Part 1 out of 2
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By Charles Dudley Warner
"The way to mount a horse"--said the Professor.
"If you have no ladder--put in the Friend of Humanity."
The Professor had ridden through the war for the Union on the right
side, enjoying a much better view of it than if he had walked, and
knew as much about a horse as a person ought to know for the sake of
his character. The man who can recite the tales of the Canterbury
Pilgrims, on horseback, giving the contemporary pronunciation, never
missing an accent by reason of the trot, and at the same time witch
North Carolina and a strip of East Tennessee with his noble
horsemanship, is a kind of Literary Centaur of whose double
instruction any Friend of Humanity may be glad to avail himself.
"The way to mount a horse is to grasp the mane with the left hand
holding the bridle-rein, put your left foot in the stirrup, with the
right hand on the back of the saddle, and---"
Just then the horse stepped quickly around on his hind feet, and
looked the Professor in the face. The Superintendents of Affairs,
who occupy the flagging in front of the hotel, seated in cane-
bottomed chairs tilted back, smiled. These useful persons appear to
have a life-lease of this portion of the city pavement, and pretty
effectually block it up nearly all day and evening. When a lady
wishes to make her way through the blockade, it is the habit of these
observers of life to rise and make room, touching their hats, while
she picks her way through, and goes down the street with a pretty
consciousness of the flutter she has caused. The war has not changed
the Southern habit of sitting out-of-doors, but has added a new
element of street picturesqueness in groups of colored people
lounging about the corners. There appears to be more leisure than
The scene of this little lesson in horsemanship was the old town of
Abingdon, in southwest Virginia, on the Virginia and East Tennessee
railway; a town of ancient respectability, which gave birth to the
Johnstons and Floyds and other notable people; a town, that still
preserves the flavor of excellent tobacco and, something of the easy-
going habits of the days of slavery, and is a sort of educational
center, where the young ladies of the region add the final graces of
intellectual life in moral philosophy and the use of the globes to
their natural gifts. The mansion of the late and left Floyd is now a
seminary, and not far from it is the Stonewall Jackson Institute, in
the midst of a grove of splendid oaks, whose stately boles and wide-
spreading branches give a dignity to educational life. The
distinction of the region is its superb oak-trees. As it was
vacation in these institutions of learning, the travelers did not see
any of the vines that traditionally cling to the oak.
The Professor and the Friend of Humanity were about starting on a
journey, across country southward, through regions about which the
people of Abingdon could give little useful information. If the
travelers had known the capacities and resources of the country, they
would not have started without a supply train, or the establishment
of bases of provisions in advance. But, as the Professor remarked,
knowledge is something that one acquires when he has no use for it.
The horses were saddled; the riders were equipped with flannel shirts
and leather leggings; the saddle-bags were stuffed with clean linen,
and novels, and sonnets of Shakespeare, and other baggage, it would
have been well if they had been stuffed with hard-tack, for in real
life meat is more than raiment.
The hotel, in front of which there is cultivated so much of what the
Germans call sitzfleisch, is a fair type of the majority of Southern
hotels, and differs from the same class in the North in being left a
little more to run itself. The only information we obtained about it
was from its porter at the station, who replied to the question, "Is
it the best?" "We warrant you perfect satisfaction in every
respect." This seems to be only a formula of expression, for we
found that the statement was highly colored. It was left to our
imagination to conjecture how the big chambers of the old house, with
their gaping fireplaces, might have looked when furnished and filled
with gay company, and we got what satisfaction we could out of a
bygone bustle and mint-julep hilarity. In our struggles with the
porter to obtain the little items of soap, water, and towels, we were
convinced that we had arrived too late, and that for perfect
satisfaction we should have been here before the war. It was not
always as now. In colonial days the accommodations and prices at
inns were regulated by law. In the old records in the court-house we
read that if we had been here in 1777, we could have had a gallon of
good rum for sixteen shillings; a quart bowl of rum toddy made with
loaf sugar for two shillings, or with brown sugar for one shilling
and sixpence. In 1779 prices had risen. Good rum sold for four
pounds a gallon. It was ordered that a warm dinner should cost
twelve shillings, a cold dinner nine shillings, and a good breakfast
twelve shillings. But the item that pleased us most, and made us
regret our late advent, was that for two shillings we could have had
a "good lodging, with clean sheets." The colonists were fastidious
Abingdon, prettily situated on rolling hills, and a couple of
thousand feet above the sea, with views of mountain peaks to the
south, is a cheerful and not too exciting place for a brief sojourn,
and hospitable and helpful to the stranger. We had dined--so much,
at least, the public would expect of us--with a descendant of
Pocahontas; we had assisted on Sunday morning at the dedication of a
new brick Methodist church, the finest edifice in the region--
a dedication that took a long time, since the bishop would not
proceed with it until money enough was raised in open meeting to pay
the balance due on it: a religious act, though it did give a business
aspect to the place at the time; and we had been the light spots in
the evening service at the most aristocratic church of color. The
irresponsibility of this amiable race was exhibited in the tardiness
with which they assembled: at the appointed time nobody was there
except the sexton; it was three quarters of an hour before the
congregation began to saunter in, and the sermon was nearly over
before the pews were at all filled. Perhaps the sermon was not new,
but it was fervid, and at times the able preacher roared so that
articulate sounds were lost in the general effect. It was precisely
these passages of cataracts of sound and hard breathing which excited
the liveliest responses,--"Yes, Lord," and "Glory to God." Most of
these responses came from the "Amen corner." The sermon contained
the usual vivid description of the last judgment--ah, and I fancied
that the congregation did not get the ordinary satisfaction out of
it. Fashion had entered the fold, and the singing was mostly
executed by a choir in the dusky gallery, who thinly and harshly
warbled the emotional hymns. It occupied the minister a long time to
give out the notices of the week, and there was not an evening or
afternoon that had not its meetings, its literary or social
gathering, its picnic or fair for the benefit of the church, its
Dorcas society, or some occasion of religious sociability. The
raising of funds appeared to be the burden on the preacher's mind.
Two collections were taken up. At the first, the boxes appeared to
get no supply except from the two white trash present. But the
second was more successful. After the sermon was over, an elder took
his place at a table within the rails, and the real business of the
evening began. Somebody in the Amen corner struck up a tune that had
no end, but a mighty power of setting the congregation in motion.
The leader had a voice like the pleasant droning of a bag-pipe, and
the faculty of emitting a continuous note like that instrument,
without stopping to breathe. It went on and on like a Bach fugue,
winding and whining its way, turning the corners of the lines of the
catch without a break. The effect was soon visible in the emotional
crowd: feet began to move in a regular cadence and voices to join in,
with spurts of ejaculation; and soon, with an air of martyrdom, the
members began to leave their seats and pass before the table and
deposit their contributions. It was a cent contribution, and we
found it very difficult, under the contagious influence of the hum
from the Amen corner, not to rise and go forward and deposit a cent.
If anything could extract the pennies from a reluctant worldling, it
would be the buzzing of this tune. It went on and on, until the
house appeared to be drained dry of its cash; and we inferred by the
stopping of the melody that the preacher's salary was secure for the
time being. On inquiring, we ascertained that the pecuniary flood
that evening had risen to the height of a dollar and sixty cents.
All was ready for the start. It should have been early in the
morning, but it was not; for Virginia is not only one of the blessed
regions where one can get a late breakfast, but where it is almost
impossible to get an early one. At ten A. M. the two horsemen rode
away out of sight of the Abingdon spectators, down the eastern
turnpike. The day was warm, but the air was full of vitality and the
spirit of adventure. It was the 22d of July. The horses were not
ambitious, but went on at an easy fox-trot that permits observation
and encourages conversation. It had been stipulated that the horses
should be good walkers, the one essential thing in a horseback
journey. Few horses, even in a country where riding is general, are
trained to walk fast. We hear much of horses that can walk five
miles an hour, but they are as rare as white elephants. Our horses
were only fair walkers. We realized how necessary this
accomplishment is, for between the Tennessee line and Asheville,
North Carolina, there is scarcely a mile of trotting-ground.
We soon turned southward and descended into the Holston River Valley.
Beyond lay the Tennessee hills and conspicuous White-Top Mountain
(5530 feet), which has a good deal of local celebrity (standing where
the States of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina corner), and
had been pointed out to us at Abingdon. We had been urged,
personally and by letter, to ascend this mountain, without fail.
People recommend mountains to their friends as they do patent
medicines. As we leisurely jogged along we discussed this, and
endeavored to arrive at some rule of conduct for the journey. The
Professor expressed at once a feeling about mountain-climbing that
amounted to hostility,--he would go nowhere that he could not ride.
Climbing was the most unsatisfactory use to which a mountain could be
put. As to White-Top, it was a small mountain, and not worth
ascending. The Friend of Humanity, who believes in mountain-climbing
as a theory, and for other people, and knows the value of being able
to say, without detection, that he has ascended any high mountain
about which he is questioned,--since this question is the first one
asked about an exploration in a new country,--saw that he should have
to use a good deal of diplomacy to get the Professor over any
considerable elevation on the trip. And he had to confess also that
a view from a mountain is never so satisfactory as a view of a
mountain, from a moderate height. The Professor, however, did not
argue the matter on any such reasonable ground, but took his stand on
his right as a man not to ascend a mountain. With this appeal to
first principles,--a position that could not be confuted on account
of its vagueness (although it might probably be demonstrated that in
society man has no such right), there was no way of agreement except
by a compromise. It was accordingly agreed that no mountain under
six thousand feet is worth ascending; that disposed of White-Top. It
was further agreed that any mountain that is over six thousand feet
high is too high to ascend on foot.
With this amicable adjustment we forded the Holston, crossing it
twice within a few miles. This upper branch of the Tennessee is a
noble stream, broad, with a rocky bed and a swift current. Fording
it is ticklish business except at comparatively low water, and as it
is subject to sudden rises, there must be times when it seriously
interrupts travel. This whole region, full of swift streams, is
without a bridge, and, as a consequence, getting over rivers and
brooks and the dangers of ferries occupy a prominent place in the
thoughts of the inhabitants. The life necessarily had the "frontier"
quality all through, for there can be little solid advance in
civilization in the uncertainties of a bridgeless condition. An
open, pleasant valley, the Holston, but cultivation is more and more
negligent and houses are few and poorer as we advance.
We had left behind the hotels of "perfect satisfaction," and expected
to live on the country, trusting to the infrequent but remunerated
hospitality of the widely scattered inhabitants. We were to dine at
Ramsey's. Ramsey's had been recommended to us as a royal place of
entertainment the best in all that region; and as the sun grew hot in
the sandy valley, and the weariness of noon fell upon us, we
magnified Ramsey's in our imagination,--the nobility of its
situation, its cuisine, its inviting restfulness,--and half decided
to pass the night there in the true abandon of plantation life. Long
before we reached it, the Holston River which we followed had become
the Laurel, a most lovely, rocky, winding stream, which we forded
continually, for the valley became too narrow much of the way to
accommodate a road and a river. Eagerly as we were looking out for
it, we passed the great Ramsey's without knowing it, for it was the
first of a little settlement of two houses and a saw-mill and barn.
