ALICE COBB STORIES Farewell Trip to Line Fork June 14, 1937

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography
Series 31: Religion
Series 14: Medical

ALICE COBB STORIES Farewell Trip to Line Fork June 14, 1937


TAGS: Alice Cobb Stories “Farewell Trip to Line Fork”; Alice Cobb; Abner Boggs; Boggs family;  Pine Mountain Settlement School; Harlan County, KY; Line Fork, KY; Dr. Ida Stapleton; foodways; social services; community service; Nancy Jude; Josephine Merrill; Edith Cold; Stella Taylor; Zoe Boggs; Frank Taylor; Clarence Patterson; Herman Smith; Manon Cornett; Dr.Ida Stapleton; Rev. Robert Stapleton.;


On June 14, 1937 Alice Cobb wrote to her “Folks” [It is unclear just who “Folks” represent] . In the letter she details how she made a nostalgic trip to say her “good-byes” to the community where she had worked for many years while a staff member at Pine Mountain Settlement School.  She traveled first to Little Laurel, Big Laurel and Turkey Fork communities and then on to Line Fork where her service work took place. Her account is filled with memories and sadness at leaving so many familiar families and the familiar landscapes where she had experience adventures that were often not for the faint of heart. This journey was among several she made to say good-bye to good friends to the West and to the East of the settlement school. She was intent on letting her friends know that they would be well cared for by the staff coming along from the School after her departure.


GALLERY: ALICE COBB STORIES Farewell Trip to Line Fork June 14, 1937


FAREWELL TRIP TO LINE FORK VIA LITTLE LAUREL, BIG LAUREL AND TURKEY FORK, JUNE 14, 1937

[All pages were typewritten. Edits have been lightly made for clarity.]

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June 14, 1937

Dear Folks:

I am just looking back over one of the pleasantest–and one of the very saddest times I have had here. I think I told you that I was making my farewell tour down the creek on Friday, to return Monday morning. Nancy Jude, one of the girls here at the schoဝl was to go with me, and we planned to take some honey and cottage cheese and bread to Miss [Edith] Cold and Miss Merrill [Josephine Merrill] at Line Fork.

I wrote Artie Boggs several days before to ask her if we could come there for supper, and had a perfectly lovely little note from her saying that she was so glad for me to come, and she felt sure the bees were glad too, because they were working hard making honey for me, or something like that. She is a lady, and a charming hostess, even if she did have only two short years somewhere in the lower grades at Pine Mountain. Artie is the oldest daughter of Abner Boggs, the ballad singer, and she has taken care of the family since her mother died about three years ago. We arranged with Stella Taylor for her brother Frank  [Frank Taylor] to walk across the mountain on Friday night to the cabin [at Line Fork], for we weren’t sure of the trail, and I arranged some small gifts for all the Boggses, and we were set to go.

Lela Christian, Nan Milan, Stella Taylor, Nancy Jude. Community Service Workers, c. late 1930s

We got our things ready at the office after dinner and were all ready to start. I happened to remember Granny Creech‘s quilt pieces, which I had planned to take to her, so I ran back to get them, and just at that moment who should appear in the doorway but Granny herself. I gave her the pieces and told her how nice it was to have her company going back that way but she seemed rather nervous, and finally she said “But Miss Cobbs, I come to take you down to Oscar‘s for supper. Mallie‘s got her two chickens kill and Lizabeth and her husband is leavin’ tomorrow, and Oscar said he wanted you to come when he was home.” She looked so breathless, and so hurt and disappointed, that I could hardly bear it — to think she had come all that way, on a hot afternoon, and Granny is so old, and frail, that it’s quite…

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…an undertaking for her to come so far (it makes all of a five mile walk, both ways). But there just wasn’t anything to do, but promise that I would come the next week. I felt so sorry because she was counting on my going back with her. Lizabeth has just married a foreman or boss or something at the C.C. camp across the mountain, and since Oscar has joined the C.C.’s he is only home week ends, so this was to be a special celebration, I guess. They just never think about inviting ahead of time — the time comes and they come to fetch you, and that’s all there is to it.

Well, I left Granny at Andersons and Nancy and I hustled along to Little Laurel, where we were to follow the creek to Bill McQueen’s place and cross there to Big Laurel. They are building a road down Greasy now, and have blasted out so many of the big rocks that used to be landmarks along the way. Granny was quite grieved about that, too. She said Reny told her “Law, ma, they wouldn’t be doing that if Mr. Creech was to be alive ” — Mr. Creech was Granny’s first husband. The old folks hate to see the old things changed. The young ones are glad enough to see the road coming in, and of course it will mean a good deal to the few good farmers down that way.

