The Gunter Cabin - Fontana Village NC
Welch Cove Pioneers:
The Gunter Family
Jessie Gunter was born in the Stecoah Valley to Hiram and Bettie Gunter. He and seven siblings grew up helping work their small farm. When Nancy Catherine Richardson arrived from South Carolina to teach at the Stecoah School, she and Jessie became smitten and decided to marry.
In 1875, Jessie and Catherine traveled with their four children to Welch Cove where Jessie's brother Cyrene lived. The brothers constructed a cabin for Jessie's growing family that has since been hailed as some of the finest carpentry in all the Smokies. The walls were made from large tulip poplar trunks, split and joined with half dovetail notches. Cherry and poplar puncheons, slabs of wood flattened on one side, comprised flooring across squared joists. A staircase was built to reach the upper floor and white oak shingles were hewn for roofing. The fact that the cabin has survived so long stands as a testament to the quality of the brothers' work.
Sadly, the family only enjoyed the cabin for a short time. A great blizzard assailed the area in the winter of 1884. Two of the Gunter children, 10 year old Bettie and 14 year old Hiram, fell gravely ill. In the absence of a doctor, both children succumbed to their illness and passed away as the blizzard raged outside.
Jessie, refusing to bury his boy and girl in a "green wood coffin," used the only dry lumber available: his puncheon floors. In a coffin wide enough for both children, they were laid to rest in what would become the Welch Cove Cemetery. Catherine battled depression for four years after this horrific loss until she, too, passed away in her sleep in 1888. Jessie fashioned her coffin in the same way as the first before leaving the cabin floorless and returning to Stecoah Valley.
~Excerpt from Fontana Village Plaque that hangs in the restored Gunter Cabin.
Last week some folks at work had to go to Fontana Village for a few classes and that got me to thinking about the Gunter Cabin and the sad sad story of Jesse and Catherine. I wonder if the people who moved in after Jesse left replaced the floor...and if they knew why it was missing.
I went to elementary school with a girl who's last name was Gunter I wish I could go back in time and tell her to ask her grandmother or grandfather if they knew of Jesse Gunter.
If you've never been to the Stecoah and Fontana Village area of Graham County NC you need to go-a beautiful place indeed.
Since I first started writing here on the Blind Pig one truth has proved itself over and over: you never know where questions will take you.
As will often happen, I already had the thought of wood meandering around my brain when GW Newton sent me the story about his Mother and lightered wood. Falling in love with his mother's fierce independent determination led me down a whole different road.
Somewhere along the dirt path that went from dead chestnut trees to rich pine I took a u-turn and went back along the way looking for rolling stores. Wouldn't you know, when I hitched a ride on the store truck I found a story or two by way of Pap. Seems he's always got a story for me no matter the subject.
Pap's family: Marie holding Henry, Wade, Carrie, Ray, and Pap in his overalls
Since most of the places Pap's family lived when he was a boy are within driving distance (if not walking) he's taken me to more than a few of them over the years. You may remember the place he lived on Cook Road-the place where he was scared in the moonlight.
The house had 3 rooms with a fireplace for heat and a wood cook stove. WWII had been over for a few years and things seemed to be picking up even here in Brasstown. Pap's father, Wade, was offered a job share cropping the old Brown place over on Pine Log.
In early summer they moved from Cook Road to an old house in Calley Cove that had 3 rooms too, but the rooms were larger. Even better the old cabin had a covered porch along the length of it. The house sat under a white oak as big as a wagon wheel. There was even a can house and a big barn. But the best part about the new place was that it was on the sunny side of the mountain, not in a dreary damp place like the house they'd just left.
The Brown place was less than a mile away, so Wade didn't have too far to travel back and forth. Things were going good for Pap's family. His father also did some farming for Pap's aunt and uncle, Ina and Bill Penland. Pap didn't say it, but I'm thinking his mother Marie liked being only a mile away from her sister Ina. And I know from the stories I've heard that a true bond of friendship was made during that time between the two sister's children.
The house in Calley Cove didn't have a fireplace nor a cookstove. The cookstove wasn't an issue since they were able to bring the one from Cook road with them. But as summer turned into fall the lack of a fireplace for extra heat became a problem. You'd think a cook stove would be enough to heat a little 3 room cabin, but I'm sure most of the heat went straight out the un-insulated walls.
Wade came up with the money to buy a woodstove-Pap thinks it was 26 dollars. He put in an order for Bennetts Rolling Store to bring him one as soon as they could. Finally the day arrived. Pap said it was an exciting time for them all.
