The turkey was dressed out the day before

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 23, 2015

“In my younger days, during the 1920s, work was very good, and I would see men at the commissary company store, flipping gold and silver coins in the air and catching them as they fell. Shopping at the company store was an event. We all had our favorite clerk and would stand in line to have him wait on us. I recall Mr. Norman, the store manager; Mr. Bartlett; Mr. Ross, and a Mr. Meadows. Potatoes and pinto beans were the big sellers for a long time.

“Beans came loose and were ordered by the pound. I will never forget when a clerk was scooping up beans from the large bin under the counter, and he threw a scoop of them in the floor under the counter. Come to find out someone had forgotten to close the lid at closing time, and the cat found a new litter box. Bread came unwrapped; eggs loose; and if you wanted meat, Mr. Bartlett, the butcher, cut it on order for you.

“One of the officials of the company, every Christmas, would give dimes to all the kids who came by, which was all of us. That dime went a long way. Christmas was a good time for all of us. At the commissary the large show window would be converted into a toy wonderland. The window would be covered until the day after Thanksgiving. We would all try to be there at 9:00 a. m.

turkey in KY“Thanksgiving and Christmas were our favorite days. The turkey and ham dinners were the best foods I ever knew. The turkey would be purchased live and dressed out the day before. I will always remember the wonderful smell of the dressing cooking. I don’t think anyone makes this dressing, also called stuffing, anymore.

“No one I knew had electric Christmas lights back then. A few people would put a red bulb in a homemade wreath and hang it in the window. Christmas trees were mostly decorated with homemade decorations. Trees were cut live in the hills, and we would be looking for a nice one long before we needed it. We all got toys, but not as many as children get today. For Christmas we also got lots of candy and fruit. Sometimes we also got sick from so many goodies.”

Curtis R. Pfaff
Allais, KY


Allais+KY thanksgiving+in+appalachia appalachian+food appalachian+culture +appalachian+history

Leave a Reply

9 − = 5

The Legend of Granny Dollar, part 2 of 2

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 20, 2015

(continued from yesterday…)

When the Union forces first reached Atlanta, Callahan sent his daughter word not to go in for more goods, but to stay home with the children. From 30 miles away the loud roar of cannon could be clearly heard. She declared in 1928 that she would never forget the battle sound. Callahan was killed during the battle of Atlanta, after having fought for the Confederacy for several years.

After the burning of Atlanta, Sherman’s march took him through the Indian family’s cornfields, which were “in roasting ear,” and Nancy assumed full responsibility for providing food for the other fatherless children.

Nancy remained single for over 40 more years. In her seventies, she married Norman Dollar and moved to the Mentone area. Twenty years later, her husband died. She managed to buy his tombstone by selling her cow. From this time until her death eight years later, the legends grew around Granny Dollar. She enjoyed embellishing the stories told about her and encouraged their telling. She told fortunes and managed to survive by growing chickens and vegetables and by the generosity of friends and neighbors.

“Another race has taken our fields, our forests and our game. Their children now play where we once were so happy. The trouble with the white race,” she mused, “is that they lay up so much for old age that they quit work at 50 or 60 years. When they stop working, they get out of touch with nature; all wear shoes in summer which keeps them from God’s good earth; then they begin to fail, and soon they are dead.”

Her last years were spent on Colonel Milford Howard’s property. The ruins of her cabin are almost hidden from DeKalb County Highway 156, on the south side of the road a short distance east of DeSoto Parkway. The chimney still stands and vines have taken over the decaying ruins. Across the paved road a dirt road meanders up a hill to the former site of Colonel Howard’s Master School.

Colonel Howard is responsible for much of the legend surrounding Granny Dollar. In 1928 he wrote a feature story about her for The Birmingham News. He met Granny upon his return from a long stay in California. She had then settled into one of his cabins. Although his own financial situation was precarious, Howard agreed to provide for Nancy, which included a bit of fat meat in her greens and biscuits, her baccy for her ever-present corncob pipe, and rations for her “Injun” chickens and mongrel dog Buster.

Buster was very old himself, having reached the age of 20. He’d long served as Granny’s faithful guardian, ever ready to attack anyone who approached either him or his mistress. He had frightened so many people and had even bitten several children, Buster was despised by the neighbors as a mean, vicious beast, but Granny had loved him.

