EVELYN K. WELLS 1918 Excerpts from Letters Home – Horseback to Hindman

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel
Series 09: Directors

EVELYN K. WELLS 1918 Excerpts From Letters Home
Horseback to Hindman

Secretary 1916 – 1931
Acting Director 1931

TAGS: Evelyn K. Wells ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; transcriptions ; letters ; Marguerite Butler ; Board of Trustees ; PMSS early history ; horses ; Katherine Pettit ; Steel Trap creek ; flora ; rhododendron ; laurel ; Si Browning’s farm ; Stony Fork ; Leatherwood creek ; creeks ; Singletons ; Marion Cornett ; Marthy Cornett ; Cornettsville ; mining towns ; food ; iodine ; Kentucky river ; coal-banks ; Bull Creek ; Defeated ;Carr ; Mouth of Irishman , KY ; telephones ; Betty’s Troublesome ; Troublesome ; Hindman, KY ; Hindman Settlement School ; hospitals ; Lucy Furman ; May Stone ; Celia Cathcart ; Hindman-made furniture ; Bernice Van Slyke ; Hindman guest house ; Ruth Huntington ; Hindman dining room ; children ; Berenice ; Fireside Industries ; baskets ; rag rugs ; homespuns ; linsey-woolseys ; weaving ; Inez Sloan ; portieres ; linens ; tapestries ; counterpanes ; Hindman clubs ; debate clubs ; moonshine ; Wellesley College ; Miss Parker ; Anne Cobb ; Alice Geddes Lloyd ; government hospital for trachoma ; Bull Creek ; holly-tree with yellow berries ; Uncle John Dixon ; Bear Branch ;

Series 17: PMSS Publications (Published by the School)
Pine Mountain Settlement School

When Evelyn Wells began to write a history of Pine Mountain in late 1928 and transcribed various letters from workers in 1929, she left a comprehensive body of information about the early years of the School from 1913 to 1929. Most of those transcribed letters are by Wells, but some few are by her colleagues at the School. This account may be definitively attributed to Evelyn Wells. 

Though she did not leave us with the names of the individuals who wrote many of the other letters include in her “Excerpts”, the style throughout the letters is remarkably consistent and leaves little doubt that most of the “Excerpts” are from her letters to her family and friends. Because the accounts were often candid, it was her attempt to protect the identity of the individuals who had written the material just a few short years before the transcription and sometimes to protect those who were described in the letters. Time has made this redaction process less important and the difficult task of locating the original letters in the archive will continue — and, as the letters are located, the identity of many the individuals will hopefully be revealed. Knowing how long an individual was at the School and where they previously lived and worked helps to shed light on the observations and perspective of the writer. 

In the Fall of 1915, a small group of staff traveled from Pine Mountain Settlement School to Hindman Settlement where the two founders, Katherine Pettit and Ethel de Long, had begun their rural settlement work.  The extensive and detailed account of their journey was recorded in several accounts and they show clearly that the close association of the two institutions did not cease with the departure of the two key players in Hindman’s early history.

This account, written by Evelyn K. Wells as she travels back to Hindman, relates that on her arrival at Hindman she is met by a Wellesley classmate who notes that she would have recognized Wells anywhere from her “Wells walk.” Apparently the three travelers to Hindman included Evelyn K. Wells, School Secretary [the author], Marguerite Butler, teacher and Celia Cathcart, another teacher. Elizabeth Roettinger was also considering accompanying the group but did not go.

This account of  travel from Pine Mountain Settlement School to Hindman Settlement School is the reverse of the trip taken by Dorothy Stiles in the same year (1915) and sheds light on the close association that Katherine Pettit and Ethel de Long maintained with their previous institution. As this letter indicates, there was most likely an intent associated with the visit. Pettit and de Long worked hard to draw a distinction between the two institutions and to “educate” their staff on the Pine Mountain vision and purpose and how that vision and purpose differed from the surrounding settlement institutions. This account helps to shed more light on those differences — but it also draws closer the similarities of the two institutions. [hhw]


