Book Selection: ‘Plott Hound Tales: Legendary People and Places Behind the Breed’

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 8, 2017

Bob_Dog_FB.291123906_stdPlease welcome guest author Bob Plott. Plott is a third great grandson of (Johannes) George Plott, who first brought the Plott bear hounds to America in the mid-18th century, and he is a great-great nephew of Henry Plott who introduced the breed to the Great Smoky Mountains in the early 1800’s.

Plott is the author of five award winning books – Strike and Stay – The Story of the Plott Hound (2009), A History of Hunting in the Great Smoky Mountains (2008), Legendary Hunters of the Southern Highlands (2009), Colorful Characters of the Great Smoky Mountains (2011) and Plott Hound Tales: Legendary People and Places Behind the Breed (2017) – all published by the History Press.

We’re pleased to present a selection from Plott Hound Tales, which looks at the breed in relation to outlaws and lawmen, celebrities and common folks –and everyone in between. And regardless of their backgrounds or locations, the people described in the book all have two things in common – a passion for the Plott breed, combined with a wonderful and colorful story. “These Plott legends, and places, are all rich slices of pure Americana,” says Plott. “To me, that is what makes these mountain people, dogs, and places truly special – and it is why Plott dogs and Plott people are truly a breed apart from all others!”


Bear hunting was what the Plott clan and their legendary hounds enjoyed most –and young Jack Edwards could not wait until he was old enough to accompany the men on his first bear hunt. Jack was only ten years old at the time of the famous Branch Rickey Hazel Creek Hunt in 1935.

He grimaces as he remembers his disappointment in not being allowed to participate although he remembers hearing all about it. Edwards did get to meet Rickey and described him as a kind and generous man who personally gifted the lad with a St. Louis Cardinal baseball jacket. Jack adds that he kept the garment for years as one of his most prized possessions.

It was in 1937 that Jackie finally went on his first bear hunt, and it proved to be a memorable one. The Plott family were close friends and hunted often with Osley Bird Saunooke, former Marine and professional wrestler, who won his first world championship title belt that same year. Saunooke later became a popular principle Chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, and even today, Jack fondly refers to him as “the Chief.”

Young Jack Edwards with Plott hound pack on John Plott farm, circa 1935. Photo courtesy the author.

Young Jack Edwards with Plott hound pack on John Plott farm, circa 1935. Photo courtesy the author.


Saunooke, a full-blooded Cherokee, was a giant of a man, standing six feet and six inches tall and weighing well over 300 pounds. The Chief was a man of many talents. He loved to hunt, and was a skilled storyteller with a huge appetite for life.

“The Chief could really keep you entertained. We’d hunt all day near Soco Gap and Black Camp Gap –all over the reservation – and then sit around the campfire at night eating and listening to stories. The Chief would roast potatoes, turnips and onions –all cooked together underground with a fire over it –and barbeque a slab of meat to go with it. No one ever went hungry in his camp. We always had a good time.”

Little George and Jack would walk twelve miles one way with their dogs from Plott Creek deep into the Plott Balsams and meet John Plott, Chief Saunooke, and their Indian friends near Soco Gap. The boys were in incredible physical condition and thought nothing of walking that far, not to mention strenuously hunting for a few additional days in harsh terrain.

They worked as drivers with their dogs, finding the bear sign and driving, or running the bear toward stands, where the older hunters – or standers – usually shot them. John Plott, already in his early sixties at that time, was one of these standers, and killed a bear with his Stevens shotgun on this trip.

More memorable hunting trips soon followed –including several to the fabled Hazel Creek Clubhouse. Jack says that a family friend –he believes it was Ed Lambert – had a flatbed truck that was used to transport them to Hazel Creek. There were no dog boxes to transport the animals, just a pack of hounds riding in the back of the truck with Little George and two other hunters. Ed Lambert drove the truck, and John Plott rode shotgun, with Jack sitting on his lap in the cab of the pick-up. On other occasions Jack says that they took two or more vehicles –usually a car or two –along with the truck, and sometimes the dogs rode inside the car with the hunters.

WWII hero Little George Plott, on left, Oliver Laws in middle and Taylor Wilson on far right with Plott pack at the Hazel Creek Clubhouse in 1935--note club cook with kerchief on his head in background. Photo courtesy of the author.

WWII hero Little George Plott, on left, Oliver Laws in middle and Taylor Wilson on far right with Plott pack at the Hazel Creek Clubhouse in 1935–note club cook with kerchief on his head in background. Photo courtesy of the author.


