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Alabama Official Outdoor Musical Drama

Alabama Official Outdoor Musical Drama
Alabama's Official Outdoor Musical Drama
The Incident at Looney's Tavern

Adoption of the Alabama Official Outdoor Musical Drama

Alabama's official Outdoor Musical Drama, "The Incident at Looney's Tavern," is based on a factual meeting that unfolded in Alabama's Winston County during the opening stages of the War Between the States.

After the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Alabama government called for representatives from all over the state to attend a convention in Montgomery. The purpose of the convention was to discuss secession from the United States.

The convention representative from Winston County was a schoolteacher named Christopher Sheats.

Mr. Sheats went to Montgomery as a representative of the independent, poor farmers of Winston County, many of them descendents of Andrew Jackson's troops who had settled in the northern hills of Alabama after the War of 1812. For the most part, Winston County residents did not have much in common with the slave-holding plantation owners to the south. They felt strongly about the Union they had fought for and did not want to see it torn apart. Many residents viewed the Confederacy as a way of maintaining the supremacy of the wealthy "planter class" over small farmers and merchants.

Christopher Sheats, along with a few others from North Alabama, declined to sign the secession ordinance in Montgomery. He returned to Winston County with news that the convention had voted to secede and that war was near.

Winston County leaders called for a meeting of area citizens. The meeting would be held at a Double Springs tavern owned by William Bauck "Bill" Looney. The date of the meeting is controversial. Some say it was held on July 4, 1861. Others say the meeting took place in April, 1862.

It's reported that between 2,500 and 3,000 people, most supportive of the Union, gathered at Looney's Tavern. The following resolutions were adopted at this historic meeting; resolutions that would reap dire consequences for the citizens of Winston County throughout the war.

"First, we commend the Honorable Charles C. Sheets and the other representatives who stood with him, for their loyalty and fidelity to the people whom they represented in voting against secession first, last, and all the time.

"Second, we agree with Jackson that no state can legally get out of the Union. (Copy statement regarding Lincoln having Jackson's papers and the Bible). But if we are mistaken in this, and a state can lawfully or legally secede or withdraw, being only a part of the Union, then a county, any county, being a part of the state, by the same process of reasoning, could cease to be a part of the State.

"Third, we think our neighbors in the South made a mistake when they bolted and nominated a ticket, which resulted in the election of a republican. They made another and a greater mistake when they attempted to withdraw from the Union and set up a new government. But we don't want our neighbors in the South mistreated and we are not going to take up arms against them; but, on the other hand, we are not going to shoot at the Flag of our Fathers - the Flag of Washington, Jefferson, and of Jackson! Therefore, we ask the Confederacy on the one hand, and the Union on the other, to leave us alone, unmolested, that we may work out our political and financial destiny here in the hills and mountains of Northwest Alabama."

At the meeting, it's said that a Confederate sympathizer, named Richard E. Payne remarked upon the reading of the second resolution, "Winston secedes! The Free State of Winston!" It is from this story that the nickname for Winston County, "The Free State of Winston," was born even though the county never did secede from the State of Alabama.

Alabama Counties
Winston County in Northwest Alabama

In 1987, planning for the Winston County Free State Festival included a reenactment of the meeting that occurred at Looney's Tavern in the days leading up to the War Between the States. The initial performances of "The Incident at Looney's Tavern" were held in a shopping center parking lot. They were very popular.

In 1988, after some rewrites, the popular dramatization was moved to a local football stadium. Again, the presentation of "The Incident at Looney's Tavern" proved to be an overwhelming success.

The enormous success of the dramatization inspired a group of local families to offer the production on a more permanent basis. In 1989, Looney's Tavern Productions, Inc. cleared 80 acres to build the Looney's Amphitheater complex, including the 1500-seat outdoor amphitheater to showcase a new production of "The Incident at Looney's Tavern."

Historic Looney's Tavern Entertainment Park
Historic Looney's Tavern Entertainment Park

The factual story is told with music, dance and the "hill country humor" of Northern Alabama. "The Incident at Looney's Tavern was named as one of the "Top 100 Events in North America" by the American Bus Association, and one of the "Top 20 Events in the Southeast" by the Southeast Tourism Society.

In 1993, "The Incident at Looney's Tavern was named "Alabama's Official Outdoor Musical Drama" by Act no. 93-110.

Winston County is still relatively undeveloped, rural, and rugged. A historical marker stands on County Road 41, 3 miles south of Addison, where Looney's Tavern once stood.

The amphitheater complex is a few miles from the original Looney's Tavern site, off Highway 278.

Alabama Law

The following information was excerpted from the The Code of Alabama 1975, Title 1, Chapter 2.

Source: California State Legislature, The Code of Alabama 1975, , October 10, 2008.
Source: Alabama Department of History & Archives, Official Symbols and Emblems of Alabama, , October 10, 2008.
Source: Winston County, Alabama -- The Free State of Winston, Free State Civil War Events and the Jasper Raid by Peter J. Gossett, , October 15, 2008.
Source: Suite101, Incident at Looney's Tavern by Martine G. Bates, , October 12, 2008.
Source: Historic Looney's Tavern Entertainment Park, History by Tom Bartlett, October 10, 2008.
Source: State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide Third Edition, Revised and Expanded by Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer. Greenwood Press; 3 Sub edition (October 30, 2001).

Additional Information

Alabama Official Outdoor Musical Drama: "The Incident at Mooney's Tavern" from the Alabama Department of History & Archives.

Free State Civil War Events and the Jasper Raid: An accounting of the events that led to the Jasper Raid by Peter J. Gossett.

Incident at Looney's Tavern: From the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Chris Sheats: The Man Who Refused to Secede
Chris Sheats: The Man Who Refused to Secede
by Martine G. Bates

Chris Sheats: The Man Who Refused to Secede, by Martine G. Bates, 102 pages, Seacoast Publishing, Inc. (2004). (for children ages 8 to 12) On the eve of the Civil War, not every Alabamian believed that getting out of the Union was the right thing to do. Some believed Alabama should remain in the United States. Chris Sheats was one of them. And for that belief he was threatened, beaten, arrested and thrown in jail.

The Free State of Winston;: A History of Winston County, Alabama, by Wesley S. Thompson, 220 pages, Pareil Press (1968).

The Civil War in Winston County, Alabama, by Don Dodd, 55 pages, Northwest Alabama Pub. Co (1979).

Loyalty and Loss: Alabama's Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction, by Margaret M. Storey, 296 pages, Louisiana State University Press (May 2004).

Images of America: The Free State of Winston, by Dr. Don Dodd and Dr. Amy Bartlett-Dodd, 128 pages, Arcadia Publishing (September 2, 2000).



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