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Moccasin War of 1885: A Main Street Shootout

In 1885 Highlands, a Southern town founded mostly by sober, God-fearing, temperate Yankees, is dry, without saloons or open sale of whiskey. However, the immediate neighborhood is rife with moonshiners, who manufacture and peddle their merchandise from across the Georgia border.

One day a U.S. revenuer arrests two bootleggers from Moccasin Township in Georgia and brings them to Highlands. Because there is no jail in town, he confines them in Highlands House (later Highlands Inn) to await trial.

The Moccasin Township, hearing of the arrest, issues a formal declaration of war on Highlands and dispatches an army of eighteen volunteers. They gather at Central House, directly across the street from Highlands House, and lay siege. Recruiting local guards, Mayor Bascom declares a state of martial law, and for three days and nights war rages on Main Street.

How this war ends and what happens in between are described in the book, Heart of the Blue Ridge: Highlands, North Carolina (© 2001, 2004), and portrayed in the forthcoming Ballad of the Mocassin War: A Street Play in Three Acts.

A telling of the legend of the Moccasin War that was fought in Highlands in March, 1885, and made the front page of the New York Times. It is now memorialized with a Legends and Lore Marker where it took place on Main Street between Highlands House and Central House.


The center of illegal whiskey production in the three-state corner of NC, SC, and GA was the small town of Moccasin, Georgia. In the spring of 1885, revenuers arrested two Moccasin bootleggers, brought them to Highlands, and locked them in the Highlands House to await trial. When Moccasin Township got wind of the arrest, they dispatched an army of 18 volunteers to free their citizens and carried with them a Declaration of War.

Main Street in 1885 was the site of the pivotal Moccasin War battle. The Georgia contingent held up in the Central House (left), while the Highlanders defended their town from the Highlands House (right). The story was picked up by the Charlotte Observer and New York Times. Today, a sign pinpoints the place the war was fought in the center of Main Street at the 4th and Main intersection.

Highlands House According to accounts, during the Moccasin War, two Georgian bootleggers were imprisoned in Highlands House, today’s Highlands Inn. Photograph by Henry Scadin, circa 1897. Courtesy Hudson Library archives.

Henry M. Bascom was mayor of Highlands in 1884-86 and twice again in 1900 ff. and 1913-25. He came to Highlands in 1881 at the age of 28 burdened with a single lung and prepared to die but lived to age 82, passing in 1942. He built the first general merchandise store in town at 4th and Main.

Highlands House and Altitude Oak. Matted photograph in excellent condition.

In their siege of Highlands, the moonshiners from Georgia hid out in Central House. A sign for Central House can be seen on the far left in the photograph of Main Street above. Photograph by John Bundy in 1883. Courtesy Hudson Library archives.