It’s seed month!

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 8, 2015

The snow’s been collecting on the garden and the blooming season seems very far away. Of course the seed catalogs have started trickling in already (January is ‘seed month’ in the industry) and by Valentine’s Day gardeners have piles of choices.

Appalachian gardeners during the 1930s could count on catalogues from Stark Brothers Nurseries, Thompson & Morgan, and the grandfather of seed catalogs, Burpee’s.

“W. Atlee Burpee, who founded the Burpee firm, was a cousin of the California plant wizard Luther Burbank. In Burbank’s lifetime the Burpees bought seed from the little firm Burbank maintained to help finance his experiments. W. Atlee Burpee began his business in 1878. It gained prestige by introducing the sweet pea from England and more prestige by developing new varieties which were shipped back to England.

“The present Burpee, David, a man of medium height and thinning hair, became president of the company in 1915 after the death of his father. Born in Philadelphia in 1893, he attended Cornell’s agricultural college, from which he was called home by his father’s illness. During the War he set up sample gardens, encouraged people to grow their own food. The War stopped shipments of bulbs, so he grew fine Dutch bulbs in the U. S. Carefully and in person he oversees the operation of the Burpee farms, Fordhook Farms (named for the ancestral Burpee estate in England) at Doylestown, Pa., and Floradale Farm in Santa Barbara County, Calif.

“In person, too, he follows many of the 20,000 experiments made yearly by the Burpee organization. He advocates Federal patents for the protection of flower experimenters. He lives at Fordhook Farms while his younger brother, Washington Atlee Burpee Jr., treasurer of the company, lives on fashionable Delancey Street in Philadelphia.”

Time magazine, Sep. 21, 1931

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Something Fishy’s Goin’ on Here

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 7, 2015

Please welcome guest author Stan West. “Each piece I do,” says the Kentucky woodcarver, “takes me through a spiritual journey of creation of mind, body, and soul. My inner child runs wild as I go through the art process, and sometimes it’s difficult to put him back in his adult cage! So, this isn’t work, and it’s child’s play; my drug of choice.” To see more of Stan’s work, please visit his website: www.WoodChipsNOil.com

 

As a school teacher in a small, Southern Kentucky town, I helped shape young minds. Now retired, I carve freshwater fish from chunks of wood. I’m learning more about life and my art. Though my media has changed, my passion continues to be connecting with others.

While a small child, I realized I wanted to be an artist. I grew up surrounded by the Daniel Boone National Forest, Cumberland Falls and beautiful bodies of water that reflected wildflowers and nourished bountiful wildlife. True to Appalachia, my hometown hosted artists and craftsmen. The region’s proud and talented people opened up an endless avenue of artistic expression.

stan west working on fish

While growing up, I spent my spare time painting, drawing and carving. In college, I majored in art education. It wasn’t until I was 46-years-old, though, that I publicly exhibited my art.

My earliest paintings and drawings were not very satisfactory. The details I included were overwhelming and confused the total presentation. As they say, I “lost view of the forest because of the trees.” I still struggle with that urge, so I consciously work to say more with less.

While I still paint and draw, my focus turned to woodcarving. I explored various subjects. I’ve carved an Indian bust, a six-feet-tall bobcat, an American Eagle and more. But I mostly carve freshwater fish. Ironically, that requires extensive attention to detail; some medium-size pieces require burning or etching over 10,000 scales.

My interest in carving fish as a means of expression occurred in the mid 90’s. I read an article in “Field and Stream” magazine about an artist who carved fish and thought, “I know a lot about fish. I’m going to try this!” After a few rudimentary attempts, I remained excited enough to continue.

In 1997, I had my very first public exhibition at “Old Fashioned Trading Days,” a cultural festival in my hometown, Williamsburg, Kentucky. That took a lot of courage. I felt like I was standing naked in front of a crowd. I didn’t know what to expect.

I was treated like a taxidermist! Most viewers couldn’t believe that all of my pieces were wood carvings. The warm reception was encouraging. But then, deep inside, I saw the flaws of what I considered my hurried and impatient work. I realized that I could and had to do better. From that point on, my work took on a new emphasis and dedication to creating realistic, high quality art.

