Hayes and three other persons, including a woman, were under bond Chief Tuggle said, pending a hearing Friday on charges of violating a Kentucky statute prohibiting the use of snakes in religious ceremonies.
Tuggle said the four first appeared on the courthouse square and started to hold services from the bandstand but that he dispersed them. The chief said they then secured a vacant storeroom which was quickly crowded and before police could break up the gathering Hayes had been bitten by the copperhead.
—Barbourville, Ky., Advocate
MAN DIES OF SNAKE BITE. SECOND MEMBER OF RELIGIOUS SECT TO DIE IN FOUR DAYS; BITTEN DURING SERVICES
County Attorney Dennis Wooton listed Jim Cochran, 39, unemployed mechanic, today as the second member of an eastern Kentucky snake-handling religious sect to die within four days as the result of bites suffered during church services.
Bitten on the right hand Sunday morning Cochran, married and father of several children, died 18 hours later at his home at nearby Duane.
Mrs. Clark Napier, 40, mother of seven children, died Thursday night at Hyden, coal-mining community in adjacent Leslie county, and County-Judge Pro-Tem Boone Begley said she had been bitten at services.
Wooton said Jimmy Stidham, Lawsie Smith and Albert Collins were fined $50. each after Cochran's death on charges of violating the 1940 anti-snake-handling law. Unable to pay, they were jailed, he said.
Elige Bowling, a Holiness church preacher, is under bond pending grand jury action on a murder charge in the death of Mrs. Napier. Wooton said Perry county officials would be guided on further prosecution in the Cochran case by disposition of the Leslie county case.
—Corbin, Ky., Times
Finding themselves in the throes of the law, members of the snake-handling sect at times turned to drinking poison in testing their faith. There was no legislation to prevent it, the leaders craftily observed. However, in some southern mountain states such a measure has been advocated.
At times, nevertheless, even in cases of death from snakebite during religious service, county officials refused to prosecute, saying the matter was up to the state itself to dispose of.
BIG SANDY RIVER
There once prevailed a superstition among timbermen in the Big Sandy country which dated back to the Indian.
The mountain men knew and loved their own Big Sandy River. They rode their rafts fearlessly, leaping daringly from log to log to make fast a dog chain, even jumping from one slippery, water-soaked raft to another to capture with spike pole or grappling hook a log that had broken loose. They had not the slightest fear when a raft buckled or broke away from the rest and was swept by swift current to midstream. There were quick and ready hands to the task. Loggers of the Big Sandy kept a cool head and worked with swift decisive movements. But, once their rafts reached the mouth of Big Sandy, there were some in the crew who could neither be persuaded nor bullied to ride the raft on through to the Ohio. Strong-muscled men have been known to quit their post, leap into the turbulent water before the raft swept forward into the forbidding Ohio. They remembered the warning of witch women, "Don't ride the raft into the Big Waters! Leap off!" So the superstitious often leaped, taking his life in his hands and often losing it.
If anyone wanted to dig a well in Pizen Gulch he wouldn't think of doing it without first sending for Noah Buckley, the water witch. He lived at the head of Tumbling Creek. Noah wore a belt of rattlesnake skin to keep off rheumatism. "That belt's got power," Noah boasted. And young boys in the neighborhood admitted it. More than one who had eaten too many green apples and lay groveling under the tree, drawn in a knot with pain, screamed in his misery for Noah. If Noah was within hearing he went on a run, fast as his long legs could carry him. And the young sufferer reaching out a hand touched the rattlesnake belt and quicker than you could bat an eye his griping pains left and the next thing he was up playing around.
However, it was his power to find water that was Noah Buckley's pride. He took a twig from a peach tree, held a prong in each hand, and with head bent low he stumbled about here and there mumbling:
Water, water, if you be there, Bend this twig and show me where.
If the twig bent low to the earth you could count on it that was the spot where the well should be dug. To mark the spot Noah stuck the twig at once into the earth. Mischievous boys sometimes slipped around, pulled up the peach branch and threw it away. Again there would be a doubting Thomas who sought to test the water witch's power by stealing away the peach branch and dropping in its place a pebble. But Noah was not to be defeated. He forthwith cut another branch, repeated the ceremony, and located the exact spot again. Whereupon neighbor menfolk pitched in and dug the well. Not all in one day, of course. It took several days but their labors were always rewarded with clear, cold water at last.
A well once dug where Noah directed never went dry. That was his boast as long as he lived.
However, it was not so much his power to find water that strengthened the faith of people in the water witch. It was what happened on Dog Slaughter Creek. The Mosleys, a poor family, had squatted on a miserable place there. One day the baby of the lot toddled off without being missed by the other nine children of the flock. When Jake Mosley and his wife Norie came in from the tobacco patch they began to search frantically for the babe, screaming and crying as they dashed this way and that. They looked under the house, in the well, in the barn. They even went to neighbors' pig lots; the Mosleys had none of their own. "I've heard of a sow or a boar pig too eating up the carcass of a child," a neighbor said. "Maybe the babe's roamed off into Burdick's pasture and the stallion has tromped her underfoot," Jake opined. With lighted pine sticks to guide their steps they searched the pasture. There was no trace even of a scrap of the child's dress anywhere to be seen on ground or fence.
At last someone said, "Could be a water witch might have knowing to find a lost child!" And the frantic parents moaned, "Could be. Send for the water witch."
It was after midnight that neighbors came bringing the water diviner.
"Give me a garmint of the lost child," Noah spoke with authority, "a garmint that the little one has wore that's not been washed."
The mother tearfully produced a bedraggled garment.
The water witch took it in his hand, sniffed it, turned it wrongside out, sniffed it again. "Now have you got a lock of the little one's hair?" He looked at Norie, moaning on the shuck tick bed, then at Jake. They stared at each other. At last Norie raised up on her elbow. They did have a lock of the babe's hair. "Mind the time she nigh strangled to death with croup"—the mother fixed weary eyes on the father of her ten children—"and we cut off a lock of her hair and put it in the clock?"
In one bound Jake Mosley crossed the floor and reached the clock on the mantel. Sure enough there was the little lock of hair wrapped around with a thread. Without a word Jake handed it to the water witch.
Noah eyed it in silence. "I'll see what can be done," he promised at last, "but, Jake, you and Norie and the children stay here. And you, neighbors, stay here too. I'll be bound to go alone."
With a flaming pine stick in one hand and the child's dress and lock of hair in the other, he set out.
Before morning broke, the water witch came carrying the lost child.
They hovered about him, the parents kissed and hugged their babe close and everyone was asking questions at the same time. "How did it happen?" "Where did you find the little one?"
"I come upon a rock ledge," said Noah with a great air of mystery, "and then I fell upon my knees. I'd cut me a peach branch down at the edge of the pasture. I gripped the lost child's garmint and the lock of her hair on one hand with a prong of the peach branch clutched tight in fists this way," he extended clenched hands to show the awed friends and neighbors. "I'd already put out the pine torch for daylight was coming. It took quite a time before I could feel the little garmint twitching in my hand. Then the peach branch begun to bear down to the ground. First thing I know something like a breath of wind pulled that little garmint toward the edge of the rock cliff. My friends, I knowed I was on the right track. I dropped flat on my belly and retched a hand under the cliff. I touched the little one's bare foot! Then with both hands I dragged her out. This child"—he lifted a pious countenance—"could a-been devoured by wild varmints—a catamount or wolf. There's plenty of such in these woods. But the water witch got there ahead of the varmints!"
The mother began to sob and wail, "Bless the good old water witch!" and the joyful father gave the diviner the only greenback he had and said he was only sorry he didn't have a hundred to give him.
After that more than one sought out the water witch. Even offered him silver to teach them his powers.
"It's not good to tell all you know, then others would know as much as you do," said Noah Buckley of Pizen Gulch, who knew that to keep his powers a water witch has to keep secrets too.
MARRYING ON HORSEBACK
Millie Eckers, with her arms around his waist, rode behind Robert Burns toward the county seat one spring morning to get married. But before they got there along came Joe Fultz, a justice of the peace, to whom they told their intent. Joe said the middle of the road on horseback was as good a place as any for a pair to be spliced, so then and there he had them join right hands. When they were pronounced man and wife Robert handed Joe a frayed greenback in exchange for the signed certificate of marriage. Joe Eckers always carried a supply of blank documents in his saddlebags to meet any emergency that might arise within his bailiwick. The justice of the peace pocketed his fee, wished Mister and Mistress Burns a long and happy married life, and rode away, and Robert turned his mare's nose back toward Little Goose Creek from whence they had come.
Some said, soon as they heard about Millie and Robert being married on horseback right in the middle of the road, that no good would come of it. As for the preacher he said right out that while the justice of the peace was within his rights, he had observed in his long ministry that couples so wed were sure to meet with misfortune—married on horseback and without the blessing of an Apostle of the Book.
Scarcely had Millie and Robert settled down to housekeeping than things began to go wrong.
One morning when the dew was still on the grass Millie went out to milk. "Bossy had roamed away off ferninst the thicket," she told Robert, "and ginst I got there to where she was usin' I scratched the calf of my leg on a briar."
Robert eyed her swollen limb. "Seein' your meat black like it is and the risin' in your calf so angry, I'm certain you've got dew pizen."
Sure enough she had. Millie lay for days and when the rising came to a head in a place or two, Robert lanced it with the sharp blade of his penknife.
Some weeks later old Doc Robbins who chanced by wondered how Millie had escaped death from blood poison from the knife blade, until the young husband told casually how when he was a little set along child he had seen an old doctor dip the blade of a penknife in a boiling kettle of water and lance a carbuncle on another's neck. He had done the same for Millie.
