I used to flesh them by hand

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 30, 2017

“I started working at tanning when I was fifteen years old and I’m 63 now. It’s hot. Like putting your nose right on the grindstone all the time– day in and day out like taxidermy. Deer hides, deer skin products, clothes, bags, coats — we do the whole thing right from the rawhide to the finished garment. Most of it’s deerskin and some cowhide.

Kerth Snyder

Kerth Snyder

We don’t manufacture anything from cowhide. Deer hide. Everybody wants deer hide. It’s softer and has a better feel, but they’re hard contemptible things to tan. The enamel in the grain is so easily damaged it’s hard to tan them and get a glaze on the finished product. Much more so than cow. But there’s no leather that can be made to feel like deerskin. That had that soft suppleness that deerskin has.

“[We sell] locally mostly. To tourists and people who come into the store. Oh, we sell some to other craftsmen. Well, I call them hippie clothes that they make. It varies from year to year, but on an average [we process] about a thousand [hides a year]. Equivalent to a thousand deerskin. We have a fleshing machine and we have power drums. The hides are seldom ever touched by hands. The paddle wheel, all that’s necessary to . . . The broiler, hot water. There’s very little handwork to it. Splitting machines that split them to a uniform thickness after they’re tanned. This day and time, handwork don’t count. In this kind of work. There’s too much to be done.

“We just, I used to flesh them by hand, used to air ‘em by hand. I used to do everything by hand. If I counted my time at normal wages, I’d have to have two or three hundred dollars per hide to come out and make wages. I used to flesh cowhides by hand with a sharp knife about two feet long. Handles on each end. Sharpen it up just sharp as a razor and actually shave that flesh, fat and membrane from the hide . . . hide after hide I shaved that way. Now we can put them through the flesh machine that takes about 30 seconds to clean one up and do a better job than I can do it.

Benton Smith (right) and Morgan McClure (left) finishing off tanned bear hide and beef hides at the Marlinton Tannery in Marlinton, WV, about 25 miles from Kerth Snyder's place. This photo is from 1945, the same time period Snyder was active. Photo courtesy Preserving Pocahontas Pocahontas/ County, WV Historic Preservation Archive, Item #663.

Benton Smith (right) and Morgan McClure (left) finishing off tanned bear hide and beef hides at the Marlinton Tannery in Marlinton, WV, about 25 miles from Kerth Snyder’s place. This photo is from 1945, the same time period Snyder was active. Photo courtesy Preserving Pocahontas Pocahontas/ County, WV Historic Preservation Archive, Item #663.


“The little man hasn’t much chance now. He can’t operate with the big man. No use to try. Getting worse every day. The little man. They’re going to push him out. We bought dyes from DuPont for 35 years. Until two years ago. We called them in Philadelphia and they wouldn’t sell us a thing.”


Kerth Snyder
Greenbank, WV
Snyder operated a deer hide tanning plant on State Route 28 south of Greenbank.

Source: “Timber: the Times and the Life at Cass, WV,” Robert P. Alexander Research Collection, James E. Morrow Library, Marshall University, 1976 interview

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Squirrels in swarms eat up all the cornfields

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 29, 2017

Settlers moving into Ohio’s Miami Valley and the Virginia Military Tract were generally poorer and unable to buy land directly from the government, but they were able to buy lots and small farms from speculators. These women settlers were forced by economic circumstances to live in lean-tos for a longer time and learned to live off the land rather quickly.

Virginia Military Tract in frontier Ohio

The Virginia Military Tract in frontier Ohio.

One woman reported having slept in the treetops for several nights until a lean-to could be built, and then she had to wait until a clearing could be made in the forest before a one-room log cabin could be built. A log cabin such as hers “had a pitched roof covered with wooden shakes, a door, one or two windows commonly covered with greased parchment, a dirt floor or one covered with logs lengthwise with the smooth side up, a stone hearth and a chimney commonly made of sticks and covered with clay.”

These women had to learn quickly to be self-sufficient. Trading centers were far away, as were neighbors. Money was virtually nonexistent, so women had to be ingenious in acquiring products that they could trade for necessities such as coffee, tea, salt, sugar, and implements. They found themselves making whiskey, trapping game, making potash, and collecting honey and ginseng to barter.

They became very well acquainted with their new environment—it was important to know its benefits as well as its dangers. Settlers were at the mercy of nature, facing unpredictable floods, droughts, high winds, hail, and early frosts. Other environmental hazards and pests, such as squirrels wolves, bears, wildcats, deer, and raccoons, were easier to deal with but no less dangerous to their well-being.

Women learned to use firearms or whatever was handy to scare off dangerous animals. Mrs. Samuel French (nee Amelia Belden) scared off a wolf by brandishing her umbrella.