Stan West_Small Mouth & Cray2

Since then, I’ve carved over 50 fish, and that doesn’t include the ones I’ve thrown across the room. I’ve carved the same kinds of fish several times, but I avoid monotony through the enjoyment of creating new scenes. I have to tell a different story in the presentation. Looking back, my earliest carvings were somewhat static. Now I especially enjoy incorporating the appearance of movement and action. I also enjoy including realistic habitat and prey animal. Whether it’s a crayfish and hellgrammite (or “crawdad” and “grampas,” as we call them) or rocks and vegetation, everything in my artwork is carved from wood (some fish do have glass eyes.)

Realism is important to me. I design my work with fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts in mind. One of my greatest compliments was from a wildlife biologist. He looked with amazement at one of my pieces and said, “I saw that very same thing at the lake last weekend!” We communicated!

My style isn’t all that evolved. My preference for wood and tools, however, has evolved. In the beginning, cedar was my wood of choice. I still use it for carving animals besides fish; I enjoy cedar’s softness, aroma and varied grain. To me, cedar feels warm. Now, for carving my fish I use tupelo, especially for my competition pieces. It’s a soft wood that allows for clean cut lines and is easy to sand with no fuzziness.

My tools range from razor blades to chain saws. I use numerous electric tools, but I still carve with many hand-held tools such as chisels, rasps and files. Sometimes I have to get innovative. I’ll use anything that allows me the effect I desire.

After my first public exhibition, I spent time refining my work and getting more comfortable exhibiting. During that time, I read an article in “Breakthrough” magazine about a guy named Bob Berry. A decorated Vietnam War veteran, Berry opened up a taxidermy and wood carving shop in California during the late 1960’s. Today, he’s considered the father of modern and representational fish carving. Bob has set the standards by which all fish carvings are judged. As a multi-talented artist, he’s very open to other artists and generous with his knowledge, experience and advice.

Walleye Shiner_Main1

Sixteen years after that public exhibit, in 2013, I summoned up the courage to step onto a larger stage. It took a lot of introspection and support from my family and friends to make the decision. With fear and trepidation, I packed up three carvings and traveled to Springfield, Illinois. At the World Fish Carving Championship, I entered three carvings in the intermediate level, which is the second level of competition.

The top fish carvers in the world were there, including Bob Berry. Also there were Clark Schreibleis, Dave Bulna, Ted Richmond and more. The judges were world champions Jeff Compton and Josh Guge.

I knew not to expect an award. I was going to network and, hopefully, receive constructive criticism. As an English teacher, I encouraged peer review and the benefit of constructive criticism. I was there to learn, and my work was critiqued. Their advice was invaluable. They pointed out things I had not considered in my work’s design and execution.

To my utmost surprise, I took home two first-place, one second-place and one Best in Show ribbons! Most of all, I made quality contacts with artists in the field and gained encouragement.

Since the competition is being held overseas this year, I plan to compete again in 2015. I look forward to mingling with the artists, sharing ideas and having my new work critiqued again by the best fish carvers in the world. Even though winning and ribbons have their place in my ego, my realistic desire is just to learn and become the best artist I can be.

While we are individually responsible for improving our technique, the artistic community is responsible for its continual improvement.
Competition has its downside, and that is your temptation to conform your ideas to someone else’s standards. You must clearly see your own visions for your art, learn your craft and then “do your own thing.”

I have always felt the hand of the Great Spirit in my life. I’ve learned today, at the age of 63, that I have undergone a transformation of spirit, or quantum change, in the afternoon of my life. I am truly a blessed man, who has his struggles, but who is truly grateful that He has blessed my creating, which has enabled me to have a much closer walk with Him and my fellow man. The journey of my life, very much including my artistic development, has made life meaningful and filled with purpose.

As created beings, we are all part of the One who created us, and as such we are all born creative. There are infinite avenues for creativity, and He has recognized our burning desire to do something, to bring something to life. It is our sole purpose to recognize and feed the flames of this desire to its lifelong existence. That is what I hope I am allowed to do.