We reached the mouth of Little Laurel in no time (I will make a little map below, for I’m sure these names don’t mean much:

[image of hand-drawn map — see above]

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…and then started up that creek — it is very lovely, and so much farther along than the others. We found several rhododendrons in blossom, and the blackberries look as though they would be ripe in two or three weeks. I like Little Laurel too, because it is in such a narrow, severe little valley and the mountain on each side seems to frown down so intimately. It was hardly frowning on Friday though, for every thing was fresh and glowing. We stopped at Thee (short for Theodore) Begley‘s house to take a picture of the cabin. I have always thought it the cunningest little toy house — a one room log house, with a teeny front porch, where there is always a spinning wheel, and a huge stone chimney. It looks like something out of mother goose. But when you come to know the family, it’s anything but romantic. There must be nine or ten children living, and most of them live right there too. One of the older girls is an idiot, and they are all frightfully poor. I called to the [truncated] that I wanted a picture, and all the children on the porch (I could just see them through the paling fence) disappeared. A moment later they came out in a stream, all hastily pulling on their other dresses — (I couldn’t say clean dresses, because they were awfully dirty.) I hope the pictures are good but rather have my doubts, as the sun wasn’s shining just right. They had a nice garden.

From there we went right along to McQueens, and took the trail across the mountain to Big Laurel Creek. You do quite a bit of winding around, and I had remembered it as quite a hard mountain to climb, but for some reason it didn’t seem so high that day, and oh but it was lovely. We had some fear of snakes in the denser parts of the woods, where it was quite black almost like evening — but I guess one is pretty safe with high boots in any case. Nancy had on only light sneakers, but she didn’t attract any snakes, and we had a beautiful time. The late flame azalea is just in its prime. It clings close to the ground, but otherwise is just as brilliant as the in early bloom — and of course the laurel was breathtaking. It is in full bloom…

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…and not good to pick for bouquets any longer, but it is beautiful on the bushes — like great snow banks. We came off the mountain just above Bob Taylor‘s place. I think I have told you about their home before. Bob is one of the really good farmers in the hills around here, and when the road comes up Big Laurel as it probably will someday, he is going to be a rich man I think. He has a fine family of girls (Stella Taylor and Delia are both in school) and boys. Frank is twenty, and should have been in Pine Mountain years ago, but the Taylors just couldn’t agree to let him go. They are the really worthwhile nucleus for settlement work in that section I think. It is rather a strange situation too, for Bob has his dark past. We seldom think of it, but it is true that he killed a man in Virginia, and had to go back and serve a prison sentence, which left Mrs. Taylor to keep the farm and family till his return. Miss Merrill [Josephine Merrill] says that when he came back from prison he was so grateful to her for being faithful and keeping everything ready for him, that he has never been able to be good enough to her since! Anyway he is fine to his family and friends, and I haven’t a doubt that the person he killed needed to be killed.

They have a beautiful house — a two story log house, with a big yard, lots of trees, and so much bloom all about — such a lovely well tended garden, wide orderly fields, and orchards. It is restful just to sit on their clean front porch, with the shucky beans and red peppers hanging on the walls behind, and all the homely country things there neatly in their place, just to sit there and look up at the mountain in front, and listen to the creek running along below. I couldn’t have dreamed that they would be so grieved to find that I was leaving them. Somehow I had an idea that I would feel bad, but not that they or any of the neighbors would be especially troubled — they go their ways so easily, and take things so philosophically that I was just amazed when Mrs. Taylor cried, and they both seemed just [truncated] sad. Mr. Taylor kept saying “Now Miss Cobbs, there’s always a…

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…place for you, and don’t you never forget about us. You just come back the first minute you can, and stay here all your life. We hates to see you go, but we wish you good fortune, and we’ll be looking for you back again.”

Frank seemed quite pleased to go with us across the mountain, and said that he would come by for us at Abner’s [Abner Boggs] after supper. So finally we said our goodbyes over and over again, and went on up the creek.

Abner [Abner Boggs] was out hoeing in the cornfield, and he greeted us quite enthusiastically. I told him I wanted to take his picture, but he begged to be allowed to go and wash his face, because he didn’t want my family and friends to think he looked quite as bad as he did at that moment. He was telling us that he hadn’t been able to do more than four full days work in his own garden, he’d been so busy taking his mule and plow around to neighborhood workings, and while he was off plowing for other people, Mark (the middle boy) and Ile (that is Ila, one of the younger girls) had got in and tore his playhouse up. He is awfully proud of his children, and felt especially proud that they had been able to step in and take over the farm. He is a good man. We went on to the house, where Artie was hustling about getting supper. But she stopped to come out in her overalls to greet us and tell us how glad she was to have us both. Mrs. Roosevelt couldn’t have been more gracious. She said she was so happy that I had come, and would have felt sorry and hurt if I’d thought of going away without coming to supper with them! Wasn’t that a thoughtful, and graceful thing to say?

