Pine Mountain Settlement School Series: DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Books and Horses
BOOKS AND HORSES AND PLACE
In 1941 the Co-op Program was a well-tested and central part of the educational curriculum at Pine Mountain Settlement School. As an important part of the progressive curriculum, it was a community outreach program that included many aspects of the popular WPA librarians on horseback or packhorse librarians initiative.
In addition to bringing books and magazines to the surrounding Community, the Pine Mountain Settlement program also checked on the health and well-being of the families it served. Many of the visits were in countrysides so rugged that the only means of reaching the home was to travel along streambeds or over roadless mountains. Horses and mules were the only viable transportation. The visits of the Co-op students and often their staff monitors were eagerly anticipated in the homes and they opened the way for families to connect to the Pine Mountain Settlement School and for the School to expand its services.
While the program was conceived under the direction of Glyn Morris, the young Settlement School Director, it was not implemented until the mid-1930s and ended in 1949. While not unique in the many mountain programs of Librarians on Horsebackt, it touched the lives of many children and their families. While established for very pragmatic and often life support reasons, the idea of young women on horseback traveling through difficult mountain terrain, in the rain, sleet, and snow also had a romantic over-tone.
Perhaps it is the romantic notion of a young girl and her horse facing the world together that appealed. In older generations, the story of Black Beauty still lingers with romantic nostalgia. Perhaps it is the Kentucky horse ambiance. Whatever the inspiration, the stories surrounding the workers and “librarians” who participated in the packhorse program have, in recent years, begun to proliferate. The reasons for the recent uptick in interest in the WPA Librarians on Horseback are many. But, the message, one of service, sacrifice, selflessness, and literacy is important to any generation.
The many selfless hours spent doing community work by women while dependent on the courage and coordination of a horse has far more practical lessons than many contemporary children’s book themes. Further, getting lost in the imagination while on the pages of a book seems far more productive than the passive clicking on electronic media.
A new book has just been published by Little Bee Books, written by noted children’s author Emma Carlson Berne, and illustrated by Italian artist Ilaria Urbinati. It fires up the reader’s imagination. What is so very special about this delightful book is that it is written for and about rural children who are often more removed from libraries. The rural in this case is based on conversations with people from the Pine Mountain Settlement School and the valley is in one of the most remote areas of Eastern Kentucky.
The book quickly brings the reader into a very accessible tale of Edith, the young “Librarian” who sets off to deliver books while riding Dan, her trusted horse. As the story gallops along, it is sprinkled with local references such as pawpaw pudding, mountain springs, a fierce and unexpected thunderstorm, and even a familiar mountain family name, “Caudill.” The possible nod to Caudill is perhaps an oblique recognition of noted Appalachian children’s author, Rebecca Caudill, a winner of the National Young Reader’s Award and also a Newberry Honor Book in 1950. Caudill was a frequent visitor of the Pine Mountain Settlement
The second delight in Berne’s book are the beautiful illustrations by Italian artist Ilaria Urbinati. Ilaria, who lives in Turin on the northern mountainous edge of Italy, has captured the dual nature of mountain living with its beauty and its danger. Her images nearly gallop off the page with energy that competently matches the romping narrative. While Edith looks a bit like a modern Pippi Longstockings, the artist has captured the energy of horseback riding and of the fearlessness of so many Appalachian girls in their native mountains. The author and illustrator have both grasped many of the natural obstacles that the women on horseback often faced in delivering their “libraries.”
Edith, the librarian in this little book, as Berne explains in her Author’s Note, is not the typical urban librarian that families may know in their city and town settings. She’s a very special librarian, and one that historically existed in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Edith, like the other “librarians” that were often called “Packhorse Librarians” in the WPA (Works Progress Administration 1935-43) offering, was special. In the Appalachian region, young girls were often hired from the local community to fill the librarian role. They knew the mountains, the weather, the dangers that come with the rugged countryside, and the lives of the isolated families.
