A to Z – B is for Benjamin Berry Pickett

a2z-h-smallA to Z Blog Challenge

B is for Benjamin Berry Pickett

Ben was born November 15, 1893 in Lauderdale County, Mississippi. He was the second of six children born to Joseph Lawson Pickett and Caledonia “Callie” Fisher. Five boys and one girl. Joseph died in 1910, leaving Callie with young children between the ages of 6 and 13. There wasn’t much money. Their home had no ceiling, only the Cyprus shingles above their heads. The floors had cracks in the wood where one could see the chickens running under the house. They were, in a word, poor.

moonshineIn 1919, the entire nation had gone dry when prohibition was passed, and the boys needed a way to make money. There was no better way in that south than by making moonshine.

All of the boys, Robert Elbert “Ebb”, Ben, Joe Jr, Mark, and Clyde had moonshine stills. By this time, the three older boys had their own homes and families but came back to the family farm to run their stills.

On July 10, 1924, a Federal Prohibition agent with an itchy trigger finger, Dan Cleveland, bought some ammo at a local store and said to the clerk, “I’m going to start me a Pickett cemetery.” He blackmailed one of the local boys who had been running moonshine for the Picketts to show him the locations of the stills.

That morning, all of the boys except Mark were there. Fifteen-year-old Clyde had a pistol and twenty-year-old Ben had a shotgun. The others were unarmed. When the revenuer approached the scene, he aimed at Ben and yelled, “Put your guns down!” After that, it was mayhem.

At the end of the bloody gunfight, Cleveland was dead, Ben was shot in the shoulder, and the boys high-tailed it out of there in Ben’s Packard.

It had been raining all day and the tire tracks were easy to follow. By nightfall, the boys were taken into custody and placed in the local jail.

parchman-1200x695During the trial, witnesses testified that Cleveland was heard to say he was going out to kill Picketts, and that he had no intention of going out to simply shut down stills. Ben also testified that Cleveland shot first. The State didn’t waiver. Both Ben and Clyde were sentenced to life in Parchman Penitentiary. Ebb and Joe were convicted of distilling and both received short sentences. They resumed moon-shining upon their release.

In October of 1928, Joe was hauling some pure alcohol up from New Orleans and ran into a Mississippi police barricade. His car was riddle with bullets and he died at the scene.

In Spring of 1933, Ben and Clyde were released on good behavior.

Ben was my great grandfather. He was married to Eula Keene. Read her story here.

ben and eula

5 responses to “A to Z – B is for Benjamin Berry Pickett

  1. Wow, quite the life those boys had. At least Ben was still relatively young when he got released. A lot of people started moonshining during prohibition, and one of my great aunts’ husband warehoused liquor that was smuggled into Canada.

    My Genealogy Challenges

    • The Pickett boys were quite a wild bunch, not afraid of anything.

      I remember hearing about a friend’s family member who ran moonshine across the Detroit river at night in a boat between Michigan and Canada. Can’t remember who it was now. I’ll have to rack my brain today and figure it out.

      Thanks for stopping by, Dianne!

  2. What do you know about what Ben and Eula did from his release until their passing? Embarrassed that I don’t know. I have his pocket watch on the shelf next to me.

    • Hey, bro!!

      The 1935 US City Directory says Ben was a factory worker and the 1937 directory says he was a driver.

      I haven’t found either Ben or Eula in a 1940 census record, but the directory in 1941 says they worked the same jobs as the 1950 census below.

      The 1950 census says they were living on Zero Road, and Ben was a mechanic at the Meywebb Hosery Mill and Eula was a part-time finisher/folder at the same place. Grandpa Frank and Grandma Azalea lived next door. Grandpa Frank was a carpenter. Grandma Azalea didn’t work. Andy was 9 and Ouida was 7 in that census.

      I don’t know more than that. Seems they lived a quiet life in that same house until their passing – him in 1973, her in 1981.

      Here’s a tidbit: Ben is in the 1930 census as Inmate at Parchman State Farm State Penitentiary. Eula is in a different 1930 census as head of household, living alone with son Howard and daughter Azalea. It says Eula was “divorced.” Don’t know if Eula told the census taker that or if the census taker just assumed. Seems those census takers would know everybody’s business, so that’s interesting.

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