She wrote 1500 hymns

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 23, 2014

She wrote about 1500 hymns in all, over a 37 year period. In her lifetime her songs were translated and sung in Africa, India, China, and Korea. Her best known songs, ‘Nearer, Still Nearer,’ and ‘Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart’ (both penned 1898), and another, ‘Sweet Will of God,’ (1900) can still be found in hymnals today.

Born in Pennsville, OH on April 15, 1862, Leila Naylor Morris grew up in Malta and McConnelsville, OH. She was quite young when her father died, so her mother started a millinery shop to support the five children. There young Leila learned to knit, sew, crochet and darn. When she started piano lessons she practiced at a neighbor’s house because the family could not afford an instrument.

Leila Naylor Morris“When I was ten years old I was led to give my heart to God. It was not a form of giving my heart to God. I knew then that I needed a Savior. Three different years I went forward to the altar and prayed and prayed, until a man came and laid his hand on my head and said ‘Why, little girl, God is here and ready to forgive your sins’.” Leila began playing the organ for prayer meetings when she was just 12 years old.

In 1881, Leila married Charles H. Morris. She transferred her membership to her husband’s church, the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Morrises actively supported their congregation. Leila served as a choir member and a leader in the Sunday school, the Epworth League, and the missionary society.

Until she was thirty Leila thought she’d be spending the rest of her life sitting behind a sewing machine making dresses for women in McConnellsville. But ten years after she got married she became interested in writing gospel songs. Her husband said that she always kept a pad of paper handy so that if she got the inspiration for another hymn she could write it down. She composed her work in the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, where she’d learned to play the organ. This congregation was formally established in McConnelsville in 1826 and is that town’s oldest denomination.

Trinity Methodist Episcopal in McConnellsville OHMany well known hymns, including “Sweeter As the Years Go By,” “Nearer, Still Nearer,” and “Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart,” were composed in Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church by its organist, Mrs. Leila Morris.

Evangelists quickly began using Leila’s songs. Many would visit in her home when they were in Ohio. If Leila was attending a camp meeting or revival service, she often would be invited to sit on the platform. Leila relished the opportunity to be in these services because she frequently was inspired to write songs after returning home from the meetings.

In 1913, Leila’s eyesight began to fail. For awhile she used a twenty-eight foot black board that had the music staff lines on it that her son made for her. Within a year she was completely blind. Despite her lost sight she continued to write gospel songs with the help of devoted friends. She would simply remember the songs until her daughter Fanny came for an annual visit. Leila would dictate dozens of songs as her daughter wrote them down, both words and music.

Leila’s daughter Mary and her husband were missionaries to China. “A great many persons have said [Mary] should be at home with her blind mother. . . . I have been so happy to receive her letters in which she tells of being able to give a message for the first time to those darkened minds and hearts. I think you will agree with me that this is the best thing I have ever done.”

Leila Naylor Morris died on July 23, 1929.

The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories about 600 Hymns and Praise, by William J. Petersen, Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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Malted Milk and madness in Huntsville

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 22, 2014

Today Dr. William Henry Burritt is remembered in Huntsville, AL as the man who left his mountaintop estate to the city in 1955, and in doing so, provided that city’s first public museum: the fourteen-room, “X” shaped, Burritt Museum and Historic Park on Round Top Mountain.

One of Dr. Burritt’s earliest charitable donations sounds like an odd thing to modern ears, and therein hangs a tale.

As both the son and grandson of two noted homeopathic physicians, it seems only natural that Burritt would have been interested in natural, non-pharmacological remedies from an early age.

Dr. William Henry BurrittThat, and the fact that his mother, two of his uncles, his sister, and his only nephew had all been committed due to mental instability, may help explain why Dr. Burritt and his first wife Pearl, wealthy new arrivals to Huntsville looking to make a good impression, felt committed to donate malted milk to the community’s recently opened (1895) City Infirmary.

Malted milk? The stuff of candies and soda shop concoctions? What has that got to do with mental health remedies?

Malted milk was originally created in 1887 as an easily digested infant’s food made from an extract of wheat and malted barley, combined with milk and made into a powder called “diastoid,” by James and William Horlick of Racine, WI. Horlick supposedly coined the name “malted milk,” but his formula resembled one already being marketed in England. He promoted his mixture of dried milk extracts of malted barley and wheat as a food supplement for infants and invalids (mental illness was broadly included in the latter category).

Horlick's Malted MilkWilliam Burritt graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1890, and immediately moved into post graduate study at the Pulte Medical College in Cincinnati and at the New York Lying-in Hospital. As a highly educated, well traveled man, it’s no surprise he’d learned of Horlick’s recent invention. And he may well have passed along his knowledge and experience with malted milk to another Huntsville family also plagued by mental illness.

