"Memories from Earlington:
Clyde Thorpe: Farmer, Miner, Revenuer Informant"
We often hear the phrase "the times makes the man." I'm not exactly sure what that means but was considering it lately while reading a biography of a miner by the name of Clyde Thorpe born in 1897 near the Cumberland River. Clyde's beginnings were similar to many southern fellows. He was one of 10 children in a farming family from Lyon County. However, his rural life would soon become much different.
He married at the age of 22 to neighbor Helen Mathis. At the age of 29 he moved to Hopkins County to work at Norton Coal Company walking that first day for miles down railroad tracks between Eddyville to Dawson. Before moving to Ilsley he worked for his father cutting timber for railroad ties for 50 cents an hour. As his pay in the mines was the same, he soon searched for other means of supporting his wife and 8 children. This was prior to the existence of state policemen, and he landed a job as a county policeman. He often patrolled roads in and around Earlington. During this era in Hopkins County it was a time of prohibition. Moonshining was a lucrative, but dangerous, means of making a living. In 1933 prohibition was repealed, and law enforcement at that time included dealing with the destruction of moonshiner's stills.
Clyde became an informant for revenuers. Men would contact him about locations of stills or those making whiskey, and he, in turn, would inform the revenuers and assist in making arrests or axing stills. There were many raids as there were no lack of informants since they were rewarded when their leads led to arrests. Clyde was involved in one of these raids in January of 1937 on Red Hill Road which is north of Nortonville. When Clyde was to meet with revenuers that cold morning, his wife told him of a strange foreboding she had and asked him not to go. He refused. During the raid, agents apprehended one of three brothers. Another agent, a Grant Cranor, was detaining him in a vehicle when somehow the man got away. The escapee made his way back into his home where his father, mother, and other brothers were. One of the boys grabbing a shotgun from a corner fired at Clyde. With lightening response Clyde tried to jump out of harm's way. He was wounded, but not mortally. The shotgun blast shattered his right arm at the elbow, and when he was taken to the county hospital, doctors informed him they had to amputate.
What we now know as the Great Flood of '37 began that day Clyde was shot, and the rain continued for 11 days-the same number of days he spent in recovery in the hospital. In central and western Kentucky a total of 20" of rain fell that January so that soon all rivers and tributaries were overflowing. Everywhere there was backwater or headwater. It was a cold, wet, dreary January-the likes of which has not been seen since. But for Clyde it was a new beginning. For Hopkins County, on the other hand, the search for stills continued or at least until the middle '60s. It was during the time of Sheriff Hanson Slaton's reign when the last still was located and destroyed. Still numerous others continued brewing their white lightening, a liquid which when lit produces a beautiful blue flame similar to that of natural gas. And make no mistake, men sometimes "lit up" their squeezings as well as getting "lit" by it. Both moonshining and hauling were dangerous occupations. Too many times, men died from shootouts in raids, escaping from the law while "making a run," or from "bad batches." Moonshine was both lethal and potent.
Following the shooting Clyde was hired by Crabtree Coal Mining Company in Ilsley as a security guard. This was during the national mining strikes led by John L. Lewis. Once again, Clyde took up his gun-this time a Thompson sub-machine gun-to defend the mining property. He patroled in a truck equipped with a steel box atop the cab for protection. His family was moved to Racetrack Road in a housing community owned by the mines. He and his wife later built a dry goods and grocery store in Ilsley which they operated for five years. He and his son Rube would also own and operate a taxi business on West Center in Madisonville in the 1950's and '60s. In his later years, he would buy the old Dr. Richard Salmon home, a two story house with double porches located on a sharp curve upon entering Ilsley. In 1989 the home was listed by the Kentucky Heritage Council on the National Register of Historic Places. And so Clyde would go full circle returning to farming with hogs and cattle in Ilsley until his retirement. At his death in 1989 at the age of 91, he was interred in Ilsley Cemetery.
Ann Gipson 11-28-01