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The legend of Granny Dollar, part 1 of 2

Posted by | November 19, 2015

She said she was 101 at the time of the interview in the January 28, 1928 issue of the Progressive Farmer, but she remembered the early days of childhood well.

There is no doubt that Nancy Emmaline Callahan Dollar, who came to be known as “Granny Dollar,” was what is known as a character. This friendly old woman, who lived on Lookout Mountain about nine miles from Fort Payne, AL, enjoyed reminiscing and talking to visitors.

Born in Buck’s Pocket (a five-mile-long gorge on Sand Mountain spanning DeKaIb, Jackson and Marshall counties) eight miles east of Coffeetown, Nancy was the daughter of a Cherokee father named William Callahan and a half Cherokee Indian, half Scots-Irish mother named Mary Sexton.

She enjoyed the games played by Indian children, including one called “dog and fox” and liked to pitch quoits, an activity similar to pitching horseshoes. She never attended any kind of school.

Granny Dollar with her dog BusterNancy’s father hunted game while the rest of the family raised corn and potatoes. On one occasion after having killed a very large deer, her father appeared to be very sad and unable to eat. The concerned mother, after persistent questioning finally elicited the reason for his distress. “I cannot eat my meat,” he said. “I fear my three poor little children in South Carolina are hungry. I have a wife and three children in South Carolina and I was forced to leave them there.” Nancy’s mother replied, “Go and fetch them. There is room and plenty to eat.”

Thus, Nancy’s family soon included another mother and sister and two more brothers. The Cherokees were allowed to have more than one wife and in Nancy’s family, at least, there appeared to be no dissension or jealousy. “My father’s hut was enjoyed by all,” she recalled.

She remembered that her mother appeared as happy over the new arrivals as did the children and had her big dirt oven full of baked potatoes and venison ready for the ravenous children. The two women labored together in raising the crops and caring for the family. Together, they had a total of 26 children, including three sets of triplets born to Nancy’s mother.

This large family ate wild turkey, deer and fish with vegetables, which included cabbage, pumpkin and corn. Their corn was roasted with the shuck on. Johnnie cake, sweetened with molasses and hominy, were also common foods. The oven used for cooking their meals was made of red clay and was used under a shed outside the home.

When most Indians left this area to join the forced march over the “Trail of Tears,” William Callahan avoided moving his family from their beloved mountain home by hiding in a cave. He did leave later, however, after an altercation with a white man named Jukes, during which the Indian, his temper aroused by curses and a false accusation, bit off Jukes’ nose and one ear. Fearing that the Jukes family might retaliate by burning his home, Callahan moved to Georgia and settled in Marthasville, near Atlanta.

When Nancy was about 21 years old she sought a way to make money in order to help provide food for her many younger brothers and sisters. One of the mothers was now dead (she did not specify which one.)

She began hauling goods from Marthasville to the country stores near her home, a distance of 30 miles. She made long trips over rough roads in a covered, or tar-pole, wagon drawn by two mules. The wagon axles were greased and the mules hitched, unhitched and fed by Nancy herself.

Slaves helped her load the goods at Kyle Brothers Wholesalers and storekeepers helped her unload the cases of molasses, meat, salt, powder, lead, gun caps, shoes, dishes and wagon tires which she hauled for some 15 or 20 years. She was never robbed or molested in any way during the many trips she made alone.

During this period she became engaged to a storekeeper’s son named Thomas Porter, but the Civil War ended this romance. Porter joined the Confederate Army and was killed in battle.

(continued tomorrow…)



‘Heave ho, over you go’ – hog butchering day

Posted by | November 18, 2015

The scent of locust wood smoke and the sound of crackling fires permeated the early morning scene on hog butchering day.

Guided by the predawn glow of a flickering lantern, Daddy lit the kindling wood under the scalding tank. He fed the fire until the water almost reached the boiling point, then built more blazing fires to heat water in several tripod-mounted, big black cast-iron kettles. Every greasy task, and lots of cleanup, required a daylong supply.

Butchering Scene at Bulltown, WV, ca. 1908-1910

Butchering Scene at Bulltown, WV, ca. 1908-1910


The slaughter began around 7:00 AM as Daddy, Uncle Bill and Uncle Hartzell coaxed the first hog from the sty and shunted it into an open paddock. There one of my uncles stunned the animal with a .22-caliber rifle. They only needed a single shot aimed at a spot slightly above the eyes. Their aim was precise enough to immediately immobilize and topple the animal. My marksmanship, on the other hand, was so bad I couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a scoop shovel.

The tussle to upend the critter began by grabbing all four feet and landing the porker in the belly-up position. Granddaddy clutched a curved sharp knife and slashed the left side of the pig’s throat. From there he reached deep inside and pierced the jugular vein, located about three inches from the jawbone.

