Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Grand Canyon of the South

Posted by | August 4, 2017

Breaks Interstate Park, located astride the SW Virginia/eastern Kentucky border along the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River, is one of only two interstate parks in the nation. Perhaps the scale of the 5-mile-long, .25-mile-deep gorge that forms the park’s centerpiece cannot rival that of the Grand Canyon, but the 250 million year old “Grand Canyon of the South” IS the largest gorge east of the Mississippi.

Breaks Interstate ParkThe park takes its name from this gorge, which forms a “break” in Pine Mountain. Passes through these rugged mountains were called breaks by early settlers. Where the raging waters have carved the solid sandstone to break through Pine Mountain, nature has dressed the canyon walls in some of the region’s most spectacular scenery.

Daniel Boone is credited with discovering The Breaks in 1767 as he attempted to find ever-improved trails into Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley beyond. Both he and Simon Kenton explored here in the last quarter of the 18th century.

Because of elevation and moisture differences, the park contains various biospheres, ranging from oak/hickory climax forests on the drier ridge tops to a laurel/hemlock environment in the bottoms and along the creeks. This biodiversity results in an amazing display of spring wildflowers, including rare plants like yellow lady’s slipper and Catawba rhododendron.

The region was a hunting ground for Cherokee and Shawnee Indians. It is the home of Pow Wow Cave, used by the Shawnees.

The crown jewel of the park is the Towers, an imposing pyramid of rocks more than half a mile long and a third of a mile wide. The area around the Towers is said to contain the lost silver mine of Englishman John Swift. In the late 1700s Swift supposedly had one or more silver mines that were subsequently lost. He spent the last part of his life trying to relocate them. The lost mines are one of the great –and recurring- legends of southeastern Kentucky.

Public Law 275 created the park on August 14, 1953, and today, the 4,600-acre Breaks accommodates more than a third of a million visitors annually.

Sources: “Hiking Kentucky” by Brook Elliott (1998, Human Kinetics)


The full force of an ardent Southern temperament

Posted by | August 3, 2017

“I don’t know anything else. You see, I was born in North Georgia, in Dalton, the town that has figured in my books as ‘Darley,’” explained novelist Will N. Harben to a reporter in a 1905 interview.

novelist Will N. Harden

“So that while I am not one of the people about whom I write—for there is the sharpest line drawn there between the townspeople and the true countrymen still, my childhood and most of my life was spent amid such scenes as I have attempted to portray. Those people and the customs and conditions of their lives are as real to me as your own family life is to you. I cannot help writing about them, because I am thinking of them all the time.

“I get more and more out of it the further I go. And the deeper I go into the lives of these simple people the more I find to wonder at and admire and the deeper I want to go. It is an absorbing study, and my thoughts are so much bound up in it that my life is passed not so much in New York as in North Georgia. You have no idea of the depth of emotion of which these people are capable. You might know them a long time and never guess at the passion slumbering deep down in their souls until some chance occasion revealed to you the storm of feeling that had been sleeping concealed from all the world.

“They are a taciturn people, little given to demonstration, making light alike of their sufferings and their pleasures, but feeling with the full force of an ardent Southern temperament all the time. And their pride, especially their family pride – it is astounding. They are a clannish people, and you would be amazed to find the social distinctions which they observe among themselves. In their way these distinctions are far more fixed and more potent than those of the outside world. They have much ambition, but it is often asleep—lulled into content by the easy life that has been followed by generation after generation. Of course, in the towns this is not so true, and once the ambition of one of these North Georgians is aroused it is a mighty force.

“Yes, we have plenty of moonshiners, and among them are some of the best people there. But you cannot convince those people that they are doing any wrong. They really believe they have a perfect right to make whisky if they wish to, not only a moral right, but a legal right. You see, their sense of justice is absolute, and they believe they are fully within their rights as citizens. They are good people, too; kind, hospitable, and generous. I know them, because I have dealt with them.

