Author Archives: pmss_editor

About pmss_editor

The editor, Helen Wykle, was born at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Southeastern Kentucky. She graduated from Berea College in 1964 with a B.A. in Art. She studied painting at Ohio University and art history at Tulane University. Both experiences led to the completion of an M.A. in Art History at San Jose State University in 1987. She taught Art and Art History for the University of KY at Maysville, KY, Gavilan College, and San Diego City College in California. Her five-year employment at UC San Diego in the Library Visual Resources and Main Reference Services departments led to a Master's Degree in Library and Information Science from Berkeley in 1987 and a left turn as a Sr. Museum Scientist for the UC Irvine School of the Arts (1987-1992). In 1992 she returned with her family to Appalachia and began a second career first as faculty at Warren Wilson College Pew Library and the Art department and later in 1995 as faculty at UNC Asheville for another full career in bibliographic instruction and as Director of Special Collections and University Archives. Retirement in 2013 brought her back to Pine Mountain Settlement School as a member of the Board of Trustees where she and her cousin, Ann Angel Eberhard, initiated the development and digitization of the Archive of the Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections.

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Olive Dame Campbell’s 1922 Letter on Danish Folk School Training

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY
Olive Dame Campbell
Marguerite Butler
Danish Folk School Training

N.F.S. Grundtvig
Danish Folk Schools
Lutheran Minister, Philosopher, Writer, Theologian,  Historian, Politician

Christian Albrecht Jensen
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons” ”

TAGS: Olive Dame Campbell, Marguerite Butler, Georg Bidstrup, Denmark, Danish Folk Schools, folk schools, Progressive education, ASKOV School, Denmark, Daisy Gertrude Dame, agricultural schools,

OLIVE DAME CAMPBELL’S 1922 Letter on Danish Folk School Training   (3 pages)


The early years of the twentieth -century were marked by a heightened interest in new educational models and particularly those that could remediate rural education in remote sections of the United States and also in other countries. The exploration of the Danish Folk School model was of particular interest to several of the earliest founders of rural residential schools in the Appalachians. The Danish Folk School model is one such program established in the 1830’s by its founder N.F.S Grundvig.  Identified as a theologian, writer, philosopher, historian, educationist and politician, Grundvig had ample experience that was turned toward reform in educational practice. Danish Folk Schools still persist in some 70 schools throughout Denmark , testimony to their solid contribution to education for high school populations in Denmark and other countries.


SETTLEMENT INSTITUTIONS OF APPALACHIA Inc. Brochure 1970 Serving in Appalachia

John C. Campbell Folk School. SIA_brochure_005

The following letter located within the archive of Pine Mountain Settlement School was sent by Olive Dame Campbell to friends and colleagues, including Katherine Pettit at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County, Kentucky. It concerns Campbell’s exploratory time spent in Denmark learning about the Danish Folk School educational model and exposes the foundational differences in the Settlement School and the Danish Folk School models. It sheds light on Olive Dame Campbell’s earlier trip to Denmark with her husband, John C. Campbell,  whose interest in the foundations of the Danish models first led them to Scandinavia.

The two were enchanted by what they learned of the Danish Folkehøjskole (Folk School) on their trip to investigate the model schools.  Following their trip to Denmark, Olive and her husband set their sights on a similar school that would model values they believed were compatible with educational needs in the Central and Southern Appalachians. The institution that grew out of their enchantment, came to be called the  John C. Campbell Folk School  in memory of Olive Dame’s husband who died suddenly before the couple could bring their dream to fruition.

When John C. Campbell died suddenly in 1919, the dream of a Folk School in rural Appalachia was put on hold for several years, but not forgotten by Olive Dame. The Danish Folk School model never left Olive Dame’s thoughts when four years later she sought out her sister Daisy Dame  and Pine Mountain Settlement School’s  Marguerite Butler to travel with her to Denmark to again give a close second look at the details of the unique Danish educational plan. This time Olive Dame and her companions would fully engage the Folk-School program by actively participating in the programming.   On this second trip, her sister Daisy Dame came along as an advisor and as a teacher with first-hand knowledge of rural schools in Eastern Kentucky where she taught for a brief time.



Marguerite Butler. [X_099_workers_2511_mod.jpg]

Marguerite Butler, a worker at Pine Mountain Settlement School, had caught the attention Olive Dame, based, no doubt, on the recommendations of Katherine Pettit  the founder of the Pine Mountain Settlement. Marguerite was invited to come along on the exploratory adventure as she had proved herself in her early years at Pine Mountain helping the founder, Katherine Pettit establish the small Settlement at Line Fork, near the School. Also, she was an enthusiastic follower of the new educational and vocational models of education that were being tried following the Settlement Movement educational enthusiasm. Her interest and enthusiasm for the Settlement Movement seems to have been foundational to her interest in the Danish Folk School model.  Certainly, her imagination had been captured and she left Pine Mountain Settlement to join Olive Dame and her sister in their Danish quest.

Olive Dame had met Katherine Pettit on a trip to Eastern Kentucky when she and her husband. John C. Campbell, were travelling  throughout the Central Appalachian in 1908-1909. Katherine Pettit was at that time working with May Stone to establish a rural settlement at Hindman, in Knott County, KY. First called W.C.T.U School, Hindman Settlement School became the first of a series of rural settlement schools throughout Eastern Kentucky.  By 1913 Katherine had put her sights on  founding another rural settlement school in near-by Harlan County. Olive Dame Campbell kept up a correspondence with Pettit and with Marguerite and their work at the new Pine Mountain Settlement School and Olive Dame found kindred spirits in both early Pine Mountain Settlement School educators.

Marguerite Butler, a talented Vassar graduate who had been recruited by Pettit, had demonstrated hands-on skills that were aligned with both the Settlement models and those of the Danish Folk Schools. Further, Marguerite was a remarkable and industrious young girl.  She had been charged by Pettit to help establish the new satellite settlement at Line Fork and had received praise from all observation points — administration, community, and region.  She was a model of Olive Dame’s vision of activism and the Danish model’s very hands-on approach. Soon, Olive Dame charmed Marguerite away from the Kentucky school by the offer of the trip to study the Danish Folk School and later as a co-founder at Brasstown.


On their return to the Sates, Marguerite had become a firm believer in the Folk School model — with touches of the earlier Settlement School ethos. She became Olive Dame Campbell’s primary assistant in the creation of the new Brasstown Folk School after convincing the local community of the value of a new  high school at Brasstown that would serve a very dispersed population. John C, Campbell Folk School was born in the heart, mind, and hard work of Olive Dame and Marguerite.  They both had skills at community building  and these were well demonstrated  when the community of Brasstown, some 200 strong, endorsed the idea of a Folk School for their small community and building began.

The establishment of the  Danish educational model at  John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina joined the best of Pine Mountain’s lessons to the lessons learned in Denmark, as described in the following letter. Marguerite and Olive Dame Campbell were to spend the remainder of their lives at the school named for Olive Dame’s husband, John C. Campbell and Marguerite soon married the Danish farmer recruited from Denmark, Bjorn Bidstrup, and she became Marguerite Butler Bidstrup.

The relationship between the two rural schools, one a Settlement School and one a Folk School, remained fixed at the new Brasstown location. Some Pine Mountain staff, such as Leon Deschamp, a former worker at Pine Mountain and his wife May Ritchie Deschamp, are two notable transplants to the North Carolina Folk School. A transcription of an oral history by Marguerite Butler Bidstrup gives more depth to these interesting and important transitions.

Today John C. Campbell continues it valuable work with the rural community in the surrounding Brasstown area but has broadened it scope to include a large Arts and Crafts program that has gained National and International recognition and participation.

Another journey influenced by the Danish Folk School model may be found in the person of Myles Horton, who also took the journey to Denmark to study the ways of the Danish Folk School model.  He came back to found the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee …. but that is another  story that needs a telling and it is a good one.

The success of the Danish Folk School model at the  John C. Campbell Folk School at Brasstown, North Carolina.   may still be found in the basic tenets spelled out in the following letter by Olive Dame Campbell to Friends.


October 1922

TRANSCRIPT [shared copy in PMSS collections — not yet scanned]

The following form letter has been received from Mrs. Campbell. She asked if I would have copies made and one sent to you. I do this with great pleasure.  F. J. Clark

Copenhagen, October 6, 1922

My Dear Friends:

Having been here now for over six weeks I think it is perhaps time for me to register some impressions. I am new at the machine and shall doubtless turn out a bad sheet. Moreover my thoughts do not flow as rapidly or as logically this way  as they would at the end of a pen. Such as they are, however, I can share them with more of you, and you will find them much easier to read.

You may know. that there are three of us here. Marguerite Butler of the Pine Mountain Settlement School. My sister Daisy Dame who has been a teacher. for many years (one of which she spent. getting a kindergarten started in a Kentucky Mountain County), and myself.  I wish greatly that there were several more. We are already finding it valuable to check each other up. Moreover, there are so many things that can be arranged for a group as well as for one person, especially conferences with busy important people who do not speak English well enough to care a great deal about going over the same ground many times. Then. so much time is saved by passing along information to each other. We have been fortunate in finding two of last year’s American-Scandinavian students still here. Their help, particularly one who has been studying agricultural cooperation, has been invaluable.

Except for two weeks trip into Jutland to visit Askov, the most famous of the high schools, to talk over our course of action with several leading people and to get something of an idea of the country before winter closes in, we have been here in Copenhagen [Denmark].  We shall remain here until Askov [a Southern Jutland Danish High School] opens. early. In November. And then go back there for a month as pupils!

