He walked down the road a long way in the moonlight. After a while he said, “Phew, now I’ve done it. Here I am getting’ as tired as can be with this old chest on my shoulder. I’ve a mind to throw this thing in the next well I come to – the next one I come to right down there.”
“Oh, but inside the old chest the traveler began to beat, beat, beat with all his might.
“Oh, Jack, Jack, listen here. Don’t throw me in the well, I’m in here.”
“Oh,” Jack said, “bedads, you are in there, aren’t you? Well what’ll you give me if I don’t throw you in the well?”
“Oh,” he said, “now listen, Jack, I’ll give you all the gold you want.”
“All right, bejabbers, I’ll just set you down here by the side of the road, and I’ll ease open that lid a little bit, and you can begin to put me out the gold.”
He opened the lid a little bit, so the man could get his hands out, and he just laid out handfuls of gold and still more gold. Jack filled his pockets, he put gold down his pant legs. He just had every bit he could walk with.
When Jack had got all the gold he could carry, he turned around and started back home. Late the next evening he got in. Will and Tom were sitting there at the supper table just a-fussing and growling about which one should wash the dishes when Jack walked in.
“Well,” they said, “and bedad, and where’s your calf skin?”
“Why,” Jack said, “I sold it. What do you think I done with it?”
“Sold it! What would you get for that calf hide?”
“Well bedads,” Jack said, “I’ll just show you.” And he began laying out handfuls of gold on the table and laid out handfuls after handfuls.
Well, they waited to see a little of it. Will jumped up and says, “Tom, Tom, come on, let’s go quick and kill the fines horse we’ve got. Why, if Jack could get that for one little measily calf hide, what’ll we get for one of our fine horse hides?”
Away they went. They didn’t even wait till morning. They killed the finest horse each one of them had. They couldn’t be bothered to wait for the sun to dry out those hides. They sewed them right up green, stuffed them with chips and straw, took them by the tails, and hauled them off to town.
When they got to town, they walked up and down the streets, hollering, “Horse hides for sale, horse hides for sale!” Just up and down the streets day after day. People came out and looked at them as if they thought they were crazy.
Well, they kept at this for three or four days right in the summer time. Those old horse hides were green and began to smell bad. They soon found that the people just weren’t going to stand for it. They soon came out with sticks and stones and said,
“Looky here, you two crazy men, get out of this town or we’re to show you how to get out,” and they just ran them out of the town.
Will and Tom were so made they didn’t know what to do. They came home just a-puffing. They said, “Jack, you plain lied to us. You didn’t sell that calf hide for any of that gold, and we’re going to throw in the river. Young man, just come along with us.” All they had in their hands was a sheet. They forgot to bring the rope to tie him up with. They fussed and fussed about which one should go back and get the rope. Will said, “Tom, you go get it,” and Tom said, “No, Will you go get it.” Tom said, “Now, Will, you are the oldest, you go on and get that rope, and I’ll stay here with Jack.”
Well, finally they made up their minds, and they told Jack to stay right there by himself while they went back to the house to get the rope to tie up the sheet with. They rolled Jack up in the sheet and said,
“Now, listen, there’d better be something right in this sheet when we get back!” And so the two old scruffs went running back to the house to get the rope.
When they got out of hearing, Jack crawled out to the edge of that big old sheet and lay there with his head sticking out somewhat like a terrapin. He heard someone coming on the other end of the bridge and calling out, “Sheep! Sheep! Here” and he looked and there came a little old gray, fat man driving the prettiest flock of sheep you have ever seen. When he came alongside Jack, he said, “Jack what in the world are you doing there under that sheet?”
“Oh,” he said, “Mister, I’m going to heaven.”
“Oh, please, Jack, let me get in there and go to heaven. I always wanted to go to heaven. Now, listen, Jack, you are young, and you can have every one of these sheep. They are everyone yours if you’ll just get out of there and let me get under that sheet so I can got to heaven.”
Jack said, “Well, my father always did tell me to be kind to old people. So I’ll just let you get right in here.”