Pine Mountain Settlement School ; horses ; Katherine Pettit ; Steel Trap creek ; flora ; rhododendron ; laurel ; Si Browning’s farm ; Stony Fork ; Leatherwood creek ; creeks ; Singletons ; Marion Cornett ; Marthy Cornett ; Cornettsville ; mining towns ; food ; iodine ; Kentucky river ; coal-banks ; Bull Creek ; Defeated ;Carr ; Mouth of Irishman , KY ; telephones ; Betty’s Troublesome ; Troublesome ; Hindman, KY ; Hindman Settlement School ; hospitals ; Lucy Furman ; May Stone ; Celia Cathcart ; Hindman-made furniture ; Bernice Van Slyke ; Hindman guest house ; Ruth Huntington ; Hindman dining room ; children ; Berenice ; Fireside Industries ; baskets ; rag rugs ; homespuns ; linsey-woolseys ; weaving ; Inez Sloan ; portieres ; linens ; tapestries ; counterpanes ; Hindman clubs ; debate clubs ; moonshine ; Wellesley College ; Miss Parker ; Anne Cobb ; Alice Geddes Lloyd ; government hospital for trachoma ; Bull Creek ; holly-tree with yellow berries ; Uncle John Dixon ; Bear Branch ;

November 3, 1918 [1915 ?]  (012-017)
Evelyn Wells. See “Wells walk …”]*


Monday afternoon, and here I sit in my room again writing home, after a hundred miles of horseback and an interesting visit. I’m so full of it that I can never get it all written!

The tale begins with Wednesday morning, when I rose at the crack of a very frosty dawn and gathered a few necessaries into a paper bundle (the knapsack has not having arrived), and tried to get my room into shape for an absence of five days, all before 6:30, when we had planned to start. But just as breakfast was arriving, Miss Butler came along on horseback, and said, no nags had turned up, “Doc” Browning having disappointed us at the last minute. So from then on to nine o’clock we had to hunt for horses, which finally ended in our unhitching the team which was hauling stone for Laurel House, saddling them – two of the sorriest old white cart horses you ever saw, and starting off at 9:30 for Hindman in a cloud of dust!

Angela Melville Album II – Part V. “1918. E.K.W. [Evelyn K. Wells] & A.M. [Angela Melville] “[melv_II_album_214.jpg]

All our stuff was in saddlebags and a big meal-poke, which was the source of no end of trouble to us, it had to be so carefully balanced, and it was always so difficult for the one who was carrying it to mount and dismount! Work actually stopped, and people came to see us off, and Miss Pettit pursued us to the gate, giving us messages for all the Hindman people and telling us of things to be sure to do and see. We rode gaily up the road feeling very sporty in spite of the meal-poke and the galumphing steeds, and turned up our first creek, Steel Trap, which is a particularly beautiful one, leading through a deep ravine filled with laurel and rhododendron at first, and later broadening out into lovely slopes on each side, where the sun came streaming down through the golden beeches and coppery oaks.

Then a couple of hours just riding along the top of a ridge, with the land dropping away on both sides and views of distant hills and just miles of Pine Mountain, and way down below us, a cabin in a cornfield here and there. The first morning we did our roughest riding, up one creek, with nothing but the rocky bed to follow, and that concealed in leaves for the most part, over divides and down through cornfields at a 90-degree angle to the bottom lands again. At noon we struck Si Browning’s, a big farm on Stony Fork, where we fed the horses and ate our lunch, glad enough to get off and stretch out. But by that time it was hot, and we were very sleepy, but the noon rest had inspired the horses, so we “rode up”, as they say, all the way down Leatherwood, which is one of the largest and loveliest creeks in the mountains. There was a fine road, so that we could really cover the distance, and we passed houses that were real houses, framed and painted. Other signs of civilization were a telephone wire and increasing variety of greetings. We were no longer “them Greasy women on white horses”. At Singletons’, where the people sometimes stop for the night, it was only three o’clock, so in spite of the lovely orchard and herd of Jerseys and attractive house, we decided to go on to Marion Cornett’s, at the mouth of the creek.