William Nathaniel Harben, Dalton, GA, ca. 1903. Photo Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Division of Archives and History

William Nathaniel Harben, Dalton, GA, ca. 1903. Photo Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Division of Archives and History

“A keen sense of humor is one of their chief characteristics. It is the shrewd humor in these characters that make them so lovable. A group of North Georgians never comes together without this trait becoming apparent. Their conversations overflow with a canny mirth that is irresistible.

“[Abner Daniel] is a type only, a very common type in North Georgia. You can meet possible Abner Daniels sitting around on benches and cracker boxes all through this region. I have listened to the conversation of such men by the hour.”

Will Harben (1858-1919) was one of the most popular novelists in America during the first two decades of the twentieth century. In his thirty books and numerous short stories Harben portrays the mountaineers of his native North Georgia with authenticity and color, though his reputation today suffers from his use of a sentimental romanticism demanded by readers of his day.

Abner Daniel (1902) made a wide appeal, North as well as South, and really laid the foundation stone of Mr. Harben’s reputation as a delineator of character,” commented critic Annie Booth McKinney in the Library of Southern Literature. “Crude, whimsical, sarcastic, yet good-natured, droll, witty, human, Abner Daniel stands quite apart, and it unlikely that his creator will ever surpass this creation. No one can read carefully any of his stories and fail to be impressed by their underlying sincerity, or fail to rejoice in the crisp humor that seems to be as much a part of old Abner and Pole Baker as the blue is of the sky.”


Sources: North Georgia’s Quaint Folk as a Novelist’s Type, Vivian M Moses, NY Times, August 13, 1905, [query_nytimes_com]

Library of Southern Literature By Edwin Anderson Alderman, Joel Chandler Harris, Charles William Kent, 1909, the Martin & Hoyt Company


If you would quit telling yarns for three months

Posted by | August 2, 2017

The August morning was overcast and a drizzly rain was falling. The few men around the courthouse door drew underneath the porch. The group was made up of three or four townspeople and a half dozen male teachers. The acquaintance existing among the latter was limited, or else they did not feel in a chatty mood. At all events they stood idly by, holding their hands in their pockets. One of them was glancing over the legal notices posted on either side of the entrance. Now and then a later arrival would pass over the diagonal path, generally exchanging salutations with members of the group.

On the stone facing of the porch stood Dr. Pellam, his hands in his pockets and a broad smile resting on his features. A short, stout man was approaching him.

“Hello, Doc,” he exclaimed. “I see that Irish grin on your face. How are you, anyway?”

“Fine as silk, Tolby.”

“The same crackerjack?”

“The same one. And have you come over from Terra Alta to look for trouble?”

“Trouble? How can a man get into trouble in this dry old town?”

“Just cut loose and try ‘er on. We’ll lay you out every whipstitch. The lockup is on this street and we keep it ready for such heathen as you.”

“How big some people can talk,” replied Tolby. “What in the mischief would you fellows do if it wasn’t for court and one or two other affairs that come around about once every fly time? We let you have the institute this year just to keep you from getting totally discouraged. You have the dullest old shell of a town one can find in a month’s drive. You can’t even hear a railroad whistle except when the wind is favoring. Where would you come out at, if we fellows from the other side of the river didn’t come over here and trim you up once in a while?”

“Now you remember our bargain,” said the doctor, “I was to shave off my mustache if you would quit telling yarns for three months.”

“Have to tell yarns over here to keep from feeling dead.”

“Pshaw, you can’t see straight. No stale, musty, second-hand jokes from you Terra Alta fellows. Suppose I would live in that one-horse town of yours, all chugged in among the hills? Just to see a few plow joggers jolt in over your bumpy roads and have to windlass themselves up to get from one street into the next? And when you see half a dozen old broken-down wagons blocking your street, you say business is lively. Why, the snowdrifts lay on your hills over there till the middle of June.

“Well, the rain’s let up.”

