“Back in the days when I knew him, Uncle William [ed.– William Creech 1845-1918] was the sage of Pine Mountain; he was the leader to whom the creek dwellers far and near turned for guidance in time of decision.
“In any rural community the mail is always a matter of importance, particularly in a region so isolated as the Cumberlands. Uncle William had decided that Pine Mountain’s crying need was a post office.
“For years he had labored so that letters could come to the little cabins that dotted the green hollows. At every attempt his efforts foundered on the stern government rule that no office could be opened until the postal business in the area reach a certain definite total each year.
“Uncle William at last grew weary of delay and failure. He decided to take drastic action; when Uncle William took action a result was as certain as night follows day.
“The difficulty in the great postal war was that most of Uncle William’s neighbors could neither read nor write; mail is after all a form of written communication. He made a first attack on the problem by calling at every mountain cabin; solemnly he urged each mountaineer to send off to both of the leading mail-order houses for their catalogues. If the son-in-law of the family had a different name, he asked the farmer to send it off twice. Whenever the necessity arose, which was often, he wrote the cards of request himself.
“This initial undertaking produced a considerable postal volume; each heavy catalogue that arrived was balm to Uncle William’s soul. His next move in the campaign was in the more complicated field of correspondence. The First World War had come upon the countryside; most of the young men were away in the Army.
“Uncle William made the rounds of the cabins again, urging mothers to write to their sons and daughters to their sweethearts. Here again the lack of formal learning interfered with their desires. Once more Uncle William became the correspondent, writing long letters telling the news of the day. When the answers came, scrawled by some soldier friend of the absent one, he would journey to the cabin and read it aloud to the whole family.
“So effective were his efforts that even the postal authorities in charge of the district were impressed by the quantity of mail that was arriving. At last they decided the business was enough to warrant opening the office.
“There are many Uncle Williams still in the Cumberlands; it is their presence which makes these hazy uplands unique. For they are the last outposts of a vanished world.”
Children of Noah: Glimpses of Unknown America
By Ben Lucien Burman
Publ. by Julian Messner, Inc. 1951