Expecting a visit from the Easter Bunny shortly?

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 18, 2019

Bunny is derived from the old or Middle English root word “bun” and describes a rabbit, a young one in particular. Rabbits are small furry mammals that belong to the order Lagomorpha. If you happen upon a rabbit in the wilderness of Appalachia, it will definitely have come from the Leporidae family, and will usually be one of three different species of cottontails that inhabit the eastern United States.

Eastern Cottontails Silvilagus floridanus are the most abundant rabbit found here. Appalachian Cottontail Sylvilagus obscurus and New England Cottontail Sylvilagus transitionalis are similar in appearance to the Eastern, but each has differences in coloration unique to their species. Debate exists whether the latter two species should be classified as one species or two.

If you live in suburban areas and small towns and see a rabbit or two or three, usually these will be Eastern Cottontails. They prefer bushy undergrowth with mixed habitats. Outside suburbia, a little bit of analysis may be needed to determine which species is present. Physical differences can be too subtle for the average observer. The Appalachian and New England Cottontails are found more in wooded, mountainous areas with higher elevations but Easterns may live there as well.

All three cottontail species found in Appalachia have brown fur and fairly long ears that give them excellent hearing ability. Full grown rabbits normally weigh several pounds. Rabbits hop because their hind legs grow longer than the front legs. Most memorable about these animals is their cottontail, a white ball of fur.

It’s too late to hunt fresh rabbit for your Easter dinner; regular hunting season ended in February.

If you happen to see the Easter Bunny while out enjoying nature, please let him or her know to be very careful. Four leaf clovers may be popular lucky charms, but so too is a rabbit’s foot.

May you have a Joyous Easter.




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When he drew his magic bow against his violin’s strings

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 17, 2019

During the 1870s, William Murphy of Greenville, S. C., wandered through these mountains making music every day. He, like Stephen Foster, was regarded as a half-vagabond, but he was tolerated for the pleasure his enchanted violin gave whenever he drew his magic bow across its strings.

There can be little doubt that men of his genius feel the indifference and neglect of their contemporaries; and it may be that, from their Calvaries of poverty, they, too, realize that we know not what we do. For to them the making of music is their sole mission here upon earth, and come poverty, obscurity or death, ay, come even disgrace and obloquy, they, like Martin Luther at Worms, “can do no otherwise, God helping them.”

Indeed, it is the highest form of worship, and David’s Psalms still live while all the Ptolemies of the past have been forgotten. Foster’s songs are linking earth to heaven more and more as time goes on, and will be sung for eons and for eons. There can be no higher destiny than that a man should pour out his full soul in strains of haunting melody; and though Stephen Foster be dead and “the lark become a sightless song,” the legacy he has left behind him is more priceless and more bountiful than those of the builders of the pyramids or the conquests of Napoleon and Alexander.

Murphy, too, is dead, but while he lived, like the grasshopper “beating his tiny cymbals in the sun,” he poured forth those matchless orisons that none who ever heard them can soon forget. For, while he was not a creator, he was the slave and seneschal of the masters who have left their melodies behind them for the ravishment of a money-mad and sordid world.

And when he drew his magic bow across his violin’s sentient strings, his genius thence evoked sweet strains formed with soul to all who had the heart to comprehend their message and their meaning.

Was it a jig or waltz or stately minuet? One’s feet moved rhythmically to the “sweet melodic phrase.” Was it dirge, lament or lovelorn lilt? One saw again the hearse-plumes nod, sobbed out his heart with pallid Jeane, or caught the note of bonny bird Blythe fluting by the Doon. Was it martial air or battle-hymn? Then, once again, came forth the bagpipe’s skirl, the pibroch’s wail, “what time the plaided clans came down to battle with Montrose.” Again, with change of air, there dawned once more that “reddest day in history, when Pickett’s legions, undismayed, leapt forth to ruin’s red embrace.”

But best, ah, far, far best of all, was that wonder-woven race his fine dramatic instinct had translated into song, in which the section-riven days of ‘Sixty-One were conjured back again from out their graves and ghostly cerements, and masqueraded full of life and hate and jealousy. For then we saw, as if by magic, the mighty racer, Black Hawk, typifying the North, and his unconquerable rival, Gray Eagle, the steel-sinewed champion of the South, start once again on that matchless contest on the turf at Louisville.