Now this is the part of the story that tugs at my heart.
When Wade went to meet the store truck he didn't have anything to haul the stove home on.
All these years later, who can say why. Maybe he didn't have an animal to pull a sled-maybe he didn't have a sled-maybe he didn't want to put someone else out by asking to borrow theirs.
Pap doesn't remember the why, but he remembers the how.
Wade directed the store man to help him put the stove on his back. The man didn't want to comply with the request, the driver warned Wade he'd hurt himself, warned him there was no way he could make it home. Now my Papaw Wade wasn't a large man, he wasn't much taller than me (I'm 5'5) and he couldn't have weighed much more than me either.
Pap remembers how his Daddy started off for home with that stove on his back. He traveled a ways and then backed up to a bank so he could shift the load off. Pap remembers after his Daddy folded a coat and placed it on his shoulder he backed up to the bank and wrangled the stove to his back and started off again.
Pap remembers how after going a bit farther, his Daddy finally realized he'd bit off more than he could chew. After the stove was once again set on a bank, they went for a horse and sled that carried the load the rest of the way home.
I've pondered Papaw Wade trying to carry that stove a blue million times since Pap first told me the story. You'd think only a crazy person would try to carry a stove, but see I know Papaw Wade wasn't crazy, he was actually a very smart man. So why did he attempt such a herculean task?
Because his family needed a stove; because he had an independent spirit that made him want to take care of things on his own; because he didn't want to put someone else out by asking for their help; because he saw what needed to be done and went at it like fighting fire.
This story about Papaw Wade trying to carry a stove home to his family and GW Newton's story of his Mother figuring out how to get her own lightered wood splinters when she needed them inspire me. Both show the determination and goodness that can dwell within us humans.
In today's world there's no need for carrying stoves on your back nor crawling under the house for splinters, but there are still obstacles. There are still hard times in my Appalachia and there are still people rising above them for their families. And you know what? That's just as cool now as it was way back then.
p.s. This post was originally published right here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn in 2012. I've had Papaw Wade and his wood cutting on my mind the last few days and thought I'd share the post with you again.
Today's guestpost was written by Keith Jones.
Shotgun Wedding written by Keith Jones
When my Dad Grover Jones was a boy, my granddaddy Jones and the family lived way out in the country. It was the middle of the depression, so they got by just about any way they could. They didn’t own their own farm, but were sharecroppers. Quite a few folks, black and white, lived in the general vicinity, but no one lived within sight of their house. The R.E.A. hadn’t yet strung electricity into their part of the country, so nights were lit by lanterns, flashlights, and firelight. Folks went to bed early.
One night the family was all in bed…Daddy and Momma Jones in the main bedroom, with their numerous daughters and preteen Grover, the only boy in the family, scattered around the rest of the house. Something woke Daddy Jones about 10 or 11 at night. He thought he heard several quiet voices out in the yard, but when he pulled back the edge of the roller shade to look out, he really couldn’t see anything. It sounded like several people in the yard, but he just couldn’t tell.
There was not a lot of crime in their part of the world, but certainly crime was rampant during the depression, so Daddy Jones was not going to take any chances that a gang of bad men was coming to rob their meager possessions. He slipped into the room where Grover slept and shook him awake.
“Here, son, you take this and stand behind that door over there while I see who it is coming up toward the porch.” He put the “Long Tom” 12-guage shotgun into Grover’s hands, then slipped across the front room toward the door. As he did so, they heard the front steps squeak, and a loud knock came on the door.
No answer, just a shuffling sound as several people moved back from the door.
Finally, Daddy Jones cracked the door open and peeked out. On the porch was a crowd of Black people. In those Jim Crow days, segregation was not as strict in the country as it was in some towns, but it was highly unusual for anyone to come to someone else’s home after dark, and doubly unusual for Blacks to approach a white family’s house at night.
With no flashlight and no lamp lit, it was hard to recognize anyone. Finally, Daddy Jones asked (rather more loudly than he normally would have,) “What do you folks want?”
An older gentleman took a half step toward the door.
“Is you the Mister Jones that’s the preacher?”
“Yes,” said Daddy Jones. “I’m a preacher, but mostly I farm and do a little blacksmithing and carpentering. That still doesn’t tell me what you want. Is somebody dead or something?”
From the back of the crowd, a lady said, “Hummph! If’n he don’ do right, somebody fixin’ to be!”
The man at the front of the crowd reached back and pulled a frightened young lady up onto the porch.
“Preacher, this here’s my oldest daughter. And that…” Someone shoved a young man from behind, causing him to stumble up the steps beside the young lady.
