In the old days the animals were fond of amusement, and were constantly getting up grand meetings and contests of various kinds, with prizes for the winner. On one occasions a prize was offered to the animal with the finest coat, and although the otter deserved to win it, the rabbit stole his coat, and nearly got the prize for himself. After a while the animals got together again, and made a large pair of horns, to be given to the best runner. The race was to be through a thicket, and the one who made the best time, with the horns on his head, was to get them. Everybody knew from the first that either the deer or the rabbit would be the winner, but bets were high on the rabbit, who was a great runner and a general favorite. But the rabbit had no tail, and always went by jumps, and his friends were afraid that the horns would make him fall over in the bushes unless he had something to balance them, so they fixed up a tail for him with a stick and some bird’s down.
“Now,” says the rabbit, “let me look over the ground where I am to run.”
So he went into the thicket and was gone so long that at last one of the animals went to see what had become of him, and there he found the rabbit hard at work gnawing down bushes and cutting the limbs of the trees, and making a road for himself clear through the other side of the swamp. The messenger did not let the rabbit see him, but came back quietly and told his story to the others. Pretty soon the rabbit came out again, ready to put on the horns and begin the race, but several of the animals said that he have been gone so long that it looked as if he must have been cutting a road through the bushes. The rabbit denied it up and down, but they all went into the thickets and there was the open road, sure enough. Then the chief got very angry, and said to the rabbit, “Since you are so fond of the business, you may spend the rest of your life gnawling twigs and bushes,” and so the rabbit does to this day. The other animals would allow the rabbit to run at all now, so they put the horns on the deer, who plunged into the worse part of the thicket, and made his way out to the other side, then turned round and came back again on a different track, in such fine style that every one said he had won the horns. But the rabbit felt sore about it, and resolved to get even with him.
One day, soon after the contest for the horns, the rabbit stretched a large grape vine across the trail, and gnawed it nearly in two in the middle. Then he went back a piece and took a good run, and jumped up at the vine. He kept on running and jumping up at the vine, until the deer came along and asked him what he was doing.
“Don’t you see?” says the rabbit. “I’m so strong that I can bite through that grape vine at one jump.”
The deer could hardly believe this, and wanted to see it done. So the rabbit ran back, made a tremendous spring, and bit through the vine where he had gnawed it before. The deer, when he saw that, said “Well, I can do it if you can.” So the rabbit stretched a larger grape vine across the trail, but without gnawing it in the middle. Then the deer ran back as he had seen the rabbit do, made a powerful spring, and struck the grape vine right in the center; but it only flew back and threw him over on his head. He tried again and again, until he was all brushed and bleeding.
“Let me see your teeth”, at last said the rabbit. SO the deer showed him his teeth, which were long and sharp, like a wolf’s teeth.
“No wonder you can’t do it,” said the rabbit; “your teeth are too blunt to bite anything. Let me sharpen them for you, like mine. My teeth are so sharp that I can cut through a stick like a knife.” And he showed him a black locust twig of which rabbits gnaw the young shoots, which he had shaved off as well as a knife could do it, just in rabbit fashion.
The deer thought that was just the thing. So the rabbit got a hard stone, with rough edges and filed and filed away at the deer’s teeth, until they were filed down almost to the gums.
“Now try it,” says the rabbit. SO the deer tried again, but this time he couldn’t bite at all.
“Now you’ve paid for your horns,” said the rabbit, as he laughed and started home through the bushes. Ever since then the deer’s teeth are so blunt that he cannot chew anything but grass and leaves.
If the weather, on the whole, is outside of man’s control, not so with love and health – his two chief fields for charms and cures. Folk medicine shows some division of labor – in so far as the men minister to the farm animals and stock or serve as “wart takers,” “yerb” doctors, and “chills an’ fever” doctors – and some scientific foundation, in the empiric “materia medica” (developed by trial and error) of herbs, leaves, barks, roots, seeds, fat meat, etc., used for teas, poultices and unguents. But the woman, especially the “granny woman” or midwife, the herb woman, and the old woman who has raised a large family to healthy maturity, were the chief practitioner; and mysticism, and the doctrines of the scapegoat and of “like cure like” (signatures and “the hair of the dog that bit one”) predominate.