Of course, one cannot get a great deal of first hand information on the high schools here. In fact, It is quite amazing how little the average Copenhagener one meets. knows about these schools which. are bringing educators from all over Europe.  There is a distinct line between. city and country. Or more exactly between Copenhagen and the rest of Denmark. Inquiries are often dismissed with the statement that these schools may be all well enough, but that they are of course, for peasants! On the other hand, we find that students, particularly women of the other groups,  are beginning. to attend Askov, where some of the finest lecturers in the country are situated. Another factor is that the high schools are in no way connected with the state system. each being more or less a law unto itself,  —– that is, depending upon the peculiar point of view and the personality of its “forstander” or principle. In spite of the fact that so many are subsidized by the state no special track of their activities seems to be kept at headquarters and one has to do his own hunting. and get what help he can

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through personal introduction. publications (practically all in Danish) and being passed along from one school to another. The University, which is a severely technical institution, is frankly indifferent, although of course there are interested individuals in the faculty, some of whom have actually taught in the high schools. Fortunately, the Minister of Education, Herr Appel, is himself a high school man — the former head of Askov, which his wife now runs. He is a fine big person, speaking broken English but most helpful and human. One can get to him and other people of importance quite easily, although my connection with the American Scandinavian Foundation has greatly facilitated matters.

There are also here in Copenhagen three high schools for trade-union and industrial groups. run somewhat on the lines of the country ones without the important residence feature. We have already established pleasant relations with the  head of one a famous old man named  Borup. [ later literally Borup’s Folk High School].  His account of his work and his outline of his conception of what such education should mean has been one of my most stimulating experiences so far. His classes begin this week and  we expect to attend some of them frequently. We shall, of course, visit the others too. It is. besides valuable to get the reactions of various kinds of people here not connected with educational and social work.

Our visit to Askov makes us a bit restless to be in the city fascinating as Copenhagen i— and  more. keen than ever to get to the heart of our study. I wish you might have been with us at the big fall reunion which we attended two weeks ago. Every year the old students come back 1000 to 1500 strong and stay at the school visiting. and eating together and listening to lectures of all kinds. Old men and women were there who had attended the school over 30 years or more before. One old man of 70 odd [yrs] had been at the original school at Rodding. You can’t imagine how interested he was in us and how persistently he tried to talk to us in spite of our very evident, painful, Danish fragments of speech. It was a picture to see him drive away in a big farm wagon, heaped high with bedding, which each comer must himself supply. A number of the women spoke fairly good English so we had an opportunity to talk. which they were eager to do. There were, too, quantities of young men and women fresh. and intelligent looking. The Deans have a great sense of humor. And these young people get, I think, a great deal. of entertainment out of our conversational. difficulties, I don’t blame them and they were. very polite about it. All these people, old and young together, sat through four one-to-one-and-a- half hours lectures each and every day. [They] came again in the evening to music. stereopticon pictures, et cetera, Some of the subjects of the lectures were present day conditions in Belgium. Educational conditions, and Schleswig. (newly returned to Denmark), two educational addresses,  one by. Minister Appel,  two religious addresses (along what. line I could not determine), two on prayer and work, one on modern Danish art,  one. on Abraham Lincoln by a. Dane who has taught in a People’s High School in Des Moines [IA] among the Danish. It was a curious feeling to hear him come out in English with. “… a government of the people, for the people, by the people”… Repeating this emphatically and slow a number of times, writing it on the blackboard and translating it into Danish. I could understand that he said this  was the  foundation of one of the American ideals.  Of course. I could understand very little of

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the addresses. but it was evident that each speaker was using the full. force of his personality and the. audience responded with absolute silence or with ripples of laughter. Imagine what such lectures and such connecting links year after year must mean to the people scattered out in the little farms. The government meets the expenses. The people paying the nominal sum of five Cronin (about $1,10  a day at this exchange). By the way, there seemed to be no checking system. A man simply sat there in the open court, ready to take the money. Our coming to stay at Askov, where some of the leaders are situated. Is going to be a most valuable one and from there we will be. directed and introduced to the smaller schools. Askov itself. Is an extended high school — no student being allowed who has not had a session at one of the smaller schools. There are, of course, No examinations for admission.

I suppose you are wondering all this time about the language. It is difficult. We have an excellent teacher here and unusually good little grammar with the phonetic system. But while the. construction is like English and many of the words for that matter, the pronunciation. Is anything but English in sound.  It is a guttural, breathless kind of language and I question if any one but a Dane will ever be able to pronounce its Gs and Rs and Es correctly. We are persisting valiantly with the reward that we can usually be understood when we ask simple questions. We can also understand simple answers and are beginning to get snatches of what we hear in lectures. We must get it. That is the first advice everyone gives us.  It is evident to us that a statement of general methods and courses. Is not going to give us the secret of how the information is given, nor, as I said before, the various angles presented by the lecturers each. of whom is expected to use his personality to the utmost —- this. involving the frank expression of his own point of view, Each school will thus be individual and how Individual and how. the individuals average up, we must decide for ourselves.

Our time here in Copenhagen is therefore a necessary and valuable study.. It would be more valuable still, could we make use of the fine libraries here. There is much reading we shall have to do as soon as our Danish is more proficient. It does seem a pity when we are putting out so much time and energy on these details that we cannot share our experiences with others who might be able to come only for a few months. With what we could jointly translate and give through talks with people who speak English, (we will be ready to direct to those who have given us the most help). and through what one could see for himself, a shorter stay ought to be very profitable. It is not expensive living here. One can cover the essentials for about $60 a month. Passage on the one class steamer of the Scandinavian-American Line brings you straight to Copenhagen and $150 will give you a good birth,  So I am continuing to hope that some of you will still come over — Perhaps make a sudden start and join us at Askov  early in November. Think it over well. Do !! Fine clothes are neither needed nor desirable. Plenty of comfortable shoes. Warm things, and rain things.  I can. always be reached sooner or later through the international Students Committee. Studiestrasede [?]  6 Copenhagen, and I would. of course come back again to Copenhagen to meet anyone if I knew in time.  Later, I will try to write again as to what we find.  I wish I had time to write of all the interesting incidentals.  With regard to all.

Sincerely always.

(signed) Olive D. Campbell.

See also:

Bodene-Yost, Zizanie (2013) “in the U.S.: The Failure of the Danish-American Folk High Schools vs. the Success of Highlander Folk,” The Bridge: Vol. 36 : No. 1 , Article 9.
Available at:
Free and open access article by BYU ScholarsArchive. It has been accepted for inclusion in The Bridge by an authorized editor of BYU ScholarsArchive.








Pine Mountain Settlement School

[Playing in the snow] mccullough_II_059d


In the early winter years of Pine Mountain Settlement School snow was a frequent and seasonal visitor.  Snow still visits the School, though not so frequently and it rarely sticks around for long. The climate of the planet is shifting and it is getting warmer worldwide. Snow, if it falls, can now fall at alarming rates — as can rain. These unexpected, rapid and sometimes overwhelming amounts, are becoming more frequent. Sometimes snow fails to stay on the ground for a long stretch of time. Sometimes it is a soft and gentle visitor, and sometimes it is wind-driven and icy.  Today, there seems to be little to no sensible planning for how snow will present itself. “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

Sometimes snow falls as rain. It is difficult to imagine there could be a cloud burst such as the one that recently dumped record amounts of water on Eastern Kentucky. The rapid and deep torrents of Troublesome Creek that quickly rose to inundate Hindman Settlement  School and the surrounding valleys, and the fierce and unprecedented rapid rise of the river that rushed through the town of  Whitesburg, Kentucky, were unprecedented recent events. Christmas in Buffalo, New York this December 2022, has shown us what damage massive amounts of snow can do to a city. The climate is changing.

What would the raging water of  July 2022 have looked like had it fallen as snow? Is it even possible? The recent December snow in Buffalo, NY suggests it is certainly possible — perhaps not in July, but possible, nonetheless. Snow and ice in the coldest regions of the globe, such as Antarctica, are rapidly melting away. Iceland’s glaciers are pouring into the sea. Kilimanjaro, K-2, and Everest, no longer have their deep winter snow caps. The world is warming and temperatures are going up.

The climate is changing and with the change comes a growing human uncertainty regarding our relationship with snow and water — and many believe — with each other.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency reminds us

Climate change can dramatically alter the Earth’s snow- and ice-covered areas because snow and ice can easily change between solid and liquid states in response to relatively minor changes in temperature.

Further, the EPA tells us that

Between 1972 and 2020, the average portion of North America covered by snow decreased at a rate of about 1,870 square miles per year, based on weekly measurements taken throughout the year. There has been much year-to-year variability, however. The length of time when snow covers the ground has become shorter by nearly two weeks since 1972, on average.

The EPA describes a warming planet where 

Across all sites, snowpack declined by an average of 23 percent during this [recent] time period. Peak snowpack is happening earlier in the season at the majority of sites, as higher temperatures cause snow to melt sooner. Snowpack season length decreased at about 86 percent of sites analyzed, decreasing by an average of more than 18 days.

The message in these indicators is that the climate is warming and there are environmental  consequences and causes

As the Earth’s climate warms overall (see the U.S. and Global Temperature indicator), the number of frozen days has decreased in most parts of the United States. Continued reduction in frozen days could lead to a variety of effects on ecosystems, drought, wildfire risk, agriculture, natural resources, and the economy.

The progress of global warming is erratic but scientists are clear that the speed of global warming is accelerating. Snowfall is no longer a predictable winter visitor as it was 100 years ago. 


We did not wait for a schoolhouse to begin teaching; the House in the Woods took care of the children till snowfall until 1918, when they were distributed in the living room of various cottages; or the first three years at the Masonic Lodge over Mr. Nolan’s store.