No sooner was she up and about than something else happened.
Millie and Robert had just the one cow but soon they had none. Even so Millie said things might have been worse. "It could have been Robert that was taken." And he said, bearing their loss stoically, "What is to be will be, if it comes in the night."
It was Millie who first noticed something was wrong with Bossy. It was right after she had found her grazing in the chestnut grove. All the young growth had been cut out and the branches of the trees formed a solid shade so that coming out of the sunlight into the grove Millie blinked and groped in the darkness with hands out before her, feeling her way and calling, "Sook, Bossy! Sook! Sook!" Millie all but stumbled over the cow down on her all fours. She coaxed and patted for a long time before Bossy finally got to her feet and waddled slowly out of the shaded grove into the sunlit meadow.
That evening Robert did the milking. But before he began he stroked Bossy's nose and bent close. "I've caught the stench of her breath!" he cried. "Sniff for yourself, Millie!"
Millie did. "Smells worser'n a dung pile," she gasped, hand to stomach.
Quick as a flash Robert put the tin pail under Bossy's bag and began to milk with both hands.
There was scarcely a pint in the bucket until Robert gaped at Millie. "Look! It don't foam!" His eyes widened with apprehension. He took a silver coin from his pocket, dropped it into the pail and waited. In a few moments he fished it out. "Black as coal!" gasped Robert. "Our cow's got milk sick!"
Bossy slumped to the ground. By sundown the cow was stark dead.
Before dark Robert himself grew deathly ill.
They remembered that at noon time he had spread a piece of cornbread with Bossy's butter. He had drunk a cup of her milk.
Millie lost no moment. She mixed mustard in a cup of hot water and Robert downed it almost at a gulp.
"He begun to puke and purge until I thought his gizzard would sure come up next," Millie told it afterward. "All that live-long night he puked and strained till he got so weakened his head hung over the side of the bed and hot water poured out of his mouth same as if he had water brash. Along toward morning Doc Robbins come riding by. He had a bottle of apple brandy and we mixed it with wild honey. It wasn't long till Robert got ease. Doc set a while and about the middle of the morning he give Robert two heaping spoonfuls of castor oil."
From then on no one could coax Robert Burns to touch a mouthful of butter nor drink a cup of sweet milk. Though he drank his fill of buttermilk with never a pain.
As for the shaded grove where the cow had grazed, every tree was cleared away—at Doc Robbins's orders. The sunlight poured into the place and soon there was a green meadow where once the shaded plot had been covered with a poisoned vegetation. Cows grazed at their will over the place with no ill effects.
Still Robert had no hankering for butter or sweet milk.
"You've no need to fear milk sick now," Doc Robbins tried to reassure Robert. "It's never found where there's sunlight." Though he could never figure out whether the deep shade produced a poisonous gas that settled on the vegetation, or whether it came from some mineral in the ground, he did know, and so did others, that whatever the cause it disappeared when sunlight took the place of dense shade.
The incident was scarcely forgotten when ill luck again befell Millie and Robert. Their barn burned to the ground, reducing their harvest and their only mule to ashes.
Tongues wagged. "Bad luck comes to the couple married on horseback."
Everyone the countryside over was convinced of the truth of the old superstition one fall when a tragedy unheard-of overtook Millie at sorghum-making.
No one ever knew how it happened. But some said that Brock Cyrus's half-witted boy was the cause of it. He shouted, "Look out thar!" and Millie, looking up from her task of feeding cane stalks into the mill, saw, or thought she saw, her babe, Little Robert, toddling toward the boiling pans. She screamed and lunged forward, and as she did so the mule started on a run. The beam to which it was hitched whirled about and struck Millie helpless. Before anyone could reach her side or stop the frightened mule, her right hand was drawn into the mill, then her left. With another revolution of the iron teeth of the cane mill both of her arms were chopped into shreds.
It was necessary for old Doc Robbins to amputate both at the shoulders. Everyone thought it would take Millie Burns out and they said as much. But she lived long, long years, even raised a family. All her days she sat in a strange chair that Robert made. A chair with a high shelf on which her babes, each in turn, lay to nurse at her breast.
And always the armless woman was pointed out as a warning to young courting couples, "Don't get married on horseback! It brings ill luck, no end of ill luck."
Once you evidence even the slightest respect of a superstition in the Blue Ridge Country there is ever a firm believer eager to show proof of the like beyond all doubt. It was so with Widow Plater as we sat by the flickering light of the little oil lamp in her timeworn cabin that looked down on the Shenandoah Valley.
"I want to show you Josephus's crown," she said in a hushed voice. Going to the bureau she opened the top drawer, bringing out what appeared to be a plate wrapped in muslin. She placed it on the stand table beside the lamp and carefully laid back the covering, revealing a matted circle of feathers about the size of the human head. The circle was about two inches thick and a finger length in width. Strangely enough the feathers were all running the same way and were so closely matted together they did not pull apart even under pressure of the widow's firm hand, she showed with much satisfaction. "Can't no one pull asunder a body's death crown," she said with firm conviction.
Resuming her chair she went on with the story. "All of six months my husband, Josephus, poor soul, lay sick with his poor head resting on the same pillow day in and day out. I'd come to know he was on his death bed," she said resignedly, "for one day when I smoothed a hand over his pillow I felt there his crown a-forming inside the ticking. I'd felt the crown with my own hands and I knew death was hovering over my man. Though I didn't tell him so. I wanted he should not be troubled, that he should die a peaceable death and he did. When we laid him out we put the pillow under his head and when we laid him away I opened the pillow and took out his crown that I knew to be there all of six months before he breathed his last." She sighed deeply. "It's not everyone that has a crown"—there was wistful pride in her voice—"and them that has, they do say, is sure of another up yonder." The Widow Plater lifted tear-dimmed eyes heavenward. "And what's more, it is the bounden duty of them that's left to keep the crown of their dead to their own dying day. Josephus's death crown I'll pass on to my oldest daughter when my time comes."
Carefully she folded the matted circle of feathers in its muslin covering and reverently replaced it in the bureau drawer.
A WHITE FEATHER
Rhodie Polhemus who lived on Bear Fork of Puncheon Creek was one who believed in signs. It had started long years ago when Alamander, her husband, had met an untimely fate. That morning after he had gone out hunting Rhodie was sweeping the floor when she saw a white feather fluttering about the brush of her broom. It hovered strangely in midair, then sank slowly to the puncheon floor near the door. "The angel of death is nigh. There'll be a corpse under this roof this day." Rhodie trembled with fear. Sure enough Alamander was carried in stark dead before sundown. It came at a time when there wasn't a plank on the place. They had disposed of their timber, which was little enough, as fast as it was sawed. So that there was not a piece left with which to make Alamander's burying box. Nor was there a whipsaw in the whole country round with which to work, the itinerate sawyer having gone on with his property to another creek. But folks were neighborly and willing. They cut down a fine poplar tree, reduced a log of it to proper length and with ax and adze hewed out a coffin for Rhodie's husband, hollowing it out into a trough and shaping the ends to fit the corpse. The lid they made of clapboards. Placing a coverlid inside the trough they laid the body of Alamander upon it, made fast the lid, and bore him off to the burying ground.
"I knowed his time had come," Rhodie often repeated the story, "when I found the white feather—and when it hovered near the door where Alamander went out that morning."
There were other signs.
All of a week after Alamander was buried Rhodie claimed she had seen the mound above him rise and move in ripples the full length of the log coffin in which he lay buried. "Could be he's not resting easy," the old woman said to herself. "Could be the coverlid under his back is wrinkled." In response to her question the departed Alamander is said to have assured his widow that it was his sign of letting her know he was aware of her presence. However, when curious neighbors accompanied Rhodie to the burying ground, the mound remained still as a rock. Rhodie said it was the sign that he had rather she come to his grave alone.
Though there was never an eyewitness to the rippling earth on the grave save that of Rhodie, whenever anyone found a white feather about the house he remembered what the old woman on Bear Fork of Puncheon Creek had said, "It is a sign of death!"
When Jasper Tipton married Talithie Burwell and settled on Tipton's Fork in Crockett's Hollow, folks said no one could ask for a better start. The Tiptons had given the couple their house seat, a bedstead, a table. Jasper had a team of mules he had swapped for a yoke of oxen, and he had a cookstove that he had bought with his own savings. A step stove it was, two caps below and two higher up. The Burwells had seen to it that their daughter did not go empty-handed to her man. She had a flock tick, quilts, coverlids, and a cow. But, old Granny Withers, a midwife from Caney Creek, sitting in the chimney corner sucking her pipe the night of the wedding, vowed that all would not be well with the pair. Hadn't a bat flitted into the room right over Talithie's head when the elder was speaking the words that joined the two in wedlock? Everyone knew the sign. Everyone knew too that Talithie Burwell, with her golden hair and blue eyes, had broken up the match between Jasper and Widow Ashby's Sabrina. Yet Talithie and Jasper vowed that all was fair in love and war. If a man's heart turned cold toward a maid, it was none of his fault. There was nothing to be done about it. You can't change a man's way with woman, they said. It's writ in the Book.
And soon as Jasper had cast her off, Widow Ashby's Sabrina took to her bed and there she meant to stay, so she said, the rest of her life. Or—until she got a sign that would give her heart ease. Sabrina Ashby didn't mince her words either. "I don't care what the sign may be," she said it right out, before Granny Withers. That toothless creature cackled and replied, "I'm satisfied you're knocking center."