A clean severing of that major vessel maximized the amount of blood the beating heart pumped free of the body before the onset of rigor mortis. Draining the circulatory system as much as possible was a precautionary step in securing a satisfactory curing and safe storage of hog meat under farm conditions.

George and Lee Grant, Joe Harris and Daddy dragged the limp body toward the scalding tank. Both uncles joined in for added heft. The team hoisted the four-hundred-pound hog to the adjoining platform, then stepped back from the smoke and took time to wipe sweat from their brows. “Heave ho, over you go!” sang Uncle Bill, affecting an oh-so-painful grimace as he put his shoulder to the carcass and pretended to single- handedly dunk the beast.

Daddy called out, “Bill, don’t get ahead of me! I need to check the temperature of the water.” Most farmers tested its warmth with their bare hands. Daddy was more precise, using an older model steam pipeline thermometer that had been discarded at the mill. He wasn’t about to take the chance of “setting” the hair if the water was much hotter than necessary. Conversely, too cool a temperature would result in an incomplete scald with the same effect, namely that the hair was not easily freed from its roots.

After assuring himself the water was 190 degrees, Daddy added a small shovelful of wood ashes to help clean the carcass.

The four-man team slowly lowered the hog, back first, into the tank using two seven-foot-long, twisted-link trace chains. George and Lee had their protective boots on and stood astride the top edge of the trough as they worked in tandem to dunk and rotate, while making sure to expose both sides of the limp body to the air a couple of times.

Lee noticed the hide rubbing against the chains began to show signs of bare skin. “Look’a there boys,” he said, “she’s a comin’.” At each end, Daddy and Joe made sure the hair around the extremities was also loosening.

Evidence of a good scald soon appeared — the bristles around the head and ears started to peel off easily. Granddaddy pulled on the tail and it came clean as a whistle. Then he rubbed the legs to see how well they were doing. Before long the rush was on to get the animal out of the tank and repositioned once again on the platform.

Everyone took a hand in working over the hog to remove the coarse hair and scrape the hide clean. “Don’t just stand there, Kenneth,” Bill barked, “get me another bucket of scalding water. There are a few stubborn hairs to be scraped off before we have a bare carcass.”

Daddy had a notched, homemade gambrel stick in his hand. “Hartzell, when you finish teasing out the hamstrings on both hind legs, help me insert this between the exposed tendons,” he said. I watched as they slid this butcher’s device into place.

The butchering crew had previously erected a horizontal scaffolding pole held up by a stout set of A-frames, made from slender tree trunks. There they suspended the newly scalded and scraped animal, with the head dangling about a foot off the ground.

Granddaddy Ambrose, the adroit butcher and meat cutter, readied himself for the evisceration process by donning a white apron. First he removed the pig’s head, then dashed more hot water over the carcass, using his newly sharpened butcher knife to shave any remaining spots that were not completely clean. This procedure was repeated as necessary until the smooth and pinkish skin was free of hair and bristles.

The pearly-white carcass was now ready to gut.

–from ‘The Day is Far Spent,’ by Kenneth A. Tabler, Montani Publishing, 2006


Get ready for the Santa Train

Posted by | November 17, 2015

In 1943, a group of Kingsport, TN businessmen wanted to do something special for their neighbors in Southwest Virginia to thank them for their patronage. Flem Dobyns of Dobyns-Taylor Hardware Store and Bill Waddell of the Kingsport Times-News came up with the idea of having a special Christmas themed Clinchfield Railroad train head out of Kingsport, on up through Southwest Virginia, to the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. In Pikeville, KY the train would pick up Santa Claus, then circle back to Kingsport, distributing candy and gifts to needy families along the way.

They talked with Clinchfield Railroad officials, whose 277-mile line was completed in 1915 and extended up from Spartanburg, SC, to connect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway at Elkhorn City, KY.

The Santa Train, of Kingsport TN

The Santa Train, of Kingsport TN, in an undated photo.

Kingsport, with all its industries, was an important point on the Clinchfield route; the railroad officials saw the public relations value immediately and were only too glad to cooperate with the Kingsport group.

And so each year since 1943, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, the Santa Claus Special (or just the “Santa Train”) has departed from Kingsport, TN, arriving in Pikeville, KY to bring Santa back to Kingsport. Santa arrives just in time to enter the first parade of the season, kicking off the holiday shopping spree.

The Santa Claus Special was made possible through the hard work and commitment of many people, including Joe Higgins, who was the very first Santa Claus on the Santa Train; John Dudney, who not only played Santa for many years, but also helped distribute Santa Special posters in the communities along the tracks two weeks prior to the run; A.B. Coleman, the first president of the Merchants Bureau (the forerunner to the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce); Raymond Gaylon, who worked at Oakwood Market (a local grocery store) and coordinated the gathering of items to be thrown from the train as well as helping John Dudney distribute the posters; and E. B. “Jitney” Blankenbecler of Franklin Press, who mixed hard candy in a box car during the train trip, often until his fingers were raw.