It was a neat log house of two lower rooms and a summer kitchen,
quite the best of the class that we saw, and the pleasant mistress of
it made us welcome. Across the road and close, to the Laurel was the
spring-house, the invariable adjunct to every well-to-do house in the
region, and on the stony margin of the stream was set up the big
caldron for the family washing; and here, paddling in the shallow
stream, while dinner was preparing, we established an intimacy with
the children and exchanged philosophical observations on life with
the old negress who was dabbling the clothes. What impressed this
woman was the inequality in life. She jumped to the unwarranted
conclusion that the Professor and the Friend were very rich, and
spoke with asperity of the difficulty she experienced in getting
shoes and tobacco. It was useless to point out to her that her
alfresco life was singularly blessed and free from care, and the
happy lot of any one who could loiter all day by this laughing
stream, undisturbed by debt or ambition. Everybody about the place
was barefooted, except the mistress, including the comely daughter of
eighteen, who served our dinner in the kitchen. The dinner was
abundant, and though it seemed to us incongruous at the time, we were
not twelve hours older when we looked back upon it with longing. On
the table were hot biscuit, ham, pork, and green beans, apple-sauce,
blackberry preserves, cucumbers, coffee, plenty of milk, honey, and
apple and blackberry pie. Here we had our first experience, and I
may say new sensation, of "honey on pie." It has a cloying sound as
it is written, but the handmaiden recommended it with enthusiasm, and
we evidently fell in her esteem, as persons from an uncultivated
society, when we declared our inexperience of "honey on pie." "Where
be you from?" It turned out to be very good, and we have tried to
introduce it in families since our return, with indifferent success.
There did not seem to be in this family much curiosity about the
world at large, nor much stir of social life. The gayety of madame
appeared to consist in an occasional visit to paw and maw and
grandmaw, up the river a few miles, where she was raised.
Refreshed by the honey and fodder at Ramsey's, the pilgrims went
gayly along the musical Laurel, in the slanting rays of the afternoon
sun, which played upon the rapids and illumined all the woody way.
Inspired by the misapprehension of the colored philosopher and the
dainties of the dinner, the Professor soliloquized:
"So am I as the rich, whose blessed key
Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,
The which he will not every hour survey,
For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.
Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,
Since seldom coming, in the long year set,
Like stones of wealth they thinly placed are,
Or captain jewels in the carcanet."
Five miles beyond Ramsey's the Tennessee line was crossed. The
Laurel became more rocky, swift, full of rapids, and the valley
narrowed down to the riverway, with standing room, however, for
stately trees along the banks. The oaks, both black and white, were,
as they had been all day, gigantic in size and splendid in foliage.
There is a certain dignity in riding in such stately company, and the
travelers clattered along over the stony road under the impression of
possible high adventure in a new world of such freshness. Nor was
beauty wanting. The rhododendrons had, perhaps, a week ago reached
their climax, and now began to strew the water and the ground with
their brilliant petals, dashing all the way with color; but they were
still matchlessly beautiful. Great banks of pink and white covered
the steep hillsides; the bending stems, ten to twenty feet high, hung
their rich clusters over the river; avenues of glory opened away in
the glade of the stream; and at every turn of the winding way vistas
glowing with the hues of romance wrenched exclamations of delight and
wonder from the Shakespearean sonneteer and his humble Friend. In
the deep recesses of the forest suddenly flamed to the view, like the
splashes of splendor on the somber canvas of an old Venetian, these
wonders of color,--the glowing summer-heart of the woods.
It was difficult to say, meantime, whether the road was laid out in
the river, or the river in the road. In the few miles to Egger's
(this was the destination of our great expectations for the night)
the stream was crossed twenty-seven times,--or perhaps it would be
more proper to say that the road was crossed twenty-seven times.
Where the road did not run in the river, its bed was washed out and
as stony as the bed of the stream. This is a general and accurate
description of all the roads in this region, which wind along and in
the streams, through narrow valleys, shut in by low and steep hills.
The country is full of springs and streams, and between Abingdon and
Egger's is only one (small) bridge. In a region with scarcely any
level land or intervale, farmers are at a disadvantage. All along
the road we saw nothing but mean shanties, generally of logs, with
now and then a decent one-story frame, and the people looked
As we picked our way along up the Laurel, obliged for the most part
to ride single-file, or as the Professor expressed it,
"Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one,"
we gathered information about Egger's from the infrequent hovels on
the road, which inflamed our imaginations. Egger was the thriving
man of the region, and lived in style in a big brick house. We began
to feel a doubt that Egger would take us in, and so much did his
brick magnificence impress us that we regretted we had not brought
apparel fit for the society we were about to enter.
It was half-past six, and we were tired and hungry, when the domain
of Egger towered in sight,--a gaunt, two-story structure of raw
brick, unfinished, standing in a narrow intervale. We rode up to the
gate, and asked a man who sat in the front-door porch if this was
Egger's, and if we could be accommodated for the night. The man,
without moving, allowed that it was Egger's, and that we could
probably stay there. This person, however, exhibited so much
indifference to our company, he was such a hairy, unkempt man, and
carried on face, hands, and clothes so much more of the soil of the
region than a prudent proprietor would divert from raising corn, that
we set him aside as a poor relation, and asked for Mr. Egger. But
the man, still without the least hospitable stir, admitted that that
was the name he went by, and at length advised us to "lite" and hitch
our horses, and sit on the porch with him and enjoy the cool of the
evening. The horses would be put up by and by, and in fact things
generally would come round some time. This turned out to be the easy
way of the country. Mr. Egger was far from being inhospitable, but
was in no hurry, and never had been in a hurry. He was not exactly a
gentleman of the old school. He was better than that. He dated from
the time when there were no schools at all, and he lived in that
placid world which is without information and ideas. Mr. Egger
showed his superiority by a total lack of curiosity about any other
This brick house, magnificent by comparison with other dwellings in
this country, seemed to us, on nearer acquaintance, only a thin,
crude shell of a house, half unfinished, with bare rooms, the
plastering already discolored. In point of furnishing it had not yet
reached the "God bless our Home" stage in crewel. In the narrow
meadow, a strip of vivid green south of the house, ran a little
stream, fed by a copious spring, and over it was built the inevitable
spring-house. A post, driven into the bank by the stream, supported
a tin wash-basin, and here we performed our ablutions. The traveler
gets to like this freedom and primitive luxury.
The farm of Egger produces corn, wheat, grass, and sheep; it is a
good enough farm, but most of it lies at an angle of thirty-five to
forty degrees. The ridge back of the house, planted in corn, was as
steep as the roof of his dwelling. It seemed incredible that it ever
could have been plowed, but the proprietor assured us that it was
plowed with mules, and I judged that the harvesting must be done by
squirrels. The soil is good enough, if it would stay in place, but
all the hillsides are seamed with gullies. The discolored state of
the streams was accounted for as soon as we saw this cultivated land.
No sooner is the land cleared of trees and broken up than it begins
to wash. We saw more of this later, especially in North Carolina,
where we encountered no stream of water that was not muddy, and saw
no cultivated ground that was not washed. The process of denudation
is going on rapidly wherever the original forests are girdled (a
common way of preparing for crops), or cut away.
As the time passed and there was no sign of supper, the question
became a burning one, and we went to explore the kitchen. No sign of
it there. No fire in the stove, nothing cooked in the house, of
course. Mrs. Egger and her comely young barefooted daughter had
still the milking to attend to, and supper must wait for the other
chores. It seemed easier to be Mr. Egger, in this state of
existence, and sit on the front porch and meditate on the price of
mules and the prospect of a crop, than to be Mrs. Egger, whose work
was not limited from sun to sun; who had, in fact, a day's work to do
after the men-folks had knocked off; whose chances of neighborhood
gossip were scanty, whose amusements were confined to a religious
meeting once a fortnight. Good, honest people these, not unduly
puffed up by the brick house, grubbing away year in and year out.
Yes, the young girl said, there was a neighborhood party, now and
then, in the winter. What a price to pay for mere life!
Long before supper was ready, nearly nine o'clock, we had almost lost
interest in it. Meantime two other guests had arrived, a couple of
drovers from North Carolina, who brought into the circle--by this
time a wood-fire had been kindled in the sitting-room, which
contained a bed, an almanac, and some old copies of a newspaper--a
rich flavor of cattle, and talk of the price of steers. As to
politics, although a presidential campaign was raging, there was
scarcely an echo of it here. This was Johnson County, Tennessee, a
strong Republican county but dog-gone it, says Mr. Egger, it's no
use to vote; our votes are overborne by the rest of the State. Yes,
they'd got a Republican member of Congress,--he'd heard his name, but
he'd forgotten it. The drover said he'd heard it also, but he didn't
take much interest in such things, though he wasn't any Republican.
Parties is pretty much all for office, both agreed. Even the
Professor, who was traveling in the interest of Reform, couldn't wake
up a discussion out of such a state of mind.
Alas! the supper, served in a room dimly lighted with a smoky lamp,
on a long table covered with oilcloth, was not of the sort to arouse
the delayed and now gone appetite of a Reformer, and yet it did not
lack variety: cornpone (Indian meal stirred up with water and heated
through), hot biscuit, slack-baked and livid, fried salt-pork
swimming in grease, apple-butter, pickled beets, onions and cucumbers
raw, coffee (so-called), buttermilk, and sweet milk when specially
asked for (the correct taste, however, is for buttermilk), and pie.
This was not the pie of commerce, but the pie of the country,--two
thick slabs of dough, with a squeezing of apple between. The
profusion of this supper staggered the novices, but the drovers
attacked it as if such cooking were a common occurrence and did
justice to the weary labors of Mrs. Egger.
Egger is well prepared to entertain strangers, having several rooms
and several beds in each room. Upon consultation with the drovers,
they said they'd just as soon occupy an apartment by themselves, and
we gave up their society for the night. The beds in our chamber had
each one sheet, and the room otherwise gave evidence of the modern
spirit; for in one corner stood the fashionable aesthetic decoration
of our Queen Anne drawing-rooms,--the spinning-wheel. Soothed by
this concession to taste, we crowded in between the straw and the
home-made blanket and sheet, and soon ceased to hear the barking of
dogs and the horned encounters of the drovers' herd.
We parted with Mr. Egger after breakfast (which was a close copy of
the supper) with more respect than regret. His total charge for the
entertainment of two men and two horses--supper, lodging, and
breakfast--was high or low, as the traveler chose to estimate it. It
was $1.20: that is, thirty cents for each individual, or ten cents
for each meal and lodging.
Our road was a sort of by-way up Gentry Creek and over the Cut Laurel
Gap to Worth's, at Creston Post Office, in North Carolina,--the next
available halting place, said to be fifteen miles distant, and
turning out to be twenty-two, and a rough road. There is a little
settlement about Egger's, and the first half mile of our way we had
the company of the schoolmistress, a modest, pleasant-spoken girl.
Neither she nor any other people we encountered had any dialect or
local peculiarity of speech. Indeed, those we encountered that
morning had nothing in manner or accent to distinguish them. The
novelists had led us to expect something different; and the modest
and pretty young lady with frank and open blue eyes, who wore gloves
and used the common English speech, had never figured in the fiction
of the region. Cherished illusions vanish often on near approach.
The day gave no peculiarity of speech to note, except the occasional
use of "hit" for "it."
The road over Cut Laurel Gap was very steep and stony, the
thermometer mounted up to 80 deg., and, notwithstanding the beauty of
the way, the ride became tedious before we reached the summit. On
the summit is the dwelling and distillery of a colonel famous in
these parts. We stopped at the house for a glass of milk; the
colonel was absent, and while the woman in charge went after it, we
sat on the veranda and conversed with a young lady, tall, gent, well
favored, and communicative, who leaned in the doorway.
"Yes, this house stands on the line. Where you sit, you are in
Tennessee; I'm in North Carolina."
"Do you live here?"