He rolled the man up in the sheet and said, “Now, just stay right still and after a while there will be somebody here that will send you right off.”
Jack called to the sheep, “Sheep! Sheep! And backed them off the end of the bridge opposite home. He quickly drove them around a bend in the road before the two brothers got back. He watched around the bend and saw all that was happening. He saw them come and tie the man up hastily heaved him into the river. He saw them turn and go back to the house. He knew they were arguing about something. He waited until they had had good time to get settled back there, and he started the sheep back across the bridge toward home. Finally he drove them up, and when he stopped outside the gate, he called out, “Will, Tom, I wish you all would come out here and help me get these sheep in.”
Will and Tom came running off the porch.
They couldn’t believe their eyes. They said,
“Jack, where in the world did you get those sheep?”
“Why,” he said, “I gathered them out of the river. Where do you think I got them?”
“Oh, Jack, Jack, will you take us and put us in the river?”
“Well, bedad, I reckon I will but you shore got to get your own sheet and rope. I’m not going to do that for you!”
Both ran and got a big sheet and a piece of rope as soon as they could and went running just as hard as they could go to the river bridge. Jack went running along with them, but they fussed all the way down about who ought to get to go first since he was usually with the goats.
“And so Jack tied Tom up good and tight with a piece of big, strong rope, and gave him a great slight right out into the middle of the river. He went down kicking around. Will said, “What’s he doin’, Jack, what’s doin’?”
“I know he’s gathering sheep.”
“Quick! Hurry, Jack before he has time to get them everyone! Put me int here!”
Jack tied him up right quick and gave him a great big sling, and over the bridge right out into the middle of the river he went. And you know when I left there, Jack was just as rich and happy a man as I ever knew.
Once upon a time there was a man who had three boys, Jack, Will and Tom. Will and Tom were the two oldest sons. Jack was just a little bit of a fellow, not hardly able to take care of himself – the old father thought.
So the old man just divided all of his land, cattle, sheep, and horses between two older boys, and they promised that they would take good care of little old Jack. But no sooner was the father gone than these two older brothers just began to see how bad and mean they could be to that little fellow. They made him do all of the housework, all of the cooking – just everything – and wait on them, hand and foot. And then even at that they were not kind to the little old fellow.
One day when they came in from the field to their dinner, Will said, “Jack, when you finish up with the dinner dishes, I guess you’d better go down to the edge of the woods and get that little old calf of yours and skin it. I’ve already cut a tree down on it and killed it.”
“Well, bedast, I will,” said Jack.
So after he finished the dinner dishes, he went down to the edge of the woods, and sure enough there lay his little old calf, the only thing he had the back of the barn, and let it dry good and hard. When it was just bone dry, he took that hide down to moisten it. Then he got him an old piece of shoe leather, made him a thong, and took an awl, and sewed that hide up, stuffed it with chips and straw. Then he took it by the tail and went dragging it up the path to the house, bumpty-bump, bumpty-bump, right up the path to the house. When he got to the porch, Will said:
“Jack, what in the world are you going with that thing?”
“Bedad, I’m going out into the world to make my fortune, that’s what I’m going to do with it. When I come back to this house, I’m going to come with gold.”
“Humph!” Will said, “I guess you’ll come with gold. You’ll be back here by supper time, good and hungry.”
Jack said, “You’ll see about that!”
He took his calf hid by the tail, bumpty-bump, bumpty-bump, right down the road in a cloud of dust. As far as they could see Jack, he was just a-traveling with the calf skin a dragging along behind him.
He walked all day, and late that evening he began to think about a place to spend the night. And looking along the road on this side and that side, he finally saw a nice looking house.
He thought, “I believe I’ll go up there and ask that lady at that house if she just won’t let me spend the night.”
When he knocked at the door, the woman came. “Please, kind lady, could I spend the night with you here?”
“Why, no son, you can’t. My husband isn’t at home. I’m just here by myself. No, you just go on down the road. You’ll find a place on further down.”
“Oh,” he said, “Lady, but I am so tired. Please – I won’t be a mite o’ trouble, just let me have a bed.”
