Jean Thomas: Kentucky’s Traipsin’ Woman

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 3, 2015

She had hosted Susan Steele Sampson, wife of Kentucky’s governor, the previous year at her first American Folk Song Festival, held at the Traipsin’ Woman Cabin. Now, in August 1931, Jean Thomas found herself invited to the Governor’s mansion in Frankfort to discuss the creation of an American Folk Song Society and an annual festival open to the public. How did Thomas get to this point, and why did she call herself the “Traipsin’ Woman?”

Jean Thomas poses at her desk in her long black "Narrator" costume from the American Folk Song Festival. Three of her publications ["The Singin' Fiddler of Lost Hope Hollow" "Devil's Ditties" and "The Traipsin' Woman"] are displayed on the desk. She was being filmed by Jack Jacumski of Georgetown, OH.

Jean Thomas poses at her desk in her long black “Narrator” costume from the American Folk Song Festival. Three of her publications [“The Singin’ Fiddler of Lost Hope Hollow” “Devil’s Ditties” and “The Traipsin’ Woman”] are displayed on the desk. She was being filmed by Jack Jacumski of Georgetown, OH.

Jean Thomas was born Jeanette Mary Francis de Assisi Aloysius Marcissum Garfield Bell in Ashland, Kentucky in 1881. She earned the nickname “Traipsin’ Woman” when, as a teenager in the 1890s, she defied convention to attend business school, learn stenography, and become a court reporter, traveling by jolt wagon to courts in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.

Using money saved from her court reporter wages, Thomas moved to New York, where she attended Hunter College and the Pulitzer School of Journalism. She married accountant Albert Thomas in 1913, a marriage which lasted only one year. She then held a variety of jobs, including work as a script girl for Cecil B. de Mille’s The Ten Commandments, as secretary to the owner of the Columbus Senators of the National League and as press agent for Ruby “Texas” Guinan, the notorious entertainer and owner of prohibition-era speakeasies.

In 1926 Jean Thomas met William Day, a blind fiddler from Rowan County. Using the skills she had acquired as press agent and manager, she changed his name to Jilson Settles, secured recording contracts and booked him (as the “Singin Fiddler from Lost Hope Hollow”) in theaters. Day eventually played in London’s Royal Albert Hall. He was the subject of Thomas’ first book, Devil’s Ditties (1931). Thomas went on to author another seven books including the semi-autobiographical The Traipsin’ Woman (1933), The Singing Fiddler of Lost Hollow (1938), and The Sun Shines Bright (1940).

The first American Folk Song Festival was held in 1932 in Jean Thomas’ home town of Ashland, and featured 18 acts. During the early years of the American Folk Song Festival, Jean Thomas carried a camera wherever she went as she sought out musicians who would perform at the annual event.

At the 8th festival, TIME magazine (June 30, 1938) noted with amusement that the musicians were presenting not only “ballads and hymns that can be traced to Elizabethan England,” but also “ballads from yesterday’s newspaper headlines.” One such example, titled “Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Brave Engineer (to the tune of Casey Jones)” [musician not cited in article]:

Now some folks kick, say he didn’t cut his pay
Remember, he’s not fishing, he’s working every day
He gave the Republicans a mighty slam
He didn’t take twelve years to start the Coal Creek Dam

He sent word to foreign countries, both near and far
Just what to expect if they started to war
He put the mills to working under the N. R. A.
Which means shorter hours, and much more pay

He’s made his stand, and you know he’s tried
He’s made many friends on the Republican side
He’s balanced the budget with revenue
He’s brought back whiskey and the three point two

With the exception of the years 1943-1948, the American Folk Song Festival was held annually until failing health forced Thomas to retire in 1972.

Sources: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,788725,00.html

http://digital.library.louisville.edu/collections/jthom/

Jean+Thomas Ashland+KY American+Folk+Song+Festival Traipsin+Woman appalachia Appalachian+ballads appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia appalachia+history

3 Responses

  • Sean Collins says:

    I had the pleasure to get to know this woman in the last years of her life. She was in a care facility in the Ashland area where my great-grandmother lived. I would spend hours listening to her talk of days gone by, her mind was going fast at that time. Still she is one of the people I have met that I will never forget—even though she was in her 90s.
    Sean Collins

  • Lara says:

    My great-great-grandmother (known as “Aunt Polly”) played dulcimer in Catlettsburg, Ky., and was “discovered” by Jean Thomas.

