Mountain Traits from Dorie: Woman of the Mountains

Dorie and daughter
Photo of Dorie and Wilma courtesy of Ed Ammons

"Dancing was looked upon as a device of the devil by most mountain folks, but not Ma. She loved to dance. She'd lift her long skirt above her ankles and dance a dazzling Carolina clog. Her feet moved so fast it was hard to see them. Grabbing Luther, Lola, or me, she'd dance around the room until we were out of breath. "Do-si-do and here we go," she'd laugh as we whirled. All too soon, our fun was over and it was back to worktime for her. I never saw Ma sit still very long. Her energy kept her from relaxing in the rocking chair beside the fire. If she sat down at all, her hands were busy mending or crocheting."

Dorie: Woman of the Mountain pg 62 (1907-1912)


"Fred's family were frequent visitors, happy to have him near them again. I still didn't feel comfortable around them. Maybe it was my own fault that we didn't understand each other better. I was always quiet and reserved, in complete contrast to their boisterous, laughing manner. Mountain people didn't say anything if they were not sure what to say. So, usually I said nothing. I always remembered a quote from Abraham Lincoln who said, "It's better to keep your mouth shut and let people wonder if you're a fool than to speak and prove you are."

Dorie: Woman of the Mountain pg 148 (1917-1924)


"The Tremont Hotel was situated across the railroad, imbedded into the side of the mountain. The front porch was placed so the visitors had the best possible view of the river and the mountains. The Tremont settlement, with its boxcar, portable housing, and work sheds was out of visual range of the hotel guests.

Settlement people knew the hotel was off limits to them. But that was all right. Mountaineers wouldn't go anyplace they didn't feel welcome. They understood that the rich were different. That was a part of life they couldn't change. By now, most were aware of the differences between the two classes. Many of them had lived near the Wonderland Hotel in Elkmont where the same system worked. The Wonderland was a place to wonder about and view with some envy, as the ladies from Knoxville and other far away cities sat on the front porch in their finery and daintily fanned the gnats and flies away from their perfumed, painted faces.

The rumors and stories of what went on in the hotels kept the natives entertained. Some thought of them as the Sodom and Gomorrah of the mountains. A few local girls were employed as maids at both hotels. Pretty, young daughters were warned to stay away from the places. 

Dorie: Woman of the Mountain pg 199 (1924-1937)


I hope you've enjoyed each of the excerpts I've shared from the book Dorie: Woman of the Mountains, as well as my thoughts surrounding those excerpts. It's been almost two years since I read the book. From the first page I loved Dorie and was fascinated by the life she led. The stories from her life often wonder around in my head as I go about my way. 

The book captures a true picture of the people from the Southern Highlands of Appalachia from that time period, and in certain aspects, from today as well.

"Mountain people didn't say anything if they were not sure what to say." and "Mountaineers wouldn't go anyplace they didn't feel welcome." Are attributes that are still common to Appalachians today.

I commonly see people show a stoicism about a their lot in life just like Dorie noted in this line: "They understood that the rich were different. That was a part of life they couldn't change."

I feel a true kinship to Dorie. I wouldn't compare myself nor my life to the hardships she endured, yet her thoughts about the world and her people feel right at home in my mind and in my heart where I look at the world in much the same manner as she did. 

The entire time I was reading the book I kept thinking "Now these people are like my people. They're the same as us." As the pages drew thinner and I neared the back of the book, I didn't want it to end. I wanted to keep reading about Dorie, I wanted to see where life took her and her people. Little did I know there was a surprise waiting for me at the end.

Wilsons in Dorie woman of the mountain worked for little river lumber complany

Appendix 1

The following names were listed in the time books belonging to Robert Vance Woodruff. They worked with the Little River Lumber Company beginning in the spring of 1923 and ending in the fall of 1934. 

When I reached the appendix page at the end of the book and began reading the names of the various employees who worked for the Little River Company during that time period, I thought "Hey wouldn't it be cool if I actually recognized someone's name?"

On the second column of the first page there was Ben Wilson. "Hmph." I thought. "Maybe that was Pap's Grandpa. (Pap's grandfather was named Benjamin Wilson)

I flipped the page and continued to read the names. Second page third column-there was Wade Wilson. I thought "What!!!??? Could it really be Papaw Wade?"

I couldn't wait to ask Pap if he thought the Ben Wilson and Wade Wilson listed in the book could belong to us. Pap said "Well I'm not for sure, but I know they both did lots of logging between here and Madison County so its certainly possible that it was them especially since both their names were listed."

Was it really my Papaw and my Great Grandfather in the list of names? Is that why I felt such a kinship to Dorie and her people? As Pap said "I don't know for sure." And really, I don't need to know for sure. I already know Dorie and her family were my people-we share a common landscape, a common dialect, a common way of looking at and living in this world. 