Indeed Sabrina was telling the truth. She meant every word of it. The jilted girl did not go to the wedding. She didn't need to, as far as that was concerned, for old Granny Withers came hobbling over the mountain fast as her crooked old legs would carry her, and it in the dead of winter, mind you, to tell Widow Ashby's Sabrina all that had happened. How lovely fair the bride looked beside her handsome bridegroom! "Eh law, they were a doughty couple, Jasper and Talithie," Granny Withers mouthed the words. She lifted a bony finger, "Yet, mark my words, ill luck awaits the two. When the bat flew into the house and dipped low over the fair bride's head, she trembled like she had the agger—and—"
"The bat flew over her head?" Sabrina interrupted, eyes glistening. "A bat—it's blind—stone blind!" the jilted girl echoed gleefully. "There's a sign for you, Mistress Jasper Tipton, to conjure with!" She let out a screech and then a weird laugh that echoed through Crockett's Hollow. She cast off the coverlid and in one bound was in the middle of the floor, though she had lain long weeks pining away. She clapped her hands high overhead like she was shouting at meeting. Sabrina laughed again and again, holding her sides.
Granny Withers thought the girl bewitched. So did Widow Ashby and when the two tried to put a clabber poultice on her head and sop her wrists in it, the jilted Sabrina thrust them aside with pure main strength. That was the night of the wedding.
The days went by. Jasper and Talithie were happy and content everyone knew.
Old Granny Withers in her dilapidated hut up the cove watched and carried tales to Sabrina. The forsaken girl listened as the old midwife told how she had seen the two with arms about each other sitting in the doorway in the evening many a time when their work was done. Or how she had found them in loving embrace when by chance she happened to pass along the far end of their corn patch. "Under the big tree, mind you!" Granny Withers scandalized beyond further speech clapped hand to mouth, rolled her eyes in dismay. "Just so plum lustful over each other they can't bide till night time. The marriage bed is the fitten place for such as that."
When the forsaken Sabrina heard such things she burned with envy and jealousy. Secretly she tried to conjure the pair, to no avail. That had been by wishing them ill. She meant to try again. One day she went far into the woods and caught a toad. She put it in a bottle. "There you are, Mistress Talithie Tipton. I've named the toad for you!" she gloated as she made fast the stopper. "You'll perish there. That's what you'll do. Didn't old Granny Withers tell me how she worked such conjure on a false true love in her young day? He died within twelve month. Slipped off a high cliff!" Stealthily, in the dusk, Sabrina made her way through the brush to a lonely spot far up the hollow where the big rock hung. There she put the bottle far back under a slab of stone.
She waited eagerly to hear some word of the wedded couple.
One day, a few months later, old Granny Withers came hobbling again over the mountain. "Jasper's woman is heavy with child," the toothless midwife grinned, moistening her wrinkled lips with the tip of her tongue. "He's done axed me to tend her."
Not even to Granny Withers did Sabrina tell of the toad in the bottle. "If you ever tell to a living soul what you've done, that breaks the conjure," the old midwife had warned long ago. So Sabrina kept a still tongue and bided her time. Nor did she have long to wait.
News traveled swiftly by word-of-mouth. And bad news was fleetest of all.
At first Jasper and his wife were unaware of their babe's fate, though Talithie had noticed one day, when the midwife carried the little one to the door where the sun was shining brightly, that it did not bat an eye. Granny Withers noticed too, but she said never a word. The young mother kept her fear within her heart. She did not speak of it to Jasper.
Two weeks later, after Granny Withers had gone, Talithie was up doing her own work. Supper was over and the young parents sat by the log fire. There was chill in the air. The babe had whimpered in her bee-gum crib, a crib that the proud young father had fashioned from a hollowed log in which wild bees had once stored their honey. Cut the log in two, did Jasper, scraped it clean, and with the rounded side turned down it made as fine a cradle as anyone could wish. With eager hands Talithie placed in it, months before her babe was born, a clean feather tick, no bigger than a pillow of their own bed. Pieced a little quilt too, did the happy, expectant mother.
How contentedly the little one snuggled there even the very first time Talithie put her in the crib! Rarely did the child whimper, but this night small Margie was fretful. Talithie gathered her up and came back to the hearth crooning softly as she jolted to and fro in a straight chair. The Tipton household, like most in Crockett's Hollow, owned no such luxury as a rocker. But for all the crooning and jolting small Margie fretted, rubbed her small fists into her eyes, and drew up her legs. "Might be colic," thought Talithie. "Babes have to fret and cry some, makes them grow," offered the young father who continued to whittle a butter bowl long promised. However, for all his notions about it, Talithie was troubled. Never before had she known the babe to be so fretful.
The log fire was burning low and in the dimness of the room she leaned down to the hearth, picked up a pine stick and lighted it. She held it close above the babe's face. The small eyes were open wide and strangely staring. Talithie passed the bright light to and fro before the little one's gaze. But never once did the babe bat a lash.
"Lord God Almighty!" Talithie cried, dropping the lighted pine to the floor. "Our babe is blind, Jasper! Blind, I tell you! Stone blind!"
Jasper leaped to his feet. The wooden bowl, the knife, clattered to the floor. The pine stick still burning lay where it had fallen.
"Our babe can't be blind," he moaned, falling to his knees. "Our helpless babe that's done no harm to any living soul, our spotless pure babe can't be so afflicted!" he sobbed bitterly, putting his arms about the two he loved best in all the world.
The pine stick where Talithie dropped it burned deep into the puncheon floor leaving a scar that never wore away.
Again old Granny Withers hobbled over the mountain as fast as she had the night she bore the news to Sabrina about the bat that flew over the fair bride's head. "Talithie's babe is blind—stone blind, Sabrina Ashby! Do you hear that?"
This time Widow Ashby's Sabrina did not cry out in glee. She did not clap her hands above her head and laugh wildly. The forsaken girl sank into a chair. Her face turned deathly white, she stared ahead, unseeing.
It was a long time before she spoke. Then there was no one there to hear. Granny Withers had scurried off in the dark and Widow Ashby—she was long since dead and gone.
"A toad in a bottle," the frightened Sabrina whispered and her voice echoed in the barren room, "a toad in a bottle works a conjure. Ma's gone and now Talithie's babe and Jasper's is plum stone blind." She swayed to and fro, crying hysterically. Then she buried her face in the vise of her hands, moaning, "Little Margie Tipton, your pretty blue eyes won't never 'tice no false true love away from no fair maid. And you, Mistress Jasper Tipton, you'll have many a long year for to ruminate such things through your own troubled mind."
* * * * *
Some shake their heads sympathetically, finger to brow, when they speak of Widow Ashby's Sabrina living alone in her ramshackle house far up at the head of Crockett's Hollow. "A forsaken girl that holds grudge and works conjure comes to be a sorry, sorry woman," they say.
Should you pass along that lonely creek and venture to call a cheery "Hallo!" only a weird, cackling laugh, a harsh "Begone" will echo in answer.
THE SILVER TOMAHAWK
In Carter County, Kentucky, there is a legend which had its beginning long ago when Indian princesses roamed the Blue Ridge, and pioneers' hopes were high of finding a lost silver mine said to be in caves close by.
Morg Tompert loved to tell the story. As long as he lived the old fellow could be found on a warm spring day sitting in the doorway of his little shack nearly hidden by a clump of dogwoods. A shack of rough planks that clung tenaciously to the mountain side facing Saltpeter, or as it was sometimes called—Swindle Cave. The former name came from the deposit of that mineral, the latter from the counterfeiters who carried on their nefarious trade within the security of the dark cavern.
As he talked, Morg plucked a dogwood blossom that peeped around the corner of his shack like a gossipy old woman. "See that bloom?" He held it toward the visitor. "Some say that a Indian princess who was slain by a jealous chieftain sopped up her heart's blood with it and that's how come the stains on the tip of the white flower. There have been Indian princesses right here on this very ground." Morg nodded slowly. "There's the empty tomb of one—yes, and there's a silver mine way back yonder in that cave. They were there long before them scalawags were counterfeiting inside that cave. Did ever you hear of Huraken?" he asked with childish eagerness. Morg needed no urging. He went on to tell how this Indian warrior of the Cherokee tribe loved a beautiful Indian princess named Manuita:
"Men are all alike no matter what their color may be. They want to show out before the maiden they love best. Huraken did. He roved far away to find a pretty for her. That is to say a pretty he could give the chieftain, her father, in exchange for Manuita's hand. He must have been gone a right smart spell for the princess got plum out of heart, allowed he was never coming back and, bless you, she leapt off a cliff. Killed herself! And all this time her own true love was unaware of what she had done. He, himself, was give up to be dead. But what kept him away so long was he had come upon a silver mine. He dug the silver out of the earth, melted it, and made a beautiful tomahawk. He beat it out on the anvil and fashioned a peace pipe on its handle. He must have been proud as a peacock strutting in the sun preening its feathers. Huraken was hurrying along, fleet as a deer through the forest, his shiny tomahawk glistening in his strong right hand. The gift for the chieftain in exchange for the princess bride. All of a sudden he halted right off yon a little way. There where the stony cliff hangs over. Right there before Huraken's eyes at his feet lay the corpse of an Indian lass, face downward. When he turned the face upwards, it was the princess. Princess Manuita, his own true love. His sorryful cry raised up as high as the heavens. Huraken was plum beside himself with grief. He gathered up the princess in his arms and packed her off into the cave. Her tomb is right in there yet—empty."