  • Ken and Ken says:

    My friend Ken and I were hitchhiking thru Eastern Ky with his guitar and my harmonica. We had a wonderful time meeting the Folks down there. I was from Louisville and Ken was from Charleston, WVA. So we was city folk. Finaaly we somehow got to Traipsin Woman’s cabin. What a delight. She talked our heads off.

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7 + = 10

Apple butter thick enough to slice

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 31, 2015

“Cider for apple butter must be perfectly new from the press, and the sweeter and mellower the apples are of which it is made, the better will the apple butter be. Boil the cider till reduced to one half its original quantity, and skim it well.

1850s wooden paddle for stirring apple butter“Do not use for this purpose an iron kettle, or the butter will be very dark, and if you use a brass or copper kettle, it must be scoured as clean and bright as possible, before you put the cider into it, and you must not suffer the butter to remain in it a minute longer than is actually necessary to prepare it, or it will imbibe a copperish taste, that will render it not only unpleasant, but really unhealthy.

“It is best to prepare it late in the fall, when the apples are quite mellow. Select those that have a fine flavor, and will cook tender; pare and quarter them from the cores, and boil them in the cider till perfectly soft, having plenty of cider to cover them well.

“If you wish to make it on a small scale, do not remove the apples from the cider when they get soft, but continue to boil them gently in it, till the apples and cider form a thick smooth marmalade, which you must stir almost constantly towards the last.
A few minutes before you take it form the fire, flavor it lightly with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves, and when the seasonings are well intermixed, put it up in jars, tie folded paper over them, and keep them in a cool place.

WV women prepare apples for apple butter, 1937“If made in a proper manner, it will keep a good more than a year, and will be found very convenient, being always in readiness. Many people who are in the habit of making apple butter, take it from the fire before it is boiled near enough. Both to keep it well, and taste well, it should be boiled long after the apples have become soft, and towards the last, simmered over coals till it gets almost thick enough to slice.

“If you wish to make it on a large scale, after you have boiled the first kettle full of apples soft, remove them from the cider, draining them with a perforated ladle, that the cider may fall again to the kettle, and put them into a clean tub. Fill up the kettle with fresh apples, having them pared and sliced from the cores, and having ready a kettle of boiling cider, that is reduced to at least half its original quantity; fill up the kettle of apples with it as often as is necessary.

WV woman stirs apple butter kettle, 1937“When you have boiled in this manner as many apples as you wish, put the whole of them in a large kettle, or kettles, with the cider, and simmer it over a bed of coals till it is so thick, that it is with some difficulty you can stir it: it should be stirred almost constantly, with a wooden spaddle, or paddle, or it will be certain to scorch at the bottom or sides of the kettle. Shortly before you take it from the fire, season it as before directed, and then put it up in jars.”

The Kentucky Housewife, Lettice Bryan, 1839, (p. 375-77)

Mrs. Bryan’s contribution to the literature of Southern cooking is her thoroughness. Not only are there more recipes in this than in other books of the period—1,300—but the ingredients, techniques and results are also described more completely than was typical at the time.

Source: www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq.html#applesauce

3 Responses

  • Janet Smart says:

    No wonder I don’t make apple butter the old fashioned way! Just kidding, I remember when I was a child, in the fall all the family gathered in Grandma’s yard and made apple butter in a big kettle. I always assumed it was copper, but I don’t remember it being shiny. Grandma also put a silver dollar in the mixture to keep it from sticking. I love home made apple butter – much better than the store bought kind. I make it on my stove top, though, 5 pints at a time. It sure does taste good.

  • […] sure to visit Dave Tabler’s Appalachian History Blog, where you can find this post that he wrote rather recently (August) about apple butter boils. 37.431573 -78.656894 LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  • […] time. Finally, my mom was able to teach me this year! I’ve never known anyone personally who made it the old fashioned way (in a kettle outside over a fire), but I’m willing to bet that in any Appalachian community […]

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8 − 7 =

Which of them REALLY invented ‘Dr Pepper’?

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 30, 2015

The town boomed when the railroad came through in 1856, and so in 1872 a former Confederate surgeon named Dr. Charles T. Pepper started a soon-to-be-thriving business dispensing patent medicines in a brick pharmacy in Rural Retreat, VA. He also spent time mixing mountain herbs, roots and seltzer into a fizzy brew.

 "Rural Retreat, VA drug store owned by Dr. Charles Pepper. The drug store burnt to the ground in 1999. Courtesy Dan Moore/Wytheville, VA, 2009.

“Rural Retreat, VA drug store owned by Dr. Charles Pepper. The drug store burnt to the ground in 1999. Courtesy Dan Moore/Wytheville, VA, 2009.