“Oh, well, come on upstairs. What’s your name?”
“All right, Jack come on! Go on upstairs to the top of the steps and go right into that door to your right. You can sleep there I reckon for the night.”
Jack went into the room and closed the door; and while it was just beginning to get dark enough for a light to show, he could see very well where his bed was. He didn’t light any lamp or anything. But he saw a knot hole right there in the middle of the floor.
He went over and put his eye down to that knot hole to see what he could see down in the world below. There sat a dining room table and the lady that had let him come into the room, with a traveler sitting on the other side of the table. They were eating and laughing and drinking, having the best time you have ever seen. And oh, there were the best things to eat on the table. There was chicken and cake and pie and jam and honey – just everything anybody would want.
Oh, Jack was so hungry! He wanted some of that food so bad he didn’t know what to do. But those people didn’t pay any attention to him.
“Oh,” the woman says, “Quick! Quick! That’s my husband coming home! Jump right quick over there in that big old chest. Don’t sit there!” And the traveler took one leap and went right into the big cedar chest, and the old woman closed the lid down over him and sat back down as if nothing had happened.
About that time somebody began knocking on the door, and exclaiming, “Old woman, old woman, let me in.” She began cleaning those things off the table just as fast as she could and brushed the table cloth clean. Then she went running over to the door, her arms reaching out toward the door as if in great haste.
The old man said, “What on earth is the matter with you? Why can’t you get here and let me in?”
“Oh,” she says, “my reumatiz is just a-hurting me so!”
“Well,” he says, “rheumatiz or no rheumatiz, I want some supper. I just about starved to death.”
“Why, old man, there’s not a thing in this world in this house to eat but just corn bread and milk.”
“Well, bedads, corn bread and milk is just good enough for anybody. Set it out here on the table!”
She went to the kitchen and brought back a great big plate of corn bread, a great pitcher of the best looking milk, and a big old spoon and a bowl. The old man just began crumbling in the bread and pouring in milk and oh, he was having a good time eating.
Jack, all the time, had his eye right down to that know hole. He stood that just as long as he could, and he didn’t stay idle a minute. He took that old calf hide by the tail, gave it a shake or two over the floor, and ooh, it was the strangest sounding noise. The old man looked up and says,
“Old woman, what is that?”
“Oh,” she says, “it’s just the poorest looking little shab of a boy you’ve ever seen in your life that I let go upstairs to sleep.”
“I’ll bet you didn’t give him a bite of supper.”
“Why, law no, I supposed he had had his supper long ago.”
“What was the boy’s name, old woman?”
“Jack is all he told me.”
The old man walked out into the hall and said,
“Jack, Jack, son, don’t you want to come down here and get you a bite of something to eat?”
“Well bedads, I don’t care if I do,” said Jack.
She he took his old calf hide by the tail and down the steps he came thumpty-bump, bumpty-thump, right up to the dining room table, threw his old calf hide by him, and sat down.
The old man said, “Old woman, bring Jack now a bowl and a spoon, and bring some more milk and bread here!”
And Jack just crumbled in bowls of milk and bread, and, oh, it was tasting so good, and he was having such a good time. After he had eaten two or three of them, he looked at the old calf, gave him a shake or two right loud, and –
“Ah,” he says, “hush, hush, don’t you be saying that. No, hush up! This milk and bread is just as good as anybody would want. Now, hush your mouth. I don’t want to hear another word out of you!”
The old man said, “Jack, what did he say to you?”
“Oh, no sir,” said Jack, “I can’t tell you – I just can’t. I might hurt the good lady’s feelings. No sir, I can’t tell you, and I don’t want to hear another word out of him. I’ll just have me a little more of that milk and bread, please.”
After he had eaten another bowl of the milk and bread, he reached down and got the old calf hide by the tail and gave him another shake.
“Didn’t I tell you before to shut that mouth of yours? Now, listen, don’t mention that again. If you do I’m going to give you the trashing of your life when I get you upstairs. No! Hush!”
“But, my dear Jack, listen, what did he say to you? Now tell me son.”
