Alvin York, Appalachia, Arthur Davenport, Babe Ruth, Banastre Tarleton, Battle of Cowpens, Battle of King's Mountain, Charles Darwin, Charleston, Charleston Daily Mail, Charlie Chaplin, Chicago, culture, Jack Dempsey, Kentucky, Logan, Logan Banner, R.H. Martin, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia
From the Logan Banner of Logan, WV, dated August 5, 1927, comes this editorial about the “mountain folk” of Appalachia, printed in response to a piece in Collier’s:
Observations By R.H. Martin, Editor of Charleston Mail, In Rejoinder to Collier’s Article
Some West Virginia newspapers are both indignant and aroused over an article printed in Collier’s recently under the name of Arthur Davenport and having for its theme the sad and deplorable conditions of the mountain dwellers in Southern Appalachia. The general tenor of the article can be fairly judged by the introductory synopsis:
We Americans are fond of tilting our noses and giving the rest of the world the superior eye.
Anybody going about in that fashion is pretty sure to overlook an unpolished heel or a rip in the clothing where it makes others laugh most.
Here is the story of the unpolished heel. Here are Americans of nearly two hundred years’ breeding who never heard the names Roosevelt, Wilson, Ford, Babe Ruth, Charlie Chaplin; who never saw a —
But never mind. Read and cease marveling for a few moments that the Chinese can be dedraggled, the Hottentot so naked, the mukhik so ignorant and the Hindu so impoverished. Here are all of these calamities within a few hours train ride from our own golden Capitol.
If the conditions are as Mr. Davenport has painted them, then it would appear to be a case where pity and help were needed rather than sneers and laughter. In fact, Mr. Davenport in the introduction, or Collier’s editor who may have written it, gives some indications of “nose-tilting” that might provoke a rather loud guffaw from some unlettered mountaineer whose forbears were possibly among, and certainly of the same type, of those mountaineers who won the battles of the Cowpens and King’s Mountain, which victories some historians consider the turning point in the American revolution. They were probably of the same type as that Col. Washington, who, although he could not make a letter, yet left the mark of his sword on a certain Col. Tarleton.
It may be true–we shall not attempt to deny it–that there are mountaineers who never heard of Babe Ruth. We have not the slightest desire to detract one iota from all laurels due to the famous batsman, but, like most mountaineers, probably we should, if it simmered down to that, prefer Sergeant York as our hero to the idol of the howling grandstand that throws pop-bottles at umpires.
Nor shall we repine if it is true that some of these mountaineers never heard of Charlie Chaplin. We fail to see where knowing him as most Americans know him would be intellectually or otherwise uplifting. Perhaps, such mountaineers, as have missed long-distance acquaintance of either of these gentlemen just mentioned have not lost so much after all. As for other names mentioned there may be in the deepest mountain recesses persons who have not heard of them. If Mr. Davenport knows of his own personal knowledge of such cases, his statement stands.
There are mountain folk in the great ranges of Southern Appalachia who have been cut off from this modern civilization of ours that produces bandits in Gotham and gunmen in Chicago, the nauseous scandals of Hollywood, the commercial orgies of Dempsey and Sharkey, and other highly moral and refining manifestations of the literates, and their ignorance of the outside world may be large. But as to whether a more intimate contact with this outside world which we boastfully call civilized would improve the mountaineer or not, would, it seems to us, depend a good deal upon that part of it with which he came in contact.
Mountaineers in the innermost recesses of the elevations of the elevations are poor as well as deficient in general knowledge. We admit as much. Their wants are few, and they are able to get along with what to satisfy their forefathers who at infinite toil conquered the wilderness and blazed the paths of those whose “culture” takes on “nose-tilting” sneering and laughing. Perhaps Mr. Davenport might get a new insight into real values if he should read what Bobbie Burns wrote about “honest poverty.”
Illiteracy still exceeds 90 percent in the mountains of Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, which states contribute to the four million of which I write. Poverty of a sort unbelievable in the cities is so commonplace as not to be impressive: the amount of money passing through the hands of the old mountaineer in any year is often less than eight dollars.