Remember Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the reaper? Two of his seven children had schizophrenia. One of those, daughter Mary Virginia, moved into Huntsville’s ‘Kildare’ mansion in 1900. Or more accurately, the trust fund established for the heiress purchased the home on her behalf and established her there, supported by a large staff under the guidance of one Grace Walker.

Dr. Burritt certainly would have encountered Mary Virginia McCormick in Huntsville society circles: he was by then a member of a Huntsville social group called the ‘Chimpanzee Club,’ formed for evenings of polite social conversation, dinner, chamber recitals, and theater productions; He was also a member of the Civitan Club, Kappa Sigma, Madison County Chapter of the Citizens Historical Assn., the Church of the Nativity, an Episcopal Church in Huntsville, and the Republican Party.

Mary Virginia McCormick in 1901Mary Virginia McCormick in 1901.

The historical record doesn’t tell us whether Mary Virginia took malted milk as a curative, but we do know her brother Stanley, who lived in Boston, did. By 1906, his episodes had increased to the extent that he was hospitalized at McLean Hospital for the Insane in that city. He was diagnosed with “dementia praecox of the catatonic type,” —schizophrenia— characterized by marked violent outbursts and gradual mental deterioration, punctuated by periods of relative clarity. His intake report noted the family history of mental illness: “All the family of nervous temperament, mother eccentric, sister insane.”

The same report noted that Stanley was fed eggnog, oyster stew, and malted milk.


One Response

  • Randy says:

    I recently acquired a Horlick’s box with the six bottles like the one in this article. I would very much appreciate any information on the purpose of box. Thanks.

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Book Excerpt: ‘Blood in West Virginia’

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 21, 2014

Brandon Ray KirkPlease welcome guest author Brandon Kirk. Kirk is a historian as well as a descendant of Lincoln County, WV feudists. The Lincoln County Feud (1881-1890) arose out of personal grievances between two prominent residents in a rough-and-tumble West Virginia timber town, and escalated into a struggle for supremacy between business competitors and political rivals. Kirk has spent the last twenty years researching the history of the once-famous vendetta. He has conducted numerous interviews with other feud descendants (most born prior to 1930) and collected many period newspaper articles and photographs. His newly published book Blood in West Virginia is the result; we’re pleased to present an excerpt from the first book-length account of this sensational dispute.


Al Brumfield made his way down Harts Creek toward home, his belly full of food and liquor. He sat at the head of his horse, his wife seated sidesaddle immediately behind him. Hollene’s brothers, Harve and Dave, rode on separate horses nearby. It was three o’clock in the afternoon.

At Thompson Branch, some two miles downstream from Henderson Dingess’s farm, the trail narrowed and took to the hill. Al, looking up toward the Hot Rock—a cluster of large rocks and brush—spotted two men hiding in a sinkhole. Instinctively, he slumped away from that direction.

Blood in WV cover

“Hollene…” he said.

Before Hollene had time to react, a single shot from a high-powered Winchester rifle exploded into the air. Al’s startled horse jumped and spun wildly.

Another shot. Hollene fell to the ground, her face torn to pieces, black from powder burn and smattered in blood.

Dave Dingess, riding nearly beside Al and Hollene, had also spotted the two men hiding among the rocks. He had put up his hand before the second shot, then felt it go numb. Feeling little pain, he had quickly turned his horse and slid over toward its side opposite the shooters, and clung to his saddle, keeping his arms around the horse’s neck, until he maneuvered to safety. He and Harve galloped back up the creek toward home and help. No shots came their way. But Dave’s hand was covered in blood.

Al, meanwhile, tried to regain control of his horse. He looked down at his wife, then up toward the rocks.

Another shot—this time finding its mark.

Al fell to the ground, rolling in the dust. He felt pain at his right elbow and all through his arm, then numbness. His arm was covered in blood—shot and broken—useless from the fall.

His horse sped away down the creek.

Al crawled toward Hollene, reaching under his jacket for a pistol. Then came another shot, this time grazing his breast and ripping the fabric of his vest. The pressure was intense.

Al followed his horse downstream to safety.

For a brief moment, the scene was completely quiet.

Two men wearing hats came off the hill to survey the damage.

“We made a mess of this,” one said to the other as they stood over Hollene. “They’s goin’ to be hell to pay.”

Al Brumfield, prominent merchant, whisky boat operator, and feud leader. Photo courtesy Lilly Brumfield Ray.

Al Brumfield, prominent merchant, whisky boat operator, and feud leader. Photo courtesy Lilly Brumfield Ray.