It was a long, arduous trip, taking a full day to cover a total of almost ninety miles of twisting, narrow mountain roads, most of them unpaved. The first leg of the journey was thirty-five miles to Bryson City. There, the party turned right onto old N.C. 288 – a dirt road – and continued another forty miles to the town of Proctor, and then about nine more miles up rough logging roads through the small community of Medlin to the Hazel Creek lodge.

Jack remembers the massive lodge as being comfortable, but nothing fancy, with three solid meals prepared for them daily by a male employee of the Club who always wore a kerchief tied around his head. (You can clearly see the cook in the background of the classic Plott dog hunting photo just above. He is walking behind hunting guides Little George Plott, Kay Wilson and Taylor Wilson, all pictured in the foreground, along with their great Plott hounds.) Edwards also remembers Hazel Creek manager Jim Laws and his son, Oliver Laws well –we’ll talk more about them shortly.

Little George killed one bear on this Hazel Creek hunt with his trusty Mauser, and Jack says that the hide from that bear is shown tacked on the barn behind Jack in a photo with Maj and a pack of Plotts. Jack had to stay home and work on the farm during two other famous Hazel Creek Hunts in 1935 and 1937, although he remembers vividly hearing about them.

1935 Branch Rickey Hazel Creek hunt --Von Plott is seated second from right, Branch Rickey, third from right. Photo courtesy the author.

1935 Branch Rickey Hazel Creek hunt –Von Plott is seated second from right, Branch Rickey, third from right. Photo courtesy the author.


Edwards remembers a problem with local authorities after an unplanned out of season bear hunt in 1941. Little George had been called into active military duty at that time and Jack was only sixteen. A bear killed several head of cattle on their farm in February of that year and John and Jack took matters into their own hands.

Their pack of Plott hounds struck a hot trail on the nearby Winchester farm as the dogs made quick work of the marauding bruin and treed it in no time. John Plott killed the bear with his shotgun as young Jack leashed up the dogs. News quickly spread of the kill and John Plott was soon charged with hunting out of season.

Jack says on the day of their trial it seemed like they were the only ones in the courtroom NOT charged with selling or making liquor. The judge that day was none other than Felix Eugene Alley, an iconic barrister born and raised in the mountains of western North Carolina. Alley was renowned for his keen legal mind, his folksy wit and musical skills as a banjo player and ballad singer.

Judge Alley sympathized with John Plott’s plight and acquitted him of formal charges, but charged the elder Plott five dollars for court costs.



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Gathering in the mistletoe

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 7, 2017

Frank Slake (right) and Ray Stratton gathered holly and mistletoe in the hills near Lerose, KY for Christmas 1907 when they worked for the K. & P. Lumber Company established there. Full caption at Owsley County Historical & Genealogy Society.

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John Henry was hammering

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 6, 2017

“John Henry was hammering on the right side,
The big steam drill on the left,
Before that steam drill could beat him down,
He hammered his fool self to death.”

—stanza 7 from one of the earliest written copies of the John Henry ballad,
prepared by a W. T. Blankenship and published about 1900.

He’s an American folk hero, the subject of numerous songs, stories, plays, and novels. The legend of John Henry began in Big Bend Tunnel, in Summers County, WV, which CSX Railroad still uses today. He was the best steel-drivin’ man to ever grace the mountains of West Virginia, say the songs, working on the largest tunneling project in American history at the time.

That John Henry lived seems beyond doubt. That he drove steel in Great Bend Tunnel (as it was then called) in the early 1870’s seems certain. That he drove steel against a steam drill and beat it seems likely. That he died from over exertion in the contest seems somewhat less likely, if eyewitnesses are to be believed.

John Henry Statue in Talcott, WVIn 1972, Michigan sculptor Charles Cooper completed this eight-foot bronze statue of John Henry. It stands in Memorial Park above the east portal of the Big Bend Tunnel near Talcott, West Virginia.

Mrs. C.L. Lynn of Rome, GA, sent her copy of the Blankenship songsheet quoted above to Guy B. Johnson, of the University of North Carolina, in the mid 1920s when he was collecting research for his forthcoming “John Henry: Tracking Down a Negro Legend.“ Johnson’s 1929 work was the first published book-length study of John Henry and the John Henry legend.

Johnson spent four days in Talcott, WV in June 1927 interviewing still-living men who were likely to have seen the event with their own eyes. Mr. C.S. (Neal) Miller told him “Now some people say John Henry died because of this test. But he didn’t. At least, he didn’t drop dead. As well as I remember, though, he took sick and died from fever soon after that.