 

One local story goes that the doctor’s daughter fell in love with Wade Morrison, Pepper’s assistant. The doctor wasn’t too pleased about that, so he sent her off to school. And he fired Morrison. “This story is probably not true,” says Mary Kegley, author of Wythe County Bicentennial Book, “because within the time frame, Dr. Pepper’s daughter would only have been around 5 at the time Morrison left.

“Dr. Charles T. Pepper also had a son, Louis or Louie, an optometrist who was also known as Dr. Pepper,” Kegley continues. “He worked part time in his father’s drug store and also claimed to have developed the formula for the drink.”

Morrison meantime moved to Texas and set up a pharmacy of his own, the Old Corner Drug Store at Fourth and Austin streets in Waco. He went on to fame and fortune, taking credit as the creator of the best-selling American soft drink we know as Dr Pepper. Charles T. Pepper got neither fame nor fortune out of the bargain.

The Dr Pepper Museum site credits Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist working at Wade Morrison’s drug store, with being the inventor of the now famous drink. The Old Corner Drug Store customers called the drink a “Waco” soda, and it became quite popular at the soda fountain. Morrison began selling batches of the mix, drugstore to drugstore in 1885, and promoted it as a tonic until 1891, when he opened a bottling plant. When he began marketing the syrup to area drugstores, Morrison renamed the drink after his old boss in Rural Retreat. Or not.

Original Dr Pepper bottles at the Dublin Bottling Works and W.P. Kloster Museum in Dublin, Texas, 2014. Courtesy The Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Original Dr Pepper bottles at the Dublin Bottling Works and W.P. Kloster Museum in Dublin, Texas, 2014. Courtesy The Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

 

“Dr Pepper is named after Dr. Charles T. Pepper, an 1855 graduate of the University of Virginia Medical School,” concurs James A. Ball, the Sr. V.P. Corporate Communications for Dr. Pepper/Seven-Up Companies Inc. of Dallas. “Who practiced medicine at his pharmacy in Rural Retreat, VA in the late 1800s. The entire history of Dr Pepper was published in 1995 by author Jeffrey Rodengen. His book, authorized by me, is entitled The Legend of Dr Pepper/Seven-Up.”

Not everyone associated with the soft drink business agrees with that view.

“What we found was that according to the US Census, Morrison lived in the town of Christiansburg, VA and worked as a pharmacy clerk,” says Milly Walker, the Collections Manager/Curator for the Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Co. Museum in Dublin, TX. “In that same census on the next page (if I remember correctly) is another Dr. Pepper and he has a daughter, Malinda or Malissa, who is only 16 to Morrison’s 17.

“If you understand that the census takers walked from house to house, you can tell they were near neighbors. This makes much more sense to me than Dr. Charles T. Pepper, 40 miles away in Rural Retreat. There is not one piece of evidence that Morrison ever worked for Dr. Charles T. Pepper in Rural Retreat, VA,” she says.

The remains of Dr. Charles Taylor Pepper rest with those of his wife and several children in Mountain View Cemetery overlooking the town he lived and worked in. He died in 1903 in his 73rd year. And his pharmacy? Despite its brush with greatness, it never became a tourist draw. It finally closed in 1994. “Nowadays, if you’re not big business, you’re not in business,” said W. Baynard Barton 3d, Rural Retreat’s last pharmacist.

 

sources: “Delve into Dr Pepper’s Origins in Rural Retreat” The Virginian-Pilot, September 1, 1996
“Rural Retreat Journal; Store Closes, and a Way of Life Is Just a Memory” NY Times April 16, 1994
http://www.houstonpress.com/2008-06-05/news/boot-legging-dr-pepper/2
http://www.freenewyork.net/dpfaq.html
http://www.wiw.org/~chris/drpepper/

 

5 Responses

  • wooman21 says:

    That is the true story of dr. pepper. His son took it to Waco when he died. Waco did actually make dr pepper, but the formula was made in Rural Retreat.

  • As I sit here, 10 miles up Rte. 11 from Rural Retreat I firmly resolve not to tell my wife about this post. She’s a Wythe County native while I’m a transplant from Virginia Beach. When that woman gets her teeth into something she just won’t let go. A story about this controversy aired on PBS a couple years back and she spent the next week or two convincing me they were all wrong!

  • Debbie says:

    I was Born in Marion and grew up hearing the story from the family. The way it went was, the Pharmacy assistant was supposed to mary the Pharmacist’s daughter, but stole the formula, which was made and served at the Rural Retreat “drug strore soda counter” and ran off with the recipe, getting credit for it’s formula. Mountain Dew was formulated in Marion, just a stone’s throw away.