Old Morg paused for breath. "Huraken kept it secret where he had buried his true love. He meant to watch over her tomb all the rest of his life. Then the chieftain, Manuita's father, got word of it somehow. He vowed to his tribe that Huraken had murdered his daughter in cold blood. So the chieftain and his tribe set out and captured Huraken. They bound him hand and foot with strips of buckskin out in the forest so that wild varmints could come and devour his flesh and he couldn't help himself. He'd concealed his tomahawk next to his hide under his heavy deerskin hunting coat. But the spirit of the dead princess pitied her helpless lover. Come a big rain that night that pelted him and soaked him plum to the skin. The princess had prayed of the Rain God to send that downpour. It soaked the buckskin through and through that bound Huraken's hands and feet and he wriggled loose. Many a long day and night he wandered away off in strange forests, but all the time the spirit of his true love, the princess, haunted him. He got no peace till he came back and give himself up to the chieftain. Only one thing the prisoner asked. Would they let him go to the cave before they put him to death? Now the Cherokees are fearful of evil spirits. When they took Huraken to the mouth of the cave they would go no farther. 'Evil spirits are inside!' the chieftain said, and the rest of his tribe nodded and frowned. So Huraken went into the dark cave alone. From that to this he's never been seen. And the corpse of the Princess Manuita, it's gone too. Her empty tomb is in yonder's cave. Not even a crumb of her bones can be found."
Old Morg Tompert reflected a long moment. "I reckon when Huraken packed the princess off somewhere else her corpse come to be a heavy load. He dropped his silver tomahawk that he had aimed to give the chieftain for his daughter's hand. It lay for a hundred year or more—I reckon it's been that long—right where it was dropped. Off yonder in Smoky Valley under a high cliff some of Pa's kinfolks found it. A silver tomahawk with a peace pipe carved on its handle. Pa's own blood kin, by name, Ben Henderson, found that silver tomahawk but no living soul has ever found the lost silver mine. There's bound to have been a mine, else Huraken could never have made that silver tomahawk. Only one lorn white man knew where it was. His name was Swift. But when he died, he taken the secret of the silver mine to the grave with him. Swift ought to a-told some of the womenfolks," declared old Morg, still vexed at the man Swift's laxity though his demise had occurred ages ago. "Swift ought to a-told some of the womenfolks," old Morg repeated with finality.
From where old Pol Gentry lived on Rocky Fork of Webb's Creek she could see far down into the valley of Pigeon River and across the ridge on all sides. Her house stood at the very top of Hawks Nest, the highest peak in all the country around. Pol didn't have a tight house like several down near the sawmill. She said it wasn't healthy. Even when the owner of the portable mill offered her leftover planks to cover her log house where the daubin had fallen out, Pol refused. "The holes let the wind in and the cat out," she'd say, "and a body can't do without either."
There was a long sleek cat, with green eyes and fur as black as a crow, to be seen skulking in and out of Pol Gentry's place. If it met a person as it prowled through the woods, the cat darted off swift as a weasel into the bush to hide away. Young folks on Rocky Fork of Webb's Creek learned early to snatch off hat or bonnet if the cat crossed their path, spit into it, and put it quickly on again—to break the witch of old Pol Gentry's black cat. But never were the two, Pol and the cat, seen together.
Truth to tell there were some among the old folks on Rocky Fork who long had vowed that Pol and the cat were one and the same. They declared Pol was a witch in league with the Devil and that she could change herself from woman to cat when the spell was strong enough within her, when the evil spirits took a good strong hold upon her. Moreover, Pol Gentry had but one tooth. One sharp fang in the very front of her upper jaw. "A woman is bound to be a witch if she has just one tooth," folks said and believed.
Pol Gentry was a frightful creature to look upon. She had a heavy growth of hair, coal black hair all around her mouth and particularly upon her upper lip. Her beard was plain to be seen even when she turned in at a neighbor's lane, long before she reached the door. Little children at first sight of her ran screaming to hide their faces in their mother's skirts.
There wasn't a child old enough to give ear to a tale who hadn't heard of Pol Gentry's powers. How she had bewitched Dan Eskew's little girl Flossie. It wouldn't have happened, some said, if Flossie had spit in her bonnet when the black cat crossed her path as she trooped through the woods one day gathering wild flowers. That very evening when she got back home Flossie sank on the doorstep, the bonnet filled with wild flowers dropped from her arm. She moaned pitifully, holding her head between her hands and swaying to and fro. Right away her head began to swell and by the time they got word to Seth Eeling, the wizard doctor who lived in Mossy Bottom, Flossie's head was twice its size. Indeed, Flossie Eskew's head was as big as a full-grown pumpkin. The minute the wizard clapped eyes on the child he spoke out.
"Beat up eggshells as fine as you can and give them to this child in a cup of water. If she is bewitched this mixture will pass through her clear."
Orders were promptly obeyed. Flossie drained the cup but no sooner had Flossie passed the powdered egg shells than the witch left her. Her head went back to its natural size. Nevertheless Flossie Eskew died that night.
"Didn't send for the wizard soon enough," Seth Eeling said.
Some believed in the powers of both, though neither witch nor wizard would give the other a friendly look, much less a word.
Pol Gentry was never downright friendly with any, though she would hoe for a neighbor in return for something to eat. "My place is too rocky to raise anything," she excused herself. And whatever was given her, Pol would carry home then and there. "Them's fine turnips you've got, Mistress Darby," she said one day, and Sallie Darby up and handed her a double handful of turnips. Pol opened the front of her dirty calico mother-hubbard, put the turnips inside against her dirty hide and tripped off with them. Nor was Pol Gentry one to sit home at tasks such as knitting or piecing a quilt. But everyone admitted there never was a better hand the country over at raising pigs. So Pol swapped pigs for knitting. She had to have long yarn stockings, mittens, a warm hood, for her pigs had to be fed and tended winter and summer. Others needed meat as much as Pol needed things to keep her warm. Tillie Bocock was glad to knit stockings for the old witch in return for a plump shoat. Tillie had several mouths to feed. Her man was a no-account, who spent his time fishing in summer and hunting in winter, so that all the work fell to Tillie. Day by day she tended and fed the shoat. It was black-and-white-spotted and fat as a butterball, she and the little Bococks bragged.
"Another month and you can butcher that shoat." Old Pol would stop in at Tillie's every time she went down the mountain, eyeing the fat pig. Sometimes she would put the palms of her dirty hands against her mouth and rub the black hair back to this side and to that, then she'd stroke her chin as though her black beard hung far down. Pol would make a clucking sound with her tongue. "Wisht I was chawin' on a juicy sparerib or gnawin' me a greasy pig's knuckle right now," she'd say. Then Pol would begin on a long tale of witchery: how she had seen young husbands under the spell of her craft grow faithless to young, pretty wives; how children gained power over their parents through her and had their own will in all things, even to getting title to house and land from them before it should have been theirs. She told how Luther Trumbo's John took with barking fits like a dog and became a hunchback over night. "Why? Becaze he made mauck of Pol Gentry, that's why!" She rubbed a dirty hand around her hairy mouth and cackled gleefully.
At that Tillie Bocock turned to her frightened children huddled behind her chair. "Get you gone, the last one of you out to the barn. Such witchy talk is not for young ears."
Then old Pol Gentry scowled at Tillie and her sharp eyes flashed and she puffed her lips in and out. Pol didn't say anything but Tillie could see she was miffed and there was in her sharp eyes a look that said, "Never mind, Tillie Bocock, you'll pay for this."
Next morning Pol Gentry was up bright and early, rattling the pot on the stove and grumbling to herself. "I'll show Tillie Bocock a thing or two. So I will. Sending her young ones out of my hearing."
Far down the ridge Tillie Bocock was up early too, for already the sun was bright and there was corn to hoe. Tillie and the children had washed the dishes, and she had carried out the soapy dishwater with cornbread scraps mixed in it and poured it in the trough for the pig. "Spotty," they called their pet. The Bococks had no planks with which to make a separate pen for the spotted pig so they kept its trough in a corner of the chicken lot.
"Mazie, you and Saphroney go fetch a bucket of cold water for Spotty," Tillie called to her two eldest. "A pig likes a cold drink now and then same as we do." So off the children went with the cedar bucket to the spring. When they returned they poured some of the water into the dishpan and Spotty sucked it up greedily while they hurried to pour the rest into the mudhole where the pig liked to wallow.
The sun caked the mud on the pig's sides and legs as it lay grunting contentedly in the chicken yard.
And when Tillie and the children came in from hoeing corn at dinner time Spotty still lay snoozing in the sun. An hour later they returned to toss a handful of turnip greens into the pig. But Spotty didn't even grunt or get up, for on its side was a sleek black cat. A cat with green eyes stretched full length working its claws into the pig's muddy sides, now with the front paws, now with the hind ones.
The children screamed and stomped a foot. "Scat! Scat!" they cried but the black cat only turned its fierce eyes toward them.
Hearing their screams Tillie came running out. She fluttered her apron at the cat to scare it away but it only snarled, showing its teeth, lifting its bristling whiskers. Then Tillie picked up a stone and threw it as hard as she could, striking the cat squarely between the eyes. It screamed like a human, Tillie told afterwards. Loud and wild it screamed, and leaping off the pig it darted off quick as a flash.
When the cat reached the cliff halfway up the mountain that led toward Pol Gentry's it turned around and looked back. With one paw uplifted it wiped its face for there was blood pouring out of the cut between its shining green eyes. It twitched its mouth till the black fur stood up.
"Come, get up, Spotty!" Tillie and the children coaxed the pig. "Here's more dishwater slop for you. Here's some cornbread!"
Slowly the pig got to its knees, then to its feet. It grunted once only and fell over dead.