“That is the young scoundrel I caught in the hayloft with her tonight! We’s here for you to marry ‘em.”
About this time, Grover noticed that he was outgunned. A couple of men—one old and one young—were also carrying shotguns.
“Grover, light the lamp.” Daddy Jones went back to the bedroom, pulled his overalls on, and slipped into the coat of his Sunday suit. There in the front room, the young couple said their vows, with Grover and Momma Jones as witnesses, plus two or three of the crowd, who stepped in to see that the couple were “married proper.”
Satisfied, the bride’s grandpa and brother shouldered their shotguns. Her momma, crying by now with the emotion of the moment, leaned on the stern daddy who had led the procession. The bride held to the arm of the bewildered-looking groom as the whole group moved slowly across the clean-swept clay of Momma Jones’ front yard. Grover and his dad watched the family until they disappeared down the starlit dirt lane.
And that was the end of the story…except for how I heard it. Decades later, we happened to be in the city that had grown up from the small town that was nearest to the sharecrop farm where all this happened. Dad picked up a newspaper and glanced through it to see if there was any news of people he’d grown up with or known as a child. Of course, he checked the obituaries first “…to make sure I’m not dead!” as he always explained to me. And there it was, on the social events page that faced the obituaries across the fold of the newspaper…a 30th wedding anniversary announcement, with a picture of a handsome Black couple, listing their many children and grandchildren. “What do you know?!” said Dad. And that’s how I learned about the real shotgun wedding.
I hope you enjoyed Keith's guestpost as much as I did! It made me think of several things:
- How Granny and Pap celebrated their 50th Anniversary last April...even though they courted less than 3 months before marrying.
- How Granny and Pap ran off to just across the Georgia line and got married at a preacher's house without telling Granny Gazzie .
- How Granny Gazzie gave Pap a stern talking to about taking her daughter off and marrying her without her parents knowlege and about how he better honor those vows and her daughter or she'd be coming after him. I'm betting it only took Granny Gazzie a few months to figure out her daughter marrying Pap was the best thing that ever happened to her daughter.
The Champion Walnut-Cracker ~ Dutch Cove written by John Parris
The old man sat in a split-bottomed, straight-backed chair cracking out walnuts with a hammer on a locust stump in the front of his woodshed.
"The preacher down at Morning Star calls me the champion walnut-cracker of Haywood County," he said. "That's what he told me. And I don't guess anybody else does crack as many walnuts." George Smathers grinned and his eyes twinkled.
"There's one thing for a fact," he said. "You won't find a walnut-cracker as old as me. I'm just nine months away from being a hundred years old, the oldest man that ever lived in the Dutch Cove."
"Got in the walnut-crackin' business about seven or eight years ago so I'd have me a little extra spendin' money. The womenfolks around here and down at Canton take all I can crack out. they put 'em in their Christmas cakes. There's nothin' finer than a walnut cake."
"I generally sell about forty pounds of walnut meat a year. I cracked out fifty pounds last fall. I figure on knockin' out forty or fifty pounds this year. Got $3.75 cents a pound last year, but I'm goin' to get $4 this year or not sell'em at all, just throw 'em away.
"I don't figure that's too high, what with all the work that goes into it. You have to get out and go huntin' all over this country for walnuts. Then you've got to hull'em. Then you've got to dry'em. And then you've got to crack 'em. If it wasn't for havin' somethin' to pass off my time, I wouldn't bother with 'em."
(Excerpt from the book Mountain Cooking written by John Parris 1978)
The Deer Hunter grew up in the Dutch Cove where George Smathers lived. He doesn't remember The Champion Walnut-Cracker, but he did go to Morning Star Elementary School and he has great memories of roaming the fields in the cove with his dog and with his best friend Eric who lived just down the road a ways.
Today's guest post was written by Charles Fletcher.
Blackberry Cobbler written by Charles Fletcher
There are many ways to make a cobbler with peaches, apples, pears, blueberries, and even figs but none of these can take the place of the old standby, blackberry cobbler. And to enjoy it the most, you must pick the blackberries yourself.
One of the many chores that my brother, TJ, and I had during the summer months when not in school was picking blackberries. We picked them not only for our table but also to sell to the “city folks.” They would pay us ten cents (10¢) a gallon for our berries.
One summer day we were up early, long before daybreak, and we headed to the mountain where the berries were big and plentiful along the edge of the woods. On this day we were going on the side of Pressley Mountain, Grandpa Pressley owned one side and the Patton’s owned the other side. Although the Patton’s were wealthy, they would take half of your berries if you picked any on their side of the mountain.