In spite of weariness and such stiffness as I never felt before, we went on for three miles, asking at every house how far it was to Marion Cornett’s. When we were within half a mile of it, and it was growing dark, a boy met us and told us we couldn’t be put up at Marion’s – he was plumb full up. We were perfectly astonished and asked him how Marion knew we were coming there, and he said they had “phoned down the line” from Singleton’s. Then it was up to us to get back to Singleton’s, or find another place. The boy reckoned that we could stay “down yander”, “yander” being a big frame house in an orchard, close at hand, and the home of Marthy Cornett, [Aunt Marthy]  a widow woman, so we turned down the lane, laid down a rail fence, climbed over, set up the fence again, and rode up to the house and asked if they could take us in. And when the old lady said most decidedly No, that she was alone and not much well, and the hired girl didn’t like company and she’d just had a hard time getting rid of one woman, we were crestfallen. Apparently there was no moving her, so we discussed the situation and decided to turn back to Singleton’s rather than go on to Cornettsville, where there was a railroad and too many miners and lumbermen. So we asked if we could telephone back to Singleton’s, and the son of the house went in to do it, and came back promptly to say that the old lady had decided we could stay. You can imagine how relieved we were, after eight hours in the saddle, to know that we could get right off and go to bed instead of riding back three miles in the dark or going on three miles in the dark to a perfectly strange mining town! You see we were getting into civilization and people aren’t as hospitable where passers-by are frequent, as they are up here in the wilderness.

After the first chill, Marthy was hospitality itself, preparing a supper of white and sweet potatoes, hoe cake, “meat”, butter, honey, all kinds of preserves, coffee and sweet milk. After supper we went upstairs to a very large room, with a nice clean paper on the walls, a coal fire in the grate, and two big brass beds – a palace for these parts.

We were making short order of retiring when the door off the porch opened without anyone knocking, and in came Marthy and May, the hired girl, for an evening call, Marthy with pipe and sunbonnet. Once we were reconciled to their being there, it was very interesting. She told us about raising twelve children, all of whom had been educated. Only the youngest son was at home and he was engaged to the school teacher at Harlan. She had sidelights on why she had refused at first to take us in, when she said that she’d had a family of strangers on her hands for several days, — a woman and three children, one of them a cripple, who were trying to get to the husband who was in the mines at Hazard. She had fed them and slept them and finally sent them off with a lunch and two dollars, and was thoroughly exhausted with the experience. When Marthy finally departed we hopped into our feather beds (welcome softness!) and went to sleep by firelight. At this point I developed a cold, so I got up at midnight and painted my throat with iodine, which cured it effectually.

Breakfast the next morning at five. So cold and dark! But the fried chicken and hot biscuits compensated, and Marthy gave us a fat lunch to take with us. By six we were on the road again, travelling [sic] down to the mouth of Leatherwood, on the North Fork of the Kentucky River. From there on, the hills were perceptibly lower and along the river, which we followed for a mile, there was some really decent farm land. It was such fun fording the river in the early morning – climbing up onto the bank where the sand was still covered with frost, giving it a wonderful cafe-au-lait effect, cantering along the sandy road by the river or up high where the road had a solid rock floor and the cliffs hung out above us, — past all the little coal-banks, where they had dug right in from the side of the road and propped up the openings with piles.

You ought really to be following this with a geological survey map. I’m afraid it won’t mean much to you.

Bull Creek, our next, was a long one, seven miles, including a big sawmill, five houses, and a track for hauling lumber among its attractions, and long stretches of woods and rocks. At the head of the creek we had a grand changing of saddles, since the Mexican saddle on my horse had rubbed his back. By ten we had crossed a lovely divide that was like a parkway, a drive circling a big hill with views in every direction, and picked our way down Defeated to Carr, where we had intended to spend the first night. By noon we were at the Mouth of Irishman, eating lunch by a big tree while the woman from whom we got corn for the horses brought her lunch out and ate with us, and told us her history and all the news of the neighborhood, — how a man had been shot on Election Day and another the day before, but that since then she didn’t know anything, as she hadn’t been listening over the telephone. Irishman is as homely as it sounds, rather thickly settled, and very depressing, and we were glad to leave it and go over Betty’s Troublesome down into Troublesome, which after three miles led us into Hindman, just at three.