“I came here when I was seventeen,” said Mr. Miller, “It was the spring of 1869. In the fall of that year I began work at Big Bend. I carried water and steel for the gang of drivers at the east end. I would take the drills to the shop and bring them back after they were sharpened. I often saw John Henry, as he was on the gang that I carried water and drills for.”

John Henry ballad, ca. 1900John Henry ballad version by W.T. Blankenship, about 1900.

Folk historian Dr. Louis Chappell of West Virginia University had also interviewed Miller about the John Henry story, two years earlier. But his book, “John Henry, a Folk Lore Study,” didn’t make it to press till 1933. Neal Miller had told Chappell, “he didn’t die from getting too hot in the contest . . . The boys around the tunnel told me he was later killed in the tunnel . . .” And a D.R. Gilpin said, “The last time I saw John Henry was when some rocks from a blast fell on him. I always thought he died in the tunnel.”

Now, Guy Johnson was a highly respected scholar who had co-authored several works on African American song, but a bit of controversy surrounds his work with John Henry, as Chappell was quick to point out.

According to Chappell, Johnson at first thought that the character of John Henry was totally mythological, and that he may have hailed from Georgia or the Carolinas. After Chappell’s work began to circulate in unpublished form, prior to 1929, Johnson took up Chappell’s position for his study, without crediting Chappell.

Many rare book collectors today feel Chappell produced the superior work, which easily brings $250 a copy in the rare book market. Chappell’s work was much more thorough than Johnson’s, drawing on many contemporary newspapers, scientific journals, treatises on tunneling, and reports from the construction of other tunnels, as well as on the oral and written reports from his many informants. Chappell wrote with more conviction than Johnson about the certainty that John Henry was a real person and not just a legend.

sources: John Henry: Tracking Down a Negro Legend, by Guy Benton Johnson. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1929)
John Henry, A Folk-Lore Study, by Louis W. Chappell, (Jena, Germany: Frommannsche Verlag, Walter Biedermann, 1933)

2 Responses

  • Janet Smart says:

    I believe he is real and not a legend. It is a beautiful statue and I’ve been to it several times. A deserving tribute to a hard-working man.

  • Jim Hauser says:

    “John Henry” has been recorded by hundreds of musicians including Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Leadbelly, Joe Bonamassa, Josh White, John Lee Hooker, Bill Monroe, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Van Morrison. I’ve been researching the legend for over three years, and have found many versions of the song on Youtube.

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The name of George L. Carter became famous in all Virginia

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 5, 2017

Upon his father’s small farm [in Carroll County, VA], George L. Carter, the first of nine children, was born not long before the war; and though apparently physically unfitted to endure the labors of the field, he had the resolution of his father, and during the spring, summer and autumn worked on the farm, and in the winter went to a small country school.

At sixteen years, his father determined to engage him in some avocation more suitable to his condition, and secured for him a position in a store at Hillsville. In this new capacity he proved himself industrious, faithful and honest, and he found time early mornings and evenings, to gratify his taste for reading.

Among the books read in this early period of his life were: Franklin’s Autobiography, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and the Bible, which afforded him a great deal of information and valuable mental culture.

After four years spent in the store at Hillsville, he secured a position with the Wythe Lead and Zinc Mine company, at Austinville, VA. This proved to be the opening of his wonderfully successful business career, and it was not very long ere he struck out on his own financial ventures. The great opportunities of Southwest Virginia for mineral enterprises were now awakening, and Mr. Carter was one of the first to interpret the signs of the times.

He connected himself with the Dora Furnace company, at Pulaski, as vice-president and general manager. His success enlarged his views, and he aspired to victory in even wider fields. He saw that ten or more furnaces were idle and large coal fields in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee were undeveloped. He conceived the idea of uniting a number of these separate and crippled enterprises into one great organization, which should be inspired with new life and energy, and capable of carrying out the natural result.

He sought out capitalists in New York, and Moore and Schley, bankers, financiered the movement, and in a short time capital to the amount of $10,000,000 was provided. A company was organized in January, 1899, under the name of Virginia Iron, Coal and Coke company, and the name of George L. Carter, its president, became famous in all Virginia.

George Lafayette Carter of Hillsville VA

Besides the furnaces, two railroads were comprised in the deal, and 175,000 acres of mineral and timber land in Tennessee and Virginia. Unfortunately, there occurred what frequently happens, at some time or other, with every business corporation.

