ALICE COBB STORIES A Trip to Turkey Fork and Big Laurel,1937

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography – Community

ALICE COBB STORIES A Trip to Turkey Fork and Big Laurel,1937


TAGS: Alice Cobb Stories “A Trip to Turkey Fork and Big Laurel,1937”; Alice Cobb; Pine Mountain Settlement School; Harlan County Kentucky; Gladys Atwell; Judith Fay; Farmer Hendricks; Little Laurel School; schools; Turkey Fork; education; Medical Settlement at Big Laurel; Big Laurel; Abner Boggs; Artie Boggs; Eula Boggs; Ernie Turner; Frank Cornett; Path Fork; Hamp Turner; Herman Smith; Alta Creech; Alan Lomax; Elizabeth Lomax; Library of Congress; ballads; orphans;


RECORD OF A TRIP TO TURKEY FORK AND BIG LAUREL, 1937

Miss Atwell [Gladys Atwell, Medical Settlement volunteer, 1935-1937] and I started on our trip soon after lunch on Saturday, Miss Fay [Judith Fay, volunteer worker, 1937] going with us as far as Little Laurel Schoolhouse. We took the upper road to escape the mud on the new grade, which follows the old railroad track. I marveled again at the rapid changes every day brings. A few months ago I would have thought that we could never get used to the idea of not having the dinky railway down there, now it is [a] matter of days and a little gravel before the new road, where the old tracks were laid all those years, will seem as though it had always been there. And of course, we have already forgotten the days when we could only get across the mountain with a mule.

We were overtaken somewhere along the way by a nice looking young boy who said his name was Farmer Hendricks, and his home was on Cutshin. He told us he had nineteen miles more to walk before he got home, and he had already walked from home to Frank Cornett’s store. I could scarcely believe the distance was that great.

We stopped by Granny Creech‘s and I made arrangements to have a rug made of my blue coat. Granny grows more wrinkled and more kindly every day. The hospitality of these folks is such a part of their whole nature. I wonder sometimes if we aren’t all missing fire in our ideas of what’s right and wrong. I know of course that most of these folks will drive a hard bargain — and yet, on the other hand, I know that when I’m hungry they will feed me, and when I am sick they will visit me. (And the Bible doesn’t say a word about bargains!)

Well, we left Miss Fay at the Little Laurel Schoolhouse and went on plowing through a lot of mud, until we reached the Medical Settlement. The road is widening all along and is not nearly so lovely as before. I think it is very right and good that I need not stay in the mountains long enough to see the real march of time in Greasy Valley. It has no attraction for me. I only dread the change that will be effected in the people. Seems as though the coming in of “civilization” will rob them of their last claim to dignity.

Medical Settlement at Big Laurel. Main cabin. [hook_album_2blk__035.jpg]

At the Medical Settlement [at Big Laurel] we said goodbye to Farmer, and at this point met again a group which had passed us gayly in a large sedan a few moments before. The men in their nice city clothes and the women in fur coats, velvet suits, and spike heels looked like a picnicking party but turned out to be NYA people going to Turkey Fork to deliver a radio for the school children there. We were pretty doubtful about the high heels but went on ahead without commenting, and soon were clear out of sight of them. But every time we crossed a foot log or forded a creek we wondered about the heels.

Big Laurel Creek has not yet felt the coming in of the outside as has Greasy, and we could still rejoice in remoteness — often being out of sight of any house, and in stillness so deep and impressive that it seemed almost noisy.

We passed by Manilla’s [Begley] and Alice’s and Stacey Ellen’s [Boggs] houses, and made no stops at all until we came to Stella Taylor’s [Stella Taylor was a former student. She became a nurse and distinguished herself during WWII] where we stopped to see how Mrs. Taylor was getting on. Stella climbed over the fence to greet us and walked up to the house. She had been out planting with the boys and looked like a flower herself. Mrs. Taylor was up and walking about, but she looked very thin and wan. She sat down by the fire and wrung her hands nervously, telling us about her sickness. “Law” she said ” I been bad off. I thought a while back there want no chanct atall for me. Doctor says it was my teeth and just as soon as I could move I went to the town and had three took out, and they bled till I lost nearly all the blood in my head.” We didn’t stay long, because it was evidently hard on her to stay up. She said herself that Stella had been putting her back in the bed all day, but she just couldn’t stay there and know the sun was a-shining and the boys out planting her peas and lettuces.