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The Mártons: From Transylvania to West Virginia

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 6, 2015

Lou MartinPlease welcome guest author Lou Martin.  Dr. Martin is Chair and Assistant Professor of History at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, and his research focuses on rural-industrial workers in Appalachia.  In 2006, his aunt, Elizabeth Brown, invited him and his wife on a journey to Lövéte, Romania, his grandfather’s birthplace.  He says, “I’m really fortunate that my Aunt Liz took an interest in our family’s history and preserved so many documents and stories.  She also helped me a lot with this essay.”

 

Lajos Márton and Istvan György left their village in Transylvania and arrived in America on January 28, 1907 with plans to go to Portsmouth, Ohio. They were 17 years old. They got jobs mining coal and, in 1912, returned one last time to Transylvania, to Lövéte, a small peasant village in the Harghita province. When they left the village in 1914, they brought their wives Anna Márton and Julia György with them.

Anna held a one-year-old boy, Lajos Jakab Jr., in her arms. Her three-year-old daughter Anna—born in 1911 when her husband was in America—they left behind to live with the little girl’s grandmother. The two families made their way back to Beech Bottom in northern West Virginia where they would work for the Windsor Mining Company and live in company houses that faced the Ohio River.

Lajos and Anna Márton were my great-grandparents, and they were among thousands of ethnic Hungarians who left Transylvania in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and found work in the coal mines of northern and central Appalachia. In the early 1900s, Transylvania was the eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the 1920 Treaty of Trianon led to what Hungarian nationalists sometimes refer to as the “dismemberment of Hungary.”

Modern day Lövéte seen in 2006. Photo courtesy the author.

Modern day Lövéte (Lueta) seen in 2006. Photo courtesy the author.

 

After the Treaty, Transylvania became a district of Romania. In fact, “Transylvania” is an English derivative of the Romanian name for the region. Hungarians call it Erdély. The Carpathian Mountain Range that encircles the region reaches an altitude of 8,000 feet, while the central plateau is around 1,200 feet. Several ethnic groups lived there. In 1919, the largest groups were Romanians at 1.5 million, Magyars or Hungarians at 920 thousand, and Germans or Saxons with 234 thousand people. Some parts of Transylvania were (and still are) ethnically and linguistically mixed, but villages tended to be almost entirely one ethnic group or another.

Most Transylvanians lived in villages with populations of 1,000 or fewer, and the largest city was Kolozsvár with a population of about sixty thousand.[1] The Hungarians of Harghita are actually an ethnic subgroup known as the Székely who are clustered in central Transylvania and often considered separate from the Magyars, but many modern scholars as well as U.S. Census takers made no such distinction often referring to all Hungarians as Magyars.[2]

Economic changes in the late 1800s and early 1900s spurred a massive outmigration from Transylvania. Like most of central Europe, Transylvania’s economy depended on the production of grains, but because of its mountainous terrain, only 30 percent of the land was “under cultivation” and famers’ yields of corn and wheat were far lower per acre than the rest of Hungary.[3] Industrialists saw an opportunity in the region and, in 1870, built the first rail line to the district of Hunyad, an area known for its coal reserves.[4]

By 1912, more than 2,300 kilometers of railroads crisscrossed through the region, connecting the hinterland with Kolozsvár and Kolozsvár with major cities outside the region. While Transylvania remained largely agricultural, economic changes in the rest of the Austro-Hungarian Empire created new opportunities. Across the empire, the mechanization of farming, the concentration of land ownership, and the incorporation of peasants into the industrial workforce loosened their ties to their home villages and set them on a journey to find better wages and working conditions.[5]

A funeral in Wellsburg, just north of Beech Bottom, c. 1920s.  Anna and Lajos Marton are fifth and sixth from the left. Photo courtesy the author.

A funeral in Wellsburg, just north of Beech Bottom, c. 1920s. Anna and Lajos Marton are fifth and sixth from the left. Photo courtesy the author.