After that old Pol Gentry wasn't seen for days. But when Tillie Bocock did catch sight of her, Pol turned off from the footpath and hurried away. Even so Tillie saw the deep gash in Pol's forehead oozing blood right between her eyes. She saw Pol Gentry's mouth widen angrily and the black hair about it twitch like that of a snarling cat, as she slunk away.
THE DEER WOMAN AND THE FAWN
Amos Tingley, a bachelor, and a miser as well, lived in Laurel Hollow. Nearby was a salt lick for deer. Often he saw them come there a few at a time, lick the salt, and scamper away. There were two he noticed in particular, a mother and its fawn. They had come nearer than the salt lick—into his garden—more than once and trampled what they did not like, or nibbled to the very ground things that suited their taste, vegetables that Amos had toiled to plant and grow. He didn't want to harm the animals if it could be helped so Amos thought to make a pet of the fawn. When a boy he had had a pet fawn, carried it in his arms. He even brought it into the house and when it grew older the little creature followed at his heels like a dog. He reached a friendly hand toward this fawn in his garden but it kicked up its heels and fairly flew down the garden path. However, the mother, watching her chance when Amos had returned to the house, led her fawn into the garden again and together they ate their fill of the choicest green things.
It annoyed Amos Tingley no little. He determined to put a stop to it. One evening he greased his old squirrel rifle. He took lead balls out of the leather pouch that hung on the wall, rolled them around in the palm of his hand, and wondered when his chance would come to use them. As he sat turning the thoughts over in his mind pretty Audrey Billberry and her little girl, Tinie, came along the road. Audrey was a widow. Had been since Tinie was six months old. Some wondered how she got along. But Audrey Billberry was never one to complain and if neighbors went there she always urged them to stay and eat. If it was winter, there was plenty of rabbit stew and turnips and potatoes, or squirrel and quail. Audrey loved wild meat. "It's cleaner," she'd say, "and sweeter. Sweet meats make pretty looks." Audrey smiled and showed her dimples and little Tinie patted her mother's hand and looked up admiringly into her face. Then off the two would skip through the woods to gather greens or berries, chestnuts or wild turkey eggs, whatever the season might bring.
Sometimes they went hand in hand, Audrey and the child, past Amos Tingley's place.
"Good day, to you," pretty Audrey Billberry would call out and Tinie would say the same. "How goes it with you today, good neighbor?"
"Well enough," Amos answered, "and better still if I can get rid of that pestering deer and her fawn. The two have laid waste my garden patch. See yonder!" he pointed with the squirrel rifle. "And it won't be good for the two the next time they come nibbling around here!"
Pretty Audrey Billberry gripped little Tinie's hand until the child squealed and hopped on one foot. They looked at each other, then at the gun. Fright came into their eyes. Audrey tried to laugh lightly. "When you kill that deer be sure to bring me a piece, neighbor Tingley," she said, as unconcerned as you please, and away she went with the little girl at her side. When they reached home Audrey Billberry turned the wood button on the door and flung back her head. "Kill a deer and her fawn! There is no fear, Tinie. Why"—she scoffed—"Amos Tingley's got only lead to load his rifle. I saw." She put her hands to her sides and laughed and danced around the room. "Lead can't kill a deer and her fawn. It takes silver! Silver! Do you hear that, Tinie? Silver hammered and molded round to load the gun. And when, I'd like to know, would skinflint Amos Tingley, the miser, ever destroy a silver coin by pounding it into a ball to load a gun? There's nothing to fear. Rest easy, Tinie. Besides all living creatures must eat. It is their right. Only silver, remember, not lead, can harm the deer. A miser will keep his silver and let his garden go!" She caught little Tinie by both hands and skipped to and fro across the floor, saying over and over, "Only silver can harm the deer."
The wind caught up her words and carried them through the trees, across the ridge into Laurel Hollow.
While Audrey and Tinie skipped and frolicked and chanted, "Only silver can harm the deer," Amos Tingley, the miser, over in Laurel Hollow was busy at work. He took a silver coin from the leather poke in his pocket and hammered it flat on the anvil in his barn. Thin as paper he hammered it until he could roll it easily between thumb and finger. Then around and around he rolled it between his palms until there was a ball as round and as firm as ever was made with a mold. Amos put it in his rifle.
The next morning when he went out to work in his garden there was scarcely a head of cabbage left. The bunch beans he had been saving back and the cut-short beans had been plucked and the row of sweet corn which he had planted so carefully along the fence-row had been stripped to the last roasting ear. He stooped down to look at the earth. "Footprints of the deer and the fawn, without a doubt. But she must have worn an apron or carried a basket to take away so much." Amos shook his head in perplexity. Then he hurried back to the house to get his gun.
"Right here do I wait." He braced himself in the doorway, back to the jam, knees jackknifed, gun cocked. "Here do I wait until I catch sight of that doe and her fawn."
It wasn't long till the two appeared on a nearby ridge, pranking to and fro. Into the forest they scampered, then out again, frisking up their hind feet, then standing still as rocks and looking down at Amos Tingley in his doorway.
Then Amos lifted his gun, pulled the trigger.
The fawn darted away but the deer fell bleeding with a bullet in the leg.
"Let her bleed! Bleed till there's not a drop of blood left in her veins and my silver coin is washed back to my own hands!" That was the wish of Amos Tingley, the miser. He went back into the house and put his gun in the corner.
When darkness came little Tinie Billberry stood sobbing at Amos Tingley's door. "Please to come," she pleaded. "My mother says she'll die if you don't. She wants to make amends!"
"Amends?" gasped Amos Tingley. "Amends for what?"
But Tinie had dashed away in the darkness.
When Amos reached pretty Audrey Billberry's door, he found her pale in the candlelight, her ankle shattered and bleeding. The foot rested in a basin.
"See what you've done, Amos Tingley." The pretty widow lifted tear-dimmed eyes, while Tinie huddled shyly behind her. "A pitcher of water, quick, Tinie, to wash away the blood!"
As the child poured the water over the bleeding foot, Amos heard something fall into the basin. He caught the flash of silver. Amos stood speechless.
In the basin lay the silver ball the miser had made from a coin.
"Never tell!" cried pretty Audrey Billberry, her dark eyes starting from the bloodless face. "Never tell and I promise, I promise and so does Tinie—see we promise together."
The child had put down the pitcher and came shyly to rest her head upon her mother's shoulder, her small hand in Audrey's.
"We promise," they spoke together, "never, never again to bother your garden!"
They kept their word all three, Amos Tingley and pretty Audrey Billberry and little Tinie. But somebody told, for the tale still lives in Laurel Hollow of the miser and the deer woman and the little fawn.
GHOST OF DEVIL ANSE
Near the village of Omar, Logan County, in the hills of West Virginia there is a little burying ground that looks down on Main Island Creek. It is a family burying ground, you soon discover when you climb the narrow path leading to the sagging gate in the rickety fence that encloses it. There are a number of graves, some with head stones, some without. But one grave catches the eye, for above it towers a white marble statue. The statue of a mountain man, you know at once by the imposing height, the long beard, the sagging breeches stuffed into high-topped boots. Drawing nearer, you read the inscription upon the broad stone base upon which the statue rests:
CAPT. ANDERSON HATFIELD
and below the names of his thirteen children:
JOHNSON WM. A. ROBERT L. NANCY ELLIOTT R. MARY ELIZABETH ELIAS TROY JOSEPH D. ROSE WILLIS E. TENNIS
You lift your eyes again to the marble statue. If you knew him in life, you'll say, "This is a fine likeness—and a fine piece of marble."
"His children had it done in Italy," someone offers the information.
"So," you say to yourself, "this is the grave of Devil Anse Hatfield."
You've seen all there is to see. You're ready to go, if you are like hundreds of others who visit the last resting place of the leader of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. But, if you chance to tarry—say, in the fall when fogs are heavy there in the Guyan Valley, through which Main Island Creek flows—you may see and hear things strangely unaccountable.
Close beside the captain's grave is another. On the stone is carved the name—Levisa Chafin Hatfield. If you were among the many who attended her funeral you will remember how peaceful she looked in her black burying dress she'd kept so long for the occasion. Again you will see her as she lay in her coffin, hands primly folded on the black frock, the frill of lace on the black bonnet framing the careworn face. You look up suddenly to see a mountain woman in a somber calico frock and slat bonnet. She is putting new paper flowers, to take the place of the faded ones, in the glass-covered box between the grave of Devil Anse and the mother of his children.
"You best come home with me," she invites with true hospitality, after an exchange of greetings. You learn that Molly claims kin to both sides, being the widow of a Hatfield and married to a McCoy, and at once you are disarmed.
That night as you sit with Molly in the moonlight in the dooryard of her shack, a weather-beaten plank house with a clapboard roof and a crooked stone chimney, she talks of life in the West Virginia hills. "There's a heap o' things happens around this country that are mighty skeery." Suddenly in the gloaming a bat wings overhead, darts inside the shack. You can hear it blundering around among the rafters. An owl screeches off in the hollow somewhere. "Do you believe in ghosts and haynts?" There are apprehension and fear in Molly's voice.
Presently the owl screeches dolefully once more and the bat wheels low overhead. A soft breeze stirs the pawpaw bushes down by the fence row. "Did you hearn something mourn like, just then?" Molly, the widow of a Hatfield and wife of a McCoy, leans forward.
If you are prudent you make no answer to her questions.
"Nothing to be a-feared of, I reckon. The ghosts of them that has been baptized they won't harm nobody. I've heard Uncle Dyke Garrett say as much many's the time." The woman speaks with firm conviction.
A moth brushes her cheek and she straightens suddenly.
