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The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner Volume 4 by Charles Dudley Warner

Part 4 out of 4

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we should have felt still more uneasy. The house faced Bald
Mountain, 4000 feet high, a hill that had a very bad reputation some
years ago, and was visited by newspaper reporters. This is, in fact,
the famous Shaking Mountain. For a long time it had a habit of
trembling, as if in an earthquake spasm, but with a shivering motion
very different from that produced by an earthquake. The only good
that came of it was that it frightened all the "moonshiners," and
caused them to join the church. It is not reported what became of
the church afterwards. It is believed now that the trembling was
caused by the cracking of a great ledge on the mountain, which slowly
parted asunder. Bald Mountain is the scene of Mrs. Burnett's
delightful story of "Louisiana," and of the play of "Esmeralda."
A rock is pointed out toward the summit, which the beholder is asked
to see resembles a hut, and which is called "Esmeralda's Cottage."
But this attractive maiden has departed, and we did not discover any
woman in the region who remotely answers to her description.

In the morning we rode a mile and a half through the woods and
followed up a small stream to see the celebrated pools, one of which
the Judge said was two hundred feet deep, and another bottomless.
These pools, not round, but on one side circular excavations, some
twenty feet across, worn in the rock by pebbles, are very good
specimens, and perhaps remarkable specimens, of "pot-holes." They
are, however, regarded here as one of the wonders of the world. On
the way to them we saw beautiful wild trumpet-creepers in blossom,
festooning the trees.

The stream that originates in Hickory Nut Gap is the westernmost
branch of several forks of the Broad, which unite to the southeast in
Rutherford County, flow to Columbia, and reach the Atlantic through
the channel of the Santee. It is not to be confounded with the
French Broad, which originates among the hills of Transylvania, runs
northward past Asheville, and finds its way to the Tennessee through
the Warm Springs Gap in the Bald Mountains. As the French claimed
ownership of all the affluents of the Mississippi, this latter was
called the French Broad.

It was a great relief the next morning, on our return, to rise out of
the lifeless atmosphere of the Gap into the invigorating air at the
Widow Sherrill's, whose country-seat is three hundred feet higher
than Asheville. It was a day of heavy showers, and apparently of
leisure to the scattered population; at every store and mill was a
congregation of loafers, who had hitched their scrawny horses and
mules to the fences, and had the professional air of the idler and
gossip the world over. The vehicles met on the road were a variety
of the prairie schooner, long wagons with a top of hoops over which
is stretched a cotton cloth. The wagons are without seats, and the
canvas is too low to admit of sitting upright, if there were. The
occupants crawl in at either end, sit or lie on the bottom of the
wagon, and jolt along in shiftless uncomfortableness.

Riding down the French Broad was one of the original objects of our
journey. Travelers with the same intention may be warned that the
route on horseback is impracticable. The distance to the Warm
Springs is thirty-seven miles; to Marshall, more than halfway, the
road is clear, as it runs on the opposite side of the river from the
railway, and the valley is something more than river and rails. But
below Marshall the valley contracts, and the rails are laid a good
portion of the way in the old stage road. One can walk the track,
but to ride a horse over its sleepers and culverts and occasional
bridges, and dodge the trains, is neither safe nor agreeable. We
sent our horses round--the messenger taking the risk of leading them,
between trains, over the last six or eight miles,--and took the

The railway, after crossing a mile or two of meadows, hugs the river
all the way. The scenery is the reverse of bold. The hills are low,
monotonous in form, and the stream winds through them, with many a
pretty turn and "reach," with scarcely a ribbon of room to spare on
either side. The river is shallow, rapid, stony, muddy, full of
rocks, with an occasional little island covered with low bushes. The
rock seems to be a clay formation, rotten and colored. As we
approach Warm Springs the scenery becomes a little bolder, and we
emerge into the open space about the Springs through a narrower
defile, guarded by rocks that are really picturesque in color and
splintered decay, one of them being known, of course, as the "Lover's
Leap," a name common in every part of the modern or ancient world
where there is a settlement near a precipice, with always the same
legend attached to it.

