Category Archives: Uncategorized

He was bitten by a Rattler, and they sent for Ira

Posted by | May 15, 2015

“From his father, my father Ira Jacob Butts learned how to mix certain roots and leaves of grass together for a cure for snakebites. He never told which weeds and roots he used, and I would not attempt to try to describe them. Anyway, he would boil the roots and leaves, and would then strain away the particles, leaving only the water in which they were boiled.

copperhead snake“This would be diluted with whiskey, and be given to the victim to drink. The whiskey, I am told, caused the blood to thin, allowing faster flow to the bitten area. Then too, it might have taken the whiskey to kill some of the taste until a person could drink the solution, who knows? One thing I am certain of, and that is, that the same medicine worked on all snakebites, and modern doctors seem to not agree with this today.

“Personally, I witnessed him curing his granddaughter, Vera Mae Butts, when she was bitten by a Copper-Head, and again curing Dave Pitts when he was bitten by a Rattle Snake. Once a victim started drinking the solution, he could drink a little or a lot, but once the bottle was taken away, another drink was sure death, for it was stronger than the poison from the snake.

“Samuel Burton, Ira’s son-in-law, had a dog bitten by a snake. It was given the solution, then soon recovered. Sam said if a little helped, then some more would do better. No sooner had he poured some more solution into the dog’s mouth, then the dog died instantly.

canebreak rattlesnake“On one occasion, when Samuel Burton was fishing on Chauga River, he was bitten by a Rattler, and was then carried to his mother’s home on Rocky Fork. They sent for Ira, who lived some ten or more miles away, and he came to the scene, and prepared a solution from leaves and roots located nearby. At that time, Samuel’s tongue had swollen out of his mouth, and very little hope was left. Within thirty minutes from the time he had been given the solution, Samuel Burton began to talk, and within an hour he was walking.

“Ira Jacob Butts (1868-1939) was raised in the upper part of Oconee County, SC, in a small community known as Brasstown, near Long Creek. As an adult he rented a place from his brother Silas Butts near Holly Springs, at the foot of Grassy Mountain, where he lived until his death.”

Carlie Glen Butts
b. 1928



Picnic in a coal mine

Posted by | May 14, 2015

Sometimes the official stories that make it into museum collections just don’t shed enough light on the complete context of an event. Take this photo, titled “Picnic in a Coal Mine, Mount Savage, 1889, 
Photographed by Edgar S. Thompson.” The caption provided by the Maryland Historical Society gives scant background on this picture, and in fact may be misleading the viewer altogether.

It reads: “It must have been a very hot August afternoon when F.S. Deekins (under the table) and friends took refuge in a coal mine for a meal of peaches, plums, grapes and wine. The picture was taken by flash lighting. Several of the men are wearing caps with lamps. Are they miners, or cave explorers?”

How about “neither”? Why on earth would a miner, who’s already spent 6 days a week, 10-12 hours each day underground, take time on his one precious day off to spend yet MORE time in a coal mine? And take a look at these fresh scrubbed faces and clean pressed suits. They might be mine OWNERS, but they’re certainly not miners.

The Maryland Historical Society owns a collection of photographs known as the “Cover-Long-Deekens Collection,” donated by Margaret Lamar Deekens Cover and Loring Andrews Cover, Jr. Our “F.S. Deekins” appears once more in comments on the provenance of this collection: “Margaret’s father, Francis S. Deekens, was born in Australia, and came to the U.S. as a young man in 1881 via England, Canada, and France.

“A Cumberland business leader in real estate and insurance, he oversaw major real estate transactions and development in the region, and was a founder and president of the Real Estate and Securities Company (1903-ca. 1918). Earlier he worked in the mining industry, as chief clerk for the Consolidation Coal Co. at Frostburg (1885-1891), and as assistant vice president of the Union Mining Co. at Mount Savage (1891-1902).”

Picnic in a coal mine, Mt Savage, MDSo now we know that the coal mine in the photo’s caption is owned by Union Mining Co, and it makes sense that as an assistant vice president, Deekens/Deekins would have had access off-hours to throw a party for his buddies. The photo caption states this event occurred in 1889. The provenance blurb, though, tells us Deekens worked for Union Mining starting in 1891. So maybe one of the OTHER people in the photo actually granted access.

