Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More Tales of the Barbarians

When we left him yesterday, R. H. Graves was looking down from his lofty perch in Haywood County, aghast at "the less tutored natives" who were "little better than barbarians."

Graves’ 1901 article in the New York Times typified a particularly offensive style of Appalachian literature from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Often as not, magazines and newspapers wanted sensational anecdotes that caricatured mountain people.

Like many other writers of his time, Graves delivered the goods. He tells of Ike Ivester, who operated a moonshine still "near the Pigeon River, on a little brook about eight miles up the river from Springdale." According to Graves, a party of eight revenue officers attacked the distiller:

He fought them and when the fight was over all of the revenue force lay on the ground dead or dying. It is said that Ivester used no weapons save his fists. …

Later in life he settled down to an honest, law-abiding life. Last Winter he died, aged ninety-nine years and ten months. His family were sorely distressed, for they had hoped he would live to be a full hundred, that future generations of Ivesters might boast about it. A consultation was held at the bedside where the aged moonshiner had just breathed his last. The oldest son, Simeon by name, said, "Let’s we-uns keep the body."

"Why" asked the other sons and daughters.

"So we-uns can bury it arter it’s a hundert years olt."

Simeon’s suggestion was greeted with applause, figuratively speaking. As it was in cold weather, there was no trouble about preserving the corpse, which was simply placed in a box and shoved under the house. There it froze hard and was kept as solid as though it had been pickled after the fashion of an Egyptian mummy. Two months passed. Ike Ivester’s one-hundredth birthday came, and his funeral was celebrated with all the splendor due to such a patriarch….

All in all, Ike Ivester was put under ground in fine shape, frozen though he was, and all his sons and daughters now boast that they alone of all the good Pigeon Valley folk had a "pa" to live a whole century.

Whew! Talk about shoveling it! Let’s hear one more story in the same vein, from an unnamed correspondent for the Philadelphia Press. Writing from Cullowhee, NC on July 20, 1883, his story begins:

We left the railroad at Pigeon river and crossed the Balsam range in a wagon drawn by mules. On the front seat sat a mountaineer clad in homespun garments, and on his head a broad-brim, palmleaf hat. …

He pointed to a small log house we were passing and remarked that his present wife lived there before he married her.

"I’d a been a widower nigh onto forty years," he said, "so one day I rode over to the widder’s. I hedn’t seen her but onct, but I’d heerd she was a likely woman. When I got to the gate I stood there a right smart while, for I knowed if I went in I was a goner."

"She’d bin talkin’ of rentin’ a piece v’ land v’ mine, but I says to her, ‘I can’t rent ye the land, but if ye like, ye ken come an’ live on my farm.’ So she seemed mighty willin’, but I says, ‘ye’d better go over and look at the land and see how ye like it.’"

"I got my married darter to come up with her, an’ they stayed a week. Then she said she liked the land. I begun to get scared, so I went over an’asked one o’ the neighbors ‘bout her, an’ she says ‘There’s nothin’ agin her.’ "

"So I felt a heap better, an’ we got married."

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