A History of the Mitchell Ridge Trail
(The Tale of the Trail)
In 1843, John Ridge and his wife Sarah migrated from Kentucky to northern
Alabama in the vicinity of what is now Moulton. Two years later a son,
Edward, arrived but he did not survive infancy. In 1847, a second son was born.
He was named Mitchell in honor of his grandfather Lt. Col. C. Meigham Mitchell
who indeed saw mayhem in Louisiana while serving under General Andrew Jackson
during the War of 1812.
In 1850, just as Sarah was giving birth to a third son, John suddenly
collapsed and died - a rare instance of the father dying during childbirth.
Sarah lived until 1877.
Mitchell Ridge attended the local E/M/H school from the time he was eight until
he graduated three years later. He proved not the brightest of students but had
at least learned to read the Scriptures and how to make soap. Despite an
ability to distinguish profits from Prophets, this was not enough to acquire a
Cattle Drivers License - Angus Class (CDL-A), apparently a prerequisite for
employment, at least judging from the classified ads in local newspapers.
His training in chemistry however prompted him to go into business with his
younger brother, Ezekiel, and two
of his cousins, Theodore, and Henry. Using locally available
fertilizers and other ingredients, they concocted a brew designed to keep
people alert and full of energy, even if it promoted excessive talking and the
occasional chewing of lips.
The cousins marketed the product under a brand name derived from the first
initials of their names. Unfortunately, these entrepreneurs were way ahead of
their time. It would be another 150 years before another METH would capture
the hearts and minds (and veins) of rural Alabama.
A distant uncle, another Theodore, arrived on the scene. He suggested to the
boys a simple modification of their apparatus that would allow them to
manufacture whisky. In addition to being more lucrative, the revised
technology would reduce the risk of the whole thing blowing up in your face
if you weren't paying attention to the cooking.
Ezekiel, Theodore, and Henry opted out of the new enterprise. They left
Lawrence County to seek employment at the new Southern Energy Covered Wagon
factory located on the north side of Addison in what is now Winston County.
But Mitchell decided to make a go of it. A country boy, Mitchell had a
fondness for the word "still". What Uncle Ted, who abruptly left town soon
thereafter, had neglected to mention was that the production of moonshine
whisky was strictly illegal. It wasn't long before Mitchell found himself in
trouble with the law and faced legal action.
Mitchell's lawyer insisted that the trial be held locally up in the hills, a
practical idea since Lawrence County's log cabin courthouse had recently
burned down. The chosen site was on top of a bluff, about a half mile walk
through the forest along a winding path.
On the day of the trial, an Australian journalist passing through noticed all
the commotion and wondered where everyone was going.
"G'dye mytes", he called out, "Where you all be going?" (a feeble attempt
to sound native). "Up t' the trial" came the response.
The locals, sensing an increased interest in this event, suggested that the
visitor might help letter a directional sign, he being a man of letters
photo restoration from a 19th century Daguerreotype, original photographer unknown
The Sydneysider, whose vowel pronunciation would not have differed all that
much from Southern Appalachian dialect, may have thought they were saying
"trail" rather than "trial" since that is how it appeared on the marker.
Of course he simply may have made a spelling error. In any case, Mitchell,
his trial, and the sign are long gone but the path and its name live on.
Excerpted with the kind permission of the author, Dr Rölle Pthyde,
the Larry Langford Professor of Economics (demeritus) at the University of
Alabama Tuscaloosa, from his collection of essays entitled
A Broken Plough: Intellectual Development in the New South
, UA Press, 2009.