“We got to kill her now,” said the other. “She’s seen us.”

Hollene, barely conscious, could hear the men but not see them. Her eyes were filled with blood.

“Please don’t shoot me again,” she gurgled, trying to speak. “You’ve already killed me.”

About then, the men heard shots in the distance.

It was Al Brumfield, returning up the creek under cover with his pistol pointed in their direction. Due to his broken arm and the distance between them, his shots were errant; still, they caused the two attackers to scramble back up the hillside. Brumfield did not pursue them. Instead, he continued on toward his wife, hoping his assailants would not shoot him again.

By the time Al reached Hollene, his wife was in the arms of Mrs. Jane Adkins, a twenty-four-year-old midwife who lived nearby in a single-story log cabin with her husband and four children. Jane sat in the road, Hollene propped against her.

Al bent down toward his wife. It was a gruesome sight. The entire right portion of her face was torn open. Al could hardly look at her.

“So help me God!” he swore. “I’ll kill whoever it was did this. Did you see who it was, Jane?”

“No, Al,” Jane said, remaining calm. “I saw two men, but I couldn’t make out who they was.”

“Hollene,” he said loudly, taking her hand in his.

“She’s knocked plumb out,” Jane said. “But she’s still alive.”

“Oh God,” Al cried. “How can she possibly be alive?”

Al mostly kept his eye on Hollene, figuring she might die at any second, but also looked anxiously toward the mountain where, just a few moments earlier, his attackers had waited in ambush. For all he knew, the men still lurked up there, watching, ready to shoot again. He had never felt as helpless as he did at that moment, hunkered in the road with his mauled wife. He had no horse, no way to move Hollene, and no friends to help him should his attackers return to finish them all. He knew that his pistol was useless against Winchester rifles and that his ability to fire it was limited by the poor condition of his arm. All he could do was hold Hollene’s hand, feeling the faint pulse in her wrist, unsure if each passing breath would be her last.

At that moment, two horses thundered toward them from up the creek.

Al rose up, feebly clutching his pistol.

It was Dave and Harve Dingess.

“Are you and Hollene all right?” Harve asked, riding up to the scene, kicking up dust.

Green McCoy and Milt Haley: timber men, fiddlers, suspected murderers. Photo courtesy Nellie Richardson Thompson

Green McCoy and Milt Haley: timber men, fiddlers, suspected murderers. Photo courtesy Nellie Richardson Thompson

A bit closer, he could see for himself.

“Oh my God,” he said.

For a moment, everyone was quiet. The horror of the scene was complete.

“She’s still alive,” Jane said, trying to keep everyone calm. “She ain’t in no pain cause she’s knocked out. But we need to wrap somethin’ tight around her face or else she’ll bleed to death.”

Dave climbed down from his horse and took off his shirt, tearing it into pieces. His hand was bleeding.

“You get shot too, Dave?” Al asked.

“Just a nick here in my hand,” Dave said. “It ain’t nothin’.”

“Who in hell did this?” Harve asked, looking up toward the rocks.

“Hell if I know,” Al said. “I couldn’t see ‘em good.”

As Harve spoke with Al, Dave carefully wrapped his sister’s head in the tattered pieces of his shirt, following Jane’s instructions.

Harve noticed that Al’s arm was hurt.

“How’s your arm?” he asked.

“It’s broke,” Al said.

Al looked at his wife, the greater portion of her face disappearing under the remains of Dave’s shirt.

“Harve, you ride back up the creek and get help,” he said. “Find Burl or Charlie or Hugh. Get a wagon, too. We’ll need it to get Hollene back up Smokehouse. And tell your paw to send for a doctor.”

“All right, Al,” Harve said.

He turned his horse, looking again to the mountains, not sure if his sister would be alive or not when he returned.

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Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 20, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with guest author Beth Durham. Durham blogs weekly about the legends and lessons from Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau at “We’ve all enjoyed the B-westerns where the trail-weary cowboy rides into a town only to discover it has been abandoned and is now only a ghost of a town,” she says. “At the mention of ghost towns, that’s the image that comes to mind – the gold rush settlements of the Old West. But Appalachia has her own version of ghost towns and they are plentiful.”

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

“The Chattahoochee Park pavilion was part of a Gainesville, GA amusement park, Chattahoochee Park, built about 1900 on the banks of what was then Lake Warner. The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, an Atlanta-based non-profit, included the aging pavilion in its 2012 list of the state’s top 10 “Places in Peril.” Journalist Jeff Gill tells us how the structure was rescued in this Gainesville Times article.

