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 right side of your screen. If you’d rather grab the show off itunes for later listening, click here:
We open today’s show with a look at the life of one Colonel John W. Gray of Adairsville, GA. “He was a fine model of the pioneer type,” declares this short biography in a 1912 issue of Confederate Veteran magazine. “He was over six feet tall and until the last was as straight as an Indian, as hard as a hickory knot, sinewy, active, clear minded and clear blooded. He was a fine example of a vanishing kind that cut their way through the frontier in the old days and faced bravely whatever was before them.”
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.
Northern Alabama’s Paint Rock River watershed drains into one of Appalachia’s most magnificent canyons, a 150-foot-wide bowl-shaped natural amphitheater that sits between 200-foot-tall limestone walls. The “Walls of Jericho” gets its name, according to local legend, from a traveling minister who found it in the late 1800s and declared it needed a biblical name to properly describe its splendor. Davy Crockett hunted the area after moving to nearby Franklin County, TN in the first decade of the 19th century. “I found this a very rich country, and so new, that game, of different sorts, was very plenty,” he noted in his autobiography. “Of deer and smaller game I killed abundance; but the bear had been much hunted in those parts before, and were not so plenty as I could have wished.”
By the time he was 20 in 1941, Truman Fontell “Fonty” Flock of Ft. Payne, AL was regarded as one of stock car racing’s best drivers. He got a taste for fast automobiles as a teenager hauling moonshine in his car from Atlanta to Dawsonville, GA. Fonty once said that he would seek out the sheriff and get him on a chase because he had a faster car. Fonty would send off to California and get the best parts for his car, and the sheriff couldn’t keep up with him. The sheriff didn’t have the resources to get the parts to make his car keep up with Fonty’s.
Next, in this 1957 interview, Captain Jesse Hughes, of Washington County, OH, describes his experiences working for a river circus up and down the Ohio River at the turn of the 20th century. “At that time there was no such thing as an automobile, hardly. People had heard of them, but nobody had ever seen them hardly. [The circus manager] had a thing there on the boat that had four wheels on it and it was supposed to represent an automobile and boy there was a crowd around that thing all the time looking at it. It wouldn’t run. They had to pull it around when they wanted to move it and there wasn’t an engine or anything of that kind but it made a hit. Just goes to show how things were changed since that time.”
We’ll wrap things up with a segment from author/journalist Rebecca Harding Davis’ 1904 autobiography, “Bits of Gossip.” Davis relates the details of growing up amidst a stern religious atmosphere in Wheeling, WV. “While the ordinary life of these people was wholesome and kindly,” she tells us, “their religion, oddly enough, was a very different matter. The father of that day believed that his first duty toward his child was to save him from hell. The baby, no matter how sweet or fair, was held to be a vessel of wrath and a servant of the devil, unless he could be rescued.”
And, thanks to the good folks at the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the Donald C. Davidson Library, Univ of California/Santa Barbara, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Ernest V. Stoneman and his Dixie Mountaineers in a 1928 recording of “The old maid and the burglar.”
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.