“Unloading freight from Hindman” Settlement School, 1913. hook_album_2blk__018.jpg

The hills around Hindman are very steep and bare, but not high, and the school is built up on one side and the town on the other side of the creek. It all seems rather barren and desolate. Troublesome is small and muddy, not at all like our lovely Greasy, and the town is of course far from beautiful. The school is wonderful; though the buildings don’t compare with ours, because they have been through several bad fires and have given up putting money into buildings but they’re not bad – big brown frame houses sitting on the side of the hill.

Miss Furman [Lucy Furman], the one who writes so much, met us as we dismounted, and took us up to the Hospital, where Miss Stone [May Stone], one of the principals, met us and took us to our rooms. Miss Cathcart slept in the boys’ ward and Miss Butler and I had the guest room. The hospital is a beautiful building, equipped with an operating room and a diet kitchen and three wards, and upstairs all the weaving goes on. Everything in our room except the iron bed­steads had been made at Hindman, — beautiful highboy, desk, wash-stand and chairs, rug, blankets, counterpanes and coverlets. In fact there are only a few pieces of furniture in the whole place that didn’t come from the Hindman workshop. The furniture is all built on mission lines, but is more thoroughly finished. The seats of the chairs are made of twisted corn-husks, giving a coarse rush effect.

We didn’t stop long to gaze at the furniture, however. We made the most of an hour of rest and bathing, and at four felt quite equal to the tea party they gave for us. My classmate, Bernice Van Slyke, came to collect us, and we went up to the guest house, a big log house on the hilltop, with a wonderful windswept view of the country, and all the school buildings down at our feet. It’s all so different from Pine Mountain; the hills are so low and bare, and the creeks just muddy rocky streams, with no lovely rhododendron and laurel such as we have. Then of course the town doesn’t add to the beauty of the place, with its funny little brick courthouse and three stores.

It was nice to meet Ruth Huntington again. She said she’d recognized me from afar by “my Wells walk”, though she hadn’t seen me since my seventh birthday, when I was wearing a new plaid dress and asked her if she didn’t think it looked “seven-y.” I do hope the Wellses don’t all walk as I did after 35 miles in the saddle.

After we had enjoyed the view, and the meeting with the workers, and the fruit salad and tea with real lemon in it, we came down to supper.

It seemed strange to be in a crowd again — over a hundred children eating in one big dining room. The children are all much older than ours, and show the many years of training in a good school; speak fairly grammatically, if un-picturesquely. The work goes on quietly and smoothly, and the children are much less in evidence than ours. There is less “mothering.” Very few of the workers go out of their way to be with the children.

The next day we put into visiting [the] school. At morning exercises we had two scenes from As You Like It, which had been ably coached by Berenice. It was quite inspiring to see a big graded school again. In the afternoon we visited Miss Furman’s house, the oldest one on the place, where the school started. She lives there with seventeen small boys and the place is charged with atmosphere!

Then to see the Fireside Industries. I went wild over the baskets, as you’ll observe when they arrive in Newton, where I had several sent. They are all made by the women who live around Hindman. It was hard to choose from among all the different kinds. Then we saw the rag-rug variety, and as cheap as the ones in Boston ($1.25 per yard) and the homespuns. The linsey-woolseys are lovely, they get such nice shades. Then we saw the weaving. Inez Sloan, a Hindman girl, is the head of that industry. She has been at Berea and is now at the school — a very lovely quiet person, admirable with the children, and a true artist in her craft. She was weaving some blue portieres with a deep blue border, and the results of her dyeing were hung-up on a frame behind her, great masses of blue and green wool of the loveliest shades. And it took us nearly an hour just to look over her linens and tapestries, to say nothing of selecting. I’m sure I want another linen suit, and Inez is going to make me some brown samples whenever she dyes again. And her counterpanes are beautiful. One is a very, rich honeycomb pattern, “Martha Washington,” only $10.00. Inez is coming to Pine Mountain in a few weeks to teach some of the women to weave — and I’m going to learn too.

