Donald Brady: Moonshine Memories

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Donald Brady was a local farmer who enjoyed living life on the edge... and those who knew him also knew that there was more to his farming business than just cabbage.

Like most farmers, Donald Brady harvested vegetables and milked cows.
But what really brought the money in was the business that Brady kept hidden throughout his life: making moonshine.
Debby Brady Goad, daughter of the late Donald Brady, took the stage at the March 21 “Bluegrass Gravy and River Quilts: Old Home Remedies and Recipes” event, and took listeners back in time to when she was a young girl growing up on her daddy’s farm in Carroll County.
“The first thing I can tell you about moonshining is that it’s a dying art,” Goad said in her introduction, and noted that the popular TV series “Moonshiners” doesn’t show how difficult it is to make or sell that “good old mountain dew.”


Since she was a little girl, Goad had grown up around the making of illegal whiskey.
To most people, Donald Brady was a humble cabbage farmer. But it was a not too well-kept secret that he and his two brothers manufactured and sold moonshine under the noses of the local law enforcement.
“He lived his life on the edge,” she remembered fondly.
When making moonshine, Goad said that her father had his rules to abide by. One of them was, “it’s not to drink, it’s to sell.”
The most important code that he lived by was to never get caught. But, he had his share of run-ins with the law throughout his life.
“It was around ‘68 or ‘69 when he was caught for the first time,” Goad remembered.
During his arrest, Brady told Debby, who was 12 at the time, to run up to her uncle’s house and tell him to bail him out of jail. The cops left with Donald, leaving Debby there at the farm, so she drove up the hill to her uncle’s house in a 1958 Chevy pickup truck.
“Wait a minute... they arrested him for making moonshine, but it was alright for you to drive when you were 12?” asked someone from the audience.
Goad nodded. “It was all different back then!” she said, adding that she even waved at her father and the cops ― who were investigating their neighbor, too ― on her drive back to the farm.
That was the only time her father was caught by fault of his own, Goad said. The other times, he was set up by what he called the “rum hounds,” who were always looking to catch him in the act.
“When I was a teenager, I would come home and see a North Carolina patrol car parked in front of the house, and my first thought would be, ‘What has Daddy done now?’”
But she soon realized that, had he been in trouble, the patrol car would have been from Virginia.
The North Carolina patrol was actually there on business... moonshine business.
“The patrol cars would come and pick up the liquor and take it back across the state line,” Goad said.
Donald Brady’s business was, in fact, well-known in many localities. just not the ones who would get him in trouble. As for everyone else, he used several tricks to keep things under wraps.
“The IRS used to audit us, and we would get letter after letter ― one requesting proof of income, then one requesting proof of savings,” she said.
Someone asked Goad what they were looking for.
“The liquor money,” she answered.
So, where was it?
“In his pockets, were do you think?” she said.
Donald Brady was always careful with his money. Goad said he always checked each bill to ensure that it wasn’t marked, and sometimes found that it was. When that happened, he’d send Debby out to various banks to exchange the bills for new ones.
Brady may have hidden his evidence from law enforcement, but Goad said her cow was a better detective.
“When I was little, my job was to bring the cows in from the field,” she recalled. “I was trying to herd the cattle in one day, and one kept going thisaway and thataway,” she recalled as the audience laughed, beating her to the punchline.
After two hours of wrestling with the cow, she went to fetch her father from the barn, who soon discovered that the bovine had devoured half a barrel of the corn mash he used to make his moonshine.
After spending several years making moonshine, Goad said that Donald saw more money and less hassle in just buying and selling the liquor. However, this involved a lot more time on the road, and even more stealthy techniques.
“The Blue Ridge Parkway was notorious for becoming foggy when it rained, so that’s when they would travel the roads,” Goad said.
Brady and his supplier would schedule trips during rain storms, on Sundays when everyone was in church, and whenever else they felt that the shipment was least likely to be spotted.
The moonshine would always be camouflaged just in case, boxed and bagged, then covered with layers of straw.
“A call would come in for a liquor run, they would leave a number, and the name would be different every time,” she said. “Of course, the person on the other end was always the same.”
