SCRAPBOOK BEFORE 1929: William Goodell Frost. In the Southern Mountains

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 27: Scrapbooks

SCRAPBOOK BEFORE 1929: William Goodell Frost. In the Southern Mountains

TAGS: Scrapbook Before 1929: William Goodell Frost. In the Southern Mountains ; William Goodell Frost (1892-1920) ; Appalachian mountains ; education ; poverty ; Mountain whites ; Hel-fer_Sartin Creek ; settlement work ; extension work ; social services ; Berea College ; religion ; preachers ; customs ; foodways ; horses ; log cabins ; log homes ;

[Reprint from files of Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections.  Outlook,  September 3, 1898, located in Scrapbook Before 1929.]


THE picturesque adventures which we are to describe are somewhat of a satire upon the dignified work known as university extension, but they have the same purpose—to bring the best elements of civilization within reach of the people—and they have the primal pedagogic quality of adaptation.

To estimate the success of this adaptation we must know the country and the people. How shall the ideas which characterize a modern university be interpreted to the family of a moonshiner on ” Hell-fer-sartin Creek ” ? Externally the inhabitants of the Southern, mountains are not, at first glance, prepossessing. Their home­spun garb, often in tatters, rude speech, and shuffling gait, might lead us to class them with the ” poor white trash.” But there could be no greater mistake. The landless, luck­less “poor white,” degraded by actual competition with slave labor, is far removed in spirit from the narrow-• horizoned but proud owner of a mountain “boundary.” The “poor white” is actually degraded ; the mountain man is a person not yet. graded up.

The mountaineer is to be regarded as a survival. From this point of view his variations from the regulation type of the American citizen are both inter­esting and instructive. In his speech you will soon detect the flavor of Chaucer; in his home you shall see the fireside industries of past ages ; his very homicides are an honest sur­vival of Saxon temper—in a word, he is our contemporary ancestor!

The causes which have retarded his development are not far to seek. Take the circle of Southern States east of the great river, and each of them,




only highways are the beds of streams? The whole South has been very slow about ” coming to town.” The Governor of one of these States recently said that a quarter of the people had never seen the court-house in their own county. And the people on ” Cutshin ” or ” No Bizness Branch ” have a good excuse. Progress must be slow in a land of saddle-bags.

Our extension work began with a prelimi­nary tour five years ago. Our mountain guide was an old soldier who had moved to Berea to educate his family. ” Children was all gals—all but the least one—and there was a better show fer ’em to teach in the mount­ings than to raise craps.” He could find some kinsfolk or an old comrade in nearly every county.

The time chosen was August, when the roads are least forbidding, and the mountain schools in session. The outfit was a saddle, saddle pockets, extra woolen shirt, rubber blanket, insect powder, comb and tooth­brush, pocket knife, five dollars in silver dimes, a Testament, package of postal cards, and a few leaflets.

The general plan was to speak at the school-houses, sending a boy ahead to ” norate” the people the day before. We could visit a school-house as early as eight o’clock in the morning, and by hard riding reach a second school-house by eleven. Here, after the ” speakin’,” we would be invited to ” come by “with a neighbor, and take a “snack.” Another ride would bring us to our third school-house, where we would speak, take supper in the neighborhood, and preach at “early candlelight.” Our ” gaited ” horses, with their “running walk” or “single step,” never fatigued us; invitations were plenty, chickens abundant, and week after week we kept up our four meetings a day. Saturday was set apart for rest, and on Sundays we planned to strike some “Association” meeting, or funeral.

The mountain funeral is a survival from the time when preachers were scarce. It rarely takes place at the time of interment. It will be remembered that the boy Lincoln had a funeral sermon preached for his mother long after her death. In the mountains it is a convenience to have this ceremony at a time when the roads will be passable, and there is likely to be a large gathering of kinsfolk. Several memorial sermons will sometimes be preached on the same clay. The prominence




thus given to funerals during the months of good roads assists the fatalistic doctrines of the preachers in giving a very somber cast to their religion.

The association meetings are held in the summer for the same reason. In one thing it must be confessed the mountain people have degenerated—they have lost the great Protestant idea that a minister must be an educated man. A few of their preachers aspire to greater knowledge—several have moved to Berea and entered school. But the majority rather glory in their ability to speak “as the Spirit gives them utterance.” And their utterance is loud. The present writer was invited to preach at one of these associations, and in the middle of his discourse one woman nudged another, with the remark, ” I wish he’d quit talkin’ and go to preachin’! ”

And it is sad to see that this class of preachers is still being replenished. One young man., persuaded to attend a Southern theological school, was back in three months fully equipped.

