When my stories are true, why, I don’t yodel to the end of the story

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 11, 2016

“I’ve been a guide now for quite a few years, and I was borned and rared in the Great Smoky Mountains, at the foot of Mount Leconte, and when I was a boy, I didn’t do anything but hunt. One day I went out to, to shoot some turkey, and just as soon as I entered the woods, here I saw a big flock of turkeys up on a limb, and I had this old cap and ball gun.

“Well, I was a little bit choicey, and I didn’t want to just shoot one and all the rest of the flock would fly away. So I tried to figure out some way that I could line these turkeys up and kill more than one, as this cap and ball gun that takes you so long to load them, why, the whole flock of turkeys is gone.

“And I was a very good shot at that time, but the trouble was that I always made them, the meat, the feathers fly, but the trouble was the meat went with it the most of the time. So I decided I couldn’t line these turkeys up, and I just decided that I’d just pick one out or aim at the middle of the limb probably would be better. So I just aimed at the middle of the limb where these turkeys was settin’.

Wiley Oakley and friends, Great Smoky MountainsPhoto caption reads: “Doug Smith, Raymond Torrey, Wiley Oakley, and George Barber on a special hike. October 11, 1925”

“At the crack of this gun, why, I split the limb open and all these turkeys’ feet fell right down in the crack of this limb. It closed in on them and fastened the whole flock. Here I had about a dozen or two fastened in this limb. By aiming at the limb instead of picking out one turkey, why, I got the whole business, but I had a hard time in climbing up the tree to get the turkeys out.

“Of course, when I yodel to the end of a story, that means you don’t have to believe it unless you want to [YODELING]. Lord, Lord, this is about the best turkey hunt I ever made. Well now then, I have a true story. When they’re true, why I don’t yodel to end of the story, but when I was a boy, I did do quite a bit of hunting, and, and we had these old-fashion kind of guns.

“The first kind of gun was called the flintlock gun. You had to carry powder in the horn, and they had a little pan where you pour the powder in, and then the flint lock goes down and sets the powder off, and of course, of a rainy day you couldn’t do much good a-huntin’. This was the first kind of a gun that I ever owned.

“Then a little later I had the cap and ball gun. You could go out on a rainy day and kill turkey, but you wouldn’t kill them by the dozen. You’d only kill one at the time. The most of the time it was like I said before. They, usually you’d do a lot of good shooting, but they always knocked the feathers out, but the meat went along with them. So I’m not very good at story, story telling, not today, beg to be excused.”

—Wiley Oakley
Gift shop owner and professional guide
born Sept. 12, 1885, Gatlinburg, TN

Joseph Sargent Hall interviewed Oakley in the Great Smoky Mountains in 1939. Oakley had a fourth- or fifth-grade education and some self-education.

As a graduate student, Hall began working for the National Park Service in the summer of 1937 collecting the speech of the Smoky Mountain inhabitants. He talked to people still living within the bounds of the park and to former Smoky Mountain residents who had been displaced by the park.

That first summer, Hall collected four notebooks full of details of the language, informant profiles, and bits and pieces of the mountain culture from songs to herbal remedies. The bulk of Hall’s work in the mountains spans from 1937 to 1941, but he continued refining and processing his collection for the rest of his life.

sources: Joseph Sargent Hall Collection/ East Tennessee State University/ Archives of Appalachia — http://www.etsu.edu/cass/archives/Collections/afindaid/a422.html


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The elusive ‘Peggy Apple’ had a dark beginning

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 10, 2016

You might think of him as a sort of Johnny Appleseed of our day. Tom Brown of Clemmons, NC became interested in finding and saving heritage, or heirloom, apples in 1999. He heads out to the backcountry of Appalachia regularly in search of remnant trees. His goal, via his group Applesearch, is to save these almost forgotten varieties for future generations to enjoy by donating ‘scion wood’ to heritage apple nurseries and preservation orchards. He also takes grafts of the trees from wherever he finds them, in order to return new plants to their counties of origin.

Tom Brown displays his Applesearch results at the Museum of Appalachia 2011 Homecoming Festival.

Tom Brown displays his Applesearch results at the Museum of Appalachia 2011 Homecoming Festival.

To date Brown has discovered over 900 apple varieties, with an actual original tree being found in each case.  One variety that he’s heard about continues to elude him, however.  “I decided to go to the Summersville, WV area last year to see if I could find any trace of the Peggy apple from 200 years ago; this was a very long shot, but my mantra is ‘If I am not finding an apple, it is not that it does not exist; instead it is because I am not hunting hard enough.’

“That day I spent about five hours going up and down country roads, stopping where I saw large apple trees, and following up leads to larger orchards.  I did find one person who had heard of the Peggy apple, and a Mr. Keener, west of White Water Road, who told me of a beloved sweet apple that had been lost forty years earlier.”

But he hasn’t found the Peggy apple yet.

The story of the Peggy apple begins October 10, 1774 at the Battle of Point Pleasant in what was then Botetourt County, VA. American colonial General Andrew Lewis led his troops down western Virginia’s Great Kanawha Valley to confront a coalition of Mingo and Shawnee Indians in what is now considered the first battle of the American Revolution. A soldier by the name of Henry Morris was among the ranks.

The battle began early in the morning and lasted until sunset. Through the day, the voice of Shawnee Chief Cornstalk could be heard above the din of the battle as he called to the untrained warriors of the forest, “Be strong! Be strong!”