But for most, the need to become handy with a firearm proved lifesaving.

Women who needed to travel alone had to be able to protect themselves, and those left alone on isolated farms for long periods of time had to use a weapon either for protection or to provide food for their families. The isolation of the frontier and its physical environment caused a myriad of other problems to which women had to respond.

Johanna Maria Heckewelder

Johanna Maria Heckewelder, the first white female child born in what would later become the state of Ohio, was born in Gnaddenhutten in Tuscarawas County in 1781. Her parents were Moravian missionaries sent to Ohio to convert the Delaware Indians to Christianity. Photo circa 1862.

In her recollections, Liwwat Bocke wrote: “Life is a long struggle. We must fell the trees, but also cope with droughts, deep snow, sudden flooding, cloudbursts, forest fire, swarms of deerflies and mosquitoes and midges, snakes, wolves, and twice the wolves were mad. . . . There are many wild hens. Pigeons sometimes filt [sic] the woods here like clouds so that the sun is hidden! And they break the branches down. Squirrels in swarms eat up all the cornfields. In time some people here go completely mad, change, commit suicide. Countless people do not talk with their spouses; many women have miscarriages, then pregnancy lost.”

Children and adults were constantly becoming lost in the forest. “In the spring the children play in the warm forest, scurrying around and looking about, and carelessly they get turned around, don’t recognize the surroundings, are lost! . . . After them the parents, unthinking and so badly upset, also become lost in their urgent haste.”

Accounts of frontier life reported that depression was a common occurrence in response to this isolation and constant work and fatigue. As one woman reported, “The women are not often praised, so they feel themselves abandoned in the world, facing their inner troubles. Also, the loneliness brings on drinking and suicide here.”

Domestic abuse was an all too common occurrence, and murder of a spouse was not unknown. Thomas Fishburn of Easton murdered his wife, Florence, and then cut his own throat.

As more people moved into Ohio and technology developed, the settlers would indeed conquer their environment. But for the initial female settlers, the environment they encountered proved a life-changing experience—one that constantly provided them with new challenges.

With these new challenges came new expectations based on necessity, and the roles of women changed somewhat to fulfill the needs of the new society. But as this frontier society moved away from survival mode, the previous expectations returned to limit the role of women. The frontier experiences, however, laid the foundation for some women to continue to fight the societal expectations imposed on them.

excerpt from Buckeye Women, The History of Ohio’s Daughters, by Stephane Elise Booth, Swallow Press/Ohio University, 2001

Map from “Ohio lands and their subdivision,” p. 107, by William Edwards Peters, Messenger Printery Co., Athens OH, 1918

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This was crazier than he could take sober

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 28, 2017

The Chicken Thumb
A far fetched folktale from NC

Well folks, sit right back and let me tell you a little tale about how Hoopie the farmer and the Rooster named Red went at it one day.

Before I start, it is necessary for me to tell you a little something about Red. Red is one of them Barred Rock roosters. That’s the kind they take to them events called Cock Fights. Now Red was always doing things around the farm that were of questionable nature. To make a long story bearable, he did his job quite well: fertilizing that is. He done it so well that chickens no longer satisfied his insatiable appetite for fertilizing. That’s when the trouble begin.

At first it was Guinea hens that were the object of his desire. That was okay. Then next it was the ducks. That was a little odd but still bearable. It was when he moved up to geese that we began to take notice.

The day Hoopie woke up to Daisy, the milk cow, half mooing half screaming was the day that began as the end, or so we thought.

What happened next is about the craziest thing you ever did see.

Hoopie went running up to the barn to find Red eyeing Daisy in a way that makes your skin crawl, much like when you see a snake crawl up your pant leg. Hoopie commenced to chasing Red. Well Red ran and ran and ran. Hoopie chased that darn rooster for two days. Meanwhile, the weeds were growing up in the fields and the cow was about to burst from lack of milking. Hoopie stopped to milk and weed, then the chase started for another two days.

Something had to give.

The Chicken Thumb folktaleThinking ahead, Hoopie come up with a trap for that darn rooster. He went into his wife Maybelle’s closet and picked out a right purty dress that he figured ole Red might find attractive. One thing led to another (you need to use your imagination here) and as Red tried to jump Hoopie, who now was the object of Red’s desire, Hoopie swung around and grabbed that dab burn ole rooster around the gizzard.

There was feathers flying, necklaces flying, sqwaking and cursing. When the dust settled, Hoopie was sittin straggle legged on the ground with his wife’s wig in one hand and Red in the other.

Hoopie gathered himself and immediately took action. He carried ole Red over to the wood pile where fate awaited.