It’s clear that landing the role of Santa is a plum job; through the 70 years the Santa Special has been running, the position has changed hands only 4 times: Joe Higgins (1943 – 1950), John Dudney (1950 – 1983), Frank Brogden (1984 – 2002) and Don Royston (2000 – present).

John Dudney said his biggest reward serving as Santa Claus for 38 years was looking into the faces of children along the railroad and seeing the wonder in their eyes as he called out over the sound system, “Merry Christmas girls and boys, ole Santa sees you.”

On the first trip, money from the Merchants Bureau Fund provided the hard wrapped candy that was thrown from the train. In subsequent years, gifts were solicited by Raymond Gaylon. Ed Moore of Food City continues that tradition today. In addition to candy, the train has distributed notebook pads specially made by Mead (now Willamette Industries); hand-made dolls by “the doll lady,” Lois Mee; clothes; pretzels; stuffed animals; small toys; three-ringed binders and pencils from Eastman; and basketball. The Kingsport Chamber now receives toys, clothes and gifts from individuals, businesses and organizations across the country.

Santa Claus with kids on the Santa Train

Newspaper source not indicated. The original caption in this undated photo reads: Thrill of a lifetime was reserved for these youngsters who rode the same train to Kingsport as Santa. Here he is shown with Betty Tampa, 12, Mary Ruth Hartsock, 3, and Peggy Joyce, 5, all of Dante, VA. In background is Flora Esther Kelly, 5, of Wakenva, VA.

The Santa Train is a time-honored tradition for many in the region. Former Kingsport mayor E.B. “Jitney” Blankenbecler only missed the first one because he was serving in WWII, but he rode from 1944-1995. During his life, he told about the first Santa Trains and how they were made on regularly scheduled passenger trains until those were discontinued in 1955. Charlotte Nickels, a nonagenarian retired school teacher from Dungannon, Va., has not missed seeing the train since it began in 1943. For Nickels and many others, the train is a family tradition.

CSX Transportation donates personnel, equipment and track time to support this tradition. Staff are stationed at scheduled stops for safety control and CSXT also provides the buses that transport volunteers to and from the motel in Pikeville during the trip. Each year, the equipment is sent from Jacksonville, FL, for the trek.

For the 50th running of the Santa Train in 1992, CSXT arranged for the “Challenger,” the world’s largest operating steam locomotive, to power the trek through the mountains. Hall of Fame sports broadcaster Joe Garagiola was a passenger on the train that year and broadcast the Santa Train on NBC television Christmas morning.

Logistics for successfully distributing the 15 tons of goodies, toys and gifts requires the efforts of 36 volunteers from Kingsport, who go each year along with railroad staff. On the Wednesday before the train departs, volunteers gather in front of Food City in Kingsport to mix all the donated items into bins for distribution from the train.

The train, filled with excited volunteers, guests and media, leaves Kingsport tracks on Friday, heading for Pikeville, KY, to be in position for the southbound run the following day. Leaving Pikeville early Saturday morning, the Santa Train makes 13 scheduled stops and travels through 29 towns in Kentucky and Southwest Virginia distributing gifts and goodwill along the route.

The Santa Claus Special is the world’s largest Santa Parade, 110 miles, and is a joint effort of the Kingsport Tennessee Area Chamber of Commerce, CSX Transportation (successor to the Clinchfield RR), and Food City, Kingsport, TN.

More info on the Santa Train at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.


God forbid that Tazewell shall ever have a system with paupers at the base and idle rich at the top

Posted by | November 16, 2015

The extremes of wealth and poverty do not now exist and have never been existent in Tazewell. There are many comfortably wealthy men in the county; and, perhaps, half a dozen millionaires. But, with a population of 27,840 souls in the county, as shown by the census of 1920, there are only 53 paupers here.

The paupers are of a class that are unable to work on account of the infirmities of age, or other physical causes, and mental deficiency. Fifteen are entirely dependent and are maintained at the county farm, while thirty-eight are partially dependent and receive aid from the public funds.

The county owns a valuable farm, situated one and a half miles east of the county seat, its estimate value being seventy-five thousand dollars. During the fiscal year which ended the 1st of July, 1919, the products of the farm amounted to $4,890; and the live stock on hand at that date was valued at $8,760. The annual expense for conducting the farm and maintaining the paupers is, approximately $6,000.

group of friends in Wardell VA 1911Friends at Wardell, VA, August 1911.

