Uncle Nathe wuzn’t no hand to set at home by hissef

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 31, 2018

“Am I to understand that our good brother was married four times?”

“You shore air,” said Len. “There lays four of as good wives as a man ever had. Them tombstones don’t tell no lies. They’s all ’fore my time, savin’ Aunt Lindy, his last ’un, but I’ve hearn enough to know what they wuz.”

“But four? Isn’t it a little unusual?”

“Well, maybe it is, but Uncle Nathe wuzn’t no hand to set at home by hissef.”

from Highland Annals
New York: Scribners, 1925

Poet, playwright and novelist Olive Tilford Dargan, widely considered to be one of the best authors ever to come out of the Appalachian South, was born Jan. 11, 1869 in Litchfield, KY. Dargan’s writing focused on women and working class issues of the region. Few have surpassed her in description of mountain beauty or in her sympathy for the less fortunate. She was especially interested in fighting the stereotypes of mountain people and culture that were propagated in local color writings, especially Earley Muriel Sheppard’s Cabins in the Laurel.
Call Home the Heart by Fielding Burke
A feminist and a socialist, Dargan provided one of the few strong southern female voices to the proletarian fiction of the 1930s. As an active participant in that movement, she wrote a series of radical feminist/socialist novels on the Gastonia mill strikes. Her 1932 radical feminist novel, Call Home the Heart, written under the pen name Fielding Burke, was reprinted by the Feminist Press in 1983.

Olive Tilford Dargan began her literary career in 1904 with the publication of poetic dramas and lyric poetry. While in college at Radcliffe, she had gone on a camping trip to the mountains of North Carolina and had vowed to have a home there one day, a dream that was fulfilled in 1906 when she and husband Pegram bought Horizon Farm on the Nantahala River in Swain County. Having dependable tenants allowed them to travel extensively, and Olive spent much of her time in England. There she completed a non-fiction work, The Welsh Pony, followed by her first book of mountain poetry, Path Flower and Other Verses.

When Pegram drowned off the coast of Cuba in 1915, Dargan returned to the North Carolina mountains and spent most of her time there until the farmhouse burned in 1923. During this period, she published three distinctly different collections of poetry. The Cycle’s Rim (1916), a collection of sonnets dedicated to her late husband, won a $500 prize from the Southern Society of New York. Lute and Furrow (1922) contained lyrical verse inspired by her love for the mountains, as does The Spotted Hawk (1958), which won the Roanoke-Chowan Poetry Award.

From My Highest Hill by Olive Tilford DarganAfter moving to Asheville, NC in 1925 she wrote the collection of short stories many consider her best work, Highland Annals, and three novels under Fielding Burke, as well as a final book of verse and a last short story collection. Highland Annals was extensively revised and reissued as From My Highest Hill in 1941. The second edition included for the first time fifty striking illustrations by photographer Bayard Wootten.

sources: www.ncwriters.org/services/lhof/inductees/odargan.htm

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  • Joan says:

    One of my most favorite sites — speaks to me.

  • Thank you for your message about include our Appalachian Heritage yahoo group to your pod cast. I’m clueless about those types of things so if you would like to join our group and introduce it, that would be great. I’m sure many of the group members would be very interested in your website and the pod cast.
    Thank you!
    Linda Hinchey, moderator
    Appalachian Heritage

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Looks like the stork is visiting their house again

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 30, 2018

When I was born, I guess everybody just threw up their hands! The night I was born, Hobart went to visit with the neighbors, the Buckles family, across the street. According to Hobart, Mr. Gray Buckles said, “Well, It looks like the stork is visiting Oscar’s house again.” Joe Bush, one of the Buckles’ relatives who was also visiting, responded: “Hell, that ain’t no stork! That’s a duck! The stork’s done worn its legs off!” So, I came into the world with laughter echoing on Carolina Hill.
—from ‘The Flavour of Home: A Southern Appalachian Family Remembers’ by Earlene Rather O’Dell

Earlene O’Dell, born in Bristol, TN, certainly wasn’t the first person in Appalachia to be exposed to the idea that the stork delivers babies. This myth can be found widely throughout US culture. In O’Dell’s case, it’s entirely possible that she could have encountered North America’s only native stork, the wood stork, as a child. The wood stork has a post-breeding summer range that extends from its Gulf Coast wetlands nest areas north to Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

But the physical presence of wood storks hardly explains why ‘stork stories’ are so prevalent in areas of the US where wood storks never venture. The folk tales and beliefs that Appalachia’s German immigrants brought to their new home are a better place to look. The stork’s association with babies seems to have originated in northern Germany centuries ago.

