Alumnus Michael Keaton Talks about Great-Great Grandfather,
Lewis Redmond, in September 23 History Channel Documentary
CONTACT: LISA GARRETT, 646-1506
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 9/12/2007
(By Lisa Garrett)
PSENECA --- Local historian and teacher Michael Keaton was 21 years old before he ever learned of his great-great grandfather, Lewis Redmond, an Oconee County farmer- turned outlaw hero whose presumed death made the front page of The New York Times in 1881 when authorities shot him 13 times during a raid that he managed to survive.
Redmond’s colorful life will be among those featured in the upcoming History Channel documentary, Hillbilly: The Real Story, set to air Sunday, September 23, from 8 – 10 p.m. According to the network’s website, the special, hosted by singer/actor Billy Ray Cyrus, “brings these mythic people to life through stories that span 300 years. Outcast immigrants, war heroes, isolated backwoodsmen, hard working miners, fast-moving moon shiners, religious warriors, musicians and statesmen make up the rugged cast of characters. Hillbilly: The Real Story takes the viewer on a sweeping 300-year journey from the violent border wars of the Scottish lowlands to the rough-and-tumble Appalachian stock car races of the 1950s.”
“The production company told me that I do appear a substantial amount in the moonshining portion of the show, said Keaton, a 1989 alumnus of Tri-County Technical College. However, substantial is a relative term, so I may be on camera for only two minutes,” said Keaton, who was interviewed about a year ago for the project.
“It’s a fascinating story,” said the Seneca resident, who parlayed years of research into a master’s thesis for his studies at Clemson University. “When my uncle talked about Redmond at that family event years ago, I asked, ‘why am I just finding out about this?’” The details were sketchy and few and far between, he said, so he started digging into the archives of local papers and began to uncover a truly captivating story.
“My thesis talks about how Redmond became a folk hero and why we don’t know much about him today. He went from farmer to outlaw to folk hero, to being shot, to going to jail, to being granted a presidential pardon, to back home to Oconee County where he oversaw the production of government whiskey.”
According to Keaton’s research, “Redmond was a typical farmer in Pickens County who did moonshining on the side. There was a warrant out for his arrest for tax evasion, and a local federal marshal stopped him on the road one day and tried to take him into custody, but the officer didn’t bring a warrant. So he couldn’t arrest him. Redmond shot and killed the marshal. Overnight, his crime went from not paying taxes to murder. He went on the run for five years and rewards were offered. He was shot 13 times during his capture but lived to tell about it.”
Redmond went to federal trial in Greenville and was sentenced to 10 years in prison at an Auburn, N.Y. correctional facility. He spent 21 months there and was granted a full pardon in 1883. He returned to Oconee County, where he began farming again and oversaw the production of government whiskey at a distiller in Walhalla.
An interview with a Charleston reporter from the late 1800’s supplied facts about his life and the crime, said Keaton. “The reporter told Redmond’s version. He came to national attention. He was popular enough that The New York Times covered him on the front page. When Billy the Kid died, his obituary was printed on page 8.”
Keaton, a 1989 graduate of Tri-County’s Business Management program, went on to Southern Wesleyan University, where he earned a B. S. in Business Administration and a B.A. in History. He completed his master’s in history at Clemson in 2002.
Currently he is a teacher at Providence Christian Academy and is an adjunct history professor at Southern Wesleyan.