Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 6, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with guest author Rita Quillen. Quillen’s new historical novel Hiding Ezra has just released. “Not long after my husband and I married,” Quillen tells us, “he told me the incredible story of his grandfather, Warner Pridemore Quillen, and the trouble he got into during World War I. He showed me a tattered journal of writings by Warner about that time. It was an amazing tale!”

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

It has been 175 years since more than 15,000 Cherokee were forced from their homes to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) on the Trail of Tears. Have you ever thought about the roads the Cherokee took or the buildings they passed by and asked yourself how much of this historic landscape still exists?

Driving through downtown Wheeling, WV, it can be easy to overlook the old buildings that flank each side of Main and Market streets. Motorists are more likely to focus on traffic lights or be too busy searching for a place to park. With the decline of pedestrian walking and downtown shopping opportunities, the truth is that people just do not spend much time walking around—much less looking at—the buildings in downtown Wheeling. The Ohio Valley Young Preservationists are seeking to change that.

We’ll wrap things up with a look at the life of the man who is considered the father of American botany. William Bartram was one of America’s earliest adventurer-naturalists, an unassuming Quaker who was something of a recluse. He shunned public accolades, yet he became internationally famous for his rich descriptions of the flora and fauna he discovered in the Southeastern wilds in the mid 18th century.

And thanks to the good folks at the Digital Library of Appalachia, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Hubert Rogers in a 1977 recording of Cotton Eyed Joe.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.

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The Southern Appalachians: Salamanders Galore!

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 4, 2014

This article by Patrick Brannon of the Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, NC is running in the April 2014 edition of ‘Salamander News‘, published by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. It is reprinted here with permission.


The southern Appalachian Mountains boast some of the highest levels of biological diversity in the temperate world, and one of the most diverse groups is salamanders. More salamander species exist here than perhaps anywhere else in the world, and nowhere are they more abundant. More than 45 species of salamanders representing five families occur in western North Carolina alone.

Red Salamander ( Pseudotriton ruber ); photo by Steve Tilley.

Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber); photo by Steve Tilley.

Salamanders are often the most abundant group of forest-floor vertebrates, and play significant ecological roles as predators on a variety of invertebrates, and also as prey for snakes, shrews, birds, and even each other. Salamander biomass in the southern Appalachians can exceed that of all other vertebrate predators combined, with densities as high as 2 salamanders per square meter!

Environmental moisture is essential for the survival of salamanders because most species lack lungs and respire directly through their skin. The region is considered to be a temperate rainforest, and its cool, wet climate provides an ideal environment in which salamanders may live and reproduce. Salamanders are most abundant in old-growth forests, where large amounts of rotting logs and moisture-conserving leaf litter provide optimal microhabitats for terrestrial species.

Part of the reason why there are so many kinds of salamanders in the southern Appalachian region is the wide range of elevations (around 1000 to 6000 feet, 600–1800 m). This altitudinal variability mimics the latitudinal changes you would experience traveling north to Canada, only over a much shorter geographic distance. Animals common to the southeastern U.S. thrive in the foothills, while species common to northern states find suitable environments at higher elevations.

The southern Appalachians are also very old, giving plenty of time for a variety of salamanders to emerge. During the Pleistocene (about 10,000 years ago), when glaciers covered much of North America, this region served as a refuge for many organisms. When the glaciers finally retreated, many species remained within habitat “islands” on different mountain peaks. The longer populations remained geographically isolated, the more they diverged genetically and morphologically to become distinct species.

Above, top: A Jordan’s Salamander, Plethodon jordani, the base species, (photo by Marty Silver, Year of the Salamander Photo Contest), and below, one of its offshoot species, the Red-legged Salamander, P. shermani (photo by Madelyn Messner, Year of the Salamander Photo Contest).

Above, top: A Jordan’s Salamander, Plethodon jordani, the base species, (photo by Marty Silver, Year of the Salamander Photo Contest), and below, one of its offshoot species, the Red-legged Salamander, P. shermani (photo by Madelyn Messner, Year of the Salamander Photo Contest).

A good example of species diversification is the Jordan’s Salamander (Plethodon jordani), a common species that once occurred as one continuously distributed population, but later became fragmented along different mountain ranges as the region’s climate began to change. Subsequently, it diverged into three distinct species with unique physical characteristics. In parts of the southern Blue Ridge it became the solid-black Gray-cheeked Salamander (P. metcalfi), while in extreme western NC the Red-legged Salamander (P. shermani) occurs. True Jordan’s Salamanders are currently found only in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and have red cheek patches.

Additional species may also arise if two previously isolated, but closely related, groups come back into contact and interbreed. At a few isolated locations in the southern Appalachians we find narrow “hybrid zones.” Hybrid salamanders possess genetic and physical traits of both species, but there is usually a gradient between the distributions of the two parent populations, usually associated with elevation.