In that country, white storks are known as “Adebar” which translates as “luck-bringer.” And apparently seed bringer, as well; even today pregnant German women are said to have been ‘bitten by the stork.’

Storks nesting on one’s roof means good luck generally, and especially in the form of family happiness. The birds were actively encouraged to nest there. German nursery stories are full of references to the stork delivering babies down a chimney. By contrast, in rural Denmark, it means bad luck if a stork builds a nest on your roof; someone in the house will die before the end of the year.

stork delivering babies, Germany 1890sOne popular German stork tale revolves around the folk legend that the souls of unborn children live in watery areas such as marshes, wells, springs and ponds. Since storks visit such habitats frequently, they were believed to fetch babies’ souls and deliver them to their parents.

White storks are highly migratory, leaving Europe for Africa in the fall. They return to central and northern Europe in late March or early April, and hence are regarded as a herald of spring.

They arrive just about nine months after Midsummer’s Day, June 21, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. This was a major festival in pagan Europe, a time for weddings and merrymaking well lubricated by fermented beverages.

(After the arrival of Christianity the feast continued to be celebrated as Saint John’s Day; the modern association of June with weddings may also be related to this festival.) The return of storks just as the progeny resulting from summer revels put in their appearance would not have gone unnoted.

Furthermore, storks are monogamous, tend to return to and raise their annual offspring in the same nests, and seem to attach themselves to the same houses or villages year after year.

No surprise, then, that they’ve come to symbolize traditional human ideals of home, family, fertility, faithfulness and constancy.


Sources: The Flavour of Home: A Southern Appalachian Family Remembers, by Earlene Rather O’Dell, The Overmountain Press, 2000
Beacham’s Guide to the Endangered Species of North America, by Walton Beacham et al., Thomson Gale, 2000

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All the machinery stopped and the lights went out

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 29, 2018

Before the days of T.V.A. and large power companies, electricity was supplied to rural areas by such imaginative and pioneering men as Arthur Abernathy Miller. In 1925, Miller, a brilliant self-educated electrical engineer, built the first hydroelectric dam in north Alabama — the DeSoto dam in Ft Payne, AL.

Miller had furnished electrical power for two towns in Virginia and one in West Virginia before coming to Fort Payne from Chattanooga in 1921. He knew he had found an ideal location for his plant at this picturesque spot atop Lookout Mountain. His initial goal was to help supply power to his Little River Power Company, later sold to Alabama Power Company, which he constructed below the falls on the west side of the gorge.

Arthur Abernathy MillerAfter he decided to build his electric plant at DeSoto Falls, Miller’s first problem appeared to be the area’s inaccessibility. There were no roads at all and Miller’s heavy Lincoln mired deeply in the muddy log trail on several occasions before he and Baltimore developer Phiffer Smith built the first road to DeSoto Falls. The road connected the falls with the brow of the mountain, where a road already ran to Valley Head.

Miller hired many local men for the construction of his dam, which was first built to a height of 10 feet. Later various people of the area contributed sufficient funds to raise the dam an additional 10 feet in order to increase the size of the lake.

The heavy diesel machinery purchased by Miller posed a problem, as he was at the south end of town and some distance from the depot. There was no double track to aid in the unloading, and train officials emphatically declared they could keep the train stopped for no longer than 30 minutes. They were certain this amount of time was totally inadequate for unloading such massive equipment. However, after skillful and detailed planning, Miller accomplished the feat in the allotted time.

At first Fort Payne was furnished with electricity from dark until midnight. Then, after a number of local women had purchased electric irons, power was supplied on Thursday afternoons to allow this task. Later electricity was made available all day and night.