We always traveled on grandpa’s side but sometimes we did venture onto the Patton side because their berries were never picked. By noon we had our buckets full of big juicy berries. We had about five gallons total. That meant four gallons for sale and one gallon for our favorite cobbler.
It so happened that my little white dog had come along with us to the berry fields. This was okay with us until something strange happened. Without warning, our dog began to run around in circles, barking and crying like he was going mad. This scared the living daylights out of TJ and me. We didn’t know what was happening, so we both climbed up a tree where we would be safe from the dog in case he had gone mad. After running around in circles and making a lot of noise he stopped and seemed to be back to normal. We came down from the tree, got our buckets of berries, and went on our way.
We were not far from the main road. Taking it would be a lot easier walk home than climbing back up the mountain. We never gave any thought about being on the Patton side of the mountain. Soon we were down onto the road and on our way home.
Suddenly two of the Patton boys appeared; where they came from we didn’t know. They were near twenty years old, and we were not yet in our teens.
They told me and my brother that we had picked the berries from their mother’s property and that half of the berries belonged to them. They made us go to their house and took us into the kitchen. There, a woman was working over a hot, wood burning stove. The boys said, “Look here. We have some berries for you to can.”
“I don’t have time for canning them,” she said. Then she gave us permission to leave.
We were on the road again to take four gallons of berries to town to sell for forty cents. Then it happened again. Our dog began another one of his fits. He was running all over the road.
It was very rare to see a car pass by on this road, but one just did happen to come by. Our dog ran in front of the car and it hit him. This killed him instantly.
TJ, my brother said, “Guess the dog is better off”. We had lost our little dog but we didn’t have to be afraid of the “mad dog” anymore.
Years later, I was told that these fits were caused by the dog having worms in its stomach.
TJ and I had earned twenty cents each, and the whole family had a big blackberry cobbler to eat that night at supper time.
Hope you enjoyed Charles's guest post as much as I did. Now if only we could find some blackberries at that price today!
Charles has written several books about growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina. If you'd like to purchase any of Charles Fletcher's books-they are available at many of your local book stores-or you can contact him directly at email@example.com
The winners of the Christmas in July cds are:
Marilyn Ally who said: Hi! I have following your posts for quite awhile I enjoy the posts cause you're down to earth , and full of info. Am new to the Mts but my heart has always belonged to the quite life style, that only these Mts can bring.
Pamela Danner who said: Wow, it does seem like your having Christmas in July, and your spreading the Holiday Cheer! Sounds like you will having a very tasty winter! Thanks for the chance to win some lovely holiday music! Pam scrap-n-sewgranny.blogspot.com
Dolores who said: I am so glad that Pap is getting around more by himself. Prayers are being answered. The girls on the radio - Yipee Yeah! You found time to relax after all this work, WOW! I would have crashed. I would love to own some country Christmas songs.
Marilyn, Pamela, and Dolores you can email your mailing address to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you leave it in a comment here-I'll get it that way but will not publish it.
p.s. Shared from WKRK: Mike Westendorf from Milwaukee will be performing in the Share The Hope concert at Murphy First Baptist Church at 6:30 pm this Friday [July 24] along with The Pressley Girls, a very talented duo from Brasstown. The event is co-sponsored by your local radio stations to help raise awareness and funds for Christian Love Ministries, an addiction treatment facility. Join us on Friday for the concert.
Today's guest post was written by Ed Ammons.
Daddy's Stetson written by Ed Ammons
Daddy had a gray felt Stetson hat. It was probably was the most expensive piece of apparel he ever owned. Daddy didn’t buy it though. It was a gift and it was used. Daddy’s sister had married into a family of “means”. She often gifted our family with items that were outgrown or unwanted, mainly clothes and books. Never money that I know of, but that doesn’t mean the hat had no connection with money.
Daddy was proud of that hat and wore it only on special occasions and always to church. He would take it off as he entered the door and carry it with him to wherever he wanted to sit. At Hightower the men usually sat on the left side. Daddy tried to get the first pew (the “pews” were actually homemade benches with straight backs) at the end next to the middle aisle. He would sit down first and the hat would sit beside him. There were nails in the wall at the back to hang coats and hats and such, but Daddy never hung his Stetson there. It always sat beside him. You are thinking, “why guard it so closely, it’s a church!”
