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.
“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