DeSoto Dam, Lookout Mountain, ALAs there was no central switch for the street lights, Ernest Wallis, a young school boy, became Fort Payne’s equivalent of the “ole lamp lighter”, riding his bicycle up and down the streets at dusk to turn the lights on and returning after dawn to turn them off.

On many occasions Miller jumped up from his evening meal and rushed through the darkness from his home on the corner of Third and Gault to restore electric service after an incident of power failure. But his worst such experience was to keep the power flowing during a carnival’s visit to town. Every time the merry-go-round made a few turns, all the machinery stopped and the lights went out.

Miller and his partner Smith saw great possibilities in further development of this beautiful area and purchased 300 acres of land surrounding the falls. They formed the DeSoto Falls Development Company, with Smith as president and Miller as secretary and treasurer. Their tract of mountain land was divided into 266 building lots, and plans were made for a community clubhouse and tennis courts. A historic old fortress area below the falls was to be preserved as a park. However the descending Depression years prevented the further development of their park.

Arthur Abernathy Miller’s generator has long been out of commission, but the dam, waterfalls, canyon and reservoir above the dam are now a tourist attraction. A square concrete base still marks the spot where electrical power was generated for Fort Payne, Mentone, Valley Head, Collinsville, AL and Menlo, GA.

sources: www.desotostatepark.com/lol-aamiller.htm

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  • S.L. Burney says:

    What was the KW rating of the generator? Was it a 25 cycle unit?

    How did they get it down the bank to its mounting pedestal>

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A nickel’s worth of ice, please

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 26, 2018

From the mid-19th century to the 1920s, when the refrigerator was introduced to the home, the icebox was the place to keep foods cold. Iceboxes were typically made of wood, lined with tin or zinc and insulated with sawdust or seaweed. Water pans had to be emptied daily.

Initially municipally-consumed ice was harvested in winter from snow-packed areas or frozen lakes and stored in ice houses. With metropolitan growth many of the sources of natural ice became contaminated from industrial pollution or sewer runoff. As early mechanical refrigerators became available, they were installed in large industrial plants producing ice for home delivery. Able to produce clean, sanitary ice year-round, their product gradually replaced ice harvested from ponds.

The ice man became an American institution, delivering ice as needed when consumers posted the ‘Ice Today’ sign in their windows. “He stopped his wagon in front of each house and hollered ‘ice man!’ or sometimes rang a bell,” says Mars Hill, NC resident Theresa Hammack. Mars Hill is 19 miles from Asheville, where the Carolina Coal and Ice Company built a large ice plant in 1896.

the ice man, Morgantown, WVPhoto caption reads: Harry Selby of the Acme Store cutting ice, Morgantown, W. Va.[ca.1900-1910]

“The ice man worked with the ice pick, a saw and a pair of tongs. He could cut a nickels worth or a big piece that went into high finance, such as a quarter or even 50 cents worth. Only commercial or rich folks ever bought that much. A nickel piece of ice was about all a small boy could carry.

“The ice man would put a piece of heavy cord around it for a handle. When you began your return journey by holding the ice away from your leg, but as your arm tired the nickels worth of ice would melt on your britches leg and run down in your shoes, if you were wearing any.

“If you stopped to play marbles you had to think up a good reason why it melted. Just to tell your mama it was a sorry grade of ice that melted fast didn’t work. If you had to get 10 or 15 cents worth of ice to make homemade ice cream you had to take your express wagon. Sometimes I shudder at the ignorance of the younger generation. Not knowing how big a nickel’s worth of ice is. And how cold water is when you empty the drip pan from under the ice box.”

Sources: Mars Hill [NC] Retirement Community newsletter, Vol. 1, Issue 7



appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history Carolina+Coal+and+Ice icebox iceman Mars+Hill+NC Morgantown+WV

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  • Joan says:

    Some of my favorite stories from My Uncle Ralph’s Letters are about cutting ice in Minnesota in the early 1900s. A hard and sometimes dangerous job, but made easier as the entire little community would share in the labor — and the ice.

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Every time I attempted to start, my new horse would commence to kick

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 25, 2018

“When I was seven or eight years of age, I began hauling all the wood used in the house and shops. I could not load it on the wagons, of course, at that time, but I could drive, and the choppers would load, and some one at the house unload.

