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Overmountain Men Re-enactors bring King’s Mountain to life

Posted by | October 7, 2016

“The Battle of King’s Mountain (October 7, 1780) was an American victory over a loyalist detachment in South Carolina during the British campaign in the South,” begins the Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on the topic.

“To stem the British advance into North Carolina, a force of about 2,000 colonial frontiersmen had been gathered from neighbouring states to replace the Continental forces that had been lost in South Carolina at the battles of Charleston (May 1780) and Camden (August 1780). The frontiersmen felt particularly bitter against the 1,100 soldiers, under Major Patrick Ferguson, who were mostly New Yorkers and South Carolinians loyal to the British.”

Quite a clinical, and decidedly different, take on the battle than that of Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote in The Winning of the West, “This brilliant victory marked the turning point of the American Revolution.”

And that dichotomy among historians is exactly the issue that spurs on the Overmountain Victory Trail Association re-enactor group. “Our desire is to keep the story alive on what these men and women did back in 1780,” says current OVTA president Alan Bowen. “The story was lost—or was being lost; schools don’t teach it.”

Adds re-enactor Tom Holmes: “The Revolutionary War was won in the South. By some estimates more people died in SC than all the other colonies combined. Most of that is just left out of the history books. But it’s a remarkable story.”

Many thanks to Appalachian History contributor and OVTA re-enactor David Biddix for providing the video interviews; more can be found at Longleaf Media’s YouTube channel.


My chemists and I deeply regret the fatal results

Posted by | October 6, 2016

Sulfa drugs held out the promise of being the wonder drugs of the 1930s: they cured bacterial infections such as pneumonia, blood poisoning, and meningitis. And so their use spread rapidly. Output of sulfa drugs in the United States in 1937—the first year of real commercial production—totaled about 350,000 pounds; by 1940, it had more than doubled. By 1942, it topped an estimated 10 million pounds.

Photograph of Elixir Sulfanilamide bottles ca. 1937-38Sulfanilamide, one of the first of the sulfa drugs, had been used safely for some time in tablet and powder form, but it was hard to swallow as a tablet and not especially palatable as an injection either. Children tended to balk at both.

In 1937, S. E. Massengill Co., a small drug formulator in Bristol, TN, sought to meet the demand for a drinkable liquid preparation. Harold Cole Watkins, Massengill’s chief chemist, experimented and found that sulfanilamide would dissolve in diethylene glycol. The company control lab tested the mixture for flavor, appearance, and fragrance and found it satisfactory.

The concoction was called Elixir Sulfanilamide despite the lack of ethanol, an ingredient that was required for a preparation to receive the elixir designation. Immediately, the company compounded a quantity of the elixir and sent shipments–633 of them–all over the country. The presence of diethylene glycol was not divulged on the bottle labels. Furthermore, Massengill made no tests on its elixir before shipping from its plant in September.

One of the major points of delivery of the drug was Tulsa, OK. By early October, James Stephenson, the president of the Tulsa County Medical Society, had been notified that six local patients had unexpectedly died from renal failure after ingesting Elixir Sulfanilamide. In an October 11 telegraph to the American Medical Association, Dr. Stephenson requested the composition of the elixir. The AMA responded that they were unaware of any product from the Massengill Company and had never approved a liquid sulfanilamide preparation.

The AMA telegraphed Dr. Samual Evans Massengill, the firm’s owner, requesting the composition of the elixir. Massengill released this proprietary information but urged that it be kept strictly confidential. He hypothesized that the deaths may have been caused by mixing the elixir with other drugs. Massengill and Watkins reluctantly admitted, however, that toxicity tests had not been done. To show confidence in his product, Watkins self-administered small amounts of diethylene glycol and elixir. No adverse effects were noted.

But the AMA laboratory had meantime isolated diethylene glycol as the toxic ingredient and immediately issued a warning, through newspapers and radio, that Elixir Sulfanilamide was toxic and deadly.

S. E. Massengill Co. Courtesy Library of King College, Bristol, TN.

S. E. Massengill Co. Courtesy Library of King College, Bristol, TN.


Walter Campbell, the chief of the Food & Drug Administration, assigned almost all of the bureau’s 239 inspectors and chemists to the case, sending field agents immediately to the Massengill’s headquarters in Bristol and to branch offices in Kansas City, New York, and San Francisco. They found that the firm had already learned of the poisonous effects of the liquid sulfanilamide and had sent telegrams to more than 1,000 salesmen, druggists, and doctors.

