We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. You can start listening right away by clicking the podcast icon over on the left side of your screen. If you’d rather grab the show off itunes for later listening, click here:
We open today’s show with the Reconstruction era story of the Miller family of Dade County, GA. “Well, the war was now over, the South subdued and our entire Southland almost all devastated, the people poor and discouraged,” explains John Thornton Miller. Given the bleak outlook if he stayed put with his family, the western frontier beckoned. “So we had to begin at the bottom with only a few dollars in cash, and our living to buy.” Polk County, AR, in the midst of the Ozarks, held the promise of feeling like back home. “I did not like Arkansas, and thought I would go back,” Miller continues. “But George [his brother, who lived next to them] always influenced me, and we stayed. So we are here yet.”
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.
“There were only four kinds of country music,” explains Frank Buckley Walker (1889–1963), who was the Artist and Repertoire (A & R) talent scout for Columbia Records’ Country Music Division during the 1920s and 1930s. “One is your gospel songs, your religious songs. The others were your jigs and reels, like we spoke of a while ago at fiddler’s conventions. Your third were your heart songs, sentimental songs that came from the heart, and the fourth, which has passed out to a degree today and was terrific in those days, were the event songs.”
Ahhhh, dandelion wine! One of the classic Appalachian treats of early spring. Edith M. Thomas shares two recipes in this segment—including one procedure that uses yeast to speed up the process, and one that doesn’t. She published these and many other regional recipes in “Mary at the Farm and Book of Recipes Compiled During Her Visit Among the Pennsylvania Germans,” printed in 1915.
Next, Athens County, OH native Maria Dean Foster Brown (1827-1929) shares her grief over the sudden loss of a much loved grandchild in this 1908 letter to her grown children. In the letter, she tenderly revisits the death of one of her own daughters 40 years before. “I think there is no one who can so fully understand the extent of your sorrow as myself. I know what it is to put away all the little clothes and the playthings. I had all of that to do.”
“Bullets and ballots are not companions;” said Lizzie French in a famous 1912 speech to the Tennessee Bar Association. French was at the time the recently elected president of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, Inc. When the first woman in Tennessee history to address the organization took the podium, she delivered what many scholars believe today was one of her greatest messages stating her position on the state’s law forbidding women from voting.
We’ll wrap things up with a look at what was the largest carbon factory in the world in 1911. The most widely used black pigment, carbon black is virtually pure carbon, made from the incomplete combustion of petrochemical oils of gases. It is widely used even today as a filler in the rubber industry and as a UV stabilizer in plastics. Godfrey L. Cabot of Boston, MA chose to site his carbon factory in Calhoun County, WV, close to the booming oil fields of that era.
And, thanks to the good folks at Rounder Records (The North Carolina Banjo Collection, Rounder CD0439/40), we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Ernest Helton in a 1925 recording of “Royal Clog.”
So, call your old blue-tick hound up on the porch, fire up your corn-cob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian History.