“When about eleven years old, I was strong enough to hold a plough. From that age until seventeen I did all the work done with horse, such as breaking up the land, furrowing, ploughing corn and potatoes, bring in the crops when harvested, hauling all the wood, besides tending two or three horses, a cow or two, and sawing wood for stoves, etc., while still attending school.

“For this I was compensated by the fact that there was never any scolding or punishing by my parents; no objection to rational enjoyments, such as fishing, going to the creek a mile away to swim in summer, taking a horse and visiting my grandparents in the adjoining county, fifteen miles off, skating on the ice in the winter, or taking a horse and sleigh when there was snow on the ground.

Birthplace of Ulysses S. GrantThe birthplace of Ulysses S. Grant, Point Pleasant, Ohio. Lithograph.

“While still quite young I had visited Cincinnati, forty-five miles away, several times, alone; also Maysville, KY, often, and once Louisville. The journey to Louisville was a big one for a boy of that day.

“I had also gone once with a two-horse carriage to Chilicothe, about seventy miles, with a neighbor’s family, who were removing to Toledo, OH, and returned alone; and had gone once, in like manner, to Flat Rock, KY, about seventy miles away. On this latter occasion I was fifteen years of age.

“While at Flat Rock, at the house of a Mr. Payne, whom I was visiting with his brother, a neighbor of ours in Georgetown, I saw a very fine saddle horse, which I rather coveted, and proposed to Mr. Payne, the owner, to trade him for one of the two I was driving.

“Payne hesitated to trade with a boy, but asking his brother about it, the latter told him that it would be all right, that I was allowed to do as I pleased with the horses. I was seventy miles from home, with a carriage to take back, and Mr. Payne said he did not know that his horse had ever had a collar on.

“I asked to have him hitched to a farm wagon and we would soon see whether he would work. It was soon evident that the horse had never worn harness before; but he showed no viciousness, and I expressed a confidence that I could manage him. A trade was at once struck, I receiving ten dollars difference.

“The next day Mr. Payne, of Georgetown, and I started on our return. We got along very well for a few miles, when we encountered a ferocious dog that frightened the horses and made them run. The new animal kicked at every jump he made. I got the horses stopped, however, before any damage was done, and without running into anything.

“After giving them a little rest, to quiet their fears, we started again. That instant the new horse kicked, and started to run once more. The road we were on, struck the turnpike within half a mile of the point where the second runaway commenced, and there there was an embankment twenty or more feet deep on the opposite side of the pike. I got the horses stopped on the very brink of the precipice.

“My new horse was terribly frightened and trembled like an aspen; but he was not half so badly frightened as my companion, Mr. Payne, who deserted me after this last experience, and took passage on a freight wagon for Maysville.

“Every time I attempted to start, my new horse would commence to kick. I was in quite a dilemma for a time. Once in Maysville I could borrow a horse from an uncle who lived there; but I was more than a day’s travel from that point.

“Finally I took out my bandanna—the style of handkerchief in universal use then—and with this blindfolded my horse. In this way I reached Maysville safely the next day, no doubt much to the surprise of my friend. Here I borrowed a horse from my uncle, and the following day we proceeded on our journey.”


Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, Part One, by Ulysses S. Grant, Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885–86

Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th U.S. President and Union general-in-chief during the Civil War, grew up in Georgetown, OH, the son of an Ohio tanner. After retiring from the Presidency, Grant became a partner in a financial firm, which went bankrupt. About that time he learned that he had throat cancer. He started writing his recollections to pay off his debts and provide for his family, racing against death to produce a memoir that ultimately earned his family nearly $450,000. Soon after completing the last page, in 1885, he died.

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  • Mary Fugate says:

    I am in love with your posts and Love these stories. I am turning 80 this year and to read a bit of things I can remember so well is wonderful. things I remember of ny young years are so unreal today. I used to help my dad build a fire under the sweet potato bed to keep our potatoes from freezing and to help them sprout and make lots of new plants (slips). I still make my garden and love it so much I’ve thought of putting my bed outside near my garden. LOL.. Thanks for awakening my memories.

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