From the biography of Elhannon Murphy Nolan

The House in the Woods was an open-air classroom built of log posts with a roof cover and no walls — essentially a pavilion. It was located on the south slope above the valley, just up from where the School’s Barn is located today. The pavilion served as a community meeting place, as well as a classroom. Like snow, it slowly melted into the earth and by the late 1930s it was unusable and was fully taken down. It is hard to imagine such an open-air classroom in today’s world of air-conditioning, digital heating sensors, and comfort engineering that monitors our interior dwellings and their relationship to the environment.

1916 Winter

By 1916, enclosed classrooms were available and the attention of the Pine Mountain workers was focused outward on the community at large. In the winter of 1916, Evelyn Wells and another co-worker, Helen Strong,  walked three miles in the snow down Greasy to Joanna Turner’s, “where we collected her horse.” Snow was a familiar part of the ecosystem of the region and the change in the seasons became for the workers a part of both the joy and challenge of living in Appalachia. (See  EVELYN K. WELLS 1916 Excerpts from Letters Home

 Evelyn K. Wells, a native of Montclair, NJ, and Co-director of Pine Mountain in its early years, was no stranger to snow. She often wrote in her letters home of the snow in the Pine Mountain valley. But, it was with new eyes that she begins to write home about the snow in the Pine Mountain valley. Clearly, she seems to have developed a new relationship with snow. She recaptures snow as an exotic visitor, and as a beautiful blanket covering a place of primitive conditions but of exquisite beauty.  Her literary picture of her early years at the School, now in its third year of evolution, is of a Shangri-la “hidden” in a white snow-filled valley. where the visitors take a “lovely” trip in the snow and find the warmth of paradise. The enchantment of Wells is not quite James Hilton’s 1933 Lost Horizon, but it is an exotic projection on a region that yearned for discovery and re-invention.

Today, nature’s earlier gifts continue to be mythologized and pursued in the remote Pine Mountain valley. While we will never again see winter through the lens of the early twentieth century, we continue to push the “beautiful” rural scenes and wrap ourselves in nostalgia.  We long for lost horizons, but we are slowly forgetting what those horizons might look like . We share our longings for a Shangrila, while forgetting that the snow of Hilton’s novel was not within Shangrila, but was a cold wasteland surrounding the paradise. We join millions searching for those quiet and deep snow-falls that wrap us in beauty, but fail to remember the treachery of cold snow. We sit within our warm buildings and look out at peaceful snow falling while watching events unfold in Ukraine and Buffalo, New York. Our horizons are no longer clear and our ability to negotiate them, less certain.

Evelyn Wells writes

Helen Strong [Teacher 1916-18] and I had a lovely trip recently. We started Saturday morning, in the snow, the weather having changed in the night, walking by turns the first three miles down Greasy to Joanna Turner’s, where we collected her horse. I rode Bobby, Miss [Ethel] de Long‘s horse, and I thoroughly enjoyed it all the way, for he paced and was full of spirits. Joanna told us not to let any horses get ahead of hers, as it made him mad, and Joanna’s maw told us not to let any horses get behind him, as that made him mad! However, he turned out to be a lovely horse, full of spirits and not “mean.”

Greasy grows wilder as you work down towards the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River, and the houses are miles apart. We had dinner by the side of the creek, building a fire to cook bacon and heat a can of soup. Such lovely hillsides, covered with beech forest on one side and laurel growth on the other. There are flat bottom-lands further down Greasy, which in a thickly settled country would not have escaped the inevitable corn crop, but here they were quite unspoiled. We got to Henry Chappell‘s, where we were to stay over night, about four, and the sun had been down for an hour and a half. Henry Chappell is an old man who is rather progressive, and he has a fine farm, and a nice house. His wife is a lovely gentle woman, full of humor, and so hospitable to us. Their children, except one son, are married and have moved away from the mountains, and one of them edits a paper in Middlesboro. We saw Mrs. Chappell‘s quilts and woven covers, and for the first time I acquired an interest in quilts. She had one which was beautiful – a design of red palm leaves on a white background which had a Scandinavian effect. The kitchen was a big room with a fireplace big enough for five-foot logs, and a very modern range beside it. At the other end was a well, with good water, served from a gourd dipper.

When we sat down to supper three men came in, cattle men from New Mexico. It is a stopping place for all kinds of people. we slept in rather a dressy room, with straw matting and wallpaper, but it was the only exception I have seen to the mountain rule that every room has a fireplace. It certainly was cold that night!

As we sat round the fire after supper, they were very anxious to know all about us. They told me all about the Wellses over on Cutshin — how I needn’t be ashamed of ‘ary one of them, and they found many points of resemblance in my folks to the general Wells cast of features.

Another beautiful ride, starting at 8:30 on Sunday, coming up the frost-bound river, where we had to break the ice several times. Such stunning gorges, and big rocks in the stream, and some snow on the holly and evergreen trees and Main [mountain] Laurel, is exceptionally beautiful. One little house, very small, was two stories high and painted white with green trimmings, and had an upstairs balcony fairly hanging over the creek. The little clearing was practically surrounded by a holly grove, such staunch, stylish little trees.

We stopped for a call on 109-year-old Uncle John Shell, whom we found splitting kindling. He was most entertaining, telling us all about the game one used to be able to catch, and conditions when the country was really wild. [See:Uncle John Shell to read the real story of this “oldest man in the world]

Also see: Evelyn K. Wells 1916 Excerpts from Letters Home 

1917 – 1927

From the transcriptions of other early worker letters gathered by Evelyn K. Wells when she served as Secretary at Pine Mountain Settlement in the 1930s, comes a chilly account of how the mail traveled to the remote School. The letter describes how mail was delivered in the wintertime by rail to a station on the South side of the tall Pine Mountain and then packed by horse across a snowy mountain. The mail came daily from the rail line and up and over Pine Mountain in the beautiful but challenging wintertime. All visitors would also have to make the journey by foot unless a horse or a mule could be sent to fetch them. Until the road, Laden Trail, was completed in the mid-1930s, crossing Pine Mountain in winter was an adventure.

Twenty sacks of mail today. They took five horses to fetch it — what a picture, crossing the snowy mountain! EVELYN K. WELLS 1916 Excerpts from Letters Home 1917 Winter. [034-p.1]  

Winter and snow also brought many children and staff under one roof for long periods of time. Colds and allergies ran rampant and so did the full cycle of childhood diseases. Secretary Wells records this outbreak of Chicken-pox at Far House, the girl’s dormitory, during one early snowy winter.

       Chicken-pox. Six cases at Far House, including my little roommate, who broke out tonight.

Rail fence in the snow at Pine Mountain Settlement School.


In January of 1922  Marguerite Butler a worker at Pine Mountain Settlement School experienced a particularly harsh winter in the shadow of Pine Mountain as she assisted in the establishment of a satellite settlement at Line Fork in nearby Letcher County. She wrote to her mother about her experiences coping with the weather and her responsibility for developing the new medical and educational satellite, approximately eight miles from the main Pine Mountain Settlement School. Marguerite describes the preparation of a well for the new facility.

Dear Mother — 

Yesterday it was 10 degrees above zero, today it must be up to 60 degrees above. Such a change overnight. I had sixteen at Sunday School. They were so excited over the [photographs] pictures of play. I let each family pick the one they would like a print of.

Yesterday I had to go to Line Fork and I tell you I wore all the clothes I had. It was bitter cold and a high wind but I didn’t get cold a bit. It was beautiful with everything white with snow. The sun made it so brilliant I could hardly see. I have to go over to Line Fork again to-morrow for several days to fix the well. When I was home it just stopped running. I am afraid a joint has cracked letting in air. It will be a job to fix.

         Marguerite Butler

Line Fork Settlement, an 8-mile hike or an equally slow horseback ride up over a small mountain and into the adjoining  Letcher County, was a challenge in any weather. Marguerite Butler, a graduate of Vasser and an eager young and talented woman, was assigned by Director Katherine Pettit to take charge of developing the new satellite settlement and she made the journey frequently in the snow. 

One of her first tasks at Linefork was overseeing the construction of a well for the settlement and for preparing a small cabin for the staff at the new facility.  A doctor and a nurse would soon join Butler at the facility where she was preparing to serve as the Industrial Training teacher. By offering community classes and medical support for the remote location, Pine Mountain hoped to duplicate its model services and create five more sites in the region.  Marguerite had a daunting mandate, but one she engaged with enthusiasm.

Remarkably, the job of supervising the digging of the well at Line Fork was one of Marguerite’s first assigned duties in the development of the new settlement. It was a complicated task, but a critical one as the facility could not function without clean and nearby water. She was not charged with the actual digging of the well, but Marguerite’s letters indicate she gave that task a go in the company of ready workers from the community. It was a difficult task. It would have been daunting in any season, but in winter, it was unimaginable to many of Pine Mountain’s hardiest workers. Apparently, Katherine Pettit could imagine the young Marguerite suffering a bit as she nudged the hardy Marguerite onward.

Lutrella Baker Album. The Cabin at Line Fork, in snow, distant view. line_fork_003b.jpg

On January 23 Marguerite tells us about the broken well and the working conditions

Sunday, January 23, 1922

Dear Mother — 

… Last Monday morning I started out early for Line Fork to fix the water. For two days we worked and at 4 Tuesday once more had running water. The settling of the ground at the well had bent the pipe so it broke right in half under the elbow. Henry Creech came Tuesday to help us cut and thread the pipes. When we found the trouble I had to send him back to the school for a new elbow (pipe). He left on Queen [the PMSS horse} at 10:30, getting back at 1:05 – said he never was on such a good horse before. He told me to tell Jeannette if she picked a husband with as much judgment as a [the ] horse she’d get a good one.