There is a little village at Warm Springs, but the hotel--since
burned and rebuilt--(which may be briefly described as a palatial
shanty) stands by itself close to the river, which is here a deep,
rapid, turbid stream. A bridge once connected it with the road on
the opposite bank, but it was carried away three or four years ago,
and its ragged butments stand as a monument of procrastination, while
the stream is crossed by means of a flatboat and a cable. In front
of the hotel, on the slight slope to the river, is a meager grove of
locusts. The famous spring, close to-the stream, is marked only by a
rough box of wood and an iron pipe, and the water, which has a
temperature of about one hundred degrees, runs to a shabby bath-house
below, in which is a pool for bathing. The bath is very agreeable,
the tepid water being singularly soft and pleasant. It has a
slightly sulphurous taste. Its good effects are much certified. The
grounds, which might be very pretty with care, are ill-kept and
slatternly, strewn with debris, as if everything was left to the
easy-going nature of the servants. The main house is of brick, with
verandas and galleries all round, and a colonnade of thirteen huge
brick and stucco columns, in honor of the thirteen States,--a relic
of post-Revolutionary times, when the house was the resort of
Southern fashion and romance. These columns have stood through one
fire, and perhaps the recent one, which swept away the rest of the
structure. The house is extended in a long wooden edifice, with
galleries and outside stairs, the whole front being nearly seven
hundred feet long. In a rear building is a vast, barrack-like
dining-room, with a noble ball-room above, for dancing is the
important occupation of visitors.

The situation is very pretty, and the establishment has a
picturesqueness of its own. Even the ugly little brick structure
near the bath-house imposes upon one as Wade Hampton's cottage. No
doubt we liked the place better than if it had been smart, and
enjoyed the neglige condition, and the easy terms on which life is
taken there. There was a sense of abundance in the sight of fowls
tiptoeing about the verandas, and to meet a chicken in the parlor was
a sort of guarantee that we should meet him later on in the dining-
room. There was nothing incongruous in the presence of pigs,
turkeys, and chickens on the grounds; they went along with the good-
natured negro-service and the general hospitality; and we had a
mental rest in the thought that all the gates would have been off the
hinges, if there had been any gates. The guests were very well
treated indeed, and were put under no sort of restraint by
discipline. The long colonnade made an admirable promenade and
lounging-place and point of observation. It was interesting to watch
the groups under the locusts, to see the management of the ferry, the
mounting and dismounting of the riding-parties, and to study the
colors on the steep hill opposite, halfway up which was a neat
cottage and flower-garden. The type of people was very pleasantly
Southern. Colonels and politicians stand in groups and tell stories,
which are followed by explosions of laughter; retire occasionally
into the saloon, and come forth reminded of more stories, and all
lift their hats elaborately and suspend the narratives when a lady
goes past. A company of soldiers from Richmond had pitched its tents
near the hotel, and in the evening the ball-room was enlivened with
uniforms. Among the graceful dancers--and every one danced well, and
with spirit was pointed out the young widow of a son of Andrew
Johnson, whose pretty cottage overlooks the village. But the
Professor, to whom this information was communicated, doubted whether
here it was not a greater distinction to be the daughter of the owner
of this region than to be connected with a President of the United

A certain air of romance and tradition hangs about the French Broad
and the Warm Springs, which the visitor must possess himself of in
order to appreciate either. This was the great highway of trade and
travel. At certain seasons there was an almost continuous procession
of herds of cattle and sheep passing to the Eastern markets, and of
trains of big wagons wending their way to the inviting lands watered
by the Tennessee. Here came in the summer-time the Southern planters
in coach and four, with a great retinue of household servants, and
kept up for months that unique social life, a mixture of courtly
ceremony and entire freedom, the civilization which had the drawing-
room at one end and the negro-quarters at the other,--which has
passed away. It was a continuation into our own restless era of the
manners and the literature of George the Third, with the accompanying
humor and happy-go-lucky decadence of the negro slaves. On our way
down we saw on the river-bank, under the trees, the old hostelry,
Alexander's, still in decay,--an attractive tavern, that was formerly
one of the notable stopping-places on the river. Master, and fine
lady, and obsequious, larking darky, and lumbering coach, and throng
of pompous and gay life, have all disappeared. There was no room in
this valley for the old institutions and for the iron track.

"When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
We, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise."