As long as present conditions continue society here will be contented and prosperous; and, apparently, it will be best for the county to remain, as it always has been, primarily an agricultural community. Adherence to this system will give comfort and security to the energetic worker, and will not furnish asylum to the idler.

God forbid, that Tazewell shall ever have a system with paupers at the base and idle rich at the top of the social scale. May its social system never be like that of modern England, of which Matthew Arnold affirmed: “Our inequality materializes our upper class, vulgarizes our middle class, and brutalizes our lower class.”

Wealth, great wealth, is now collectively possessed by the people of Tazewell. What will they do with it? Under the spell of modern civilization, shall the rising generation be trained to place a negligible value upon the instrumentalities of civilization that were recognized and utilized by the pioneer fathers; and be taught that money, position, power, idleness, and luxury are the prime essentials of an advanced civilization? This is the gravest question the Christian world has to solve.

What part will the people of Tazewell enact in its solution? Shall civilization continue to advance here on definitely true lines, or retrograde into a refined barbarism? Shall we continue to teach but neglect to practice the great social and political truths of Thomas Jefferson, embodied in the Virginia Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence?

History of Tazewell county and southwest Virginia: 1748-1920, by William Cecil Pendleton, W.C. Hall Printing, Richmond VA, 1920


It throwed the lead mule way up on the hillside

Posted by | November 13, 2015

“One time we were hauling long timbers for the railroad company. 30 ft. long and it required 2 cars to haul the timbers on, a car under each end and it was pulled with 2 mules, one in front of the other which was called a double team.

“I myself was driving one of the double teams and a fellow by the name of Keene Lancaster was driving a single team just in front of me. We had quite a hill to go down about one fourth of a mile long and where the trainroad started off the hill, it went over a wood trestle and it was about 200 yards long from where it started at the top of the hill until it came to the lower end of the trestle.

“The trestle was 35 feet high in the highest part. It was a gradual slant to the lower end of the trestle and as we were on our way to the station at Monica with six loaded cars of railroad timbers and as said before, there was one single car in front of me and four cars behind me and when we started down the hill, the car in front of me, I waited at the top of the hill for him to get to the lower end of the trestle before I started down the hill.

“It was late in the fall, about the middle of November, and it had fell quite a frost the night before and there was quite a bit of frost on the track, and we had brakes on the front and rear cars of their double cars and when I started down the hill I got a cousin of mine at the top of the hill to brake the rear car down the hill.

“The fellow on the next car behind me was Derben’s double car load and when I started down before him I said to him, ‘Allen, you had better wait at the top of the hill until I get down, and I will come back and brake your rear car down the hill for you.’

“But instead of waiting, he turned over the hill just behind me, and I saw he wasn’t going to hold his cars with only one brake and I knew if I didn’t get out of his way, he would run into me about the middle of the bridge, and I whipped my team up and let up on my brake, and before I got down the hill my mules was in a long lope.

“As soon as I got to the lower end of the bridge, I jumped off my car and whipped my mules out of the track and as the hook that the stretchers was hooked to was turned sideways and the stretchers came loose from the cars and my mules just trotted out in the field.

“When Derben saw he couldn’t hold his cars with only one brake, when he got to the other end of the bridge, he jumped off the cars and turned the cars loose on the mules. When the cars got to the highest part of the bridge, it punched the mules off the bridge and they fell 35 feet to the ground.

mule team pulling sawed logsThis photo is not from Wolfe County, KY where this accident took place; it’s from Nacogdoches County, Texas. But it approximates the scene of sawed logs brought to a railroad siding by mule teams described in this story. Photo by John Vachon.

“It broke the wheel mule’s back, and throwed the lead mule way up on the hillside and hurt it very bad. It trotted out in the bottom and went to picking grass, but the other mule was never able to get up. It had to be killed, and some of the mules didn’t jerk the heavy loaded cars off the track and they came down and rammed into the rear end of my cars and the two heavy loaded cars rammed into the rear end of the cars ahead of my cars.

“The fellow that was driving the front car just had got off to open a gate when the cars hit his car and he didn’t have time to get the gate open, and it rammed the car, mule and all through the gate, and then they started down a small hill and about 40 yards ahead there was another gate, and then it rammed the front cars and the old mule thru the other gate. By that time myself and the driver of the car behind Derben’s car jumped on the cars and broke them down and got them stopped at the foot of the little hill.

“The company was notified and they sent some men to kill the wounded mule and take it off and bury it. Then we coupled the 2 cars together and hitched 3 mules to the double cars and we hitched the mule that wasn’t killed in front of my 2 mules and pulled them to the station and unloaded them, and drove back to camp and eat our dinner.”

Daniel Boone Childers (1873-1956)
born in Wolfe County, KY, on Holly Creek

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