The term, “mountains of Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina” is ambiguous. Practically all West Virginia is mountainous, or semi-mountainous. Taking the states named as a whole the percentage of illiteracy among native-born whites is as follows: Kentucky, 7.3; North Carolina, 8.2; Virginia, 6.1; West Virginia, 4.8; Tennessee, 7.4. These figures are slightly increased by adding to them foreign illiterates and illiterates among the negro population. The latter two elements present special problems that are being gradually worked out and the percentages from now on will rapidly diminish. To say therefore, that mountain folk are 90 percent illiterate, one would have to restrict the term “mountain folk” to a very small proportion of the population.
But Mr. Davenport seems to apply his percentage to the “four million of which I write.” It possibly may be that if Mr. Davenport has that same passion for facts as animated Charles Darwin, and is as careful in testing his data, he will revise his figures.
The entire story is exaggerated and weird; but it is nothing to worry about. The people of the states named know the causes and the difficulties and are remedying the situation as rapidly as possible. Fastidious refinement may halt at the lofty mountain ranges and at the mouth of the deep and dark defiles, but from these same mountain folk have come some of the strongest type of Americans despite educational handicaps. When we think of Sergeant York and his folk, we do not despair of the mountain folk nor depreciate their sturdy virtues. We neither feel like sneering nor laughing. And we hope modern “culture” and “civilization” has the good breeding not to tilt the nose at supposed inferiors who may in some essentials actually be superiors.
For more about Collier’s, follow this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collier%27s
From the Huntington Advertiser of Huntington, WV, we find the following story dated October 31, 1899:
Tonight is Halloween and the small boy, as well as many of the larger ones, are happy. Girls ditto.
The lads and lassies, particularly of Scotland and Ireland, and the young people of Wales and England, as well as the youth of this and other countries, have for centuries hailed the night of Halloween, the last night in October, as prophetic.
The first ceremony of Halloween among the Scotch is the pulling of a stock or plant of kale. All the company go out and with eyes closed each pulls the first plant of this kind he or she is able to lay hold of. It being big or little, straight or crooked, is prophetic of the size, shape, and other characteristic of the grand object of all the Halloween spells–the husband or wife. If any earth remains clinging to the root, that signifies fortune, and the state of the heart of the stem, as perceptible to the taste, is indicative of the natural temper and disposition of a future spouse.
Burning nuts is a famous Caledonian charm. Two hazel nuts, sacred to the witches, one bearing the name of the lad and the other the lass, are laid in the fire side by side and accordingly as they burn quietly together or start away from one another so will be the progress and issue of the courtship.
Certain forms must be observed to insure the success of a given spell and in the following one there must be no departure from the formula: A maiden should steal out, entirely alone to the kiln, and throw into the pot a ball of blue yarn, holding fast to the end. She should then begin winding the yarn until it resists, whereupon she should demand, “Who holds this yarn?” An answer will be returned from the kiln-pot, naming the Christian and surname of her future spouse.
Another test is for her to take a candle and going, alone by its light only stand before a mirror and eat an apple. Some traditions say one should comb one’s hair instead of eating the apple. The conditions of the spell being perfect, a shadowy face supposed to be that of the maiden’s future husband will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over her shoulder.
Another Scotch ceremony into which the uncanny largely enters as an element is described as follows: One or more go out, as the case may be (for this is a social spell), to a south running spring or rivulet where “three lairds’ lands meet” and dip the left shirt sleeve. Go to bed in sight of a fire and bang the wet sleeve before it to dry. Lie awake watching carefully, and about midnight an apparition having the exact figure of the grand object in question will come and turn the sleeve as if to dry the other side of it.
An interesting Halloween divination that solves matrimonial doubt and banishes uncertainty is accomplished by arranging three dishes upon the hearth. Into the first is put clean water, into second clouded or muddy water, while the third is left empty. The candidate is securely blindfolded and led to the hearth where the dishes are. The left hand is dipped and if by chance it be in the clean water the wife that is to be will come to the bar of matrimony a maid; if in the muddy water, a widow; but if in the empty dish it foretells with equal certainty no marriage at all. This ceremony is three times repeated, the arrangement of the dishes being each time changed.