"Law, no; I'm just staying a little while at the colonel's. I live
over the mountain here, three miles from Taylorsville. I thought I'd
be where I could step into North Carolina easy."
"Well, they wanted me to go before the grand jury and testify about
some pistol-shooting down by our house, some friends of mine got into
a little difficulty,--and I did n't want to. I never has no
difficulty with nobody, never says nothing about nobody, has nothing
against nobody, and I reckon nobody has nothing against me."
"Did you come alone?"
"Why, of course. I come across the mountain by a path through the
woods. That's nothing."
A discreet, pleasant, pretty girl. This surely must be the Esmeralda
who lives in these mountains, and adorns low life by her virgin
purity and sentiment. As she talked on, she turned from time to time
to the fireplace behind her, and discharged a dark fluid from her
pretty lips, with accuracy of aim, and with a nonchalance that was
not assumed, but belongs to our free-born American girls. I cannot
tell why this habit of hers (which is no worse than the sister habit
of "dipping") should take her out of the romantic setting that her
face and figure had placed her in; but somehow we felt inclined to
ride on farther for our heroine.
"And yet," said the Professor, as we left the site of the colonel's
thriving distillery, and by a winding, picturesque road through a
rough farming country descended into the valley,--"and yet, why fling
aside so readily a character and situation so full of romance, on
account of a habit of this mountain Helen, which one of our best
poets has almost made poetical, in the case of the pioneer taking his
westward way, with ox-goad pointing to the sky:
"'He's leaving on the pictured rock
His fresh tobacco stain.'
"To my mind the incident has Homeric elements. The Greeks would have
looked at it in a large, legendary way. Here is Helen, strong and
lithe of limb, ox-eyed, courageous, but woman-hearted and love-
inspiring, contended for by all the braves and daring moonshiners of
Cut Laurel Gap, pursued by the gallants of two States, the prize of a
border warfare of bowie knives and revolvers. This Helen,
magnanimous as attractive, is the witness of a pistol difficulty on
her behalf, and when wanted by the areopagus, that she may neither
implicate a lover nor punish an enemy (having nothing, this noble
type of her sex against nobody), skips away to Mount Ida, and there,
under the aegis of the flag of her country, in a Licensed Distillery,
stands with one slender foot in Tennessee and the other in North
"Like the figure of the Republic itself, superior to state
sovereignty," interposed the Friend.
"I beg your pardon," said the Professor, urging up Laura Matilda (for
so he called the nervous mare, who fretted herself into a fever in
the stony path), "I was quite able to get the woman out of that
position without the aid of a metaphor. It is a large and Greek
idea, that of standing in two mighty States, superior to the law,
looking east and looking west, ready to transfer her agile body to
either State on the approach of messengers of the court; and I'll be
hanged if I didn't think that her nonchalant rumination of the weed,
combined with her lofty moral attitude, added something to the
The Friend said that he was quite willing to join in the extremest
defense of the privileges of beauty,--that he even held in abeyance
judgment on the practice of dipping; but when it came to chewing, gum
was as far as he could go as an allowance for the fair sex.
"When I consider everything that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment..."
The rest of the stanza was lost, for the Professor was splashing
through the stream. No sooner had we descended than the fording of
streams began again. The Friend had been obliged to stipulate that
the Professor should go ahead at these crossings, to keep the
impetuous nag of the latter from throwing half the contents of the
stream upon his slower and uncomplaining companion.
What a lovely country, but for the heat of noon and the long
wearisomeness of the way!--not that the distance was great, but miles
and miles more than expected. How charming the open glades of the
river, how refreshing the great forests of oak and chestnut, and what
a panorama of beauty the banks of rhododendrons, now intermingled
with the lighter pink and white of the laurel! In this region the
rhododendron is called laurel and the laurel (the sheep-laurel of
New England) is called ivy.
At Worth's, well on in the afternoon, we emerged into a wide, open
farming intervale, a pleasant place of meadows and streams and decent
dwellings. Worth's is the trading center of the region, has a post
office and a saw-mill and a big country store; and the dwelling of
the proprietor is not unlike a roomy New England country house.
Worth's has been immemorially a stopping-place in a region where
places of accommodation are few. The proprietor, now an elderly man,
whose reminiscences are long ante bellum, has seen the world grow up
about him, he the honored, just center of it, and a family come up
into the modern notions of life, with a boarding-school education and
glimpses of city life and foreign travel. I fancy that nothing but
tradition and a remaining Southern hospitality could induce this
private family to suffer the incursions of this wayfaring man. Our
travelers are not apt to be surprised at anything in American life,
but they did not expect to find a house in this region with two
pianos and a bevy of young ladies, whose clothes were certainly not
made on Cut Laurel Gap, and to read in the books scattered about the
house the evidences of the finishing schools with which our country
is blessed, nor to find here pupils of the Stonewall Jackson
Institute at Abingdon. With a flush of local pride, the Professor
took up, in the roomy, pleasant chamber set apart for the guests, a
copy of Porter's "Elements of Moral Science."
"Where you see the 'Elements of Moral Science,'" the Friend
generalized, "there'll be plenty of water and towels;" and the sign
did not fail. The friends intended to read this book in the cool of
the day; but as they sat on the long veranda, the voice of a maiden
reading the latest novel to a sewing group behind the blinds in the
drawing-room; and the antics of a mule and a boy in front of the
store opposite; and the arrival of a spruce young man, who had just
ridden over from somewhere, a matter of ten miles' gallop, to get a
medicinal potion for his sick mother, and lingered chatting with the
young ladies until we began to fear that his mother would recover
before his return; the coming and going of lean women in shackly
wagons to trade at the store; the coming home of the cows, splashing
through the stream, hooking right and left, and lowing for the hand
of the milker,--all these interruptions, together with the generally
drowsy quiet of the approach of evening, interfered with the study of
the Elements. And when the travelers, after a refreshing rest, went
on their way next morning, considering the Elements and the pianos
and the refinement, to say nothing of the cuisine, which is not
treated of in the text-book referred to, they were content with a
bill double that of brother Egger, in his brick magnificence.
The simple truth is, that the traveler in this region must be content
to feed on natural beauties. And it is an unfortunate truth in
natural history that the appetite for this sort of diet fails after a
time, if the inner man is not supplied with other sort of food.
There is no landscape in the world that is agreeable after two days
of rusty-bacon and slack biscuit.
"How lovely this would be," exclaimed the Professor, if it had a
background of beefsteak and coffee!
We were riding along the west fork of the Laurel, distinguished
locally as Three Top Creek,--or, rather, we were riding in it,
crossing it thirty-one times within six miles; a charming wood (and
water) road, under the shade of fine trees with the rhododendron
illuminating the way, gleaming in the forest and reflected in the
stream, all the ten miles to Elk Cross Roads, our next destination.
We had heard a great deal about Elk Cross Roads; it was on the map,
it was down in the itinerary furnished by a member of the Coast
Survey. We looked forward to it as a sweet place of repose from the
noontide heat. Alas! Elk Cross Roads is a dirty grocery store,
encumbered with dry-goods boxes, fly-blown goods, flies, loafers. In
reply to our inquiry we were told that they had nothing to eat, for
us, and not a grain of feed for the horses. But there was a man a
mile farther on, who was well to do and had stores of food,--old man
Tatern would treat us in bang-up style. The difficulty of getting
feed for the horses was chronic all through the journey. The last
corn crop had failed, the new oats and corn had not come in, and the
country was literally barren. We had noticed all along that the hens
were taking a vacation, and that chickens were not put forward as an
article of diet.
We were unable, when we reached the residence of old man Tatem, to
imagine how the local superstition of his wealth arose. His house is
of logs, with two rooms, a kitchen and a spare room, with a low loft
accessible by a ladder at the side of the chimney. The chimney is a
huge construction of stone, separating the two parts of the house; in
fact, the chimney was built first, apparently, and the two rooms were
then built against it. The proprietor sat in a little railed
veranda. These Southern verandas give an air to the meanest
dwelling, and they are much used; the family sit here, and here are
the washbasin and pail (which is filled from the neighboring spring-
house), and the row of milk-pans. The old man Tatern did not welcome
us with enthusiasm; he had no corn,--these were hard times. He
looked like hard times, grizzled times, dirty times. It seemed time
out of mind since he had seen comb or razor, and although the lovely
New River, along which we had ridden to his house,--a broad, inviting
stream,--was in sight across the meadow, there was no evidence that
he had ever made acquaintance with its cleansing waters. As to corn,
the necessities of the case and pay being dwelt on, perhaps he could
find a dozen ears. A dozen small cars he did find, and we trust that
the horses found them.
We took a family dinner with old man Tatern in the kitchen, where
there was a bed and a stove,--a meal that the host seemed to enjoy,
but which we could not make much of, except the milk; that was good.
A painful meal, on the whole, owing to the presence in the room of a
grown-up daughter with a graveyard cough, without physician or
medicine, or comforts. Poor girl! just dying of "a misery."
In the spare room were two beds; the walls were decorated with the
gay-colored pictures of patent-medicine advertisements--a favorite
art adornment of the region; and a pile of ancient illustrated papers
with the usual patent-office report, the thoughtful gift of the
member for the district. The old man takes in the "Blue Ridge
Baptist," a journal which we found largely taken up with the
experiences of its editor on his journeys roundabout in search of
subscribers. This newspaper was the sole communication of the family
with the world at large, but the old man thought he should stop it,--
he did n't seem to get the worth of his money out of it. And old man
Tatem was a thrifty and provident man. On the hearth in this best
room--as ornaments or memento mori were a couple of marble
gravestones, a short headstone and foot-stone, mounted on bases and
ready for use, except the lettering. These may not have been so
mournful and significant as they looked, nor the evidence of simple,
humble faith; they may have been taken for debt. But as parlor
ornaments they had a fascination which we could not escape.
It was while we were bathing in the New River, that afternoon, and
meditating on the grim, unrelieved sort of life of our host, that the
Professor said, "judging by the face of the 'Blue Ridge Baptist,' he
will charge us smartly for the few nubbins of corn and the milk."
The face did not deceive us; the charge was one dollar. At this rate
it would have broken us to have tarried with old man Tatem (perhaps
he is not old, but that is the name he goes by) over night.
It was a hot afternoon, and it needed some courage to mount and climb
the sandy hill leading us away from the corn-crib of Tatem. But we
entered almost immediately into fine stretches of forest, and rode
under the shade of great oaks. The way, which began by the New
River, soon led us over the hills to the higher levels of Watauga
County. So far on our journey we had been hemmed in by low hills,
and without any distant or mountain outlooks. The excessive heat
seemed out of place at the elevation of over two thousand feet, on
which we were traveling. Boone, the county seat of Watauga County,
was our destination, and, ever since morning, the guideboards and the
trend of the roads had notified us that everything in this region
tends towards Boone as a center of interest. The simple ingenuity of
some of the guide-boards impressed us. If, on coming to a fork, the
traveler was to turn to the right, the sign read,
To BOONE 10 M.