However, the telegrams merely requested the return of the product and failed to indicate the urgency of the situation or say that the drug was lethal. At FDA’s insistence, the firm sent out a second wave of messages, worded more strongly: “Imperative you take up immediately all elixir sulfanilamide dispensed. Product may be dangerous to life. Return all stocks, our expense.”

Dr. Massengill said: “My chemists and I deeply regret the fatal results, but there was no error in the manufacture of the product. We have been supplying a legitimate professional demand and not once could have foreseen the unlooked-for results. I do not feel that there was any responsibility on our part.” The firm’s chemist apparently did not share this feeling; Harold Watkins committed suicide after learning of the effects of his latest concoction.

Through the dogged persistence of federal, state, and local health agencies and the effects of the AMA and the news media, most of the elixir was recovered. Of 240 gallons manufactured and distributed, 234 gallons and 1 pint were retrieved; the remainder was consumed and caused the deaths of more than 100 victims nationwide.

Under the U.S. food and drug law then in place, the government seized Massengill’s deadly mixture only because it was misbranded; “elixir” implied that the solvent in the bottle was ethyl alcohol. Drug dispensers were required by law to label their products accurately but not to test them for safety. The company was fined $16,800 for its false label.

The lethal mixture, however, did encourage enactment of a much-strengthened food and drug law that was then pending in Congress. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938, which overhauled the law of 1906, stipulated that manufacturers must test any new drug for safety and report the results to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some predicted that the new act would stifle research, but FDA historian Wallace Janssen says the reverse has been true: the research required by the law has stimulated medical progress.

Strauss’s federal drug laws and examination review, by Steven Strauss, CRC Press, 2000



Home Sweet Home. For 9,000 years.

Posted by | October 5, 2016

Alabama has 3,400 documented caves. The most famous of these is Russell Cave (now a national monument), the oldest rock shelter used regularly for a home in the eastern United States. Named for Thomas Russell, a veteran of the American Revolution who once owned the land above it, this limestone cave is located south of the Alabama-Tennessee border along the southern end of the Cumberland Plateau in northeastern Alabama. Russell Cave is about 210 ft (64 m) long, 107 ft (33 m) wide, and 26 ft (8 m) high.

Russell Cave, ALThe cave was inhabited during all Prehistoric time periods: Paleo, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian. The artifacts found in this karst indicate intermittent human habitation for almost 9,000 years.

‘Karst’ describes a landscape that is principally formed by dissolving bedrock and is characterized by caves, sinkholes, springs, and underground streams. Karst is a hollow terrain much like a piece of Swiss cheese coated with a thin layer of soil. These interconnected cavities can range in size from tiny cracks to stadium sized rooms. Geologists consider Alabama’s northeast corner a significant ‘karst’ region.

Since the first excavation by the Tennessee Archeological Society in 1953, archeologists have thought that the cave was used in winter by people who in warmer months moved to villages along the Tennessee River. The cave mouth faces east, away from the cold north wind but letting in the morning sun. It would have been cool in the summer. Cool waters from the cave spring meeting with the warmer outside air often cause a fog to hover over the front of the cave. The archeological evidence indicates that in the years before European contact in the 16th century, the cave was used primarily as a hunting camp.

Most groups inhabiting the cave would probably have numbered no more than 15 to 30–their size limited by the need for mobility and by how many people the land could sustain. They were likely extended families or several related families. Certainly some groups would have used the cave year after year, but varying styles of spear and arrow points tell us that it was inhabited by different bands. Nine burials have been found in the cave, ranging from an infant to a 40-50-year-old woman.

From the remains it appears that these people were short and muscular. In appearance they probably resembled the peoples Europeans first encountered in the 16th century.

The Cherokee Indians occupied this part of the Tennessee Valley. They, and the European settlers who followed them, made little use of the cave. The few objects they did leave were found very close to the surface.

Russell Cave National Monument constitutes only part of the cavern that was discovered in 1953. The national monument was established in 1961 on 310 acres of land donated to the people of America by the National Geographic Society.


related post: “I heard rumors of the blind fish”

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They like to starved th’ pore folks plumb to death

Posted by | October 4, 2016

We were told that her stepson was about twenty-two years old and had worked in the mill for “quite a spell,” ever since Mr. Price had lost his job as night watchman at the mill, and had since then been in such poor health that he had been unable to take another. “Mr. Price’s son” or “the boy” was the only way Miss Lucy ever referred to him, but we gathered that his comfort and well-being were items which claimed much of her time and sincere attention. “Mr. Price and me are plenty thankful th’ boy is here, for if it warn’t that he had work in the mill we couldn’t live here no more, since Mr. Price he had to quit.”

