Tax at the National Parks: Great Smokey Mounains Edition

By Sam Brunson

This will be the third in my series of tax-in-the-National-Parks posts. (I’m as surprised as you.)[fn1]

We spent a couple days camping at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, there were a series of displays about Appalachian life.[fn2] As I was looking at the moonshine still, I noticed this sign:

In case you can’t read it, the relevant portion says

The federal government added a tax on whiskey in the 1870s, but it was hard to enforce the tax in the Smokies. Without the tax, moonshine was cheaper to sell. The Smokies became a popular place to make whiskey.

As I was reading, I overheard a conversation behind me between a mother and her roughly 10-year-old son. It went something like this:

Mother: “People needed cash to pay their dumb taxes”

Son: “Why does the government need taxes? I thought they got enough money from tickets.”

[There was some conversation between the two, until M figured out S was talking about traffic tickets.]

M: “If they didn’t pay their taxes, they’d lose their farm. Just like Grandma and Grandpa.”

After they moved on, I turned around to see what had provoked their tax conversation. It was in a section about cash, and it was this display:

Again, in case you can’t read it:

For early settlers in the Smokies, there were few ways to earn cash. As time passed, stores opened in the larger towns. Family could bring in their surplus to trade for things in the store. The store owner would ship farm goods great distances. Soon, people started to sell their goods for cash. Cash was needed to pay taxes. It could also be used to buy machine-made goods from catalogs. The farms were not isolated, but part of an economic network connected by turnpikes and trails. [Emphasis added.]

So there you have it—yet another National Park providing tax education in addition nature, beauty, and non-tax history!


[fn1] If you want to see the first two posts, Alcatraz is here and Grand Portage is here.

[fn2] There was also information about the Trail of Tears, among other things, but that didn’t have any tax relevance.

One thought on “Tax at the National Parks: Great Smokey Mounains Edition

  1. Touring Napa Valley wineries many, many years ago, I stumbled upon Christian Brothers headquarters where offerings were available for taste and purchase. You can imagine my excitement at visiting this shrine – well remembered from a seminal case involving whether the religious order might escape unrelated business income tax on its secular sales of wine and champagne and liqueurs. DE LA SALLE INSTITUTE V. UNITED STATES, (N.D.CAL. 1961)

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