 

Those migrants hoping to maximize their wages did not settle permanently in Hungarian cities. A 1919 British report observed: “Hungary is a country of low wages and generally unsatisfactory conditions of labour, and Transylvania is among the worst districts in these respects.” Miners and metal workers were the “best paid,” but owners ignored regulations of industrial work resulting in dreadful working conditions.[6]

About 2.3 million migrants left the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1899 and 1913, and 1.8 million of them entered the United States; obviously, not all from Transylvania. One study found that in 1905 and 1906, only one percent of the migrants were miners compared to 52 percent who were agricultural laborers, but mining had already become a way for peasants to earn money to buy land in their home village. Undoubtedly, many Hungarian migrants had the same goal when they entered the United States.[7]

Hungarians came to dominate the workforces of some mines. That was the case at the Y&O Mine—which was owned by the Youngstown & Ohio Railroad Company and located in Rayland, Ohio—across the river from Beech Bottom, West Virginia. The father of NFL great Lou Groza worked at that mine as did, I believe, my great-great uncle by marriage.[8]

Once they arrived in the coalfields, they were subject to many of the same working and living conditions that native coal miners faced, but some immigrant miners in the early 1900s also ended up in debt peonage. The most infamous case involved Italian miners on Cabin Creek in 1903, but a decade earlier, the Austro-Hungarian Consul investigated a case of debt peonage in McDowell County where some of his countrymen reported being held against their will.[9]

Lajos Márton's WWI registration card. Image courtesy the author.

Lajos Márton’s WWI registration card. Image courtesy the author.

 

In West Virginia, Hungarian miners face harsh living and working conditions. Conditions were extremely rugged in the town of Holden in the southern part of the state. Hungarian miners arrived shortly after the company had set up shop and spent the first six months building a road to the coal camp while their families lived in the wild. Local farmers brought their produce to camp to sell to miners after the road was completed, and living standards improved.

Good wages made these experiences tolerable for a time.[10] This was an era of especially dangerous conditions underground with headline-grabbing explosions at Monongah, Eccles, Layland, and Benwood that each claimed more than 100 lives. But accidents that claimed one or two lives or maimed a person for life were far more common. When Lou Groza was a child, his uncle Peter was injured when the Y&O mine caved in on him. Peter suffered brain damage and could not recognize Lou when he came to visit him in the hospital. This convinced Lou’s father to leave mining and get a job at the Laughlin steel mill in Martins Ferry, Ohio, located across the Ohio River from Wheeling.[11]

For coal industry officials, European immigrants, including Hungarians, played an important role in their labor strategy. Many sought what coal operator Justus Collins called a “judicious mixture” of nationalities and races. Hoping to create a Tower of Babel, operators recruited new immigrants whose languages and customs contrasted strongly with those of native white and African American miners. Divided by custom, language, race, and segregated housing, the workers would not—operators hoped—cooperate and form unions.[12]

Historian Mildred Beik found that by 1922, immigrant and native miners had overcome ethnic divisions to present a unified front to the operators. The UMWA called a national strike that year as coal operators attempted to roll back gains the union had made during World War I, and immigrant miners—including a sizable population of Magyars in Windber, Pennsylvania—joined the strike.

Anna, second from the right, back in Lövéte. Photo courtesy the author.

Anna, second from the right, back in Lövéte. Photo courtesy the author.

 

One investigation found that Magyars and Slovaks were among the most active participants of the strike.[13] This defied the “judicious mixture” strategy of operators as well as top union officials’ long-held belief that new immigrants did not make good “union men.”[14] In the end, the UMWA signed a contract nationally, but it did not include tens of thousands of miners who had not been covered by the 1919 contract, which included the miners of Windber.

Mary Illyes, whose husband was a Hungarian steelworker, remembered that in the 1930s, they would have dances where the band would play traditional czardas songs along with popular American songs. When the band took a break, she said, four or five men—who were drunk by this time—would ask the fiddler to play some special song. The men would sing along and by the end of it, with tears running down their faces, they would be transported from the tiny dance hall on the banks of the Ohio River back to their homeland.[15] Regardless of their original plans, many of the Hungarians who stayed in the US through the 1930s were here to stay.

