From Good Housekeeping magazine, March 1894:
Louise Coffin Jones writes very interestingly of " Housekeeping in the Mountains," the quiet humor of her style enhancing the charm of the narrative. The particular " mountains " in which the house keeping was done are located in the extreme south western part of North Carolina, where that state, South Carolina and Georgia corner — a region of wild and picturesque beauty, but with a population full of peculiar traits.
HOUSEKEEPING IN THE MOUNTAINS. A Graphic Description of an Enjoyable Summer Outing.
In the extreme southwestern part of North Carolina, where that state and South Carolina and Georgia corner, there is a region of wild and picturesque beauty. Mountains cluster thickly, many of them over six thousand feet high, densely wooded to their summits with magnificent forests of oak, pine, hemlock and chestnut; down the narrow glens, dark with the shade of rhododendron and laurel, rush clear, bright streams, fed by gushing springs, and everywhere, in their season, blossom the most beautiful and varied wild flowers. Game, such as bear and deer, is plentiful, and the cold streams abound with speckled trout. It would be a paradise alike for sportsmen and health seekers, but it is comparatively unknown to tourists. Railroads have never penetrated these mountain fastnesses, and there are few wagon roads.
The mountaineers live in their remote and widely separated cabins, as they have done for several generations past, most of them unable to read or write, and uninfluenced by any contact with the outer world, but independent and sufficient unto themselves. They hunt and fish, they cultivate small farms, and make their corn into whiskey without any deference to the laws of internal revenue. There is no aristocracy to domineer over them, and their self-respect has never been crushed. Many of them come of good Scotch and Huguenot stock, and possess great natural intelligence; others are shiftless and unreliable, but they form the exceptions to the general rule of hard-working honesty.
On a level plateau, surrounded on all sides by mountains, a little village has sprung up. It was started by an enterprising Northern man who regained his health here, breathing the balsam-laden air; he brought his family and established a home, then induced a number of other people to come and settle. It has a post office, a hotel, a schoolhouse and church, several stores, and a number of comfortable private dwellings, but the primeval forest still surrounds the spot. A few steps away from the main street one is lost in a laurel jungle, and a half-hour's walk takes one to the top of a neighboring summit, whence he can behold a vast stretch of mountains of all shades of purple, blue and amethyst, fading into enchanting softness in the distance.
Three of us— women who had pitched camp together many times before in life's march — attracted to this spot by its fine scenery, its healthfulness and its cheapness, went there to spend the summer. Our first move was to rent a couple of rooms; our next to gather from various sources a few necessary house- hold traps. These could not all be obtained at once, and pending the arrival of the cook stove and some chairs, we cooked by the fireplace and sat on our trunks.
When the cook stove arrived — as it did one rainy day, in an ox cart, together with a couple of turkeys and half a dozen hens which we had engaged — there proved to be not enough pipe to reach through the roof; and when, after several days' delay, that deficiency was remedied, the man who had promised to haul us some wood failed to come. After repeated personal interviews, he finally brought us a load of young laurel and rhododendron, about as thick through as a quart cup and solid as mahogany. He promised to send some one to chop it up for us; but for three days we sighed in vain for his coming, our refrain being that of Mariana in the Moated Grange : "'He cometh not,' she said." On the fourth day we borrowed an ax — a dull one it proved to be, and light — and with many ill-aimed strokes, half of which hit the ground, and much abrasion of the cuticle inside our hands, we chopped enough wood to cook a meal or two.
On the fifth day two natives appeared, who said they had been sent to chop our wood. They surveyed the pile for awhile in silence ; but the listless, round-shouldered droop of their homespun coats augured ill for any vigorous exertion. The aspect of the woodpile evidently discouraged them; they went home, probably to recruit their energy, and returned in a few hours to do the work.
Our experience with a washerwoman was much the same. We engaged a black-browed woman of Portuguese descent, who lived in a cabin in the woods, and who could have played the part of one of the weird sisters in Macbeth without any making up. She promised to come for the clothes bright and early Monday morning. When Thursday came, she had not yet arrived; and borrowing a tub, a high wooden bench, and a round black kettle, we went down to the spring and washed the clothes ourselves, mountaineer fashion, while the pink and white laurel blossoms fell in showers upon our heads, and drifted away on the current of the spring branch.