Yes, Daddy was proud of his chapeau, but pride never entered the church doors. That Stetson served another purpose. When all the singing, shouting, preaching and praying had begun, the hat came into its own. Daddy would pick it up, turn it over and put something in it. Then he would cross over to the “women’s” side and hand it to whoever was sitting next to the aisle on the first pew. Then he would return to his seat to wait. The hat would make its way across and back and across and back again and again until it reached the back of the building, then someone would carry it over to the men’s side where it repeated the process in reverse until it made its way back to the front where Daddy was seated.
Along the way it collected a few pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. And fewer dollars. We were poor people back then and very little cash money was available. The adults would distribute whatever they could afford among their children before service so everyone could give. The best the church could expect to collect was enough to pay the light bill and give the preacher a little gas money.
When Daddy got his Stetson back he would take it up to the pulpit, sit it on a shelf in the back and return to his seat. Only then could I go sit beside my Daddy.
I hope you enjoyed Ed's memories of his daddy and his hat as much as I did!
Alex Lewis Stewart, the second of 16 children, was born in 1891, near the top of Newman's Ridge in a tiny one-room log cabin which his father Joe Stewart had built a few years earlier. So remote was this locale during Alex's growing-up years that roads were nonexistent, and the Stewart homeplace could not even be reached by wagon. There were numerous families living near them on the ridge, trying desperately to survive from the woods and from steep corn patches and garden spots.
Today these families and their descendants are all gone from Newman's Ridge, and gone too are the huts and cabins where they lived. A half-standing chimney of unhewn stones, a few gnarled apple trees, and the trace of an occasional rail fence are all there is to indicate that people ever lived there. The little hillside fields, once so laboriously cleared of trees, are becoming forested once again. The Stewarts and their compatriots came into the forest primeval, confronting and conquering the untamed wilderness; then they moved on, but not until Alex spent a romantic and memorable boyhood there.
Excerpt from Alex Stewart Portrait of a Pioneer by John Rice Irwin
Interesting paragraphs from Irwin's book. While I liked it all, it was one word that made me want to share it: compatriots.
Pap uses the word compatriots to describe friends and close acquaintances.
*Source: Alex Stewart Portrait of a Pioneer by John Rice Irwin.
"Homeplace. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, well this is one word that is worth a thousand pictures. I think that our home place permeates all of our senses. I can close my eyes and see, smell, touch and listen to the sweetness of my East Tennessee home.
Years ago my daddy took advantage of a good job with the Civil Service and moved us way down to Middle Georgia. It was a really hard transition for me - I mourned for my creek, treks across the cow pasture picking blackberries and sniffing bee balm, seeing the delicate little Rue Anemone burst through the soil to welcome the spring. I grew to love my adopted home in Georgia, and later North Carolina, but my heart always belonged to Tennessee.
Homecoming for our family means walking our hills at least once a year. We lost my daddy a year ago this week. I always thought he would have his final homecoming at that beautiful spot but being a practical man, he chose to be buried at Andersonville National Cemetery in Georgia rather than Andersonville, Tennessee. His military service meant a great deal to him and he knew his grave would always be cared for. His Great Grandfather survived Andersonville prison during the Civil War and as a little child my daddy sat at his knee and heard him tell about the suffering there. My father is buried in the soil where his Great Grandfather trod during those hard times so in a curious twist our family story has circled full round. In my last private moment before my daddy's casket was closed I placed a jar of our beloved Tennessee earth at his side.
Homeplace. No matter where we are it travels with us in our hearts."
~Mary Rutherford - January 2014
Today's guest post was written by Don Casada.
Old Growth by Don Casada, February 28, 2015
High above the waters of Indian Creek, deep in a hollow carved into the divide called Sunkota Ridge, there stands a fine old-growth yellow poplar. There are a few sizable oaks in the area, but just that one old-growth poplar.
I first ran across the tree just over three years ago. I’d been down near the creek looking for evidence of the old Indian Creek School when I got word that Pearl Cable had fallen and broken her hip. Pearl was 91 years old at the time. A broken hip at that age is often followed by a general rapid deterioration in overall health, so prayer was certainly needful.
My preferred location for worship and prayer is, to use a Louis L’Amour book title, Lonely on the Mountain, so I decided to fetch myself to a high spot from which to pray. Since it was a few miles from where a maintained trail ascended the ridge, I elected to just take off and bushwhack up through the woods toward the top of Sunkota, a ridge which, for several miles, is the divide between Deep Creek and Indian Creek. Quite a bit of it is a steep haul, but fortunately I hit an old sled road which made the climb considerably easier, although there were a few sections of laurel and greenbrier to contend with.
