Agent Charles Felts encounters a rattlesnake while searching rugged, rural terrain for moonshine stills.
NORTH WILKESBORO -Charles Felts had lots of stories from the road. There were adventures on his way to college, which was an overnight journey in a horse-drawn wagon from North Wilkesboro to Boone. Then, there was the time he was chasing a moonshiner who shot out his tire and caused a terrible crash.
"Daddy was lucky to walk away from that with just a broken shoulder. The other agent did not make it out alive," says Freida Felts Matthews, Charles Felts' daughter.
The man who patrolled the area for more than 30 years as an agent with the Alcohol Tax Unit, predecessor to the ATF, was remembered this morning, as the North Carolina Department of Transportation named a stretch of N.C. 18 in North Wilkesboro "Charles S. Felts Highway". NCDOT board member James Palermo presented Matthews and three of her siblings with a commemorative sign during a ceremony at the Stone Center.
"When you look at the decades of good work Charles Felts did in Wilkes County, and the many different ways he helped people here, naming a highway in his honor is a fitting tribute for a lifetime of service," says Palermo.
Before tracking down moonshiners, Charles Felts spent 18 years in the classroom, as a teacher and principal in Wilkes County. He joined the Army in 1918, serving his country in World War I.
It was during his long tenure as a federal agent that his passion for the law made him a legend. "Daddy would not arrest someone unless he saw their face, and could identify them in the act of making moonshine," says Matthews. "He would also stand up in court and testify on behalf of those he believed had been wrongly accused. There's a judge today who always brings up the way Daddy conducted himself."Charles Felts is credited with helping make 2,500 arrests, and disposing of 70,000 gallons of illicit whisky and five million gallons of mash.
His passion for justice led him to serve the citizens of Wilkes County again, when in 1971, at the age of 80, he was chosen to serve as a magistrate in Wilkes District Court. He suffered a heart attack and died a year later, as he was set to start a second term.
"He really devoted his life to the people of Wilkes County," said Matthews. "I drive on Highway 18 just about every day, and I'll be excited to see his name when I pass by."
Shortly after the ceremony, NCDOT crews unveiled a sign on N.C. 18 North near Felts Street, where he once lived, reading "Charles S. Felts Highway".