In her notes, Emma Berne places the story within the genre of WPA Packhorse Librarians in the Appalachians, but she makes the nature of the program locally intimate in her description of the mountain librarian, as well universal in the bravery of women generally. She describes how her local interviews and personal background helped her to shape her story. What she offers up is an inspiring and beautifully illustrated tale that will capture the imagination of young children of both genders, will enchant the parent reader, and bring the public into close contact with rural America.
Pine Mountain thanks Emma for her interest in the Settlement School and for the inclusion of interviews in the region while developing her book. This book is highly recommended for all libraries. While other reviewers have pointed out that the book is “White”, suggesting that it was purposeful in excluding people of color, they have most likely not traveled in the most remote regions of Appalachia. Yet, it is a book that gives dignity to all peoples, particularly rural America, and which is independent of race, ethnicity, and class.
Pine Mountain Settlement School Series 11: FARM DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Sheep Shearing and Cecil Sharp
0046a P. Roettinger Album.”Sheep Shearing, Uncle John Shell, Aunt Sis Shell, and Mrs. Joe Day.” c.1920s [Woman standing next to a barn on left, watching man and woman sheer a sheep.]
TAGS: sheep shearing, Cecil Sharp, sheep, sheep flocks, dreaming of sheep, sheep in history, sheep in song, Uncle John Shell, Aunt Sis Shell, Mrs. Joe Day, George Pullen Jackson
SHEEP SHEARING and CECIL SHARP (Say that fast!)
It is not likely that Cecil Sharp (1859-1924), the British musicologist, ever sheared a sheep. But, he was, in any case, a close observer of the ruminants and probably an even closer critic of their bleets and baahs! Nontheless, what Cecil Sharp has left to the history of sheep is a unique auditory trail that helps to re-trace the prevalence of sheep within the rich agrarian history of Great Britain and in the American Appalachian mountains.
When musicologist Sharp sat on the porch of Old Far House at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Kentucky and watched the Kentucky Running Set as it was performed by students and staff, he was watching the well-trained legs that probably had chased a sheep or two up the Pine Mountain and down. Tending sheep is an active job and the energy of that Kentucky Running set was just a short measure of what it took to maintain a sheep flock in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
What a celebration it was when lambs arrived and wool was sheared at the small hillside farms of the Appalachians. In far-off “lands across the sea,” as Uncle William Creech, a founder of Pine Mountain Settlement used to say, many Europeans were continuing similar agrarian practices. Their customs lingered on in many of their Borderland ancestors who formed one of the largest immigrant groups living deep in the Appalachian mountains. Like so many customs, known to immigrants from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and also other European points of origin, the custom of raising sheep was built into the Appalachian pioneer household. In fact, sheep-raising, an international livelihood, is tied to the history of most agrarian cultures.
What Cecil Sharp added to sheep history was the discovery of an English folk song that no doubt flowed from the music and lives of early sheep farmers, probably in the Norfolk area of England. Elements of that song then found its way into the Appalachians. The song suggests the importance of sheep in the daily lives of the European immigrants and a certain logic to its transfer to the New World. Just try saying “Cecil Sharp and sheep-shearing ,” and see what lyrical lapses leap from your tongue. Songs of shearing sheep are not at all uncommon, especially in families with weaving willfulness — a trait that abounds in the mountains of the Central Appalachians.
SHEEP AND DREAMING
It is no small wonder that when we speak of dreaming, we also often speak of “counting sheep.” There is a very practical origin for that association. It was the duty of the herdsman to know the number of sheep in his herd. Counting sheep is probably deeply etched in the DNA of descendants of sheep-herders or at least deep in our historical agrarian psyche. We have been counting sheep for as long as we have joined our lives with the practice of raising sheep and herding them. Sheep have been a part of our history as a country from the beginning. At one time Kentucky led the nation in the number of sheep! That is a lot of counting and a lot of dreaming.