” Yas,” he said, “the Seminary is a good place to go and get rested up, but ’tain’t while fer me ter go thar no more ‘s long as I’ve got good wind.”

Meeting a young man unusually well dressed at a mountain ” court day,” we asked if he was a teacher.

” No,” he answered; ” I couldn’t get nary certificate.”

“What are you doing, may I ask? ”

“I’m tendin’ some churches,” was the un­abashed reply.

And in proportion to their lack of educa­tion is their sectarian assurance. We found four kinds of Baptists, each refusing to rec­ognize the validity of the ordinances as per­formed by the others.

In order to appeal to their strong religious sentiments, and yet avoid sectarian entangle­ments, we confined our preaching pretty closely to the Ten Commandments and a few undisputed but neglected truths and duties. If we preached to Baptists, they paid us the compliment of saying, “That’s good Baptist doctrine.” If we were among Meth­odists they, too, claimed us. On one occa­sion they came to our guide to ask to what ” persuasion ” we belonged. His answer was diplomatic: ” If you are a preacher, and hev got yer Bible, and then can’t spot yer man when ye hear him, I hain’t a-goin’ to tell ye.”

Following our tour of observation, we sent


out a quartette of singers—a Berea teacher, a student of mature years, and a man and his wife who had been born in the mountains but educated in Berea. This “troupe” gives two entertainments on successive nights in the same place, and a varied programme of songs and addresses. They are followed from place to place by crowds of young people on horseback. The entertainments are given at night, and during the day the quartette disperses to visit schools and homes. Hos­pitality is unbounded, and many of the most important lessons are given at the fireside. Not infrequently the people will keep us awake till a late hour w.ith questions, and sleep on the floor to give us a bed.

And this reminds us of the surprising pro­priety with which a dozen people of both sexes can sleep in the same room. Such an arrangement is expected on the occasion of all great gatherings, and is the regular way of living in most households. A lady of Sr party once went alone to lodge with an old couple whose children were all married and gone. The lady was shown into one of the two rooms of the house, and the hostess kindly said, ” Now there air plenty of beds in this room. Me and my ole man generally sleep in the other room, but if you air the least mite lonesome we will come in here and sleep.”

Each year the work has become more sys­tematic and effective, and with increasing acquaintance, we can profitably make a longer stay in each place. This makes the work much less arduous, especially for our ladies. One way of unobtrusively correcting the gro­tesque ideas disseminated by the mountain preachers has been to send a lady teacher to give ” Bible readings.” There is the utmost reverence for the Bible, and while religious teaching by a man would be watched for points of controversy, and religious teaching by a woman would be considered out of place the reading of select portions of Scrip­ture, with natural explanations, meets with nothing but open-mouthed and grateful atten­tion. Mrs. Yocum, of our Normal Department, accompanied by her little son, rode above five hundred miles the past summer.

As our illustrations show, there has been opportunity for not a few observations of mountain life which have been instructive and exciting to the lecturers themselves. ” Known to be preachers or as good as preachers,” they move among the roughest




people with entire safety, and even find permission to photograph a moonshine still, and many are the tales of adventure con­nected with the late war—border tales that remind us of the Revolution—recounted by our friendly hosts. The mountain people were divided, though the greater part were steadfast in loyalty to the old flag.” Were you in the war? “

” Yes, sir ; I was one of Morgan’s horse-theives.”

“How fast could you ride when the Yanks were after you? ”

“Well, I couldn’t ride fast enough, fer they caught me and sent me up into Ohier.”

Jackson County, Kentucky, claims to have sent more men into the Union Army in proportion to its population than any other county in the Nation. It is one of twenty contiguous counties without a printing-press. They adjourned court there to listen to a talk on education, and at its close one of the natives said, “Stranger, I could understand right smart of what you was a-tellin’. We had an officer in our regiment from New York or summers what spoke the same dialect as you do! ”

The characters of the Craddock tales are easily verified in these excursions as types of real life, as well as Abe Shivers, and Easter, the lovely heroine of John Fox’s ” Mountain Europa.” Mr. Cable has touched mountain life only in “John March, Southerner,” but his pictures are very characteristic. Lillian Bell, in her ” Little Sister to the Wilderness,” has given a picture of similar life in western Tennessee, and a word from her preface justly describes some of our highland friends.

