He looked like what I thought the devil might have looked like

Posted by | March 2, 2016


“When I went with other children to see him work in his blacksmith shop I would stand just inside the door and watch him. The shop, made of logs, had no window. Smoke from the forge passed through a short chimney made of mud and field rocks and then wandered toward the eve of the blackened roof. The shop was always smoky.

“Uncle Wash would pull a pole attached to a big bellows shaped like a guitar body and the bellows would blow a stream of fresh air against the coals. They would become almost white with heat. You could see a horseshoe or a mattock change from black to a dull red and on to white hot as he pumped the bellows. Then he would take the object out with a pair of long tongs, hold it on the anvil, and beat it fast with a shop hammer, like he was making music.

“The white hot sparks would fly in all directions, but they would lose their glow by the time they struck anything. When Uncle Wash had the mattock as sharp as he wanted it, or the horseshoe corked just to suit his notion, he would souse it in a tub of water and hold it there for a few minutes to temper it. White steam would rise from the sizzling object and blow around Uncle Wash. He looked like what I thought the devil might have looked like with the coals glowing in the forge behind him and the steam streaming around him, except he didn’t have a fishhook tail like the devil.

“He would shoe horses in front of his shop, which had a roof that stuck several feet out toward the road. It was fun to watch him pare the horse’s hoof down with a knife that had a crooked blade before he fitted the shoe. Then he drove nails through holes in the shoe and into the edge of the hoof until they came out an inch or two above the shoe. After all the nails were in, he would bend them down with pliers and strike them a time or two with a special hammer that had a ball on it instead of claws. He rasped the hoof with a big file to make it flush with the sides of the horseshoe. He seemed strong for such a little man as he held the horse’s foot up with one hand and worked with the other.”

Tales from Sacred Wind: Coming of Age in Appalachia
by Cratis D. Williams
2003, McFarland & Company

Cratis Williams (1911-1985) was an eloquent defender of Appalachian Culture and one of the most important scholars of the post-war era.

appalachian history, appalachian culture, appalachia, history of appalachia

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