The number of species of salamanders in the southern Appalachians continues to grow, as modern DNA testing has allowed biologists to distinguish identical-looking populations into separate species. Discoveries of previously unknown salamanders are very rare, but in 2009 a never-before-seen species, the Patch-nosed Salamander (Urspelerpes brucei), was described. It is the smallest species of salamander in the United States, and is the first new genus of four-legged creature discovered in more than 50 years!

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Book Excerpt: ‘Hiding Ezra’

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 3, 2014

Please welcome guest author Rita Quillen. Quillen’s new historical novel ‘Hiding Ezra’ (Jan-Carol Publishing) has just released. We’re pleased to be able to offer up an excerpt from it. Says Quillen of the book’s origins:

Dear Reader:

Not long after my husband and I married, he told me the incredible story of his grandfather, Warner Pridemore Quillen, and the trouble he got into during World War I.  He showed me a tattered journal of writings by Warner about that time. It was an amazing tale! That he and his family found themselves in such a predicament while also in the midst of the worst pandemic the world had ever seen, the first world war, economic hardship, and some of the coldest weather in their lifetimes is a truly harrowing situation!  When I began to write poems and stories a few years later, he said, “You’ve got to write a book about Papaw-you’re the one to do it.”

rita quillen

School, work, children, and life interfered for a long time, but eventually, sometime in the early 1990’s, I sat down and wrote the outline of the story that would become HIDING EZRA.  Since I knew few actual facts of Warner’s time on the run, who had helped him, who had hunted him, how he survived, I knew it would have to be fictionalized.  So while the story is inspired by real events, the characters, places, and events are all imaginary, as I tried to re-create an unbelievably difficult and challenging time in history and in the lives of people like my characters.

I hope Ezra, Alma, Eva, and Lieutenant Nettles will become favorite characters for you and help you have a whole new appreciation for one of the most difficult and tumultuous times in American and Appalachian history. Here’s a little snippet of an opening chapter and then some entries in Ezra’s journal.


Life on the Run

Lying in the cool shade with his belly full, Ezra drifted off to sleep still thinking of Alma. She was walking toward him, with her hair blowing and her skirt blowing around her legs, showing her bare feet. But then the dream changed, and Ezra saw his mother reaching out to him, handing him bread, and he woke himself, moaning. He sat up to make sure he wouldn’t fall asleep again. Mother. Mother.

She had suffered so much at the end. Nothing had prepared him for the messy, unbearable reality of watching her die. When the note from Eva had arrived at Camp Lee telling him to come quickly because their mother was very sick, Ezra thought he would come home to find her down with pneumonia or gout and that she would bounce back in a few days, like she always did.

When he walked into her room, with only the single lamp at her bedside table lighting the pitch black, the only pinpoint of light in the little hollow, he saw that his mother had shrunk, her once-beautiful thick hair had turned to little dark wisps like the last fall leaves on the trees. He knew then what Eva hadn’t dared tell him in a note.

HIding Ezra cover

“Ezra, Ezra.” She rasped at him, and he knelt down by her bed, took her hands, the veins dark blue and swollen, and kissed them. He remembered those hands breaking piles of green beans into a huge pot, remembered her standing all morning over a stove, remembered those hands looped through the handle of her coffee cup, remembered her hovering over all ten of them seated at the supper table as they ate like starved pups. Her hair would be curled into little wet ringlets around her face and neck, but she would smile and say, “Y’all go ahead before it gets cold. I believe I’ll just have a little buttermilk and cool down.”

When Ezra knelt down beside her bed, he could smell the death there, and it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “Ezra, you’re here. You know what’s happening, don’t you?” Her eyes burned into his, and she grabbed his shirt collar to pull him closer. “Stay. Eva needs you. Stay. Promise me.” Those were the two words he had dreaded hearing.

“I promise.” He said it now aloud, in front of his little fire, eating the greasy groundhog, the last dead leaves twisting in the almost-still November air. He had stayed by her side as long as he could. By the time the Army figured out that he wasn’t coming back to Camp Lee and sent word by Sheriff Carter that he was now officially AWOL, his mother was long past awareness. He packed up some things and took off into the woods.

Eva found only a note, the back door ajar, the smell of his tobacco hanging in the air.

He knew the sheriff wouldn’t look for him that hard, anyway. He had told him so.

About ten days before his mother had died, Ezra had been standing on the porch, wishing he could cry, while Eva was inside working with his mother. The sheriff had come riding into the yard. He had some papers in his hand, and the look on his face of one bringing bad news. He motioned Ezra over.