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Pap Talks about Logging

Pap on the Porch

After we had the pines cut above our house, Chatter asked Pap to talk about how many times the area had been logged in his lifetime. Click on the bar below to hear what Pap had to say. Once you're done listening you may need to click your back button to come back to this page.

Pap talks about Logging

I hope you enjoyed listening to Pap. Sort of a funny start to the recording when Granny tries to tell him how to tell his story : )


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  Logging 2

Log Loader Credit: NPS Archives

"Fred and I were at Three Forks for three months before we were told to move to Eldorado. The skidder he worked on was being sent to a new job between Cades Cove and Townsend. The Eldorado acreage was one of the larger holdings of the Little River Lumber Company, out of the mountains we normally worked. It was so far removed that Eldorado is not part of the national park now. 

We were not happy there. The people seemed different. There were fewer than five women on the job, and the men were rougher in language and living. I was a nervous wreck from keeping a constant watch on Wilma, who was beginning to crawl and be into everything. My ever move seemed to be watched by the timber cutting crews working close to the cabin.

Fred's hunting dog, Jake, wasn't happy either. There was no time for hunting, and somebody was always telling him to get out of the way. The final straw was when Fred scolded him for eating food a neighbor had put out for his pigs. Old Jake couldn't take it anymore. He left and went back home to Three Forks. He showed up at Ma and Pa's, lean and hungry. Ma wrote that he had come home. 

I was homesick, too, I knew exactly how Jake must have felt. Fred agreed that Wilma and I would be happier back with the family. He spent the last three months in Eldorado by himself.

Eldorado was named by a mountain man who had journeyed to the far West in search of gold. After not finding any there, he became convinced there was gold in the Smokies. He came back and created his own western town-Eldorado. It had a different feeling than the other places we lived. Maybe he did bring part of the Old West with him.

The kind of gold he was looking for couldn't be found in our mountains. Most of life's true gold is missed by people who look down for shiny, yellow pieces of metal instead of up at the golden beauty of a mountain sunset, the golden wildflowers, and the simple gold that forms on the churn dasher as cream turns into golden mounds of butter." 

Excerpt from Dorie: Woman of the Mountains pg 118 (1912-1917)


I had never heard of the area Dorie writes of called Eldorado before I read her book, I Still don't really know anything about it. Interesting that the man who started the settlement wanted to make it his own western gold mining town.

Dorie's thoughts about life's true gold rang true for me as I drove to work this morning. The golden yellow tones of the leaves were absolutely stunning and Brasstown had a light fog that gave a magical sparkle to all of October's goodness.


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Norwegian Wharf Rats in the Smoky Mountains?

Logging 4
Logging Company Houses in Elkmont Credit: NPS Archives

"Summer brought a phenomenon never seen in the mountains. We awoke one morning to find the camp filled with huge rats. Black rats, brown rats, and spotted rats ran wildly from the river. They were into everything. Baby chicks were killed and partially eaten. Food for the livestock was scattered. Holes gnawed in the feed sacks left grain pouring onto the ground. Before morning was over, they had found every hole and weak spot in our homes. They ran across the floors and under the furniture. Women forgot their squeamishness and were battering them with brooms and mops. Men got guns and clubs to try to herd them away. Every time one was killed, two more showed up to take its place.

All our metal and glass containers were used to protect our food. Lamps stayed lit all night. We didn't dare step out of bed in the darkness. There was no place to keep the livestock food away from the rats. Hundreds were killed. We took sticks, clubs, hoes, or any weapons available when we went outside. I was thankful I didn't have a tiny baby to watch constantly. When we fed the pigs, the rats came in droves to the troughs. They were so greedy, they tumbled into the swill and ate while they swam. The pigs squealed helplessly as food was taken out of their mouths. 

The invasion lasted about a month before they went en masse on up the river. We felt a great plague had been called down upon us and was now lifted. Men no longer carried guns every time they went out the door. Sunday afternoons, which had been used as hunting days for the rats, were once again silent and peaceful. 

We heard they were Norwegian wharf rats, which had come from a seaport in Louisiana. It was thought that they came up the Mississippi River, The Tennessee River, and eventually into Little River. Almost like one of the plagues in Egypt, they came and went without warning. In spite of the rat invasion, we felt everything was going well on the job. 

We hadn't had any serious injuries, but our luck was about to run out. Hobert Proffitt was sitting beside the skidder, eating his lunch with the crew. Above him, the cable holding a newly cut log snapped. The log swung free and crushed him against the skidder. A sad crew brought him home. Ma went to his home to help the family and to prepare him for burial. They dressed him in his overalls and laid him on the bed. Friends and relatives came to comfort his family and to view his body.

