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Revenuers or spies

Posted by | July 9, 2015

Kephart: “People up North, and in the lowlands of the South as well, have a notion that there is little or nothing going on in these mountains except feuds and moonshining. They think that a stranger traveling here alone is in danger of being potted by a bullet from almost any laurel thicket that he passes, on mere suspicion that he may be a revenue officer or a spy.

“Of course, that is nonsense; but there is one thing that I’m as ignorant about as any novel-reader of them all. You know my habits; I like to explore–I never take a guide–and when I come to a place that’s particularly wild and primitive, that’s just the place I want to peer into. Now the dubious point is this: Suppose that, one of these days when I’m out hunting, or looking for rare plants, I should stumble upon a moonshine still in full operation–what would happen? What would they do?”

Revenue officers with a captured still on Rich Mountain, NC in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, November 18, 1931. Photographer George A. Grant.

Revenue officers with a captured still on Rich Mountain, NC in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, November 18, 1931. Photographer George A. Grant.

 

Moonshiner: “Waal, sir, I’ll tell you whut they’d do. They’d fust-place ask you some questions about yourself, and whut you-uns was doin’ in that thar neck o’the woods. Then they’d git you to do some trifflin’ work about the still–feed the furnace, or stir the mash–jest so’s’t they could prove you took a hand in it your own self.”

What good would that do?

“Hit would make you one o’them in the eyes of the law.”

I see. But, really, doesn’t that seem rather childish? I could easily convince any court that I did it under compulsion; for that’s what it would amount to.

“I reckon you-uns would find a United States court purty hard to convince. The judge’d right up and want to know why you let grass go to seed afore you came and informed on them.”

He paused, watched my expression, and then continued quizzically: “I reckon you wouldn’t be in no great hurry to do that.”

“No! Then, if I stirred the mash and sampled their liquor, nobody would be likely to mistreat me?”

“Shucks! Why, man, whut could they gain by hurtin’ you? At the wust s’posin’ they was convicted by your own evidence, they’d only get a month or two in the pen. So why should they murder you and get hung for it? Hit’s all ‘tarnal foolishness, the notions some folks has!”

Horace Kephart (1862–1931). Photo courtesy Western Carolina University, Hunter Library Special Collections.

Horace Kephart (1862–1931). Photo courtesy Western Carolina University, Hunter Library Special Collections.

I thought so. Now, here! The public has been fed all sorts of nonsense about this moonshining business. I’d like to learn the plain truth about it, without bias one way or the other.

I have already learned that a stranger’s life and property are safer here than they would be on the streets of Chicago or of St. Louis. It will do your country good to have that known. But I can’t say that there is no moonshining going on here; for a man with a wooden nose could smell it. Now what is your excuse for defying the law? You don’t seem ashamed of it.

The man’s face turned an angry red.

“Mister, we-uns hain’t no call to be ashamed of ourselves, nor of ary thing we do. We’re poor; but we don’t ax no favors. We stay ‘way up hyar in these coves, and mind our own business. When a stranger comes along, he’s welcome to the best we’ve got, such as t’is; but if he imposes on us, he gits his medicine purty damned quick!”

 

Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart
(Outing Publishing Company, 1913)

 

Our+Southern+Highlanders Horace+Kephart moonshining revenuers rich+mountain+nc Great+Smoky+Mountains+National+Park appalachia appalachian+mountains+history

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You hurd of the oald Virginia land grant

Posted by | July 8, 2015

A Letter written by Isaiah [Zade] Greer, July 8th 1912
Pike County, KY

this badly dun cold & dark, but you can draw it of it is true. we have had some Sickness. Sabra 31 days that she was not On a cheer better now we air about commun for our age We have plenty do doo but wood like to talk to sum north caroline a week so if can’t cum you must write Levi had a bad soor on his neck I think unto death it is 3 inches across.

J.J. Greer past this life on the 3 of February leaves Fanny lonly I must write Lotta We have not saw hir in a long time Tel hir write to Barbra and give all the nuse that she had good and bad We air in sum trubble Phillip you hurd of the oald Virginia land grant that have lawing Pike Co. for 2 months Six Hundred 66 thousand acres all west side of the river but 200 acres is clean seep Tha is more than I cood write in a week so I will close for this time
Isaiah and Barbra Greer fair well.