When Harriet Crutchfield came to Pine Mountain as a worker in the early 1920s, she left her home where there was every advantage. Her father, James S. Crutchfield, a School Trustee, was President of the American Fruit Grower’s Association and she was used to the many comforts that financial security brings. She was not prepared for the rugged life at Pine Mountain, especially winter and she sent a steady stream of letters to her home asking for small comforts and for items of clothing that would get her through the Grip of Winter.  She seems to try to accommodate the environment when she finally bravely says in one letter, “This can wait for a long time …” Her want list, in one memorable letter, however, starts with “alligator shoes & rubbers” …

4. Alligator shoes & rubbers to fit. All the shoes I have down here are the kind that you can’t get rubbers over and I understand that in December it gets pretty sloppy — more rain than snow in winter here. You will have to get my alligators sewed up in the places where they’ve broken apart and have taps put on the heels. I believe there are some rubbers in the house that would fit them, but I have no idea where. This can wait for a long time.

crutchfield_journal_032.jpg  page 4    Harriet Crutchfield, Correspondence  1921 Undated – n.d.

Crossing the mountain at 5:30 a.m., joining Lucretia Garfield and K. [Kay] Wright on the early train from Lynch, where they had been Girl-Scouting all week. At Harlan took another train, rode six miles and connected with what had been described as a “motor car,” which turned out to be a little truck that ran by gasoline engine on the railroad tracks six miles further, to the Head of Lick Branch, a coal mining district, We rode lickety-split, hanging on to each other, to the end of the road, where we bumped into the mountain. We were met by two little boys who took us over the low ridges to the Smith valley, only three miles, and such lovely country, winding instead of straight like ours.

We were to visit the Community Life School, a Presbyterian center (in Harlan County). Palatial houses where the people have black walnut sets and pianos and the ladies come to Ladies’ Aid meetings in plumed hats. At the creeks and hollows nearby are full of cabin homes and their neighborhood problems are much like ours. The buildings of the school are very plain little cottages, neat and comfortable and perfectly unimaginative, but there are fine workers. At a funeralizing, we saw the neighborhood gathered. The Presbyterian minister from Harlan came to officiate, and we returned with him, starting out on foot, changing to the hand-car for six miles, walking another three because the train wasn’t due for a long time, and being picked up by a very luxurious automobile parishioner of Mr. Michel for the last few miles to town.

After a night in the only hotel in town we came across Pine Mountain in a light snow, joined by a lot of children returning from vacations. Also, two little boys who ran away a month ago whom Lucretia and Kay had found in the poorhouse on their travels and who were now being returned to us by the County Judge.

See: HARRIET CRUTCHFIELD Journal Transcribed Part 1

Pine Mountain Settlement School Series 09: Biography – Staff/PersonnelSeries 05: Administration – Board of Trustees HARRIET CRUTCHFIELD Journal Transcribed Part 1 TAGS: Harriet Crutchfield Journal I Transcribed; Harriet Crutchfield; Harriet Crutchfield Orndorff; education; Pine Mountain Settlement School; Pine Mountain, KY; Mrs. Lewis; Mr. Lewis; Marian Kingman; Marguerite Emerson; Practice House (Country Cottage); Infirmary; Laurel House; Katherine Pettit; Alice (Pilkington) … Continue reading HARRIET CRUTCHFIELD Journal Transcribed Part 1

See also:  Evelyn K. Wells 1916 Excerpts from Letters Home  and Evelyn K. Well Excerpts From Letters Home 1921


Medical Settlement - Big Laurel, late 1920s

Medical Settlement – Big Laurel, late 1920s

During the 1920s snow showed a darker side.  To some of those who supported the School and sought to alleviate the poverty they saw or perceived to be in the region, snow offered a means to reach into the conscience of the rich.  To many wealthy supporters of the School, the pervasive and severe living conditions in the remote areas of the Central Appalachian mountains was made even grimmer by the imagining of cold snow. The exposure to snow and to the cold compounded by poverty was and is considered an inhumane event but a solid fund-raiser. The realities of the 1920s can uneasily be recalled when we read of winter miseries such as the current events of the 2022-23 winter in Ukraine. 

Snow adds to the misery of poverty in the minds of many — an observation not without cause.  At Pine Mountain Settlement in the 1920s the combination of snow and poverty was a means of reaching donors and friends of the School. Winter was also an opportunity to plead for programs and for workers to “uplift” the people of the Central and Southern Appalachians from their perceived treacherous environment.  By providing money and educational resources the edge of Winter could be softened for mountain children. A school like Pine Mountain could shelter the mountain children from their harsh habitat and move the mountain dwellers out of the “misery of poverty” that was made so obvious while in the grip of winter snow. It was a cynical but effective means to capture the sympathy of donors.

Blanche Rannells, a visitor to Pine Mountain and a leader in the “uplift” movement,  wrote a short article, “Our Mountain Neighbors,” that describes the austere environment of winter in Appalachia. From her brief first-hand encounter with winter and her efforts as a staff worker at the second satellite settlement, the Medical Settlement at Big Laurel, Blanche Rannells pulls on the heartstrings in one of her 1924 letters to prospective donors

Those of you who are interested in welfare work for children may be shocked by the statement that ” … last Sept. 30 children who entered this school together were nearly 450m pounds underweight. In two weeks regular rest and wholesome food had produced a gain for the group of 147 pounds!” If you could see the homes these children come from and know the character of their food, you would no longer wonder at the statistics reported by the school nurse.

Let me try to picture to you one of these homes. Imagine if you can the utter solitude and loneliness of a life spent in a windowless log cabin “at the head of a hollow” with none but the sounds of nature to break the sepulchral stillness. No traveler ever chances to pass the door for the winding footpath which leads to it does not extend beyond it.

Within it [the home] is even more cheerless, especially in winter, for sunlight cannot penetrate solid walls of logs. The fireplace must serve the double purpose of furnishing light and heat. A touch of color is lent to the interior of strings of “burney” red peppers and hanks of wool of various colors suspended from the rafters. Long ropes of “shuckey beans” decorate the walls waiting to be shelled when needed for food. [The writer was obviously not familiar with “shucky beans” or “leather britches” which did not require shelling to be eaten —as most times, the beans were cooked with shell and bean.]

Blanche Rannells, “Our Mountain Neighbors,” 1924


Some of the most detailed early records of snow and cold came from the extension centers of Line Fork and the Medical Center at Big Laurel. The Stapletons who supervised the Line Fork facility in the late 1930’s and early 1940s, described many winters at the remote Line Fork Cabin. They also captured the lives of their neighbors around the clinic and the isolation of those families.  But, they also capture the beauty of winter shared by many who lived in the Line Fork community.

Lutrella Baker Album. The Cabin at Line Fork, in snow, distant view. line_fork_003b.jpg

In 1927 Dr. Ida Stapleton and her husband the Rev. Stapelton arrived at Linefork. They describe the first four months and their first winter 

Before night the rain began again and continued thru our own Christmas Day which we spent in the Cabin. It was the first one spent alone by the Stapletons for many years. The schools had but one day for vacation and so on Monday the lessons began again and singing was taken up with the idea for closing exercises in February. New Year’s Day was a winterly one and a regular blizzard was the weather program. Thru out the day only one caller came to the Cabin and he was our neighbor who brought us the milk.

Stapleton Correspondence 1925-1927

The Stapletons had many winters (1925-1944) at the Line Fork Cabin and their informative reports and letters detail the extremes in weather they experienced while living there. See Stapleton Correspondence Guide

1933 REPORT – December  “Dear Friends: — At the peak of the Year — and we are having our first snow storm which did not last but half an hour.  The Fall has been about as perfect as we could wish. Just cold enough so that a moderate fire is sufficient…” [6 pages]

At Christmas, we found all the country covered with a thick white blanket of snow. The evergreens were so lovely it seemed quite unnecessary to have any further decorations – but in the schoolrooms it was quite different and the trees were trimmed in the usual way with candles, tinsel, holly wreaths and bells….

It has been too cold and frozen to do any more digging [of coal] so Johnny is splitting palings to fence in some land of his own. He has about five acres and has recently sold a half acre to a younger brother for fifty dollars on which to build a house for his newly acquired wife and in order to pay for it he tried unsuccessfully to beg a load [of coal] from the Cabin.

The next day I went up Jake’s creek to see Orrie who had been to the Cabin a week before for medicine. Now I called to see how she was getting on. She had been much better for a few days. Then she had to go foraging for coal while her father-in-law stayed in the house and nussed the baby. Why hadn’t he gone? The neighbors laughing say “That Dick would sit and freeze to death before he would pack coal”. Not quite as bad as that I reckon but at this time he wouldn’t, so Orrie rode the mule a mile to the coal bank where a quantity of coal had been taken out and after filling two pokes with it she loaded them on to the mule and walked back. She had another heart spell and was in a faint for some hours. I had warned Dick that she must not get wood for a month or two but he wouldn’t [warn her], and her brother, a young man, wouldn’t, so she had made the effort to keep her babes from freezing. Some families are helpful to their relatives, then again they are quite heartless.

[STAPLETON REPORT 1930 – January.]


Another ambiguous response to snow is found in the correspondence of Katherine Pettit writing to a former staff member, Lucretia Garfield in January of 1927. She speaks to the beauty of the snow and wishes that Lucretia could see the snow at the Pine Mountain School

I wish you could see Pine Mountain today, with a new, fresh fall of snow. It’s so beautiful it’s a demoralizing and makes everybody want to stay outdoors and not work at all. But this is the first day of the new term and so we all have to plunge in to it again after our good vacation.