Just as I was approaching the ridgeline, the old-growth poplar caught my eye. Old-growth poplar can be distinguished by the deep furrows on its bark. Second-growth poplars, for whatever reason, don’t have the same characteristic, even when they reach over three feet in diameter.
There’s something about old trees which evokes respect and awe, even a sense of reverence. As soldier Joyce Kilmer wrote, a tree “looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray.” This being February, there were no leaves, but her arms were untiringly lifted, and so it just seemed a fitting spot to stop and join in the prayer.
Prayers lifted from there and elsewhere – including from Tipper’s Blind Pig readers (thank you) – ”took holt” in Heaven; Pearl had surgery and recovered.
A difference in character
My father spent his working for pay days in the woodworking business, all but a couple of those at the Carolina Wood Turning plant in Bryson City. Years after he retired, he would occasionally talk about the trees of these mountains and the quality of their wood. Daddy insisted that old-growth yellow poplar was an altogether different tree than second-growth poplar, and finer in all respects.
There are a few places in these mountains, including the Fork Ridge area of Deep Creek, sections in Caldwell Fork of Cataloochee as well as a few other isolated locations, such as the Joyce Kilmer Forest near Robbinsville where fine stands of old-growth poplar can be found. If you have never been into one of these or similar areas, and have the physical ability to do so (relatively little walking is needed in Joyce Kilmer by the way), I strongly encourage you to go. Your soul will be blessed and your heart refreshed by time thus spent.
Old-growth poplar wood is light, straight-grained and durable, and because it grows with long, straight, limb-free trunks, made prime material for log cabins, schools and churches. There are standing log structures in our area with two-plus foot wide poplar logs which date back well over a century. In addition to these rough-hewn uses, poplar was also selected for the making of machined wood pumps and veranda or porch columns, such as those manufactured by the Bryson City Pump Works in the early 1900s. As a catalog of the era noted, only #1 clear yellow poplar was used: “Unlike the northern, or hard white poplar, it will stand exposure to sun and rain without check or decay.”
In November of the year of Pearl’s recovery from the hip surgery, I made my way back up the mountain to locate where I’d gone to pray, and reflected on how many characteristics she shared with old-growth poplar – tall, straight-grained, durable, and over the course of her life had applied herself to rough (cutting firewood and building rock walls) and refined (doctor’s aide) services. And just being around Pearl is a soul-refreshing time. For future reference purposes, I put a marker for the tree location on my GPS unit and named it “Pearl’s Poplar.”
A journey back home
Today (February 28, 2015), I once again sought out Pearl’s Poplar. Several inches of the snow from this past week still covered the ground in all but the spots that get a lot of sun. Down along the Deep Creek and Indian Creek trails, enough folks had walked to pretty well compact the snow and it was a mess to travel through. Leaving Indian Creek, I found that a solitary soul had preceded me on the “Loop Trail” climb across the lower end of Sunkota Ridge.
When I reached the Sunkota Ridge trailhead where I would make the turn and begin the ascent towards Pearl’s Poplar, I found it covered in untrammeled, pure and lovely snow. The contrast between the mess I’d been through down lower and the virgin snow brought to mind the passage in Isaiah where, considering the mess that many of us have made of our lives, God says “Let us reason together…though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” It also occurred to me how fitting it was that this part of the journey would be made alone, for this earth is not our final home; the days of even a gentle but tough lady like Pearl are numbered. I was led to make the pilgrimage to Pearl’s Poplar on this particular day because this morning at 7 am, her own earthly pilgrimage reached its end.
New beginnings and trees along the river
The first passage in Lonely on the Mountain reads:
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
Pearl started a new beginning today. We are told that in that land of new beginnings, it’ll always be springtime, for trees of life, standing alongside the river, bear fruit every month. Western North Carolina native Red Smiley, who is buried a few miles west of town in the DeHart Cemetery, and Don Reno sang of that, as did the Johnson Mountain Boys.
That Biblical imagery is no doubt what Stonewall Jackson had in mind just before dying. In his excellent biography, Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend, James Robertson notes that Jackson’s physician, Hunter McGuire, recalled that just before he died, Jackson suddenly emerged from a state of wild delirium. With a peaceful smile of relief he said “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees” whereupon, he did in fact cross over.
This earth isn’t heaven, but these mountains that we call home are the next closest thing. I’m grateful that there is special place, lonely on the mountain, where I can go to reach out and touch Pearl’s Poplar, look along its rugged, character-telling trunk toward Heaven, and harken back to the twinkle in the eye and the joy in the voice of an old-growth mountain lady and treasured friend, Pearl Crisp Cable, now resting in that springtime forever place.
