STAPLETON REPORT – December 1931 “I have in mind telling you about my last baby party on Jakes Creek …”

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Dr. Ida Stapleton and Rev. Robert Stapleton

Line Fork 1927 – 1947
STAPLETON REPORT – December 1931
“I have in mind telling you about my last baby party on Jakes Creek …”




December Doings                                                           Gilley 1931 Kentucky

Dear Friends-

I have had in mind telling you about my last baby party on Jakes Creek.  Once before I wrote about Orrie when Sam her husband was in prison and Mary, her mother-in-law with me spent the night moving the children from one bed to the other because they would not stay without their mother.  Finally we got the three of them all in one bed with Mary lying across the foot while I attended Orrie.

This time Sam was at home and the three oldest children were kept at “Maw’s”.  Mary again slept with the least one while Sam dozed in a chair, awaking occasionally to replenish the coal in the old Franklin stove.  Vine, Orrie’s mother put a folded comforter on the floor behind the stove and stretched out on that apparently sleeping quietly and well.   Along about two o’clock she got up and Sam took her pallet where he slept till four at which time more coal was needed.  He then roused Mary and said she must get breakfast as she had slept more than any of them.  At five breakfast was ready – a big plate of fried chicken (Vine had dressed that fowl the night before) fried sweet potatoes, biscuits (very light but hardly browned at all – the fault of the oven) canned peaches and coffee with no cream since they almost always drink their coffee strong and black unsweetened.

The party was somewhat delayed.  Sam remarked that he had never seen anything like that.  “No” I said “How could you when you have been in prison during three of Orrie’s parties?”  He admitted that was so adding that he didn’t mean it to happen again.  During the day Vine went home and Mary was busy at her house tho she came to get dinner at three o’clock.  We had had a snack of apples at eleven when all the children came and sat on the floor around the stove while I peeled and cored the apples, passing a piece to first one and then another until all were served, using Sam’s knife which he first polished on his britches.  The night before they had been eating apples in place of a cooked supper and Vine found herself a blade with which to peel which was a worn butcher-knife without a handle.

At intervals during the day the dog, Drum, with her pup would come in and as often,  Orrie would say “Sam drive that dog outa here”, the pup would as often elude the switch and get in again.  It was one of the coldest nights this winter so I did not blame Drum very much for wanting to share the warmth of the fire with the rest of us.  Once in the night I went out on the porch and there on a piece of sacking lay Drum curled up in as tight a roll as she could manage with pup lying exactly on top of her.  Poor little uncared for runt, undernourished as its mother.  Once at Mrs Griffis, Mary was showing me her starved-looking kittens.  I asked her what she fed them to which she answered biscuits and gravy.  I suggested she give them a dish of milk morning and evening since they had plenty.  Even while I was waiting she brought a cupful and poured it in a little depression in a rock by the stoop.  They lapped it up eagerly and two months later Mary came to the Cabin and reported “I’ve been feeding Jack & Jill milk and it’s a wonder how fat they are now”.  Mrs G had said Mary wanted names for them and she had suggested Jack and Jill.

In the meantime the party was continuing and finally got to the stage where the children were hustled off to grandmother’s and Sam called Mary to hurry.  She was feeding the stock.  Before long another little son was born.  Vine appeared again just that moment.  Little Verdi, the oldest, had the privilege of naming the baby had it been another girl but she was quite unwilling to choose a name for a boy.  As she is a real helper with the young’uns when baby was dressed in his pretty little outing gowns he was put in her arms a few minutes so that she could say she had nussed him first.  Sam decided his name should be Basil as his brother had named his son born two days before Basle.  Sam was really very attentive, bringing water or going a dozen times to see where the young’uns were when Orrie told him to.  Sometimes I suspected he went out to fortify himself with a nip from a bottle secreted near by but he didn’t get over talkative.  He even bro’t up the subject of paying for the former attendance on his wife but he had not been able to get any work.  He had made a crop and offered to supply with some corn fodder which we like to have alternate with hay in feeding our Mare Swallow.  I eagerly acceded to that and began to feel that there was some manliness in Sam.  A few months before I had opened a “rising” for him and he had promised the dollar asked for the service.  I had told the family I would not go up that creek at night unless they did some work on it.  They did do something that one could recognize in the day time.  Luckily I did not have to go at night as Sam’s father Dick came across the ridge in the afternoon to ask me to come.  This whole family three sons and a daughter, are the most determined moonshiners in our midst.  The three sons have often been doing sentence together.  One day recently I met the daughter with a big load of quart jars on the mule.

To return to the question of the fodder when I called the next day Sam remarked “Dick says we can’t spare any of the fodder but Mary will buy the corn and in a week or so we will have money for you”.  There the matter rests.  Orrie made a good recovery and the baby is thriving as they nearly all do, the mothers nursing them quite successfully for two and at times three years if they are lucky.  One of our neighbors tells a story that often comes to me when I call upon Sara the woman who was raised that away.  Hen went to see her father and the child scrambled up the ladder into the loft of the cabin being ashamed as they say meaning shy.  Hen had to wait quite a spell talking to Hanna, Sara’s mother.  Finally Sara could stand it no longer and called down “Mammy I want to suck”, and she was five years old.

