A Jury Case by Sherwood Anderson
They had a still up in the mountains. There were three of
them. They were all tough.
What I mean is they were not men to fool with--at least two of
First of all, there was Harvey Groves. Old man Groves had come
into the mountain country thirty years before, and had bought a
lot of mountain land.
He hadn't a cent and had only made a small payment on the
Right away he began to make moon whisky. He was one of the
kind that can make pretty fair whisky out of anything. They make
whisky out of potatoes, buckwheat, rye, corn or whatever they can
get--the ones who really know how. One of that kind from here was
sent to prison. He made whisky out of the prunes they served the
prisoners for breakfast--anyway, he called it whisky. Old man
Groves used to sell his whisky down at the lumber mills. There
was a big cutting going on over on Briar Top Mountain.
They brought the lumber down the mountain to a town called
Old Groves sold his whisky to the lumberjacks and the manager
of the mill got sore. He had old Groves into his office and tried
to tell him what was what.
Instead, old Groves told him something. The manager said he
would turn old Groves up. What he meant was that he would send
the Federal men up the mountains after him, and old Groves told
the manager that if a Federal man showed up in his hills he would
burn the lumber stacked high about the mills at Lumberville.
He said it and he meant it and the mill manager knew he meant
The old man got away with that. He stayed up in his hills and
raised a large family. Those at home were all boys. Every one
about here speaks of the Groves girls, but what became of them
I've never heard. They are not here now.
Harvey Groves was a tall, raw-boned young man with one eye. He
lost the other one in a fight. He began drinking and raising the
devil all over the hills when he was little more than a boy and
after the old man died of a cancer, and the old woman died and
the land was divided among the sons and sold, and he got his
share, he blew it in gambling and drinking.
He went moonshining when he was twenty-five. Cal Long and
George Small went in with him. They all chipped in to buy the
Nowadays you can make moon whisky in a small still--it's
called "over-night stuff"--about fourteen gallons to the run, and
you make a run in one night.
You can sell it fast. There are plenty of men to buy and run
it into the coal mining country over east of here. It's pretty
Cal Long, who went in with Harvey, is a big man with a beard.
He is as strong as an ox. They don't make them any meaner. He
seems a peaceful enough man, when he isn't drinking, but when he
starts to drink, look out. He usually carries a long knife and he
has cut several men pretty badly. He has been in jail three
The third man in the party was George Small. He used to come
by our house--lived out our way for a time. He is a small
nervous-looking young man who worked, until last Summer, on the
farm of old man Barclay. One day last Fall, when I was over on
the Barclay road and was sitting under a bridge, fishing, George
came along the road.
What was the matter with him that time I've never found
I was sitting in silence under the bridge and he came along
the road making queer movements with his hands. He was giving
them a dry wash. His lips were moving. The road makes a turn
right beyond the bridge and I could see him coming for almost a
half mile before he got to the bridge. I was under the bridge and
could see him without his seeing me. When he got close I heard
his words. "Oh, my God, don't let me do it," he said. He kept
saying it over and over. He had got married the Spring before. He
might have had some trouble with his wife. I remember her as a
small, red-haired woman. I saw the pair together once. George was
carrying their baby in his arms and we stopped to talk. The woman
moved a little away. She was shy as most mountain women are.
George showed me the baby--not more than two weeks old--and it
had a wrinkled little old face. It looked ages older than the
father and mother but George was fairly bursting with pride while
I stood looking at it.
How he happened to go in with men like Harvey Groves and Cal
Long is a wonder to me, and why they wanted him is another
I had always thought of George as a country neurotic--the kind
you so often see in cities. He always seemed to me out of place
among the men of these hills.
He might have fallen under the influence of Cal Long. A man
like Cal likes to bully people physically. Cal liked to bully
them spiritually too.
Luther Ford told me a tale about Cal and George. He said that
one night in the Winter Cal went to George Small's house--it is a
tumble-down little shack up in the hills--and called George out.
The two men went off together to town and got drunk. They came
back about two o'clock in the morning and stood in the road
before George's house. I have already told you something about
the wife. Luther said that at that time she was sick. She was
going to have another baby. A neighbor had told Luther Ford. It
was a queer performance, one of the kind of things that happen in
the country and that give you the creeps.
He said the two men stood in the road before the house cursing
the sick woman inside.
Little nervous George Small walking up and down the road in
the snow, cursing his wife--Cal Long egging him on. George
strutting like a little rooster. It must have been a sight to see
and to make you a little sick seeing. Luther Ford said just
hearing about it gave him a queer feeling in the pit of his
This Spring early these three men went in together, making
Between Cal and Harvey Groves it was a case of dog eat dog.
They had bought the still together, each putting in a third of
its cost, and then, one night after they had made and sold two
runs, Harvey stole the still from the other two.
Of course Cal set out to get him for that.
There wasn't any law he and George Small could evoke--or
whatever it is you do with a law when you use it to get some
It took Cal a week to find out where Harvey had hidden, and
was operating, the still, and then he went to find George.
He wanted to get Harvey, but he wanted to get the still
He went to George Small's house and tramped in. George was
sitting there and when he saw Cal was frightened stiff. His wife,
thinner than ever since her second child was born and half sick,
was lying on a bed. In these little mountain cabins there is
often but one room and they cook, eat and sleep in it--often a
When she saw Cal, George's wife began to cry and, very likely,
George wanted to cry too.
Cal sat down in a chair and took a bottle out of his pocket.
