STAPLETON REPORT – November 1930 “This is the coming-home month of Finley who has been in ‘durance vile’ …”

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Dr. Ida Stapleton and Rev. Robert Stapleton
Line Fork 1927 – 1947
STAPLETON REPORT – November 1930
“This is the coming-home month of Finley who has been in  ‘durance vile’ …”





Dear Friends:-

This is the coming-home month of Finley who has been in “durance vile” these two years and Neelie has valiantly supported the family by odd jobs here and there.  The one sure thing was the weekly laundry at the Cabin.  Finley graciously wrote her that she might meet him in Harlan-town.  “If she could find the money to get there he might be able to pay her way back”.  It is about twenty-five miles.  The dry weather made it necessary for the Cabin as well as many others, in fact most of the neighbors to carry water from springs as the wells went dry.  This gave Neelie an extra job and the money was saved for this eventful day with its trip to Harlan.  The trail over Pine Mt to Dione the R R stop is a steep one thru the forest but the quickest way for a hiker.  Neelie was going alone but it happened that Melda another neighbor in worse plight than Neelie because her husband has virtually refused her his home telling her to leave or else he would.  There are six boys whom she could never hope to feed not even by begging from door to door so while he was preparing to leave she slipped out and sought refuge at the Cabin.  This is eight miles from her home.   What to do to help poor Melda was a problem.  Until I could write to several places she thought she could stay with a sympathetic neighbor nearby.  It seemed as tho she might study nursing as she is the only one I have found in the vicinity who had a High School education.  But she is too old to be accepted even had she been eager to do it.  She thought she might do housework so I searched the want columns of a Louisville paper that had just come to hand and answered one offering a home with three dollars a week to an elderly person who would be a mother’s helper in the home.  A favorable reply came just in time to get Melda off with Neelie.  She had come to the Cabin the night before and had the luxury of a bath and an opportunity to wash up her small belongings.  Monday morning Neelie arrived in good time in a pouring rain.  The train reached Dione at noon.  Finley would not reach Harlan till four any-way and Melda would better reach Louisville in the morning so we persuaded Neelie to wait for an early dinner and take the evening train hoping the rain would stop which it did soon after dinner.  I watched them while they picked their way across the swollen Fork and up the mountain side.  Melda had a small pack and as I watched I saw Neelie turn to her and take her pack on her own back.  I called a last good-bye as they entered the forest trail.  Everett a step-son of Neelie’s had returned and offered to mind his two half-brothers while Neelie was away till her return with Finley on the morrow.

One day Bert was away and Jason was home with the children.  The least-one went limp every two hours so Loretta must go to the Cabin for castor-oil and musterole and cough drops for Laurence was sick too.  He is an imp so I took a malicious pleasure in knowing he was going to have a dose of castor-oil which Bert was quite capable of administering upon her return.  The next day Loretta came again asking for “pink pills”.  She seemed in no hurry but remained an hour or more.  In the evening she returned, for her mother wished that I would go and see the baby.  This I did and gave my favorite prescription – not to feed the little fellow until certain symptoms had subsided probably 24 hours.  Before this time had elapsed Loretta was back with a request for “listerine cough medicine” because Mary Soosan (that’s her spelling) said I had given that to her baby with spectacular results.

A round about message came from Axe-Handle Branch for me to go and see Jake.  But Swallow happened to be on another errand that day and the next was so windy as to make it rather dangerous for travellers in the forest, and a more urgent call the next day took me in another direction so it was some time before I set out to find Axe Handle.  Off from Stony Fork at the head of the Branch one of the rudest of new log houses was the home of Jacob (Jake for short).  He had recently come there had been a world-war veteran now a victim of circumstances with his deaf-mute wife and five living children – two having died.  The least-one was six weeks old and had been much neglected as Jake had been ill several months and since the baby was born Sally the mother had been obliged to get the wood.  The oldest child being a natural child is cared for by his maternal grandparents.  The next is six years old and he helps his mother saw up the small trees after she has chopped them down.

There was not much I could do for Jake but to get him treatment at a hospital.  With a R R pass and acceptance at St Joseph’s Infirmary in Louisville he is off and the energetic deaf-mute Sally is holding the fort on Axe Handle.  Jake was expecting some sick aid from the Veterans’ Bureau which will support the family until he is better and repay the doctor’s loan should he not recover.

An emergency call from below Gilley P O came one morning when we were at breakfast to a Baby-party.  Arriving about ten o’clock I found all the ‘in-laws” assembled – Florrie and her little four year old daughter, Lindy, Joe’s wife; Cora, Kenton’s wife; Doris, Harrison’s wife; grandmother Liz that is mother in law who had acted as mid-wife at the previous confinement; a young widow, sister of the patient completed the guests.  It was my first visit to this house and I was agreeably surprised and even elated to find it remarkably clean with linoleum on the floors.  Kitchen cabinet and dish cupboard in the dining room.  Two year old Doris trained to sit in her high chair until her hands were washed before she left the table.

The patient had supplied plenty of sheets, gowns, pads and even her own rubber sheet.  The party proceeded normally for an hour or two.  Then some accident of birth caused the death of the child.  There was some regret but the old grandmother said it was the best thing that could have happened and wished me to tell the children about the baby so after I had dressed it in its pretty little dress – the grandmother insisted on a bonnet – the children were brought in as well as the eighty-six year old grandfather.  I repeated the 23rd Psalm and all the verses about children that I knew from the Bible and prayed.  I told the children that their mammy had borned them a little sister but she had died and had gone to God.  As I was leaving the four year old Beatrice followed me out on the porch and said, “Ain’t you going to take your baby with you?” “No, that is Mammy’s baby” I said.  She remarked, “Then it will have to be buried.”  “Yes it will have to be buried,” I answered.