If he was to go to the left, it read,
.M 01 ENOOB oT
A short ride of nine miles, on an ascending road, through an open,
unfenced forest region, brought us long before sundown to this
capital. When we had ridden into its single street, which wanders
over gentle hills, and landed at the most promising of the taverns,
the Friend informed his comrade that Boone was 3250 feet above
Albemarle Sound, and believed by its inhabitants to be the highest
village east of the Rocky Mountains. The Professor said that it
might be so, but it was a God-forsaken place. Its inhabitants
numbered perhaps two hundred and fifty, a few of them colored. It
had a gaunt, shaky court-house and jail, a store or two, and two
taverns. The two taverns are needed to accommodate the judges and
lawyers and their clients during the session of the court. The court
is the only excitement and the only amusement. It is the event from
which other events date. Everybody in the county knows exactly when
court sits, and when court breaks. During the session the whole
county is practically in Boone, men, women, and children. They camp
there, they attend the trials, they take sides; half of them,
perhaps, are witnesses, for the region is litigious, and the
neighborhood quarrels are entered into with spirit. To be fond of
lawsuits seems a characteristic of an isolated people in new
conditions. The early settlers of New England were.
Notwithstanding the elevation of Boone, which insured a pure air, the
thermometer that afternoon stood at from 85 to 89 deg. The flies
enjoyed it. How they swarmed in this tavern! They would have
carried off all the food from the dining-room table (for flies do not
mind eating off oilcloth, and are not particular how food is cooked),
but for the machine with hanging flappers that swept the length of
it; and they destroy all possibility of sleep except in the dark.
The mountain regions of North Carolina are free from mosquitoes, but
the fly has settled there, and is the universal scourge. This
tavern, one end of which was a store, had a veranda in front, and a
back gallery, where there were evidences of female refinement in pots
of plants and flowers. The landlord himself kept tavern very much as
a hostler would, but we had to make a note in his favor that he had
never heard of a milk punch. And it might as well be said here, for
it will have to be insisted on later, that the traveler, who has read
about the illicit stills till his imagination dwells upon the
indulgence of his vitiated tastes in the mountains of North Carolina,
is doomed to disappointment. If he wants to make himself an
exception to the sober people whose cooking will make him long for
the maddening bowl, he must bring his poison with him. We had found
no bread since we left Virginia; we had seen cornmeal and water,
slack-baked; we had seen potatoes fried in grease, and bacon
incrusted with salt (all thirst-provokers), but nothing to drink
stronger than buttermilk. And we can say that, so far as our example
is concerned, we left the country as temperate as we found it. How
can there be mint juleps (to go into details) without ice? and in the
summer there is probably not a pound of ice in all the State north of
There is nothing special to be said about Boone. We were anxious to
reach it, we were glad to leave it; we note as to all these places
that our joy at departing always exceeds that on arriving, which is a
merciful provision of nature for people who must keep moving. This
country is settled by genuine Americans, who have the aboriginal
primitive traits of the universal Yankee nation. The front porch in
the morning resembled a carpenter's shop; it was literally covered
with the whittlings of the row of natives who had spent the evening
there in the sedative occupation of whittling.
We took that morning a forest road to Valle Crusis, seven miles,
through noble growths of oaks, chestnuts, hemlocks, rhododendrons,--a
charming wood road, leading to a place that, as usual, did not keep
the promise of its name. Valle Crusis has a blacksmith shop and a
dirty, flyblown store. While the Professor consulted the blacksmith
about a loose shoe, the Friend carried his weariness of life without
provisions up to a white house on the hill, and negotiated for boiled
milk. This house was occupied by flies. They must have numbered
millions, settled in black swarms, covering tables, beds, walls, the
veranda; the kitchen was simply a hive of them. The only book in
sight, Whewell's--"Elements of Morality," seemed to attract flies.
Query, Why should this have such a different effect from Porter's? A
white house,--a pleasant-looking house at a distance,--amiable,
kindly people in it,--why should we have arrived there on its dirty
day? Alas! if we had been starving, Valle Crusis had nothing to
So we rode away, in the blazing heat, no poetry exuding from the
Professor, eight miles to Banner's Elk, crossing a mountain and
passing under Hanging Rock, a conspicuous feature in the landscape,
and the only outcropping of rock we had seen: the face of a ledge,
rounded up into the sky, with a green hood on it. From the summit we
had the first extensive prospect during our journey. The road can be
described as awful,--steep, stony, the horses unable to make two
miles an hour on it. Now and then we encountered a rude log cabin
without barns or outhouses, and a little patch of feeble corn. The
women who regarded the passers from their cabin doors were frowzy and
looked tired. What with the heat and the road and this discouraged
appearance of humanity, we reached the residence of Dugger, at
Banner's Elk, to which we had been directed, nearly exhausted. It is
no use to represent this as a dash across country on impatient
steeds. It was not so. The love of truth is stronger than the
desire of display. And for this reason it is impossible to say that
Mr. Dugger, who is an excellent man, lives in a clean and attractive
house, or that he offers much that the pampered child of civilization
can eat. But we shall not forget the two eggs, fresh from the hens,
whose temperature must have been above the normal, nor the spring-
house in the glen, where we found a refuge from the flies and the
heat. The higher we go, the hotter it is. Banner's Elk boasts an
elevation of thirty-five to thirty-seven hundred feet.
We were not sorry, towards sunset, to descend along the Elk River
towards Cranberry Forge. The Elk is a lovely stream, and, though not
very clear, has a reputation for trout; but all this region was under
operation of a three-years game law, to give the trout a chance to
multiply, and we had no opportunity to test the value of its
reputation. Yet a boy whom we encountered had a good string of
quarter-pound trout, which he had taken out with a hook and a feather
rudely tied on it, to resemble a fly. The road, though not to be
commended, was much better than that of the morning, the forests grew
charming in the cool of the evening, the whippoorwill sang, and as
night fell the wanderers, in want of nearly everything that makes
life desirable, stopped at the Iron Company's hotel, under the
impression that it was the only comfortable hotel in North Carolina.
Cranberry Forge is the first wedge of civilization fairly driven into
the northwest mountains of North Carolina. A narrow-gauge railway,
starting from Johnson City, follows up the narrow gorge of the Doe
River, and pushes into the heart of the iron mines at Cranberry,
where there is a blast furnace; and where a big company store, rows
of tenement houses, heaps of slag and refuse ore, interlacing tracks,
raw embankments, denuded hillsides, and a blackened landscape, are
the signs of a great devastating American enterprise. The Cranberry
iron is in great esteem, as it has the peculiar quality of the
Swedish iron. There are remains of old furnaces lower down the
stream, which we passed on our way. The present "plant" is that of a
Philadelphia company, whose enterprise has infused new life into all
this region, made it accessible, and spoiled some pretty scenery.
When we alighted, weary, at the gate of the pretty hotel, which
crowns a gentle hill and commands a pleasing, evergreen prospect of
many gentle hills, a mile or so below the works, and wholly removed
from all sordid associations, we were at the point of willingness
that the whole country should be devastated by civilization. In the
local imagination this hotel of the company is a palace of unequaled
magnificence, but probably its good taste, comfort, and quiet
elegance are not appreciated after all. There is this to be said
about Philadelphia,--and it will go far in pleading for it in the
Last Day against its monotonous rectangularity and the babel-like
ambition of its Public Building,--that wherever its influence
extends, there will be found comfortable lodgings and the luxury of
an undeniably excellent cuisine. The visible seal that Philadelphia
sets on its enterprise all through the South is a good hotel.
This Cottage Beautiful has on two sides a wide veranda, set about
with easy chairs; cheerful parlors and pretty chambers, finished in
native woods, among which are conspicuous the satin stripes of the
cucumber-tree; luxurious beds, and an inviting table ordered by a
Philadelphia landlady, who knows a beefsteak from a boot-tap. Is it
"low" to dwell upon these things of the senses, when one is on a tour
in search of the picturesque? Let the reader ride from Abingdon
through a wilderness of cornpone and rusty bacon, and then judge.
There were, to be sure, novels lying about, and newspapers, and
fragments of information to be picked up about a world into which the
travelers seemed to emerge. They, at least, were satisfied, and went
off to their rooms with the restful feeling that they had arrived
somewhere and no unquiet spirit at morn would say "to horse." To
sleep, perchance to dream of Tatem and his household cemetery; and
the Professor was heard muttering in his chamber,
"Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body's work's expir'd."
The morning was warm (the elevation of the hotel must be between
twenty-five hundred and three thousand feet), rainy, mildly rainy;
and the travelers had nothing better to do than lounge upon the
veranda, read feeble ten-cent fictions, and admire the stems of the
white birches, glistening in the moisture, and the rhododendron-
trees, twenty feet high, which were shaking off their last pink
blossoms, and look down into the valley of the Doe. It is not an
exciting landscape, nothing bold or specially wild in it, but restful
with the monotony of some of the wooded Pennsylvania hills.
Sunday came up smiling, a lovely day, but offering no church
privileges, for the ordinance of preaching is only occasional in this
region. The ladies of the hotel have, however, gathered in the
valley a Sunday-school of fifty children from the mountain cabins. A
couple of rainy days, with the thermometer rising to 80 deg.,
combined with natural laziness to detain the travelers in this
cottage of ease. They enjoyed this the more because it was on their
consciences that they should visit Linville Falls, some twenty-five
miles eastward, long held up before them as the most magnificent
feature of this region, and on no account to be omitted. Hence,
naturally, a strong desire to omit it. The Professor takes bold
ground against these abnormal freaks of nature, and it was nothing to
him that the public would demand that we should see Linville Falls.
In the first place, we could find no one who had ever seen them, and
we spent two days in catechizing natives and strangers. The nearest
we came to information was from a workman at the furnace, who was
born and raised within three miles of the Falls. He had heard of
people going there. He had never seen them himself. It was a good
twenty-five miles there, over the worst road in the State we'd think
it thirty before we got there. Fifty miles of such travel to see a
little water run down-hill! The travelers reflected. Every country
has a local waterfall of which it boasts; they had seen a great many.
One more would add little to the experience of life. The vagueness
of information, to be sure, lured the travelers to undertake the
journey; but the temptation was resisted--something ought to be left
for the next explorer--and so Linville remains a thing of the
Towards evening, July 29, between showers, the Professor and the
Friend rode along the narrow-gauge road, down Johnson's Creek, to
Roan Station, the point of departure for ascending Roan Mountain. It
was a ride of an hour and a half over a fair road, fringed with
rhododendrons, nearly blossomless; but at a point on the stream this
sturdy shrub had formed a long bower where under a table might have
been set for a temperance picnic, completely overgrown with wild
grape, and still gay with bloom. The habitations on the way are
mostly board shanties and mean frame cabins, but the railway is
introducing ambitious architecture here and there in the form of
ornamental filigree work on flimsy houses; ornamentation is apt to
precede comfort in our civilization.
Roan Station is on the Doe River (which flows down from Roan
Mountain), and is marked at 1265 feet above the sea. The visitor
will find here a good hotel, with open wood fires (not ungrateful in
a July evening), and obliging people. This railway from Johnson
City, hanging on the edge of the precipices that wall the gorge of
the Doe, is counted in this region by the inhabitants one of the
engineering wonders of the world. The tourist is urged by all means
to see both it and Linville Falls.
The tourist on horseback, in search of exercise and recreation, is
not probably expected to take stock of moral conditions. But this
Mitchell County, although it was a Union county during the war and is
Republican in politics (the Southern reader will perhaps prefer
another adverb to "although"), has had the worst possible reputation.
The mountains were hiding-places of illicit distilleries; the woods
were full of grog-shanties, where the inflaming fluid was sold as
"native brandy," quarrels and neighborhood difficulties were
frequent, and the knife and pistol were used on the slightest
provocation. Fights arose about boundaries and the title to mica
mines, and with the revenue officers; and force was the arbiter of
all disputes. Within the year four murders were committed in the
sparsely settled county. Travel on any of the roads was unsafe. The
tone of morals was what might be expected with such lawlessness. A
lady who came up on the road on the 4th of July, when an excursion
party of country people took possession of the cars, witnessed a
scene and heard language past belief. Men, women, and children drank
from whisky bottles that continually circulated, and a wild orgy
resulted. Profanity, indecent talk on topics that even the license
of the sixteenth century would not have tolerated, and freedom of
manners that even Teniers would have shrunk from putting on canvas,
made the journey horrible.