Alice Cobb, another worker at the School, gathered many stories of families in the community as they struggled with harsh winters and the cold and drafty cabins in which many of them lived. Cobb remembers with some poignancy, one conversation on her “Farewell Trip” to visit community friends as she prepared to leave Pine Mountain after many years of service

“I wish I could remember all the stories — perhaps I will from time to time and can jot them down. I tried so hard to memorize them as he [Abner] went along but you just can’t remember all Abner’s nice little sayings, and fancy words. One thing I remember, when he spoke about a cold winter, with the snow and tree branches a poppin’ and a crackin’. And then he asked me about you [Cobb’s Mother, her correspondent] and…
…how many children there were at home. I said you [her Mother] had to be there alone most of the year. He was quite severe — asked how often I went home. I said only once or twice a year. He shook his head and said “And you don’t stay home no more than that — and them without ary chick nor child?” You see his idea is that a family should stay together, and he doesn’t want his children to come even as far as Pine Mountain school. He feels that their family circle must be unbroken — it’s a beautiful affection they all have for each other, and while in any other family I wouldn’t like it, in his it is different.”

Alice Cobb’s Farewell to Line Fork,
  June 14, 1937
(Via Little Laurel, Big Laurel and Turkey Fork)

[Pettit to Garfield, January 10, 1927]


Lela Christian, Nan Milan, Stella Taylor, Nancy Jude. Student Community Service Workers, c. late 1930s – early 1940s. [duplicates_069.jpg]

The academic programs in the late 1930s and the 1940s pushed the older students out into the Community where they would experience the life of the people and provide much-needed social service supports as Community Service Workers. This program, designed by Director Glyn Morris was ground-breaking in the rural setting of Eastern Kentucky and led to expanded development in the later regional Rural Youth Guidance programs initiated by Morris.


While the School program was rigorous, it also made room for students to revel in the joy of play, and snow afforded the perfect playground.  In this article from the 1944 Pine Cone, some of this revelry is described. It is a description familiar to any child who has had the joy of pummeling their schoolmates, no matter their age, with snowballs.

Boys’ House in the distance and Girls’ Industrial in the foreground with deep snow. c. 1940s

The deep, wet, and heavy snows that were, and are, common at Pine Mountain, provide perfect playgrounds for students to engage in snow-ball fights like the one described below by student, John Deaton

BATTLE OF THE YEAR” by John Deaton – Snowball fights among students from the various dormitories.” 1944 Pine Cone

As snowball fights were to be the order of the day with Boys’ House challenging Far House and West Wind offering to battle Big Log, everyone went home and changed into warmer clothes.

The scene of the boys’ skirmish was Far House lawn, which Boys’ House captured at will. The luckiest break for Boys’ House was the charge that netted us a panful of snowballs manufactured by Far House. Neither side can be declared the victor but Far House firmly declined an invitation to continue the fight on the playground which is nearer to Boys’ House.

The girls did not turn out in large numbers, but they surely created more excitement. The bandannas which were worn to protect their hair slipped off. The result was a generous amount of mud and snow in the hair of the participants. The mud was thicker and more plentiful than the snow, and much mud was mixed with the snow balls. this fight should go to West Wind, which was greatly outnumbered but kept on the offensive almost all afternoon. We are all looking forward to another afternoon of slinging snow.  

[John Deaton, January 1944, Pine Cone, pp.12-13]


“Daffodils and snow do not mix well. Still they are trying…”

Like the daffodils and snow, H.R.S. Benjamin, the new Director of Pine Mountain in the Post-War years was caught in an equally incongruous event. As the Pine Mountain boarding school teetered on the edge of collapse following the financial downturn following the war and the departure of former Director Glyn Morris, Benjamin faced overwhelming challenges. Buffeted by the shifting economy and by the consolidating educational framework in the early post-war years, Benjamin found himself in a blizzard of enormous challenges.  But, with the promise of the beautiful and unique building  West Wind nearly finished, he set about trying everything he knew to find the right mix of despair and enthusiasm. 

The rapid shifts in climate only added to Benjamin’s anxiety about the many looming shifts in the educational and economic climate that would have to be addressed, and as the bills for West Wind crossed his desk, he stepped up.  The sizable building project of West Wind initiated by Morris to fill the need for a girl’s dormitory, was now a huge financial burden for Benjamin.  Further, as the boarding students dwindled and the post-war economy grew more fragile, the boarding school was deep in a snow drift. But, as Benjamin walked out of the Office he saw the beauty and potential of Pine Mountain …. the daffodils pushing their way up through the snow.

One can perhaps imagine that he was also thinking of Mary Rockwell Hook, the School’s architect sitting in the sun of Sarasota, Florida, with her daffodils and palm trees as the snow filled his disintegrating horizon. We will never know if his remark was one of despair or hope, but it was certainly an apt description at the time. It was also a common sight at the School to see the early daffodils keep trying to bloom through late winter snow …  joyful yellow in a sea of white.

In February he wrote another letter of seasonal change and longing to a former Pine Mountain worker

February 5, 1947 an

Dear Miss Sparrow,
I guess the near-zero temperatures this week are more in keeping with the season than the spring breezes which we enjoyed last week, and most of the winter, but they are scarcely as pleasant! We think often in this weather of our many Pine Mountain friends basking in Florida Sunshine.

H.R.S. Benjamin, Director

This signals that despair was lurking but that he soon found the joy of change.


Pine Mountain in the grip of winter. [Arthur Dodd, Photographer ?] 1940s


The migration of Joe Wilson and his family from Pine Mountain over Laden Trail to Harlan in the depths of winter is one of the most memorable snow stories of the School’s third decade. Alice Cobb, who accompanied the family describes the caravan that set out in the snow to cross the mountain in an overloaded truck and the adventure that ensued. Cobb captures both the social and the physical misery of the transport in this clip from her short story Migration from the Hinterland to the Industrial Area [Harlan]

When the morning came it followed a sleet storm, and we awakened to a new world, coated with ice, every little branchlet of every little tree glorified, shimmering. One was shocked by so much beauty, so lavishly displayed and I thought with embarrassment for mankind and the things he is proud of, — the glass flowers in the cases at Harvard University, tenderly buried underground in case of fire — when here was this inimitable glory, a thousand miles from anywhere at all, blooming for a day, and careless of existence.

I slipped and slid over the cinder path to the office, to see what was going to be done about the trip over the mountain.  Brit [was …? …?] said certainly he would go and hadn’t he been up since four o’clock out to the Wilsons, loading their house plunder on the truck.


Alice Cobb, Migration from Hinterlands to Industrial Area, c. 1940.
View down the Pine Mountain valley with snow. The Road to Harlan crosses the mountain near the gap in the far left mountain range seen in the image. [kingman_034c]


Sheep Shearing and Cecil Sharp

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Sheep Shearing and Cecil Sharp

0046a P. Roettinger Album.”Sheep Shearing, Uncle John Shell, Aunt Sis Shell, and Mrs. Joe Day.” c.1920s  [Woman standing next to a barn on left, watching man and woman sheer a sheep.]

TAGS: sheep shearing, Cecil Sharp, sheep, sheep flocks, dreaming of sheep, sheep in history, sheep in song, Uncle John Shell, Aunt Sis Shell, Mrs. Joe Day, George Pullen Jackson


It is not likely that Cecil Sharp (1859-1924), the British musicologist, ever sheared a sheep. But, he was, in any case, a close observer of the ruminants and probably an even closer critic of their bleets and baahs! Nonetheless, what Cecil Sharp has left to the history of sheep is a unique auditory trail that helps to re-trace the prevalence of sheep within the rich agrarian history of Great Britain and in the American Appalachian mountains.

When musicologist Sharp sat on the porch of Old Far House at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Kentucky and watched the Kentucky Running Set as it was performed by students and staff, he was watching the well-trained legs that probably had chased a sheep or two up the Pine Mountain and down. Tending sheep is an active job and the energy of that Kentucky Running set is just a short measure of the energy that is needed to maintain a sheep flock in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.


in the early years of the Central Appalachians, in the small hillside farms, it was a celebration when lambs arrived and again when wool was sheared.  In the far-off “lands across the sea,” as Uncle William Creech, a founder of Pine Mountain Settlement used to say, many Europeans were continuing similar agrarian practices, particularly those people of the so-called “Borderlands,” that narrow bridge of land between Scotland and England. This region has long been associated with the early settlers of the Central Appalachians. The European Borderland customs and agrarian practices lingered on in many of the immigrant ancestors found in the Appalachians. In fact, they formed one of the largest immigrant groups living deep in the Appalachian mountains.

The raising of sheep was built into the early Appalachian pioneer imperative. Like so many of the customs familiar to the European immigrants from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and also those from other points of origin with agrarian roots, sheep were fundamental to survival. As an international livelihood, sheep flocks and along with those of goats are closely tied to the stories of agrarian cultures.


What Cecil Sharp added to sheep history was the discovery and transcription of an English folk song that no doubt flowed from the music and lives of early sheep farmers. While his discovery was not in the Borderlands but was probably in the Norfolk area of England, it captured the centrality of sheep to everyday agrarian life. 

When Cecil Sharp made his journey to America and eventually to Appalachia he wove the common elements together. Other song and ballad collectors preceded Cecil Sharp, but few had his broad recognition. When Sharp identified the British elements found in Appalachian songs and ballads he opened the flood-gates to other musicologists to marry Appalachia to “Merri Old England.” 