When I was on the way to visit my patient the succeeding morning and came opposite the house of the “shooting-up” (my first introduction to mountain tragedies) I could hear old Aunt Jane screaming “You have killed him”.  Soon a man came running to call the Dr and as I was right there I turned down the lane and crossed the creek to this house.  On the back porch sat Monroe, his head supported in bloody hands altho the bleeding had been staunched by a thick application of black soot from the chimney.  Aunt Jane told the sorry story.  Thirty-five year old Monroe had quarrelled with his father.  Old Gran picked up a jagged piece of stove wood and gave his son a murderous blow over the head.  Monroe had fired a rock at him only intending to check his anger.  “If he hadn’t been my father” he wailed “I would have killed him”.  The doctor succeeded after some difficulty in cleaning up the wound and the patient.  To get some sterile dressings some sugar pokes had to be boiled in the tea kettle.

Two or three grandchildren wanted to see all there was to see and I had to be very severe even to keep them out of my way.  Aunt Jane had a sore toe which must be looked at.  I seized one of the grandchildren and washed its face while the grandmother went to find a washboard the child came to borrow and would not leave till the board was produced.  When this was done and the child was on its way home I prescribed for the toe.

Old Gran had taken himself off to the fields up the mountain but I told Aunt Jane to tell him that I was thoroughly ashamed of him.  She reckoned that “both he and Monroe ought to be ashamed of theirselves”.  Monroe was lectured a little and advised to get into the house, his part being the upper room, then shut the door and let Pap bang on the door rather than on his head.  Monroe said, “Pap has always hated me since I was born and would like to kill me.”  They have had many quarrels.  Once they knifed each other.   These two had been injured when a brother was killed and I had gone down in the middle of the night to dress their wounds at the “shooting up” four years ago.

We have had a delightful visit from Miss Wood who was for six years a teacher at Pine Mt.  She is now visiting the High Schools in the Mountains to aid young people in wisely choosing a vocation that will be of the greatest help in the future.  One day we got another horse and she went with the doctor on one of her longer trips.  I had promised to go to Mrs Griffis on a certain day as she was going to give me a suckling pig.  It rained so hard that day that I could not make it but the next day it was possible so we went up Bear Branch and climbing to the top of the ridge went along the summit for some two miles and altho I had been there not three weeks ago I couldn’t find the trail to her cabin.  We turned back to a corn field thru which I had passed on a former occasion and so was sure of that way but did not enjoy letting down the fence to get in and out of the field and then to replace the rails.  However it could be done but then the field was so steep I just walked down to the next fence and got that ready for Bess the other horse to go thru.  A convenient rock made a good mounting block and soon we arrived at the cabin of Mrs Griffis.  She said she had expected me the day before and was sorry to disappoint me as the pigs had all disappeared.  She and Mary were just about to go and hunt them.  Miss Wood wanted to take a picture of the cabin and Mary with her Maw.  Mary had on a pair of boy’s knickers that had been given to Norman the blind boy of the house.  So she hurried to change into her pink dress and some stockings.  She wouldn’t “have her picture took bare legged”.  It was about noon and we were urgently invited to stay while some food was prepared.  But I begged off and as we went for our horses Mrs Griffis said, “Norman will be so sorry not to see you.  He was aflictin’ and apunishin’ terrible because he was asleep the other time you came.  But I want you to see our fatting hog Kitten, he’s so gentle.  Get in there Mary and scratch his side.  He’ll lay down every time and grunt when she does that.”  So Mary climbs in the hog enclosure and obediently scratches Kitten’s back.  Sure enough Kitten grunted with satisfaction and lay down.  In an adjoining pen is “Sammer” a wild thing that they had coaxed in with difficulty and he had given Mrs Griffis a savage bite on her leg.  Ned his companion wasn’t doing well at all so he had been made into meat for immediate use and a piece of this meat was offered me in lieu of the suckling pig.  Later a neighbor of hers, Malviny, brought the word that the pigs had finally returned with the old sow.

We went on down Stony Fork to Leatherwood and called on Ophie.  She has a lovely little place near her brother’s store and after her husband was killed three years ago she learned weaving at Pine Mt School and has made enough blankets and coverlets since to support herself and her three children.  She has the house and garden from her brother.  We were glad to share her dinner.  She herself is so attractive and the food was prepared so well.  An old woman was spinning for her and she had a nice lot of wool yarn ready for some blankets and a coverlet for which she has orders.

Two miles up Leatherwood we come to Delphi [Delphia] P O near by which Melda lived.  She had left a few clothes with a neighbor and I had promised to get them for her for I needed to call on the little undernourished baby there.

Two miles further at the very head of the Leatherwood we called on old “Mis” Gross again.  She was pitifully glad to see us tho in great pain and insisted on her daughter giving me again some “sweet taters”.

A long climb to the top of the ridge thru dense woods then down Long Branch where the forest has many beeches besides oaks, maples and chestnuts.  At the mouth of Long Branch we come again on Line Fork.  A stop at the post office for the daily mail as we ascend the Fork we come again to the Cabin at dusky dark.

Sincerely yours

The Stapletons

** Transcription by Gretchen Rasch, May 2015