Granny Dollar with her dog BusterPreparing for her own demise, Granny had saved twenty-three dollars toward a tombstone, but the money was stolen from her. Three years to the day from the publication date of the Progressive Farmer article about Granny Dollar, the January 28, 1931 issue of the Fort Payne Journal announced her death.

People in the community arranged for her burial beside her husband in Little River Cemetery, and Colonel Howard delivered the eulogy.

After Granny’s funeral no one wanted Buster and he was equally unwilling to have anything to do with any prospective new master or protector. When neighbors went to check on the old dog, they found him gnawing the door, his angry snarl revealing the gums which once had held dangerous teeth.

After he refused to be coaxed or driven from his vigil, the mountaineers decided it would be more humane to chloroform Buster than to allow him to grieve himself to death or slowly starve. When Buster’s body was buried, another funeral was held with Col. Milford W. Howard, famous lawyer, congressman and author, eulogizing Granny Dollar’s faithful mongrel dog.

In 1973, largely through the efforts of Annie Young of Fort Payne, Granny’s tombstone was erected. The head of an Indian woman is inscribed at the top and “Daughter of the Cherokee” is written at the bottom, next to the dates “1826-1931″ (her exact birth date is uncertain.)


One Response

Leave a Reply

− 1 = 7

The legend of Granny Dollar, part 1 of 2

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 19, 2015

She said she was 101 at the time of the interview in the January 28, 1928 issue of the Progressive Farmer, but she remembered the early days of childhood well.

There is no doubt that Nancy Emmaline Callahan Dollar, who came to be known as “Granny Dollar,” was what is known as a character. This friendly old woman, who lived on Lookout Mountain about nine miles from Fort Payne, AL, enjoyed reminiscing and talking to visitors.

Born in Buck’s Pocket (a five-mile-long gorge on Sand Mountain spanning DeKaIb, Jackson and Marshall counties) eight miles east of Coffeetown, Nancy was the daughter of a Cherokee father named William Callahan and a half Cherokee Indian, half Scots-Irish mother named Mary Sexton.

She enjoyed the games played by Indian children, including one called “dog and fox” and liked to pitch quoits, an activity similar to pitching horseshoes. She never attended any kind of school.

Granny Dollar with her dog BusterNancy’s father hunted game while the rest of the family raised corn and potatoes. On one occasion after having killed a very large deer, her father appeared to be very sad and unable to eat. The concerned mother, after persistent questioning finally elicited the reason for his distress. “I cannot eat my meat,” he said. “I fear my three poor little children in South Carolina are hungry. I have a wife and three children in South Carolina and I was forced to leave them there.” Nancy’s mother replied, “Go and fetch them. There is room and plenty to eat.”

Thus, Nancy’s family soon included another mother and sister and two more brothers. The Cherokees were allowed to have more than one wife and in Nancy’s family, at least, there appeared to be no dissension or jealousy. “My father’s hut was enjoyed by all,” she recalled.

She remembered that her mother appeared as happy over the new arrivals as did the children and had her big dirt oven full of baked potatoes and venison ready for the ravenous children. The two women labored together in raising the crops and caring for the family. Together, they had a total of 26 children, including three sets of triplets born to Nancy’s mother.

This large family ate wild turkey, deer and fish with vegetables, which included cabbage, pumpkin and corn. Their corn was roasted with the shuck on. Johnnie cake, sweetened with molasses and hominy, were also common foods. The oven used for cooking their meals was made of red clay and was used under a shed outside the home.

When most Indians left this area to join the forced march over the “Trail of Tears,” William Callahan avoided moving his family from their beloved mountain home by hiding in a cave. He did leave later, however, after an altercation with a white man named Jukes, during which the Indian, his temper aroused by curses and a false accusation, bit off Jukes’ nose and one ear. Fearing that the Jukes family might retaliate by burning his home, Callahan moved to Georgia and settled in Marthasville, near Atlanta.

When Nancy was about 21 years old she sought a way to make money in order to help provide food for her many younger brothers and sisters. One of the mothers was now dead (she did not specify which one.)

She began hauling goods from Marthasville to the country stores near her home, a distance of 30 miles. She made long trips over rough roads in a covered, or tar-pole, wagon drawn by two mules. The wagon axles were greased and the mules hitched, unhitched and fed by Nancy herself.

Slaves helped her load the goods at Kyle Brothers Wholesalers and storekeepers helped her unload the cases of molasses, meat, salt, powder, lead, gun caps, shoes, dishes and wagon tires which she hauled for some 15 or 20 years. She was never robbed or molested in any way during the many trips she made alone.