Thus the poison of tobacco kills poison in the system; smoking makes the corpulent “spit their fat away”; grease rendered from red earthworms mixed with turpentine, asafetida, and red-onion juice makes a good liniment because all these substances draw their strength from the earth; snake oil cures snake bites; onions are used to take up “yallar jaundice”, the cut halves of the onion turning yellow as they take up the disease from the air; a child may be cured of fits by giving it a small dog to play and sleep with so that the dog “takes” the fits from the child and dies; a sty or venereal disease may be cured by passing it on to another; warts may be “bought” or “charmed off” by tying an equal number of knots in a horsehair or string and buying, burning or losing it. On the whole charms cures lend themselves to the treatment of ailments characterized by sudden appearance and disappearance, seizure, or unpredictability, such as fits, insanity, rheumatism, bleeding, chills and fever, etc. or panaceas (spitting on a stone to relieve pain) or preventives (wearing asafetida, a buckeye, beads, red flannel, a copper ring, wrist or angle band, a coin).
Folk medicine naturally attaches more importance to the “spell” than to the “simple”, and there is a good deal of hocus pocus in “healing”, especially in the treatment of affections due to heat and cold, which seem to require the cast out of demons. E.g. old women can cool fevers by the laying of hands; chills can be driven away by boring a deep hole in the sunny side of an oak tree, blowing your breath into it, and plugging up the hold, with the result that the tree dies, fire can be driven out of burns and scalds by blowing or spitting upon the inflammation,, holding it close to a hot fire or stove, or applying a moistened finger tip and muttering some mystic “sayin’”, such as a verse from the Bible, passed on from a person of the opposite sex and shrouded in secrecy, lest the charm be broken. Similar magic formulae are used to heal warts, ulcers, “risin’s”, sties, etc., and to stop bleeding; a posthumous child can cure croup or “thrash” by blowing into the patient’s mouth; seventh sons of seventh sons and persons born with a caul are “double-sighted” and make good doctors. Yet in spite of all this there is rarely a suspicion of charlatanism, positive deception or insincerity, since most of the healing is done and taken in good faith.
When one dines in a cabin back in the hills, he will taste some strange dishes that go by still stranger names. Beans dried in the pod, then boiled “hull and all”, are called
(this is not slang, but the regular name). The old Germans taught their Scotch and English neighbors the merits of scrapple, but here it is known as poor-do. Lath-open bread is made from biscuit dough, with soda and buttermilk, in the usual way, except that the shortening is worked in last. It is then baked in flat cakes, and has the peculiar property of parting readily into thin flakes when broken edgewise. It is suggested that poor-do was originally poor-doin’s, and lath-open bread denotes that it opens into lath-like strips. But etymology cannot be pushed recklessly in the mountains, and we offer these clews as a mere surmise!
Your hostess, proffering apple sauce, will ask, “Do you love sass?” It is well for a traveler to be forewarned that the word love is commonly used here in the sense of like or relish.
If one is especially fond of a certain dish he declares that he is a fool about it. “I’m a plumb fool about pickle-beans”. Conversely, “I ain’t much of a fool about liver” is rather more than a hint of distaste. “I et me a bait” literally means a mere snack, but jocosely it may admit a hearty meal. If the provender be scant the hostess may say, “That’s right at a smidgeon,” meaning little more than a mite but if plenteous, then there rimptions.
To “grabble ‘taters” is to pick from a hill of new potatoes a few of the best, then smooth back the soil without disturbing the immature ones.
If the house be in disorder it is said to be all gormed or gaumed up, or things are just in a mommick.
When a man is tired he likely will call it worried; if in a hurry, he is in a swivvet; if nervous, he has the all-overs; if declining in health, he is on the down-go. If he and his neighbor dislike each other, there is a hardness between them, if they quarrel, it is a ruction, rippit, a jower or an upscuddle – so be it there are no fatalities which would amount to a real fray.
To shamp means to shingle or trim one’s hair. A bastard is a woods-colt or an outsider. Slaunchways denotes slanting, and si-godlin or si-antigodlin is out of plumb or out of square (factitious words, of course – mere nonsense terms, like catawampus).
Critter and beast are usually restricted to horse and mule, and brute to a bovine. A bull or boar is not to be mentioned as such in mixed company, but male brute and male hog are used as euphemisms.
A female shoat is called a gilt. A spotted animal is said to be pieded (pied) and a striped one is listed. In the Smokies, a toad is called a frog or a toad-frog, and a toadstool is a frog-stool. The woodpecker is turned into a peckerwood, except the giant woodpecker (here still a common bird) is known as a woodcock or woodhen.
