STAPLETON REPORT – March 1931 “Come with me up Coyle Branch this afternoon. ….”

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Dr. Ida Stapleton and Rev. Robert Stapleton
Line Fork 1927 – 1947
“Come with me up Coyle Branch this afternoon. ….”



The Cabin Gilley Kentucky
March 1931
Dear Friends:-
Come with me up Coyle Branch this afternoon. Coyle Branch runs into Line Fork down by Gilley post office.

Up the creek bed a short distance, then a steep climb to what might be called a bench on the mountain side, yet so steep there seems to be no place to stop but on the narrow road which we are following. The first house is what I call the “Crow’s Nest”. Little Martha with her Madonna face lived here for six years and it was here I attended her at her last two baby parties. She had said that John intended to build them a house and this winter they have been doing it. John did the actual building but Martha drove the mule and dragged up the boards they had accumulated at the foot of the mountain.

She left her children with her young brother and worked at it every possible day for weeks – piling the boards on to a wooden sled then driving a mile along the steep bench above her father’s house to a bit of land he had willed her for a home. Here there is a tiny spring of water. More than once the sled turned over and she had to right the sled and load it again. Finally two rooms were finished and they moved in. They had put an extra floor in the Crow’s Nest but they had to tear that out as well as the coal grate to help finish the “Eagle’s Nest”. I found that out when stopping to see Mary who has started house keeping in the Crow’s Nest with Henry who is Martha’s brother.

I told Martha she was the champion transporter of building material and John the champion builder so I must give them a bit of house warming. We go up the Creek bed – quite impossible for the sled and at one place a great boulder forces us up on the bank, a very narrow trail that seems dangerous. Indeed Swallow looked around to see if there was no other way to make it. I had to look twice for a way up to the house. After leaving Swallow at the fence I scrambled up quite as steep a path as the one that leads to the Crow’s Nest.

The children welcome us gaily as we climb the steps that lead to the porch and Martha with her least one in her arms welcomes us. She is in overalls as she has been washing. We can see the tub on a turned down chair on the kitchen. There are not chairs enough for three as she sits on an upturned nail keg. After a little talk about the house building I present her with some towels and wash cloths. She apologized for the dirty faces and hands of her own three and her young brother and sister who are visiting her at the moment. There is a step-mother at her father’s house and I call that the “Falcon’s Nest” as the stepmother is not very popular with these two – Ruth Ann and Harrison. There are no windows yet and the third room is just a shell – but the extra bed is there and a dresser which came up in the sled as all the rest of the furniture did. The few pretties belonging to the children are displayed on the dresser. A little celluloid doll pleases Geneva and she shows it to baby Milburn but it frightens him at first. Then he takes it in his little hands and smiles at it. His feet are wrapped around in pieces of worn out overalls but the uncovered soles peep thru – as even the rags are worn out. He has had no shoes all winter but as he is held a good deal he has not suffered so much. We wish Martha and John years of happiness in the new home that they made with such toil. We take our way back down the Branch to the Crow’s Nest. We won’t stop at the Falcon’s Nest because Zion of the yellow hair is away. It has its own story. I was there when Martha’s own mother was dying.

Mary is not expecting callers. She is helping Henry put up some new palings on top of a rock wall he has made quite neatly to keep the tiny yard from washing down and filling the narrow roadway. I’ll go in while you talk with Henry, and see the baby Lilian. She is so covered up in the bed I can hardly find her and caution Mary about covering her face so closely. Mary has a small bench on which two can sit so she draws it up to the wood fire on the hearth. She has begun to tear off the old paper that had covered ceiling and walls – several layers of Sears and Roebuck Co’s catalogues. She regrets the rough floor and so do I. It seems as tho their parents could have helped them to refloor it – the tiny porch has no floor. We talk of this and that. She has put in some ‘forard” cabbage plants – frost proof – some onions and “taters”. They have a poke of meal and a piece of meat from her mother Sara Jane and some potatoes. She doesn’t complain of anything. They were urged to wait a while before getting married. I saw henry the day they moved, enticing two shoats with a few grains of corn to follow him to the little pen in the yard. Later they will be let out to forage for themselves. The kitchen has an old stove they picked up somewhere and a table that Henry made from some boards Mary’s father tore out of the show cases of a store he once had in part of which building Viola now lives. I suggested he come to the Cabin for some short boards with which he could make a cupboard for the few dishes. But they can stand on the table until he gets his ground ready for the corn crop. His father has rented them some six steep and stony acres. They will have workings – that is changing work with their kin folks – so no money will be needed for labor. You have been intrigued with Henry’s blue eyes and rosy complexion I am sure. One day when the baby was very tiny and crying I would not allow any one to pick her up. As Henry came thru the room I said, “Here comes Henry. He wants to nuss the baby too”. He blushingly said “and I will too if she doesn’t hesh”. Of course she stopped shortly.
It was such a cold grey day when I made a recent trip down Leatherwood to Beech Fork. I stopped in on Stony to leave a bundle of clothing for Susan and her babies, to get warm and to give them another little talk about Easter. Little Hattie told me how they hunted for eggs that Bertha had hidden after dark and they never could find the surprise egg that had been made black with soot.
After another hour of riding I came to the mouth of Clover Fork where there is such a pretty little place and such an attractive young grandmother. She had often waved to me as I passed and as I was rather cold and it was about dinner time I stopped in. Ailsie was just about to blow the horn for the menfolk – much older husband and his brother and the son – a nice looking young man whom she still calls Baby. She has the bluest eyes and wore a dust cap in blue and white and a dress of blue that just matched them. Her teeth are generously filled with gold and she wears hoop earrings of gold. So all told along with her pink cheeks she is a sight worth looking at. She is quite as vivacious as she looks. She told me of her girl Cora – a kin of her husband’s great-aunt to whom they gave a home. She took her to Pine Mt school once but she only stayed three weeks and never would go back. She was sorry as it might have kept her from marrying so early. However she now has a baby and a home with her husband’s mother near-by. The son is smart and they sent him to Stewart-Robinson school – but he only remained one night. She feared it was her fault as she had petted him too much when he was a child. He is a good work hand. Her husband was interested in the conversation and sat awhile after dinner to continue it. Ailsie showed her last quilt, the 8th she has made this winter – the second of the “Lone Star” pattern set up with Turkey red calico. Some one had had a fire and lost everything so she had given them the other quilt of that pattern. She has one clump of “butter and eggs” in her yard just ready to open out and their peach trees are showing pink like Ailsie’s face. William’s is also rosy.