The moon is partly hidden behind a cloud; even so by its faint light you can see the clump of pawpaw bushes, and beyond—the outline of the rugged hills. Farther off in the burying ground atop the ridge the marble figure of the leader of the Hatfields rises against the half-darkened sky.
At first you think it is the sound of the wind in the pines far off in the hollow, then as it moves toward the burying ground it changes to that of low moaning voices.
You feel Molly's arm trembling against your own.
"Listen!" she whispers fearfully, all her courage gone. "It's Devil Anse and his boys. Look yonder!"—she tugs at your sleeve—"See for yourself they're going down to the waters of baptism!"
Following the direction of the woman's quick trembling hand you strain forward.
At first there seems to be a low mist rolling over the burying ground and then suddenly, to your amazement, the mist or cloud dissolves itself into shafts or pillars of the height of the white figure of Devil Anse above the grave. They form in line and now one figure, the taller, moves ahead of all the rest. Six there were following the leader. You see distinctly as they move slowly through the crumbling tombstones, down the mountain side toward the creek.
"Devil Anse and his boys," repeats the trembling Molly, "going down into the waters of baptism. They ever do of a foggy night in the falling weather. And look yonder! There's the ghost too of Uncle Dyke Garrett a-waiting at the water's edge. He's got the Good Book opened wide in his hand."
Whether it is the giant trunk of a tree with perhaps a leafless branch extended, who can say? Or is nature playing a prank with your vision? But, surely, in the eerie moonlight there seems to appear the figure of a man with arm extended, book in hand, waiting to receive the seven phantom penitents moving slowly toward the water's edge.
After that you don't lose much time in being on your way. And if anyone should ask you what of interest is to be seen along Main Island Creek, if you are prudent you'll answer, "The marble statue of Capt. Anderson Hatfield." And if you knew him in life you'll add, "And a fine likeness it is too."
THE WINKING CORPSE
On the night of June 22, 1887, the bodies of four dead men lay wrapped in sheets on cooling boards in the musty sitting room of an old boarding house in Morehead, Rowan County, Kentucky. Only the bullet-shattered faces, besmeared with blood, were exposed. Their coffins had not yet arrived from the Blue Grass. No friend or kinsman watched beside the bier that sultry summer night; they had prudently kept to their homes, for excitement ran high over the battle that had been fought that day in front of the old hostelry which marked, with the death of the four, the end of the Martin-Tolliver feud.
While the bodies lay side-by-side in the front part of the shambling house, there sat in the kitchen, so the story goes, a slatternly old crone peeling potatoes for supper—should the few straggling boarders return with an appetite, now that all the shooting was over.
It was the privilege of old women like Phronie in the mountains of Kentucky to go unmolested and help out as they felt impelled in times of troubles such as these between the Martins and Tollivers.
The place was strangely quiet. Indeed the old boarding house was deserted. For those who had taken the law in their own hands that day in Rowan County had called a meeting at the courthouse farther up the road. The citizenry of the countryside, save kin and friend of the slain feudists, had turned out to attend.
"Nary soul to keep watch with the dead," Phronie complained under her breath. "It's dark in yonder. Dark and still as the grave. A body's got to have light. How else can they see to make it to the other world?" She paused to sharpen her knife on the edge of the crock, glancing cautiously now and then toward the door of the narrow hallway that led to the room where the dead men lay.
The plaintive call of a whippoorwill far off beyond Triplett Creek, where one of the men had been killed that day, drifted into the quiet house.
"It's a sorry song for sorry times," murmured old Phronie, "and it ought to tender the heart of them that's mixed up in these troubles. No how, whosoever's to blame, the dead ort not to be forsaken."
There was a sound behind her. Phronie turned to see the hall door opening slowly. "Who's there?" she called. But no one answered. The door opened wider. But no one entered.
"It's a sign," the old woman whispered. "Well, no one can ever say Phronie forsaken the dead." It was as though the old crone answered an unspoken command. She put down the crock of potatoes and the paring knife. Wiping her hands on her apron, Phronie took the oil lamp, with its battered tin reflector, from the wall. "Can't no one ever say I forsaken the dead," she repeated, "nor shunned a sign or token. The dead's got to have light same as the living."
Holding the lamp before her, she passed slowly along the narrow hall on to the room where the dead men lay wrapped in their sheets. She drew a chair from a corner and climbed upon it and hung the lamp above the mantel. It was the chair on which Craig Tolliver, alive and boastful and fearless, had sat that morning when she had brought him hot coffee and cornbread while he kept an eye out for the posse, the self-appointed citizens who later killed the Tolliver leader and his three companions.
The flickering light of the oil lamp fell upon the ghastly faces of the dead men.
For a moment the old woman gazed at the still forms. Then suddenly her glance fixed itself upon the face of Craig Tolliver.
Slowly the lashes of Craig's right eye moved ever so slightly.
Phronie was sure of it. She gripped the back of the chair on which she stood to steady herself, for now the lid of the dead man's eye twitched convulsively. As the trembling old woman gaped, the eye of the slain feudist opened and shut. Not once, but three times, quick as a wink.
"God-a-mighty!" shrieked Phronie, "he ain't dead! Craig Tolliver ain't dead!" She leaped from the chair and ran fast as her crooked old limbs would carry her, shrieking as she went, "Craig Tolliver ain't dead!"
Some say it was just the notion of an old woman gone suddenly raving crazy, though others, half believing, still tell the story of the winking corpse.
THE HOUSE WITH THE GREEN GABLES
About halfway between the thriving, up-to-date, electrically lighted City of Ashland, Boyd County, Kentucky, with its million-dollar steel mills, and Grayson, the county seat of Carter County, Kentucky, there stands on the hillside a few rods from the modern highway U. S. 60, a little white cottage with green gables.
Within a mile or so of the place unusual road signs catch your eye. White posts, each surmounted by a white open scroll. There are ten of them, put there, no doubt, by some devoted pilgrim. There is one for each of the Ten Commandments. You read carefully one after the other. The one nearest the point where you turn off on a dirt road that leads to the white house with the green gables reads
Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother.
You leave your car at the side of the dirt road near U. S. 60, and go on foot the rest of the way.
You wonder, as you look at the beauty of the well-kept lawn, the carefully planted hedge and cedars, the step stone walk that leads up the sloping hill to the door, at the silence of the place. As you draw nearer, you wonder at the uncurtained windows, neat, small-paned casements with neither shade nor frill.
You learn that the place has stood untenanted for years. Truth to tell it has never been occupied. Some call it the haunted house with the green gables.
Some will tell you there is a shattered romance behind the empty, green-gabled house. Others contend it is tenanted. They have seen a lovely woman, lamp in hand, move about from room to room through the quiet night and stand sometimes beside the window up under the green gable that looks toward the west. She seems to be watching and waiting, they say. But when the day dawns woman and lamp vanish into thin air.
Others will tell you that an eccentric old man built the house for his parents long since dead. He believes, so they say—this old eccentric man living somewhere in the Kentucky hills (they are not sure of the exact location)—that his parents will return. Not as an aged couple, feeble and bent as they died, but in youth, happy and healthful. This "eccentric" son himself now stooped with age, with silver hair and faltering step, built the pretty white house that his parents might have beauty in a dwelling such as they never knew in their former life on earth. The old fellow himself, so the story goes, makes many a nocturnal visit to the dream house, hoping to find his parents returned and happily living within its paneled walls.
There are all sorts of stories, varying in their nature according to the distance of their origin from the green-gabled house.
Curious people have come all the way from the Pacific Coast to see it, from New England and Maine, from Canada and Utah.
As the years go by the legend grows.
"Oh, yes, I've seen the haunted house with the green gables," some will say, glowing with satisfaction. "And they do say the eccentric old man who built it for his parents has silent, trusty Negro servants dressed in spotless white who stand behind the high-backed chair of the master and mistress at the table laden with gleaming silver and a sumptuous feast. The old man firmly believes his parents will return!"
What with the increasing stories you decide to take a look for yourself. I did, accompanied by a newsman and a photographer.
Nothing like getting proof of the pudding.
Out you go, under cover of darkness, equipped with flashlights and flash bulbs. A haunted house, you calculate, will be much more intriguing by night. Stealthily you draw near. You peer into the windows, the uncurtained windows, in breathless awe prepared to see the lady with the lamp floating from room to room, hoping to glimpse the spectral couple seated at table in the high-paneled dining hall of which you have heard so many tales. Tales of gleaming silver, white-clad Negro servants bowing with deference before the master and mistress of the green-gabled house.
Through the uncurtained windows you gape wide-eyed. Instead of the scene you expected, there looms before your eyes plunder of all sorts tossed about helter-skelter: sections of broken bookcases, old tables, musty books, broken-down chairs.
You are about to retreat in utter disgust when you hear the sound of footsteps on the cobblestone walk that leads around the house. The sound draws nearer.
The wary photographer pulls his flashlight. Its bright beam plays upon the stone walk, catching first in its lighted circle the feet of a man. The light plays upward quickly. It holds now in its bright orb the smiling face of a man. A middle-aged man with pleasant blue eyes.
"—could—we see—the owner of this place?" stammers the reporter.
"You're looking at him, sir!" the fellow replies courteously. "What can I do for you?" It is a pleasant voice with an accent that is almost Harvard.
"Who—who—are you?" the reporter stammers.
"Hedrick's my name. Ray Hedrick! What's yours?"
When the uninvited visitors have identified themselves the owner invites you most graciously to take a seat on the doorstep.