Cecil Sharp was a collector of songs, not wool, but he shows all the instincts of a weaver, dreamer and numerator. He began his collecting of folk ballads in the English countryside. There, it was inevitable that he would encounter a myriad of sheep and those who tended them. Some references to sheep were sure to appear, and they did. He recorded one such sheep ballad from his song-gathering encounters in a small book he edited called 100 English Folk Songs [ published by Oliver Ditson Co., Theo. Presser Co. Distributors, Philadelphia, 1916].
One of the songs in that collection found its way into another small book of collected folk songs, The Songs for All Time. The booklet issued by the Council of Southern Mountain Workers, was intended to be a resource for “recreation material in the Highland area.” It was a utilitarian collection of songs for social gatherings that is largely dependent on the rich oral tradition of the Appalachian region and that had many familiar tropes that would be recognized in Great Britain. The Foreword tells us that
The contents, folk songs for the most part, were compiled by a committee which has made practical use of them with singing groups. Where tunes and words depend on oral tradition, innumerable versions usually exist — some of them perhaps better than [the] variants included. There is no version which can be called the correct one, but the committee has chosen those which it has found satisfactory in the light of their lasting qualities and the ease with which they can be learned. Modal melodies are not always easy to introduce to those unfamiliar with such music, but practically all songs included have been put to the proof: given a little time and repetition they “sing well” and become dear to the heart of the singer.
Song For All Times, Copyright, 1946, by Cooperative Recreation Service, (Forward).
On the back of the booklet, Songs for All times, there appears a short essay by George Pullen Jackson, an American musicologist, and educator. Pullen was a pioneer in the field of Southern (U.S.) hymnody and popularized the spurious term “white spirituals” to describe “fasola“* singing. [*fasola= harp singing or shape-note singing] Pullen says
…Sing, preferably your own songs, brother. Live your own song life and be proud of it. Don’t let the I-dont’-know-a-thing-about-music complex trouble you. Don’t let the processed and canned music lower your musical morale. If you are a mature person, re-learn and re-sing the songs of your childhood and youth. (You’ll be surprised at the large admixture of genuine folk songs among your remembered ditties.)
George Pullen Jackson, comment from Songs for All Times
What George Pullen Jackson sensed was the power of music to heal and make joyful the day when it is pulled from routine experiences and even more when it is derived from a shared experience. The shearing of sheep and other communal activities of pioneer families brings home the satisfaction of sharing with neighbors the sometimes daunting tasks that an agrarian life demanded. Further, Jackson in his remarks, shares with Cecil Sharp the understanding of the healing power of song as it is remembered across all time and as it derives from the common stories of living.
While there is no direct knowledge of the following song appearing in the musical repertoire of the Central Appalachians, the sentiment would clearly have resonated with the mountaineers. The following song, The Sheep-Shearing, was collected by Cecil Sharp in his 100 English Folk Songs for a good reason. He described it as “very popular among English country folk” and “in existence before 1760.” His sensitive ear could also, no doubt, frame the picture evoked by the lyrics in this and in his other collected songs
How delightful to see, In these evenings in Spring, The sheep going home to the fold.
The master doth sing, As he views everything, And his dog goes before him where told, And his dog goes before him where told.
The sixth month of the year, In the month called June, When the weather’s too hot to be borne, The master doth say, As he goeth on his way: “Tomorrow my sheep shall be shorn, “Tomorrow my sheep shall be shorn.”
Now as for those sheep, They’re delightful to see, They’re a blessing to a man on his farm. For the flesh it is good, It’s the best of all food, And the wool it will clothe us up warm, And the wool it will clothe us up warm.
Now the sheep they are all shorn, And the wool carried home, Here’s a health to our master and flock: And if we should stay, Until the last go away, I’m afraid ’twill be past twelve o’clock, I’m afraid t’will be past twelve o’clock.
Cecil Sharp, 100 English Folk Songs, …”In existence before 1760.”
Pine Mountain Settlement School DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Feed Sack
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Feed Sack and Fashion
“Style Thrifty,” says the sewing instruction booklet. And the cloth was thrifty, and durable, and easy to handle, but it was limited in size. [feedsack_007.jpg]
Poultry and feed sacks often go together. One could almost say many a feed sack has been present when chicken and dumplings were being prepared. Feed sack aprons were a common household item in Appalachia and in other areas of the country beginning in the period just before the War Between the States.