  • Frank Musser says:

    I am from Rural Retreat, Va and graduated from RRHS on June 14, 1951. I have been in Dr. Pepper’s drug store thousands of times after it became Cassell & Frye grocery store. Dr. Pepper’s house still stands on Richmond Ave. just below Sherwood Ave, where I grew up. In an upper field behind his house are two cherry trees growing side by side and my mother told me that his two oldest sons died from eating too many unripened cherries and died and he buried them there. Dr. Pepper made his drink out of tree roots, tree bark and sassafras roots. His drink was quite popular and he called it “My Concoction.” Dr. Pepper had an 11-year old daughter, who was said to be very beautiful, and after he hired Wade Morrison to be come a pharmacist, Wade fell in love with his daughter and Dr. Pepper tried to discourage the affair so later Mr. Morrison stole the recipe for the concoction and took his daughter and got on the Norfolk and Western train just across from the drug store and they ended up in Waco, Tx where he made a fortune off Dr. Pepper’s concoction. His daughter made him name it after he father, the original inventor. Dr. Pepper never made any money off his drink. He is buried in the Mt. View Cemetery in Rural Retreat, VA, which is surrounded by Big Walker and Little Brushy mountains.

  • Joy Gammon. says:

    I have a mug that says Rural Retreat, home of Dr. Pepper. Unfortunately, that handle broke off. My father’s family lived in Rural Retreat for multiple generations, and I have so many wonderful childhood memories of long visits there, but when the train still stopped there, the old drugstore was still open, etc.

    The mug was bought in Rural Retreat by my brother on a visit there maybe 10 years ago.

    I have been unable to find anything like this on the web. Has anyone seen something similar? I have no idea where to look for “touristy” things about Rural Retreat.

    Thank you for any help you can provide.

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The US Army used DDT to de-louse soldiers

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 29, 2015

Here is a little insect that with all his faults, and they are many, possesses certain virtues. He has solved the problem of race suicide, for he multiplies with astounding rapidity. He adapts himself easily, not to say gracefully, to uncomfortable, even unsanitary surroundings, and if he were permitted to speak in his own defense, would doubtless challenge you to show on all the pages of history any great military success attained by an army not accompanied and “egged on” as it were by cooties. Personally, I believe you would have difficulty in producing such an example.

The Tar Heel World War Record 1917-’18, by J. R. Graham

Louse infestations during WWI were common and concern about louse-borne disease was so great that after the armistice of 1918, returning troops were deloused at home ports and quarantined for 2 weeks.

drawing of liceFrom the book, “In the A. E. F. With an Artist,” by Lieut. Jno. B. Mallard, reproduced in The Tar Heel World War Record 1917-’18, p 153.

At the beginning of WWII, louse control involved dusting with NCI powder (96% naphthalene, 2% creosote, and 2% iodoform) or smearing vermijelli, made of crude mineral oil, soft soap, and water, along clothing seams. The delousing powder of choice was MYL, with pyrethrins as the active ingredient. Until DDT came along.

In 1942, a team of USDA entomologists, led by one Walter E. Dove, were drafted into the project of preventing louse-borne typhus in troops. They worked methodically, testing every chemical they could find to see what would kill lice. Among thousands of other samples, they received a waxy, granular substance from the Geigy Corporation in Switzerland.

Swiss chemist Paul Mueller had labored intensively at Geigy for four years to synthesize dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT); the basic Swiss patent was granted in 1940. This compound was originally made in 1873 by an Austrian student, but had never received any particular attention.

Field trials now showed it to be effective not only against the louse; but also against a wide variety of pests, including the common housefly, the Colorado beetle, and the mosquito. Geigy began manufacting two products based on DDT, Gesarol and Neocide, in 1942.

Gesarol did kill lice, and every other insect in the lab, but a crumbly wax doesn’t work well as a delousing treatment, so the USDA crew did the unglamorous but essential job of reformulating it. By 1943, they were producing large quantities of several formulations, including powders and sprays, and they were referring to Gesarol by its generic name, abbreviated to DDT.

The USDA scientists promoted DDT only for a few circumscribed uses, including delousing and malaria control. Indeed, project director Walter Dove specifically cautioned against spraying the stuff willy-nilly outdoors, arguing as early as 1944 that DDT was “definitely poisonous,” and that its environmental consequences might be bad.

It’s the only pesticide celebrated with a Nobel Prize: Paul Mueller won in 1948 for having discovered DDT’s insecticidal properties. But by then problems related to extensive use of DDT were already beginning to appear; DDT was discovered to have a high toxicity toward fish. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” raised alarm about DDT’s carcinogenic affects on humans. The insecticide was subsequently banned in the United States in 1973, although it is still in use in some other parts of the world.