Virginia Land grants were issued for services rendered to the governor and to the colony. To stimulate colonization, a headright system offered fifty acres to any person who paid his own transportation to Virginia. Any individual or entrepreneur who paid transportation costs for one or more persons could obtain fifty acres per person. Many headrights went unclaimed because of Virginia’s high mortality during the early years of colonization, and some were claimed many years after the headright was awarded.

Surveyor’s chain used to establish horizontal distances along compass sight lines. One link equals .66 feet or 7.92 inches. One chain equals 66 feet or 100 links. An area of 10 square chains is equal to one acre. This early piece of equipment enabled plots to be accurately surveyed and plotted for legal and commercial purposes.

Surveyor’s chain used to establish horizontal distances along compass sight lines. One link equals .66 feet or 7.92 inches. One chain equals 66 feet or 100 links. An area of 10 square chains is equal to one acre. This early piece of equipment enabled plots to be accurately surveyed and plotted for legal and commercial purposes.

 

The Virginia Act of 1781 granted bounty land to veterans. The individual who received a warrant may have claimed the land himself or may have sold his warrant to someone else. Many Virginia land grants applied to Kentucky County, VA, which later became Kentucky. Approximately 10,000 Virginia Land Grants were filed, the last in June 1792.

 

Sources: http://files.lib.byu.edu/family-history-library/research-outlines/US/Virginia.pdf
www.genealogyforum.com/gfnews/february99/gfn9902w.htm
http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ncashe/research/greer.html

 

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Howard Finster, master of Paradise Gardens

Posted by | July 7, 2015

Howard Finster (ca. 1915-2001) described himself as a Stranger from Another World, a Messenger from God, a Man of Visions, a second Noah, and God’s Last Red Light on Planet Earth.

This unlikely candidate for celebrity status on the post-modern art scene became known to millions of people by the end of his life. His paintings, sculptures, constructions, and other works have been shown in prestigious museums and galleries from SoHo to Australia and from Los Angeles to the Venice Biennale.

His grinning visage and eccentric art have appeared in dozens of national magazines and newspapers, on network television, and on the covers of rock albums. Finster was as well known for his winningly folksy, loquacious manner as for his obsessive artistic vision.

Reverend Howard Finster in the 1940s.

The Rev. Howard Finster (in dark suit fourth from left) baptizes the faithful at Mentone, AL, in the early 1940s.

He became something of a guru to thousands of academically trained young artists, ambitious collectors of outsider art, musicians, and others who made the pilgrimage to Pennville to meet him and to visit the two-acre Paradise Garden that he spent fifteen years building in his backyard.

Born in DeKalb County, AL in 1915, Howard was one of thirteen children growing up (and sometimes dying off before they grew up) on a remote forty-acre farm in the shadow of Lookout Mountain. He and his family were humble, self-sufficient country folk — proud people who took care of their own and didn’t pay much attention to what went on outside the territory where they lived and worked.

At the age of three, like a toddling Ezekiel, Howard saw his first vision. Although his parents weren’t regular churchgoers, he was later encouraged by a schoolteacher to attend Christian revival services, and at age thirteen he got saved. Two years later Howard “got called by God to become a preacher.” Armed with only his faith, good intentions, down-home demeanor, and a sixth-grade education, Howard set out to preach the Gospel and “bring the people of Earths Planet back to God before its too late.” In those days he thought of himself simply as a dedicated tenderfoot evangelist from the Alabama hills. It wasn’t until much later that the Lord revealed to him his special mission as a “Stranger from Another World,” sent to earth to save souls through sacred art.

Finster began his preaching career in the 1930s, exhorting sinners to repent and testifying for Jesus from rustic church altars, at tent revivals and river baptisms, and even from atop his automobile on small-town streets. By the time he was in his mid-twenties he had established enough of a reputation on the revival circuit that he “got called” to a regular job at the first of a dozen small rural churches he would pastor over a period of forty years.

For most of his pastoring career, Finster supplemented the meager income his churches provided by traveling the countryside as a roving evangelist, working as a handyman, repairing small engines and bicycles, and holding down jobs in the textile mills. It’s surprising enough that he could find any time away from his demanding schedule and responsibilities of keeping his wife and five children fed, clothed, and sheltered. Even more surprising is what he chose to do with that spare time.

Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens

Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens.

 

From childhood Finster had been fascinated with making things. As a youngster he delighted in creating miniature architectural environments of sticks, stones, and anything else he could find. Long before leaving the family farm he set up a makeshift woodworking shop to produce ornamental wooden bottles and jugs. Then, in the late 1940s, when he was raising children and preaching regularly, he returned to building small-scale architectural environments.