Lajos Márton changed his name to Louis Martin. He and Anna had six children and moved across the river to Martins Ferry, Ohio, but their marriage was falling apart. The 1930 census shows that the so-called “illegitimate” daughter Anna had been reunited with the family and lists Louis’s occupation as “coal miner” and Anna’s as “restaurant proprietor.” According family memories, Louis had already left the mines and had become a bootlegger…and an alcoholic. Anna’s restaurant supported the family, but she divorced Louis in 1935 and left the country and her children in 1939 to return to Lovete. Louis spent his last years butchering chickens for the Feher Company, a Hungarian meatpacking company, and living in an apartment above the store.

Anna was stranded by the outbreak of World War II. Government records in Székelyudvarhely reveal that she married an ethnically Romanian man named Ioan Gidro in 1940. She remained in Transylvania after the Communist takeover of Romania. Her American citizenship lapsed but she returned to the United States in 1957 with the help of U.S. Congressperson Wayne L. Hayes who got her a visa. She divorced one year before she left and kept her second marriage a secret from all her relatives in America except her son Louis who had the marriage and divorce papers.[16] My father mainly remembers her smoking, muttering occasionally in Hungarian, and sitting in a stony silence as the family laughed at “Hogan’s Heroes” on TV.[17]

Hungarian-Americans in the Ohio Valley have an association and still gather a few times a year to celebrate Hungarian food, dancing, and traditional culture.

 

 

[1] Constantin Ardeleanu, Transylvania and the Banat at the End of World War I: The Handbook of the Historical Department of the Foreign Office (orig. 1919; reissued in The Annals of Dunarea de Jos University of Galati, issue 10/2011): 59-60.

[2] For a more complete discussion of Hungarians in Romania, see Cathy O’Grady, Zoltán Kántor and Daniela Tarnovschi, Minorities in Southeast Europe: Hungarians of Romania (Center for Documentation and Information on Minorities in Europe – Southeast Europe (CEDIME-SE), n.d.). Accessed online at: http://www.edrc.ro/resurse/rapoarte/Hungarians_of_Romania.pdf.

[3] Ardeleanu, Transylvania and the Banat, 81-82.

[4] On coal in the district, see Ardeleanu, Transylvania and the Banat, 83. For reference to rail construction, see Ferenc Ajus, “What Caused Fertility Variations in Transylvania,” The History of the Family 15 (2010), 455.

[5] John Bodnar, The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America (Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1987), 19-25.

[6] Ardeleanu, Transylvania and the Banat, 81.

[7] Julianna Puskás, The Ties That Bind, The Ties That Divide: 100 Years of Hungarian Experience in the United States (New York: Holmes and Meier, 2000), 20-21, 27.

[8] Lou Groza with Mark Hodermarsky, The Toe: The Lou Groza Story (Dubuque, IO: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1996), 3-4. Also see Helen Magyari Murray with Aubrey P. Murray, Magyar Lace (Millsboro, DE, 1998), 42.

[9] Kenneth Bailey, “A Temptation to Lawlessness: Debt Peonage in West Virginia, 1903-1908,” West Virginia History 50 (1991): 25-45.

[10] Puskás, The Ties That Bind, chapter 3.

[11] Groza, 4.

[12] Kenneth R. Bailey, “A Judicious Mixture: Negroes and Immigrants in the West Virginia Mines, 1880-1917,” West Virginia History 32 (January 1973): 141-161.

[13] Mildred Beik, The Miners of Windber (Penn State University Press), 209.

[14] See for example, John H. M. Laslett, “Samuel Gompers and the Rise of American Business Unionism,” in Labor Leaders in America, edited by Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren R. Van Tine (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), esp. pp. 76-77.

[15] Murray, Magyar Lace, 55-56.

[16] Phone conversation with Elizabeth Brown, December 22, 2014.

[17] Phone conversation with Louis Martin III, December 23, 2014.