In the evening various clubs held forth. I visited debating and heard a most vigorous debate on woman suffrage, and tried to imagine the same thing going on at Pine Mountain. After that, two clubs got together for a half hour of games, and some excitement was furnished by some town boys who had had too much moonshine. Then I went with Berenice to her room and we sat by her fire and talked college and mountains and everything else. Every once in a while we’d look at each other and wonder how we had happened to meet so far away from Wellesley. Also I saw one Miss Parker who taught Chemistry at the Newton High School when I was there. Also Miss Anne Cobb of Newton Center. Also a middle-aged couple from New England who had driven all the way from Vermont in a buggy — for their health — 1000 miles! (n.b. Mrs. Alice Geddes Lloyd)*

The little time we had Saturday morning was filled up with a visit to the government hospital for trachoma, which has almost eradicated that horrible disease from the county. It’s just a little frame cottage painted orange outside and blue inside. They have an operating room and other rooms filled with cots, and a clinic down­stairs. There must have been fifty people huddled into their small quarters, filling the dark corners and shielding their eyes as best they could from the light. Whole families in various stages of the disease were there. But Miss de Long assures me that most of the “sore eyes” around us here are cases of conjunctivitis and not trachoma at all.

The Hindman people gave us a grand send-off — including lunch enough for two days. What a day of travelling [sic]! We came down Bull Creek in the twilight and went past a wicked looking sawmill in the dark, crossed the river, letting the horses find the ford, and were glad enough to strike our big wide Leatherwood again, with a road you could see beneath you and stars to light the way. At Cornettsville we sent a telephone message ahead to the widow that “the ladies on the white horses were coming.” By the time we reached her house — and I shall never forget how beautiful the lights of the house looked and a great fire blazing at a sawmill a little way off – we were so tired that we were silly, and went into gales of laughter at the supper table. May, the hired girl, ” ‘lowed she’d never heard folks laugh like that.” The last straw was when May came up after we’d gotten into bed and pulled out from between the mattresses the biggest gun I ever saw, which had been hidden there when the stranger-family were there, so that the little boy couldn’t get hold of it.

On Sunday, after another fine breakfast of fried chicken, hot biscuits and honey, we made a leisurely departure. Son Kirby took us up over the ridge to see a holly-tree with yellow berries, a great rarity in these parts, though we had seen plenty of beauti­ful red-berry hollies along the road, we rode off wearing sprigs of the “rarity.” The early morning hours are best for riding, and Sunday was wonderful, with thick mist at first, which lifted and showed more and more hills.

About noon we missed the trail and came down off the ridge into the wrong creek. Oh, the sadness of finding the log cabin that you had looked down upon and thought it would supply you with corn for the horses, was completely de­serted. We were utterly at sea as to what creek we were on, but there was nothing to do but to follow it down, and after a few minutes’ riding we came on the next house. Then we were out of the woods, for the house turned out to be Uncle John Dixon’s on Bear Branch, where I had taken dinner a few weeks ago. We had a warm reception – dinner for the horses, and apples to eke out our lunch, and in an hour we were off on the last lap of our journey home, and the horses certainly knew it. We made the last six miles in an hour and a half, “soon” travelling [sic] for these parts. Pine Mountain was certainly a beautiful thing to come back to.

Well, it was a great trip — a great way to learn the country and travel, and get to know your travelling [sic] companions, and compare the two schools. I’m more and more impressed with Miss Pettit, and can understand what they want to do here.

See Also:



EVELYN K. WELLS  RECORD OF PINE MOUNTAIN SETTLEMENT SCHOOL 1913-1928 [INDEX] (Early in-depth history of Pine Mountain Settlement School)


EVELYN K. WELLS 1918 EXCERPTS Horseback to Hindman


Wells, Evelyn K. The Ballad Tree: A Study of British and American Ballads, Their Folklore, Verse and Music, Together with Sixty Traditional Ballads and Their Tunes. New York: Ronald Press, 1950. Print.

[See Bibliography below her Biography for a listing  of additional publications.]

EVELYN K. WELLS, “A Little True Blue American, 1920”


EVELYN K. WELLS, TALK Harvard University July 1, 1955