This perverted use of noble verse was all the response the Friend got
in his attempt to drop into the sentimental vein over the past of the
French Broad.

The reader must not think there is no enterprise in this sedative and
idle resort. The conceited Yankee has to learn that it is not he
alone who can be accused of the thrift of craft. There is at the
Warm Springs a thriving mill for crushing and pulverizing barites,
known vulgarly as heavy-spar. It is the weight of this heaviest of
minerals, and not its lovely crystals, that gives it value. The rock
is crushed, washed, sorted out by hand, to remove the foreign
substances, then ground and subjected to acids, and at the end of the
process it is as white and fine as the best bolted flour. This heavy
adulterant is shipped to the North in large quantities,--the manager
said he had recently an order for a hundred thousand dollars' worth
of it. What is the use of this powder? Well, it is of use to the
dealer who sells white lead for paint, to increase the weight of the
lead, and it is the belief hereabouts that it is mixed with powdered
sugar. The industry is profitable to those engaged in it.

It was impossible to get much information about our route into
Tennessee, except that we should go by Paint Rock, and cross Paint
Mountain. Late one morning,--a late start is inevitable here,--
accompanied by a cavalcade, we crossed the river by the rope ferry,
and trotted down the pretty road, elevated above the stream and tree-
shaded, offering always charming glimpses of swift water and
overhanging foliage (the railway obligingly taking the other side of
the river), to Paint Rock,--six miles. This Paint Rock is a naked
precipice by the roadside, perhaps sixty feet high, which has a large
local reputation. It is said that its face shows painting done by
the Indians, and hieroglyphics which nobody can read. On this bold,
crumbling cliff, innumerable visitors have written their names. We
stared at it a good while to discover the paint and hieroglyphics,
but could see nothing except iron stains. Round the corner is a
farmhouse and place of call for visitors, a neat cottage, with a
display of shells and minerals and flower-pots; and here we turned
north crossed the little stream called Paint River, the only clear
water we had seen in a month, passed into the State of Tennessee, and
by a gentle ascent climbed Paint Mountain. The open forest road,
with the murmur of the stream below, was delightfully exhilarating,
and as we rose the prospect opened,--the lovely valley below, Bald
Mountains behind us, and the Butt Mountains rising as we came over
the ridge.

Nobody on the way, none of the frowzy women or unintelligent men,
knew anything of the route, or could give us any information of the
country beyond. But as we descended in Tennessee the country and the
farms decidedly improved,--apple-trees and a grapevine now and then.

A ride of eight miles brought us to Waddle's, hungry and disposed to
receive hospitality. We passed by an old farm building to a new two-
storied, gayly painted house on a hill. We were deceived by
appearances. The new house, with a new couple in it, had nothing to
offer us except some buttermilk. Why should anybody be obliged to
feed roving strangers? As to our horses, the young woman with a baby
in her arms declared,

"We've got nothing for stock but roughness; perhaps you can get
something at the other house."

"Roughness," we found out at the other house, meant hay in this
region. We procured for the horses a light meal of green oats, and
for our own dinner we drank at the brook and the Professor produced a
few sonnets. On this sustaining repast we fared on nearly twelve
miles farther, through a rolling, good farming country, offering
little for comment, in search of a night's lodging with one of the
brothers Snap. But one brother declined our company on the plea that
his wife was sick, and the other because his wife lived in
Greenville, and we found ourselves as dusk came on without shelter in
a tavernless land. Between the two refusals we enjoyed the most
picturesque bit of scenery of the day, at the crossing of Camp Creek,
a swift little stream, that swirled round under the ledge of bold
rocks before the ford. This we learned was a favorite camp-meeting
ground. Mary was calling the cattle home at the farm of the second
Snap. It was a very peaceful scene of rural life, and we were
inclined to tarry, but Mary, instead of calling us home with the
cattle, advised us to ride on to Alexander's before it got dark.

