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 phrase “What in tarnation?” It’s one of a wide variety of euphemistic expressions of surprise, bewilderment or anger that arose in 18th and 19th century America. Perhaps due to our Puritan legacy, Americans were, during this period, especially creative in devising oaths that allowed us to express strong emotions while still skirting blasphemy.
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.
Next, here’s a short tale told by one Frank Mehaffey of Maggie Valley, NC. He and his brother go coon hunting one winter day in the Smokies. If you choose to believe him, Mehaffey’s dog Track must be one of the smartest coon dogs that ever lived: “He treed the coons in the cliff and stuck the fire under it and set the leaves afire, smoked the coons out, and had them, three big ones a-lyin’ there dead.”
“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.”
Ever wonder how the poinsettia got its name? Joel Poinsett served as Secretary of War under Martin Van Buren, founded the Academy of Fine Arts in Charleston, SC, and was America’s first diplomatic minister to Mexico. In fact, the decorative Christmas plant that takes its name from him is such a footnote to his illustrious life that it is mentioned only ONCE in the entire length of The Life and Services of Joel R. Poinsett, an 1888 biography.
We’ll wrap things up with a humorous Cherokee myth titled “Why the possum’s tail is bare,” gathered in 1900 by ethnologist James Mooney of the Smithsonian Institution. The Possum used to have a long, bushy tail, and was so proud of it that he combed it out every morning and sang about it at the dance, until the Rabbit, who had had no tail since the Bear pulled it out, became very jealous and made up his mind to play the Possum a trick.
And, thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Roger Cooper (fiddle) and Moe Kunkle (guitar) in a mid-1970s recording of the classic fiddle tune Martha Campbell.
So, call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corn-cob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian History.