Amos Owens, born around 1822, was a notorious moonshiner for more than fifty years, running his stills under cover of the mountain laurels in Rutherford County, North Carolina. His Cherry Bounce was famous as far west as the Mississippi River, where luxury paddlewheel steamers carried it for their patrons.
When he was nine he was hired out as a “drawer of water and hewer of wood”, a job he did for thirteen years until he saved enough to buy 100 acres on Cherry Mountain, so named for the wild cherry trees that covered it. He started learning the craft of distilling, even paying the Justice of the Peace who performed his marriage in brandy.
Six years later, at the age of 29, Owens and his wife Mary Ann had earned enough from his bootlegging to buy the rest of Cherry Mountain. With honey from his own bees, whiskey from his own stills, and the abundance of wild cherries that covered his mountain, he started making the drink that would earn him the nickname “Cherry Bounce King”.
When the Civil War began he, like most men of age, joined the Confederacy and he fought in the battle of Bull Run. At some point he was captured and spent some time in Union stockades. Upon returning to his mountain he vowed to never pay the excise tax put in place by Lincoln to fund the war, beginning a dance with the IRS that would last decades.
Owens kept a telescope handy to spot revenuers coming after him, which they did often. Local legend says two IRS officials caught him once as he was sending off a shipment so he offered them breakfast (which they declined) and some Cherry Bounce (which they didn’t). The officials drank cup after cup of the Bounce until they passed out, giving Owens time to get the shipment away safely. When the officials came to Amos was there waiting for them to do their duty and arrest him. He did a few stints in jail, once even doing a year in a New York federal prison, but he always came home to his mountain.
Cherry Bounce was very popular among the locals, both medicinally and recreationally. On the second Sunday of June Owens held a Big Day celebration at his home, called “The Castle”, where for twenty-five cents anyone could eat as much food and drink as much Cherry Bounce as they could hold. Local rumor holds that he buried the proceeds of the Big Day events all over his mountain property but no one has found them yet!
At the age of sixty eight Amos was brought before a judge one last time. The judge offered to let him go if he would finally cease his illicit activities and Amos agreed. He spent the rest of his days peacefully at his home, dying in his 90s in 1914. Now, in Rutherford County, they commemorate him and his delicious concoction with a driving tour called the Cherry Bounce Trail that meanders around the historical areas of the county.
Amos Owens, Cherry Bounce King
The Castle, which Owens liked to brag was one story high and three stories long.
At the start of the Cherry Bounce Trail.