During this period she became engaged to a storekeeper’s son named Thomas Porter, but the Civil War ended this romance. Porter joined the Confederate Army and was killed in battle.

(continued tomorrow…)


3 Responses

Leave a Reply

7 − 2 =

‘Heave ho, over you go’ – hog butchering day

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 18, 2015

The scent of locust wood smoke and the sound of crackling fires permeated the early morning scene on hog butchering day.

Guided by the predawn glow of a flickering lantern, Daddy lit the kindling wood under the scalding tank. He fed the fire until the water almost reached the boiling point, then built more blazing fires to heat water in several tripod-mounted, big black cast-iron kettles. Every greasy task, and lots of cleanup, required a daylong supply.

Butchering Scene at Bulltown, WV, ca. 1908-1910

Butchering Scene at Bulltown, WV, ca. 1908-1910


The slaughter began around 7:00 AM as Daddy, Uncle Bill and Uncle Hartzell coaxed the first hog from the sty and shunted it into an open paddock. There one of my uncles stunned the animal with a .22-caliber rifle. They only needed a single shot aimed at a spot slightly above the eyes. Their aim was precise enough to immediately immobilize and topple the animal. My marksmanship, on the other hand, was so bad I couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a scoop shovel.

The tussle to upend the critter began by grabbing all four feet and landing the porker in the belly-up position. Granddaddy clutched a curved sharp knife and slashed the left side of the pig’s throat. From there he reached deep inside and pierced the jugular vein, located about three inches from the jawbone.

A clean severing of that major vessel maximized the amount of blood the beating heart pumped free of the body before the onset of rigor mortis. Draining the circulatory system as much as possible was a precautionary step in securing a satisfactory curing and safe storage of hog meat under farm conditions.

George and Lee Grant, Joe Harris and Daddy dragged the limp body toward the scalding tank. Both uncles joined in for added heft. The team hoisted the four-hundred-pound hog to the adjoining platform, then stepped back from the smoke and took time to wipe sweat from their brows. “Heave ho, over you go!” sang Uncle Bill, affecting an oh-so-painful grimace as he put his shoulder to the carcass and pretended to single- handedly dunk the beast.

Daddy called out, “Bill, don’t get ahead of me! I need to check the temperature of the water.” Most farmers tested its warmth with their bare hands. Daddy was more precise, using an older model steam pipeline thermometer that had been discarded at the mill. He wasn’t about to take the chance of “setting” the hair if the water was much hotter than necessary. Conversely, too cool a temperature would result in an incomplete scald with the same effect, namely that the hair was not easily freed from its roots.

After assuring himself the water was 190 degrees, Daddy added a small shovelful of wood ashes to help clean the carcass.

The four-man team slowly lowered the hog, back first, into the tank using two seven-foot-long, twisted-link trace chains. George and Lee had their protective boots on and stood astride the top edge of the trough as they worked in tandem to dunk and rotate, while making sure to expose both sides of the limp body to the air a couple of times.

Lee noticed the hide rubbing against the chains began to show signs of bare skin. “Look’a there boys,” he said, “she’s a comin’.” At each end, Daddy and Joe made sure the hair around the extremities was also loosening.

Evidence of a good scald soon appeared — the bristles around the head and ears started to peel off easily. Granddaddy pulled on the tail and it came clean as a whistle. Then he rubbed the legs to see how well they were doing. Before long the rush was on to get the animal out of the tank and repositioned once again on the platform.

Everyone took a hand in working over the hog to remove the coarse hair and scrape the hide clean. “Don’t just stand there, Kenneth,” Bill barked, “get me another bucket of scalding water. There are a few stubborn hairs to be scraped off before we have a bare carcass.”

Daddy had a notched, homemade gambrel stick in his hand. “Hartzell, when you finish teasing out the hamstrings on both hind legs, help me insert this between the exposed tendons,” he said. I watched as they slid this butcher’s device into place.

The butchering crew had previously erected a horizontal scaffolding pole held up by a stout set of A-frames, made from slender tree trunks. There they suspended the newly scalded and scraped animal, with the head dangling about a foot off the ground.