You learn that this "eccentric old man," of whom you have heard such ridiculously fantastic tales, is and has been for a number of years telegraph operator for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad at their little wayside station, Kilgore. It is within a few miles of the mill town of thriving Ashland, Boyd County, Kentucky, and the county seat of Carter County. The little railroad station is within a stone's throw, as the crow flies, of "the haunted house."
"Pleasant weather we are having," the owner observes casually.
"Yes," the reporter replies reluctantly, "but this house—here"—the reporter is obviously peeved for having been snipe-hunting—"what about this house?"
"Well," drawls the owner tolerantly, "a house can't help what's been told about it, can it?"
"But how did the story get started—about it being haunted?" the reporter is persistent.
The owner jerks a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of U. S. 60. "Is that your car parked over there?"
There is in his tone that which impels you to stand not on the order of your going. You go at once—annoyed at being no nearer the answer than when you came.
And still the curious continue to motor miles and miles to see the haunted house with the green gables.
8. SINGING ON THE MOUNTAIN SIDE
Though there were and are people in the Blue Ridge Country who, like Jilson Setters, the Singin' Fiddler of Lost Hope Hollow, can neither read nor write, such obstacles have meant no bar to their poetic bent. They sing with joy and sorrow, with pride and pleasure, of the scene about them, matching their skill with that of old or young who boast of book learning.
OF LAND AND RIVER
Clothed in her many hues of green, Far Appalachia rises high And takes a robe of different hue To match the seasons passing by.
Her summits crowned by nature's hand, With grass-grown balds for all to see, Her towering rocks and naked cliffs Hid by some overhanging tree.
In early spring the Maple dons Her bright red mantle overnight; The Beech is clad in dainty tan, The Sarvis in a robe of white.
The Red Bud in profusion blooms And rules the hills a few short days, And Dogwoods with their snowy white Are mingled with its purple blaze.
High on the frowning mountain side Azaleas bloom like tongues of flame, The Laurel flaunts her waxy pink, And Rhododendrons prove their fame.
Then comes the sturdy Chestnut tree With plumes like waving yellow hair, And Wild Grapes blossom at their will To scent the glorious mountain air.
But when the frost of autumn falls, Like many other fickle maids, She lays aside her summer robes And dons her gay autumnal shades.
Oh, Appalachia, loved by all! Long may you reign, aloof, supreme, In royal robes of nature's hues, A monarch proud—a mountain Queen.
BIG SANDY RIVER
Big Sandy, child of noble birth, Majestically you roll along, True daughter of the Cumberlands, With heritage of wealth and song.
Free as the hills from whence you came, In folklore and tradition bound, You seek the valleys deep and wide, With frowning forests girded round.
Descendants of a stalwart breed And fed by nature's lavish hand, You carry on your bosom broad The riches of a virgin land.
When ringing ax of pioneers The silence of the forests broke, Upon your rising crest you bore The poplar and the mighty oak.
The push boat launched by brawny arms And filled with treasure from the earth Has drifted on your current strong From out the hills that gave you birth.
And steamboats loaded to the hold You swept upon your swelling tide, 'Til fruits of sturdy, mountain toil Were scattered out both far and wide.
The Dew Drop plowed your mighty waves. From Catlettsburg to old Pike Town, To bring her loads of manmade gifts And carry homespun products down.
And Market Boy, that far-famed craft, Churned through the foam, her holds to fill, And proudly reared her antlered head A trophy rare of mountain skill.
OLD TIME WATERFRONT
Come all you old-time rivermen And go along with me, Let's sing a song and give a cheer For the days that used to be.
Let's wander down to Catlettsburg And look upon the tide. We'll mourn the changes time has made There by the river side.
Gone is the old-time waterfront That rang with joy and mirth, And known throughout a dozen states As "the wettest spot on earth."
And Damron's famed Black Diamond, The logger's paradise, Where whiskey flowed like water And timbermen swapped lies.
Here Big Wayne ruled in splendor; His right, none would deny. And Little Wayne was always there To serve the rock and rye.
And Big Wayne never failed a friend, Or stopped to chat or lie, And no one entering his doors Was known to leave there dry.
And many a time some timberman Would land himself in jail, But Big Wayne always lent a hand, And went the wretch's bail.
Some of the buildings still are there, Along the old-time ways. Silent and dark their windows stare Gray ghosts of bygone days.
No sound of merriment or song, No dancing footsteps fall; The days of fifty years ago, Are gone beyond recall.
So to Big Wayne and Little Wayne, Big Sandy's pride and boast, And to the old-time waterfront, Let's drink a farewell toast.
While to the old-time timbermen, This song we'll dedicate, Who fought their battles with their fists, And took their whiskey straight.
There is singing in the mountain where the sturdy hill folk meet, There is singing in the valleys where the days are warm and sweet, There is singing in the cities where the crowds of workers throng, Wherever we meet, no day is complete, for West Virginians without a song.
West Virginia, land of beauty, West Virginia, land of song,
West Virginia, hear the singing of the crystal mountain streams, Songs of joy and songs of power to fulfill man's mightiest dreams, West Virginia, hear the singing of thy shadowed forest trees, Holding the winds, holding the floods, so that thy sons may be at ease.
West Virginia, land of beauty, West Virginia, land of song.
—Esther Eugenia Davis
The Skyline Drive is not a road To bring you near the skies Where you can sit and gather clouds That flit before your eyes, Or jump upon a golden fleece And sail to paradise— But it is a super-mountain road Where you can feast your eyes Upon the beauties of the world The Lord God gave to man For his enjoyment and his use; Improve it if you can. The builders of this Skyline Drive Have filed no patent right That they improved upon God's plan, Nor have more power and might; But they have seen His handiwork, This panoramic view, Have paved this road to ease the load Of all the world and you. This is akin to hallowed ground, A sacred beauty shrine; Its fame has traveled all around; It now is yours and mine. There's little points of vantage—views, Where you can see afar— Compare the beauty with that land That stands with "Gates Ajar." The people who have given much To save this precious shrine Must surely all be friends of God And friends of yours and mine.
—George A. Barker
THE LOVE OF ROSANNA McCOY
Come and listen to my story Of fair Rosanna McCoy. She loved young Jonse Hatfield, Old Devil Anse's boy.
But the McCoys and Hatfields Had long engaged in strife, And never the son of a Hatfield Should take a McCoy to wife.
But when they met each other, On Blackberry Creek, they say, She was riding behind her brother, When Jonse came along that way.
"Who is that handsome fellow?" She asked young Tolbert McCoy. Said he, "Turn your head, sister. That's Devil Anse's boy."
But somehow they met each other, And it grieved the Hatfields sore; While Randall, the young girl's father, Turned his daughter from the door.
It was down at old Aunt Betty's They were courting one night, they say, When down came Rosanna's brothers And took young Jonse away.
Rosanna's heart was heavy, For she hoped to be his wife, And well she knew her brothers Would take his precious life.
She ran to a nearby pasture And catching a horse by the mane, She mounted and rode like a soldier, With neither saddle nor rein.
Her golden hair streamed behind her, Her eyes were wild and bright, As she urged her swift steed forward And galloped away in the night.
Straight to the Hatfields' stronghold, She rode so fearless and brave, To tell them that Jonse was in danger And beg them his life to save.
And the Hatfields rode in a body. They saved young Jonse's life; But never, they said, a Hatfield Should take a McCoy to wife.
But the feud is long forgotten And time has healed the sting, As little Bud and Melissy This song of their kinsmen sing.
No longer it is forbidden That a fair-haired young McCoy Shall love her dark-eyed neighbor Or marry a Hatfield boy.
And the people still remember, Though she never became his bride, The love of these young people And Rosanna's midnight ride.
THE ROBIN'S RED BREAST
Through the southern mountains the Robin is often called the "Christ Bird" because of this legend. It is also called "Love Bird."
The Savior hung upon the cross, His body racked with mortal pain; The blood flowed from His precious wounds And sweat dropped from His brow like rain.
A crown of thorns was on His head, The bitter cup He meekly sips; His life is ebbing fast away, A prayer upon His blessed lips.
No mercy found He anywhere, He said, "My Father knoweth best." A little bird came fluttering down And hovered near his bleeding breast.
It fanned His brow with gentle wings, Into the cup it dipped its beak; And gazed in pity while He hung And bore His pain so calm and meek.
At last the bird it flew away And sought the shelter of its nest; Its feathers dyed with crimson stain, The Savior's blood upon its breast.
The lowly robin, so 'tis said, That comes to us in early spring, Is that which hovered near the cross And wears for aye that crimson stain.
Thomas Wiley, husband of Jennie Sellards Wylie, was a native of Ireland. They lived on Walker's Creek in what is now Tazewell County, Virginia. She was captured by the Indians in 1790. Her son Adam was sometimes called Adam Pre Vard Wiley.
Among the hills of old Kentucky, When homes were scarce and settlers few, There lived a man named Thomas Wylie, His wife and little children two.
They left their home in old Virginia, This youthful pair so brave and strong. And built a cabin in the valley Where fair Big Sandy flows along.
Poor Thomas left his home one morning, He kissed his wife and children dear; He little knew that prowling Indians Around his home were lurking near.
They waited in the silent woodland Till came the early shades of night; Poor Jennie and her young brother Were seated by the fireside bright.
They peeped inside the little cabin And saw the children sleeping there. These helpless ones were unprotected And Jennie looked so white and fair.
They came with tomahawks uplifted And gave the war whoop fierce and wild; Poor Jennie snatched her nursing baby; They killed her brother—her oldest child.
They took poor Jennie through the forest And while they laughed in fiendish glee, A redskin took the baby from her And dashed out its brains against a tree.
