Category Archives: Uncategorized

When the war ended, all the coal mine whistles blowed

Posted by | July 3, 2017

My father was a coal miner back in the…well, he went into the coal mine when he was 12 years old, and he came out when he was 47. And he worked through the First World War, well he worked, that’s all he ever done, ’till he came to the farm. But he worked through the First World War, but he was down here in the other one.

Everything was rationed back there, just like in the Second World War. You had to take sugar, you had to take cornmeal, and a whole bunch of stuff to get other things, you know. And tea and coffee and all that was rationed. But my dad went in when he was 12 years old. ‘Cause it was a big family of them and he had to work.

Well, bread was ten cents a loaf. And when you could get a dollar—you couldn’t get a dollar hardly ever—but if you got a dollar you could buy something with it. And you can’t now but whenever you made a dollar, and you’d save to get groceries, well, then you could get stuff; but we baked our bread and churned our own butter and had our own eggs and all of that.

We grew gardens and fields, you know, with corn and stuff like that, but I’ve lived with my parents and all my life, and I’ll be 91 in March, and never forget your mother son—that’s right I don’t care—well, your dad too if he’s some people’s man. I feel sorry for the people who do get them and don’t want them and I don’t believe in that.

The teachers were strict when I was in school. If you whispered or turned in your seat a little bit, I don’t know. I can remember once, I whispered, and I remember that teacher ‘till this day. She bent my thumb back like this and whipped me here with a ruler. And you wouldn’t do that now nowadays in school, y’know.

And I was 10 years old when the First World War stopped. And we had to gather, I don’t know what this is ever for, but they had a nail cagier, they used to have nail cagier back then, and we had to save all the nutshells like hickory nuts, walnuts, or anything, but what they ever done with them, I don’t know.

Frontispiece from 'The Story of the Great War,' by Francis Joseph Reynolds et al., 1916.

Frontispiece from ‘The Story of the Great War,’ by Francis Joseph Reynolds et al., 1916.


But when the war ended, all the coal mine whistles blowed, the school bells rung, and the peoples’ wonderin’, well they hadn’t heard yet that the Armistice was signed. They was wonderin’ …and then they all celebrated. But I was ten years old when that ended.

I had an uncle over there in the war. It was rough, they was in those trenches y’know, and things. My mother made taffy and sent it to her brother for Christmas, and he got it, he said and then he sent me a piece to read in church and I knew two verses. “In Flanders field the poppies rose,” and something about crosses rose on rose, but I remember that.

When we was havin’ church I always went to church, and he sent me a doll baby from over there, but he never got back. And I had a cousin over there. They never knew what became of him.

The coal mines had to put out coal and that made the production but my dad was a coal miner and he went from loading coal cut more. And that’s what he did. When he was in the coal mine, mother would put a fire in for the winter so you could have something to bake bread with.

We always had a cow and when my dad was in the coal mines he had ten acres that he would farm. And we always had a cow and chickens and had hogs. That helped with the butchering and things and Mom always kept a garden and we used to churn butter and sell it to people and back then you’d skim the cream off the milk and save it to make butter.

People’d come and buy it for the skimmed milk, you know, and they say it’s better than the stuff you get now. Well there’d be little bits of cream floating in it. Things ain’t like they used to be. Food’s not like it used to be. Sugar, and they got so much dope in the stuff you don’t know what you’re eatin’ and what you are.

Well, my sister was older than me and she was boss, but I didn’t really get in trouble but for Halloween—we’d throw corn and we had a thing with a wooden spool and you’d wrap a string around it and I think you used rosin on it like on violins; and you’d set that on someone’s window and that would make the darndest noise.

And I’ve never trick-or-treated, and you weren’t allowed to be on the streets all hours of the night, and my parents were strict. They knew where their parents were and their parents knew where they were. Wasn’t like some of the families are today.


Emma Barnhill
Guysville, OH
b. 1908
interviewed 1998 by Jesse Brown, Countdown to Millennium Oral History Project, a cooperative effort between Ohio University and Rural Action



I used to flesh them by hand

Posted by | June 30, 2017

“I started working at tanning when I was fifteen years old and I’m 63 now. It’s hot. Like putting your nose right on the grindstone all the time– day in and day out like taxidermy. Deer hides, deer skin products, clothes, bags, coats — we do the whole thing right from the rawhide to the finished garment. Most of it’s deerskin and some cowhide.