These early “feed bags” were not the colorful and patterned items that most of us are familiar with today. The early bags were generally tightly woven and more like contemporary canvas. They were neutral or white and without patterns but often stamped with the supplier or owner stamp. Some of the earliest bags may be recognized by a circular pattern that was commonly used to identify the manufacturer of food staples such as flour. The early bags could be re-filled and were patched and used until they were no longer of service. They were instituted to reduce the cost of the standard wooden or tin containers that were problematic due to rust and leakage. But, the new bags were not without their issues — some physical and some societal.
FEED SACK GAINS IN POPULARITY
The beginning of the popularity of the cotton bag is generally agreed to have been around the 1840s. When a “stitching machine” was invented and the bags could be sewn tightly closed using a double locking seam, the cotton bag was adopted for a variety of carrying processes and their number increased. As cotton became more available and reduced in price, and with mechanized weaving, the sewing machine, and the low cost of slave labor, cotton bags proliferated. During the Civil War, the “feed bags” were used for various transport jobs. The second half of the eighteenth century saw creative industries start to add decorative prints to the bags and by the end of the century, there were several mills that were experimenting with the production of inexpensive and attractive cotton cloth.
Further, the cloth bags were now being produced in a variety of sizes — not just in barrel size — and for more far-ranging uses. The barrel was, however, still in evidence on some bags as the circular imprimatur of the manufacturer was often the same size as the barrel top. The stamped name of the company was often hard to remove and there are many instances when the stamp of the company was left on a homemade shirt or a kitchen apron. During this time the weave of the cloth began to become more varied. The sturdy “canvas” weave gave way to a variety of less heavy and dense weaves and took its weave from the intended use and size. Depending on the contents, the bags could vary greatly. The lighter weave, such as that found on flour sacks was ideally preferred for home sewing.
As the uses of the bags expanded, so did the bag variety. The flour sacks, meal sacks, sugar sacks, salt sacks, as well as animal mash and grains — sometimes called “scratch” sacks — could all be recognized to some degree. The flour sack was the most common of the bags produced, as flour made up around 42% of the bagged goods; 17% of sugar could be purchased in a bag. Both these home staples meant that women could shop with a sewing project in mind. Women also learned quickly which bags were the most durable and could withstand continuous washings. They could also purchase similar patterns to expand their creative needs or aim for larger bag sizes. The manufacturers paid attention.
RECYCLABLES — MANUFACTURERS RETHINK THE “FEED SACK”
When the cotton market collapsed in the second decade of the twentieth century it was due in part to the invention of rayon and other synthetics and new weaving inventions that allowed for woven patterns, not just stamped printed patterns. The drop in cotton increased the market for cotton bags and from around 1914 forward there was a proliferation of the cotton sack.
With the increased manufacture came a sensitivity to the re-purposing of the used bags and new and more sophisticated patterns imitating contemporary trends began to appear on the sacks. Women were often the household shoppers and many saw the recyclable potential of the sacks almost immediately. Matching patterns and competition for popular patterns were common. Households with large families or farming families with many livestock could accumulate bags rapidly and soon there was a market for “surplus” bags. Many stores would re-purchase and re-sell the surplus bags. This activity only increased the creative designs and the manufactures began to produce booklets with patterns for bags or made suggestions for the use of string for crocheting. Coming up with an inventive apron was a favorite diversion and conversation piece for many women who regularly relied on aprons.