We heard again the wild, divided concourse cheer its favorite steed along the track, and saw the straining stallions, foam-flecked with sweat—now neck and neck, then one ahead, but soon overtaken, and both flying side by side again, their flame-shot nostrils dripping blood—till Gray Hawk, spent, but in the lead, dropped dead an inch without the goal, his great heart broken, as the South’s was doomed to be a few years thence, when

Men saw a gray gigantic ghost
Receding through the battle-cloud
And head across the tempest loud
The death-cry of a nation lost!

‘A Wandering Minstrel He’ from “Western North Carolina: A History, 1730- 1913,” by John Preston Arthur, 1914, Raleigh, N.C., Edwards & Broughton Printing Co.

online at http://www.archive.org/stream/westernnorthcaro00arth#page/n7/mode/2up

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Did Mill man commit suicide or was he Murdered?

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 15, 2019


Did Mill man commit suicide or was he Murdered?

J.C. Lindley, who boarded at dead man’s home, 204 Hammett Street, Poe Mill, was arrested by Deputy Sheriff John Hunsinger and will be held on murder charge — Though it was rumored that Allen’s wife was intimate with Lindsey, he refused to believe that she was untrue.

Mystery shrouds the death of Ben Allen, a white man of 201Hammett Street, Poe
Mill, who either committed suicide or was murdered yesterday morning, at his home at 1:00 o’clock.

J.G. Lindley is now in jail, having been arrested by Deputy Sheriff Hunsinger late yesterday, because a high feeling against him existed among the neighbors near the home and it was thought that possibly he would have been handled roughly by the people. He will be held in connection with the mysterious affair. When taken to the jail he refused to talk of the matter.

About one thirty o’clock yesterday morning the villagers of Poe Mill were disturbed by the clear report of a revolver firing, and upon investigation it was found that Allen was lying on a bed with a bullet wound in his right temple. Death was evidently quick, for the missile ploughed its way through the brain.

Coroner Batson was summoned about daylight and he took charge of the case. A jury was selected and inquest was held over the body at — o’clock, and after about two hours of deliberation the jury returned a verdict “that the deceased came to his death from a gunshot wound at hands unknown to the jury.”

The jury was divided in its opinion. Some thought it was just a plain case of suicide, while others held out that he was killed by somebody. Perhaps the most startling testimony taken was that of Allen’s father, who said that he had been with his son the evening before and that he was cheerful, and that he did not believe his son committed suicide and that he met with foul play.

He objected to telling who he suspected of having killed his son, but upon the coroner clearing the room of spectators, Mr. Allen said he suspected a certain man, and when pressed for a direct answer, said he believed the man was Lindley, and when asked why he suspicioned Lindley, Mr. Allen said that it was because there had been a good deal of talk about Lindley being intimate with his son’s wife while they lived in North Carolina and also since they had been in Greenville.

He added that his son wouldn’t believe that his wife was untrue to her sacred vows, and for this reason alone he said his son did not have any reason why he should take his life. Lindley boarded at the house, and at the time of the shooting, claims he was sleeping in the other room on a pallet in the floor. This room was also occupied by Allen’s wife, who was there with her four children who were sick with measles. It was said that Lindley agreed to stay up at night and attend to the children while the husband slept.

In testifying, Lindley said he did not know anything of the shooting till Mrs.
Lindley woke him up by saying that she had heard a shot and thought the sound came from the next room. Lindley said he went to the door and saw a bullet hole in Allen’s head. This statement caused some comment, for the spectators wanted to know how in the dark he could see a bullet hole in the dead man’s head when he was lying on a bed several yards from the door.

One point that puzzled the jury mostly, and which no doubt caused it to reach the verdict above instead of saying that the dead man came to his death by gunshot wounds in his own hands, was the position in which the pistol was lying. It was but a few inches from the man’s head and the muzzle was pointed toward the wound. According to the laws of nature a pistol, when fired in such close proximity to a person’s head, will not drop in a perfect position, but will fall with the head, possibly going several feet from the body and the barrel pointing in another direction.

Another point which directed the jury too was the fact that the dead man’s eyes were closed as if in perfect sleep. It is said that when a person commits suicide, especially inflicting a wound in the head, that the eyes will not close entirely. Some even thought that he was shot while sleeping and that the pistol was laid close to his head as a bluff.