Before the shock of Hobert's death wore off, we lost another crew member. Pete McCarter had his neck broken by the handle of a jack. Having lost two men in so short a time was a blow to us. Mountain people believe deaths occur by threes. Who would be the third one, we wondered?"

Excerpt from Dorie: Woman of the Mountains pgs 173-174 (1924-1937)


I'm probably drawn to this excerpt from the book because I'm terrified of mice and rats. I cannot fathom an invasion of rats like the one Dorie experienced. On one hand there's the terror aspect and on the other the weirdness of an army of rats showing up in the mountains far away from cities and towns. 

The excerpt is also memorable in its raw up-close look at the dangerous, even deadly, working conditions loggers experienced throughout the book. The bit of folklore in the last line about deaths coming in 3s is still alive and well in my neck of the woods. I've witnessed the lore myself, so I guess I'm helping perpetuate the belief for the next generation. 


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My Favorite Logging Story


I couldn't quit talking about logging without telling you about my favorite logging story of all time: Dorie Woman of the Mountains written by Florence Cope Bush. 

The book was first published in 1992 and has been published at least 7 times since then if not more. In the introduction Florence Cope Bush writes

"Dorie: Woman of the Mountains was not written with the idea that it would ever be published. I wrote it as a gift to my daughter, my mother, and myself. The manuscript was in my possession for fifteen years before a friend talked me into letting him publish two thousand copies in paperback for local distribution."

The book is a biography about Bush's mother, Dorie. The story spans the years between 1898 and 1942 and is set primarily in the Smoky Mountains.

Dorie's husband, Fred, had employment in the logging boom that went on in the early 1900s in the Smoky Mountains. The life and culture of logging weaves its way throughout the book. 

I've read lots of books about Appalachia and the two that ring the truest to me are Dorie Woman of the Mountains written by Florence Cope Bush and Appalachian Values written by Loyal Jones. 

Drop back by this week and I'll share a few of my favorite excerpts from Dorie Woman of the Mountains. I'll also be giving one of the books away so be on the lookout for that as well. 


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Logging Railroads

This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in January of 2009.


Sunburst logging town (present day Lake Logan)

I became interested in logging railroads when I worked at Lake Logan in Haywood County, NC. At the time, the lake was owned by Champion International (a paper manufacturing company). Champion used Lake Logan as a meeting facility. Folks would come for a conference or a workshop and while they were there they got to enjoy a little R&R in the form of fishing, golfing, canoeing, hiking, and party time in the bar which was called the Boojum Cave.

Train on steep Mtn Grade

When I worked at the lake there were amazing photos of tough logging crews from the early 1900s enlarged to 3 or 4 feet in length. The photos showed trains hanging on to steep mountainsides, hauling logs bigger than any I've ever seen.


During my days of boat house attending, I was also being smitten by The Deer Hunter. We spent many days tramping through the Middle Prong Wilderness. In places you could see the remnants of the railroad, still lingering after all those years.

I'm still drawn to the picture of the railroad logging operation. At that point in history it was modern technology, it provided work for hundreds of loggers and for folks who serviced the loggers, it was loud, it drastically changed the landscape of the mountains, and a whole town sprung up around it, in other words it was the biggest thing going.

Along side the first picture is a newer one. Most of the acreage logged in that area is now protected land, the timber is once again impressive in size, the town is gone. All that's left of the railroad are a few pictures and a few memories. Small fragments from a time in history. 

The forests are now silent except for the occasional hunter, fisherman, or hiker. It's almost like the logging railroad at Sunburst never existed.  

The comparison between the two pictures is why I find history so fascinating. What once was in now gone, but sometimes if you look closely you can still see the imprint of it.

For this week's Pickin' & Grinnin' In The Kitchen Spot I've got a train song for you- Gordon Lightfoot's Big Steel Rail Blues. A song about a man wanting the big steel rail to carry him home to the one he loves.

Hope you enjoyed the song!


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Falling the Tree

Falling a tree

fall transitive verb To fell a tree using a broad axe or felling axe (esp in phrs fall a tree, fall the timber).
1956 Hall Coll. Roaring Fork TN I was fallin' a big chestnut tree, and it struck a dead locust which fell against me, and I had to lay out doin' anything for two or three weeks. (Dick Ogle) 1958 GSMNP-110:39 My job was to chunk with the saw to fall the timber in the best shape without breaking it. 1960 Mason Memoir 110-11 It was the responsibility of the chipper to decide the most desirable direction in which to fall the tree. 1983 Pyle CCC 50th Anniv A:2:18 Somebody in the crew is supposed to know how to fall a tree.