We’ll wrap things up with an excerpt from the introduction to Sheree Scarborough’s latest book, African American Railroad Workers of Roanoke: Oral Histories of the Norfolk & Western, which just published. “Roanoke is one of America’s great rail centers and prides itself on that history,” she says. “It was the original headquarters to N&W Railway for 100 years and continues to be an important location for Norfolk Southern Corporation. African Americans have a long history with the railroad, a history that began before the Civil War when enslaved people helped construct tracks across the country, and one that exists through to the present day.”

And thanks to the good folks at Champion Electrograph Records Archives, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Pie Plant Pete in a 1930 recording of Waiting For the Railroad Train.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.

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Was it murder? Or a heart attack?

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 18, 2014

“I went up to Wise that night along with my cousin and not meaning no harm,” testified Edith Maxwell at her murder trial. “Along in the evening Raymond Meade came along and said he would give me a lift back to my house in Pound. There was some more people in the car with him but we let them out down the road a piece and Raymond Meade says to me: ‘Let’s go to the Little Ritz and get something to eat.’ ”

“The Lonesome Pine Girl,” accused of killing her father Trigg on July 20, 1935, attracted the attention and support of newspaper, magazine, and radio reporters, as well as women’s organizations, across the United States and Canada. Her nickname is a reference to a well known 1908 John Fox novel, The Trial of the Lonesome Pine, that portrayed the lifestyle of mountain residents in a rather one-dimensional manner.

 popular was the tale with the American public that a third production of it–
this one in sound and color–was being filmed, with considerable publicity,
even as Edith Maxwell faced the first of two trials in the Wise County, VA courthouse.

The media coverage the case received for nearly 
two years rivaled that given to the Scopes “monkey trial” of the 1920s. By the end of Maxwell’s ordeal, even Eleanor Roosevelt had gotten involved.

Edith Maxwell in Wise County prisonWhy the national spotlight? The Maxwell case was a clash between modernity and tradition, between “women’s rights and reason against bigotry and fanaticism.” On the side of bigotry and tradition was the “code” of the Virginia mountains, where women and children had to obey and submit to the father, even when he physically abused them.

Edith had left home for two years of teacher’s college, highly unusual for a young woman of her circumstances. After attending Radford State Teachers College (later Radford University), Maxwell reluctantly returned to Pound, where she associated with the “bright young set,” tested the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and became frustrated by the limitations of small-town life.

Raymond Meade tried to get her to drink some liquor, Edith continued in her November 1935 court testimony, but all she took was some potato chips and a glass of ginger ale. She told him it was getting late and she had better be starting for home because she was going blackberrying next morning. When she got home around midnight her little sister, Mary Catherine, warned her: “Your bed covers is in Pappy’s room but don’t go in there. He’s drunk and he’s going to run Ma out of the house tomorrow.” But Edith went in anyhow. Pappy woke up.

‘I’m goin’ to whip you,” he said.

“Pappy, don’t you do it,” said Edith.

Pappy chased her out of the bedroom and grabbed a carving knife. “Pappy, don’t you cut me,” said Edith.

“I’ll show you I can whip you,” said Pappy.

Edith fell to the floor and fumbled for a pair of old high-heeled shoes she had given her Ma. She flailed out with one of them. Pappy fell back. Edith, half-naked from the fight, caught up a covering, ran out of the house. She could hear Pappy moaning: “Jesus, Jesus, why can’t a man whip his own child?” Trigg was soon dead, allegedly from the beating Edith gave him.

The prosecutor tried to show that Edith was a fast filly who had saddened her honest mountaineer father with her late hours and citified ways. But he could not shake her story of the fight. It was further corroborated by Edith’s 11-year-old sister Mary Catherine who, when twitted by the prosecutor for forgetting certain details, leaned out of the witness chair and yelled: “And you wouldn’t remember so good either if you had been as scared as I was that night with Pappy a-yellin’ and a-cussin’ and Edith a-tryin’ to outrun him!”

Edith, argued her lawyers, had exercised no more than her “God-given right of self-defense.” But that did not impress the jury, which, after less than an hour’s deliberation, returned a guilty verdict.

Despite expert medical testimony that Trigg’s wounds could not have caused his death and that he had probably died of a stroke or heart attack, rumor and innuendo were enough to send Edith to jail for five years of a 25 year sentence.

She was pardoned by Gov. James H. Price in December 1941 – thanks, in part, to a letter written on her behalf by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Upon her release, Edith changed her name to Ann Grayson and eventually made a new life for herself in Jacksonville, Fla., after marrying Otto Abshier, the owner of an Indianapolis trucking company.

The day after Trigg Maxwell died, his wife Ann, along with their daughter, had been indicted, but never brought to trial. Was Trigg Maxwell hit by Edith? Or was it Ann? Or was he hit at all?


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