What the mountaineers call hemlock is the shrub leucothoe. The hemlock tree is named spruce pine, while spruce is he-balsam, balsam itself is she-balsam, laurel is ivy, and rhododendron is laurel. In some places pine needles are called twinkles and the locust insect is known as a ferro (Pharaoh?). A treetop left on the ground after logging is called the lap. Sobby wood means soggy or sodden, and the verb is to sob.
Evening, in the mountains, begins at noon instead of sunset. Spell is used in the sense of a while (“a good spell atterward”) and soon for early (“a soon start in the morning”). The hillsmen say “a year come June,” “Thursday ‘twas a week ago,” and “the year nineteen and eight”.
Many common English words are used in peculiar senses by the mountain folk, as call for name or mention or occasion, clever for obliging, mimic or mock for resemble, a power or sight for much, risin’ for exceeding (also for inflammation), ruin for injure, scout for elude, stove for jabbed, surround for go around, word for phrase, take off for help yourself. Tale always means an idle or malicious report.
Some highlander usages that sound odd to us are really no more than the original and literal meanings as budget for bag or parcel, hampered for shackled or jailed. When a mountain swain “carries his gal to meetin’” he is not performing some great athletic feat as was reported by Benjamin Franklin, who said, “My father carried his wife with three children to New England” (from Pennsylvania).
A mountaineer does not throw a stone; he “flings a rock”. He sharpens tools on a grindin’-rock or whet rock. Tomato, cabbage, molasses and baking powder are always used as plural nouns. “Pass me them molasses.” “I’ll have few more of them cabbage.” How many bakin’-powders has you got?”
On occasion, when the mountaineer is drawn out of his natural reserve and allows his emotions free rein there are few educated people who can match his picturesque and pungent diction. His trick of apt phrasing is intuitive. Like an artist striking off a portrait or a caricature with a few swift strokes his characterization is quick and vivid. Whether he uses quaint obsolete English or equally delightful perversions, what he says will go straight to the mark with epigrammatic force.
Justice is sometimes slanted in a peculiar manner in the backhills. Things move from the sublime to the ridiculous in a singular way. Take the “bull trial” of the 1880’s. Old timers continue to talk and shake their heads over this famous trial. It is a tall tale from the windy hilltops and cannot be verified by persons still living!
A mountain farmer owned a bull that was no respecter of fences or persons. He was monarch of his domain and the best stake and rider fence in the country was no barrier to his invasions. Even the most modern fence on the more up to date farms was only a slight inconvenience to his migrations. He was the terror of the community and even his own despaired of controlling him. Finally, the bull invaded one too many cornfields. The enraged farmer, whose crop had been destroyed, swore out a warrant and had the animal arrested. The law brought his bellowing majesty to the shade of a large oak tree where the trial was held. The case against the bull was plain enough but the proceedings lasted almost all day. Lawyers threw aside their coats and pleaded for or against the aggressor. Witnesses swore, natives cursed, and the bull bellowed his displeasure. After careful deliberation, the jury found the animal guilty in a degree deserving punishment. The verdict rendered, the justice of the peace assessed fine and costs. Then came the puzzling question of payment. After considering the problem from all angles, the judge decided to butcher the animal and use the meat as payment. A barbecue followed with judge, jury, lawyers, witnesses and the general public taking part. It was a festive occasion but the old timers still shake their heads and say it was not a fair trial. They point out that the judge neglected to appoint an interpreter for the bull.
The Nantahala National Forest contains many deep, narrow gorges where the sun reaches the ground only when it is directly overhead at noon. Thus the word, Nantahala, Cherokee for “land of the noonday sun”, is appropriate for the river, gorge, and national forest of the same name. This huge forest stretching east to west for 75 miles to the Tennessee border, and north to south from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Georgia, is one of the five national forests in the beautiful southern Appalachian Mountains.
The Nantahala River bisects the national forest nearly in half, beginning just north of the Georgia border northwest of Dillard, Georgia, passing the Sanding Indian Recreation Area, then going between the Nantahala Mountains to the east and the Tusquitee Mountains to the west and finally being dammed to form Nantahala Lake. Northwest of Nantahala Lake, the river enters the spectacular 9 mile long Nantahala Gorge on either side of U.S. Highway 19 and finally converges with the Little Tennessee River where the two rivers form Fontana Lake. Standing Indian Mountain, at 5,499 feet is the highest ridge around the basin.
