Redmond was born in the mid-1850s, in the Maple Springs section of present Swain County, North Carolina His family was residing in the Middle Fork community of Transylvania County by 1856, at which time the future hero-villain was two years old.
He was given the honorary nom de guerre "Major" as a youth while hanging out around army camps during the Civil War. "The complimentary nickname stuck, and was said to be most appropriate in later years because of his extraordinary ability to lead and organize men," observed Brevard writer Jim Bob Tinsley in an overview of Redmond’s life .
Tutored by Wash Galloway and his father, Redmond was an experienced distiller of moonshine by the time he was 21. When in 1876 he began making home deliveries of the product, federal revenue officers obtained an arrest warrant. On March 1, he was apprehended at gunpoint by Deputy U.S. Marshall Duckworth while driving a wagonload of the stuff across the Lower Creek ford of Walnut Hollow Road in the East Fork section of Transylvania County.
After Duckworth read the warrant, Redmond told him, "All right, put up your pistol, Alf. I will go along with you."
As Duckworth lowered his weapon, Redmond produced a small derringer and from point-blank range gunned the officer down with a bullet that entered his throat, carrying with it a collar button.
As Redmond fled, "Duckworth staggered to the ford ... and bent over for a drink, but the water leaked out through the bullet hole in his throat." The 24-year-old officer died shortly thereafter.
Thus began a violent and unlikely career during which Redmond became a national hero—a species of Robin Hood—for those who opposed federal revenue laws governing the manufacture of whiskey. Described as "a ladies’ man" who "was part Indian, having hawk-like eyes and raven black hair" and "a superb specimen of manhood, being six feet tall, stoutly built, very strong and active as a cat," he was quite willing to play the romantic hero role in which he was cast.
"His name was a rallying cry, and fellow distillers were eager to ride with the man who was fighting the revenue officers and winning," wrote Tinsley, who noted that "many of the influential state newspapers openly supported his activities," while the less friendly northern pro- revenue press labeled him "the bloated brigand of the Blue Ridge."
The lines were drawn and the stage set for a high country whiskey war. And, whatever one might think of Redmond as an individual, he was undeniably ready and able to carry on a pitched battle that raged across the Carolina mountains and front pages of national tabloids for five tumultuous years until the final bloody shootout on the banks of the Little Tennessee River in Swain County on April 7, 1881.
In January 1877, Redmond and his wagoner, Amos Ladd, were tricked to a house near Liberty, South Carolina, where they thought a delivery was to be made. While asleep with their boots off, they were arrested by officers who stormed the place.
The resourceful Redmond escaped almost immediately. Angry that he had been tricked, he hounded the officers from ambush with gunfire until Ladd was also free. Still fuming a week later, he invaded one of the same officer’s home and abducted his wife and two of his best horses. He subsequently returned the wife and one of the horses, but rode off on the other horse, after buying a round of drinks at a local bar.
Upward of thirty men rode with Redmond’s various gangs through the years. They were pursued "with a hail of bullets" by dozens of revenue officers through the Blue Ridge to little avail despite the $1,000 reward posted for Redmond’s arrest. As one of his specialties was raiding the homes of the officers who pursued him, he must have cooled off many a would-be captor.
Still, things were hot enough in his usual haunts around the junction of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia that in the spring of 1879 he moved three days west to Maple Springs on the Little Tennessee, several miles west of the little village of Charleston, North Carolina, which changed its name to Bryson City a decade later. So famous was he that a highly fictionalized account of his life by R.A Cobb was published in that same year.
With Redmond’s arrival illegal moonshine traffic made a quantum leap in Swain County almost overnight. Concerned citizens filed complaints in Washington, D.C. Three raids were made on his hideout, which consisted of a cabin set against a cliff with a view of the only approach and a canoe at a landing on the river below.
In 1879, having been forewarned, he headed downstream 20 minutes before his would-be abductors arrived. The second raid in 1881 found him going out a small escape hole in the rear of his house as the officers came in the front door. No doubt he once again used the canoe to escape downriver. During the third raid later that year, Redmond came out with a gun. Realizing he was surrounded, he attempted to run.
"Within a few steps he fell with six bullets in him," read one account. The New York Times prematurely reported his death, but Redmond had a tough constitution that fully complemented his rowdy disposition. He survived to live another 25 years.
After the arrest, he was taken to Charleston (Bryson City), where his wife during a visit managed to slip him a pistol concealed under a pillow. The officers found out about it and confronted Redmond with the advice that if he moved he would be killed, which was exactly the sort of language he understood. After surrendering the pistol, he was moved to Asheville and then on to Greenville, South Carolina, for trial.
Redmond spent almost three years in prisons in New York and South Carolina until being granted a pardon by President Chester A. Author in 1884. He died near Seneca, South Carolina, in 1906, leaving a wife, two sons, and seven daughters, who had inscribed on his gravestone: "He was the sunshine of our life."
Ironically enough, shortly before his death—as a law-abiding man during a period when whiskey production had become legal—he was hired by a government distillery at Walhalla, South Carolina, to oversee its production, which was of poor quality. Whatever his other deficiencies, Redmond was recognized—even by federal officials—as a man who knew how to make good stuff. For the government, he turned out a "special blend" distributed by a Charleston, South Carolina, company with a picture of the infamous "Major" Lewis R. Redmond right there on the barrel heads and bottle labels for all to see and contemplate.