The Converse Mill in Converse, SC, ca. 1930. Located about 2 miles from Clifton Mill Village, it gives an idea of what the area’s textile mills at the time of this oral history looked like. Courtesy Herald-Journal Willis Collection, Spartanburg County Public Libraries.

The Converse Mill in Converse, SC, ca. 1930. Located about 2 miles from Clifton Mill Village, it gives an idea of what the area’s textile mills at the time of this oral history looked like. Courtesy Herald-Journal Willis Collection, Spartanburg County Public Libraries.


Lucy always referred to her husband as “Mister” as though she was in his employ. And it seemed to us after meeting Mr. Price, that he also clung to the idea that his wife was either a liability or an asset, according to her ability to insure his personal comfort. However, having personal knowledge of Miss Lucy’s culinary ability, especially as regards her preparation of rice, chicken dressing, and hot rolls, we are fully convinced that she was lined up as being among the assets.

“Miss Lucy, how have you all been getting along?” we asked.

“Mr. Price, well now, he ain’t been enjoyin’ good health a’tall, you know. He has them spells, you know, an’ he can’t do much, only jest set and smoke. He ain’t really been able to do nothin’ much since he broke his glasses. Hit took me and the boy a right smart spell to save up ‘nough money to get him another pair of specs between us, an’ while he wus waitin’ seems like as if’n he got so much in th’ habit of jest settin’, he ain’t never been able to get out of it.”

We remarked that she was a mighty good wife to work to help buy her husband’s new glasses, to which she replied, “Well, I tries to be, an’ I thinks I is. I don’t ‘spect there’s many as good as me. I done bought and paid fur ev’vy bit o’ coal we’ll likely be a’needin’ this winter too. All with my wages from that there boardin’ house in town. An’ other things too. Why I even bought a new axe, the ole un bein’ that nicked and dull ’twas a heap o’ trouble to split kindlin.”

As Mr. Price was not in sight anywhere, we inquired as to his whereabouts. News of the numerous and varied illnesses of that gentleman had reached our ears at the boarding house in town, and we did not think he would venture far with “cardiac asthma”, “rheumatiz”, “pore eyesight”, and “spells with his heart.”

“He’s done gone to the store over yonder,” replied Lucy, “he’s so hoarse with a cold he can’t hardly talk, but he’s gone over thar to set a spell.”

“Miss Lucy, I suppose he has gone over there to talk politics around the stove. What does he think of things in the country now anyway?”

“Why, now, he don’t worry none much about hit fur’s I know. We gits this here house pretty reasonable, and ‘fore Mr. Price quit work we got along all right, an’ then the boy he started work, an’ we still gits along all right. We ain’t never been on no relief an’ if’n I had to, I reckon as how I could always git me a job cookin’ agin. No. I can’t read none, but when I hears talk about the hard times some people is havin’ I reckon we’s mighty lucky. We allus has plenty to eat an’ hits wholesome.”

Clifton Mill as it appears today. Photo Jason Powell/Flickr.

Clifton Mill as it appears today. Photo Jason Powell/Flickr.


She was apparently absorbed in thought for the moment, something unusual, so we kept our peace. “Er else,” she added, “we’se reasonable. We don’t have no ottermobile ner no radio ner no other sech fineness, but what we got is our’n, an’ we lives comfortable. We can’t expect much mor’n that with jest one workin’ but mebbe next spring I kin cook out some more an’ git enough fur a radio. Hit would be real company if’n I could l’arn to work it. I gits real lonesome settin’ here sometimes makin’ Mr. Price er the boy some shirts er underwear; er darnin'; ‘specially when they ain’t nobody here but me. You know, cookin’ is my long suit but I kin sew as well. Folks ain’t got no bizness talkin’ po’mouth an’ then buyin’ all these store-boughten clothes, when some un in theys family kin sew, an’ ain’t got no bizness much else to ‘tend to.

“I could tell you some tales ’bout money th’owed ‘way right here on this hill by folks that is on relief. But I reckon after all hit’s all right. Th’ money’s got to be spent some way so’s pore folks kin git holt o’ some.”