One Response

  • Keith Stokes says:

    My father was born and raised in Short Creek and Beech Bottom, West Virginia in early 20th century. He and his extended family of Stokes, Dalton and Marshall would mostly work in the coal mines and power plants in the area. He would tell me stories of Russian and Hungarian immigrants working side by side with them in the coal mines.

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Breakin’ up Christmas

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 5, 2015

Hoo-ray Jake and Hoo-ray John,
Breakin’ Up Christmas all night long
Way back yonder a long time ago
The old folks danced the do-si-do.
Way down yonder alongside the creek
I seen Santy Claus washin’ his feet.
Santa Claus come, done and gone,
Breakin’ Up Christmas right along.

 

The Bog Trotters Band, photographed in Galax, Virginia in 1937. Band members include Doc Davis on autoharp, Alex Dunford (fiddle), Crockett Ward (fiddle), Wade Ward (banjo), and Fields Ward (guitar). The Lomax Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress

The Bog Trotters Band, photographed in Galax, Virginia in 1937. Band members include Doc Davis on autoharp, Alex Dunford (fiddle), Crockett Ward (fiddle), Wade Ward (banjo), and Fields Ward (guitar). The Lomax Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress

 

The “Breakin’ Up Christmas” tradition is credited with originating in Northwest North Carolina and Southwest Virginia during the 1920s, though William Norman noted the event in his 1864 memoir, “A Portion of My Life.” In the days before television – even pre-electricity for many – residents gathered in homes for house parties. Out came the fiddles, banjos, dulcimers and other favorite instruments, and there’d be music and dancing until late in the evening to commemorate the 10-day period between Christmas Day and Old Christmas.

Old Christmas? Christmas in Appalachia was not always celebrated on December 25th. Whether because calendar reform in 1752 had removed 11 days, turning December 25th into January 6th, or because January 6th marked the arrival of the three wise men on the 12th day of Christmas—the Day of Epiphany (in Greek, “appearance”)—, many Appalachian people celebrated Old Christmas on January 6th.

The observance of Epiphany actually goes back farther than the observance of Christmas. It was known to have been celebrated before 194 AD, while the observance of the Nativity, in the form of Christmas, did not actually catch on until the 4th century AD.

On Old Christmas Eve, young people enjoyed raucous activities, setting bonfires and going serenading, which involved shooting guns and firecrackers as well as singing. Old Christmas Day was usually observed quietly, with church going, family meals, community Christmas trees, and stockings containing fruit, nuts, and candy.

Many mountain folk believed that on the Day of Epiphany a person should never lend anything to anybody, because the lender would never get it back. Also, they regarded the Eve of Epiphany as a night when the Holy Spirit would manifest itself upon the earth in many subtle ways. Upon that night, people believed, no matter how hard the ground was frozen, elder bushes would sprout up out of the ground.

Our ancestors believed that if a person would stay awake until almost midnight on old Christmas Eve, then sneak quietly out to a barn or a field where any cattle or sheep were kept, they could hear the animals pray. Supposedly, at the exact stroke of midnight on Old Christmas Eve, the animals would start moo-ing and baa-ing and bellowing… not in their normal way, but almost as if they were crying. This belief undoubtedly harkened back to the stable in Bethlehem, and to the animals that were present when the Christ Child was revealed to the Magi. Old Christmas was a far cry from today’s gift-centered celebration.

During the ‘Breakin up Christmas’ celebrations, party hosts moved furniture out of the house to make way for the festivities and the revelry moved from house to house. The event was said to have included one dance that resembled a cross between the Virginia Reel and a minuet. While the “Breakin’ Up Christmas” tradition waned in the days of World War II, it enjoyed a resurgence of popularity during the 1970s. As social conditions changed through the decades, the celebrations also changed — they are currently held in dance halls and civic clubs more often than in homes.

 

sources:  www.telliquah.com/OldXmas.htm
digitalheritage.org/2012/02/old-christmas-in-appalachia/

 

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These crackers had ways peculiarly their own

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 2, 2015

“Now to go back in history farther than my own time and recollections, let me venture upon some unoccupied territory and tell how Cherokee Georgia became the home of that much-maligned and misunderstood individual known as the Georgia cracker. I have lived long in his region, and am close akin to him.