” I have been led by the cry of the inarticulate, of that large, not-to-be-ignored portion of humanity whose thoughts need an interpreter; who, with womanish, nice perceptions, lack equally nice distinction in terms to enable them to express the fine shades of meaning which it is their gift to feel.

“They belong to that vast majority of people who, when you have taken pity on their hesitation and finished their sentences for them, cry out to you in gratitude.”

The native refinement of some of the mountain folk is surprising. The women commonly wear knitted woolen mitts at all public gatherings, even in the summer-time, as a tribute to conventionality. Many a girl




attended by thirty-five pupils who has come to us barefooted, and without so much as a night-robe or an “individual comb,” has been transformed within six months into a neat and self-possessed young-woman, whose humble origin would not be suspected.

The extension work has not been merely a series of excursions. We feel that there has been too much “touring” and “exploiting” of the mountains even by well-meaning preachers, who have made no provision for permanent results, and who seem to the people rather irresponsible. The university extension work has been purposeful from the start. It has proceeded from one well-known center, and the people have felt that “that thar College at Bereer what old Fee and Cassius Clay started before the Wah, is a-sendin’ these speakers.” It has been made personal and “friendly” by the acquaintance of a few Berea students even from the most remote counties.

And the lines of effort have been well defined. The problem is to make the belated dwellers in the hills sharers in the best ele­ments of our civilization. This is quite unique as an educational undertaking. There has never been such a problem before. We had, to be sure, a great Western frontier, but its pioneer settlements were always furnished with some proportion of educated men, and were closely bound to the older parts of the country. But in the case of this vast moun­tain region there is no such leaven, and no such bond of communion with the rest of the world. There has never been a clearer call for the intervention of some intelligent guid­ing force.

Two principles have been kept steadily in mind: In the first place, our aim has been to




housewives, for preach­ers, and for teachers, are examples of the varied adaptations. Not least important is the discourse on “Arbitration,” or ” How to Settle Family Feuds without Bloodshed.” Extension libraries and extension publica­tions have been used as freely as our means would permit, and have helped to make the long period of “bad roads” less a time of mere hiberna­tion in the mountains. Very considerable results are already ap­parent. The people begin to understand what education means. New topics of thought and conversation are introduced. New standards are set up.

The tone and even the outward appearance of many communities has been noticeably changed. And a very furor of desire for more of the same thing has been awakened. Our lecturers not’ only give but gather much useful information, picking up old English ballads with interesting variants, and collecting countless “specimens” of old-time customs as well as other fossils from the hills.

We cannot allow our clients, the moun­tain people, to be called ignorant, for that term implies a certain moral delinquency. Rather let us paraphrase it and say that, like the patri­archs, they are unaware of the distinctive features of modern life.

Nor are they to receive this service at our hands simply because of their need. We need them also. What does America need so much as Americans? And here they are — vigorous, un-jaded of nerve, prolific, patriotic—full of Seventy-six. For the blo[?] from the corrupting influence of the baser elements of civilization, they must have the sympathetic and skillful guidance of this university extension worked and spirit many years they will not need a university; but if they are to be set in step with the world, and saved.




GALLERY: SCRAPBOOK BEFORE 1929: William Goodell Frost. In the Southern Mountains

Title Frost, William Goodell, “In the Southern Mountains,” Outlook, September 3, 1898.
Alt. Title
Creator Willaim Goodell Frost
Subject Keyword William Goodell Frost ; Southern Appalachian mountains ; Appalachia ; moonshine ; education ; Berea College ; Hel-fer-sartin, KY  ; preaching ; religion ; Cutshin, KY ; John G. Fee ; Casius Clay ; quilts ; homespun ; weaving ; university extension work ; “poor whites” ; Mrs. Yocum ;
Subject LCSH University extension — Kentucky
Education — Kentucky
Publisher The Outlook, Sept. 3, 1898
Date Date digital:  August 23, 2008 ; Date original:  Sept. 3, 1898
Type text ; images
Format 7 pages. [magazine article in The Outlook, Sept. 3, 1898]
Source The Outlook magazine, September 3, 1898.
Language English
Relation William Goodell Frost articles ; Kentucky Virtual Library collections <> [searchable]
Berea College Southern Appalachian Archives <>
Transylvania College Archives <>
Univ. of KY Appalachian Archives <gopher://>
3D Pine Mountain Settlement School <>
National Historic Landmarks Database <>
Coverage Temporal: 1898 ; Spatial: Southern Appalachians
Rights PMSS
Donor n/a
Acquisition n/a
Processed by
Last updated 2008-08-23