The dead man’s father said reports as to the woman’s intimacy with Lindley often reached his son but the son loved his wife and wouldn’t listen to tales of scandal and shame, believing that she was true to her vows. He said that he saw no reason for his son to commit suicide, and believed that he was murdered.

source: http://tngenweb.org/cocke/benallendeath.htm

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The salient feature of ramps is the smell

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 12, 2019

They’re the first greens of the season, and they’re coming up right about now. Ramps, (Allium tricoccum or Allium tricoccum var. burdickii, Alliaceae) also known as wild leeks, are native to the Appalachian mountains. Ramps can be found growing in patches in rich, moist, deciduous forests as far north as Canada, west to Missouri and Minnesota, and south to North Carolina and Tennessee.

Back before supermarkets arrived they provided necessary vitamins and minerals following long winter months without access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

The salient feature of ramps is the smell. The Menominee Indians called it “pikwute sikakushia”: the skunk. “Shikako,” their name for a large ramp patch that once flourished in northern Illinois, has been anglicized to Chicago: “the skunk place.”

Ramps are pleasant to eat and taste like spring onions with a strong garlic-like aroma. They are often prepared by frying in butter or animal fat with sliced potatoes or scrambled eggs. They are also used as an ingredient in other dishes such as soup, pancakes, and hamburgers. They can also be pickled or dried for use later in the year.

On the heels of ramps a host of other greens start popping up: dandelions, poke, shawnee lettuce, woolen britches, creasies, and lamb’s tongue. And around these, women have fashioned womens’ worlds. “That was the big deal, when everybody used to go green picking,” says Carrie Lou Jarrell, of Sylvester, WV.

“That was the event of the week. Mrs. Karen Thomas would come up and she always brought Jessie Graybill with her, and then Miss Haddad would come, and most of the time Maggie Wriston came with her. And usually Sylvia Williams was always there to do green picking with them. I knew from the time I came into the world that she was just a good friend. But that was the thrill of my life to get to go with all of these women, because they talked about good stuff.”

The women laugh over how Violet Dickens once mistook sassafras tea for bacon grease and poured it over the frying ramps: “We need you to come season the ramps,” Mabel kidded her. They compare the aromas of poke and collard greens, and marvel at how window screens get black with flies when you’re cooking them. They wonder where the creasies (dry land cress) are growing this year, and Jenny points out that creasies won’t grow unless you till the soil.

“Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia”; Library of Congress/American Memories http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/tending/essay4b.html


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The Harpes —Two Outlaws of Pioneer Times

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 11, 2019

On April 22, 1799, the Governor of Kentucky issued a Proclamation offering a reward for the capture of either or both of the Harpe Brothers. Reports of killings in Kentucky were followed by others from southern Illinois, then from east Tennessee, then again from Kentucky. Among their victims was one of their own children. Declaring that Little Harpe’s crying infant would some day be the means of pursuers detecting their presence, Big Harpe slung the baby by the heels against a tree and literally burst its head into pieces.

The Harpe brothers and their 3 female traveling companions. Art by Lawrence Bjorklund for 'The Spawn of Evil', by Paul I. Wellman, Doubleday Books, 1964.

The Harpe brothers and their 3 female traveling companions. Art by Lawrence Bjorklund for ‘The Spawn of Evil’, by Paul I. Wellman, Doubleday Books, 1964.

During the first year of their unrestrained ferocity they had committed at least twenty murders. The whole of Kentucky and Tennessee had become terrorized by the possibility of the appearance of the Harpes at any hour in any locality.

The people of the lower Green River country, like settlers elsewhere, were on the lookout for them. In the early part of August, 1799, two suspicious newcomers were discovered prowling around some of the backwoods settlements in southern Henderson County. These strangers might be the Harpes. No one knew.

The Harpes, aware that they were being hunted—and at times seen and watched—had taken the precaution never to move in the open with their women. The fact that no woman had been seen with them led the watchers to conclude that the suspects were not the widely sought murderers.

One day the Harpes left Henderson County and started toward the hiding place of their women and children—twenty or more miles away. They rode good horses, and were well armed and fairly well dressed.

That evening they arrived at the home of James Tompkins, in what is now Webster County. They represented themselves as Methodist preachers. Their equipment aroused no suspicion, for the country was almost an unbroken wilderness, and preachers, as well as most other pioneers, often traveled well armed.