They traveled down the Sandy valley Until they reached Ohio's shore; They told poor Jennie she would never See home or husband any more.
For two long years they kept her captive, And one dark night she stole away, And many miles she put behind her Before the dawning of the day.
Straight for home the brave woman headed As on her trail the redskins came; The creek down which she fled before them To this day bears poor Jennie's name.
She reached the waters of Big Sandy And plunged within the swollen tide. The thriving little town of Auxier Now stands upon the other side.
Her husband welcomed her, though bearing A child sired by an Indian bold; He proudly claimed the stalwart Adam, Whose blood descendants are untold.
When the Sabbath day is dawning in the mountains, And the air is filled with bird song sweet and clear, Once again I think of him who lives in spirit, Though his voice has silent been for many a year.
And the music of the simple prayer he uttered Seems to echo from the highest mountain peak, And the people still respect the holy teaching Of that mountain preacher, Zepheniah Meek.
I can see him there upon the wooded hillside, While between two giant Trees of Heaven he stood, And the blue skies formed a canopy above them, As befitting one so humble, wise and good.
And he reads of how the Tree of Life is blooming, From the thumbworn leaves of God's own book of love, While the wind sweeps gently through the Trees of Heaven And they seem to whisper softly up above.
Oh, your name still lives among Big Sandy's people, Though your earthly form is molding 'neath the sod; May your memory linger in their hearts forever, While your spirit rests in peace at home with God.
CHURCH IN THE MOUNTAINS
This was composed by a little girl in Rowan County, Kentucky, after she had been to church in the mountains on Christy Creek in that county in 1939.
Have you been to church in the mountains? 'Tis a wonderful place to go, Out beneath the spreading branches Where the grass and violets grow.
Hats hang around on the trunks, Coats lay across the limbs, No roof above but heaven, They sing the good old hymns.
So they pray and preach together And sing in one accord, My heart within rejoices To hear them praise the Lord.
Though seats are rough, uneven, And they lay upon the sod, There can be no fault in the building, For the Architect is God.
Through years—it's been a custom That prayer should first be made, And then the others follow, Their praises ring in wood and glade.
There in the temple of temples, They tell of the glory land, While they beg the many sinners To take a better stand.
They beg the sinners to listen As they explain God's love, Telling of home that's waiting In the mansions up above.
Still praising God, the Father, Who gave His only Son, The meeting service closes Just as it had begun.
This ballad was composed and set to tune by Jilson Setters, the Singin' Fiddler of Lost Hope Hollow, who can neither read nor write, yet who has composed and set to tune more than one hundred ballads, some of which the late Dr. Kittredge of Harvard declared "will live as classics."
A very kindly doctor, a friend, I quite well know, He owned a mighty scope of land, some eighty year ago. The doctor had an old-time house, built from logs and clay, A double crib of roughhewn logs, it was built to stay.
The doctor he would fish and hunt, He would bring in bear and deer; He was content and happy in his home with his loved ones always near.
The doctor owned a faithful horse, He rode him night and day; He had nothing but a bridle path To guide him on his way.
The panther was his dreadful foe, It often lingered near; The doctor always went well armed, He seemed to have no fear.
He made himself a nice warm coat From the pelt of a brown woolly bear; Often I loved to trace its length With eager hands through shaggy hair.
The forepaws fitted round his wrists, The hind parts reached to his thighs, And of the head he made a cap That sheltered both his ears and eyes.
The doctor dearly loved the woods, He was raised there from a child; He was very fond of old-time ways, If you scoffed them, he would chide.
He was good and sympathetic, He traveled night and day; He doctored many people, Regardless of the pay.
Nels Tatum Rice was his name, He was known for miles around; Far beyond the county seat, 'Long the Big Sandy up and down.
His mother wove his winter clothes, As a boy he'd case their furs; With them to the county seat, But once a year he'd go.
The merchant he would buy the fur, It gladdened the boy's heart. He had money in his jeans, When for home he did start.
Boys, them days was full of glee, Both husky, fat and strong. Nels very soon retraced his steps, It didn't take him long.
Safely, of home once more in sight, The boy quite glad did feel. For he could hear old Shep dog bark, Hear the hum of the spinning wheel.
'Tain't no use a-sittin' here And peerin' at the sun, A-wishin' I had purty things, Afore my work is done. I best had bug the taters And fetch water from the run And save my time fer wishin' When all my work is done.
Paw heerd the squirrels a-barkin' This morning on the hill, And taken him his rifle-gun And tonic fer his chill. Menfolks ain't got no larnin' And have no time to fill; Paw spends his days in huntin' Or putterin' round his still.
"'Tain't no use complainin'" Is the song the wood thrush sings, And I don't know of nothin' That's as sweet as what he brings. But I best had comb my honey And churn that sour cream, And listen to the wood thrush When I ketch time to dream.
Sometimes I feel so happy As I hoe the sproutin' corn; To hear, far off upon the ridge, The call of Paw's cow horn. Then I know it's time for milkin' And my long day's work is through, And I kin sit upon the stoop And make my dreams come true.
I'll dream me a wish fer a shiney new hoe, And some dishes, an ax and a saw: And a calico shroud with a ribbon and bow And a new houn' dawg fer Paw.
—John W. Preble, Jr.
You like this Circle Star quilt, Miss, you say: I have a favorance for this Flower Bed bright and fair; I made it when my heart was light and gay. Like me, it's much the worse for time and wear. I used it first upon my marriage bed— And last, when Thomas, my poor man, lay dead.
This Nine Patch that is spread across my bed, My Emmy made it in her thirteenth year; I meant for her to claim it when she wed— Excuse me, Miss, I couldn't help that tear. She sewed her wedding dress so fine and proud— Before the day, we used it for her shroud.
That Double Wedding Ring? poor Granny Day, Before I married Tom, made that for me. A thrifty wife, I used to hear her say, Has kiverlids that all who come may see. She rests there on the knoll f'nenst the rise— The little grave is where my youngest lies.
Dove at the Window was my mother's make, Toad in a Puddle is the oldest one, Old Maid's Ramble and The Lady of the Lake I made for Ned, my oldest son. Hearts and Gizzards make me think of Grandpap Day. "Like Joseph's coat of many colors, Ma," he'd say.
The Snow Ball and the Rose are sister's make, She lived in Lost Hope Hollow acrost yon hill, Poor Jane, she might have had her pick of beaux, She sits alone because it was her will. A wife she never would consent to be, For Jane, she loved the man that favored me.
What song is this across the mountain side, Where every leaf bears elements of Him Who is all music? Silences abide With rock and stone. A conscious seraphim Directs the measure, when the need of song Arrives to set the spirit free again. The Mountain Singers, traipsin' along To woody trail and a cabin in the rain, Bring native music fit to cut apart Old enemies with gunshot for the heart. With Singin' Gatherin' and Infare still intact, The Mountain Singers make of ghost, a fact.
—Rachel Mack Wilson
THE ASHLAND TRAGEDY
One Christmas morn in eighty-one, Ashland, that quiet burg, Was startled—the day had not yet dawned— When the cry of fire was heard.
For well they knew two fair ladies Had there retired to bed. The startled crowd broke in, alas, To find the girls both dead.
And from the hissing, seething flames Three bodies did rescue; Poor Emma's and poor Fannie's both, And likewise Bobby's too.
And then like Rachel cried of old The bravest hearts gave vent, And all that blessed holiday To Heaven their prayers were sent.
Autopsy by the doctors show'd The vilest of all sin, And proved to all beyond a doubt Their skulls had been drove in.
And other crimes too vile to name; I'll tell it if I must; A crime that shocks all common sense, A greed of hellish lust.
An ax and crowbar there was found Besmeared with blood and hair, Which proved conclusively to all What had transpired there.
Two virgin ladies of fourteen, The flower of that town, With all their beauty and fond hopes, By demons there cut down—
Just blooming into womanhood, So lovely and so true; Bright hopes of long and happy days With morals just and pure.
Then Marshal Heflin sallied forth, Was scarcely known to fail, And in ten days had the assassins All safely placed in jail.
George Ellis, William Neal and Craft, Some were Kentucky's sons, Near neighbors to the Gibbons' house And were the guilty ones.
In this here dark and bloody ground They were true types indeed, Of many demons dead and dam'd Who fostered that same greed.
A hellish greed of lust to blast The virtuous and fair, To gratify that vain desire No human life would spare.
There Emma Thomas lay in gore, A frightful sight to view; Poor Fanny Gibbons in a crisp, And Bob, her brother, too.
Bob was a poor lame crippled boy, Beloved by everyone; His mother's hope, his sister's joy, A kind, obedient son.
At that dread sight the mother's grief No mortal tongue can tell. A broken heart, an addled brain, When all should have been well.
Both her dear children lying there, Who once so merry laughed. There stiff and stark in death they lay, Cut down by Ellis Craft.
That dreadful demon, imp of hell, Consider well his crime; Although he was a preacher's son, Has blackened the foot of time.
—Peyton Buckner Byrne
This ballad was composed by Peyton Buckner Byrne of Greenup, Greenup County, Kentucky. He is in error in writing the name of Emma Thomas; the murdered girl's name was Emma Carico. The tragedy occurred in the early '80's in the mill town of Ashland, Boyd County, Kentucky, which adjoins Greenup County. The town of Greenup was formerly called Hangtown because of the many hangings which occurred there in the days of the Civil War. Peyton Buckner Byrne was a schoolteacher in that County and one of his scholars, Miss Tennessee Smith, supplied this copy of the old schoolteacher's ballad. Ellis Craft is buried on Bear Creek in Boyd County, not far from Ashland where he committed the crime.