Ducking for apples and the attempt to secure by means of the mouth only an apple balanced upon a stick suspended from the ceiling upon the end of which is placed a lighted candle provokes much laughter and no little spirited competition.
For a girl to know if she will marry within the year she must obtain a green pea pod in which are exactly nine peas, hang it over the door, and if the next man guest entering be a bachelor her own marriage will follow within twelve months. This spell is sometimes tried at other times than Halloween, but the conditions then are generally considered less favorable.
Three small rings should be purchased by a maiden during the period of a new moon, each at a different place. She should tie them together with her left garter and place them in her left glove with a scrap of paper cut heart-shaped on which her sweetheart’s name has been written in blue ink. The whole should be placed under her pillow when retiring Halloween and she will dream of her sweetheart if she is to marry him.
The future is sometimes prognosticate on Halloween by candle omens. If a candle burns with an azure tint it signifies the presence or near approach of a spirit or gnome. A collection of tallow rising against the candlestick is styled a winding sheet and is deemed an omen of death in the family. A spark in the candle denotes that the observer will shortly receive a letter.
Two cambric needles are named on Halloween and skillfully placed in a vessel of water. If they float, swimming side by side, the course of true love runs smooth for those they represent. If they sink both together, or if one sinks and the other floats, the persons named will not marry each other.
A printed alphabet is cut into its individual letters, which are placed in water faces downward. On the morrow the initial letters of the favored opposite will be found reversed.
Peel an apple so that the skin remains in unbroken sequence. Whirl this skin three times around the head so that when released it passes over the left shoulder and falls to the floor, assuming the initial letter of the chosen one’s name.
Many young girls fill their mouth with water on Halloween and walk or run around the block, being careful not to swallow the water or suffer it to escape from the mouth. If a girl succeeds in doing this the first man met on returning home will be her husband.
To ascertain one’s standing with a sweetheart select at random an apple and quarter it, carefully gathering the seeds from the core. According to the number found, the following formula is used: 1. I love; 2. I love; 3. I love, I say; 4. I love with all my heart; 5. I cast away; 6. He loves; 7. She loves; 8. They both love; 9. He comes; 10. He tarries; 11. He courts; 12. He marries; 13. Honor; 14. Riches.
At some of the American colleges for women it is customary to celebrate Halloween with straw rides, games, and an annual sheet and pillowcase party, where the illuminations are grotesque pumpkins containing candles, and where cakes containing mystic rings, beans, and a coin are served with the refreshments.
Source: “Hallowe’en Is Now Here,” Huntington (WV) Advertiser, 31 October 1899.
317 Steak House, Alec Soth, Anthony Adams, Appalachia, Brandon Kirk, cemeteries, Chapmanville, culture, Ferrellsburg, Galen Fletcher, Harts Creek, history, In the Heart of Trump Country, John Hartford, Larissa MacFarquhar, Lincoln County, Logan, Logan County, politics, Squire Sol Adams, West Virginia
John Hartford introduced me to The New Yorker magazine in the mid-1990s. “I need to get you a subscription to The New Yorker,” he told me several times. John had become familiar with the magazine as a youth. His parents were regular subscribers to the magazine; they encouraged him to read it because, they said, it contained the absolute best writing available. John told this story several times and I could tell by the way he retold it that he believed it to be true. In fact, after reading multiple issues (mostly John’s issues at the house, but also complimentary issues I spotted in medical offices), I agreed that, yes, The New Yorker did in fact contain the best writing available. Once I discovered Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, unquestionably the greatest true crime book ever written, and learned The New Yorker had frequently printed Capote’s writing, my love for the magazine became unshakable. For these reasons, and others, I am delighted to have made a small contribution to Larissa MacFarquhar’s story, “In the Heart of Trump Country,” published by The New Yorker on October 10, 2016. The opportunity to contribute to a New Yorker story, much less to appear in The New Yorker, is an honor.