I had lingered over long but it is nice occasionally to stop at one of the better places as the sick up on Beech Fork are so very poor and so very dirty. Mrs Kim still keeps about and was cutting potatoes for the three older girls to plant. Kim was helping a neighbor to pay for the “taters”. The four little ones gather around for the story and I stayed a bare half hour as there was still a mile to go to the McDaniels. Ollie, her nursling and Frieda – her eleven year old daughter were all in bed. Lena May and the three other younger ones were sitting around the battered old coal heater that served instead of a fire place. They had been feeding the fire with their hands and had not been washed for several days as Ollie could not hold her head up but a few minutes while she stirred the cornbread. There was no dish that I could stick in the stove to warm water but Lena May brought a wash dish and a pail of water so I set to washing them in the cold and they didn’t whimper. The three year old would not come to the dish but when I began to talk to him he submitted nicely enough. The chairs had long since lost their splint bottoms and were crudely laced up with some telephone wire that had been left dangling when the line was abandoned and retrieved to mend the chairs. Even so an old coat had to be stuffed in to keep little Irv from going thru. Ollie and the others got up for a few minutes while I made up the bed, which was in such a state of discomfort – the quilts full of crumbs. I shook them all and Ollie bade Lena May bring a sheet from the other bed, (she had only two) as Frieda is so sick – a kind of flu that is going around. I had taken Ollie a tonic for some other weakness she has but I had no cough mixture with me and little Judy sadly needed cod liver oil. This I sent the next day with some sheets that had recently come from a kind friend. Ollie does try to be clean but she hadn’t been able to wash for two weeks. I asked if there was anyone around who could help her and she though one of Mrs Kim’s girls would in exchange for “taters”. Did she have any soap? No. Well I started back and got Maggie’s promise to go the next day to wash for Ollie giving her some money to get soap for themselves as well as for Ollie. Mrs Kim said “You know we only have a little soap now and then. The Red Cross Aid does not let you get anything but meal, lard and flour.”

She had started a lettuce patch and it was up when I had been there three weeks before but had not grown any in the meantime. An “Easter flower” had put up some flower buds in an old tin can – the only bit of beauty seen around that hovel except the evident love of the mother and children and willingness to help each other. The boy Hiram had made log troughs for the calf, pigs and cow, hacking the wood out with an axe. Kim has started a log house on the land he has rented, very primitive but it will be better than the shack they are now living in.

It was getting later than I usually start back and several people called out to me “to take a night” as I passed their houses but I knew that I could make it even tho it would be long after dark before I reached the Cabin.

It was dark when I reached the mountain but a few stars helped and Swallow knows the way so well we made the four miles over the mountain, thru the forest without hearing a sound or meeting anybody. Mr S had delayed his tea and as I passed the window I could see him by the table. A shout brought him to the door to take care of Swallow and soon I was toasting myself and some bread at the same time to my inner and outer satisfaction with plenty of tea and orange marmalade.

Another baby has arrived on Line Fork and the young father tho in the “pen” for the coming five years has a paying job for helping his family with ten dollars a month so his wife Viola – Mary’s sister – is paying the doctor ten dollars on the instalment plan. Another neighbor has just been in to bring three splint bottom chairs in payment for the doctor’s attentions to his family during the last two years.

Loretta was in great need of shoes and begged us to order her some and she would pay for them with a dozen eggs a week. She brought two dozen and then I reckon the hens went on strike or began to “set” so the benefactors must wait until the hens begin laying again for the remainder of the two dollars loaned for the shoes.

Spring comes on very slowly but callers report progress in the appearance of onions and peas in their garden. The Virginia Blue Bells that hide away in the cleft of the rock have come to life again and Easter is here, Easter is here.

Sincerely Yours
The Stapletons

**Transcription by Gretchen Rasch.