It was the finest house we’d ever seen

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 30, 2015

Viola Brown Black wrote the poem below about her childhood home. It still stands on Bell St. in Hiawassee, GA. It was built by her father, Lona Cicero Brown, in 1909.


The tall, white house on the high green hill,
looking down on the sleepy little town,
was the home of my childhood, home of my heart, still,
though I’ve lived and roamed the world around.

At first it was a dream in my father’s heart,
who wanted the best for his own,
the house we lived in was falling apart
with six children all overgrown.

Father chose the trees and had them felled,
then logged to his sawmill beside a stream,
from early until late the whir of saw swelled,
making stacks of lumber to give life to a dream.

Then to a planer thirty long miles away
the lumber on wagons was hauled,
to go or to come took all of a day
and often the teams in snow were stalled.

Many a tree gave up its life, so
as to become a part of the house so fine,
it was many years ago and now no trees grow
where stood giant oak, poplar, hickory and pine.

Two stories and a half tall the house stands
and it has twelve large rooms in all,
it was built by the labor of many hands,
complete with bath, balcony, each floor a hall.

Oh, it was the finest house we’d ever seen!
Its rooms jutted out with big windows clear;
snow-white it was painted, with high roof of green,
no other house could compare, either far or near.

It protected us from without, watched over us within
through joy, sorrow, sickness and in health,
it mourned as we mourned the sad day when
it could not hold back the angel of death.

The dear old house will ever be a part
of we who romped within its walls;
childhood, youth, and affairs of the heart,
visions of it poignantly recall.

Viola Brown Black




One Response

  • Dave Tabler says:

    Hello Raven,
    The reason is because we scan comments for approval before posting, in order to prevent spam posts to the site. DT

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The Greenbrier Ghost

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 29, 2015

On January 23, 1897, Elva Zona Heaster Shue of Lewisburg WV, a bride of three months, was found dead at the bottom of the stairs leading to the second floor of the log house where she lived with her new husband. Her body was discovered by a neighbor, a boy of about 11 years, who did chores for her. Her case remains to this day a one of a kind event in the American judicial system … the only case in which the word of a ghost helped to solve a crime and convict a murderer!

Zona Heaster ShueA state highway marker several miles west of town sums up Shue’s amazing story: “Interred in a nearby cemetery is Zona Heaster Shue. Her death in 1897 was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to describe how she was killed by her husband Edward. Autopsy on the exhumed body verified the apparition’s account. Edward, found guilty of murder, was sentenced to state prison.”

Upon finding the dead woman, Andy Jones, the neighbor boy, ran back to his home where he informed his mother, and then continued on to the blacksmith shop where Edward S. Shue was working. When told of the situation Shue appeared in great anguish, ran to his home, gathered his dead wife into his arms, and directed local doctor and coroner, Dr. George W. Knapp, be called. All during this time Shue held Zona’s head in his arms. After a brief examination, Dr. Knapp concluded that Zona “died of an everlasting faint,” i.e. a heart attack.

The body was prepared for burial with Shue assisting in the preparation of her body for burial, and placing her in the casket, always handling her head. He placed a folded sheet on one side of her head and an article of clothing on the other side of her head, which he said would make her rest easier. In addition, he tied a large scarf around her neck and explained tearfully that it “had been Zona’s favorite.”

Zona was taken to the home of her mother, Mrs. Mary Jane Heaster, on nearby Big Sewell Mountain. When the casket was opened Shue always remained at the head of the casket. The next day her body was buried in the little cemetery on the hill top. Nothing more was thought of the death other than that usual for a sudden death of anyone.

Shue house, Lewisburg WVWithin a month of the burial, however, the dead girl’s mother was telling neighbors that Zona’s spirit had appeared four nights in a row to accuse the blacksmith of her violent death – to “tell on him” – to set the record straight about her dying. Shue had been abusive and cruel, she said, and had attacked her in a fit of rage, savagely breaking her neck. Word spread quickly that these visions had convinced Mary Jane that the husband – who called himself Edward, but was really named Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue, and was known as ‘Trout’ – had killed her daughter.

Mary Heaster and her brother-in-law Johnson Heaster went to Lewisburg prosecutor John A. Preston, who first disbelieved the story, but after several hours of questioning Mrs. Heaster became convinced that there was a basis for an investigation.