George's wife says he had been drinking. He gave George a drink,
staring at him hard when he offered it, and George had to take
George took four or five stiff drinks, not looking again at
Cal or at his wife, who lay on the bed moaning and crying, and
Cal never said a word.
Then suddenly George jumped up--his hands not doing the dry
wash now--and began swearing at his wife.
"You keep quiet, God damn you!" he yelled.
Then he did an odd thing. There were only two chairs in the
cabin and Cal Long had been sitting on one and George on the
other. When Cal got up George took the chairs, one at a time, and
going outside smashed them to splinters against a corner of the
Cal Long laughed at that. Then he told George to get his
George did get it. It was hanging on a hook in the house and
was loaded, I presume, and the two went away together into the
Harvey Groves had got bold. He must have thought he had Cal
Long bluffed. That's the weakness of these tough men. They never
think any one else is as tough as they are.
Harvey had set the still up in a tiny, half-broken-down old
house, on what had once been his father's land, and was making a
He had two guns up there but never got a chance to use either
Cal and George must have just crept up pretty close to the
house in the long grass and weeds.
They got up close, George with the gun in his hands, and then
Harvey came to the door of the house. He may have heard them.
Some of these mountain men, who have been law-breakers since they
were small boys, have sharp ears and eyes.
There must have been a terrific moment. I've talked with
Luther Ford and several others about it. We are all, of course,
sorry for George.
Luther, who is something of a dramatist, likes to describe the
scene. His version is, to be sure, all a matter of fancy. When he
tells the story he kneels in the grass with a stick in his hand.
He begins to tremble and the end of the stick wobbles about. He
has taken a distant tree for the figure of Harvey Groves, now
dead. When he tells of the scene in that way, all of us standing
about and, in spite of the ridiculous figure Luther cuts, a
little breathless, he goes on for perhaps five seconds, wobbling
the stick about, apparently utterly helpless and frightened and
then his figure suddenly seems to stiffen and harden.
Luther could do it better if he wasn't built as he is--long
and loose-jointed, whereas George Small, whose part in the
tragedy he is playing, is small, and, as I have said, nervous and
But Luther does what he can, saying in a low voice to us
others standing and looking, "Now, Cal Long has touched me on the
The idea, you understand, is that the two men have crept up to
the lonely little mountain house in the late afternoon, George
Small creeping ahead with the heavily loaded shotgun in his
hands, really being driven forward by Cal Long, creeping at his
heels, a man, Luther explains, simply too strong for him, and
that, at the fatal moment, when they faced Harvey Groves, and I
presume had to shoot or be shot, and George weakened, Cal Long
just touched George on the shoulder.
The touch, you see, according to Luther's notion, was a
It said, "Shoot!" and George's body stiffened, and he
He shot straight, too.
There was a piece of sheet-iron lying by the door of the
house. What it was doing there I don't know. It may have been
some part of the stolen still. In the fraction of a second that
Harvey Groves had to live he snatched it up and tried to hold it
up before his body.
The shot tore right through the metal and through Harvey
Groves' head and through a board back of his head. The gun may
not have been loaded when George Small brought it from his house.
Cal Long may have loaded it.
Anyway Harvey Groves is dead. He died, Luther says, like a
rat, in a hole--just pitched forward and flopped around a little
and died. How a rat in a hole, when he dies, can do much flopping
around I don't know.
After the killing, of course, Cal and George ran, but before
they did any running Cal took the gun out of George Small's hands
and threw it in the grass.
That, Luther says, was to show just whose gun did the
They ran and, of course, they hid themselves.
There wasn't any special hurry. They had shot Harvey Groves in
that lonely place and he might not have been found for days but
that George Small's wife, being sick and nervous, just as he is,
ran down into town, after Cal and George had left their place,
and went around to the stores crying and wringing her hands like
a little fool, telling every one that her husband and Cal Long
were going to kill some one.
Of course, that stirred every one up.
There must have been people in town who knew that Cal and
George and Harvey had been in together and what they had been up
They found the body the next morning--the shooting had
happened about four in the afternoon--and they got George Small
that next afternoon.
Cal Long had stayed with him until he got tired of it and then
had left him to shift for himself. They haven't got Cal yet. A
lot of people think they never will get him. "He's too smart,"
Luther Ford says.
They got George sitting beside a road over on the other side
of the mountains. He says Cal Long stopped an automobile driving
past, a Ford, stopped the driver with a revolver he had in his
pocket all the time.
They haven't even found the man who drove the Ford. It may be
he was some one who knows Cal and is afraid.
Anyway, they have got George Small in jail over at the county
seat and he tells every one he did the killing and sits and moans
and rubs his funny little hands together and keeps saying over
and over, "God, don't let me do it," just as he did that day when
he crossed the bridge, long before he got into this trouble, and
I was under the bridge fishing and saw and heard him. I presume
they'll hang him, or electrocute him--whichever it is they do in
this State--when the time for his trial comes.
And his wife is down with a high fever, and, Luther says, has
gone clear off her nut.
But Luther, who acts the whole thing out so dramatically
whenever he can get an audience, and who is something of a
prophet, says that if they have to get a jury from this county to
try George Small, even though the evidence is all against him, he
thinks the jury will just go it blind and bring in a verdict of
He says, anyway, that is what he would do, and others, who see
him acting the thing out and who know Cal Long and Harvey Groves
and George Small better than I do, having lived longer in this
county and having known them all since they were boys, say the
It may be true. As for myself--being what I am, hearing and
seeing all this . . .
How do I know what I think?
It's a matter, of course, the jury will have to decide.