Debby would then take the message and give it to her father. He’d then walk over to the phone, dial a number, and she would hear: “Yes... alright, you’re bringing the cow feed when?”
Of course, even the most careful techniques didn’t always keep the “cow feed” business covered, and Brady was caught several times. One time, Goad remembered, Brady had to serve 90 days in jail. But even then, he made good use of his time working the plow at a nearby farm. “Eventually, after mentioning that he wasn’t getting enough rest at the jail, he was given a room there at the farm,” Goad said.
By the time he got out, he had earned $300. And this was one of his more severe punishments at the hands of the law. According to Goad, the most he ever paid out in fees was a $90 charge to get his truck back.
After some time had passed, everyone who knew Brady also knew what his business really was.
The last time he was caught, Goad said, Brady told the deputy working that day in the jail that he was just a good old country boy and didn’t know he was breaking the law until someone told him he was.
“I’ve seen food be preserved all of my life, and I never saw anyone get in trouble for it before. I was preserving that corn the only way I know how,” he told the deputy.
After the sheriff heard this story, he laughed at the deputy and pointed to evidence that the “good old country boy” was smarter than he looked.
“That over there is the Wall Street Journal. Have you ever tried to read one of those things? If he’s smart enough to read that, he’s smart enough to know what moonshine is!” said the sheriff.
In his later years, Donald Brady’s dealings with the law turned into an even bigger game of cat-and-mouse, Goad said. “One of his favorite places to be was in the courtroom. He fought and won a right-of-way case, which was one of two right-of-way cases ever won in that courtroom back then.”
But it was a robbery, not moonshine, that eventually led to Brady’s death in January 2004.
According to Goad, his death happened after he had come home from playing bluegrass. When he got home, someone came out from behind an outbuilding at his farm, asking if he had a black and white dog.
According to police reports, the suspect stated that they had hit the dog with their vehicle.
Brady followed them behind the building, where he was robbed and shot four times. “They shot him once in the spine, once in the leg, once in the abdomen and once at point-blank range in the head,” Goad told the audience.
After the attack, Brady called Goad for help on her cell phone. “At first, I didn’t know who he was. I had to hold the phone away and read the number in the dark,” she said. “He said, ‘I’ve been shot. You need to come and get me.’”
She hung up and made two phone calls: one to 911, and one to her sister, Donna Peery, who lived two miles away.
Tom Peery later testified that he had accompanied his wife, Donna, to Brady’s house that day.
They found Donald next to the outbuilding on his side, curled up in pain, but still lucid.
He was taken to the hospital where he was operated on for his injuries. He survived for 10 days before dying from a severe infection.
At the hospital, Goad said, he told police that three people were involved in his robbery.
Earlier that day, Goad had seen him, and knew that he had $6,000 on him that night, which was not at the scene. Police found a part of his wallet chain, which meant that he had fought his assailants.
“Had he given the money up, he might have lived,” she said.
During the struggle, Brady managed to shoot one of his assailants, who later checked in to a hospital in Radford. After investigating, police arrested Elva Rosemary Nixon of Hillsville, also known as “Chick.”
She was later found guilty of second-degreee murder, robbery and two counts of using a firearm.
In death, Donald Brady’s name was a frequent headline in the media, and friends came out of the woodwork to pay their respects. At his wake, Goad said, there was a five-hour-long receiving line.
Members of the community came forward during that time and shared their fond memories of Brady.
One of those is from July 1992, when representatives of the Virginia government and the U.S. Congress joined hundreds of people in Carroll County to dedicate the state’s first new farmers’ market.
In the middle of the speeches, in rolled Donald Brady with a trailer loaded up with cabbage, remembered market director Kevin Semones. “He kind of upended whoever was speaking,” he said.
A Gazette photographer snapped a photo of the first sale ever at the market, as Brady handed two cabbages to then-Carroll supervisor Billy Barker.
The community remembered Brady, not just for his moonshine business, but as a friend, father, veteran, musician, Democrat, bricklayer, farmer and grassroots advocate.
In an article published in the Gazette in 2004, Brady was remembered as “one of Carroll County’s most outgoing and outspoken citizens.”