Around this time, Finster began work on his first “garden” in the small yard behind the house and grocery store he had recently built in the little community of Trion, GA. This environmental work–which its creator called a “museum park” in those days–consisted of several miniature and full-scale buildings, an eight-foot-tall Christian cross made of bricks and cement, various hand-lettered signs, a wading pool and duck pond, and an “exhibit house,” which served as home for sixty pet pigeons as well as for a constantly expanding display of castoff items intended to “represent the inventions of mankind.” The latter apparently encompassed virtually every tool and product known to humankind.

After putting more than a decade of work into the garden, Finster began looking for a new and larger location for his “museum park.” Frustrated by his inability to acquire adjoining land for his ambitious roadside attraction and by the fact that the new highway through Trion had unexpectedly bypassed his place, he bought and renovated an old house in the unincorporated community of Pennville, just south of Trion.

Oil on wood paneling, after 1970. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr.

Oil on wood paneling, after 1970. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr.

 

He moved his family there and started filling in the swamp that composed most of his new backyard. It was here, in the early 1960s, that Finster began work on the second, expanded version of his visionary outdoor museum–an idiosyncratic realm that came to consist of makeshift monuments, found-object constructions and displays, bottle houses, and hand-painted religious signs, interspersed with narrow streams and pools of channeled swamp-water and a wide assortment of flowering and fruit-bearing plants. Originally bestowed by its creator with the name “Plant Farm Museum,” this outrageous environmental work came to be popularly known as “Paradise Garden,” and as it grew more elaborate in the 1970s, it began to attract attention from the world outside northwestern Georgia and northeastern Alabama.

 

excerpt from Howard Finster, Stranger from Another World, by Howard Finster & Tom Patterson, Abbeville Press, New York, 1989

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Time to put a berry basket to good use

Posted by | July 6, 2015

Wild berry picking was once a common summer activity throughout Appalachia, and before the advent of Styrofoam or plastic containers the homemade bark berry basket was just the thing to haul your treasures out of the woods with. No point in going home to fetch a bucket when you can just peel some bark off a tree with a penknife and whip up your own container on the spot.

This party of huckleberry pickers, Rev. Jesse Laws, Mona and Harmon Roberts, and Tom Faulkner, are standing on the Appalachian Trail between their home county of Greene County, TN and North Carolina. Photo dated 1941.

This party of huckleberry pickers, Rev. Jesse Laws, Mona and Harmon Roberts, and Tom Faulkner, are standing on the Appalachian Trail between their home county of Greene County, TN and North Carolina. Photo dated 1941.

 

Next week will be the ideal time for making a traditional berry basket, for two reasons. First, the woods throughout Appalachia are full of raspberries, huckleberries, and blackberries. Second, the best time to strip bark from a tree to make said basket is during the main sap flow that peaks under the new moon in July—July 16 this year.

So you’ve been out fishing all morning, following the creek up into the mountains. You’re catching a few of them native speckled trout, but after a while the stream gets too small. So you call it quits and head up to the ridge for the long walk home. There you run into the biggest patch of ripe huckleberries that you’ve ever seen! You’d love to haul some of them berries home, but you ain’t got nothing to carry ‘em in….Well, if you knew how to make a berry basket, you’d just find you a young tulip poplar tree, make a poplar bark basket and tote them berries home, buddy!

—Paul Geouge, as quoted by Doug Elliott, in Primitive Ancestral Skills, edited by David Wescott

Typically, the berry basket is scored on the bottom in a cats-eye shape, and then folded upwards. The bark of tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) is ideal to form baskets, and the inner bark of hickories (genus Carya) is best for lacing. You can also use basswood (Tilia americana) for both container and lacing. Sew up the sides with strips of bark, and add a handle made out of bark, vines, or a split piece of wood.

Bill Alexander, a member of the Tennessee Basketry Association and an authority on this type of basket, writes of another use of the bark basket in that group’s January 2008 newsletter: “Harold Hurst said that on English Mountain in Sevier County, Tennessee that his Uncle Ruphart Williams would take him out hunting for wild honey bees. He said; ‘We’d go out and hunt bees’ to rob the wild honey. They would look for bees watering in a stream and follow them to the wild bee tree. He said they would ‘Pull the bark off of a poplar and lay it out while it was green and cut it and shape it’ [to make a basket], and ‘We’d put the honey and cones in ‘em.”