“No, sir, I’m tellin’ you, I’m afraid it would make the lady of the house mad.”
“Now, old woman, it’s not going to make you mad, is it?” said the old man.
“Well, now,” Jack said, “if the kind lady won’t get mad, I’ll tell you. He said to me that over there in that corner cupboard there’s cake and pie and chicken, there’s ham, there’s honey, there’s jelly, there’s preserves, there’s everything good you can think of to eat, – right over there in that chest.”
“Old woman, is that the truth?”
“Oh, well, it’s just a little something there I’ve got for me and my poor kinfolks.”
“Well, me and Jack’s your poor kinfolks. Just bring them out here!”
And the old woman set on the table just all the good Jack had ever dreamed of. And he just ate and ate all he could hold. Then the old man said,
“Listen, Jack, what will you take for that?”
“Oh,” said Jack, “I can’t sell you that, mister? Oh, no, I just can’t that’s my fortune.”
“Well, listen, Jack, surely you can sell it. I’ll give you anything you want. Just mention anything and I’ll give it to you.”
“Oh, no, no,” said Jack, “I just couldn’t part with that. I just couldn’t part with it!”
We, now, listen here,” the old man said, “will that talk to me just like it talks to you?”
“Yes, sir,” Jack said, “it’ll talk to you just like it talks to me.”
The old man said then, “Jack, I’ve just got to have it. Now, you name your price, for you’ve got to let me buy that.”
Well, Jack looked all around the room, and he says,
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll take that old cedar chest over there for it.”
“Oh, all right,” the man said, “Jack, just help yourself!”
Jack just threw that old cedar chest up on his shoulder and walked out of the door.
To be continued….
Quite a number of places and people have laid claim to this story but they say it did take place here in Graham County, where a man who was out with his yoke of oxen and one of his oxen got sullen and laid down and wouldn’t pull. The man was in a rough place and the load required a pretty good pull. He just had the one ox to pull, so he just took the yoke off the ox’s neck and got in himself – put his head through the yoke and he with the good ox pulled the wagon out.
After they pulled out of the hole, the ox kept going faster and faster. He kept going and after a while he struck a trot and then from a trot, he put into a lope. And he kept going and finally ran towards home. The ox ran over a bee bench, started the bees to flying all over, stinging chickens. Went on and hit the shed, knocked the shed down, and a lot of stuff in the shed loft dumped into the porch. And as he passed theporch of the house, he hollered to the folks on the porch, “Here we come! Head us! Damn our fool souls!”
Back of the old fiddle tune, “The Belled Buzzard”, is a tradition which had its origins in the mountains. The story concerns a settlement along a river bottom. One bank of the river was bordered for miles by high un-scalable bluffs crowned with scrub timber, the home and breeding place of thousands of buzzards.
Hog raising was a source of income of the area. Mast from the acorn bearing trees furnished food for the droves of hogs earmarked and turned into the woods each year, to be rounded up n the fall ready for market.
One summer hog cholera broke out among the porkers. The buzzards, feasting on the dead carcasses, carried disease from one section of the county to another. There was an unwritten law that these birds should not be killed, but the farmers were aware that, unless some action was taken to check the spread of the disease, their hogs, together with their income would be wiped out entirely.
A meeting was called. It was decided to capture one of the birds and fasten a small sheep bell to it, in the hope that it would cause them to leave. One of the birds was accordingly trapped and belled. His arrival among the others created a great commotion and in a few days the flock of buzzards disappeared, only the belled buzzard remaining. Finally he, too, took flight.
At the end of the summer there was an epidemic of typhoid fever in the area, many dying. About this time the belled buzzard reappeared, the tinkle of his bell being plainly heard as he soared about the farms. He came and went time after time and always following his reappearance some sort of calamity happened. The return of the belled bird aroused apprehension in the minds of the more superstitious and his presence became associated with their misfortunes. They believed the repulsive fowl was possessed of an evil spirit. Many believe he still roams the skies, as belled buzzard casts a spell of gloom over them.