The unrestrained license of whisky and assault and murder had
produced a reaction a few months previous to our visit. The people
had risen up in their indignation and broken up the groggeries. So
far as we observed temperance prevailed, backed by public-opinion.
In our whole ride through the mountain region we saw only one or two
places where liquor was sold.
It is called twelve miles from Roan Station to Roan Summit. The
distance is probably nearer fourteen, and our horses were five hours
in walking it. For six miles the road runs by Doe River, here a
pretty brook shaded with laurel and rhododendron, and a few
cultivated patches of ground, and infrequent houses. It was a blithe
morning, and the horsemen would have given full indulgence to the
spirit of adventure but for the attitude of the Professor towards
mountains. It was not with him a matter of feeling, but of
principle, not to ascend them. But here lay Roan, a long, sprawling
ridge, lifting itself 6250 feet up into the sky. Impossible to go
around it, and the other side must be reached. The Professor was
obliged to surrender, and surmount a difficulty which he could not
philosophize out of his mind.
>From the base of the mountain a road is very well engineered, in easy
grades for carriages, to the top; but it was in poor repair and
stony. We mounted slowly through splendid forests, specially of fine
chestnuts and hemlocks. This big timber continues till within a mile
and a half of the summit by the winding road, really within a short
distance of the top. Then there is a narrow belt of scrubby
hardwood, moss-grown, and then large balsams, which crown the
mountain. As soon as we came out upon the southern slope we found
great open spaces, covered with succulent grass, and giving excellent
pasturage to cattle. These rich mountain meadows are found on all
the heights of this region. The surface of Roan is uneven, and has
no one culminating peak that commands the country, like the peak of
Mount Washington, but several eminences within its range of probably
a mile and a half, where various views can be had. Near the highest
point, sheltered from the north by balsams, stands a house of
entertainment, with a detached cottage, looking across the great
valley to the Black Mountain range. The surface of the mountain is
pebbly, but few rocks crop out; no ledges of any size are seen except
at a distance from the hotel, on the north side, and the mountain
consequently lacks that savage, unsubduable aspect which the White
Hills of New Hampshire have. It would, in fact, have been difficult
to realize that we were over six thousand feet above the sea, except
for that pallor in the sunlight, that atmospheric thinness and want
of color which is an unpleasant characteristic of high altitudes. To
be sure, there is a certain brilliancy in the high air,--it is apt to
be foggy on Roan,--and objects appear in sharp outline, but I have
often experienced on such places that feeling of melancholy, which
would, of course, deepen upon us all if we were sensible that the sun
was gradually withdrawing its power of warmth and light. The black
balsam is neither a cheerful nor a picturesque tree; the frequent
rains and mists on Roan keep the grass and mosses green, but the
ground damp. Doubtless a high mountain covered with vegetation has
its compensation, but for me the naked granite rocks in sun and
shower are more cheerful.
The advantage of Roan is that one can live there and be occupied for
a long time in mineral and botanical study. Its mild climate,
moisture, and great elevation make it unique in this country for the
botanist. The variety of plants assembled there is very large, and
there are many, we were told, never or rarely found elsewhere in the
United States. At any rate, the botanists rave about Roan Mountain,
and spend weeks at a time on it. We found there ladies who could
draw for us Grey's lily (then passed), and had kept specimens of the
rhododendron (not growing elsewhere in this region) which has a deep
red, almost purple color.
The hotel (since replaced by a good house) was a rude mountain
structure, with a couple of comfortable rooms for office and sitting-
room, in which big wood fires were blazing; for though the
thermometer might record 60 deg., as it did when we arrived, fire was
welcome. Sleeping-places partitioned off in the loft above gave the
occupants a feeling of camping out, all the conveniences being
primitive; and when the wind rose in the night and darkness, and the
loose boards rattled and the timbers creaked, the sensation was not
unlike that of being at sea. The hotel was satisfactorily kept, and
Southern guests, from as far south as New Orleans, were spending the
season there, and not finding time hang heavy on their hands. This
statement is perhaps worth more than pages of description as to the
character of Roan, and its contrast to Mount Washington.
The summer weather is exceedingly uncertain on all these North
Carolina mountains; they are apt at any moment to be enveloped in
mist; and it would rather rain on them than not. On the afternoon of
our arrival there was fine air and fair weather, but not a clear sky.
The distance was hazy, but the outlines were preserved. We could see
White Top, in Virginia; Grandfather Mountain, a long serrated range;
the twin towers of Linville; and the entire range of the Black
Mountains, rising from the valley, and apparently lower than we were.
They get the name of Black from the balsams which cover the summits.
The rain on Roan was of less annoyance by reason of the delightful
company assembled at the hotel, which was in a manner at home there,
and, thrown upon its own resources, came out uncommonly strong in
agreeableness. There was a fiddle in the house, which had some of
the virtues of that celebrated in the history of old Mark Langston;
the Professor was enabled to produce anything desired out of the
literature of the eighteenth century; and what with the repartee of
bright women, big wood fires, reading, and chat, there was no dull
day or evening on Roan. I can fancy, however, that it might tire in
time, if one were not a botanist, without the resource of women's
society. The ladies staying here were probably all accomplished
botanists, and the writer is indebted to one of them for a list of
plants found on Roan, among which is an interesting weed, catalogued
as Humana, perplexia negligens. The species is, however, common
The second morning opened, after a night of high wind, with a
thunder-shower. After it passed, the visitors tried to reach Eagle
Cliff, two miles off, whence an extensive western prospect is had,
but were driven back by a tempest, and rain practically occupied the
day. Now and then through the parted clouds we got a glimpse of a
mountain-side, or the gleam of a valley. On the lower mountains, at
wide intervals apart, were isolated settlements, commonly a wretched
cabin and a spot of girdled trees. A clergyman here, not long ago,
undertook to visit some of these cabins and carry his message to
them. In one wretched hut of logs he found a poor woman, with whom,
after conversation on serious subjects, he desired to pray. She
offered no objection, and he kneeled down and prayed. The woman
heard him, and watched him for some moments with curiosity, in an
effort to ascertain what he was doing, and then said:
"Why, a man did that when he put my girl in a hole."
Towards night the wind hauled round from the south to the northwest,
and we went to High Bluff, a point on the north edge, where some
rocks are piled up above the evergreens, to get a view of the sunset.
In every direction the mountains were clear, and a view was obtained
of the vast horizon and the hills and lowlands of several States--a
continental prospect, scarcely anywhere else equaled for variety or
distance. The grandeur of mountains depends mostly on the state of
the atmosphere. Grandfather loomed up much more loftily than the day
before, the giant range of the Blacks asserted itself in grim
inaccessibility, and we could see, a small pyramid on the southwest
horizon, King's Mountain in South Carolina, estimated to be distant
one hundred and fifty miles. To the north Roan falls from this point
abruptly, and we had, like a map below us, the low country all the
way into Virginia. The clouds lay like lakes in the valleys of the
lower hills, and in every direction were ranges of mountains wooded
to the summits. Off to the west by south lay the Great Smoky
Mountains, disputing eminence with the Blacks.
Magnificent and impressive as the spectacle was, we were obliged to
contrast it unfavorably with that of the White Hills. The rock here
is a sort of sand or pudding stone; there is no limestone or granite.
And all the hills are tree-covered. To many this clothing of verdure
is most restful and pleasing. I missed the sharp outlines, the
delicate artistic sky lines, sharply defined in uplifted bare granite
peaks and ridges, with the purple and violet color of the northern
mountains, and which it seems to me that limestone and granite
formations give. There are none of the great gorges and awful
abysses of the White Mountains, both valleys and mountains here being
more uniform in outline. There are few precipices and jutting crags,
and less is visible of the giant ribs and bones of the planet.
Yet Roan is a noble mountain. A lady from Tennessee asked me if I
had ever seen anything to compare with it--she thought there could be
nothing in the world. One has to dodge this sort of question in the
South occasionally, not to offend a just local pride. It is
certainly one of the most habitable of big mountains. It is roomy on
top, there is space to move about without too great fatigue, and one
might pleasantly spend a season there, if he had agreeable company
and natural tastes.
Getting down from Roan on the south side is not as easy as ascending
on the north; the road for five miles to the foot of the mountain is
merely a river of pebbles, gullied by the heavy rains, down which the
horses picked their way painfully. The travelers endeavored to
present a dashing and cavalier appearance to the group of ladies who
waved good-by from the hotel, as they took their way over the waste
and wind-blown declivities, but it was only a show, for the horses
would neither caracole nor champ the bit (at a dollar a day) down-
hill over the slippery stones, and, truth to tell, the wanderers
turned with regret from the society of leisure and persiflage to face
the wilderness of Mitchell County.
"How heavy," exclaimed the Professor, pricking Laura Matilda to call
her attention sharply to her footing
"How heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek--my weary travel's end
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say,
Thus far the miles are measur'd from thy friend!
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider loved not speed, being made from thee:
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
Which heavily he answers with a groan,
More sharp to me than spurring to his side;
For that same groan doth put this in my mind;
My grief lies onward and my joy behind."
This was not spoken to the group who fluttered their farewells, but
poured out to the uncomplaining forest, which rose up in ever
statelier--and grander ranks to greet the travelers as they
descended--the silent, vast forest, without note of bird or chip of
squirrel, only the wind tossing the great branches high overhead in
response to the sonnet. Is there any region or circumstance of life
that the poet did not forecast and provide for? But what would have
been his feelings if he could have known that almost three centuries
after these lines were penned, they would be used to express the
emotion of an unsentimental traveler in the primeval forests of the
New World? At any rate, he peopled the New World with the children
of his imagination. And, thought the Friend, whose attention to his
horse did not permit him to drop into poetry, Shakespeare might have
had a vision of this vast continent, though he did not refer to it,
when he exclaimed:
"What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?"
Bakersville, the capital of Mitchell County, is eight miles from the
top of Roan, and the last three miles of the way the horsemen found
tolerable going, over which the horses could show their paces. The
valley looked fairly thrifty and bright, and was a pleasing
introduction to Bakersville, a pretty place in the hills, of some six
hundred inhabitants, with two churches, three indifferent hotels, and
a court-house. This mountain town, 2550 feet above the sea, is said
to have a decent winter climate, with little snow, favorable to
fruit-growing, and, by contrast with New England, encouraging to
people with weak lungs.
This is the center of the mica mining, and of considerable excitement
about minerals. All around, the hills are spotted with "diggings."