While Sharp was interested in the music, the music held a history that was less obvious. This is the relationship of the music to agrarian practice. While the growing obsession with “Merri Old England” in early twentieth-century America assured a close historical musical bond it also revealed something of the common agrarian practices. The catchy alliteration of Sharp’s collected songs underlines the importance of sheep in the daily lives of agrarian Europeans and their ancestors in the Appalachians.  Alliteration and all its musical overtones came naturally to the early oral culture of England and Appalachia. Mother Goose rhymes such as “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers … etc. ” is well known on both sides of the Atlantic as are many other ditties. But, just try saying “Cecil Sharp and sheep-shearing,” and see what lyrical lapses leap from your tongue and fix on your memory. Songs of shearing sheep are not at all uncommon, especially in families with a weaving willfulness — a trait that springs from sheep-herders and that abounds in the mountains of the Central Appalachians and across the world. Our first school yards were the pastures of the world.


Even as we sleep, we are not far from the sheep pasture. It is no small wonder that when we speak of dreaming, we also often speak of “counting sheep.” There is a very practical origin for that numerical association. It was the duty of the herdsman to know the number of sheep in his herd. It was a daily practice.  Counting sheep is deeply etched into the fabric of descendants of sheep-herders and deep in the historical agrarian psyche. We have been counting sheep for as long as we have joined our lives with the practice of raising sheep and other herds of animals. Sheep have been a part of our history as a country from the beginning of European settlement and have had considerable influence on our practical and formal education.  At one time Kentucky led the nation in the number of sheep. For Kentuckians, that is a lot of counting and a lot of dreaming.

Yet, Cecil Sharp was a collector of songs, not sheep, nor wool though he shows all the instincts of a weaver, dreamer, and numerator. He began his collecting of folk ballads in the English countryside. There, it was inevitable that he would encounter a myriad of sheep and those who tended them. Those country sheep herders had a deep association with alliterative language and ballads and ditties. Some references to sheep were sure to appear, and they did.

The song that Sharp recorded on his journey to Norfolk was one that succinctly captures sheep and their shepherds. That ballad from his song-gathering encounters, was published in a small book he edited called 100 English Folk Songs [ published by Oliver Ditson Co., Theo. Presser Co. Distributors, Philadelphia, 1916].

SONGS FOR ALL TIME [Songs of All Time]

One of the songs in Sharp’s collection found its way into another small book of collected folk songs. The Songs for All Time printed at Pine Mountain Settlement School was issued by the Council of Southern Mountain Workers c. 1946, and was intended to be a resource for “recreation material in the Highland [Appalachian Highlands] area.” It was a utilitarian collection of songs for social gatherings that is largely dependent on the rich oral tradition of the Appalachian region and that contained many familiar tropes that would be recognized in Great Britain. The Foreword tells us that

The contents, folk songs for the most part, were compiled by a committee which has made practical use of them with singing groups. Where tunes and words depend on oral tradition, innumerable versions usually exist — some of them perhaps better than [the] variants included. There is no version which can be called the correct one, but the committee has chosen those which it has found satisfactory in the light of their lasting qualities and the ease with which they can be learned. Modal melodies are not always easy to introduce to those unfamiliar with such music, but practically all songs included have been put to the proof: given a little time and repetition they “sing well” and become dear to the heart of the singer.

Song For All Times [Songs of All Time], Copyright, 1946, by Cooperative Recreation Service, (Forward). [4 editions published in 1946 in English and Undetermined and held by 29 WorldCat member libraries worldwide.]

On the back of the booklet, Songs For All times, there appears a short essay by George Pullen Jackson, an American musicologist, and educator. Pullen was a pioneer in the field of Southern (U.S.) hymnody and popularized the spurious term “white spirituals” to describe “fasola“* singing. [*fasola= harp singing or shape-note singing] Pullen says

…Sing, preferably your own songs, brother. Live your own song life and be proud of it. Don’t let the I-dont’-know-a-thing-about-music complex trouble you. Don’t let the processed and canned music lower your musical morale. If you are a mature person, re-learn and re-sing the songs of your childhood and youth. (You’ll be surprised at the large admixture of genuine folk songs among your remembered ditties.)

George Pullen Jackson, comment from Songs for All Times [Songs of All Time]

What George Pullen Jackson sensed was the power of music to heal and make joyful the day when it is pulled from routine experiences and even more when it is derived from a shared experience. The shearing of sheep and other communal activities of pioneer families brings home the satisfaction of sharing with neighbors the sometimes daunting tasks that an agrarian life demanded. Further,  Jackson in his remarks shares with Cecil Sharp the understanding of the healing power of song as it is remembered across all time and as it derives from the common stories of living.

While there is no direct knowledge of the following song appearing in the original musical repertoire of the Central Appalachians, the sentiment would clearly have resonated with the mountaineers. The Sheep-Shearing, was collected by Cecil Sharp in his 100 English Folk Songs for a good reason. He described it as “very popular among English country folk” and “in existence before 1760.” His sensitive ear could also, no doubt, frame the picture evoked by the lyrics in this and in his other collected songs


How delightful to see,
In these evenings in Spring,
The sheep going home to the fold.

The master doth sing,
As he views everything,
And his dog goes before him where told,
And his dog goes before him where told.

The sixth month of the year,
In the month called June,
When the weather’s too hot to be borne,
The master doth say,
As he goeth on his way:
“Tomorrow my sheep shall be shorn,
“Tomorrow my sheep shall be shorn.”

Now as for those sheep,
They’re delightful to see,
They’re a blessing to a man on his farm.
For the flesh it is good,
It’s the best of all food,
And the wool it will clothe us up warm,
And the wool it will clothe us up warm.

Now the sheep they are all shorn,
And the wool carried home,
Here’s a health to our master and flock:
And if we should stay,
Until the last go away,
I’m afraid ’twill be past twelve o’clock,
I’m afraid t’will be past twelve o’clock.

Cecil Sharp, 100 English Folk Songs, …”In existence before 1760.”


CECIL SHARP AND MAUDE KARPELES Visit to Pine Mountain Settlement School




FARM GUIDE to Sheep Goats Weaving and Dyeing

Feed Sack and Fashion

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Feed Sack and Fashion


“Sewing with Cotton Bags: Style Thrift,” says the sewing instruction booklet. The cloth was indeed thrifty, durable, and easy to handle, but it was limited in size. [feedsack_007.jpg]



Poultry and feed sacks often go together. One could almost say many a feed sack has been present when chicken and dumplings were being prepared. Feed sack aprons were a common household item in Appalachia and other areas of the country beginning just before the War Between the States.

These early “feed bags” were not the colorful and patterned items that most of us are familiar with today. The early bags were generally tightly woven and more like contemporary canvas. They were neutral or white and without patterns but often stamped with the supplier or owner stamp. Some of the earliest bags may be recognized by a circular pattern that was commonly used to identify the manufacturer of food staples such as flour. The early bags could be re-filled and patched and used until they were no longer of service. They were instituted to reduce the cost of the standard wooden or tin containers that were problematic due to rust and leakage. But, the new bags were not without their issues — some physical and some societal. 


The beginning of the popularity of the cotton bag is generally agreed to have been around the 1840s. When a “stitching machine” was invented and the bags could be sewn tightly closed using a double locking seam, the cotton bag was adopted for a variety of carrying processes and their number increased. As cotton became more available and reduced in price, and with mechanized weaving, the sewing machine, and the low cost of slave labor, cotton bags proliferated. During the Civil War, the “feed bags” were used for various transport jobs. The second half of the eighteenth century saw creative industries start to add decorative prints to the bags. By the end of the century, several mills were experimenting with the production of inexpensive and attractive cotton cloth.

Further, the cloth bags were now being produced in a variety of sizes — not just in barrel size — and for more far-ranging uses. The barrel was, however, still in evidence on some bags as the circular imprimatur of the manufacturer was often the same size as the barrel top. The stamped name of the company was often hard to remove and there are many instances when the stamp of the company was left on a homemade shirt or a kitchen apron. During this time the weave of the cloth began to become more varied. The sturdy “canvas” weave gave way to a variety of less heavy and dense weaves and took its weave from the intended use and size. Depending on the contents, the bags could vary greatly. The lighter weave, such as that found on flour sacks was ideally preferred for home sewing.

As the uses of the bags expanded, so did the bag variety. The flour sacks, meal sacks, sugar sacks, salt sacks, as well as animal mash and grains — sometimes called “scratch” sacks — could all be recognized to some degree. The flour sack was the most common of the bags produced, as flour made up around 42% of the bagged goods; 17% of sugar could be purchased in a bag. Both these home staples meant that women could shop with a sewing project in mind. Women also learned quickly which bags were the most durable and could withstand continuous washings. They could also purchase similar patterns to expand their creative needs or aim for larger bag sizes. The manufacturers paid attention. 


When the cotton market collapsed in the second decade of the twentieth century it was due in part to the invention of rayon and other synthetics and new weaving inventions that allowed for woven patterns, not just stamped printed patterns. The drop in cotton increased the market for cotton bags and from around 1914 forward there was a proliferation of the cotton sack. 

With the increased manufacture came a sensitivity to the re-purposing of the used bags and new and more sophisticated patterns imitating contemporary trends began to appear on the sacks. Women were often the household shoppers and many saw the recyclable potential of the sacks almost immediately. Matching patterns and competition for popular patterns were common. Households with large families or farming families with many livestock could accumulate bags rapidly and soon there was a market for “surplus” bags. Many stores would re-purchase and re-sell surplus bags. This activity only increased the creative designs and the manufacturers began to produce booklets with patterns for bags or made suggestions for the use of string for crocheting. Coming up with an inventive apron was a favorite diversion and conversation piece for many women who regularly relied on aprons. 