When the first Europeans came to this area, money was scarce and in many settlements, the pioneers depended largely upon each other by “swapping” work. Probably no better illustration of this interdependence can be seen that in the “log rolling”. After the settler had built his cabin, the next step was to clear a piece of ground for crop. The trees were felled, cut or burned into lengths so that they could be handled, and then the neighbors were invited to the rolling.
Almost every pioneer had a “hand-spike” – a stick of hard, tough wood, five or six feet in length, from which the bark had been removed, and the ends slightly tapered with the draw-knife. When all had assembled at the appointed time and place, the men were divided into teams. Two of the strongest men in each team were selected to make “daylight”; that is, to thrust a hand spike under one end of the log and lift it high enough for the others to get their spikes under it. Then, two by two, the others followed the “daylight” makers until ten or twelve could be seen carrying the heaviest logs and piling them in heaps. Smaller logs,, carried by four to six men, were added to the heap, so that the whole could be burned. In some areas enough valuable timber was thus destroyed to pay for the land on which it grew, even at present prices, if it could be replaced. But then a crop was of more importance to the settler than the timber.
While the men were “rolling” the logs, the women folks would get together and prepare dinner, each bringing from her own store some delicacy that she thought the others might not be able to supply. Venison, bear meat, and corn pone were the chief articles of food on the menu. “Log rolling” was a good appetizer, and when the men arose from the table it looked as if a “cyclone had struck it”; but in “swapping” work each man had his turn, and in the end no one was placed at a disadvantage in the amount of provisions consumed.
The term “log rolling” founds its way into the legislative halls, where its meaning is very much the same as in pioneer days. Bills are often passed by members “swapping” votes, just as the early settlers cleared their ground by “swapping” work.
William Gilmore Simms visited the mountains of western North Carolina on many occasions to gather material for his stories. He had a friend up here that would bring in the various characters of the community. Sharp was brought in one day to tell Mr. Simms how he got his wife and capital, and this is how he go it:
“The gal that I was tryin’ to marry had an old daddy who was so stubborn he wouldn’t let her marry unless the man that wanted to marry her could show some capital. I didn’t have no capital, and I was a-wonderin’ how I could git it when I saw a flock of geese on a pond. So I got me a long cane and bored all the center out of it. And I put that in my mouth and I took a rope and got down under the water, used the cane so I could breathe. And I got up under the geese and I pulled the first goose’s foot and tied it with the rope and then I pulled the next one and so on down until I got them all. Then I tied the rope around my waist and jumped up, but the geese all flew and they took me off with them.
“And they’d been flyin’ so long I thought they must be about New York, when they got hitched in a tree. And I tied one end of the rope to a limb in the tree, got myself loose, and started down the tree. But it had a big holler in it and I fell down that holler, and when I got to the bottom of the holler there was a couple of cubs. Wall, after a while the old bar she come. I knowed it was her when I couldn’t see the stars up through the holler of the tree. So I took my knife out of my pocket and when she slid down backwards I caught her by the tail and jammed that knife into her. And up the tree she went and she got to the top, a draggin’ me behind her. When she got thar, I pushed her off and she feel and broke her neck. And I clumb down out of the tree and I looked around and I found I wasn’t more than a mile from home.
“So I went home and got an ax, come back, cut that tree down, killed them geese, killed them two cubs. And I found that it was a bee tree! It was full of honey. Well, I tuck them geese and dressed them, dressed them bears, and sold the hides, and put away a lot of meat to last me through the winter. I took the rest of the meat and the geese and the honey to Greenville, Spartanburg and Asheville – Hendersonville and around there and I sold it and I made a thousand dollars. And I went to the old man and I said: “I’ve got my capital.” “Well,’ he says, ‘you can have Sally.’”