Today, the handmade apron has largely become a rarity in the household. The versatile feed sack is even rarer. The many household items made from recycled feed bags were remarkable: Aprons, dishtowels, pot-holders, pajamas, dresses for growing children, pillowcases, quilts, curtains, pajamas, tablecloths, dishtowels, and a myriad of other useful household items. The uses of this second-hand material were endless for many families. The original bags that often held chicken feed — hence the name “feed sack” — and other animal food were prized enough to often be squirreled away in hopes they would go into a quilt. Feed sack from the mountain home has long been a favorite “treasure” for many descendants who “remember the days…”
Cotton bags, as the brochure below describes the cloth, was inexpensive and could be relatively durable cloth. It “could be” relatively durable due to the variation of cotton quality and the weave which could be quite loose and prone to snag and wear quickly or tightly woven of strong thread and with good stability. Homemakers looked for more durable bags. For many household needs, the feed sack was an extra bonus when feeding livestock and it was not unusual for farm families to brag about the utility of the cloth and how they had used it in their home. When everything on the clothesline was made from feed sack — that was utility AND craft!
Imagine, if you will, a clothesline of the patterns below waving in the afternoon sun and a gay, handmade apron on the woman gathering the laundry that smelled of Ivory flakes… That is how I remember my Grandmother Hall. Many of the patterns below came from her collection.
HOW TO DETERMINE IF IT IS FEEDSACK CLOTH
It’s not as easy as you might think to identify feed sack fabric. The paper labels were easily removed from a feed sack and even with older ones the label has often been removed. A course weave is not a good indicator as fabric like this could also be bought off the bolt as well. The best indicator is a line of holes from the chain stitching that once held the sack together. However, this tell-tale indicator might be the first thing removed by the sewer.
Feedsack pattern. P1070164
Feedsack pattern. P1070162
Feedsack pattern. P1070159
Feedsack pattern. P1070157
Feedsack pattern. P1070153
Feedsack pattern. P1070148
Feedsack pattern. P1070146
Feedsack pattern. P1070140
Feedsack pattern. P1070139
Feedsack pattern (close detail). P1070137
Feedsack pattern. P1070135
Feedsack pattern (close detail). P1070131
Feedsack pattern. P1070129
Feedsack pattern. P1070127
Feedsack pattern. P1070123
Feedsack pattern. P1070120
Feedsack pattern. P1070118
Feedsack pattern. P1070108
Feedsack pattern. P1070107
Feedsack pattern. P1070181
Feedsack pattern. P1070176
Feedsack pattern. P1070171
Adrosko, R. J. (1992). “The fashion’s in the bag: Recycling feed, flour, and sugar sacks during the middle decades of the 20th century. In Reconstructing daily life through historic documents.” Symposium conducted at the Third Symposium of the Textile Society of America.
A Few Sacks More. Textile Research Center, Leiden, Netherlands. https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-digital-exhibition/index.php/for-a-few-sacks-more EXHIBIT.How feedsacks clothed and warmed Americans during the Depression, and later.6121192805298418.
Blair, Todd, and Karen Garvey. Flour Sack Dresses and Victory Stamps: Tales from the Good Old Days in Roanoke and the New River Valley of Virginia: a Treasury of 20th Century Memories. 2016. Pages 63, 117, 134, 161, 208.
Mable and Ethel’s Quilt Shoppe “History of the 1930’s Feedsack” Accessed March 10, 2021. Thanks as well to the Buchanan County, Ohio Historical Society for their contributions to the history of feedsack cloth.
McCray, Linzee Kull (2016). Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric, Calgary: Uppercase Publishing Inc.
Pine Mountain Settlement School Series: DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Trees Helen Hayes Wykle EARTH DAY April 22, 2021
TAGS: trees, Katherine Pettit, Leon Deschamps, forest ecology, William Tye, poetry, edge habitats, logging, preservation, timber inventories, land dispossession, Steven Stoll, Lucy Braun, oak trees, Perfect Acre, edge habitats, Speculation Land Company, Tench Coxe, William Morris, North Carolina, archives,
THE SOVEREIGN TREES
It would be difficult to ignore a tree at Pine Mountain. Like many students, they have personalities and carry memories and there are so many of them! Like great sovereigns, they fill the valley with fragile green in Spring and a brilliant dance of color in Fall. They are remembered as favorite courting markers, their roots a resting place for an outdoor barber, their leaves an endless work task, and their loud trunk-fall a cause for awe. Walking into the forest is almost always a topic of excitement and sometimes a poem and a reminder of how much we have in common with trees.