Dr. Knapp was consulted and he agreed that he might have been mistaken in his diagnosis. An investigation into Shue’s background revealed that he had served a term in the penitentiary and had been married twice previously, and both wives had died under strange circumstances. One wife was supposed to have died from a broken neck when she fell from a haystack. The other wife died while helping Shue to repair a chimney. He was on top the chimney and his wife was placing the rocks in a basket with a rope attached to it and as the basket was drawn up the basket turned and dropped the rock on the head of his wife.

Mary Jane HeasterAn exhumation was ordered and an inquest jury was assembled. The Greenbrier Independent reported that Trout Shue “vigorously complained” about the exhumation but it was made clear to him that he would be forced to attend the inquest if he did not go willingly. In rebuttal he replied that he knew that he would be arrested, “but they will not be able to prove I did it.” This careless statement indicated that he at least had knowledge that his wife had been murdered.

The autopsy findings were quite damning to Shue. An Independent report on March 9 said that “the discovery was made that the neck was broken and the windpipe mashed. On the throat were the marks of fingers indicating that she had been choken [sic]….. the neck was dislocated between the first and second vertebrae. The ligaments were torn and ruptured. The windpipe had been crushed at a point in front of the neck.”

The findings were made public at once, upsetting many in the community. Shue was arrested, charged with murder, and taken to the jail at Lewisburg where he was held until his indictment by a Grand Jury and the trial in June.

On June 22, 1897 the jury returned a verdict of guilty after only one hour and ten minutes of deliberation. The accounts in the Independent make clear that Shue was convicted of the murder of his third wife on circumstantial evidence, and not because of a “ghost’s testimony.” He was sentenced to life in the state prison. Following a foiled lynching attempt a few days later, he was taken by train to the state prison in Moundsville, where he died on the first of March, 1900.


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Let us set the mountain people as they are related to the civilization of which they are a part

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 28, 2015

We need to be less aware of the picturesque, amusing or distressing differences, and more keenly conscious of the kinship of the mountain people with their kind elsewhere and everywhere. Otherwise we shall bring to noble effort in the mountains a certain disabling attitude that is fatal to success.

And so over against the types we find in the pages of Craddock, Fox, Kephart, and the rest, let us set the mountain people as they are related to the civilization of which they are a part. I therefore urge upon your attention the fact that they are not more poverty-stricken, nor more lawless and violent, nor more unorganizable than the democratic mass in rural North Carolina.

In the first place and quite contrary to popular notions, our mountains are not a region of widespread poverty. In per capita rural wealth Alleghany is the richest county in North Carolina. Among our 100 counties, five highland countines, Alleghany, Buncombe, Ashe, Henderson and Watauga, rank 1st, 5th, 6th, 13th and 14th in the order named, in the per capita farm wealth of country populations; and two more, Yancey and Transylvania, are just below the state average in this particular. The people of these counties are not poor, as country wealth is reckoned in North Carolina. They dwell in a land of vegetables and fruits, grain crops, hay and forage, flocks and herds. It is a land of overflowing abundance.

West Jefferson NC circa 1920A view of West Jefferson, NC circa 1920.

It is not easy for such people to feel that they are fit subjects for missionary school enterprises. As a matter of fact, they need our money far less than they need appreciative understanding and homebred leadership. Their wealth is greater than their willingness to convert it into social advantages. They need to be shown how to realize the possibilities of their own soils and souls. Mountain civilization, like every other, will rise to higher levels when the people themselves tug at their own bootstraps; and there is no other way.

It is true that three of the poorest counties in the state in per capita country wealth are Graham, Cherokee, and Swain—counties set against the steeps of the Great Smokies. They rank in this particular 92nd, 94th, and 96th respectively; but their poverty is duplicated by that of Moore, Brunswick, Carteret and Dare—four counties in our coastal plain. The rank of these eastern counties is 93rd, 95th, 97th, and 98th in the order named. The two poorest counties in North Carolina in per capita farm wealth are in the tidewater region, not in the mountains.

Approaching the poverty of our mountain people from another angle, let us consider indoor pauperism in 11 mountain counties that maintain county homes or poor houses. The 1910 census discloses an average rate for the United States of 190 almshouse paupers per 100,000 inhabitants. In North Carolina the rate was 96; in these 11 highland counties it was only 79. Six of the mountain counties make a far better showing than the state at large. Buncombe with a rate of 125 and Watauga with a rate of 139, the two highest rates in the region, make a better showing than all the North Atlantic and New England states, where indoor pauper rates range from 153 in New Jersey to 447 in Massachusetts.