The tune “The Belled Buzzard” has been handed down through the years with this tradition, the plucking of the fiddle string in certain places in the music representing the tinkle of his bell!
In the folkways of Southern gastronomy, eating and drinking have played a part not only in general hospitality and sociability but also in community gatherings where the needs of work, religion and politics as well as gregariousness are satisfied. Such was the case in harvest suppers, corn shucking, butchering day dinners, and all day singing and dinner on the grounds, church picnics, barbeques and fish muddles. And when the eating was light, as at frolics and dances, the drinking was apt to be heavy.
The jug and the bottle were already firmly established in the backwoods pattern where poor roads made the jug (without benefit of government excise tax) the easiest way to get corn out of corn-patches (especially in the mountains). Where money was scarce, whisky also was used for barter.
Many, many generations ago, long before the white man was seen in the land, a large happy tribe of Cherokee lived around the base of the mountain in North Carolina now known as Bald Mountain. It was then covered from base to summit with gigantic trees, beneath which flourished a dense undergrowth of vines, bushes and shrubbery. One day, to the terror of the tribe, and immense bird soared above them, overshadowing them with his outstretched wings. Finally with terrific cries, he settled upon the very top of the top of the mountain, shaking the surrounding country as he alighted. That a bird so vast should make his eyry so near them was dreadful enough, even to the warriors of the tribe, who plainly foresaw how ineffectual their weapons must prove against a flying foe of such huge dimensions. But the bird kept quiet, to the great relief of all; and, as day followed day, without his reappearance, his residence over them gradually lost its terrors, except that the boldest hunter among them dared not pursue his game when it fled toward the summit of the mountain.
One night the tribe were wrapped in sleep, when they were suddenly awakened by the shrieking of the bird and the quaking of the earth at his movements. With one fell swoop, he rush down upon the valley like a storm, crying and roaring with ferocity, and causing the trees and rocks to shake at his coming. Men, women and children fled in tumult, dispersing in all directions, like leaves before a tornado. At length the monster withdrew to his eyry, and the slowly regathered tribe discovered that he had borne off in his cruel talons the beloved child of one of the chiefs. Every year thereafter the feathered horror repeated his descent bearing off a young child as his prey. The afflicted Cherokee knew not what to do. They shrank in dread from the unequal combat with a bird whose size, strength and ferocity were so prodigious. They invoked the Great Spirit for relief, but He seemed deaf to their invocations. They felt that some great, unexpiated sins this distressing annual sacrifice was exacted of them and they submitted as to the inevitable.
At length a chief arose who could not and would not endure the tyranny and rapacity of the bird of the mountain. Just before the period at which the horrid annual visitation was expected, when the fathers and mothers looked upon their little ones with the fearful certainty that one would be torn from them to be tortured, killed and devoured, this chief called the tribe together and eloquently exhorted them to make an effort to destroy the bird, even though they should themselves perish in the attempt. Aroused by his example and his appeal, and driven, indeed, to desperation by the repeated sacrifices they had undergone, the warriors unanimously agreed to follow the chief in his perilous, if not forlorn, enterprise against the mountain horror. The women and children were placed at a distance in secure retreats and the warriors, armed with all their offensive and defensive weapons, encircled the base of the mountain and resolutely began the ascent. Their progress was slow and difficult up the steep acclivity, their way impeded at every step by the rank growth that clothed the mountain from foot to top. Yet they pressed forward and upward, resolved to do or die, until, at length, they were suddenly and simultaneously arrested all around the mountain by an unexpected spectacle that froze the very blood in their veins with fear. They beheld before them, not merely one monstrous bird, but an innumerable congregation of the same mammoth and savage species, clustering close in rank on rank to the very summit of the mountain, glaring with fierce eyes, and with beaks and wings extended, ready to rush down upon and exterminate the invaders of their heights. Yielding all hope before this appalling apparition, the warriors cast away their weapons and fell upon their faces,, to await the destruction so surely impending over them.