It has been mentioned that we had some turkeys and chickens. As there was no coop to keep them in, we set to work to make one, and with a hammer, some nails, and a few long, wide boards, succeeded in making a coop big enough for a cassowary. But the hens soon slipped out through the cracks, and the next night roosted in the branches of a chestnut, whence they were brought, squawking and protesting, by a small boy whom we induced to climb for them.
The cook stove, which we had obtained after so much delay, was not a portly black one, shining with polish, and possessing a reservoir and tin oven. It was a small one, called a step stove, because the back half was six inches higher than the front; had none of the modern improvements, and had long ago lost its original blackness and assumed a rusty, burned-out hue. So antiquated was its appearance that it might have been in use when Jefferson was president. It was so low that we had to prostrate ourselves before it to see into the oven door; when we put in wood we literally laid our heads in the dust, after the manner of an oriental salaam.
We fancied that the cooking which was done by the fireplace in our front room tasted best ; certainly nothing in the way of modern conveniences could improve the salt-rising bread, the chicken potpies and huge peach pies which were taken from the old- fashioned oven on the hearth, heated by coals beneath and on the lid. The hearth was composed of large, flat stones; the fireplace and chimney, likewise of natural stone, yawned wide enough to take in the largest back log; the stately brass andirons had come down from a former generation.
Our bedsteads were of native wood, and made in the village. One was varnished and savored of luxury; the other not. Our beds were striped ticks filled with fresh straw, and as we dropped into sound, refreshing slumber as soon as we retired, we had no regrets that they were not woven wire or curled hair.
Our chairs were hand-made, and made to order, which proved them to be solid and genuine — the qualities so much sought in modern furniture — but we had not enough of them without taking the high- backed, splint-bottomed rocking-chair to the table every meal. Our table harmonized with the rest of the furniture: it had two long, straight boards on top, and four legs which had never come in contact with a turning lathe.
The front room served for both parlor and bedroom ; the back one for kitchen and dining room. The walls and ceilings were of rough, unplaned boards, just as they left the sawmill. At first it seemed like coming into a barn, but we soon covered the walls with photographs, illustrations from papers, pressed ferns and clusters of the bright, scarlet berries of the mountain ash, and somewhat redeemed their bareness. No ingenuity, however, could give us more space, and we had to keep the sidesaddle under the bed.
The floors were bare, and the constant clack of our heeled shoes on the oak boards soon became a familiar accompaniment to the performance of house hold duties. The windows were for some time curtainless; but they framed views of distant mountains and nearer ridges, clothed with majestic hemlocks, chestnuts, maples and oaks, which we were loath to shut from sight, and at night a host of big, bright stars were visible. Our supply of table ware was none too ample, all the dishes we owned generally being called into use at each meal; our cutlery in particular was limited, the knives being four in number, and following an Arkansas precedent we named them respectively " big butch, little butch, granny's knife, and old case."
Pumps and wells were unknown, the supply of water always being obtained from springs. Our spring was several rods away from the house, at the foot of a hill. It issued from the hillside in a strong, clear stream, deliciously cold, and ran away through an almost impenetrable thicket of laurel and rhododendron, to join a stream whose constant murmur and gurgle we heard in the adjacent forest.
It was as if we had gone back several generations — to the days of our great-grandmothers — when we began such primitive housekeeping. With such an environment we ought to have busied ourselves from morning till night hackling or combing flax, carding or spinning wool, weaving at the loom, or attending to the other duties incident upon a simple, patriarchal mode of existence. But our lives did not harmonize with our surroundings. We swung in our hammocks under the shade of pine trees, we rambled in the woods or climbed mountains, with not even the excuse of going to pick huckleberries, and we took frequent horseback rides toward every point of the compass. We raised nothing, we manufactured nothing, we had nothing to barter; we simply paid cash for all our supplies — a proceeding which our great-grand mothers would have viewed with horror.