But we may make still another and better approach to the subject of poverty in our mountains by examining the outside pauper rates; better, because outside help is less repugnant to the feelings than residence in the poor house. In 1914 the state rate for outside pauperism was 234 per 100,000 inhabitants. In 12 highland counties the average rate was 205. Seven of the counties have rates far smaller than the state average, ranging from 35 in Mitchell to 184 in Cherokee; three are just below state average; and only two, Buncombe and Clay, are near the bottom.

It ought to be clear that poverty in the mountains of North Carolina is actually and relatively less than elsewhere in the state. Here both indoor and outside paupers in 12 counties in 1914 numbered only 559 in a population of 209,000 souls.

—excerpt from “Our Carolina Highlanders,” by E.C. Branson, professor of Rural Economics and Sociology, University of North Carolina, in the July 1916 UNC Extension Bureau Circular No. 2

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Well the son-of-a-gun pecked in, now let him peck out

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 27, 2015

Nationally recognized herbalist Tommie Bass (1908-1996) was the subject of scholarly and popular books, television features, a front-page essay in the Wall Street Journal, and numerous articles in newspapers and magazines. Bass lived almost his entire life in the Tennessee Valley and Ridge section of Alabama, primarily in Cherokee County.

“I don’t ever get a letter, but what I answer it. One way or the other. And generally speaking, some of them sends a self-stamped envelope, but some of, a lot of them don’t. But when you answer around a hundred letters for twenty-five dollars, twenty-five cents a letter, that runs into money (chuckles). But I answer ‘em anyway.

[Looks through junk mail] “Most everybody gets something like that. And, course, this one here is from the Baptist Church at Centre, their bulletin. And this one here is a-wantin . . . this here is a politician they want me to send money to help me get along, you know, I get ‘em from the Democrats and Republicans, regardless of who they are, and I even get letters from the Catholic priests wanting me to help ‘em, you know, along.

Tommie Bass, Alabama herbalistPhotograph of Tommie Bass by Tom Rankin, 1983.

“Course this is one of them get rich letters here this make you a million dollars in just a few days, you know, send five people five dollars apiece and then when your name gets to the top, why you’ll go a-getting the five dollars — but don’t try it buddy it won’t work.

“Course this here one, here’s another politician. I get ‘em . . . when they’s running here in our state from the Democrats, I’d average two or three letters a day, and then the same way about the Republicans, you know, it just didn’t make no difference just so they can get some money. (chuckles) But I didn’t give ‘em none. I figured . . . the fact of the business is a fellow running for office, a man or a woman, I’m like the little boy was about the peckerwood.

“Peckerwood pecked a hole in a hollow tree and he went over in there, and the little boy he drove a peg in behind it. Somebody said to him, “Son,” said, “you shouldn’t of done the little bird that way.” He said, “Well the son-of-a-gun pecked in, now let him peck out.

“And so I’m that way about a politician. If he wants to get into office, let him get in there (chuckles), but I ain’t gonna try to help him. Course, if he’s a good guy, I’d talk for him, but as far as paying him in there, I don’t go along with that.”

—excerpt from ‘Tommie Bass A Life in the Ridge and Valley Country,’ 1993 video produced by Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Cherokee County Historical Society


3 Responses

  • Roger Browning says:

    In a world of black garnin and woods colts running amonk, why does a site based outta New York City even care about a world long gone? A world of time and space we were raised to leave and even now, ridiculed for staying near. Mama was can’t escape your raisin. Yes, we still will, “wrestle you for it”, whether you be the King or just a taker. We still take our part , when called on either to fight or pray. This appears to be a concept that will never completely die. However , our youth stay confused as the roots/memories of our past become layered over with each successive load of garbage covering the ancient soil.

  • Dave Tabler says:

    As you point out, Appalachia was/is “a world of time and space we were raised to leave,” and hence one with roots there can easily find himself following a career to NYC, despite 5 generations of West Virginians behind him.

    I assume the ‘garbage’ you refer to in the statement: “our youth stay confused as the roots/memories of our past become layered over with each successive load of garbage covering the ancient soil” has something to do with the content of this site. How very easy it is to throw stones at the efforts of others. Start your own site and set the record straight as you see it if you feel a compelling need to defend the ancient soil.