You can read Larissa’s exceptionally well-composed piece by following this link:
Prior to the story, Larissa approached me (and other locals) about her desire to write a piece at least partly involving recent political developments in Logan County, West Virginia. I agreed to assist Larissa in whatever way I could for several reasons: I wanted to welcome her to my section of Appalachia, I wanted to be helpful, I wanted her story to succeed, I wanted her readers to better understand my region, I’m always anxious to discuss my region’s rich history… Larissa and I corresponded via email about general political history in Logan County, then enjoyed a memorable two-and-a-half-hour conversation at 317 Steak House in Logan. I liked her right away. I like her more after reading her story.
Larissa is an accomplished professional writer. You can read more about her impressive credentials by following these links:
It was likewise pleasurable to meet photographer Alec Soth and his assistant, Galen Fletcher, who visited Logan, Chapmanville, Ferrellsburg, and Harts Creek, in order to capture images pertinent to Larissa’s story. Alec took a few photos of me in Ferrellsburg, one of which ultimately appeared in the story, then spent a hot evening taking a ton of photos at one of my favorite Harts Creek cemeteries (the Anthony Adams Family Cemetery) and a nearby historic log cabin (Squire Sol Adams residence).
You can find out more about Alec by following these links:
He even has a Wikipedia entry!
These were nice folks. If they ever visit your part of the world, welcome them.
Adirondack Mountains, Allegheny Mountains, Appalachia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Chattanooga, Chattanooga Times, Cherokee, Choctaw, culture, history, Huntington, Huntington Advertiser, indentured servants, Native Americans, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, slavery, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia
On July 15, 1896, the Huntington Advertiser of Huntington, West Virginia, printed a story titled “The Poor Whites: Origin of a Distinct Class Living in the South.” Subtitled “The ‘Cracker of the Hills’ is the Direct Descendant of the ‘Sold Passengers’ Who Came to This Country in the Seventeenth Century,” the story initially appeared in the Chattanooga Times of Chattanooga, Tennessee. And here it is:
The notion that the poor white element of the southern Appalachian region is identical with the poor people generally over the country is an error, and an error of enough importance to call for correction. The poor white of the south has some kinfolk in the Adirondack region of New York and the Blue and Alleghany [sic] mountains of Pennsylvania, but he has few relatives any place else about the Mason-Dixon line. The states of New York and Pennsylvania were slave states until the early part of this century.
This poor white mountaineer descends direct from those immigrants who came over in the early days of the colonies; from 1620 to about or some time after the Revolutionary war period, as “sold passengers.” They sold their services for a time sufficient to enable them to work out their passage money. They were sold, articled to masters, in the colonies for their board and fixed wage, and thus they earned the cost of their migration.
The laws under which they were articled were severe, as severe as apprentice laws in those days. The “sold passenger” virtually became the slave of the purchaser of his labor. He could be whipped if he did not do the task set [before] him, and woe to the unlucky wight [sic] if he ran away. He was sure to be caught and cruelly punished.
And though he was usually a descendant of the lowest grade of humanity on the British islands, he still had enough of the Anglo-Saxon spirit about him to make him an unsatisfactory chattel.
From 1620 forward–the year when the Dutch landed the first cargo of African slaves on the continent–the “sold passenger” was fast replaced by negroes, who took more naturally and amiably to the slave life.
The poor white naturally came to cherish a bitter hatred for the blacks that were preferred over him. He already hated his domineering white master. When he was free to go, he put as many miles as his means and his safety from Indian murderers permitted between himself and those he hated and hoped he might never see again. In that early time the mountain region was not even surveyed, let alone owned by individual proprietors.
The English, Scotch, Irish and continental immigrant who had some means sat down on the rich valleys, river bottoms and rolling savannahs, and the poor white was made welcome to the foothills and mountain plateaus.
These descendants of the British villain of the feudal era grew and multiplied, became almost as distinct a people from the lords of the lowlands as the Scotch highlander was, as related to his lowland neighbor, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The stir of the period since the close of our civil war has made somewhat indistinct the line that separates the mountaineer from the plainsman of the south, especially in the foothills and at points where the two have intermingled in traffic, in the schoolhouse and church, and especially where the poor whites have been employed at mining, iron making, etc. But go into the mountains far enough and you will find the types as clear cut as it was 100 years ago, with its inimitable drawling speech and curious dialect, its sallow complexion, lanky frame, lazy habits and immorality–all as distinctly marked as they were when hundreds of these people found Cherokee wives in Georgia and Tennessee in the early part of the century and bleached most of the copper out of the skin of the Choctaw as well as out of the Cherokee.