The children appeared here and there, with milk buckets, and vegetable from the garden. Zola [Zola Boggs] brought the onions (she is the baby-one) and Eula [Eula Boggs]was helping in the kitchen. Ila brought the milk — she had milked four cows all by herself. Little Paul [Paul Boggs] trudged in to get his gun, for some purpose — I believe to kill a rat in the barn. And in the meantime Abner came up from the field, and we all sat out on the steps, talking. He teased Nancy quite a lot about a C.C. [C.C.C. – Civilian Conservation Corps] boy who had lost his pants, and when they found them they knew they belonged to Herman Smith because it had to be somebody that could straddle the moon — all this because Herman admired…

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…Nancy quite a lot when she worked there. Finally he said “Now I want to tell you a story about some Campbellites — I ain’t aimin’ to offend nobody at all, but I just want to tell you this story. Hit was atter this gentlemen had died and went to the other world, and he was lookin’ all around. He seen all the different churches in different sections — there was the Baptists over in one place, and the Presbyterians in another place — but he couldn’t see the Campbellites nowheres. He went and asked St. Peter what he done with them, and St. Peter says “We got them hangin’ over across there, from a limb by their chins.” This man said “What fer”, and St. Peter says “Hit’s because they’s too green to burn yet.”

“One time”, he said “When I was a boy — and if I tell this you young women will think I was a mighty bad character — I went to church, and I was in-toxi-cated, all that day and the next day. And I come along, with Bish [Bish Boggs] and Art, and some other boys, and we went in to the meetin’. Old Gib Lewis was there — he was a sober old feller — mighty good feller, too, — but a mite sour, and powerful sanctified — and they was prayin’ away. Well as I come along I seed a ground squirrel right up above my head, and I just sunk down on the ground and took a pot shot at that squirrel and kilt him, and then we went on along, and ef we didn’t see another ground squirrel run up a limb. We ketched hit, and went along till we come to the church house, and I took this here ground squirrel inside. While they was a prayin’ I kept openin’ up my hand and lettin’ him peep out, till all the girls got to titterin’ and Old Gib Lewis was prayin’ lo[u]der and louder till he was about to bust his lungs, to drownd the titterin”. Finally he opened his eyes and looks right square at me, and I took that ground squirrel and retch over and poked hit right down in his bosom.

VII 63 Life Work Maintenance, Farm, Grounds part I

“Gib Lewis.” VII 63 Life Work Maintenance, Farm, Grounds.

I wish I could remember all the stories — perhaps I will from time to time and can jot them down. I tried so hard to memorize them as he went along but you just can’t remember all Abner’s nice little sayings, and fancy words. One thing I remember, when he spoke about a cold winter, with the snow and tree branches apoppin’ and acrackin’  And then he asked me about you and…

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…how many children there were at home. I said you had to be there alone most of the year. He was quite severe — asked how often I went home. I said only once or twice a year. He shook his head and said “And you don’t stay home no more than that — and them without ary chick nor child?” You see his idea is that a family should stay together, and he doesn’t want his children to come even as far as Pine Mountain school. He feels that their family circle must be unbroken — it’s a beautiful affection they all have for each other, and while in any other family I wouldn’t like it, in his it is different. Artie has all the fundamental characteristics of a perfect lady, she is happy, and useful, and I don’t see that anything else is necessary for them.

Well after quite a while Artie [Artie Boggs. the oldest child of Abner] invited us in to supper. It was lovely — she had tried so hard, that again I felt close to tears. There was a new oilcloth on the table, just shining, and new enamel dishes, which I know must have come from Sears Roebuck, in preparation for this very occasion. She had made cornbread, and for a special treat, biscuits, which were too large and doughy — but they were special, and I ate two! (i had an attack of indigestion afterward, too!) There was the honey, the bees having already been robbed earlier in the day, and I made a perfect feast of dried pumpkin, boiled, which I had never tasted before. That was the main dish. I was so glad that she hadn’t tried to have chicken or anything that they couldn’t afford to have — sometimes I feel that in trying to entertain me the country people do more than they are able, and I was pleased that Artie had just what she had, in the nicest way she could. I had a cup of sweet milk, and later on, when Abner asked for “churned” milk, and I mentioned that I liked it too (that is buttermilk) — she was quite amazed, for I guess they usually just throw it away. And it was so fresh — she had just finished churning before supper. Altogether it was a lovely meal, even though the children were too shy to come, and I was a little hesitant about eating too much for fear there wouldn’t be enough for them. And there seemed to be some other things that she didn’t pass around — I didn’t know whether it was because…