—excerpt from WINNING OR LOSING? A Story of the West Virginia Hills, by Oren F. Morton, Sincell Printing Company, Oakland, MD, 1901

text at


The chain that holds back a mountain

Posted by | August 1, 2017

Visitors love Chained Rock at Pine Mountain, Kentucky’s first state park, established in 1924. But why is there a chain around it?

Some children of Pineville, goes the story, were having troubles sleeping at night because they were afraid that the large rocks that loomed over Pineville on Pine Mountain would break free, come tumbling down the mountain, and smash into Pineville.

Well, the parents of these children invented the story that the rocks were chained to the mountain so the children wouldn’t worry and would go to sleep. Before long the story of the chained rock spread to neighboring communities, and people started showing up in town inquiring about the whereabouts of the chained rock.

In 1933 50 local citizens, plus members of the CCC, the Kiwanians, and the Boy Scouts, assembled the “Chained Rock Club” with the express purpose of turning folklore into a reality, a publicity stunt they hoped would generate added tourist revenue for the park and town.

chained rock, pine mountain kyOn June 24, the club obtained an obsolete steam shovel from a Virginia quarry. The machine’s chain weighed 2,500-3,000 lbs. It had to be cut in half before a four-mule team could pull each portion up the mountain in two trips.

When the mules gave out, the Chained Rock Club’s 50 members carried the chains the rest of the way. Atop the mountain, the crew welded the chain back together, and stretched it 101 feet across the abyss. It is anchored at each end with steel pegs 1-1/2 x 24 inches, sunk into holes star drilled by hand.

The publicity stunt was a smashing success; over 6,000 daily newspapers reported the accomplishment of the “Chained Rock Club.”

Today the visitor driving through Pineville who looks up at the big rock, 200 feet long and 75 feet wide, can see the chain which “protects the city.” A hiking trail within Pine Mountain State Resort Park leads to Chain Rock, which affords a magnificent view of Pineville and the surrounding area.



B’ar in the Syrup Bar’l

Posted by | July 31, 2017

Back in the days when this was new ground you had to cotch a b’ar ef you wanted to keep warm.

Yessuh, my pappy knew this country when she was somep’n. He come over the mountains from South Ca’liny with his pappy, my gran’pappy, and gran’maw, when he was jus’ a boy. When they decided to ‘light here a spell, this wasn’t overrun with folks like now when you can’t go two whoops and a holler without runnin’ into a cabin.

Man in a wagon pulled by oxen in Fort Payne, AL, circa 1880-1889.

Man in a wagon pulled by oxen in Fort Payne, AL, circa 1880-1889.

Back in them days it was a good ten-mile to the nearest folks, lessen you count Injuns, which pappy said nobody did back then, ‘cept when they got to drinkin’.

Pappy says times like that was when dead Injuns was surely the only good Injuns. But gran’pappy didn’t wait for ‘em to git good. He used to take gran’maw and pappy and the other kids down to a cave a short piece from here and hide out till them Injuns sobered up. Other times, pappy says they didn’t have to trouble with the Injuns. They didn’t get no help from ‘em neither, and that was a time when gran’pappy sure needed help.

He brang a load of truck in the kivvered wagon they rode from South Ca’liny here and he had young steers on the front end fitten to work when piled high with a plow, and hoes and axes and such like tools, along with cotton and corn and wheat seed. What little room was left, pappy said they shoved in some household things, but not much. Pappy said he was real sorry that they hadn’t put in more kivvers until the time come when they cotched the b’ar.

Leastways they didn’t have no trouble finding logs to build ‘em a cabin. Pappy says the trees was so thick you had to squeeze between ‘em, and they just took their pick of big fine logs to cut and peel and notch to build the cabin. Whilst it was building they slept in the kivvered wagon and tried to get the Injuns to help out. A few friendly ones would work now and then, but they warn’t worth a lick, pappy says. He claims he and gran’pappy did most of the the building and scratching up a little patch of dirt to get some seeds in.

Grinding cane and making syrup in DeKalb County, circa 1880-1889.

Grinding cane and making syrup in DeKalb County, circa 1880-1889.