An F.S. Deakins turns up in two Cumberland Times news reports from 1888, and is most likely the same person (the Frostburg location helps cement it):

05 Jun 1888 A cavern was discovered on the Ridgeley farm and was explored by Walter Ridgeley and Mr Willard Everstine. The opening is at a place where a pond had disappeared and after a year became overgrown with brush. Two weeks ago when the brush was cleared, the entrance to the cave became apparent. The passageways are from 3 feet to 30 feet in height.

12 Jun 1888 Mr Ridgeley’s cave is dubbed “Potomac Caverns” is explored and named by a party of 6 men; PJ Smith; Dory Smith; WC Devecomon; JT Taylor; JW Avirett; and FS Deakins of Frostburg.

It’s a fair guess that at least some of those same 5 companions from the Potomac Caverns trek appear the following summer in our sample photo.

The Cumberland Times articles spell our main subject’s last name as ‘Deakins.’ Deakins is an old family name in western MD, dating from Colonial times.

In 1787 Colonel Francis Deakins was appointed to “lay out the manors, and such parts of the reserves and vacant lands belonging to this state, lying to the westward of Fort Cumberland, as he might think fit and capable of being settled and improved, in lots of fifty acres each” (Laws of Maryland 1785-1791, page 351).

Now it’s possible that in 1888 in the same Maryland county there were in fact an ‘F.S. Deakins’ and an “F.S. Deekens,” and both were interested in exploring caves. But it’s a stretch. So did the F.S. Deekens mentioned in the “Cover-Long-Deekens Collection” provenance really come from Australia?

Note two shared facts about both the Potomac Caverns ‘exploration’ and the Mt. Savage photo: there are large groups, and both took place in the summer. To say that these people are cave explorers in any but the most casual, weekend amateur fashion is specious. In the photo no one is dressed for strenuous crawling or outfitted with ropes and petons, the way a serious cave explorer would be. No, these were private parties thrown in an unusual location.

Oh, and a secretive location as well. Why are there only 3 women to the 11 men in the picnic (12 counting the photographer)? This after all was late Victorian era, a time when proper women could be expected to socialize in a ‘balanced’ 50/50 gender environment or be frowned upon. Clearly the women aren’t the least bit uncomfortable about this—are they prostitutes?

And finally, our photographer, Edgar S. Thompson, is most likely the owner of the Edgar S. Thompson Steel Mill in Braddock, PA, 86 miles away from the Mt. Savage coal mine, and nice day trip away for a picnic in a coal mine.


sources: Western Maryland Regional Library

Edgar+S.+Thompson F.S.+Deakins Mt+Savage+MD coal+mining appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history


A ‘pearl rush’ grips Clinch River residents

Posted by | May 13, 2015

“From about 1895 to 1936 Tennessee was one of the nation’s six leading states in marketing pearls,” announces the historical marker on Market St. in Clinton, TN. “Clinton was listed as one of three Tennessee towns known as centers of the pearling industry.”

Clinton sits astride the Clinch River, which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was home to 45 different varieties of mussels. “The finest pearls in TN,” said W.R. Cattelle in ‘The Pearl,’ “are found in the fluter, or lake shell, which is the same as the mussel known on the Wabash as the washboard.  A yellow shell is found in the Clinch River similar to the mucket of Arkansas, from which pearls are taken.”

A "pearling crew" sets out on a mussel shell hunting expedition. Circa 1920's.

A “pearling crew” sets out on a mussel shell hunting expedition. Circa 1920’s.

Pearls had been routinely hunted on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers and their tributaries for many years prior to the outbreak of a ‘pearl rush’ on the Clinch River just before the turn of the 20th century.  “The search had been conducted in a moderate way by pleasure parties in the summer and by farmers after the crops had been laid aside,” began an account of the rush in ‘The Book of Pearls.’