Most of the mines which yield well show signs of having been worked
before, a very long time ago, no doubt by the occupants before the
Indians. The mica is of excellent quality and easily mined. It is
got out in large irregular-shaped blocks and transported to the
factories, where it is carefully split by hand, and the laminae, of
as large size as can be obtained, are trimmed with shears and tied up
in packages for market. The quantity of refuse, broken, and rotten
mica piled up about the factories is immense, and all the roads round
about glisten with its scales. Garnets are often found imbedded in
the laminae, flattened by the extreme pressure to which the mass was
subjected. It is fascinating material, this mica, to handle, and we
amused ourselves by experimenting on the thinness to which its scales
could be reduced by splitting. It was at Bakersville that we saw
specimens of mica that resembled the delicate tracery in the moss-
agate and had the iridescent sheen of the rainbow colors--the most
delicate greens, reds, blues, purples, and gold, changing from one to
the other in the reflected light. In the texture were the tracings
of fossil forms of ferns and the most exquisite and delicate
vegetable beauty of the coal age. But the magnet shows this tracery
to be iron. We were shown also emeralds and "diamonds," picked up in
this region, and there is a mild expectation in all the inhabitants
of great mineral treasure. A singular product of the region is the
flexible sandstone. It is a most uncanny stone. A slip of it a
couple of feet long and an inch in diameter each way bends in the
hand like a half-frozen snake. This conduct of a substance that we
have been taught to regard as inflexible impairs one's confidence in
the stability of nature and affects him as an earthquake does.
This excitement over mica and other minerals has the usual effect of
starting up business and creating bad blood. Fortunes have been
made, and lost in riotous living; scores of visionary men have been
disappointed; lawsuits about titles and claims have multiplied, and
quarrels ending in murder have been frequent in the past few years.
The mica and the illicit whisky have worked together to make this
region one of lawlessness and violence. The travelers were told
stories of the lack of common morality and decency in the region, but
they made no note of them. And, perhaps fortunately, they were not
there during court week to witness the scenes of license that were
described. This court week, which draws hither the whole population,
is a sort of Saturnalia. Perhaps the worst of this is already a
thing of the past; for the outrages a year before had reached such a
pass that by a common movement the sale of whisky was stopped (not
interdicted, but stopped), and not a drop of liquor could be bought
in Bakersville nor within three miles of it.
The jail at Bakersville is a very simple residence. The main
building is brick, two stories high and about twelve feet square.
The walls are so loosely laid up that it seems as if a colored
prisoner might butt his head through. Attached to this is a room for
the jailer. In the lower room is a wooden cage, made of logs bolted
together and filled with spikes, nine feet by ten feet square and
perhaps seven or eight feet high. Between this cage and the wall is
a space of eighteen inches in width. It has a narrow door, and an
opening through which the food is passed to the prisoners, and a
conduit leading out of it. Of course it soon becomes foul, and in
warm weather somewhat warm. A recent prisoner, who wanted more
ventilation than the State allowed him, found some means, by a loose
plank, I think, to batter a hole in the outer wall opposite the
window in the cage, and this ragged opening, seeming to the jailer a
good sanitary arrangement, remains. Two murderers occupied this
apartment at the time of our visit. During the recent session of
court, ten men had been confined in this narrow space, without room
enough for them to lie down together. The cage in the room above, a
little larger, had for tenant a person who was jailed for some
misunderstanding about an account, and who was probably innocent--
from the jailer's statement. This box is a wretched residence, month
after month, while awaiting trial.
We learned on inquiry that it is practically impossible to get a jury
to convict of murder in this region, and that these admitted felons
would undoubtedly escape. We even heard that juries were purchasable
here, and that a man's success in court depended upon the length of
his purse. This is such an unheard-of thing that we refused to
credit it. When the Friend attempted to arouse the indignation of
the Professor about the barbarity of this jail, the latter defended
it on the ground that as confinement was the only punishment that
murderers were likely to receive in this region, it was well to make
their detention disagreeable to them. But the Friend did not like
this wild-beast cage for men, and could only exclaim,
"Oh, murder! what crimes are done in thy name."
If the comrades wished an adventure, they had a small one, more
interesting to them than to the public, the morning they left
Bakersville to ride to Burnsville, which sets itself up as the
capital of Yancey. The way for the first three miles lay down a
small creek and in a valley fairly settled, the houses, a store, and
a grist-mill giving evidence of the new enterprise of the region.
When Toe River was reached, there was a choice of routes. We might
ford the Toe at that point, where the river was wide, but shallow,
and the crossing safe, and climb over the mountain by a rough but
sightly road, or descend the stream by a better road and ford the
river at a place rather dangerous to those unfamiliar with it. The
danger attracted us, but we promptly chose the hill road on account
of the views, for we were weary of the limited valley prospects.
The Toe River, even here, where it bears westward, is a very
respectable stream in size, and not to be trifled with after a
shower. It gradually turns northward, and, joining the Nollechucky,
becomes part of the Tennessee system. We crossed it by a long,
diagonal ford, slipping and sliding about on the round stones, and
began the ascent of a steep hill. The sun beat down unmercifully,
the way was stony, and the horses did not relish the weary climbing.
The Professor, who led the way, not for the sake of leadership, but
to be the discoverer of laden blackberry bushes, which began to offer
occasional refreshment, discouraged by the inhospitable road and
perhaps oppressed by the moral backwardness of things in general,
"Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,--
As, to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily foresworn,
And gilded honor shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone."
In the midst of a lively discussion of this pessimistic view of the
inequalities of life, in which desert and capacity are so often put
at disadvantage by birth in beggarly conditions, and brazen
assumption raises the dust from its chariot wheels for modest merit
to plod along in, the Professor swung himself off his horse to attack
a blackberry bush, and the Friend, representing simple truth, and
desirous of getting a wider prospect, urged his horse up the hill.
At the top he encountered a stranger, on a sorrel horse, with whom he
entered into conversation and extracted all the discouragement the
man had as to the road to Burnsville.
Nevertheless, the view opened finely and extensively. There are few
exhilarations comparable to that of riding or walking along a high
ridge, and the spirits of the traveler rose many degrees above the
point of restful death, for which the Professor was crying when he
encountered the blackberry bushes. Luckily the Friend soon fell in
with a like temptation, and dismounted. He discovered something that
spoiled his appetite for berries. His coat, strapped on behind the
saddle, had worked loose, the pocket was open, and the pocket-book
was gone. This was serious business. For while the Professor was
the cashier, and traveled like a Rothschild, with large drafts, the
Friend represented the sub-treasury. That very morning, in response
to inquiry as to the sinews of travel, the Friend had displayed,
without counting, a roll of bills. These bills had now disappeared,
and when the Friend turned back to communicate his loss, in the
character of needy nothing not trimm'd in jollity, he had a
sympathetic listener to the tale of woe.
Going back on such a journey is the woefulest experience, but retrace
our steps we must. Perhaps the pocket-book lay in the road not half
a mile back. But not in half a mile, or a mile, was it found.
Probably, then, the man on the sorrel horse had picked it up. But
who was the man on the sorrel horse, and where had he gone? Probably
the coat worked loose in crossing Toe River and the pocket-book had
gone down-stream. The number of probabilities was infinite, and each
more plausible than the others as it occurred to us. We inquired at
every house we had passed on the way, we questioned every one we met.
At length it began to seem improbable that any one would remember if
he had picked up a pocketbook that morning. This is just the sort of
thing that slips an untrained memory.
At a post office or doctor's shop, or inn for drovers, it might be
either or neither, where several horses were tied to the fence, and
a group of men were tilted back in cane chairs on the veranda, we
unfolded our misfortune and made particular inquiries for a man on a
sorrel horse. Yes, such a man, David Thomas by name, had just ridden
towards Bakersville. If he had found the pocket-book, we would
recover it. He was an honest man. It might, however, fall into
hands that would freeze to it.
Upon consultation, it was the general verdict that there were men in
the county who would keep it if they had picked it up. But the
assembly manifested the liveliest interest in the incident. One
suggested Toe River. Another thought it risky to drop a purse on any
road. But there was a chorus of desire expressed that we should find
it, and in this anxiety was exhibited a decided sensitiveness about
the honor of Mitchell County. It seemed too bad that a stranger
should go away with the impression that it was not safe to leave
money anywhere in it. We felt very much obliged for this genuine
sympathy, and we told them that if a pocket-book were lost in this
way on a Connecticut road, there would be felt no neighborhood
responsibility for it, and that nobody would take any interest in the
incident except the man who lost, and the man who found.
By the time the travelers pulled up at a store in Bakersville they
had lost all expectation of recovering the missing article, and were
discussing the investment of more money in an advertisement in the
weekly newspaper of the capital. The Professor, whose reform
sentiments agreed with those of the newspaper, advised it. There was
a group of idlers, mica acquaintances of the morning, and
philosophers in front of the store, and the Friend opened the
colloquy by asking if a man named David Thomas had been seen in town.
He was in town, had ridden in within an hour, and his brother, who
was in the group, would go in search of him. The information was
then given of the loss, and that the rider had met David Thomas just
before it was discovered, on the mountain beyond the Toe. The news
made a sensation, and by the time David Thomas appeared a crowd of a
hundred had drawn around the horsemen eager for further developments.
Mr. Thomas was the least excited of the group as he took his position
on the sidewalk, conscious of the dignity of the occasion and that he
was about to begin a duel in which both reputation and profit were
concerned. He recollected meeting the travelers in the morning.
The Friend said, "I discovered that I had lost my purse just after
meeting you; it may have been dropped in Toe River, but I was told
back here that if David Thomas had picked it up, it was as safe as if
it were in the bank."
"What sort of a pocket-book was it?" asked Mr. Thomas.
"It was of crocodile skin, or what is sold for that, very likely it
is an imitation, and about so large indicating the size."
"What had it in it?"
"Various things. Some specimens of mica; some bank checks, some
"Yes, a photograph. And, oh, something that I presume is not in
another pocket-book in North Carolina,--in an envelope, a lock of the
hair of George Washington, the Father of his Country." Sensation
mixed with incredulity. Washington's hair did seem such an odd part
of an outfit for a journey of this kind.
"How much money was in it?"
"That I cannot say, exactly. I happen to remember four twenty-dollar
United States notes, and a roll of small bills, perhaps something
over a hundred dollars."
"Is that the pocket-book?" asked David Thomas, slowly pulling the
loved and lost out of his trousers pocket.
"You'd be willing to take your oath on it?"
"I should be delighted to."
"Well, I guess there ain't so much money in it. You can count it
[handing it over]; there hain't been nothing taken out. I can't
read, but my friend here counted it over, and he says there ain't as
much as that."
Intense interest in the result of the counting. One hundred and ten
dollars! The Friend selected one of the best engraved of the notes,
and appealed to the crowd if they thought that was the square thing
to do. They did so think, and David Thomas said it was abundant.
And then said the Friend:
"I'm exceedingly grateful to you besides. Washington's hair is
getting scarce, and I did not want to lose these few hairs, gray as
they are. You've done the honest thing, Mr. Thomas, as was expected
of you. You might have kept the whole. But I reckon if there had
been five hundred dollars in the book and you had kept it, it
wouldn't have done you half as much good as giving it up has done;
and your reputation as an honest man is worth a good deal more than
this pocket-book. [The Professor was delighted with this sentiment,
because it reminded him of a Sunday-school.] I shall go away with a
high opinion of the honesty of Mitchell County."
"Oh, he lives in Yancey," cried two or three voices. At which there
was a great laugh.
"Well, I wondered where he came from." And the Mitchell County
people laughed again at their own expense, and the levee broke up.
It was exceedingly gratifying, as we spread the news of the recovered
property that afternoon at every house on our way to the Toe, to see
what pleasure it gave. Every man appeared to feel that the honor of
the region had been on trial--and had stood the test.
The eighteen miles to Burnsville had now to be added to the morning
excursion, but the travelers were in high spirits, feeling the truth
of the adage that it is better to have loved and lost, than never to
have lost at all. They decided, on reflection, to join company with
the mail-rider, who was going to Burnsville by the shorter route, and
could pilot them over the dangerous ford of the Toe.