Mountain trout, speckled red and yellow, were brought to our door on strings by the boys who had caught them, wading in the cold streams, and we bought them for a cent apiece. Grizzled men, who had been hunting in the forest, brought wild game which they offered at prices that attested their remoteness from markets. Mountaineer women, in sunbonnets and short-waisted dresses of calico or domestic gingham, presented themselves at our door with buckets of blackberries, dewberries or huckleberries, which they offered for five cents a quart ; or with " pokes " (as small bags are called) full of apples, peaches, roasting ears, cabbages or squashes, which they had raised in their own gardens or which had been brought in bullock carts from "down Georgia way." They addressed us as " you-uns " or " you- alls," and said " I wish you well " when they went away, instead of "good-by." Their gait was a quick walk, up hill and down, and they lifted their feet high as if accustomed to the roots, stones and other obstructions of mountain trails.
We obtained milk and butter through the same purveyors. These articles we kept, together with meat and berries, in a little whitewashed log house down by the spring; they were preserved cool and fresh and we never felt the need of ice. Groceries were obtained from a store in the village, which was at once post office, grocery, dry goods, hardware and general notion store. The mail was brought to this emporium once a day on horseback from the nearest railroad town in South Carolina, thirty miles away.
It may be asked what we gained in return for all our privations and inconveniences. The answer will be health, fun, enjoyment of many kinds. We took long walks through the forests, admiring the stately ranks of trees that towered above us, untouched by ax or fire, and gathered our arms full of rhododendron, laurel and azalea flowers. The tinkle of bells on the necks of horses grazing far up on the mountain range came faintly to our ears, together with the distant low of cattle, nipping the fragrant under growth in the distant woods. Sometimes when climbing the dim paths leading to these wild pastures we would startle, and be startled by, the thin, shy, high- shouldered and slab-sided hogs which eat the mast and nuts, and know no master's crib. Above, in the aisles of verdure, we would hear the thrushes and the veeries singing, and catch glimpses of many a bird we had never seen outside the plates of Wilson's ornithology.
Or, mounted on horseback, we would canter off along the mountain roads till we came to some wonderful view that embraced hundreds of miles : the domes of South Carolina, the summits of Georgia, culminating in Rabun Peak, and all the ranges that lie so thickly in the southwestern corner of North Carolina, while along the western horizon stretched the Great Smoky mountains of Tennessee, faint and dim as a far-off belt of cloud. The grandeur of its scenery has gained for this region the name of "The Land of the Sky." There are points from which eighty peaks over six thousand feet high can be seen at once.
At other times we would penetrate the trackless wilderness till we reached the waterfalls whose roar filled the hollow of the encircling hills, and here, stepping from rock to rock in the cascades, gather rare ferns and curious lichens, and note where mush rooms varying in size from a silver dollar to a saucer, lifted their pleated parasols from the rich, damp soil — buff, salmon, pink, and a rich orange with a deep crimson center. Sometimes we descended a thousand feet into a sheltered cove where there were springs whose waters possessed medicinal virtues, and in whose milder air fruits ripened which would not grow on the breezy heights.
The life of the mountaineers was always open to our study, and was the source of endless entertainment. It was absorbingly interesting to watch the development of human nature under conditions so widely different from those with which we were familiar; and to observe that while an atmosphere of culture could not always produce a gentleman, neither could rude surroundings make a boor, but that the gentle instinct or the brutal one is inherent.
Wherever we went the music of the mountain streams was never long out of our hearing. Pure and cold and sparkling they crossed our path or ran along the side of the road, then went singing on their way down the mountain side under a roof of laurel branches which sheltered them from the sun. It may have been the water we drank, it may have been the air we breathed, it may have been some subtler essence distilled in Nature's laboratory, only to be had far from cities and their artificial life ; certain it is that we all gained in health and strength during our summer in the mountains, and look back upon our primitive housekeeping there as an experience in which enjoyment outweighed inconvenience.
— Louise Coffin Jones.