Then, in 1899, The Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review of Chattanooga reported: “Engineer Hall, in charge of the Government survey of the Clinch and French Broad rivers, while in the city a few days ago for the purpose of leaving the results of the Clinch River survey with Major Kingman, had a number of highly interesting and amusing things to relate in regard to the pearl fisheries in the Upper Clinch River.

“Mr. Hall stated that the populations along the banks of the Clinch are greatly excited over the finding of several large pearls the past year that brought good prices, as well as a large number of other stones of lesser value.  As a result farming and husbandry have, to a certain extent, been abandoned by the Clinch River people for pearl hunting.”

The ‘Book of Pearls’ account picks up the thread: “Many [Clinch River] pearls reportedly brought $100 or more. The fact that little experience and no capital were required for the business drew large numbers of persons. Vivid and picturesque accounts published in the local papers reported hundreds of persons as camping at various points along the streams, some in tents and some in rough shanties, and others going from shoal to shoal in newly built houseboats.

“They were described as easy going pleasure loving people, the men women and children working hard all day, subsisting largely on fish caught in the same stream, and dancing at night to the music of a banjo around the camp fires that line the banks.

Mussel shell buttons from the collection of McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture.

Mussel shell buttons from the collection of McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture.

“The center of the new industry was Clinton, the county seat of Anderson County, whither the successful hunters betook themselves each Saturday, the preferred time for selling the catch.”

The ‘South Jersey Republican’ of Hammonton NJ, offered an in-depth profile of a blind Clinch River pearl hunter in 1908:

“Joseph Gossett, aged 42, of Clinton, Tenn., the center of the great pearl hunting industry, is totally blind, but he hunts pearls as successfully as any of the thousands of mountain people who swarm along the Clinch and Holston rivers looking for pearls.

“Gossett was among the first persons to discover that the Clinch River pearl existed. He was then hardly 21.  He sold his first pearl for $50 and after that became an eager pearl hunter.

“While wading in the river he contracted malaria and lost his eyesight, but he did not give up.  The next spring found him at the head of a gang of pearl hunters, and he has since been persistent in his work.

“He finds the mussels with his hands or feet by the sense of touch.  After gathering a quantity of the bivalves he will sit in his boat and open them, slowing feeling in the shells of the mussel for the pearl.

“No sooner has he found one than he can estimate its value in every particular except as to the color. For this element he trusts his sister, Miss Melinda Gossett.

“He lives in a suburb of the town in a house which he owns.  He buys many pearls.  He has bought from pearl hunters already this year $5,000 worth of pearl and states that he will handle four times as much before the year has closed.

“’I will go to New York next fall,’ he says.  ‘I intend to buy a large stock and go with my sister. I am sure that I would find a ready market instead of dealing with the brokers as I do.’

“Gossett has never married and takes no interest in anything but his profession.  He wears a glove on his left hand constantly, as he says that this is his ‘pearl hand,’ meaning that with it he feels pearls when making purchases.”

But the pearl rush couldn’t, and didn’t, last forever.  The Tennessee Valley Authority had plans for the rivers of eastern Tennessee that didn’t bode well for the mussel population.

Current day Clinton resident Eddie Stair remembers the tail end of the pearl industry heyday.  “There was a shell processing tower, now long abandoned, on the Clinchmore Farm where I grew up,” he says. “It stood on the river bank about 200 yards downstream from the Clinton water treatment plant, across from the current Hammer’s Store location.

“The shells salvaged from the pearler’s trade were sent to button manufacturers and they made very beautiful mother-of-pearl buttons for the fashion industry.

“Norris Dam certainly killed off the pearl industry. Then when Melton Hill Dam was completed, the lower river areas went dry as well, as far as river mussels.

“When the river is down low you can still find some live and huge river mussels though. They’re a protected species now.”


sources: ‘The Pearl, its story, its charm and its value,’ by W.R. Cattelle, JB Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1907

The Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review, Chattanooga, TN, Volume 38, 1899

“The Book of Pearls,” by G.F. Kunz & C.H. Stevenson, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York,  1908

“Blind and a Pearl Expert  —  A Sightless Tenneessean Who Hunts for and Deals in Gems,” South Jersey Republican, Hammonton NJ, May 2, 1908


Ohio’s Little Cities of Black Diamonds

Posted by | May 12, 2015

In 1996, on my last visit to San Toy, Ohio, I had to stop and ask directions twice. Driving down a long, unpaved road to the bottom of a deep, wooded valley, I came to a crossroads with a signless post marking the intersection. This was the San Toy of my seeking. My very own Appalachian city of Cibola. I had heard about it since I had starting working in the area, and now I had found it.