Janey, Sam’s sister, is such an attractive looking young woman.  I attended her with her second baby.  Then her husband was arrested for his share in the business and while he was in the pen Janey got her another man or at least she had another baby and some months later when Sherman came back and was holding the baby his sister-in-law devilled him a bit by saying the child was prettier than his young’uns.  He replied “It makes no difference to me”.  He wasn’t home three months before he was taken again and this time he got five years.  Janey is still successful in taking their products over the mountain but they did not seem to prosper any better than their neighbors who make an honest living for Mary has repeatedly asked to borrow money for their taxes altho that may be just a gesture to put one off from accusing her of unlawful traffic.  However we know of several who have their farms sold for taxes still living on them as renters from the Coal & Lumber Co who have bought up nearly all the farms of those persisting in making whiskey.

Two or three weeks before Christmas we had some callers nearly every day and they seemed interested in hearing a few Christmas hymns.  One “Doubling for Santa” and the other “Tongah Santa” a story of the Esquimaux.  The teacher of Coyle Br school had prepared two well selected little dialogues in which Santa was very well shown by the biggest boy in the school.  At Bear Br school Mr S took this part to the delight and fear of all the small children.  Thanks to many friends there were packages for each of the sixty families to be distributed by the mothers to the members of the family when they reached home from the festivities at the school houses which had been very prettily decorated with wreaths of evergreens by the teachers and scholars.  There were colored pencils and a drawing book for each school as well as a fancy box of sweets and raisins besides the oranges which were given to all the pre-school children present as well.  Each child was given a balloon to hold during the exercises and the occasional pop of one suggested fire crackers, none of which were used this year tho there were a few shots from guns on Christmas Day.

The attention was so good that we were congratulating ourselves a bit until we had left Bear Br school and a number of people were standing about talking when suddenly I saw to my horror that Lilly had her hands in Judy’s black hair while Judy was shrieking “I never done it. I never done it”.  Being near I turned and with some effort disengaged Lilly’s fingers and with my arms around Judy’s neck tried to calm her as she cried “Let me go and see what I’ll do to her”.  After a bit I went over to Lilly and she told me Judy had put an insulting gift on the tree for her and Cillas her husband had told her to stuff it in her [Judy’s]mouth which she proceeded to try to do.  Lilly’s father talked of the law & c and Judy’s husband was like-wise minded but they finally calmed down and no more has come of it yet.  It did seem so dreadful when we had been talking of the Prince of Peace and loving one another with gifts.  Yet other years we have seen some attempt at making such rude jokes and once or twice prevented trouble by not giving such packages.  This time one of these so called gifts were read off by those who had put them on.  Lilly was mistaken in the one she thought had done it, thinking it was Judy because of having had words with her before.

As part of our neighboring program we undertook to buy black walnut meats to send to our friends for Christmas boxes.  But so many came we could not take them all.   But friends were kind and helpful by taking some for their friends so at last a dozen families were helped to a bit of cash for Christmas.  One neighbor discovered that she could put evergreens together in an attractive way and earned a nice little sum for her big family of growing children.  Her daughter Loretta is doing well in Pine Mt school.  It has taken a long time for her parents to be willing to release her from cropping and baby tending to getting something better in Pine Mt School.  But they at last have agreed to let her work there next Summer and she has been promised the chance.  Now we will see what she will make of it.

One day early in December came old Sally Holbrooks with her son John’s wife.  She wanted to come but she could not walk so far and as she could not borrow a mule she did walk five miles to Beehive Br to get John’s mule and then together they came fifteen miles for clothes mostly.  I had some odds and ends nothing very appropriate but all gratefully received with some soap and a package of “play pretties” – cards for all her grandchildren.  I know twenty-five of them but can’t remember all their names.  The two widowed daughters Cindy & Judy came later and their children were really sick and would I send them cod liver oil.  Old Sally had managed to get a doctor from Hazard to see them.  Officers were sent to bring the four children to the hospital with permission for Cindy to stay with them nights.  But she would not consent to their going and spirited them off so that the officers could not find them.  Later I heard that they got to Cumberland and Cindy told one of our neighbors who carries vegetables from door to door that they had nothing to eat for three days.  Without doubt the authorities have taken the children now without letting Cindy stay with them.  As she herself was wont to say, “I’m a perfect fool about my children” just not wanting them out of her sight yet she would be away from them all day when coming to the Cabin or gathering ginseng on the hills.  John’s wife came again yesterday with her oldest son a boy of twelve named Marion.  Aunt Sally was just so puny she begged Doc to send her some cough medicine.  Marion looked quite the part of the scare-crow even to the old shoes tied on his feet.  His mother said he had never been over the mountain to Line Fork so she fotched him along for company.  A garment or two some soap and raisins a package of candy for the children and the cough drops was all I had for them this time.  Yesterday I had to content myself by giving a couple bars of soap to four women who needed it badly and a few “hippins” for the so very attractive baby with black eyes.

One a Mrs Roberts had her eighteen year old son with her.  They had never been here before but there are ten children needing clothes and “I heered you were helping poor folks”.  Heb, the son, had not liked to go to school so had read only the third reader.  His father and mother do not read at all.  They were better dressed than most so I did not feel very sorry that I had nothing more than a lovely program on the radio to give them with cheerful conversation.  That last is really a good deal since there is so little they can talk about or understand when we try to entertain them.

Sincerely Yours


**Transcription by Gretchen Rasch