Ezra knew all along this day would come. But he also knew that to have done else would have been unacceptable to him, his family, and his community. He had hoped his mother would be gone before any trouble started. It was a hard place to be in, and he told the sheriff so. Sheriff Carter agreed and squeezed Ezra’s shoulder and patted his back before he left. After the sheriff left, Ezra and Eva had packed clothes, blankets, some food, and other supplies into a sack and put it in the smokehouse.

Ezra stayed one more day to say goodbye to his mother, then slipped off in the night so Eva wouldn’t have to watch him go.

In just a few days, his mother passed on, and Ezra found himself having to watch the funeral hidden in a rhododendron thicket a little way up the mountain, watching and crying, flat on his belly, as his mother’s coffin was lowered in the ground. He could barely hear Psalm 121—his mother’s favorite—read over her, as family and neighbors huddled around Eva and his brothers. Ezra stared hard into Eva’s back, hoping she could feel his presence and know how sorry he was that he wasn’t down there with his arm around her, too.

Hello book. I am going to write to you every day so I can remember
things later and so I won’t forget how. When you are by yourself
all the time with no one to talk to, your mind could get rusty.
They talked to us about it at Camp Lee about what could happen
if you get captured and wind up in one of them prison of war
camps. They said that the only ones who come out of it pretty well
are the ones who keep their mind occupied and don’t let things
get to them so bad. So I’m gonna write down what I do every day,
the weather, memories of good times, my prayers. I can remind
myself of what I was and what I am now.
I know a lot of people will wonder about me because of this.
They’ll say I’m some kind of chicken, call me a weakling or a
momma’s boy. It hurts me to think of it. It hurts me even more
to think that people might say so to Eva or some of the rest of
the family. I hope that most people will know me better than that.
They know I’m a hard worker and I’ve never been one to run from
a fight or from trouble if something had to be done. Times is just
so hard for us right now.
I can’t see that government making me go clear across the
ocean to fight about something I don’t really understand when
my mother and daddy was both sick and so much work to be
done just to survive. And on top of that, everybody’s sick and
dying with this terrible flu. I heard one of the officers at Camp
Lee talking to another officer, telling him that the flu was killing
more of our men than the Kaiser’s men ever would. What if Eva
was to get that flu while I was over across the water somewheres,
not even knowing what was going on? Who would take care of
daddy? The Army will forget about me, and I can get back to
doing what I need to do.

Walking toward the store to find a newspaper, I see a piece of
paper stuck up on a tree and when I got closer, I couldn’t believe
my eyes. It said “Ezra Teague—Wanted by U. S. Army.” It listed
some other names, too, but I didn’t know any of them. I just stood
and stared and stared. I would never have thought such a thing.
To see your name up on a poster like a criminal is a real bad
feeling. I started to just walk on like somebody stupid, but then I
had sense enough to walk back and tear it down.
It had a description of all three of us. It said I was 180 pounds.
I laughed about that since I’ve got so skinny out here my bones
are poking out like an old milk cow. And it said I was last seen
near the Wise County line. That’s funny, too, because whoever
seen me in Wise County is either drinking too much or seeing

U.S. $12.95 CAN $14.95

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Chattanooga woman strikes out Babe Ruth

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 2, 2014

On April 2, 1931, world famous New York Yankees sluggers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were struck out by a 17 year old female pitcher named Virnett ‘Jackie’ Mitchell in Chattanooga, TN.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball,” grumbled Ruth off-field. “Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.”

Joe Engel, owner of the Southern Association’s AA Chattanooga Lookouts, had recently signed Mitchell after spotting her in a baseball camp in Georgia. Engel, a former big league player who scouted for the Washington Senators after his playing days, was known for his innovative, entertaining, and often zany promotional stunts.

The local papers were full of stories about the first woman to ever play in the minor leagues, though Jackie Mitchell was actually the second woman to sign a minor-league contract. In 1898, Lizzie Arlington played one game, pitching for Reading (PA) against Allentown.

Pitcher Jackie MitchellThe Yankees had stopped in Chattanooga for an exhibition game that day, on their way home from spring training down south. Major league teams often traveled the country playing against members of their minor league’s farm system. This gave the locals an opportunity to see big league players in towns that did not boast big league franchises. It also kept the players in off-season shape – both in body and mind. Billed as a huge event due to the appearance of “Murderers Row” —Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Tony Lazzeri— the game brought out a crowd of 4,000, including scores of reporters, wire services, and even a newsreel camera.

Manager Bert Niehoff started the game with Clyde Barfoot, but after Barfoot gave up a double and a single, the manager signaled for Jackie Mitchell. The rookie southpaw took the mound wearing a baggy white uniform that had been custom-made by the Spalding Company. The first batter she faced was Ruth.