Granddaddy Ambrose, the adroit butcher and meat cutter, readied himself for the evisceration process by donning a white apron. First he removed the pig’s head, then dashed more hot water over the carcass, using his newly sharpened butcher knife to shave any remaining spots that were not completely clean. This procedure was repeated as necessary until the smooth and pinkish skin was free of hair and bristles.

The pearly-white carcass was now ready to gut.

–from ‘The Day is Far Spent,’ by Kenneth A. Tabler, Montani Publishing, 2006

One Response

Leave a Reply

5 − 2 =

Get ready for the Santa Train

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 17, 2015

In 1943, a group of Kingsport, TN businessmen wanted to do something special for their neighbors in Southwest Virginia to thank them for their patronage. Flem Dobyns of Dobyns-Taylor Hardware Store and Bill Waddell of the Kingsport Times-News came up with the idea of having a special Christmas themed Clinchfield Railroad train head out of Kingsport, on up through Southwest Virginia, to the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. In Pikeville, KY the train would pick up Santa Claus, then circle back to Kingsport, distributing candy and gifts to needy families along the way.

They talked with Clinchfield Railroad officials, whose 277-mile line was completed in 1915 and extended up from Spartanburg, SC, to connect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway at Elkhorn City, KY.

The Santa Train, of Kingsport TN

The Santa Train, of Kingsport TN, in an undated photo.

Kingsport, with all its industries, was an important point on the Clinchfield route; the railroad officials saw the public relations value immediately and were only too glad to cooperate with the Kingsport group.

And so each year since 1943, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, the Santa Claus Special (or just the “Santa Train”) has departed from Kingsport, TN, arriving in Pikeville, KY to bring Santa back to Kingsport. Santa arrives just in time to enter the first parade of the season, kicking off the holiday shopping spree.

The Santa Claus Special was made possible through the hard work and commitment of many people, including Joe Higgins, who was the very first Santa Claus on the Santa Train; John Dudney, who not only played Santa for many years, but also helped distribute Santa Special posters in the communities along the tracks two weeks prior to the run; A.B. Coleman, the first president of the Merchants Bureau (the forerunner to the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce); Raymond Gaylon, who worked at Oakwood Market (a local grocery store) and coordinated the gathering of items to be thrown from the train as well as helping John Dudney distribute the posters; and E. B. “Jitney” Blankenbecler of Franklin Press, who mixed hard candy in a box car during the train trip, often until his fingers were raw.

It’s clear that landing the role of Santa is a plum job; through the 70 years the Santa Special has been running, the position has changed hands only 4 times: Joe Higgins (1943 – 1950), John Dudney (1950 – 1983), Frank Brogden (1984 – 2002) and Don Royston (2000 – present).

John Dudney said his biggest reward serving as Santa Claus for 38 years was looking into the faces of children along the railroad and seeing the wonder in their eyes as he called out over the sound system, “Merry Christmas girls and boys, ole Santa sees you.”

On the first trip, money from the Merchants Bureau Fund provided the hard wrapped candy that was thrown from the train. In subsequent years, gifts were solicited by Raymond Gaylon. Ed Moore of Food City continues that tradition today. In addition to candy, the train has distributed notebook pads specially made by Mead (now Willamette Industries); hand-made dolls by “the doll lady,” Lois Mee; clothes; pretzels; stuffed animals; small toys; three-ringed binders and pencils from Eastman; and basketball. The Kingsport Chamber now receives toys, clothes and gifts from individuals, businesses and organizations across the country.

Santa Claus with kids on the Santa Train

Newspaper source not indicated. The original caption in this undated photo reads: Thrill of a lifetime was reserved for these youngsters who rode the same train to Kingsport as Santa. Here he is shown with Betty Tampa, 12, Mary Ruth Hartsock, 3, and Peggy Joyce, 5, all of Dante, VA. In background is Flora Esther Kelly, 5, of Wakenva, VA.

The Santa Train is a time-honored tradition for many in the region. Former Kingsport mayor E.B. “Jitney” Blankenbecler only missed the first one because he was serving in WWII, but he rode from 1944-1995. During his life, he told about the first Santa Trains and how they were made on regularly scheduled passenger trains until those were discontinued in 1955. Charlotte Nickels, a nonagenarian retired school teacher from Dungannon, Va., has not missed seeing the train since it began in 1943. For Nickels and many others, the train is a family tradition.

CSX Transportation donates personnel, equipment and track time to support this tradition. Staff are stationed at scheduled stops for safety control and CSXT also provides the buses that transport volunteers to and from the motel in Pikeville during the trip. Each year, the equipment is sent from Jacksonville, FL, for the trek.