From there we went right on to Abner Boggs‘s house, and found Ernie Turner out at the gate on his mule. I asked Abner how he was and he said he’s been pretnigh dead. He looked it too, and kept coughing and spitting. It was no wonder that the whole family had the flu. Little Eula‘s nose was bleeding and her face looked awfully flushed. She was in the bed. Artie was up and about, but looked pale and tired, although she smiled and was cordial, and so sweet, as always. Artie is so lovely to look at. I should think Abner could make a lovely song about her. She looks like some of the fair young ladies in his ballads. Ila had fainted and fallen on the front steps, and she was terribly bruised … And, poor Abner!

Near Medical Settlement, Big Laurel. “The Abner Boggs’s'” [Ben, ?. baby Zola and Mrs. Abner Boggs, Eula. ? , Artie, ?] [nesb_023_mod.jpg]

He said, “I swear to you, Miss Cobbs, in the whole endurin’ time I been about to die here, I been amissin’ the old woman more’n I ever missed her in the times she was gone from me. Use to be when I was sick there wasn’t a moment o’ the endurin’ night I’d wake up and crave somethin’ that she wasn’t right there with it, afore I could say what hit was I was a-cravin’. And t’other night when I was a-lyin thar sick unto death, with this un (that was Eula) up to one end o’ the bed and the baby one (that was Zola) to the other end I heard this un here a sobbin’ soft like and I says “What’s a matter, Eul?” and she says “I’m a-wantin’ mammy and I declare to you, Miss Cobbs my heart was like to a broke.”

And you know, Miss Cobbs,” Artie broke in, “When he’s sick he gets to singin’ and he sings and whistles all night long, as foolish as he can be.”

“I’m plum out of my head, like!” he agreed ruefully.

I wasn’t there long before they seemed to cheer up a bit. The nose didn’t bleed quite so badly, and we talked of Ben’s [Boggs] and Katherine’s new baby the first grandchild. I had brought a baby spoon, which pleased then all quite a lot. Abner told me about the coming of some of the Pine Mountain girls to see them, and how he was a-feelin’ extra good (this before the recent sickness) and like a young man again (of course I teased him about not looking old enough to be a grandfather) and went over to Path Fork or Cutshin or somewhere to get him a job. He said “Either I was underworked or overfed, one or t’other, cause I hadn’t been a-workin’ more nor seven hours when I just laid down my shovel and says to that feller: “I cain’t stay no longer. I’m just goin’ home to my children and starve with the rest of ’em.” And by the time he got home he was having fever and chills and singing at the top of his voice.

Medical Settlement, Big Laurel. “Boggs'” [nesb_004_mod.jpg]

We finally had to leave, and hurried on to Turkey Fork, to find the radio people there before us, since we’d stopped along the way; Mrs. Boggs was very cordial and showed us where they had built the new upstairs back porch with the steps going up, and the new smokehouse. They really don’t waste any time there. There’s something idyllic about that place and those two people with all their likenesses and differences still living thrilling lives together, and enjoying the simplest things. The pig they bought with our gift they call Stranger, the three new chickens are Faith, Hope and Charity. Life there is such a strange juxtaposition of stark reality and romance. The whole world ought to know about that little settlement.

Map of Community Residents 1934 - 1942

Community Map of Pine Mountain valley – partial view of larger map showing Turkey Fork area, near Little Laurel. [P1050597.jpg]