It is proper to say that at Alexander's we began to see what this
pleasant and fruitful country might be, and will be, with thrift and
intelligent farming. Mr. Alexander is a well-to-do farmer, with
plenty of cattle and good barns (always an evidence of prosperity),
who owes his success to industry and an open mind to new ideas. He
was a Unionist during the war, and is a Democrat now, though his
county (Greene) has been Republican. We had been riding all the
afternoon through good land, and encountering a better class of
farmers. Peach-trees abounded (though this was an off year for
fruit), and apples and grapes throve. It is a land of honey and of
milk. The persimmon flourishes; and, sign of abundance generally, we
believe, great flocks of turkey-buzzards--majestic floaters in the
high air--hovered about. This country was ravaged during the war by
Unionists and Confederates alternately, the impartial patriots as
they passed scooping in corn, bacon, and good horses, leaving the
farmers little to live on. Mr. Alexander's farm cost him forty
dollars an acre, and yields good crops of wheat and maize. This was
the first house on our journey where at breakfast we had grace before
meat, though there had been many tables that needed it more. From
the door the noble range of the Big Bald is in sight and not distant;
and our host said he had a shanty on it, to which he was accustomed
to go with his family for a month or six weeks in the summer and
enjoy a real primitive woods life.

Refreshed by this little touch of civilization, and with horses well
fed, we rode on next morning towards Jonesboro, over a rolling,
rather unpicturesque country, but ennobled by the Big Bald and Butt
ranges, which we had on our right all day. At noon we crossed the
Nollechucky River at a ford where the water was up to the saddle
girth, broad, rapid, muddy, and with a treacherous stony bottom, and
came to the little hamlet of Boylesville, with a flour-mill, and a
hospitable old-fashioned house, where we found shelter from the heat
of the hot day, and where the daughters of the house, especially one
pretty girl in a short skirt and jaunty cap, contradicted the
currently received notion that this world is a weary pilgrimage. The
big parlor, with its photographs and stereoscope, and bits of shell
and mineral, a piano and a melodeon, and a coveted old sideboard of
mahogany, recalled rural New England. Perhaps these refinements are
due to the Washington College (a school for both sexes), which is
near. We noted at the tables in this region a singular use of the
word fruit. When we were asked, Will you have some of the fruit?
and said Yes, we always got applesauce.

Ten miles more in the late afternoon brought us to Jonesboro, the
oldest town in the State, a pretty place, with a flavor of antiquity,
set picturesquely on hills, with the great mountains in sight.
People from further South find this an agreeable summering place, and
a fair hotel, with odd galleries in front and rear, did not want
company. The Warren Institute for negroes has been flourishing here
ever since the war.

A ride of twenty miles next day carried us to Union. Before noon we
forded the Watauga, a stream not so large as the Nollechucky, and
were entertained at the big brick house of Mr. Devault, a prosperous
and hospitable farmer. This is a rich country. We had met in the
morning wagon-loads of watermelons and muskmelons, on the way to
Jonesboro, and Mr. Devault set abundance of these refreshing fruits
before us as we lounged on the porch before dinner.

It was here that we made the acquaintance of a colored woman, a
withered, bent old pensioner of the house, whose industry (she
excelled any modern patent apple-parer) was unabated, although she
was by her own confession (a woman, we believe, never owns her age
till she has passed this point) and the testimony of others a hundred
years old. But age had not impaired the brightness of her eyes, nor
the limberness of her tongue, nor her shrewd good sense. She talked
freely about the want of decency and morality in the young colored
folks of the present day. It was n't so when she was a girl. Long,
long time ago, she and her husband had been sold at sheriff's sale
and separated, and she never had another husband. Not that she
blamed her master so much he could n't help it; he got in debt. And
she expounded her philosophy about the rich, and the danger they are
in. The great trouble is that when a person is rich, he can borrow
money so easy, and he keeps drawin' it out of the bank and pilin' up
the debt, like rails on top of one another, till it needs a ladder to
get on to the pile, and then it all comes down in a heap, and the man
has to begin on the bottom rail again. If she'd to live her life
over again, she'd lay up money; never cared much about it till now.
The thrifty, shrewd old woman still walked about a good deal, and
kept her eye on the neighborhood. Going out that morning she had
seen some fence up the road that needed mending, and she told Mr.
Devault that she didn't like such shiftlessness; she didn't know as
white folks was much better than colored folks. Slavery? Yes,
slavery was pretty bad--she had seen five hundred niggers in
handcuffs, all together in a field, sold to be sent South.