The mail-rider was a lean, sallow, sinewy man, mounted on a sorry
sorrel nag, who proved, however, to have blood in her, and to be a
fast walker and full of endurance. The mail-rider was taciturn, a
natural habit for a man who rides alone the year round, over a lonely
road, and has nothing whatever to think of. He had been in the war
sixteen months, in Hugh White's regiment,--reckon you've heerd of
"Was he on the Union or Confederate side?"
"Were you in any engagements?"
"Did you have any fighting?"
"What did you do?"
"What did you do in Hugh White's regiment?"
"Oh, just cavorted round the mountains."
"You lived on the country?"
"Picked up what you could find, corn, bacon, horses?"
"That's about so. Did n't make much difference which side was round,
the country got cleaned out."
"Plunder seems to have been the object?"
"You got a living out of the farmers?"
Our friend and guide seemed to have been a jayhawker and mountain
marauder--on the right side. His attachment to the word "which"
prevented any lively flow of conversation, and there seemed to be
only two trains of ideas running in his mind: one was the subject of
horses and saddles, and the other was the danger of the ford we were
coming to, and he exhibited a good deal of ingenuity in endeavoring
to excite our alarm. He returned to the ford from every other
conversational excursion, and after every silence.
"I do' know's there 's any great danger; not if you know the ford.
Folks is carried away there. The Toe gits up sudden. There's been
right smart rain lately.
"If you're afraid, you can git set over in a dugout, and I'll take
your horses across. Mebbe you're used to fording? It's a pretty bad
ford for them as don't know it. But you'll get along if you mind
your eye. There's some rocks you'll have to look out for. But
you'll be all right if you follow me."
Not being very successful in raising an interest in the dangers of
his ford, although he could not forego indulging a malicious pleasure
in trying to make the strangers uncomfortable, he finally turned his
attention to a trade. "This hoss of mine," he said, "is just the
kind of brute-beast you want for this country. Your hosses is too
heavy. How'll you swap for that one o' yourn?" The reiterated
assertion that the horses were not ours, that they were hired, made
little impression on him. All the way to Burnsville he kept
referring to the subject of a trade. The instinct of "swap" was
strong in him. When we met a yoke of steers, he turned round and
bantered the owner for a trade. Our saddles took his fancy. They
were of the army pattern, and he allowed that one of them would just
suit him. He rode a small flat English pad, across which was flung
the United States mail pouch, apparently empty. He dwelt upon the
fact that his saddle was new and ours were old, and the advantages
that would accrue to us from the exchange. He did n't care if they
had been through the war, as they had, for he fancied an army saddle.
The Friend answered for himself that the saddle he rode belonged to a
distinguished Union general, and had a bullet in it that was put
there by a careless Confederate in the first battle of Bull Run, and
the owner would not part with it for money. But the mail-rider said
he did n't mind that. He would n't mind swapping his new saddle for
my old one and the rubber coat and leggings. Long before we reached
the ford we thought we would like to swap the guide, even at the,
risk of drowning. The ford was passed, in due time, with no
inconvenience save that of wet feet, for the stream was breast high
to the horses; but being broad and swift and full of sunken rocks and
slippery stones, and the crossing tortuous, it is not a ford to be
commended. There is a curious delusion that a rider has in crossing
a swift broad stream. It is that he is rapidly drifting up-stream,
while in fact the tendency of the horse is to go with the current.
The road in the afternoon was not unpicturesque, owing to the streams
and the ever noble forests, but the prospect was always very limited.
Agriculturally, the country was mostly undeveloped. The travelers
endeavored to get from the rider an estimate of the price of land.
Not much sold, he said. "There was one sale of a big piece last
year; the owner enthorited Big Tom Wilson to sell it, but I d'know
what he got for it,"
All the way along, the habitations were small log cabins, with one
room, chinked with mud, and these were far between; and only
occasionally thereby a similar log structure, unchinked, laid up like
a cob house, that served for a stable. Not much cultivation, except
now and then a little patch of poor corn on a steep hillside,
occasionally a few apple-trees, and a peach-tree without fruit. Here
and there was a house that had been half finished and then abandoned,
or a shanty in which a couple of young married people were just
beginning life. Generally the cabins (confirming the accuracy of the
census of 1880) swarmed with children, and nearly all the women were
thin and sickly.
In the day's ride we did not see a wheeled vehicle, and only now and
then a horse. We met on the road small sleds, drawn by a steer,
sometimes by a cow, on which a bag of grist was being hauled to the
mill, and boys mounted on steers gave us good-evening with as much
pride as if they were bestriding fiery horses.
In a house of the better class, which was a post-house, and where the
rider and the woman of the house had a long consultation over a
letter to be registered, we found the rooms decorated with patent-
medicine pictures, which were often framed in strips of mica, an
evidence of culture that was worth noting. Mica was the rage. Every
one with whom we talked, except the rider, had more or less the
mineral fever. The impression was general that the mountain region
of North Carolina was entering upon a career of wonderful mineral
development, and the most extravagant expectations were entertained.
Mica was the shining object of most "prospecting," but gold was also
on the cards.
The country about Burnsville is not only mildly picturesque, but very
pleasing. Burnsville, the county-seat of Yancey, at an elevation of
2840 feet, is more like a New England village than any hitherto seen.
Most of the houses stand about a square, which contains the shabby
court-house; around it are two small churches, a jail, an inviting
tavern) with a long veranda, and a couple of stores. On an
overlooking hill is the seminary. Mica mining is the exciting
industry, but it is agriculturally a good country. The tavern had
recently been enlarged to meet the new demands for entertainment and
is a roomy structure, fresh with paint and only partially organized.
The travelers were much impressed with the brilliant chambers, the
floors of which were painted in alternate stripes of vivid green and
red. The proprietor, a very intelligent and enterprising man, who
had traveled often in the North, was full of projects for the
development of his region and foremost in its enterprises, and had
formed a considerable collection of minerals. Besides, more than any
one else we met, he appreciated the beauty of his country, and took
us to a neighboring hill, where we had a view of Table Mountain to
the east and the nearer giant Blacks. The elevation of Burnsville
gives it a delightful summer climate, the gentle undulations of the
country are agreeable, the views noble, the air is good, and it is
altogether a "livable" and attractive place. With facilities of
communication, it would be a favorite summer resort. Its nearness to
the great mountains (the whole Black range is in Yancey County), its
fine pure air, its opportunity for fishing and hunting, commend it to
those in search of an interesting and restful retreat in summer.
But it should be said that before the country can attract and retain
travelers, its inhabitants must learn something about the preparation
of food. If, for instance, the landlord's wife at Burnsville had
traveled with her husband, her table would probably have been more on
a level with his knowledge of the world, and it would have contained
something that the wayfaring man, though a Northerner, could eat. We
have been on the point several times in this journey of making the
observation, but have been restrained by a reluctance to touch upon
politics, that it was no wonder that a people with such a cuisine
should have rebelled. The travelers were in a rebellious mood most
of the time.
The evidences of enterprise in this region were pleasant to see, but
the observers could not but regret, after all, the intrusion of the
money-making spirit, which is certain to destroy much of the present
simplicity. It is as yet, to a degree, tempered by a philosophic
spirit. The other guest of the house was a sedate, long-bearded
traveler for some Philadelphia house, and in the evening he and the
landlord fell into a conversation upon what Socrates calls the
disadvantage of the pursuit of wealth to the exclusion of all noble
objects, and they let their fancy play about Vanderbilt, who was
agreed to be the richest man in the world, or that ever lived.
"All I want," said the long-bearded man, "is enough to be
comfortable. I would n't have Vanderbilt's wealth if he'd give it to
"Nor I," said the landlord. "Give me just enough to be comfortable."
[The tourist couldn't but note that his ideas of enough to be
comfortable had changed a good deal since he had left his little farm
and gone into the mica business, and visited New York, and enlarged
and painted his tavern.] I should like to know what more Vanderbilt
gets out of his money than I get out of mine. I heard tell of a
young man who went to Vanderbilt to get employment. Vanderbilt
finally offered to give the young man, if he would work for him, just
what he got himself. The young man jumped at that--he'd be perfectly
satisfied with that pay. And Vanderbilt said that all he got was
what he could eat and wear, and offered to give the young man his
board and clothes."
"I declare" said the long-bearded man. "That's just it. Did you
ever see Vanderbilt's house? Neither did I, but I heard he had a
vault built in it five feet thick, solid. He put in it two hundred
millions of dollars, in gold. After a year, he opened it and put in
twelve millions more, and called that a poor year. They say his
house has gold shutters to the windows, so I've heard."
"I shouldn't wonder," said the landlord. "I heard he had one door in
his house cost forty thousand dollars. I don't know what it is made
of, unless it's made of gold."
Sunday was a hot and quiet day. The stores were closed and the two
churches also, this not being the Sunday for the itinerant preacher.
The jail also showed no sign of life, and when we asked about it, we
learned that it was empty, and had been for some time. No liquor is
sold in the place, nor within at least three miles of it. It is not
much use to try to run a jail without liquor.
In the course of the morning a couple of stout fellows arrived,
leading between them a young man whom they had arrested,--it didn't
appear on any warrant, but they wanted to get him committed and
locked up. The offense charged was carrying a pistol; the boy had
not used it against anybody, but he had flourished it about and
threatened, and the neighbors wouldn't stand that; they were bound to
enforce the law against carrying concealed weapons.
The captors were perfectly good-natured and on friendly enough terms
with the young man, who offered no resistance, and seemed not
unwilling to go to jail. But a practical difficulty arose. The jail
was locked up, the sheriff had gone away into the country with the
key, and no one could get in. It did not appear that there was any
provision for boarding the man in jail; no one in fact kept it. The
sheriff was sent for, but was not to be found, and the prisoner and
his captors loafed about the square all day, sitting on the fence,
rolling on the grass, all of them sustained by a simple trust that
the jail would be open some time.
Late in the afternoon we left them there, trying to get into the
jail. But we took a personal leaf out of this experience. Our
Virginia friends, solicitous for our safety in this wild country, had
urged us not to venture into it without arms--take at least, they
insisted, a revolver each. And now we had to congratulate ourselves
that we had not done so. If we had, we should doubtless on that
Sunday have been waiting, with the other law-breaker, for admission
into the Yancey County jail.
>From Burnsville the next point in our route was Asheville, the most
considerable city in western North Carolina, a resort of fashion, and
the capital of Buncombe County. It is distant some forty to forty-
five miles, too long a journey for one day over such roads. The
easier and common route is by the Ford of Big Ivy, eighteen miles,
the first stopping-place; and that was a long ride for the late
afternoon when we were in condition to move.
The landlord suggested that we take another route, stay that night on
Caney River with Big Tom Wilson, only eight miles from Burnsville,
cross Mount Mitchell, and go down the valley of the Swannanoa to
Asheville. He represented this route as shorter and infinitely more
picturesque. There was nothing worth seeing on the Big Ivy way.
With scarcely a moment's reflection and while the horses were
saddling, we decided to ride to Big Tom Wilson's. I could not at the
time understand, and I cannot now, why the Professor consented. I
should hardly dare yet confess to my fixed purpose to ascend Mount
Mitchell. It was equally fixed in the Professor's mind not to do it.
We had not discussed it much. But it is safe to say that if he had
one well-defined purpose on this trip, it was not to climb Mitchell.
"Not," as he put it,--
"Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,"
had suggested the possibility that he could do it.