A faction developed unfriendly to Mr. Carter, and in 1901, by snap methods, the company was thrown by Moore and Schley into receivers’ hands. Mr. Carter would not submit, and an appeal to the courts was taken by him, which resulted in the appointment of Judge A. A. Phlegar, the personal friend and counsel of Mr. Carter, as one of the receivers.

Under their able direction the interests of the Virginia Iron, Coal and Coke company, which are immense, were put in first class shape, and the receivers discharged by the court in 1903.

Mr. Carter, who from his youth has been interested in farming operations, although in a very small way, in his earlier days, is very fond of agricultural pursuits, takes his only recreation by occasionally spending a day or two looking after his considerable farming interests, cattle and other live stock.

In 1902 and 1903 Mr. Carter bought two small railroads in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, and a large acreage of coal lands in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, and immediately commenced the development thereof by opening up a number of coal mines on properties, and building railroads thereto.

He is now (1906) backed by strong New York and Boston interests in a forty
million dollar company, which is making further developments of its about two hundred and fifty thousand acres of Virginia coal land, and in completing an extensive low grade line railroad from the Virginia coal field to connections with the South Atlantic coast.

In response to the question, ‘What will most contribute to achieve success in life?’ Mr. Carter replies : ” A complete knowledge of anatomy, and a proper observance of the laws of nature, with constant industry, frugality, honesty of purpose, nobility, courage, persistent energy, and the fear of God.”

In politics, Mr. Carter is and has always been a Democrat, although he has never sought office and cares nothing for it. The religious element in his character is deep and earnest, and, though he has never identified himself with any church, he prefers the Presbyterian way of thinking.

He states that his mother’s influence upon his intellectual, moral and spiritual life was very great and this is probably the source of his deep veneration for the Sabbath day, which he wishes to keep holy, no matter what may be the call upon him. This deep religious instinct was probably the governing principle of his conduct after his father’s death when made guardian to his younger brothers and sisters.

His supervision extended down even to the smallest details of their lives; and their physical, intellectual and spiritual welfare were ever the objects of his tenderest care. Feeling the inconveniences which he had encountered from lack of early mental training, he took care, at the expense of much toil and anxiety to himself, that each of his brothers and sisters should receive the best educational advantages.

“Men of Mark in Virginia: Ideals of American Life,”
by Lyon G. Tyler LLD, Men of Mark Publishing, Wash DC, 1908.

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I tried to get her to sing all the song

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 4, 2017

John Jacob Niles
John Jacob Niles composed the Appalachian influenced Christmas carols The Carol of the Birds, The Flower of Jesse, What Songs were Sung, Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head, and Sweet Little Boy Jesus.

I Wonder As I Wander, one of his most popular carols, illustrates the working methods of this inveterate collector of homegrown musicality:

I Wonder As I Wander grew out of three lines of music sung for me by a girl who called herself Annie Morgan,” Niles explained. “The place was Murphy, North Carolina, and the time was July, 1933.

“The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police, after having camped in the town square for some little time, cooking, washing, hanging their wash from the Confederate monument and generally conducting themselves in such a way as to be classed a public nuisance.

“Preacher Morgan and his wife pled poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town. It was then that Annie Morgan came out–a tousled, unwashed blonde, and very lovely. She sang the first three lines of the verse of I Wonder as I Wander. At twenty-five cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song.

Duke Park in 1910/1911, Murphy, NCDuke Park in 1910/1911, Murphy, NC, where the Morgan family probably camped.

“After eight tries, all of which are carefully recorded in my notes, I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material–and a magnificent idea. With the writing of additional verses and the development of the original melodic material, I Wonder As I Wander came into being. I sang it for five years in my concerts before it caught on. Since then, it has been sung by soloists and choral groups wherever the English language is spoken and sung.”

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God’s Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky


Christmas+in+Appalachia John+Jacob+Niles Murphy+NC appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

3 Responses

  • tipper says:

    Even though Murphy is the county seat of my county-Cherokee-I had never heard the Christmas song until I read about it in a book. After I read it was discovered in Murphy-I found a version to listen to-then I made my girls learn it and sing it for me : )

    And now each Christmas I think of the Morgans I know who live here still and I wonder if the little girl was their ancestor.

  • K says:

    I heard this story many times and every Christmas when I hear this song I wonder whatever happened to Annie Morgan and her family.

  • N says:

    I too wonder whatever happened to Annie Morgan and her family whenever I hear this haunting song. I don’t know if it is true or not, but I heard that John Jacob Niles made an effort to find her again but was never able to. Since they were supposed to be traveling preachers they may not even be related to other Morgans in the area. A mystery for the ages.

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