Kerth Snyder

Kerth Snyder

We don’t manufacture anything from cowhide. Deer hide. Everybody wants deer hide. It’s softer and has a better feel, but they’re hard contemptible things to tan. The enamel in the grain is so easily damaged it’s hard to tan them and get a glaze on the finished product. Much more so than cow. But there’s no leather that can be made to feel like deerskin. That had that soft suppleness that deerskin has.

“[We sell] locally mostly. To tourists and people who come into the store. Oh, we sell some to other craftsmen. Well, I call them hippie clothes that they make. It varies from year to year, but on an average [we process] about a thousand [hides a year]. Equivalent to a thousand deerskin. We have a fleshing machine and we have power drums. The hides are seldom ever touched by hands. The paddle wheel, all that’s necessary to . . . The broiler, hot water. There’s very little handwork to it. Splitting machines that split them to a uniform thickness after they’re tanned. This day and time, handwork don’t count. In this kind of work. There’s too much to be done.

“We just, I used to flesh them by hand, used to air ‘em by hand. I used to do everything by hand. If I counted my time at normal wages, I’d have to have two or three hundred dollars per hide to come out and make wages. I used to flesh cowhides by hand with a sharp knife about two feet long. Handles on each end. Sharpen it up just sharp as a razor and actually shave that flesh, fat and membrane from the hide . . . hide after hide I shaved that way. Now we can put them through the flesh machine that takes about 30 seconds to clean one up and do a better job than I can do it.

Benton Smith (right) and Morgan McClure (left) finishing off tanned bear hide and beef hides at the Marlinton Tannery in Marlinton, WV, about 25 miles from Kerth Snyder's place. This photo is from 1945, the same time period Snyder was active. Photo courtesy Preserving Pocahontas Pocahontas/ County, WV Historic Preservation Archive, Item #663.

Benton Smith (right) and Morgan McClure (left) finishing off tanned bear hide and beef hides at the Marlinton Tannery in Marlinton, WV, about 25 miles from Kerth Snyder’s place. This photo is from 1945, the same time period Snyder was active. Photo courtesy Preserving Pocahontas Pocahontas/ County, WV Historic Preservation Archive, Item #663.


“The little man hasn’t much chance now. He can’t operate with the big man. No use to try. Getting worse every day. The little man. They’re going to push him out. We bought dyes from DuPont for 35 years. Until two years ago. We called them in Philadelphia and they wouldn’t sell us a thing.”


Kerth Snyder
Greenbank, WV
Snyder operated a deer hide tanning plant on State Route 28 south of Greenbank.

Source: “Timber: the Times and the Life at Cass, WV,” Robert P. Alexander Research Collection, James E. Morrow Library, Marshall University, 1976 interview


Squirrels in swarms eat up all the cornfields

Posted by | June 29, 2017

Settlers moving into Ohio’s Miami Valley and the Virginia Military Tract were generally poorer and unable to buy land directly from the government, but they were able to buy lots and small farms from speculators. These women settlers were forced by economic circumstances to live in lean-tos for a longer time and learned to live off the land rather quickly.

Virginia Military Tract in frontier Ohio

The Virginia Military Tract in frontier Ohio.

One woman reported having slept in the treetops for several nights until a lean-to could be built, and then she had to wait until a clearing could be made in the forest before a one-room log cabin could be built. A log cabin such as hers “had a pitched roof covered with wooden shakes, a door, one or two windows commonly covered with greased parchment, a dirt floor or one covered with logs lengthwise with the smooth side up, a stone hearth and a chimney commonly made of sticks and covered with clay.”

These women had to learn quickly to be self-sufficient. Trading centers were far away, as were neighbors. Money was virtually nonexistent, so women had to be ingenious in acquiring products that they could trade for necessities such as coffee, tea, salt, sugar, and implements. They found themselves making whiskey, trapping game, making potash, and collecting honey and ginseng to barter.

They became very well acquainted with their new environment—it was important to know its benefits as well as its dangers. Settlers were at the mercy of nature, facing unpredictable floods, droughts, high winds, hail, and early frosts. Other environmental hazards and pests, such as squirrels wolves, bears, wildcats, deer, and raccoons, were easier to deal with but no less dangerous to their well-being.

Women learned to use firearms or whatever was handy to scare off dangerous animals. Mrs. Samuel French (nee Amelia Belden) scared off a wolf by brandishing her umbrella.

But for most, the need to become handy with a firearm proved lifesaving.