But at the moment the easiest thing to do seemed to be to ride down
to Wilson's. When there we could turn across country to the Big Ivy,
although, said the landlord, you can ride over Mitchell just as easy
as anywhere--a lady rode plump over the peak of it last week, and
never got off her horse. You are not obliged to go; at Big Tom's,
you can go any way you please.
Besides, Big Tom himself weighed in the scale more than Mount
Mitchell, and not to see him was to miss one of the most
characteristic productions of the country, the typical backwoodsman,
hunter, guide. So we rode down Bolling Creek, through a pretty,
broken country, crossed the Caney River, and followed it up a few
miles to Wilson's plantation. There are little intervales along the
river, where hay is cut and corn grown, but the region is not much
cleared, and the stock browse about in the forest. Wilson is the
agent of the New York owner of a tract of some thirteen thousand
acres of forest, including the greater portion of Mount Mitchell, a
wilderness well stocked with bears and deer, and full of streams
abounding in trout. It is also the playground of the rattlesnake.
With all these attractions Big Tom's life is made lively in watching
game poachers, and endeavoring to keep out the foraging cattle of the
few neighbors. It is not that the cattle do much injury in the
forest, but the looking after them is made a pretense for roaming
around, and the roamers are liable to have to defend themselves
against the deer, or their curiosity is excited about the bears, and
lately they have taken to exploding powder in the streams to kill the
Big Tom's plantation has an openwork stable, an ill-put-together
frame house, with two rooms and a kitchen, and a veranda in front, a
loft, and a spring-house in the rear. Chickens and other animals
have free run of the premises. Some fish-rods hung in the porch, and
hunter's gear depended on hooks in the passage-way to the kitchen.
In one room were three beds, in the other two, only one in the
kitchen. On the porch was a loom, with a piece of cloth in process.
The establishment had the air of taking care of itself. Neither Big
Tom nor his wife was at home. Sunday seemed to be a visiting day,
and the travelers had met many parties on horseback. Mrs. Wilson
was away for a visit of a day or two. One of the sons, who was
lounging on the veranda, was at last induced to put up the horses; a
very old woman, who mumbled and glared at the visitors, was found in
the kitchen, but no intelligible response could be got out of her.
Presently a bright little girl, the housekeeper in charge, appeared.
She said that her paw had gone up to her brother's (her brother was
just married and lived up the river in the house where Mr. Murchison
stayed when he was here) to see if he could ketch a bear that had
been rootin' round in the corn-field the night before. She expected
him back by sundown--by dark anyway. 'Les he'd gone after the bear,
and then you could n't tell when he would come.
It appeared that Big Tom was a thriving man in the matter of family.
More boys appeared. Only one was married, but four had "got their
time." As night approached, and no Wilson, there was a good deal of
lively and loud conversation about the stock and the chores, in all
of which the girl took a leading and intelligent part, showing a
willingness to do her share, but not to have all the work put upon
her. It was time to go down the road and hunt up the cows; the mule
had disappeared and must be found before dark; a couple of steers
hadn't turned up since the day before yesterday, and in the midst of
the gentle contention as to whose business all this was, there was an
alarm of cattle in the corn-patch, and the girl started off on a run
in that direction. It was due to the executive ability of this small
girl, after the cows had been milked and the mule chased and the boys
properly stirred up, that we had supper. It was of the oilcloth,
iron fork, tin spoon, bacon, hot bread and honey variety,
distinguished, however, from all meals we had endured or enjoyed
before by the introduction of fried eggs (as the breakfast next
morning was by the presence of chicken), and it was served by the
active maid with right hearty good-will and genuine hospitable
While it was in progress, after nine o'clock, Big Tom arrived, and,
with a simple greeting, sat down and attacked the supper and began to
tell about the bear. There was not much to tell except that he
hadn't seen the bear, and that, judged by his tracks and his sloshing
around, he must be a big one. But a trap had been set for him, and
he judged it wouldn't be long before we had some bear meat. Big Tom
Wilson, as he is known all over this part of the State, would not
attract attention from his size. He is six feet and two inches tall,
very spare and muscular, with sandy hair, long gray beard, and honest
blue eyes. He has a reputation for great strength and endurance; a
man of native simplicity and mild manners. He had been rather
expecting us from what Mr. Murchison wrote; he wrote (his son had
read out the letter) that Big Tom was to take good care of us, and
anybody that Mr. Murchison sent could have the best he'd got.
Big Tom joined us in our room after supper. This apartment, with two
mighty feather-beds, was hung about with all manner of stuffy family
clothes, and had in one end a vast cavern for a fire. The floor was
uneven, and the hearthstones billowy. When the fire was lighted, the
effect of the bright light in the cavern and the heavy shadows in the
room was Rembrandtish. Big Tom sat with us before the fire and told
bear stories. Talk? Why, it was not the least effort. The stream
flowed on without a ripple. "Why, the old man," one of the sons
confided to us next morning, "can begin and talk right over Mount
Mitchell and all the way back, and never make a break." Though Big
Tom had waged a lifelong warfare with the bears, and taken the hide
off at least a hundred of them, I could not see that he had any
vindictive feeling towards the varmint, but simply an insatiable love
of killing him, and he regarded him in that half-humorous light in
which the bear always appears to those who study him. As to deer--he
couldn't tell how many of them he had slain. But Big Tom was a
gentleman: he never killed deer for mere sport. With rattlesnakes,
now, it was different. There was the skin of one hanging upon a tree
by the route we would take in the morning, a buster, he skinned him
yesterday. There was an entire absence, of braggadocio in Big Tom's
talk, but somehow, as he went on, his backwoods figure loomed larger
and larger in our imagination, and he seemed strangely familiar. At
length it came over us where we had met him before. It was in
Cooper's novels. He was the Leather-Stocking exactly. And yet he
was an original; for he assured us that he had never read the
Leather-Stocking Tales. What a figure, I was thinking, he must have
made in the late war! Such a shot, such a splendid physique, such
iron endurance! I almost dreaded to hear his tales of the havoc he
had wrought on the Union army. Yes, he was in the war, he was
sixteen months in the Confederate army, this Homeric man. In what
rank?" Oh, I was a fifer!"
But hunting and war did not by any means occupy the whole of Big
Tom's life. He was also engaged in "lawin'." He had a long-time
feud with a neighbor about a piece of land and alleged trespass, and
they'd been "lawin'" for years, with no definite result; but as a
topic of conversation it was as fully illustrative of frontier life
as the bear-fighting.
Long after we had all gone to bed, we heard Big Tom's continuous
voice, through the thin partition that separated us from the kitchen,
going on to his little boy about the bear; every circumstance of how
he tracked him, and what corner of the field he entered, and where he
went out, and his probable size and age, and the prospect of his
coming again; these were the details of real everyday life, and
worthy to be dwelt on by the hour. The boy was never tired of
pursuing them. And Big Tom was just a big boy, also, in his delight
in it all.
Perhaps it was the fascination of Big Tom, perhaps the representation
that we were already way off the Big Ivy route, and that it would, in
fact, save time to go over the mountain and we could ride all the
way, that made the Professor acquiesce, with no protest worth
noticing, in the preparations that went on, as by a natural
assumption, for going over Mitchell. At any rate, there was an early
breakfast, luncheon was put up, and by half-past seven we were riding
up the Caney,--a half-cloudy day,--Big Tom swinging along on foot
ahead, talking nineteen to the dozen. There was a delightful
freshness in the air, the dew-laden bushes, and the smell of the
forest. In half an hour we called at the hunting shanty of Mr.
Murchison, wrote our names on the wall, according to custom, and
regretted that we could not stay for a day in that retreat and try
the speckled trout. Making our way through the low growth and bushes
of the valley, we came into a fine open forest, watered by a noisy
brook, and after an hour's easy going reached the serious ascent.
>From Wilson's to the peak of Mitchell it is seven and a half miles;
we made it in five and a half hours. A bridle path was cut years
ago, but it has been entirely neglected. It is badly washed, it is
stony, muddy, and great trees have fallen across it which wholly
block the way for horses. At these places long detours were
necessary, on steep hillsides and through gullies, over treacherous
sink-holes in the rocks, through quaggy places, heaps of brush, and
rotten logs. Those who have ever attempted to get horses over such
ground will not wonder at the slow progress we made. Before we were
halfway up the ascent, we realized the folly of attempting it on
horseback; but then to go on seemed as easy as to go back. The way
was also exceedingly steep in places, and what with roots, and logs,
and slippery rocks and stones, it was a desperate climb for the
What a magnificent forest! Oaks, chestnuts, Poplars, hemlocks, the
cucumber (a species of magnolia, with a pinkish, cucumber-like cone),
and all sorts of northern and southern growths meeting here in
splendid array. And this gigantic forest, with little diminution in
size of trees, continued two thirds of the way up. We marked, as we
went on, the maple, the black walnut, the buckeye, the hickory, the
locust, and the guide pointed out in one section the largest cherry-
trees we had ever seen; splendid trunks, each worth a large sum if it
could be got to market. After the great trees were left behind, we
entered a garden of white birches, and then a plateau of swamp, thick
with raspberry bushes, and finally the ridges, densely crowded with
the funereal black balsam.
Halfway up, Big Tom showed us his favorite, the biggest tree he knew.
It was a poplar, or tulip. It stands more like a column than a tree,
rising high into the air, with scarcely a perceptible taper, perhaps
sixty, more likely a hundred, feet before it puts out a limb.
Its girth six feet from the ground is thirty-two feet! I think it
might be called Big Tom. It stood here, of course, a giant, when
Columbus sailed from Spain, and perhaps some sentimental traveler
will attach the name of Columbus to it.
In the woods there was not much sign of animal life, scarcely the
note of a bird, but we noticed as we rode along in the otherwise
primeval silence a loud and continuous humming overhead, almost like
the sound of the wind in pine tops. It was the humming of bees! The
upper branches were alive with these industrious toilers, and Big Tom
was always on the alert to discover and mark a bee-gum, which he
could visit afterwards. Honey hunting is one of his occupations.
Collecting spruce gum is another, and he was continually hacking off
with his hatchet knobs of the translucent secretion. How rich and
fragrant are these forests! The rhododendron was still in occasional
bloom' and flowers of brilliant hue gleamed here and there.
The struggle was more severe as we neared the summit, and the footing
worse for the horses. Occasionally it was safest to dismount and
lead them up slippery ascents; but this was also dangerous, for it
was difficult to keep them from treading on our heels, in their
frantic flounderings, in the steep, wet, narrow, brier-grown path.
At one uncommonly pokerish place, where the wet rock sloped into a
bog, the rider of Jack thought it prudent to dismount, but Big Tom
insisted that Jack would "make it" all right, only give him his head.
The rider gave him his head, and the next minute Jack's four heels
were in the air, and he came down on his side in a flash. The rider
fortunately extricated his leg without losing it, Jack scrambled out
with a broken shoe, and the two limped along. It was a wonder that
the horses' legs were not broken a dozen times.
As we approached the top, Big Tom pointed out the direction, a half
mile away, of a small pond, a little mountain tarn, overlooked by a
ledge of rock, where Professor Mitchell lost his life. Big Tom was
the guide that found his body. That day, as we sat on the summit, he
gave in great detail the story, the general outline of which is well
The first effort to measure the height of the Black Mountains was
made in 1835, by Professor Elisha Mitchell, professor of mathematics
and chemistry in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Mr. Mitchell was a native of Connecticut, born in Washington,
Litchfield County, in 1793; graduated at Yale, ordained a
Presbyterian minister, and was for a time state surveyor; and became
a professor at Chapel Hill in 1818. He first ascertained and
published the fact that the Black Mountains are the highest land east