The Grapevine Telegraph
This story illustrates the life among the mountaineers in Western North Carolina, at no great distance in the past:
A doctor in a small town was called about four o’clock in the morning to go about fifteen miles out into the mountains to see a sick woman. About a third of the way, his old mare that he was driving suddenly stopped still and refused to budge. He looked and saw that there was something in the road but couldn’t make it out. He took a lantern; got out of the buggy; walked along by the old mare holding the reins until he got to the bridle. There he saw a dead possum. He knew that all of that blood couldn’t come from a wound to the head so he turned the possum over and examined it and found that it had five bullet holes entirely through it. He threw the possum out of the road, got back in the buggy and drove on.
Not far off he came to a settlement of mountaineers. They were all standing around in groups, evidently excited about something but saying very little above whispers or low conversation. Knowing that he could find nothing from them, he drove on. He came to a second settlement a mile or so away. The same condition existed there. The people were standing around listlessly. Women with milk pails had put their pails down and were hanging on the fences having very little to say and only in low tones of voice. When he reached the third settlement he had to go through a field. It had bars to the fence. As he was about to get out of the buggy and lower the bars, a mountaineer stepped forward and said, “Wait a minute, Doc. I’ll take down them bars for you and put ‘em back up when you get through.” As he passed through, the mountaineer said, “Just a minute, Doc,” and coming up to the side of the buggy, he inquired in a low tone of voice, “Is you heerd about any shooting?”
“Well, one of our fellers was in the Gap when he seed a light in front of him in the road and he hailed it and he didn’t get no answer, so he shot. He emptied his pistol and din’t hear nothing running off, so he was afraid he killed somebody.”
The doctor replied, “He did. It was a possum and he put all five of those bullets through that possum’s body.”
An hour later he came back after his visit to the sick woman and at all of the three settlements everything was normal and stirring and busy. The grapevine telegraph had worked both ways.