Jackie, a left-hander, only had one pitch, a wicked, dropping curve ball. Ruth took ball one, and then swung at — and missed — the next two pitches. Jackie’s fourth pitch caught the corner of the plate, the umpire called it a strike, and Babe Ruth “kicked the dirt, called the umpire a few dirty names, gave his bat a wild heave, and stomped out to the Yank’s dugout.”

The next batter was Lou Gehrig. He stepped up to the plate and swung at the first sinker — strike one! He swung twice more, hitting nothing but air. Jackie Mitchell had fanned the “Sultan of Swat” AND the “Iron Horse,” back-to-back.

After a standing ovation that lasted several minutes, Jackie pitched to Tony Lazzeri, who drew a walk. At that point, Niehoff pulled her and put Barfoot back in. The Yankees won the game 14-4.

The 17-year old had squared off against three future Hall of Famers, striking out two of them. The next day, one newspaper would speculate that “maybe her curves were too much for them.”

But a few days after the exhibition game, Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided Jackie Mitchell’s contract, claiming that baseball was “too strenuous” for a woman.

Crushed and disappointed, Jackie began barnstorming, traveling across the country pitching in exhibition games. In 1933, when she was 19, she signed on with the House of David, a men’s team famous for their very long hair and long beards. She traveled with them until 1937, but eventually got tired of the sideshow aspects of barnstorming — like playing an inning while riding a donkey.

At the age of 23, she retired and went to work in her father’s optometry office, although she continued to play with local teams from time to time. Forty-five years later, in 1982, the 68-year-old Jackie threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Chattanooga Lookouts on opening day.


Chattanooga+Lookouts appalachian+sports Jackie+Mitchell New+York+Yankees Babe+Ruth Lou+Gehrig appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

One Response

  • Dan O'Brien says:

    I have found nothing in contemporary newspapers indicating Commissioner Landis voided Jackie Mitchell’s contract or made such a statement. To the contrary, reports from the time indicate Joe Engel kept her under contract and loaned her to other teams for exhibitions. Furthermore, the Commissioner’s office has no evidence of such a ruling by Landis. Years later, on several occasions, Engel admitted it was a ruse. Ruth and Gehrig went along with the stunt but Mitchell may have been unaware and truly believed it was legit.

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We got along well with them. Of course, we knew our limitations

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 1, 2014

“My parents were share croppers. My mother and dad separated in, I guess it may have been ’36 that they separated, and my daddy continued to work on the farm, and my mother went to Richmond and stayed and took care of babies and she got a job in Fayette County where she was called a nanny to a white family of children.

“We lived with our grandparents. Grandpap John and my step-grandmother Gilmer. Because mother’s mother died when she was five years old. We were in an integrated neighborhood. There was some well-to-do white people that lived in our neighborhood and there was some poor whites that lived in that neighborhood And we were sort of mixed in with all of them. My granddad owned 86 acres that ran back, and his land kind of connected with a well-to-do white man that had oh, I guess he had 300 acres back in there.

“They’ve always been in my family. My grandmother did laundry for these people, and my granddaddy killed hogs for them in the fall, and one of my uncles worked for him for a number of years before he went to Cincinnati to live. So, they’ve always, you know, been more or less friendly with the family. They were called the Deatherages. The James Deatherage family. And, I remember, you know, distinctly most of the . . . uh, uh . . . around us, most white people in the neighborhood called my grandmother, Aunt Emma.

“We got along real well with the, you know, neighbors and that, and whenever, you know, they wanted favors or wanted to borrow something from the family, they would come and borrow it. They borrowed my granddad’s tools. They would come and borrow things from my grandmother. We got along well with them. Of course, we knew our limitations.

Civil Rights march in Richmond KY, 1958
Civil Rights march in Richmond KY, 1958

“We speak and talk with them, and sometimes on Sundays evenings, if we were out playing, that was one of our entertainments on Sunday, and especially in warm weather was have a big ball game out in the lot, a baseball game, and they would come and join us and play baseball with us. The neighbor and white people around. And we all just got out there and had a lot of fun playing baseball. We played until dark and then everybody separated and went home. This was a Sunday evening activity.

“I went to . . . I finished Richmond High School there in Richmond, the 12th grade. And I went two years at Kentucky State. I wanted to be a dietician. I worked in the cafeteria at Kentucky State, and I remember the labels of the can goods being shipped to Kentucky State for Negros. That was what was labeled on the outside of the cartons that they came in… it was Kentucky State for Negros.”

Mrs. Lillian Ballew Gentry
b. 1927 in Madison County KY
April 1, 1992 interview
conducted by A.G. Dunston,
Eastern Kentucky University,
History Department


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