Women who needed to travel alone had to be able to protect themselves, and those left alone on isolated farms for long periods of time had to use a weapon either for protection or to provide food for their families. The isolation of the frontier and its physical environment caused a myriad of other problems to which women had to respond.

Johanna Maria Heckewelder

Johanna Maria Heckewelder, the first white female child born in what would later become the state of Ohio, was born in Gnaddenhutten in Tuscarawas County in 1781. Her parents were Moravian missionaries sent to Ohio to convert the Delaware Indians to Christianity. Photo circa 1862.

In her recollections, Liwwat Bocke wrote: “Life is a long struggle. We must fell the trees, but also cope with droughts, deep snow, sudden flooding, cloudbursts, forest fire, swarms of deerflies and mosquitoes and midges, snakes, wolves, and twice the wolves were mad. . . . There are many wild hens. Pigeons sometimes filt [sic] the woods here like clouds so that the sun is hidden! And they break the branches down. Squirrels in swarms eat up all the cornfields. In time some people here go completely mad, change, commit suicide. Countless people do not talk with their spouses; many women have miscarriages, then pregnancy lost.”

Children and adults were constantly becoming lost in the forest. “In the spring the children play in the warm forest, scurrying around and looking about, and carelessly they get turned around, don’t recognize the surroundings, are lost! . . . After them the parents, unthinking and so badly upset, also become lost in their urgent haste.”

Accounts of frontier life reported that depression was a common occurrence in response to this isolation and constant work and fatigue. As one woman reported, “The women are not often praised, so they feel themselves abandoned in the world, facing their inner troubles. Also, the loneliness brings on drinking and suicide here.”

Domestic abuse was an all too common occurrence, and murder of a spouse was not unknown. Thomas Fishburn of Easton murdered his wife, Florence, and then cut his own throat.

As more people moved into Ohio and technology developed, the settlers would indeed conquer their environment. But for the initial female settlers, the environment they encountered proved a life-changing experience—one that constantly provided them with new challenges.

With these new challenges came new expectations based on necessity, and the roles of women changed somewhat to fulfill the needs of the new society. But as this frontier society moved away from survival mode, the previous expectations returned to limit the role of women. The frontier experiences, however, laid the foundation for some women to continue to fight the societal expectations imposed on them.

excerpt from Buckeye Women, The History of Ohio’s Daughters, by Stephane Elise Booth, Swallow Press/Ohio University, 2001

Map from “Ohio lands and their subdivision,” p. 107, by William Edwards Peters, Messenger Printery Co., Athens OH, 1918


This was crazier than he could take sober

Posted by | June 28, 2017

The Chicken Thumb
A far fetched folktale from NC

Well folks, sit right back and let me tell you a little tale about how Hoopie the farmer and the Rooster named Red went at it one day.

Before I start, it is necessary for me to tell you a little something about Red. Red is one of them Barred Rock roosters. That’s the kind they take to them events called Cock Fights. Now Red was always doing things around the farm that were of questionable nature. To make a long story bearable, he did his job quite well: fertilizing that is. He done it so well that chickens no longer satisfied his insatiable appetite for fertilizing. That’s when the trouble begin.

At first it was Guinea hens that were the object of his desire. That was okay. Then next it was the ducks. That was a little odd but still bearable. It was when he moved up to geese that we began to take notice.

The day Hoopie woke up to Daisy, the milk cow, half mooing half screaming was the day that began as the end, or so we thought.

What happened next is about the craziest thing you ever did see.

Hoopie went running up to the barn to find Red eyeing Daisy in a way that makes your skin crawl, much like when you see a snake crawl up your pant leg. Hoopie commenced to chasing Red. Well Red ran and ran and ran. Hoopie chased that darn rooster for two days. Meanwhile, the weeds were growing up in the fields and the cow was about to burst from lack of milking. Hoopie stopped to milk and weed, then the chase started for another two days.

Something had to give.

The Chicken Thumb folktaleThinking ahead, Hoopie come up with a trap for that darn rooster. He went into his wife Maybelle’s closet and picked out a right purty dress that he figured ole Red might find attractive. One thing led to another (you need to use your imagination here) and as Red tried to jump Hoopie, who now was the object of Red’s desire, Hoopie swung around and grabbed that dab burn ole rooster around the gizzard.

There was feathers flying, necklaces flying, sqwaking and cursing. When the dust settled, Hoopie was sittin straggle legged on the ground with his wife’s wig in one hand and Red in the other.