Today, the handmade apron has largely become a rarity in the household. The versatile feed sack is even rarer. The many household items made from recycled feed bags were remarkable: Aprons, dishtowels, pot-holders, pajamas, dresses for growing children, pillowcases, quilts, curtains, pajamas, tablecloths, dishtowels, and a myriad of other useful household items. The uses of this second-hand material were endless for many families. The original bags that often held chicken feed — hence the name “feed sack” — and other animal foods were prized enough to often be squirreled away in hopes they would go into a quilt. Feed sack from the mountain home has long been a favorite “treasure” for many descendants who “remember the days…”

According to the brochure “Sewing with Cotton Bags,” cotton bags were inexpensive and could be relatively durable cloth. It “could be” relatively durable due to the variation of cotton quality and the weave which could be quite loose and prone to snag and wear quickly or tightly woven of strong thread and with good stability. Homemakers looked for more durable bags. For many household needs, the feed sack was a bonus when feeding livestock and it was not unusual for farm families to brag about the utility of the cloth and how they had used it in their home. \When everything on the clothesline was made from feed sack — that was utility AND craft!

Imagine, if you will, a clothesline of the patterns below waving in the afternoon sun and a gay, handmade apron on the woman gathering the laundry that smelled of Ivory flakes… That is how I remember my Grandmother Hall. Many of the patterns below came from her collection. 


Identifying feed sack fabric is not as easy as you might think. The paper labels were easily removed from a feed sack and even with older ones the label has often been removed. A course weave is not a good indicator as a fabric like this could also be bought off the bolt as well. The best indicator is a line of holes from the chain stitching that once held the sack together. However, this tell-tale indicator might be the first thing removed by the sewer.

GALLERY: Feed Sack and Fashion


  1. Adrosko, R. J. (1992). “The fashion’s in the bag: Recycling feed, flour, and sugar sacks during the middle decades of the 20th century. In Reconstructing daily life through historic documents.” Symposium conducted at the Third Symposium of the Textile Society of America.
  2. A Few Sacks More. Textile Research Center, Leiden, Netherlands. EXHIBIT.How Feedsacks clothed and warmed Americans during the Depression, and later.6121192805298418.
  3. Banning, Jennifer Lynn. “Feed Sack Fashions in South Louisiana, 1949–1968: The Use of Commodity Bags in Garment Construction.” Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University, 2005.
  4. Blair, Todd, and Karen Garvey. Flour Sack Dresses and Victory Stamps: Tales from the Good Old Days in Roanoke and the New River Valley of Virginia: a Treasury of 20th Century Memories. 2016. Pages 63, 117, 134, 161, 208.
  5. Brandes, Kendra (2009-01-01). “Feed Sack Fashion in Rural America: A Reflection of Culture”Online Journal of Rural Research & Policy4 (1). doi:10.4148/ojrrp.v4i1.59ISSN 1936-0487.
  6. Connolly, Loris (1992). “Recycling Feed Sacks and Flour Bags: Thrifty Housewives or Marketing Success Story?”. Dress19 (1): 17–36. doi:10.1179/03
  7. Glass, Fr. Floyd. Children in Guilin, China, 1948. The University of Southern California. Libraries, n.d.
  8. History of Flour Sack Towels – from 1800s to 1950’s [sic]”Mary’s Kitchen flour sack towels.
  9. Jones, Lu Ann; Park, Sunae (1993). “From Feed Bags to Fashion”. Textile History24 (1): 91–103. doi:10.1179/004049693793712213.
  10. Mable and Ethel’s Quilt Shoppe “History of the 1930’s Feedsack” Accessed March 10, 2021. Thanks as well to the Buchanan County, Ohio Historical Society for their contributions to the history of feedsack cloth.
  11. McCray, Linzee Kull (2016). Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric, Calgary: Uppercase Publishing Inc.
  12. National Museum of American History Behring Collection Example of dress made by Mrs. G. R. (Dorothy) Overall of Caldwell, Kansas, in 1959 for the Cotton Bag Sewing Contest sponsored by the National Cotton Council and the Textile Bag Manufacturers Association. 
  13. Nixon, Gloria (2015). Rag Darlings: Dolls from the Feedsack Era, Kansas City: Kansas City Star Quilts.
  14.  Onion, Rebecca (2017-07-21). “How Depression-Era Women Made Dresses Out of Chicken Feed”Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-03-20
  15. PK: Our first hundred years. (1985). Percy Kent Bag Company, Inc.: Kansas City, MO.
  16. Rhoades, R. (1997). “Feed sacks in Georgia: Their manufacture, marketing, and consumer use”. Uncoverings, 18, 121–152.
  17. Shaw-Smith, David, Conor McAnally, Jolyon Jackson, and Sally Shaw-Smith. Irish Patchwork. 2003.
  18. The Vintage Traveler. “Sewing With Cotton Bags” Accessed March 10, 2021
  19. Walton, Frank L. (1945). Thread of Victory, New York: Fairchild Publishing Co.
  20. Onion, Rebecca (2017-07-21). “How Depression-Era Women Made Dresses Out of Chicken Feed”Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  21. Banning, Jennifer Lynn. “Feed Sack Fashions in South Louisiana, 1949–1968: The Use of Commodity Bags in Garment Construction.” Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University, 2005.
  22. Brandes, Kendra (2009-01-01). “Feed Sack Fashion in Rural America: A Reflection of Culture”Online Journal of Rural Research & policy4 (1). doi:10.4148/ojrrp.v4i1.59ISSN 1936-0487.
  23. “History of Flour Sack Towels – from 1800’s to 1950’s [sic]”Mary’s Kitchen flour sack towels.
  24. “Feedsack Dress”National Museum of American History. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  25. Unidentified. Man wearing pants made out of a flour sack, China, c. 1905 – 1910. University of Southern California. Libraries, 1904.
  26. Glass, Fr. Floyd. Children in Guilin, China, 1948. University of Southern California. Libraries, n.d.
  27. Shaw-Smith, David, Conor McAnally, Jolyon Jackson, and Sally Shaw-Smith. Irish Patchwork. 2003.
  28. Nixon, Gloria. Rag Darlings: Dolls from the Feedsack Era. Kansas City Star Quilts, 2015.
  29. Lee, Heather Vaughn. Make Do: Feed-Sack Fashion in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

See Also:





Pine Mountain Settlement School
Big Trees and Big Ideas
EARTH DAY April 22, 2021

TAGS: trees, Katherine Pettit, Leon Deschamps, forest ecology, old growth forests, William Tye, poetry, edge habitats, logging, preservation, timber inventories, land dispossession, Steven Stoll, Lucy Braun, oak trees, Perfect Acre, edge habitats, Speculation Land Company, Tench Coxe, William Morris, North Carolina, archives, Emily Hill, Columbus Creech,


Angela Melville Album II. Part III. “Logging.”[melv_II_album_109.jpg]


It would be difficult to ignore a tree at Pine Mountain. Like many students, they have personalities and carry memories and there are so many of them! Like great sovereigns, they fill the valley with fragile green in Spring and a brilliant dance of color in Fall. They are remembered as favorite courting markers, their roots a resting place for an outdoor barber, their leaves an endless work task, and their loud trunk fall a cause for awe. Walking into the forest is almost always a topic of excitement and sometimes a poem and a reminder of how much we have in common with trees.

When students at Pine Mountain were asked to compose essays or poems in their English classes or to write a scientific analysis, trees often figured into the picture. For example, this poem by Pine Mountain School student William Tye found its way into Mountain Life and Work in the Spring of 1947


All about me stately oak trees
Send their sprawling branches upward:
Sovereign they stand
O’er trees about them.
Yet drab they look, standing leafless,
While other trees
Of less dimension
Proudly display their Easter garments.
But their assets are but folly:
For these trees which now so gaily
Show forth their beauty
And rejoice in their appearance —
Theirs shall be the destruction.
They shall but feed the soil
On which the oak tree thrives,
While waxing mightier
By their destruction
The oak tree stands
Sovereign still.

William Tye. Mountain Life and Work, Spring 1947, p. 12.


When the European settlers came to America in the late 16th Century they left countries that had waged wars against trees as the population grew into the surrounding forests. The Native Americans, on the other hand, had a well-established and comfortable history born of respect for their surrounding forests. William Cronan, in his informative discussion of the changes that occurred in the land when the colonists arrived, tells it this way

“… the edge habitats once maintained by Indian fires tended to return to forest as Indian populations declined. but edge environments were also modified or reduced — and on a much larger scale — by clearing, an activity to which English settlers, with their fixed property boundaries, devoted far more concentrated attention than had the Indians. Whether edges became forests or fields, the eventual consequences were the same: to reduce — or sometimes, as with European livestock, to replace — the animal populations that had once inhabited them. The disappearance of deer, turkey, and other animals thus betokened not merely a new hunting economy but a new forest ecology as well. “

Cronon, William. Changes to the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1983, 2003, p. 108.

Katherine Pettit, one of the founders of Pine Mountain Settlement School, and a re-born colonist and a die-hard Colonial Dame, aspired to or imagined herself to be following in the footsteps of her European ancestors — sovereigns of another sort. Pettit may never have composed a poem to a tree (I would love to find one!) and she had a somewhat tenuous relationship to the surrounding forest. I say, “somewhat,” because she had both enormous respects for trees while she warily “politicked” — an activity designed to continue to encourage donations from the growing timber and mining industries. To many who still seek to understand her, she remains a walking enigma in her early years at Pine Mountain Settlement.

When Pettit arrived at Pine Mountain and saw the surrounding forest, she was enchanted and she was appalled. Giant chestnut trees were still in abundance. The mighty oaks were not yet being harvested in great number for the barrel staves of Blue Grass liquor, but timber for mine roofing supports was picking up and timber was being negotiated away the steep slopes of the Pine Mountain and the Black Mountain, along with any sale or transfer of land that could be negotiated.