Now Hoop had a few swigs out of the shine jug before he was able to get into Maybelle’s dress and attire. Afterall, this was crazier than he could take sober. So, when the axe swung downward, aim being on the left rooster head instead of the right head, the axe blade cut clean through the fat thumb of Hoopie’s left hand.

The Chicken Thumb folktaleRed jumped up with just a knick and began crowing his success. Hoopie jumped up with a bloody stub for a thumb screaming for help. The rest of the thumb just laid there on the chopping block and stared blankly at the scene slightly removed from reality.

Hoopie scooped up the rest of his thumb and yelled for Maybelle. Off they went to the hospital with the thumb in a bucket of ice.

When Hoopie returned home from the hospital he was quite a sight. There he was with the thumb all bandaged up and Maybelle’s dress and necklace for clothes with boots not to match. He was beyond mad at this point. All he could see were the looks of the people in the emergency room when he and Maybelle came running in with matching dresses and an apparent bucket of ice.

Well now, what happened next is only as predictable as the sun rising in the morning. Hoopie marched up to the barn and cornered Red in the hay loft. Red more or less knew that what was about to occur was destiny. So, Red went the way of all chickens that meet up with the losing end of a twelve gauge shotgun.


The+Chicken+Thumb appalachian+folktales appalachian+folklore,appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+humor

One Response

  • Gary Carden says:

    That is a good story! I just might use it at my “Liar’s Bench” which meets once each month at the local bookstore. We do a mix of storytelling, music and poetry, and nobody gets paid.

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Some cows never learn

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 27, 2017

“That night, as Mutt and I lay on the featherbed that Grandma had made, we talked by the light of the coal oil lamp. We were working on a plan on how to get rid of Old Betsy. That cow just had to go, we reasoned, and soon. Our first plan was to throw rocks at her all the way to the barn, hoping she would fall and break a leg and become a part of dinner. Well, we rocked her to the barn every day for about a week, and not once did she fall. So it was time to work on Plan Two. Betsy was smart, be we were smarter than any old cow.

“Here was our plan: There was this small path that ran alongside this small cliff. Mutt would do about anything I ever told him to do, me being his bigger brother and all, so we came up with this great plan. How could it fail? We asked ourselves.

“I said, ‘Mutt, you rock Old Betsy down the hill like you always do and I will stand in the path and wave my arms and cry ‘Shoo, Betsy, shoo!’ and she will run over the cliff and kill herself.’ The next day, we figured, would be Betsy’s last day on this earth. After all, how could a great plan like that fail?

“So, that next afternoon, old Mutt ran Betsy down the hill, throwing rocks at her and cussing all the way. I was ready. Standing in the path, I hollered, ‘Shoo, Betsy, shoo!’ I saw Betsy coming down that narrow path—800 pounds of speeding dynamite looking me straight in the eye. I was doing everything that I was supposed to do, waving my arms and crying ‘Shoo, Betsy, shoo!’

“But that stupid old cow didn’t understand one word I was saying. She hit me like a speeding locomotive and I went sailing over the small cliff intended for Betsy. When I landed, I hit hard. And boy, did I ever hurt. Nothing was broken but I sure was in a lot of pain for the next few days.

“On Saturday afternoons, Mutt and I always went to the movies. Most of the shows were cowboy movies, and Mutt and I just loved cowboys. Sometimes, the cowboys would ride bulls in the movies. That gave me yet another plan. Betsy hadn’t won yet. No one could ever get me to say ‘uncle,’ and no cow was going to beat me.

“So I told Mutt, ‘Here’s what we will do.’ I planned it all. I told Mutt that I would get on top of the barn and that he should run Old Betsy out through the barn door. ‘As she comes out the door,’ I said, ‘I will jump on her back and ride her into the ground.’

Mutt said, “Ralph, do you think you can do that?”

I said, “Sure I can.”

Well, I climbed up onto the barn roof and readied myself. Then I called out, “Okay, Mutt, let her rip!”

“Out the door came Old Betsy, sailing straight away. I leaped off the roof and landed right in the middle of her back! Away we went–down through the barnyard, out through the gate and into the backyard of our house. Betsy and I were headed straight for my mother’s clothesline. Betsy decided to take me right into it. I caught the line full in the middle of my neck — the darn thing almost took my head off! As I fell, Betsy went one way and I went the other, landing on the ground, square on my butt. Yep, some cows just never learn.”

Excerpt from Why Daddy Sold Old Betsy, by Ralph Hall, Ithaca Press, 2009

Ralph Hall, born 1936, was raised in Melvin, KY.

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John Amis starts a feud with the North Forkers

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 23, 2017

(part 2 of 2)

In April 1806 John Amis, who lived along the Kentucky River’s Middle Fork, went elk hunting in the area where his cattle were wintering.