It is my hope that your readers would – as Pearl might’ve said – “take to studying” on ways in which Darling Pearl was like that old-growth poplar. Brother Jim saw my words earlier and came up with several thoughts which maybe he’ll repeat for you in a comment here.
But it occurred to me that there was a way for your readers to get an altogether different sense of what a pure delight Pearl was to be around.
I dearly loved just to sit and talk with her – or more accurately, listen – to Pearl talk. Last spring I had a chance to sit down with her and just the two of us had a nice long conversation on a host of subjects. I picked out a few minutes of our time together, and thought the Blind Pig readers might enjoy listening to Pearl talk. If you get 1% of the enjoyment out of hearing her that I do, it’ll make your whole week. (click on the link below to hear Pearl)
Relative to the question about how old she was when she got her first dress - Pearl was born in 1920, the second daughter of Miles and Sarah, and about two years younger than Virgie and two years older than Letha. So it would’ve been sometime in the mid-1930s when Pearl got her first store-bought dress and coat.
Today's guest post was written by Don Casada and portions of it were originally published here on the Blind Pig in February of 2012.
Pearl Cable: a sweet young filly, from way up on Pilkey Creek written by Don Casada
Pearl Crisp was born on April 26, 1920 (if you’ll do the math, you’ll see that she’s 94 going on 95) and raised on Pilkey Creek. Pilkey Creek is, to the person who can only get there by walking, the most remote mid-to-major size stream on the north shore of Fontana Lake. It is 13 or more miles from any point which you can reach by wheeled vehicle. Most folks who go there travel across Fontana to the creek by boat. But even going that route, there’s a fair amount of walking left to reach some of the old home places – such as that of Miles and Sarah Pilkington Crisp, the parents of Pearl.
Pearl met her future husband, Sam Cable, at the Tennessee River Baptist Church near the mouth of Chesquaw Branch. From the Crisp home, it was 1.7 miles down out of the holler to old NC 288, then another 1.9 miles down to the church. As you might guess, the family traveled by foot – both ways of course. Now it was only uphill one way, but there was a 700 foot climb involved in the 3.6 mile trek back home.
Tennessee River Baptist Church (TVA photo)
After they got to courting, Sam would regularly walk Pearl home from church on Sunday. Along the way, they’d walk past the old elementary school at Dorsey, Dad Collins little country store at the mouth of Clark Branch – closed on Sunday, of course – and then on up Pilkey Creek past Miz Laura Mae Clark Posey’s grist mill.
The old Dorsey School (photo courtesy of Swain County Genealogical Society)
Dad Collins store (TVA photo)
A little ways after you turn off of the Pilkey Creek road up towards the Crisp place, there’s a fine old beech tree standing on the bank of the little unnamed branch that flows out of the Miles and Sarah Crisp holler. I took a picture of that Beech back last year and showed to Pearl to see if she remembered it. Her eyes lit up even brighter than normal and she said “Why I well remember that tree – I spent many an hour there.” I later wrote a little song that included a line saying that she and Sam “would sit and spark a bit beneath that old beech tree,” intending to tease her. But she never denied it, so it just may be that a recollection of sparking was part of what lit up her eyes.
The fine old beech tree alongside the stream below the Crisp place
After Pearl and Sam were married, she moved just across the high ridge that defines the western edge of the Pilkey Creek basin, and made a home with Sam on Calhoun Branch, just down the holler from where Sam grew up. Their daughter Velma was born there in 1942 – one of the last babies born on the north shore. Velma was but a month old when Sam had to leave for basic training in Kansas. The picture below has handsome Sam, beautiful Pearl, and sweet baby Velma when Sam was home for a few days just before leaving for Europe, where he fought for us in WW2.
Sanford (Sam), baby Velma, and Pearl Cable - 1943
While Sam and many other boys from Swain County were off fighting for us and Uncle Sam, another of Uncle Sam’s outfits – which went by the name Tennessee Valley Authority– moved in to the upper Little Tennessee Valley and began to build Fontana Dam. I don’t want to start traveling the literally hundreds of roads that could take us down, or we’d still be here next year. But suffice it to say that by the time Sam got back, their property had been taken, and Pearl, Velma, the Crisps and countless others had been moved out. The cross on the steeple of the Tennessee River Baptist Church was covered by more than 100 feet of water, as were the old Dorsey Elementary School and Dad Collins Store. The Posey mill stood above the flood, but was to never again grind corn to meal; there was no one left to grind for.