They come along here in the Winter time and pappy says the frosties in them days was like a light snow it lay so thick on the trees and rocks. Took two or three hours atter good sunup to melt it off, so he says you just naturally humped yourself a-working to keep from freezing to death. They got a good patch cleared up by the time frost broke and got in planting of all them seeds they brang and some millet seed the Injuns give ‘em.

They made fine crops and things rocked along thataway for two year and pappy says they fin’lly got along to building another room to the cabin. About that time some neighbors moved in, not more’n five mile away, and he says gran’pappy was afeared for a while things would get crowded. But they help the neighbors r’ar ‘em up a cabin and got to visiting around frequent, much as oncet a month or so.

The second Summer gran’pappy laid out to make him some sorghum cane and got in a right good crop. That there sorghum just about saved ‘em from freezing to death pappy say, ‘cause even with some blankets gran’pappy had traded offen the Injuns and gran’mammy biled in lye for going on a week, it was pretty cold that second winter.

We knowed there was b’ars up in the hills. They come down in the corn, but gran’pappy didn’t mess around with ‘em none. He was right handy with his rifle but he didn’t put faith in it against b’ars. Anyhow, this Summer he really turns out some fine sorghum cane and when the steers git through grinding he had a sight of syrup.

Pappy says the kids had all the long sweetening they could hold and gran’mammy filled up all the big gourds, what she had done scraped and washed during the Summer, to lay by a store for the winter. Even then there was plenty left over, so gran’pappy traded off with the Injuns for a keg that they’d had whiskey in on one of their big drunks. Gran’mammy talked with him a long time about the evils of drink and putting sweetening innocent chillun would eat into a barrel where rum had been, but gran’pappy convinced her that sorghum was strong enough to lick any rum. So they filled up the bar’l and set it out in the store shed where they was hams and bacon and the chickens roosted when it was cold.

One night atter ‘simmon time and when the wild turkeys was a calling down in the holler, they all come wide awake, pappy says, with the biggest racket out in the store shed anybody ever heard.

Gran’mammy yelled ‘Injuns!’ and started packing up to get down to the cave, but gran’pappy said ‘Twarn’t Injuns ‘cause nobody yelled. So he gits his rifle, pappy gits the axe and afterwards, ‘cause they didn’t notice then, they found out gran’mammy come traipsing atter ‘em with her sedge broom. She made that broom herself, too; cut a straight hickory sapling, scythed her down some ripe sedge and tied it on with cotton thread she spun herself.

Anyways the three of ‘em git on out to the store shed where the chickens is a squawking and there’s a beating and a thumping and a sorta groaning going somep’n awful. The door burst open and out come a big black thing with somep’n on its head. Gran’pappy fired and missed.

’Hit’s a b’ar,’ he yelled, and pappy says he went in a-swinging with his axe.

‘Don’t you tech that b’ar,’ gran’mammy yelled at him. ‘We needs that hide.’ With that she just naturally laid into that b’ar with her broom, pappy hopping round trying to git in a lick with his axe without cutting the hide, and gran’pappy hopping fust on one foot and then t’other, to keep his toes from freezing in the deep frost, while he tried to load his gun.

What with gran’mammy a whooping him with that broom, pappy a-yelling and gran’pappy cussing a streak every time he hopped, that b’ar was just plumb skeered to death, I reckon. Anyhow, pappy says he r’ared up on his hind legs and started slapping at that bar’l trying to git it offen his head. By and by he slaps feeble-like and in about three-four minutes he just rolled over on his side, dead. That long sweetening had just choked him to death.

By the time gran’mammy got through scraping and curing his hide they sure slept warm that winter, and all his sinews made good strings for fixing up the plow drags for the steers next Summer, so gran’pappy was able to git in a fine crop. So did the neighbors, and there was cornshucking frolics all that Fall. Everybody went in together and after the corn was shucked, there was eating as was eating!”

Written by Margaret Fowler in 1937 for WPA Alabama Writers’ Project, “Folklore of DeKalb County”

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