Hoopie gathered himself and immediately took action. He carried ole Red over to the wood pile where fate awaited.

Now Hoop had a few swigs out of the shine jug before he was able to get into Maybelle’s dress and attire. Afterall, this was crazier than he could take sober. So, when the axe swung downward, aim being on the left rooster head instead of the right head, the axe blade cut clean through the fat thumb of Hoopie’s left hand.

The Chicken Thumb folktaleRed jumped up with just a knick and began crowing his success. Hoopie jumped up with a bloody stub for a thumb screaming for help. The rest of the thumb just laid there on the chopping block and stared blankly at the scene slightly removed from reality.

Hoopie scooped up the rest of his thumb and yelled for Maybelle. Off they went to the hospital with the thumb in a bucket of ice.

When Hoopie returned home from the hospital he was quite a sight. There he was with the thumb all bandaged up and Maybelle’s dress and necklace for clothes with boots not to match. He was beyond mad at this point. All he could see were the looks of the people in the emergency room when he and Maybelle came running in with matching dresses and an apparent bucket of ice.

Well now, what happened next is only as predictable as the sun rising in the morning. Hoopie marched up to the barn and cornered Red in the hay loft. Red more or less knew that what was about to occur was destiny. So, Red went the way of all chickens that meet up with the losing end of a twelve gauge shotgun.

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Some cows never learn

Posted by | June 27, 2017

“That night, as Mutt and I lay on the featherbed that Grandma had made, we talked by the light of the coal oil lamp. We were working on a plan on how to get rid of Old Betsy. That cow just had to go, we reasoned, and soon. Our first plan was to throw rocks at her all the way to the barn, hoping she would fall and break a leg and become a part of dinner. Well, we rocked her to the barn every day for about a week, and not once did she fall. So it was time to work on Plan Two. Betsy was smart, be we were smarter than any old cow.

“Here was our plan: There was this small path that ran alongside this small cliff. Mutt would do about anything I ever told him to do, me being his bigger brother and all, so we came up with this great plan. How could it fail? We asked ourselves.

“I said, ‘Mutt, you rock Old Betsy down the hill like you always do and I will stand in the path and wave my arms and cry ‘Shoo, Betsy, shoo!’ and she will run over the cliff and kill herself.’ The next day, we figured, would be Betsy’s last day on this earth. After all, how could a great plan like that fail?

“So, that next afternoon, old Mutt ran Betsy down the hill, throwing rocks at her and cussing all the way. I was ready. Standing in the path, I hollered, ‘Shoo, Betsy, shoo!’ I saw Betsy coming down that narrow path—800 pounds of speeding dynamite looking me straight in the eye. I was doing everything that I was supposed to do, waving my arms and crying ‘Shoo, Betsy, shoo!’

“But that stupid old cow didn’t understand one word I was saying. She hit me like a speeding locomotive and I went sailing over the small cliff intended for Betsy. When I landed, I hit hard. And boy, did I ever hurt. Nothing was broken but I sure was in a lot of pain for the next few days.

“On Saturday afternoons, Mutt and I always went to the movies. Most of the shows were cowboy movies, and Mutt and I just loved cowboys. Sometimes, the cowboys would ride bulls in the movies. That gave me yet another plan. Betsy hadn’t won yet. No one could ever get me to say ‘uncle,’ and no cow was going to beat me.

“So I told Mutt, ‘Here’s what we will do.’ I planned it all. I told Mutt that I would get on top of the barn and that he should run Old Betsy out through the barn door. ‘As she comes out the door,’ I said, ‘I will jump on her back and ride her into the ground.’

Mutt said, “Ralph, do you think you can do that?”

I said, “Sure I can.”

Well, I climbed up onto the barn roof and readied myself. Then I called out, “Okay, Mutt, let her rip!”

“Out the door came Old Betsy, sailing straight away. I leaped off the roof and landed right in the middle of her back! Away we went–down through the barnyard, out through the gate and into the backyard of our house. Betsy and I were headed straight for my mother’s clothesline. Betsy decided to take me right into it. I caught the line full in the middle of my neck — the darn thing almost took my head off! As I fell, Betsy went one way and I went the other, landing on the ground, square on my butt. Yep, some cows just never learn.”

Excerpt from Why Daddy Sold Old Betsy, by Ralph Hall, Ithaca Press, 2009

Ralph Hall, born 1936, was raised in Melvin, KY.

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