About six miles from here is a beech grove of historical interest,
worth a visit if we could have spared the time. In it is the large
beech (six and a half feet around six feet from the ground) on which
Daniel Boone shot a bear, when he was a rover in this region. He
himself cut an inscription on the tree recording his prowess, and it
is still distinctly legible:


This tree is a place of pilgrimage, and names of people from all
parts of the country are cut on it, until there is scarcely room for
any more records of such devotion. The grove is ancient looking, the
trees are gnarled and moss-grown. Hundreds of people go there, and
the trees are carved all over with their immortal names.

A pleasant ride over a rich rolling country, with an occasional strip
of forest, brought us to Union in the evening, with no other
adventure than the meeting of a steam threshing-machine in the road,
with steam up, clattering along. The devil himself could not invent
any machine calculated to act on the nerves of a horse like this.
Jack took one look and then dashed into the woods, scraping off his
rider's hat but did not succeed in getting rid of his burden or
knocking down any trees.

Union, on the railway, is the forlornest of little villages, with
some three hundred inhabitants and a forlorn hotel, kept by an ex-
stage-driver. The village, which lies on the Holston, has no
drinking-water in it nor enterprise enough to bring it in; not a well
nor a spring in its limits; and for drinking-water everybody crosses
the river to a spring on the other side. A considerable part of the
labor of the town is fetching water over the bridge. On a hill
overlooking the village is a big, pretentious brick house, with a
tower, the furniture of which is an object of wonder to those who
have seen it. It belonged to the late Mrs. Stover, daughter of
Andrew Johnson. The whole family of the ex-President have departed
this world, but his memory is still green in this region, where he
was almost worshiped--so the people say in speaking of him.

Forlorn as was the hotel at Union, the landlord's daughters were
beginning to draw the lines in rural refinement. One of them had
been at school in Abingdon. Another, a mature young lady of fifteen,
who waited on the table, in the leisure after supper asked the Friend
for a light for her cigarette, which she had deftly rolled.

"Why do you smoke?"

"So as I shan't get into the habit of dipping. Do you think dipping
is nice?"

The traveler was compelled to say that he did not, though he had seen
a good deal of it wherever he had been.

"All the girls dips round here. But me and my sisters rather smoke
than get in a habit of dipping."

To the observation that Union seemed to be a dull place :

"Well, there's gay times here in the winter--dancing. Like to dance?
Well, I should say! Last winter I went over to Blountsville to a
dance in the court-house; there was a trial between Union and
Blountsville for the best dancing. You bet I brought back the cake
and the blue ribbon."

The country was becoming too sophisticated, and the travelers
hastened to the end of their journey. The next morning Bristol, at
first over a hilly country with magnificent oak-trees,--happily not
girdled, as these stately monarchs were often seen along the roads in
North Carolina,--and then up Beaver Creek, a turbid stream, turning
some mills. When a closed woolen factory was pointed out to the
Professor (who was still traveling for Reform), as the result of the
agitation in Congress, he said, Yes, the effect of agitation was
evident in all the decayed dams and ancient abandoned mills we had
seen in the past month.

Bristol is mainly one long street, with some good stores, but
generally shabby, and on this hot morning sleepy. One side of the
street is in Tennessee, the other in Virginia. How handy for
fighting this would have been in the war, if Tennessee had gone out
and Virginia stayed in. At the hotel--may a kind Providence wake it
up to its responsibilities--we had the pleasure of reading one of
those facetious handbills which the great railway companies of the
West scatter about, the serious humor of which is so pleasing to our
English friends. This one was issued by the accredited agents of the
Ohio and Mississippi Railway, and dated April 1, 1984. One sentence
will suffice:

"Allow us to thank our old traveling friends for the many favors in
our line, and if you are going on your bridal trip, or to see your
girl out West, drop in at the general office of the Ohio and
Mississippi Railway and we will fix you up in Queen Anne style.
Passengers for Dakota, Montana, or the Northwest will have an
overcoat and sealskin cap thrown in with all tickets sold on or after
the above date."

The great republic cannot yet take itself seriously. Let us hope the
humors of it will last another generation. Meditating on this, we
hailed at sundown the spires of Abingdon, and regretted the end of a
journey that seems to have been undertaken for no purpose.

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