Army poster for delousing with DDTThis WWII-era Army poster from the collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center instructs how to delouse an incoming recruit with DDT. “Both sleeves then three shots fore and three shots aft at both the neck and waistband.” “When numbers are to be treated a seat for the subject saves the back of the operator. Don’t forget the head and hat.”

 

sources: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1948/muller-bio.html
“Delousing Procedures for the Control of Louse-borne Disease During Contingency Operations,” Published by the Armed Forces Pest Management Board Defense Pest Management Information Analysis Center Forest Glen Section/Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 2005, http://www.afpmb.org/pubs/tims/TG6/TG6.pdf
The Tar Heel World War Record 1917-’18, by J. R. Graham, World War Publishing Company, Charlotte, N. C., 1921
http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2007/07/walter_e_dove_and_ddt.php

One Response

  • Dr. Redling says:

    This story has many errors. DDT has never been linked to cancer in humans, it is as safe as milk. Rachael Carson was a fraud. Her made up story against DDT was purely political with no basis in reality.

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Light up a Spud!

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 28, 2015

The pack was expensive at 20 cents, but you got the first menthol-infused cigarette, ancestor to “Kool,” “Salem” and others. Why was it called “Spuds?”

Lloyd 'Spud' Hughes, 1928. Collection Mingo  Junction  History  Homepage.

Lloyd ‘Spud’ Hughes, 1928. Collection Mingo Junction History Homepage.

Lloyd “Spud” Hughes of Mingo Junction, OH gets the credit for introducing Americans to menthol cool smoking. Hughes wasn’t long out of high school and working as a cashier in a restaurant run by his father, when he came up with the idea of treating tobacco with menthol. The possibly apocryphal story is his mother insisted he inhale menthol crystals for his asthma. He soon noticed that when he stored his menthol and cigarettes in a tin container, the cigarette was pleasantly flavored. Mentholation furthermore acts as a mild anesthetic, numbs the throat to the harsh elements of tobacco smoke and thus allows a deeper and longer inhalation.

At first he just smoked the cigarettes himself. Later, he offered them to the railroad and mill workers who frequented his father’s restaurant. He patented his process, which treated tobacco by spraying it with a solution of menthol, alcohol, and the oil of cassia, and in September 1925 helped form the Spud Cigarette Corporation, Wheeling, WV.

Walter B. Hilton, a prominent Wheeling real estate and insurance man was president, and Lloyd was secretary/treasurer. Spud Cigarettes were made for this small company in Wheeling at Factory 12, WV by the Bloch brothers, manufacturers of popular Mail Pouch Tobacco. Spud Hughes sold his premium priced cigarettes (20 for 20 cents) from his car, door-to-door, in the Ohio Valley.

It wasn’t long before Woodford Fitch Axton, a Kentucky colonel and part owner and president of The Axton-Fisher Tobacco Company of Louisville, Kentucky, took notice. The Axton-Fisher Tobacco Co. made Clown Cigarettes, a modestly successful regional brand first sold in 1920. Axton saw the potential of Spud Hughes’ invention, and in May 1926 offered him $90,000 for the name and patent. Hughes accepted.

Courtesy Cigarettespedia.com

Courtesy Cigarettespedia.com

Axton Fisher hired a New York advertising firm to promote Spuds nationally—less irritating and suitable for sore throats due to colds!— and sold stock in the company for the first time to finance expansion. By 1932 Axton-Fisher had promoted Spud Cigarettes into the fifth best selling brand in the United States.

With competition from Brown and Williamson’s menthols Penquin in 1931 and Kool in 1933 the price of SPUD was reduced to 15 cents a pack in 1933. In 1944 Philip Morris bought Axton Fisher Tobacco Company; they continued to manufacture Spud cigarettes for domestic sales until 1963.

And what became of Hughes? He went on a two year spending spree, blew the $90,000 on cars and airplanes, and spent much of the rest of his life trying to invent another unique cigarette.

 

sources:
“Mint That Kills: The Curious Life of Menthol Cigarettes,” by Tom McNichol, Atlantic Magazine, March 25, 2011
www.cigarettespedia.com/index.php/BrandSpud
Come Up to the Kool Taste: African American Upward Mobility and the Semiotics of Smoking Menthols
by Sarah S. Lochlann Jain, published in ‘Public Culture’ Spring 2003, 15 [2]
http://goodhealth.freeservers.com/SPUD1.html

 

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