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Although I love the smells that surround cutting wood, I'm a fraidy cat when it comes to falling the trees. 

The Deer Hunter and I were in total agreement about cutting all the pines that could possibly come down on the house in a storm. There was one tree that was a maybe on our list. It couldn't possible hit the house if it came down...but it was the main offender in shading my garden and over the last 2 years its shadow had lengthened to hover above the greenhouse in early spring before the sun rises higher in the sky. 

Chitter said "You're not cutting that tree it's my favorite and it's the biggest one we should leave it. You're not cutting it period. We should leave it." Her Daddy said "Well we'll leave it to the end and then we'll talk about it."

Granny is a fraidy cat when it comes to anything that can be the least bit dangerous-I guess that's where I get my tendency to close my eyes and cover my ears when something loud is about to happen. One evening the girls called to let me know I needed to park at Pap's and walk up since some of the trees were liable to land in the driveway. 

Granny and I went out on her back porch to see if we could see anything before I walked home. We heard the boom of a falling tree and then complete silence. I said "I hope everyone's ok it's unusual not to hear the girls talking or laughing." In the softest voice you've ever heard Granny said "Hello are you alright?" I got so tickled at her! I said "Now who do you think could hear you?" About that time we heard excited voices and knew all was well. 

The next evening I was able to drive all the way home since the tree cutting had moved farther along the ridge. As I got out of the car The Deer Hunter yelled down at me "Do you see what's missing?" I said "Well yeah some trees." He said "No the big one." 

I had completely failed to notice that the monster pine that had stood sentinel over the yard for so long was gone. I said "I thought you were going to wait to the end?" He said "We just got a wild hair and decided it needed to go too." I said "Well I'm glad I wasn't here to see it fall, I bet it shook the ground and it would have scared me to death!"

Even though I wasn't there, I got to see it fall anyway and thanks to Chatter's cell phone you can see it too.


Even though the tree has been on the ground a week it still scares me every time I watch the video. Sad to see it go in one way, but good in the sense that I can already envision what the extra sunshine will do for my garden next summer.


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Logging in the Mountains


Part of crosscut saw blade (1) by don casada

The Woodhick and the Ridgerunner written by John Parris

The woodhick and the ridgerunner talked of ballhooters and chickadees, bullwhackers and cantdog men.

They remembered when the hills throbbed with the sound of the stem-winder and the misery whip.

Both were old-timers, the last of a vanishing breed waiting to cross over the Round River, who grew up with a pickaroon or a briar in their hands.

As they sat in the shade of the tall hemlocks, fast beside a lake of sky-blue water, they sprinkled their talk with strange words that have no meaning for most folks nowadays.

For they talked of the days when this was a great logging town, with its bandmill and logpond, its great white-water flume and neat little rows of houses.

The world they knew has vanished. The great forests they leveled have come back. The logging camps back in the hills are only memories on which to hang a tale. The old-time bunk-houses have disappeared.

But there are a few reminders. Like some of the tools of their trade that have been preserved and now hang on the porch wall of the cabin of hand-hewn logs at their back.

“That,” said the woodhick, “is a misery whip or a briar.” He pointed to a seven-foot crosscut saw hanging on the wall. “It was designed for sawin’ the huge logs of the virgin forest,” he explained. “It was found some time ago by Red Haney completely embedded in a large rhododendron where an old-time cutter had left it years ago.”

A woodhick, he explained, is the mountain term for lumber-jack or logger. And a ridgerunner is a farmer who logs now and then.

A ballhooter is a fellow who rolls or slides down a hillside and a chickadee is a man who looks after the logging roads.

A bullwhacker is a driver of oxen and a cantdog man is a fellow who uses a short-handled peavey.

Peavey or cant hook by don casada

The peavey is a stout lever from five to seven feet long, fitted at the larger end with a metal socket and spike and a curved steel hook which works on a bolt. It is used in handling logs.

The cant hook is similar to a peavey but has a toe ring and lip at the end instead of a spike. 


I hope you enjoyed this old article written by John Parris. He wrote for the Asheville Citizen-Times for years and compiled many of his columns into book form. This piece is from the book Mountain Bred which was published in 1967. The book notes the area which he was writing of as the Sunburst area of Haywood County NC.

I worked at the site of the old logging operation of Sunburst when I worked for Champion International at their Lake Logan facility. Granny once told me that her mother and father worked as cooks at a logging camp named Sunburst. It had to surely be the same place. 

As you can see from the photos, there are still signs of past logging operations in Western NC. Don Casada was gracious enough to share the photos of items he has stumbled across while wondering around the mountains. 

Please leave a comment if you're familiar with any of the old words Parris used-or if you knew them but with a different meaning. About the only one I've heard before is misery whip.


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