People considered these baskets disposable, so very few examples of them survive in museums or private homes.

 

sources: ‘Key Ingredients: Tennessee by Food,’by the Folklife Program of the Tennessee Arts Commission; online at: http://humanitiestennessee.org/sites/humanitiestennessee.org/files/Key%20Ingredients-%20Tennessee%20by%20Food.pdf
www.tennesseebasketryassociation.com/TBA%20Newsletter%20Jan%2008.pdf
www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yourself/1979-05-01/Make-a-Mountain-Bark-Basket.aspx

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The South Carolina man who put the electric in "The Electric City"

Posted by | July 3, 2015

Anderson, SC was the first city in the United States to have a continuous supply of electric power and the first in the world to create a cotton gin operated by electricity.

Portman Shoals Power Plant, Anderson, SC. Photo by Lewis D. Moorhead c/o Green's Studio, WPA Photograph Collection, The South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Portman Shoals Power Plant, Anderson, SC. Undated, but clearly 1930s. Photo by Lewis D. Moorhead c/o Green’s Studio, WPA Photograph Collection, The South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

 

William C. Whitner, a native of Anderson, was largely the man responsible for the place becoming known as “The Electric City.” Born on September 22, 1864, he attended and graduated from the University of South Carolina with a plan to become a lawyer. After his father talked him out of that career, Whitner went back to USC and worked as an assistant to a mathematics professor while studying civil engineering. He graduated from USC for the second time in 1885.

Whitner’s early work was in railroad engineering, but a severe case of typhoid fever forced him into a long convalescence in his father’s home. While there the town of Anderson hired the 26 year old to build a water works systems and an electric plant. In 1890 he completed a steam-driven electric plant. It turned out to be too expensive.

Whitner conceived the idea of generating alternating current electricity using turbulent river water. For advice he went to New York to see Nicholas Tesla, the great Serbian scientist who had perfected the alternating current motor. A turf war was in progress between Thomas Edison, an advocate of direct current, and Tesla, an alternating current advocate.

George Westinghouse, another associate of Whitner’s, supported AC from the sidelines – and later became the big winner in the deal.

Whitner returned to Anderson in 1894 and leased a plant, in McFall’s grist and flour mill at High Shoals on the Rocky River 6 miles east of town, for his newly formed Anderson Water, Light & Power Company. There he installed an experimental 5,000 volt alternating current generator to attempt to generate and transmit electric power to the water system pumps at Anderson’s Tribble Street power and water yard.

It worked, and ended up supplying enough power to light the city and also to operate several small industries in Anderson. The Charleston News and Courier promptly dubbed Anderson “The Electric City.”

In 1897 Whitner’s initial success drew the attention of financial backers, which allowed him to replace the experimental plant with a 10,000 volt generating station at Portman Shoals, 11 miles west of town on the Seneca River. When it was placed in service on November 1, the Portman Shoals Power Plant was the first hydroelectric facility to generate high voltage power without step-up transformers in the nation and perhaps in the world.

These Stanley Electric Company built generators served not only the Anderson water system, the city street lights, other commercial interests and private homes, but more importantly, Anderson Cotton Mill, the first cotton mill in the South to be operated by electricity transmitted over long distance lines.

William Church Whitner statue, Anderson SCThis bronze sculpture of Whitner by Greenville, SC artist Zan Wells was unveiled in downtown Anderson on October 12, 2004.

The Portman Shoals power plant was the start of what became Duke Power (now Duke Energy), one of the largest energy companies in the country.

Thomas Edison and General Electric had refused to wind a motor for high voltage alternating current, but Whitner proved Tesla to be correct. Building upon his early success in Anderson, William Church Whitner developed hydroelectric power generating stations for a number of communities throughout the South, including Columbus, Griffin, and Elberton, GA.

Today, Whitner is remembered in several places of distinction in downtown Anderson, including a statue in front of the Anderson County Courthouse and a street named in his honor. Also, at the corner of McDuffie and Whitner Streets sits Generator Park. On the grounds of this 10,000 square-foot park stands the century-old generator that was operated by Whitner at the Portman Power Plant.

 

sources: www.sc.edu/library/socar/uscs/cc/08sprSUPP.pdf
www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=10697
www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~scyork/LouisePettus/indiah.htm
www.downtownanderson.com/downtown-guide.pdf

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