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 the story of the feud over Alabama pioneer John Gunter’s estate. Gunter, one of the first whites to settle in Marshall County, AL (in 1785), had amassed a small fortune down through the years and left large tracts of cleared land, many slaves and around $5,000 in cash. Before the Gunter will was finally settled, several persons had died in gun battles, and it became one of the most talked about events in the early history of Marshall County.
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.
“We didn’t even know what a union was,” says textile mill worker Christine Galliher in discussing the 1929 plant strike at the North American Rayon Corp. in Johnson City, TN. “We’d never heard tell of a union. But we just decided that we wasn’t going to work for this wage. We just wasn’t going to work for $10.08 a week. But as it happened, there was a carpenter and a union man, John Penix. He called someone that he knew in the labor movement, and they came here and organized, and it was just one big mess.”
He was the most famous of the keelboatmen, who plied the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for two decades until they and their watercraft were displaced by steamboats. By the early 1800s, Mike Fink owned and captained two boats headquartered at Wheeling, WV. Working his way west, Fink’s career paralleled that of American expansion into the Mississippi Valley.
You can still see part of the boiler room and a few intact boilers from the old cotton mill in Mortimer if you know where to look. There’s also a white maintenance building built by the CCC during the 1930s, and some other CCC building foundations remain behind it. Today these silent remnants welcome hikers and campers at the entrance to the Mortimer campground in the Pisgah National Forest. What a story they hide!
“So many outside writers had come in and . . . and given such a terrible account of the people,” says Kentuckian Mary Brewer, author of ‘The Rugged Trails of Appalachia (1958).’ “They had put ‘em down a lot in their articles that I didn’t think this was true, because the people that I met were very intelligent and they were very civilized. They were not like they were pictured in these articles at all. And I thought that somebody ought to come through here and give the true picture of them.”
We’ll wrap things up with reminiscences of the Cloverdale, GA community by Brody Hawkins, who was born there in 1927 and has lived there all his life. “Dr. Spencer Middleton and I go back a long ways,” Hawkins notes. “I’m known to most people as Brody, but my real name is Ernest Middleton Hawkins. I was delivered by Dr. Middleton, who told my daddy that the delivery was free if he would name me after him.”
And, thanks to the good folks at Juneberry78s.com, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Charley La Prade & the Blue Ridge Highballers in a 1926 recording of “Fourteen Days in Georgia.”
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.