“There is really but little difference between the Georgia cracker and the Alabama or Tennessee cracker. They all have, or had, the same origin, and until the Appalachian range was opened up to the rest of mankind by railroads and the schoolhouse these crackers had ways and usages and a language peculiarly their own.

Georgia crackers“It will be remembered that until 1835 the Cherokee Indians owned and occupied this region of Georgia, the portion lying west of the Chattahoochee and north of the Tallapoosa Rivers. They were the most peaceable and civilized of all the tribes, but they were not subject to Georgia laws, and had many conflicts and disturbances with their white neighbors. It seemed to be manifest destiny that they should go. “Go West, red man!” was the white man’s fiat. They went at the point of the bayonet, and all their beautiful country was suddenly opened to the ingress of whomsoever might come.

“Georgia had it surveyed and divided into lots of forty acres and one hundred and sixty acres, and then made a lottery and gave every man and widow and orphan child a chance in the drawing. But the cracker didn’t wait for the drawing. The rude, untamed, and restless people from the mountain borders of Georgia and the Carolinas flocked hither to pursue their wild and fascinating occupation of hunting and fishing for a livelihood.

“They came separately, but soon assimilated and shared a common interest. There are such spirits in every community. There are some right here now who would rather go up to Cohutta Mountains on a bear hunt than to go to New York or Paris for pleasure. I almost would myself, and I recall the earnest cravings of my youth to go west and find a wilderness, and with my companions live in a hut and kill deer and turkeys, and sometimes a bear and a panther.

“But for my town raising and old field school education, I too would have made a very respectable cracker. This was the class of young men and middle-aged that first settled among these historic hills and valleys and climbed these mountains and fished in these streams.

“By and by the fortunate owners of these lands received their certificates, and many of them came from all parts of the state to look up their lots and see how much gold or how much bottom land there was upon them, but gold was the principal attraction. The Indians had found gold and washed it out of the creeks and branches and traded it in small parcels to the white man, and it was believed that every stream was lined with golden sand.

“This proved an illusion, and so the squatters were not disturbed, or else they bought the titles for a song and then sung ‘sweet home’ of their own. They built their cabins and cleared their lands and raised their scrub cattle, and with their old-fashioned rifles kept the family in game.

Maj. Charles H. Smith (Bill Arp)Maj. Charles H. Smith (Bill Arp)

“Many of these settlers could read and write, but in their day there was but little to read. No newspapers and but few books were found by the hunter’s fireside. Their children grew up the same way, but what they lacked in culture they supplied in rough experiences and hairbreadth escapes and fireside talks, and in sports that were either improvised or inherited.

“Pony races, gander-pullings, shooting matches, ‘coon hunting, and quiltings had more attractions than books. How they got to using such twisted language as “youuns” and “weuns” and “injuns” and “mout” and “gwine” and “all sich” is not known, nor was such talk universal. When such idioms began in a family, they descended and spread out among the kindred, but it was not contagious.

“I know one family now of very extensive connections who had a folklore of their own, and it can be traced back to the old ancestor who died a half century ago. But these corruptions of language are by no means peculiar to the cracker, for the English cockneys and the genuine yankee have an idiom quite as eccentric, though they do not realize it and would not admit it.

“The Georgia cracker was a merry-hearted, unconcerned, independent creature, and all he asked was to be let alone by the laws and the outside world.”

source: The Georgia Cracker, by Maj. Charles H. Smith (Bill Arp), Cartersville, Ga. in “The Scotch-Irish in America: proceedings and addresses of the Scotch-Irish Congress, 1st-10th, 1889-1901,” Bigham & Smith, 1892

Georgia+crackers Bill+Arp Charles+H.+Smith appalachia appalachian+history appalachia+history

One Response

  • With my family living in Georgia for some 200 years I am sure I am not too far removed from the Crackers. I pretty much understand “youuns” and “weuns” and “injuns” and “mout” and “all sich. Except for “gwine” – Is that going?

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