From majestic peaks to rich, fertile valleys, the mountains of North Carolina have drawn travelers since the beginning of time. One of the best paved scenic routes in the Nantahala National Forest that receives relatively little traffic is Wayeh Road (State Route 1310). It is part of the Mountain Waters National Scenic Byway. This curvy, mostly mountain highway stays next to the bubbling Nantahala River as far as Nantahala Lake. It then takes an eastward course along Jarrett Creek and Wayeh Creek. A side road to the north, Forest Road 69, ends at Wayeh Blad, at one time a treeless knob at an elevation of 5,342 feet. Trees have encroached on the bald, with only a small, mowed grassy area left at the turnaround on the summit. Vegetation near the summit is still interesting, with white rhododendron, a white flowering azalea, flame azalea and mountain laurel prominently blooming in June. Other trees at the summit include black oak, northern red oak, white oak, yellow birch and basswood. A very short hike to the stone lookout is worth taking. The square tower dates back to 1937 and the views from the top are incomparable on clear days. Both the Appalachian Trail and the Bartram Trail cross Wayeh Bald, and the shorter Rufus Morgan and Shot Pouch trails are accessed from the road to the summit. On the way to the bald, the now-abandoned Wilson Lick Ranger Station may be observed. Built in 1916, this was the first ranger station in the Nantahala National Forest. The station is surrounded by a forest of oaks, hemlock and white pine.
Between Wayeh Crest and Franklin, along the Wayeh Road, is Arrowwood Glade Picnic Area in a scenic settling along a mountain stream. South of Arrowwod Glade and west of Milksick Knob is 60-foot Rough Fork Falls, reached from the Rufus Morgan Trailhead off of Forest Road 388.
Mountain Waters National Scenic Byway continues on U.S. Highway 64 from Franklin to Highlands. It goes through Callusaja Gorge where several waterfalls are easy to observe. Cullasaja Falls is where the Cullasaja River drops dramatically for 250 feet into a deep, rocky gorge. A little farther south is Dry Falls with an adjacent parking area. Several stone steps lead to this mighty falls that plummets for 40 feet, surrounded by lush vegetation. The trail permits visitors to walk behind the falls to another observation point on the other side. In fact, this great falls is called Dry Falls because you can walk behind it and stay dry, but that is not always the case. Still father south on State Route 28 is Bridal Veil Falls. A spur road lets you drive behind this misty falls.
Several years ago, it is told that a traveler lost his way in the backwoods of Graham County. While wondering which path to take, he heard the breaking of twigs in the underbrush, and presently there emerged an overgrown boy with a rifle on his arm. By way of opening conversation, the traveler remarked, “That’s a good looking gun you have.”
“Yes”, replied the youth, “this was grandpa’s gun. He carried it through the war between the states”.
Surprised by this statement, the traveler looked at the gun more closely. “Why, the barrel,” he said, “seems shorter than those of the Civil War period.”
“Yes,” said the boy, “Pap had a new barrel put on.”
The traveler continued his examination of the gun. “That looks like a new stock,” he observed.
“Yes,” said the boy, “Pap had that put on.”
“The lock can’t be very old either,” observed the traveler.
“Pap had that put on too,” said the boy.
“Then you must have a new gun.”
“No,” said the boy, “it’s the same old gun grandpa carried through the war between the states.”
“As the Governor of North Carolina said to the Governor of South Carolina, it’s a long time between drinks” – a favorite convivial apothegm in America, suggesting that it is time for someone “to set ‘em up again for the boys,” or, in other words, to order a fresh round of drinks. An historical origin has been found for the phrase, but, unfortunately with no apparent historical foundation. The story runs that early in the 19th century a native North Carolinian who had moved across the border into South Carolina was forced to fly back again to escape arrest. The Governor of South Carolina straight away issued a requisition on the Governor of North Carolina for the fugitive criminal. But the latter Governor hesitated. The criminal had many and influential friends. Finally the South Carolina executive, with a large retinue, waited on his official brother at Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina. The visitors were received with all due honors. A banquet was given them; wine and brandy were served. When at last, the decanters and glasses were removed, the Governor of South Carolina rose to state his errand. A long and acrimonious debate followed. The Governor of South Carolina lost his temper. Rising once more to his feet, he said, “Sir, you have refused my just demand and offended the dignity of my office and my State. Unless you at once surrender the prisoner, I will return to my capital, call out the militia of the State, and take the fugitive by force of arms. Governor, what do you say?”
All eyes were turned on the Governor of North Carolina. The latter rose slowly to his feet, and beckoned to a servant who stood some distance away. His beckoning was firm and dignified, as became his position. He was slow about answering, and again the Governor of South Carolina demanded, “What do you say?”
“I say, Governor, that it is a long time between drinks.”
The reply restored good humor. Decanters and glasses were brought out again, and while the visitors remained, if any one attempted to refer to the diplomatic object of the visit he was cut short by the remark that it was a long time between drinks. When the visiting Governor was ready to return home he was escorted to the State line by the Governor of North Carolina, and they parted the best of friends.
The fugitive was never surrendered.