For the 50th running of the Santa Train in 1992, CSXT arranged for the “Challenger,” the world’s largest operating steam locomotive, to power the trek through the mountains. Hall of Fame sports broadcaster Joe Garagiola was a passenger on the train that year and broadcast the Santa Train on NBC television Christmas morning.

Logistics for successfully distributing the 15 tons of goodies, toys and gifts requires the efforts of 36 volunteers from Kingsport, who go each year along with railroad staff. On the Wednesday before the train departs, volunteers gather in front of Food City in Kingsport to mix all the donated items into bins for distribution from the train.

The train, filled with excited volunteers, guests and media, leaves Kingsport tracks on Friday, heading for Pikeville, KY, to be in position for the southbound run the following day. Leaving Pikeville early Saturday morning, the Santa Train makes 13 scheduled stops and travels through 29 towns in Kentucky and Southwest Virginia distributing gifts and goodwill along the route.

The Santa Claus Special is the world’s largest Santa Parade, 110 miles, and is a joint effort of the Kingsport Tennessee Area Chamber of Commerce, CSX Transportation (successor to the Clinchfield RR), and Food City, Kingsport, TN.

More info on the Santa Train at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.

8 Responses

  • Gerald Looney says:

    I was born and raised in Elkhorn City, Kentucky and was one of those kids in the 1940’s that greeted the Santa train as it started its journey from Elkhorn City. My parents ran the only restaurant in Elkhorn so the railroad employees ate their meals at the White Star restaurat and we knew them all by their first names. I made many many trips on the old Clinchfield RR as my grandfather was one of the engineers driving the train and we would travel to the end of the line at Spartanburg to visit with my fathers older sister. First activity upon arrival was to take a bath as my eyes and hair would be full of cinders. Sometimes we would stop and stay in Erwin Tennessee as that is where my mothers parents lived and was also the HQ of the Clinchfield. I can vividly remember traveling to Erwin and Spartanburg during the WW2 years and many times would go visit the “mail car” that was part of the train and talking with the USPS employees. Excitement came at each small town that had a post office with the delivery and pick up of the mail without stopping the train. For a 8-9 year old boy this was a real thrill.

  • I was raised in elkhorn city also,i remember good food at the white star.I have lots of memories of getting up early in the morning and going to the old depot to see santa and get toys and candy.daddy woud drive real fast to get to east end so we could see him again.Memories of living in elkhorn are still vivid in my mind.i pray your family is well.

  • […] a lovely story so I thought I’d share the link to history of the event. See below. Photo from […]

  • Julie Corwin says:

    The Santa on the train for many years was my godfather and our closest family friend. There was an article in People Magazine many years ago featuring him. He is still alive and well at age 85.

  • […] decided to each buy a gift to give to a needy child.  We were going to send the gifts to the real gift train, but in the end the kids decided they would rather help a child in our own community.  So, with […]

  • Bill says:

    Every time I read anything about the Santa Train, I become saddened. I never saw the train, but was reared in SW Virginia along the N&W Railway and experiened the hardships of being poor and knowing those who were. A wonderful tradition to bring some joy to the children who are so needy.

  • Tammy says:

    Enjoyed reading this article and the comments. My Dad grew up in Elkhorn KY and talked about seeing the train when he was a boy. My grandmother worked in s restaurant in Elkhorn- possibly the White Star on the 40s to 50s.

  • Amy Phillips says:

    I grew up in and still live in southwest va . We lived right in front of the train tracks and every year we looked forward to seeing the train . We was not poor or needy by no means neither was half the people at the train each year . It was just fun and exciting to watch as a kid and if we was lucky get a small gift , a moon pie or even a roll of wrapping paper ! What I did see and I bet If I went this morning I would still see , people from all over the place that ran the trains entire route . Adults ! That would knock over every kid in site and run over the other adults even to get whatever they could ! That is one thing that I hated about the train was the lack of maturity by the outsiders and even the locals ! It is for the kids so let the kids enjoy it and stay at your designated location and give other kids a chance to see the train and leave a great experience!

Leave a Reply

+ 5 = 8

↑ Back to top

This collection is copyright ©2006-2015 by Dave Tabler. All visuals are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17—United States Code—Section 107) and remain the property of copyright owners. Site Design by Amaru Interactive