It was a cold morning in late November when the bus pulled up down in front of Dent’s Café in Bryson City. I’m sure the ground of his home county underneath his feet never felt better when Sam Cable stepped off, retrieved his duffle bag from the underbelly storage of the bus, and went inside to get some breakfast after an all-night ride. War time communications had been restricted, so while Sam knew the families had been forced to leave their homes, he didn’t know the details of why or even where his folks were. Fortunately, a taxi driver just happened to know where Pearl’s folks had moved to, knew that Pearl and Velma were living there with them, and gave Sam a free ride up to their place up off of Franklin Grove Church Road. Can you imagine the laughter, tears, and pure joy that filled the Crisp home that morning?
Pearl and Sam settled just up the road from Pearl’s parents, had another child – Marvin – and made a fine life for themselves here in Swain County. Sam bought and ran a Gulf gas station up above town and Pearl took care of the young’uns and worked as a doctor’s assistant. The phrase “the greatest generation” surely applies.
Old days and harder ways
I’ve spent many days talking with Pearl about old times – days that I count as a true blessing. She’s sweeter than the petal of a rose, sharper than its thorn, and has an absolutely amazing memory of the people, places, and times. Spend a few minutes with her, and your steps for the rest of the day will be lighter and your outlook brighter.
While she always has a positive outlook, Pearl doesn’t look backwards through rose-colored glasses. She has some wonderful memories about life growing up on Pilkey Creek – but is also quick to tell you that you couldn’t pay her to go back in there – it was hard, hard, hard work.
A part of the hard work that Pearl remembers involved rocks. Now I don’t mean to offend anyone with Pilkey Creek roots, but there are parts of Pilkey Creek that grew, and apparently still grow, some of the finest crops of rocks a body ever laid eyes on. Pearl says she spent many a day stacking rocks. The photo below is my wife Susan standing below a rock wall a little further up Pilkey creek above the Crisp place. That wall is stacked a little higher than normal – about 6 feet (4 feet thick and perhaps 100 yards long), but is similar in other respects to dozens that you’ll find scattered throughout the Pilkey Creek drainage.
Rock wall below the John Pilkington place; October, 2011
Pearl and her mother also did a lot of the firewood gathering, she recalls, most of which went into the fireplace of the home her father (shown below) built in 1930. That’s Pearl, holding her sister Vergie’s baby. The one-story frame home was built with sawn lumber and covered with shingles rived by Pearl Crisp Cable’s father, Miles Crisp, a very gifted – and giving – man. You can see a bit of his smokehouse just to the left of the chimney – or to spell it the way we mountain folks say it – chimley (try it, by the way, and see if chimley doesn’t roll off your tongue a lot smoother than chimney).
Miles and Sarah Crisp and family – circa 1940
While he did all the other work on the home – the foundation, framing, riving and laying of the shingles – Mr. Crisp hired a fellow known to be skilled in stone work, Huston Nelms, to build the chimney. Nelms was a young 68 years old in 1930 when the frame home was erected. According to Pearl, he built many chimneys in the area. He made his own home a few miles to the west, alongside Mill Branch. His own home had an exceptionally nice springhouse, the foundation of which can be found hidden by a patch of doghobble about two good spits from the Lakeshore Trail.
Today, the chimney that Huston Nelms erected still stands sentinel watch over the Crisp place, a “country mile” up that feeder to Pilkey Creek. Other than a few rocks missing from the top (no doubt knocked off by falling limbs), the chimney is in excellent shape.
It might be noted that the clay chinking used in this chimney, some of which is still in place (you might be able to make it out in the middle section), came from just up the holler. It is almost white in color, bringing kaolin clay to mind. The Crisp place is one of those homes that – when you visit – just has a really good feel about it. You sense both love and hard work about the place.
Miles and Sarah Crisp family chimney; photo taken in November, 2011, 67 years after the family was forced to leave (the home was burned – or to use their terminology – “melted” by the U.S. Park Service).
Yesterday I received the following email from Don:
"Susan and I stopped to visit Pearl last Thursday on the way to
Raleigh. She was smiling, but you could tell her energy level was
low. Velma (her daughter) sent a note on Sunday or Monday saying
that she'd had a rough couple of days, and then another note this
morning saying that they had moved her to a hospice home.
If you wouldn't mind, could you please put a note at the end of your
tomorrow's blog and mention it? Pearl is a tough, tough lady who has
amazingly made it through broken hips and a great deal of pain, so it
would be a mistake to underestimate her endurance, but I suspect she
is being called."
I thought re-sharing Pearl's story along with Don's request would be a good thing to do. Keep a good thought for Pearl and I'll keep you updated on her health.