At this supreme moment the heart of the chief did not fail him. He saw as clearly as his followers did how unavailing would be their strength and weapons against this multitudinous brood of monsters: but he was at the same time inspired with a faith that the Great Spirit would not permit the whole tribe to perish before these evil birds, if He were now called on devoutly for succor. Elevating his tall form, therefore, erect above his prostrate people, and raising high his hands and eyes to heaven, he, with a loud voice, earnestly besought the Great Spirit to interpose now in behalf of his helpless and afflicted tribe. The Great Spirit heard.
Before the infuriated birds could rush upon their victims, there flashed forth from every quarter of the cloudless sky vivid and noiseless lightning concentrating upon the mountain, slaying every bird of the foul brood, riving the trees and wrapping all the heights in a devouring conflagration. The amazed and awe stricken Cherokee arose and gazed in solemn silence as the flames swept furiously up the mountain, destroying everything in their course; but as the last tongue of fire leaped up from the highest peak and expired (its mission of salvation completed), the tribe raised loud and long their song of thanksgiving for their miraculous deliverance.
From that day to this, it is said, no vegetation has grown upon the mountain within the area blasted by the avenging fires of heaven. The anniversary of their great deliverance was duly celebrated by the tribe from year to year, and thus the tradition was handed down from generation to generation, till it was narrated by a lingering member of the tribe to the new arrivals. Of late, Bald Mountain has given forth mysterious rumblings, shocking the adjacent country, and scientists now see in this wondrous legend a veiled account of a pre-historic volcanic eruption, of which Bald Mountain was the center.
The diet of the mountaineers was enough to kill them even after they’ve survived the rough handling of the midwives, the “stretchin’ hives” and the gamut of diseases. Of course it varies somewhat with the seasons and economic circumstances, but cornbread and pork are mainstays in the highlander diet. Green vegetables and fruit were all too rare and even when vegetables were served they were very greasy as to be well-nigh indigestible. The highlanders put great store by grease. There is a story of a mountaineer who went down to the Piedmont to visit a relative who had prospered in the comparatively level land. Upon his return his report was this: “You know, Maw, I don’t think Tom and them is so well off as we thought they was. They got a nice house and a lot o’ nice stock, but they didn’t have hardly no grease on the table a-tall.”
There was a time when liquor making was considered just about as important as putting a garden. Maybe more so, because a family could get along without garden sass. Once a well-known citizen who spent his lifetime in the county was elected sheriff. One of his first acts was to call into his office all the moonshiners of the county, and at the appointed time, they came.
The sheriff stood behind his big desk, pushed his hat to the back of his head, hooked his thumbs in the armholes of his vest, so the shiny new star would show in all its glory, and gave forth with words of surpassing wisdom:
“Fellers,” he said, “they elected me to be sheriff of this here county and I’ve swore to do my duty. No I know you boys make moonshine and that put me in one helluva spot. I’ve knowed you fellers, man and boy, since we went fishin’ and swimmin’ together upon on Snowbird. I know ever’ one o’ you by name and I know where you stills are”.
“Now I’m willin’ to do my part if you’ll do yours. If you just keep on a makin’ wildcat for yourselves and your friends without infringin’ on the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of anyone else, you can keep on a makin’ wildcat till hell freezes over, as far as I’m concerned. That’s all boys!”
The peace and quiet of that regime are still the talk of the hills. If a moonshiner got out of line, he had to answer to his fellow moonshiners.
One important pastime of local boys was that of imitating the noise of every bird and beast in the woods. This faculty was not merely a pastime, but a very necessary part of education on account of its utility in certain circumstances. The imitations of the gobbling and other sounds of wild turkeys often brought those keen eyed and ever watchful tenants of the forest within the reach of a rifle. The bleating of the fawn brought her dame to her death in the same way. The hunter often collected a company of mopish owls to the trees about his camp and amused himself with their hoarse screaming; his howl would raise and obtain responses from a pack of wolves, so as to inform him of their neighborhood, as well as guard him against their depradations.
This imitative faculty was sometimes requisite as a measure of precaution in war. The Cherokee, when scattered about, often collected together by imitating turkey by day and wolves or owls by night.