The whites were being slowly driven towards the forks of two rivers. In the afternoon, General Lewis sent a detachment along the bank of the Great Kanawha River and up Crooked Run to attack the Indians from the rear. Henry Morris, who later became the first settler in what is now Nicholas County, WV, was with this detachment. The Indians, thinking the whites were being reinforced, began to give way and retreat across the Ohio River back to their village near what is now Chillicothe, OH. The Virginians pursued their attackers and negotiated a peace treaty at Camp Charlotte on October 25, 1774.

Mural painted by Robert Dafford on the south side of the floodwall at the Fourth Street entrance to West Virginia’s Point Pleasant Riverfront Park. This mural depicts the Battle of Point Pleasant, fought on October 10, 1774.

Mural painted by Robert Dafford on the south side of the floodwall at the Fourth Street entrance to West Virginia’s Point Pleasant Riverfront Park. This mural depicts the Battle of Point Pleasant, fought on October 10, 1774.


Many years after the battle, during the spring of 1791, Morris built a cabin near the banks of Peter’s Creek. The Morris cabin stood close to the site of the current day Fairview Baptist church in Lockwood, WV.

“The bleating of the deer, the howling of the wolf, the screaming of the panther, the gobbling of the turkey, the incursion of the bear when he wanted a fat hog to feast upon, the occasional visit of the Red Man, induced [Henry Morris] to take practical lessons in the science of gunnery,” wrote historian A.N. Morris. (1)

Three families settled in the area concurrently. A path led from the Morris cabin through the woods to the cabin of Conrad Young, about a mile up the creek. Edward McClung and his family had also built a cabin nearby.

A white man named Simon Girty spent the winter of 1791 with the Morrises at their cabin. During the following spring, Henry Morris discovered that Girty was wanted for several crimes, and asked him to leave the farm. A dispute over the ownership of one of the Morris’ dogs ensued, with Girty being escorted off of the farm at rifle point one morning.

Henry Morris went out hunting immediately afterwards on Line Creek, but shortly past noon the dogs came to him “with their bristles up.”

Being alarmed by the action of the dogs, Henry hurried home and told his wife that he suspected the dogs scented Indians. It was, by this time, late in the afternoon and soon would be milking time. There were no fences and the cows had to be driven up.

Since neither Henry nor his wife thought the Indians would show themselves until dark, he laid his gun aside and started to the spring for water.

Their daughters Margaret (Peggy) and Betsy were sent to get the cows. The girls started for the cows, following the path to Conrad Young’s cabin. Hardly had they disappeared from the cabin when their mother heard their screams and called to Henry that the Indians were after the children.

He seized his gun and rushed up the path the girls had taken. Henry found Peggy lying in the path almost in sight of the cabin. She had been tomahawked and scalped, her back broken. He picked her up, but she died before he could get her back to the cabin. Before she passed she named a “mysterious stranger” and two Indians as her attackers.

Henry hurried on to find Betsy and saw an Indian crossing the creek. Henry attempted to shoot, but his gun failed to fire. Seeing nothing of Betsy and believing she had been carried away, he proceeded to carry Peggy to the cabin.

The neighbors and Henry stood guard until morning, at which time they found Betsy’s body scalped and thrown into the underbrush. A rude coffin was shaped from slab wood and the two little bodies were buried in one grave. Henry planted an apple tree where Peggy fell. It seemed she had tripped and fallen when the Indians caught up with her. Grafts from this tree in orchards of neighbors preserved the “Peggy Apple” for many years.

sources: http://nicholaswv.org/modules/AMS/article.php?storyid=23″

(1) West Virginia historical magazine quarterly, Volumes 4-5, 1904, pp. 77-80, West Virginia Historical and Antiquarian Society

2 Responses

  • Donna Nunnery says:

    I too have searched for the Peggy Apple, but only online about 10 years ago and gave up. No body knew anything about it. Did you find it? I am a decendent of williams son alexander brown, my 5 times great unlce Griffee wrote the book History of Nicholas county that tells of the peggy apple. I would love to plant a seen for my children.

  • Peggy says:

    I am a decedent of the Morris Family tree.

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

Posted by Dave Tabler | 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.

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My chemists and I deeply regret the fatal results

Posted by Dave Tabler | 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.

sources: www.annals.org/cgi/content/full/122/6/456


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


4 Responses

  • Frederic W. Bruhn, M.D. says:

    Found your article on the Massengill disaster fascinating. Could you direct me to any books on the subject? Thanks.

  • Sarah Rushton says:

    There are no books about this topic that I know of, although a book came out a few years ago called “The Demon Under The Microscope” by Thomas Hager that includes a chapter about this dark episode in American medical history. About 10 years ago, the History Channel produced a 1-hour program about it called “Elixir of Death” that is available on VHS and DVD. One of the interviewees was working on a book about the sulfanilamide disaster, but he died before it and the program were completed. Hope this helps!

    I’m a pharmacist, and have been quite surprised at how few of my colleagues know this ever happened.

  • Nate says:

    Harold Watkins? Is this the individual that committed suicide in the main stairway by hanging himself?

  • David R. Ginn MD says:

    There is in fact an excellent book published in ?2013 by Barbara Martin MD entitled Elixir which details the entire story of this event.

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Home Sweet Home. For 9,000 years.

Posted by Dave Tabler | 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.

sources: www.karstconservancy.org/karst/wallpapers.asp

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

Russell+Cave karst Cumberland+Plateau Tennessee+Archeological+Society appalachia appalachia+history appalachian+mountains+history

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