On the other hand, maples were being regularly tapped for maple syrup by the community and giant poplars were being felled to build her new School buildings. The modest cabins in the hollows and along the stream banks on the Northside of the long Pine Mountain melted into the rural countryside and both charmed and appalled Pettit. The use of trees by Community and School were often marvels of ingenuity. Hickory bark was being pulled from young hickory trees to provide bottoms for chairs, baskets, and tilt-top tables. White oak shakes (shingles) were still being reeved with hand tools for the roofs of cabins. Trees were being planted and strategically removed throughout the new School site. Under Pettit’s supervision, trees were being managed and monitored.

“Mr. Causey reseating a chair with hickory splits.” [kingman_095b]


Forest management was monitored by Pettit and managed by her farmers and her new forester, Leon Deschamps. One of the earliest inventories of the timber tracts at Pine Mountain Settlement was completed c. 1921 by Deschamps, a native Belgian and the forester hired by Pettit and her staff to oversee both the forest and the farm at the School through the early 1920s. What the Deschamp inventory shows is a healthy forest on the 119.48-acre inventoried tract. The School forest was a forest comprised of the standard timber resources of the day: maple, basswood, chestnut, white oak, red oak, poplar, beech, cucumber, hemlock, hickory, buckeye, ash, black walnut, black gum, in the amounts indicated below

Maple 115,000 Cucumber 7,500
Basswood 85,000 Hemlock 4,500
Chestnut 85,000 hickory 5,00
White Oak 65,000 Buckeye 2,500
Red Oak 65,000 Ash 2,500
Poplar 40,000 Black Walnut 2,500
Beech 15,000 Black Gum 2,500
Land Use Timber and Logging Record 1921, Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections

Deschamps advised Pettit that not more than 200 Board Foot Measurement (BFM)  were to be removed per acre per year and further advised that if there were large trees on the acre (what he described as “over mature”) that up to 400 BFM “could be removed without injury.”

Deschamps then provided a ten-year plan for management that included the lot to be cut and the Block (I, II, III).  He adds

In 1921 lot 2 Block II was clear cut, this operation was necessary owing to the bad shape the forest had been left in after the previous logging operations conducted a few years ago. (A few more trees will be removed from this lot but not before 1926).

Land Use Timber and Logging Record 1921, Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, p. 2
Pine Mountain Settlement School Forest Land – Pine Mountain Tract [2 pages] outlined by Leon Deschamps in 1921.


During his years as the forester at Pine Mountain, Deschamps went on to create what he called the “ Perfect Acre.” It is was a small demonstration plot just behind the Chapel at the School. Today it bears little resemblance to Deschamp’s original plot as many of the trees have been removed when they over-grew the perimeter of the Chapel roof. The older trees created complex moisture issues for the backside of the Chapel and the potential for roof damage due to falling limbs and the near trees were “weeded out” of the Perfect Acre. It is difficult to know how Deschamps would have felt about this “weeding”.

In a letter from Pettit to Leon Deschamps. Just three years after the creation of the plot and after Deschamps had left the employee of the School, Pettit was fretting about the acre. Without the watchful eye of Deschamps, the little plot was causing concern. Miss Pettit with her usual demanding tone, asks Deschamp to give her some direction. Leon Deschamps had left the School in 1923 following his marriage to May Ritchie, one of the famous Singing Family of the Cumberlands Ritchies. The couple had moved to John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina where he had assumed a variety of responsibilities, including farmer, forester, and architect. Pettit’s letter pleads for guidance in dealing with the weeds on the site

July 2, 1928
Dear Mr. Deschamps:
You remember you told me never to go into the Perfect Acre, and do one single thing unless you told me to. There is so much underbrush now, especially ironweed, that I believe something ought to be done about it. We have done a pretty good job getting rid of the ironweed on this place, and are at work now on dock and ragweed.

When I asked Mr. Browning if he could give a day’s work to getting the ironweed out of the perfect acre, he reminded me again of your orders. Now, if you have any further directions, please tell me. …

See: Leon Deschamps “The Perfect Acre”

We don’t have Leon Deschamp’s answer to Pettit, but it is certain that he had recommendations.

While the charm of the view out the back windows of the Chapel continues to be beautiful, and we don’t have the privilege of knowing what Deschamps replied to Pettit, nor have we photographs of the early “Perfect Acre”, the remnants of the perfect plot are still there. The anxious question from Pettit signals how rapidly the forest and the field can overtake the land and the vigilance needed to maintain the acreage at the Pine Mountain Settlement became a point of concern. An image of the plot today can be seen below.

Deschamps’ “Perfect Acre,” May, 2016. [pmss_archives_perfect_acre_2016b.jpg]


What we can discern from the brief exchanges we have gathered regarding the “Perfect Acre” is that Deschamp, the forester, and William Tye, the poet, were both passionate about trees and that Pettit was a responsible and a respecting steward. We also know that Katherine Pettit seems to have grown into her environmental conscience. At the end of her life became a vocal and energetic defender of trees. Her end-of-life advocacy for stands of virgin timber in Eastern Kentucky is well documented. She joined forces with her friend, the well-known environmentalist Emma Lucy Braun, to save the dwindling ‘big trees” of the area. Through Pettit’s efforts and those of Lucy Braun and others, many of the finest stands of timber and the largest trees in Kentucky forests may be found in the southeastern counties of Kentucky. For example, Pine Mountain has the tallest hemlock in the State. (See page Big Trees.)


During the first two decades of Pine Mountain Settlement School, there were other forces at work in the forests at Pine Mountain. These forces had started their push against nature much earlier. Many of these depredations are still at work. Author, Steven Stoll, in his landmark study of the ecological dispossession of the Southern Appalachian mountains, traced several paths that he and others believe led to massive take-downs of virgin forests across the region. In his book, Ramp Hollow: the ordeal of Appalachia, (2018) Stoll is focused on western Pennsylvania and on West Virginia, but his observations encompass the Central Appalachians and call attention to threats that continue to emerge in the forests of the region.

001d [Elizabeth Roettinger photograph ?] 050_FN_occupations_homes_001d

By tracing the history of the Appalachian region from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, and by exploring the idea of the history of *enclosure as a part of the history of capitalism in the region, Stoll leads his readers on a worrisome journey. It’s a journey from the early Colonial exploitation of forests to the later clear-cutting and destruction of the Appalachian forests. In his well-written exploration of the subject, he highlights the ravages of clear-cutting.

Specifically, he explores the eventual dependency of many mountain households on the ecological base of the surrounding forests and ties that cultural relationship and its ecological threads to later practices of timber harvest. It is the interwoven practices of poor timber stewardship and no timber stewardship that he contends contribute to the ongoing saga of what he calls destructive dispossession. It is dispossession not unlike that which happened with coal.

This mercenary scramble for Appalachia as described by Stoll is compelling.

… An army could invade [Appalachia] but never dominate the mountains. Capital moved differently. It acted through individuals and institutions. It employed impersonal laws and the language of progress. Mountain people knew how to soldier and hunt, to track an animal or an enemy through the woods. But few of them could organize against an act of the legislature or to stop a clear-cut. The scramble built upon these vulnerabilities, but it did not happen all at once. The first thing it required was a conversion in the ownership and uses of the land.

Stoll, Steven. Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia, New York: Farrer and Strause, 2017, p.130-131.


The conversion to dispossession came early in the Appalachian mountains in the form of land grants and very early purchases by wealthy speculators. These early mountain real estate “deals” are still being fought over and litigated. While much of the race to own land as a form of capital was quite early, the sale and re-sale and poor record tracking resulted in decades of litigation. A classic example of the practice of land speculation can be found in the so-called Speculation Lands tracts owned by Tench Coxe, his partners, and successors in the state of North Carolina. The Coxe empire that spread throughout Western North Carolina and eventually encompassed over 144,000 acres sheds considerable light on the questionable race to “dis-posses” by any and all means. Records from the large Speculation Lands Company are held by the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Appalachian State, and Chapel Hill and together they represent an instructive example of the “dispossession” process.

Tench Coxe (May 22, 1755 – July 17, 1824) was an American political economist and a delegate for Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress in 1788–1789. His skills at dispossession were well known during his lifetime. It is telling that he was known to his political opponents as “Mr. Facing Bothways.” As assistant to Alexander Hamilton the Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington, Coxe was an “insider.” He was also no newcomer to the monetizing of land holdings. The cycle of his speculation centered on timber and minerals and strategies to dispossess as many landholders as possible in the far reaches of western North Carolina.

One of his partners was Robert Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who unlike, Coxe and his successors, pushed his “speculation” (another word for dispossession) beyond his means and ended up in debtor’s prison. Speculators such as Coxe, Morris, and Blount, in Tennessee, and earlier even George Washington in Kentucky, set the bar for land speculation. Coxe and partners began their empire by borrowing money (some $9,000) in order to purchase land at .09 cents an acre. The land held in Western North Carolina was over the years passed along to other investors who continued the process of dispossession and a long cycle of litigation that was not completed until the late 1920s and involved investors in England and in France. The dispossession is still going on. In Kentucky, the land and timber saga has much the same narrative and can be traced in the activity of surveyors, landowners, and speculators.

It is likely that Katherine Pettit sensed this history would be written. Late in her life, she returned to trees. Like old friends, she embraced them and joined with well-known environmentalist Emma Lucy Braun to spend many of her last years fighting to save the remaining patriarchs of the forests in Kentucky and Ohio.

As this Pine Mountain student reminds us about the presence of trees

All about me stately oak trees
Send their sprawling branches upward:
Sovereign they stand
O’er trees about them.
Yet drab they look, standing leafless,
While other trees
Of less dimension
Proudly display their Easter garments.

George William Tye

POSTED BY: Helen H. Wykle