She paused in her conversation long enough to drop several lumps of coal into the stove, then resumed: “Pears like it goes to most of ‘ems head, though. Now up in Jackson County, in North Ca’lina, where I wus bawn an’ raised, we wuz all agin th’ Democrats, though I didn’t do no votin’, ner no other women folks neither. That wus a man’s job, fur hit wus mostly liquor drinkin’ an’ fightin’. But seems like th’ Republicans let us folks down; least I hears so. An’ Mr. Price and his son says so. ‘Cordin’ to them, th’ hardest times ever had wus when they sold out to th’ rich folks and like to starved th’ pore folks plumb to death. I didn’t know nothin’ ’bout that though.

“I wus lucky. I wus workin’ in th’ boardin’ house then an’ while I didn’t git no money much, jest three dollars a week, I had a place to sleep and allus plenty to eat. No, we don’t mix none much in politics; jest votes like most ev’vy body else round here, – Democrat. I don’t reckon none of ‘ems perfect like they claims but hit do ‘pear like th’ Democrats has anyhow tried to help them as couldn’t git jobs. Course like I said, we ain’t never had to git no help but I knows some real good folks what would have jest natcherly stole or starved if they hadn’t got on relief ’cause they jest couldn’t git jobs. They tried too. But they’s a passel of ‘em gittin’ help that don’t belong to. They’s jest dead-beats and don’t work no regular work an’ wouldn’t take it if’n it wus tho’wed at ‘em.”


—South Carolina Writers’ Project, Library of Congress: U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project: Folklore Project, Life Histories, 1936 39

Life History

Title: Miss Lucy

Date of First Writing: December 14th, 1938

Name of Person Interviewed: Mrs. Lucy Price (White)

Address: Clifton Mill Village

Place: Clifton, S. C.

Occupation: Housewife

Name of Writer: D. A. Mathewes


Benton MacKaye proposes the Appalachian Trail

Posted by | October 3, 2016

“Extensive national playgrounds have been reserved in various parts of the country for use by the people for camping and various kindred purposes. Most of these are in the West where Uncle Sam’s public lands were located. They are in the Yosemite, the Yellowstone, and many other National Parks – covering about six million acres in all. Splendid work has been accomplished in fitting these Parks for use. The National Forests, covering about 130 million acres – chiefly in the West – are also equipped for public recreation purposes.

“A great public service has been started in these Parks and Forests in the field of outdoor life. They have been called “playgrounds of the people.” This they are for the Western people – and for those in the East who can afford time and funds for an extended trip in a Pullman car. But camping grounds to be of the most use to the people should be as near as possible to the center of population. And this is in the East.

Appalachian Trail map“It fortunately happens that we have throughout the most densely populated portions of the United States a fairly continuous belt of under developed lands. These are contained in the several ranges which form the Appalachian chain of mountains. Several National Forests have been purchased in this belt. These mountains, in several ways rivaling the western scenery, are within a day’s ride from centers containing more than half the population of the United States. The region spans the climate of New England and the cotton belt; it contains the crops and the people of the North and the South.

“The skyline along the top of the main divides and ridges of the Appalachians would overlook a mighty part of the nation’s activities. The rugged lands of this skyline would form a camping base strategic in the country’s work and play.”

—Benton MacKaye, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.”

Benton MacKaye (1879-1975) was the first person to propose the idea of the Appalachian Trail, which he did in October of 1921. He grew up in Shirley Center, Massachusetts, reading the work of American naturalists and poets and taking long walks in the mountains of Massachusetts and Vermont. MacKaye sometimes claimed that the idea for the trail was born one day when he was sitting in a tree atop Stratton Mountain in Vermont.

Throughout his professional career MacKaye worked for a number of Federal bureaus and agencies, which included the U.S. Forest Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the U.S. Department of Labor.

MacKaye was responsible for convening and organizing the first Appalachian Trail conference in Washington, D.C., in 1925. That gathering of hikers, foresters, and public officials embraced the goal of building the Trail. They established an organization, called the Appalachian Trail Conference, appointed MacKaye as its “field organizer,” and named Major William Welch, manager of New York’s Harriman Park, as its first chairman. The Appalachian Trail Conference became the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 2005.

Sources: Benton MacKaye, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.” Journal of the American Institute of Architects 9 (Oct. 1921): 325-330.

related post: “Emma Gatewood, 67, walks Appalachian Trail solo”

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