Albert Stone, Annie Elizabeth Hill, Appalachia, Big Creek, Billy Adkins, Boone County, Brandon Kirk, California, Carlos Clark, Chapmanville High School, Church of Christ, Civilian Conservation Corps, Ed Haley, education, Edward W. Hill, Ellis Fork, fiddler, fiddling, Frank Hill, genealogy, Great Depression, guitar, Hell Among the Heffers, history, Huntington, Johnny Hager, Lloyd Ellis, Logan, Logan County, Madison, Melvin White, North Fork, Pope Dial, Pure Oil Company, Seymour Ellis, Six Mile Creek, square dances, Stone School, tobacco, Vernon Mullins, Walter Fowler, West Virginia, Whitman Creek
On June 2, 2004, Billy Adkins and I visited Frank Hill. Mr. Hill, a retired farmer, bus driver, and store keeper, made his home on Ellis Fork of North Fork of Big Creek in Boone County, West Virginia. Born in 1923, he was the son of Edward W. and Annie Elizabeth (Stollings) Hill. Billy and I were interested in hearing about Mr. Hill’s Fowler ancestry and anything he wanted to share about his own life. We greatly enjoyed our visit. What follows is a partial transcript of our interview:
I was born April 22, 1923 up the Ellis Fork Road. When I was born there, we had a four-room Jenny Lind house. It was an old-timer: double fireplace that burned coal and wood, you know. My mother had eleven children and I was the last one. When she saw me, she give up.
I went to the Stone School, a one-room school just up Ellis Fork. My wife’s grandpa, Albert Stone, gave them land to build this school. It wasn’t a big lot – it might have been 300 feet square. We played ball there in the creek. We didn’t have much dry ground. Well, I went through the 8th grade around there. Arithmetic was my best subject. I had good handwriting, too. I thought I could go into the 9th at Chapmanville but they wouldn’t let me. They said I hadn’t took this test you were supposed to take as you left the 8th grade.
I walked a mile and six-tenths to school. We’d had bad teachers. They couldn’t get no control over the students. Dad got this old fellow from Madison and he said, “Now, I’ll give you ten dollars extra on the month.” I think the board paid fifty dollars a month. Back then, young men and women went to school. Twenty, twenty-five years old. They were so mean the teachers couldn’t hardly handle them. I had an older brother that was one of them. A teacher whipped a younger brother he had one day and he said, “Old man, wait till I catch you out. I’ll give you a good one.” And he meant it, too.
Little Johnny Hager was a fiddle player. He was a little man, never was married. And he never had a home. All he had was a little suitcase with a few clothes in it. He’d stay with people maybe a month or two and the way he paid his keep was he whittled out lids or fed their pigs and stuff like that. He’d stay there a month or two till he felt he’d wore out his welcome then he’d go to another house. He was a well-liked little guy. Us boys, we followed him wherever he went cause he could sure play that fiddle. He played one tune called “Hell Among the Heffers”.
We had a hard time in this world. You couldn’t buy a job then. I had a brother-in-law that worked for the Pure Oil Company in Logan that was the only man that had a public job in this whole hollow. People grew tobacco to pay their taxes and bills they had accumulated. It was terrible. I remember my daddy had a little barrel of little potatoes when spring come and this old fellow lived above us, he was a musician. His name was Carlos Clark. He’d come out of the coalfields in Logan and he lost his home. His wife was a cousin of mine. He was trying to teach me to play the guitar. I’d go there and she’d lead the singing and he’d pick the guitar and I’d try to play second. He give me eleven lessons for that barrel of potatoes.
We had two or three around here that went to work in the CCC camps. Lloyd Ellis from Whitman’s Creek was one of them and Seymour Ellis was another one from Six Mile. In his last days, that was all he wanted to talk about. They went plumb into California in the CC camps. Then war broke out and they just switched them camps over to the Army. The Army operated those camps anyhow. That’s why they was so successful. They had control over boys to teach them how to do things.
We got just as wild as any of them. Ed Haley used to come over here and play. The Barker family had a full band. Now, they could make the rafters roar. There was an old lady lived in here married to Walter Fowler who called the dances and there wasn’t a one of us really knowed how to dance but we put on a show anyhow. They had them in people’s homes. No drinking allowed but there was always a few that did. They always had a lot of good cakes.
It was mostly Church of Christ around here. The main preacher up here in these parts was Pope Dial from Huntington. I’ll tell you another one that came in here that followed him sort of was Melvin White. Vernon Mullins followed up years later when he preached in here. I remember the first sermon he ever preached was around here in the one-room Stone School. He established a lot of different churches in the country but that was the first one. He’d talk about how he started here, preached his first sermon. Every funeral he conducted on this creek, he’d tell that story.