Tompkins invited them to supper, and Big Harpe, to ward off suspicion, said a long grace at table. After supper they bade their host farewell, saying they had an engagement elsewhere.

Late that night, August 20, they reached the house of Moses Stegall—about five miles east of what later became the town of Dixon. Stegall was absent, but his wife and their only child, a boy of four months, were at home and, a few hours before, had admitted Major William Love, a surveyor, who had come to see Stegall on business.

Mrs. Stegall, expressing an opinion that her husband would return that night, invited him to remain. He had climbed up a ladder outside the house to the loft above and was in bed when the new arrivals entered the cabin. He came down and met the two men. In the conversation that followed the murderers themselves inquired about the Harpes and, among other things, stated that, according to rumor, the two outlaws were then prowling around in the neighborhood.

Mrs. Stegall, having only the one spare bed in the loft, was obliged to assign it to the three men. After Major Love had fallen asleep, one of the Harpes took an axe, which he always carried in his belt and, with a single blow, dashed out the brains of the sleeping man.

The two villains then went down to Mrs. Stegall’s room. She, knowing nothing to the contrary, presumed Major Love was still asleep. Reprimanding her for assigning them to a bed with a man whose snoring kept them awake, they murdered her and her baby. Leaving the three bodies in the house, they set it afire.

The next morning five men returning from a salt lick found the Stegall house a smoldering ruin. Surroundings indicated that the disaster was still unknown in the neighborhood. The men proceeded to the home of Squire Silas McBee to notify him of their discovery. While they were discussing the subject with Squire McBee, Moses Stegall rode up, and for the first time heard what had happened to his family.

Then began the hunt for the Harpes. Mounted and equipped, and provisioned for a few days, Squire McBee’s troop of seven men started on their expedition against the murderers. They found and followed the trail until night. Early the next morning, after traveling only a few miles, they detected the Harpes standing on a distant hillside. Big Harpe was holding his horse; Little Harpe had no horse.

The pursuers at once started for the hill. In the meantime Big Harpe mounted and darted off in one direction, Little Harpe ran in another—and both were out of sight. In their efforts to find traces of the Harpes the pursuers discovered the Harpe camp. They found no one there except Little Harpe’s woman.

When questioned threateningly she said she did not know in what direction little Harpe had fled, but that Big Harpe had just been there, hurriedly placed each of his women on a good horse, and had ridden away with them. She was left under the care of one of the men, and the chase was resumed.

A few miles farther on, Big Harpe and his two women were seen on a ridge a short distance ahead. Realizing his danger he put spurs to his horse and dashed off alone, leaving his women behind. They made no attempt to follow him, but calmly awaited their captors, two of whom took them in charge.

The other men continued the chase. Each fired a shot at the fleeing outlaw, who again and again brandished his tomahawk in savage defiance. The wild ride continued through dense woods and over narrow trails for a few miles until the fugitive, slackening his pace, was overtaken. He had been mortally wounded by one of the shots. As he lay stretched upon the ground, he asked for water. A shoe was pulled off his foot and water was brought. Moses Stegall now stepped forward.

While reciting to Big Harpe how brutally he had murdered his wife and child, Stegall drew a knife, declaring he would cut off his enemy’s head. Then he pointed a gun at Harpe’s face.

The dying outlaw, conscious of the threat, jerked his head from side to side, hoping to dodge the threatened bullet. “Very well,” said Stegall, “I will not shoot you in the head, for I want to save it as a trophy.” Then, aiming at his heart, he shot him in the left side. And Big Harpe died without another struggle or groan.

With the knife he had so coldly exhibited, Stegall cut off the outlaw’s head. He placed it in one end of a bag, in the other end of which was a corresponding weight of provisions. The bag was slung across a horse, and the captors and their three captured women started on their return–some thirty-five miles–leaving the headless corpse to the wolves of Muhlenberg County.

The head was taken to the cross roads near where the Harpes had committed their last crime. It was there placed in the fork of a tree as a warning to others. The spot ever since has been known as Harpe’s Head, and the old road, now a modern highway, still bears the name of Harpe’s Head Road.


Adapted from: Rothert, Otto A. (July 1927). “The Harpes, Two Outlaws of Pioneer Times”, Filson Club Historical Quarterly , Vol. 1, No. 4

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