We stayed only a few minutes for out time was short and we had to hurry back to the Medial Settlement. On the way back I remembered the package of dates I had in my pocket and decided to leave it at Abner’s, but as I was coming by there Artie came to the door and called to me. Although it was getting quite late I went in to find Eula worse. Her nose was bleeding quite badly and they said it had been doing that way for twenty-four hours except the short time we were there in the afternoon. They asked me what they should do for it, and I was sort of overcome to think that this family with all its sicknesses and experiences with life and death and living hardships would still need to come to me for aid. It quite took my breath away. I told them to pack her nose, and hold a wet cloth over her face until the blood had time to form a clot. I stayed around a few minutes to see if it worked, and miracle of miracles the bleeding actually stopped! They were so grateful it made me cry, and they weren’t half so surprised as I was. Abner couldn’t be jolly and complimentary enough. It was like sunshine after rain and all because of a simple little thing that I just happened to remember from years and years ago when my nose bled like that and we had the doctor. I thought how little it takes to help, and how I would have given all my training in Latin and Greek for the good practical course in home nursing and how dreadful it is for these people to be so far away from a doctor. If that child had been hemorrhaging I couldn’t have helped her nor secured help in time to keep her alive. It was a long uncertain eight miles to the Pine Mountain Infirmary, where there is a nurse, but no doctor. And little as I knew, it was more than anybody within an eight-mile radius of that suffering little girl. When I left them, the well ones crowded close to the fire, Abner sitting up near the bed where Eula lay, all flushed and suffering, and Artie gently holding the little girl’s head and applying the cloth time and again the whole family gay and grateful, the fire leaping up as if it too were feeling better, and the lamp burning more brightly. I’m going to get a first aid book and study it….

By this time it was thick black outside, and our light was awfully dim, so we had to stumble along as best we could. All things considered we made the creeks pretty well, wading up to our knees in a good many places because we couldn’t see which ones were shallow and which deep.

When we were almost at the mouth of the creek we lost the road, and found ourselves walking the creek bed. (Once before we had done that, and had been rescued by Ernie Turner, who came riding up in the darkness, eerie as any headless horseman. But when we found who it was we were very glad indeed, because by this time we were in the middle of the stream and could hardly find the bank on either side, much less the elusive road. Ernie guided us to the proper ford, and we went on our way rejoicing. But as soon as were almost in earshot, and were in sight of the settlement, we lost the road again and wandered downstream for quite a piece. Ernie and the mule had long since disappeared into the black void, of course..)

We finally saw a light and started up in that direction but were stopped by the fiercest barking and growling I think I ever heard, and I decided I’d rather wade the rest of the night than go in calling distance of that place — I think it was Hamp Turner‘s. so we went on upstream a bit until we saw another light on a hill and started up toward that. It meant crossing a barbed wire fence and climbing an embankment but we made it and finally attracted the attention of the family. They seemed to have a radio which was making a lot of racket and then Herman Smith heaved into sight filling up the doorway and I never saw anyone who looked more like an angel. He guided us up the hill and over two more barbed wire fences, and then was about to leave us with instructions to be careful because the ledge we were to follow around the hill to the edge of the cemetery was “mighty narrer — about six inches,” he reckoned.

I said “Herman, I won’t walk a ledge six inches wide without you holding my hand.”

So he came along willingly enough and took us one at a time over the “narrer” place. All the way he kept remarking in the most even tones, “Hit’s might narrer! You can see what a drop it is down to the creek bed.” Of course, I couldn’t see a thing in the dark, but I could imagine, and got a sick place in the pit of my stomach every time my foot slipped in the damp leaves on the ledge. But finally we made it and he said cheerfully, “Now maybe you can make it around the graveyard if you hold onto the fence along the way. But look out for the points in the bob-wire. And look out for the blackberry bushes. You might could get scratched up!”

He was right, because between the bob-wire and the blackberries and the mud, in which I kept on slipping, I felt rather a sorry sight when I finally got to the corner of the graveyard and went stumbling up the hill to the [Medical] Settlement House.

Alta Creech and her husband who are staying at the house now came down and welcomed us, and it was quite a comfort to sit down and team off by the fireplace and eat cheese sandwiches. And then it was good to get to bed. The little army cot felt like a down mattress, and cold as it was, it was still such a contrast to the rocky creek bed that I was quite comfortable.

We were up the next morning before sun-up, although it seemed even earlier because the sun takes its time about coming over the hill to Big Laurel, and after breakfast, we were off in a hurry along the road to Pine Mountain [Settlement School]. By the time we got here, the sun had climbed clear over, and the whole valley was ablaze with light and warmth.


Alan Lomax came to Pine Mountain in 1937 and collected music and ballads from the local community. The following ballad, “The Orphan” was sung for Lomax by Abner Boggs.

See Also:

ALICE COBB STORIES “Abner Boggs’s Lamentation for His Wife”

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ALICE COBB GUIDE TO WRITINGS, STORIES & LETTER COPIES