Sunday Creek Coal Mine #2 Celebration in San Toy, OH. No date.

Sunday Creek Coal Mine #2 Celebration in San Toy, OH. No date.


“Only a couple of houses down the road were occupied; these, along with a small church that was being refurbished, were the last viable traces of an incorporated community that once was home to hundreds of people. Out in the woods were the foundations of the old company store and a school, along with the brick skeleton of the jail.

“The remains of the old town were now scarcely visible; the new community of sycamores, sumacs, beeches and poison ivy were moving back. I hear it hasn’t changed much.

“San Toy, sometimes spelled Santoy, is only one of the many old mining communities that historian Ivan Tribe of the University of Rio Grande dubbed “The Little Cities of Black Diamonds,” borrowing a term originally coined by a local newspaperman in the 19th century and used to describe the newly prosperous city of Nelsonville.

“The black diamond was of course coal, and coal helped more than 50 such small communities in Athens, Hocking, Perry, Morgan and surrounding counties to found and flourish in the period between the 1860s and the 1920s.

“Some of their names are familiar, such as Murray City, Glouster and Chauncey. Others, such as Hemlock, Congo, Hatfield Town and Orbiston are not as well known. Among them, San Toy is almost completely forgotten. To those who remember, it was a boomtown, albeit a short-lived one. It started out as a traditional (read temporary) mining town and was known as a rough place, complete with wild shoot-outs and moonshining.

“When it was sold from the New England Coal Company to the Sunday Creek Coal Company in 1915, the new owners of the mine and the town vowed to make it a ‘modern mining system and a model community,’ according to the recorded memories of resident W. G. ‘Shorty’ Addington.

Congo miners, no date. Courtesy Corning Alumni History Panels / Corning History Group.

Congo miners, no date. Courtesy Corning Alumni History Panels / Corning History Group.


“The aforementioned buildings were erected, along with a drug store, a hospital and a theater. In 1920 it was said to have 2,500 residents. By the end of the decade, the estimates ranged from 50 to 168. A changing economy, distant corporate decisions, and the consequences of the big strike of 1927 had conspired to erase San Toy from history.

“Joe Fabiny, a local farmer and old-time miner whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know recently, was a young boy in nearby Moxahala when San Toy was still thriving. (Moxahala, or “Moxie” as many locals know it, is one of my favorite regional place names — as it sounds exotic, like something out of the deepest South.)

“Joe is 87. His voice is strong and tempered by years of hard work. His father John was born in Slovakia in 1877 and moved to the United States around the turn of the century. John lived with his family in Moxahala and worked as a miner; in the late 1910s he worked in San Toy.

“Joe remembers how his dad would gather provisions and walk 10 miles to work at the San Toy mines. He carried his lunch and water down into the shafts and was paid for loading coal by the ton. Joe can’t remember how much his dad earned, but he does remember that when he worked the mines at Congo in the 1930s he was paid 68 cents a ton. This usually worked out to about $3 a day, or more when enough cars and ponies were available to keep loading.

“Joe, John and the other San Toy miners most often used carbide lamps, which utilized an archaic system of producing acetylene to fuel a live flame projecting from their helmets. Joe also remembers taking his dad to work at the at the Number 9 mine at Rendville and being surprised to find the area occupied by the Ohio National Guard during a labor dispute.

Map of the Little Cities region in southeast Ohio. Map by Chad Seurkamp /

Map of the Little Cities region in southeast Ohio. Map by Chad Seurkamp /


“He even remembers the hour-long drive down old Rt. 13 in a Model T to Millfield the day after the big mine disaster. It was Nov. 6, 1930 when he and his father came to support the families and friends of miners while the rescue was still on. Eighty-two died, and it was destined to become the worst mine accident in Ohio history.