It is a pity that some competent anthropological historian has not traced the annals of this interesting and distinctive section of our population, and made record of it in the interest of science, no less than in the interest of the proper education and elevation of the mountain people. It has become, especially in the Piedmont section of the south, a most important labor element. The cotton mill labor by thousands comes from the “Cracker of the Hills,” and it is destined o become a great power, that labor population, social and political.
The redemption of the poor white began when slavery went down in blood and destruction, and it has gone on faster and traveled further than some of us think.
Alpha Adkins, Appalachian Power Company, Arnold Adkins, Big Branch, Caroline Adkins, Carrie Adkins, Clara Francis Adkins, culture, Denver Adkins, Doris Wellmarine Adkins, Emerald Fleming, genealogy, Harts Creek, history, Huntington, James "Jim" Dalton, Jennings Adkins, John Adkins, Larrry Adrain Adkins, life, Lincoln County, Logan County, Mud Fork, Roxie Leana Adkins, Switzer, Viola Dalton, West Virginia, Willis Adkins
In 1979, Roxie Leana (Dalton) Adkins, daughter of James and Viola (Tomblin) Dalton, wrote a history of her family, which includes memories of her early life on Harts Creek. Roxie, born in 1904, married Willis Adkins in 1924 and mothered nine children. In the late 1990s, Roxie’s daughter Emerald (Adkins) Fleming gave this history to me.
I got married three years later and started a family of my own. I was married to Willis Adkins, son of John and Caroline Nelson Adkins. I was married May 29, 1924. I started housekeeping in the head of Big Branch right in the woods in a little three room house — a shack — and that was a happy time for it was mine and Willis’ private life and we had each other and I would love to go back to that lowly summer I didn’t have anything to worry about. So that is a big part of my life history and we planted a garden. We had plenty of fruit and berries and peaches, cherries and apples and we had a joy beyond compare for we didn’t have no children. Eighteen months later we had our oldest child, Carrie Adkins. She was born November 30, 1925.
Then we moved to Logan County. Willis worked for Appalachian Power Company at the Logan Plant then he went to the coal mine and we moved from Mud Fork to Switzer, W.Va. and we lived there from November 1926 to May 1927. Then we moved to a lumber camp at Omar, W.Va. We stayed there to March 1928. We moved back to Big Branch and raised a garden and a crop of corn and moved back to the lumber camp in January 1929 and March 28, 1929 our first boy was born: Denver Adkins. We stayed in the lumber camp until September 1929 and moved up Pine Creek to a mine camp.
In October 1929 we moved back to the farm we live on now and rented then and a year later we bought the land off my uncle Ed Dalton and I am still here. I had 7 more kids and put them all through high school and I was very proud of all of them. I tried to see they got good treatment in school. They weren’t rich and they wasn’t the poorest people in our country but I always taught them to be kind to others and to treat their teachers with respect and to always be kind to old and young and do their best to keep all their promises.
My children are Carrie Adkins, born November 30, 1925; Denver Adkins, born March 28, 1929; Alpha Adkins, born August 24, 1931; Jennings Adkins, born April 9, 1934; Emerald Adkins, born February 13, 1937; Arnold Adkins, born February 17, 1940; Clara Francis Adkins, born August 26, 1942; Doris Wellmarine Adkins, born June 15, 1945; and Larry Adrain Adkins, born March 17, 1948. Well, I had four boys and five girls and all the boys served in the armed forces and my oldest is still in the federal government and is somewhere in the overseas countries and I don’t know but trust that God does.
I am now 75 years old. My husband passed away June 9, 1968. I was 64 years old and I am still in my own home. If it be the Lord’s will, I will live in this same house until I go. My children all got married and had families. Denver doesn’t have any children and one of my boys — Arnold Adkins — was killed by a train in Huntington in 1966. He had a wife and two children and was expecting the third and I trust they will be as honest and respectful as he always was. He had a host of friends.
Well, this is about all I can write for now.