He discovered some cattle from North Fork farms grazing in what he thought were grass fields reserved for him and his cohorts. Amis proceeded to stab about twenty head of the North Fork cattle and drive them into the water where they sank and died.

North Fork cattleman William Strong was outraged and immediately sought outside help against Amis’ actions.

“The Strongs sent to Prestonburg for General White of that place, it was not General White of Goose Creek,” recounted Henry Duff to missionary Dr. John J. Dickey in the late 1890’s. “I am sure the Strongs appealed to the Governor for arms and ammunition, and the Governor asked White to help or gave him authority to help them.”

And General Hugh White’s reply?

A local poet of the time, Cana Baker, quotes White in ‘Cattle Wars:’

You have got yourselves in trouble
Get out if you can,
I’ll neither come to your assistance
Nor send a single man

Upon hearing of this, the North Forkers, led by Strong and including Joel Elkins and 12 men from the Stacey, Davidson, Lewis, Bolling, Eversole, Callahan, Cornett, Lewis, and Begley klans, went to Amis’ house.

Amis wasn’t home, but his wife, Kate Bolling Amis, was there. The North Fork cattlemen shot the Amis horse and took twenty head of cattle from his farm to compensate themselves for the cattle that Amis had destroyed. Peter Stacy reportedly butted Kate in the face with his gun as the cattle were being rustled.

They took Jugie and Frogie
Burnt three fodder stacks
And broke some rifle guns

“As they started back Amis’ Negro man followed them supposed to have been sent by Amis’ wife, for the purpose of shooting at them,” relates John Lewis on July 27, 1898 to Rev. John J. Dickey, who recorded it in his diary. “At a turn of the road Peter Stacey concealed himself and as the Negro came in sight fired and struck his head. Stacey broke the gun, they brought back what cattle they could find.

“Then Amis solicitated a company of 30 men and started to the North Fork for revenge.”

John Gilbert, Amis’ brother-in-law, helped lead the group.

There was one Capt. John Gilbert
As I have heard them say
He fed his men on run down venison
Till Porter ran away
(Porter, a dog that ran over to the other side)

John Lewis continues the story: “William Callahan brought news to the North Forkers that they were coming and assembled at the mouth of Lick Branch concealing themselves in the ivy on the top of the cliff opposite the mouth of the branch, as Amis’ men came across the river. William Callahan fired at Amis and missed him. There was a general firing in which several horses were killed and Nicholson and Cox were wounded.

Nicholson hid behind a log
And hid just like a fox
And presently came shivering & shimming along
This poor half drowned Cox

“Amis spurred his horse under the cliff to protect himself from the bullets. John Gilbert rode up the bank to the company and they took him prisoner. Some of the party wanted to kill him but Strong saved his life. [other accounts claim Strong said ‘Shoot him!’]

John the Captain did miss killing
All met with homely fare
And he who came in last of all
Is apt to lose his share

“The plan was for Strong and Callahan to shoot Amis first which was to be the sign of attack. Strong was the best rifle shot in the county. Callahan shot before Strong, which prevented Strong from getting a bead on him. Callahan was accused of treachery for this act.

“The North Forkers had 18 men, William Strong, (afterwards a preacher), Peter Stacey, James Lewis, William Callahan, John Bolling, Samuel Davidson and Jesse Bowling.”

The Middle Forkers retreated to Cutshin and fortified, leaving portholes, expecting the enemy to follow them.

Eventually, they all agreed to end the fighting and settle the dispute in court. However, on the first day of trial, August 5, 1807, John Amis was shot dead by Joel Elkins as he was testifying from the witness chair.

“It appears from the Circuit Court Records that the Whites had him killed over the contract they signed with John Amis, who then owned the salt mine,” states genealogist Bonnie Miller. “This is how the Whites came to get the salt mine from John Amis.” Joel Elkins was employed at the Goose Creek Salt Works co-owned by John White and John Amis.

The inability of the militia to be able to react in a timely manner and the failure to maintain law and order during the months before the trial had pointed to the urgent need for a local constabulary, organized through a smaller county structure with a sheriff.

Thus, the Kentucky legislature established Clay County on December 2, 1806, from parts of Madison, Floyd, and Knox Counties. Having local law enforcement did not help maintain law and order, however: descendants of these combatants figured prominently in subsequent feuds that occurred in Breathitt, Perry and Clay counties, leaving a bloody heritage for future generations.

Sources: www.oblevins.com/Blevins/d0024/g0000077.html




Dr. John J. Dickey Diary, Fleming County, Ky. Recorded in the 1870’s and beyond. Reprinted in Kentucky Explorer, Volume 10, No 6 -November, 1995

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