“The heyday of the old ‘Black Diamond’ communities varied. For some towns, the best days were already over by the 1880s; for others it was much later. By 1930, one of the San Toy mine houses had burned and the few families left in town were given a chance to buy their houses for $50 to $75 apiece. This was the last picture show. For many years, old residents gathered at various places for San Toy reunions, but it appears that these have ended now, too.

“We have a rich cultural and natural history in our area. The glory days of the mining towns were a big part of it. Places like San Toy and good neighbors like Joe Fabiny remain as a testament to the drama and human spirit that preceded us in the southeastern Ohio hill country.

“With the help of concerned individuals and active groups, we can preserve our rich local history. And it is a history worth preserving. The old mining towns are even becoming a tourism draw of sorts, attracting a new breed of “heritage tourist.” These new tourists are starting to take note of the old sites and several related annual festivals, including a “Black Diamond” auction that is emerging as an event of its own.

“We shouldn’t underestimate how interesting our own area is. If you don’t believe it, turn off the History Channel, go out, and talk to one of the many people right next door who have lived history.”


source: Zuefle, Matt; I Reckon…San Toy: Ghost Town or a Black Diamond in the Rough?, Athens News, December 9, 2002


The memory jug

Posted by | May 11, 2015

Here’s a memory jug from the collection of Melver Jackson Hendricks (1867-1933) who served in the North Carolina House of Representatives in the early 1920’s. Memory jugs made from bottles, urns, bowls and other vessels have been found on graves, particularly in the South, and almost always on African American graves. Often they are decorated with trinkets including seashells, glass shards, jewelry, coins, mirrors or other visual reminders of a loved one.

The memory jug shown here is currently in the North Carolina Museum of History. The museum’s information on the provenance of the jug is a bit sketchy. Its creation date is estimated at about 1900, probably because of the gray salt glaze used on it and the specific items attached to it, and the museum assumes it was local to Davie County, where Hendricks lived.

North Carolina memory jugIt’s easy to conclude that memory jugs existed as inexpensive memorials for poor families who couldn’t afford headstones for loved ones. But that explanation too easily overlooks the influence of Africa’s Bakongo culture on slaves brought to America.

The Bakongo culture believed that the spirit world was turned upside down, and that they were connected to it by water. Therefore, they decorated their graves with water bearing items such as shells, pitchers, jugs or vases, which would help the deceased through the watery world to the afterlife. They also adorned graves with items such as crockery, empty bottles, cooking pots and/or personal belongings of the deceased that he/she may need in the afterlife. Items were placed upside-down, which symbolizes the inverted nature of the spirit world.

Items were also broken to release the loved one’s spirit and enable it to make the journey. The fragmented possessions, reconformed in the memory jug, paid homage to and simultaneously appeased the spiritual beings, encouraging them not to interfere with the lives of the living. The container could be placed on a grave or held in the home to contain the unquiet spirit.

A memory jug can be any type of vessel or container that has first been covered with a layer of adhesive, such as putty, cement, or plaster. Then, while the adhesive is still damp, a variety of objects are embedded into the surface, including beads, buttons, coins, glass, hardware, mirrors, pipes, scissors, seashells, tools, toys and watches. The endless variety of adornment causes the surface to take on such importance that the form becomes secondary. Memory jugs are also called forget-me-not jug, memory vessel, mourning jug, spirit jar, ugly jug, whatnot jar, and whimsy jar.

A grass-roots revival of ‘Memory Jug Making’ swept through Appalachia and the African-American south in the 1950’s and 60’s.


Sources: Martin, Frank, Mosaic as Community Culture: The Art of the Memory Vessel, Groutline (Quarterly Newsletter of the Society of American Mosaic Artists), Vol. 1 No. 4, Winter 2000
Botsch, Carol Sears, African-Americans and the Palmetto State, South Carolina State Dept. of Education, Columbia, 1994
South-Price, Tammy S., An Archaeological and Historical Study of the Bradford Cemetery at Paris Landing State Park

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