  • Roger Browning says:

    Sorry, Mr. Dave…wasn’t about you or the website. Was no point to it for you. Doesn’t always have to be….just a general lament on the shape of the US of A. Peace out and good hunting…

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When I went to suck my bottle of milk, Uncle made fun of me

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 26, 2015

I was born September 13, 1893, at the old Sapp homestead, my lifelong home, which my parents, John R. and Sanepta A. Sapp, bought in the early ’80s from Lewis Wilson. At my birth, Dr. Luther Grimes and Mrs. Amanda Mills (she was Bob Mills’ grandmother and lived in the brick house south of the Knoxville School) were the attendants. Hence my middle name Mills.

I was the youngest of six sons: Charles, 14 years my senior; Wilbur, 13 years older; Lloyd, 12 years older, (now all dead); Edgar, 11 years older, now 93 years old and living alone in his home in Richmond, Ohio, well and strong, reads without glasses and needs no medicine; and Elbert, 7 years older, died March 7, 1971.

I was a very cross, bottle fed baby, with milk from a certain Jersey Cow, and my nurses—my older brothers—had to keep me outside when the weather was mild, so not to wreck mother’s nerves. My crib was the back of the old fashioned hand-turned grain cleaning windmill.

One day when I was past 3 years old, I was still sucking my bottle and I remember getting up at nights and filling my bottle. Well, this day Father and Mother took me and went to see Grandpa and Grandma Sapp and Uncle Anson, then when I went to suck my bottle of milk, Uncle made fun of me, so I took my bottle and hid behind the room door and he still teased me, so I crawled under the bed and finished it and after that I drank my milk from a tin pint cup, like they used in those days at farm sales for coffee and a free sack lunch.

The Anson Sapp Family. Left to right, Anson Jr., Uncle Anson, Mary, Aunt Clara and Martha.

The Anson Sapp Family. Left to right, Anson Jr., Uncle Anson, Mary, Aunt Clara and Martha.

Those days children wore long black stockings held up with rubber garters. Boys wore knee pants till they were 12. They had no kindergarten, but I remember brother Elbert taking me to school one day with him when I was 5 years old.

We had no RFD Mail, but a post office in the Knoxville Store, and Fred Mills—Bob’s uncle—was post master.

School took up with Bible reading and prayer at 9 a.m. with a 15 minute recess at 10:30, then an hour at noon till 1 p.m., recess again at 2:30, and out at 4 p.m. We always ran home at noon for our dinners and took the mail, and usually had some quick chores to do, then hurried back and had time to play some before the bell rang for classes.

We had a big pot bellied iron stove in the center of the room for coal heating and pupils used slates and slate pencils and black boards for arithmetic classes, and lined up on the floor for reciting a reading or spelling lesson. Then there was the water bucket shelf in one corner, with water bucket and dipper. We got the water from the Issac/Willis dug well, across the street, and drew the water with a windlass and a bucket. Two boys always got to go for a bucket of water.

I remember many a winter night, when I was small, that Father and I would take the lantern and go check on the sheep. Perhaps a new lamb, or perhaps twins, had just been born, so we would quickly wrap them up in a feed sack, put it in a bushel basket and hurry back to the house and get it out in front of the old coal grate fire and soon have it dry and warm, ready to take it back to get its first milk. I remember the big cut sandstone door sill a foot high that the lambs had to hop over, or we had to help the smaller ones over.

At shearing time, on a warm spring p.m., we would wash the sheep, as washed wool brought a higher price than unwashed wool.

We had a special sheep lot built with boards with a 3 foot wide chute to the washing box, down in the pasture field by the big old sycamore tree. We would build a small dam upstream 100 feet, then use 20 foot wooden “V” troughs to carry the water to the wooden 3 x 4 foot and 3 foot deep washing box.

Two would wash a sheep and lift it out and start it wobbling on its way. One man put a sheep in the wash. Then after a week of warm sunny days they were ready to shear, with hand clippers.


source: “Knoxville Facts,” by Joseph Mills Sapp (1893-1989), Knoxville [OH] Area History 1802 – 1976, published by the Knoxville Bicentennial Committee, Mrs. Richard Jacks, History Chairman

One Response

  • Joan says:

    When my brothers were growing up, they had what they fondly called, “Sheepy Sundays.” Work week jobs and “real farming” took up most of the time, but on Sunday the family would be down at the sheep barn doing the Sheepy Sunday kind of things. Great Sundays – in retrospect.

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