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…she thought I wouldn’t like them, or because they were needed to feed the others when their time came. She seemed hesitant about offering anything, lest she should be suggesting that it was good and I’d like it! We talked some about politics, and Abner was quite sorry I was leaving he said, because he was aiming to come over to Pine Mountain School and do some electioneering. He wanted to get us all to vote for Doris Wilder for magistrate, against his brother Bish [Bish Boggs] and against Clarence Patterson, whom he seems to have a deep dislike for. And of course his feud with Bish and Bish’s family is known far and wide.

Bish is the father of Jim Boggs, whom we visit at Turkey Fork occasionally. One time I asked Jim what relation he was to Abner, and he said, “He’s my half uncle, but we don’t claim no kin”. That was my first realization that the disagreement was really serious, so after that I avoided the subject in both homes. But the other night Abner brought it up himself. He asked me if I read the papers, and I confessed that I didn’t as much as I should. “Well,” he said, “Miss Cobbs, you’re going to be a reading even in the Indiana papers, some of these days, about little old Abner Bogg a shootin’ Jim Boggs. Cause as sure as that feller steps acrosst my paths a aimin’ to inconvenience me, I’m agoin’ to take a shot right for his heart. Of course I wasn’t alarmed, because Abner wouldn’t hurt anything — he just talks all the time. But he went on to tell us about the famous dog trial at Big Laurel, which seemed to be one of his quarrels with Jim. It seems that Jim’s dogs had killed Abner’s sheep — at least Abner thought they had, and he went and got a warrant, and arrested the dogs, brought them up to Big Laurel to the magistrate (that was Clarence Patterson), and they had a trial, with Bish Boggs, Silus [Silas ?] Turner, John Lewis, and someone else as the jury.  Well the end of it was that they indicted the dogs for murder, and the jury voted for them to be sentenced, and then Jim Boggs went over to Harlan and got himself appointed a Deputy Sherriff and that gave him some influence with Clarence Patterson, and so the dogs were let out on good behaviour, and Abner’s lawsuit came to nothing.

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Now if that isn’t real artistry, I don’t know what it is. Nobody but Abner Boggs would have had sufficient imagination to do a thing like that — he is truly an artist.

I would like to have stayed all night, but just about that time Frank Taylor arrived, and also I was getting nervous about those little girls still waiting to eat their supper! So we all got up from the table, and Artie asked her father to do a farewell hoedown for me — it is his prize accomplishment! He got quite gay, and the boys in the other room of the house heard him dancing, and began playing their guitars. We went in there then, and I gave them the presents I had for them. Abner showed me the Bible I gave him last winter, and told them all (by that time Mark had come in with the older Lewis boy, and some others–the Lewis boy with a pink rose in each side of his hat!) that I had faithfully tried to make a good man of him! He was joking, of course. Then we all said goodbye again and Abner sang Lolly Toodum, my ballad song, — it was all so jolly, and so sort of awful too, for I hated so to leave them. They all walked out to the gate with us, and Abner was cracking his mule whip about very recklessly — the last thing we heard was the whip cracking, sounding like pistol shots.

Frank [Frank Taylor] is the nicest boy. He was beautifully dressed, even to the nicest looking white shoes, and I trembled for them going over that mountain but I must tell you that he made that whole trip, over creekbeds and all, without getting one spot on those shoes!

We hustled right along, and hardly stopped even to look at the settlement at Turkey Fork, for it was quite dark by the time we reached the mountain. Frank lighted his carbon lamp, and I had my flashlight, and Nancy sort of followed between the two lights — and we started over the mountain. It is a grueling climb — the worst I have ever taken, for the road, or the trail rather for it is almost hidden in lots of places, goes right straight up, and — well, it is just cruel. You lose your breath and your heart thumps, and perspiration rolls down in your eyes, and you just…

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…think you’ll die before you can reach the top. Coming down is just as straight, and most of the way you can sit down and slide. But when you finally get down close to the bottom, and find yourself going along side Bear Branch, and hear the rapids roaring, and then find yourself walking through avenues of laurel blossoms that are like great snow banks, even in the flickering light of a carbon lamp — oh then it is like something out of a fairy tale.

