forgiven. Besides, this man makes the best whiskey this side of the Mississippi!”
Redemption! It was a watershed day. Word had spread quickly and the bar filled with people from miles around to toast the heroes who finally returned the town’s treasure. The toasts and drinking went on through the night.
Toward morning, George saw Jack at the open door, staring off into the distance. “Jack, what can I get you to drink?” Jack thought for a moment, and replied, “Well, as widow Jane always says, ‘Any Dickel do!’ Cheers!” Jimmy smiled as he sipped his favorite bourbon.
Written by our very special friend Jim Nelson, author, magician, and renaissance man extraordinaire! You can frequently find Jim in local #bourbon joints enjoying one of the fine brands scattered about this text. We tip our hats and raise our glasses to this masterful work!
Comments from Jim:
I would like to offer special thanks to Aaron Lilly for inspiring the initial idea for this story, from some of his flights @MollyWellmann ‘s Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar ( @KyBourbonBar ).
Can you find all of the whiskeys in the story? Hint: They are all American whiskeys.
No words between the words of the name. “Old Forester” works, for example. “Old Doc Forester” does not.
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Special thanks to guest contributor: Lisa Beckelhimer