We knew when we came off the mountain onto the road by Manon Cornett‘s store, but after that, we really began to be worried for fear we had missed the Cabin — it was about ten o’clock by this time, and of course there wasn’t a sign of a light anywhere along the way, and it a pitch black night, But we watched carefully, and finally, after much longer time than I thought, we came to the gate. It was so good to get there. Miss Cold [Edith Cold]and Miss Merrill [Josephine Merrill] were waiting up for us, and they were happy to see us, such a cordial homecoming greeting! We couldn’t let Frank go back that long way home again, so he stayed at the Cabin. We almost fell into bed — so weary — and morning came in about two minutes.

I was so glad for Frank and Nancy too, to have that experience, of staying the night, and having breakfast at the cabin. They loved it, and I think it was something for them to remember. Once coming over the mountain I laughed and said to Nancy, “This will be something to write in your diary — did you ever think that we’d be doing this?” And Frank spoke up and said, “My, I certainly never thought I’d be going over Bear Branch with you Miss Cobbs!” (They all put the s on the end of my name for some reason.) And you could just tell by the way he acted at the Cabin that it was something new and wonderful, and he was thrilled by it. But he was a perfect gentleman. He looked nice, and his manners were irreproachable. When he left he made a point of telling me how much he’d enjoyed knowing me, and would be terribly sorry not to see me back next year — just exactly the right thing. As Miss Merrill [Josephine Merrill] says, it is wonderful how these mountain young people never appear at a disadvantage. They always are perfectly poised, and if they…

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…haven’t anything to say they can sit still gracefully. It is remarkable.

Nancy [Nancy Jude] went on to Pine Mountain with Frank. She is the nicest girl. I have always liked her a good deal, but it has taken a long time to gain her confidence really. I felt quite elated when in a burst of confidence on our trip she asked me if I would be interested in reading the record she had written of her life. She brought it to me last night — and really it almost a biblical thing — such terrific facts are stated in such stark simplicity. [See: Nancy Jude] Her father left her mother before she was born — he was a murderer fleeing from the law — and altogether it is a touching story. I am typing it for her — I suggested it, because I was so much interested. And I shall make a carbon copy to keep for myself. You’ll be interested in reading it.

Mercy, it’s getting on toward nine o’clock and my week end has just begun. The three of us had a beautiful, beautiful day. They wouldn’t let me do anything, except sew, and even at that Miss Cold did far more than I. We worked on the blue silk dress for her to take to England, But it was just so lovely, there on the screened porch, with the birds singing outside and the flowers making the whole hillside gay — later in the evening we had supper there, and it was especially lovely with the little night things twittering sleepily, and the trees on the hill in front of us, growing softer and darker as twilight deepened. And the cowbells tinkling, in the valley! Miss Merrill and I went for the post in the afternoon. She rode Swallow and I walked, and we grew quite thrilled over the thought of possible community work there. Somehow the land is so much better than what they have at Big Laurel, and there really seems to be more hope for doing something with those people than with the Greasy folks. There is better stock there, in men, land and animals. I certainly shall never do very much community work anywhere, without first making every effort to have Miss Merrill come and work with me. She is so fine, and wonderful, and she does know people.

The next morning I stayed for breakfast — it was lovely, on the porch, and then picked enough raspberries for dinner. By that time the Sunday…

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…School children were beginning to come, so I put on my riding pants, packed my suitcase and started back home. At the gate, I was suddenly overcome by the thought that this was probably my last sight of the cabin, and couldn’t help shedding a few secret tears — that’s what I meant when I said it was a sad week end — just one goodbye after another.

It was a long walk back to Pine Mountain, but I made it finally, and just in time to dress for dinner. Then in the afternoon I walked out to Sunday School — had quite a crowd, for of course it will be last Sunday next week, and they are looking forward to it. Of course it was just that particular day that I couldn’t catch a ride either way and had to walk every step, so I was pretty much worn out by the time I got home. Next week I intend to go early and stay late, paying last calls, for it will be my last trip over to the Divide. So many last trips! Mrs. Hensley worries so over my going. But I’m so pleased and happy that I have been able to tell them that there will be Sunday School next year — and they haven’t any idea how wonderful it is going to be. Miss Cold is going to take the Sunday School — you know how fine she is. I am going to leave a final request with Mr.[Glyn] Morris that he see that she has a way of riding out there every week, for it is too much to ask her to walk that distance, and also I am going to make my contribution by furnishing a treat for them each week. It will help — it makes them sociable and happy — and I like the idea. The Stapletons always did that.

It has begun to rain and I must hurry over and close my windows.

Lots of love,

[Unsigned – Alice Cobb]


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