When students at Pine Mountain were asked to compose essays or poems in their English classes, or to write a scientific analysis, trees often figured into the picture. For example this poem by Pine Mountain School student William Tye found it’s way into Mountain Life and Work in the Spring of 1947
All about me stately oak trees Send their sprawling branches upward: Sovereign they stand O’er trees about them. Yet drab they look, standing leafless, While other trees Of less dimension Proudly display their Easter garments. But their assets are but folly: For these trees which now so gaily Show forth their beauty And rejoice in their appearance — Theirs shall be the destruction. They shall but feed the soil On which the oak tree thrives, While waxing mightier By their destruction The oak tree stands Sovereign still.
William Tye. Mountain Life and Work, Spring 1947, p. 12.
When the European settlers came to America in the late 16th Century they left countries that had waged wars against trees as the population grew into the surrounding forests. The Native Americans, on the other hand, had a well-established and comfortable history born of respect for their surrounding forests. William Cronan, in his informative discussion of the changes that occurred in the land when the colonists arrived, tells it this way
“… the edge habitats once maintained by Indian fires tended to return to forest as Indian populations declined. but edge environments were also modified or reduced — and on a much larger scale — by clearing, an activity to which English settlers, with their fixed property boundaries, devoted far more concentrated attention than had the Indians. Whether edges became forests or fields, the eventual consequences were the same: to reduce — or sometimes, as with European livestock, to replace — the animal populations that had once inhabited them. The disappearance of deer, turkey, and other animals thus betokened not merely a new hunting economy but a new forest ecology as well. “
Cronon, William. Changes to the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1983, 2003, p. 108.
Katherine Pettit, one of the founders of Pine Mountain Settlement School, and a re-born colonist and a die-hard Colonial Dame, aspired to or imagined herself to be following in the footsteps of her European ancestors — sovereigns of another sort. Pettit may never have composed a poem to a tree (I would love to find one!) and she had a somewhat tenuous relationship to the surrounding forest. I say, “somewhat,” because she had both enormous respects for trees while she warily “politicked” — an activity designed to continue to encourage donations from the growing timber and mining industries. To many who still seek to understand her, she remains a walking enigma in her early years at Pine Mountain Settlement.
When Pettit arrived at Pine Mountain and saw the surrounding forest, she was enchanted and she was appalled. Giant chestnut trees were still in abundance. The mighty oaks were not yet being harvested in great number for the barrel staves of Blue Grass liquor, but timber for mine roofing supports was picking up and timber was being negotiated away the steep slopes of the Pine Mountain and the Black Mountain, along with any sale or transfer of land that could be negotiated.
On the other hand, maples were being regularly tapped for maple syrup by the community and giant poplars were being felled to build her new School buildings. The modest cabins in the hollows and along the stream banks on the Northside of the long Pine Mountain melted into the rural countryside and both charmed and apalled Pettit. The use of trees by Community and School were often marvels of ingenuity. Hickory bark was being pulled from young hickory trees to provide bottoms for chairs, baskets, and tilt-top tables. White oak shakes (shingles) were still being reeved with hand tools for the roofs of cabins. Trees were being planted and strategically removed throughout the new School site. Under Pettit’s supervision, trees were being managed and monitored.
PINE MOUNTAIN SETTLEMENT SCHOOL TIMBER TRACT INVENTORY 1921
Forest management was monitored by Pettit and managed by her farmers and her new forester, Leon Deschamps. One of the earliest inventories of the timber tracts at Pine Mountain Settlement was completed c. 1921 by Deschamps, a native Belgian and the forester hired by Pettit and her staff to oversee both the forest and the farm at the School through the early 1920’s. What the Deschamp inventory shows is a healthy forest on the 119.48 acre inventoried tract. The School forest was a forest comprised of the standard timber resources of the day: maple, basswood, chestnut, white oak, red oak, poplar, beech, cucumber, hemlock, hickory, buckeye, ash, black walnut, and black gum, in the amounts indicated below
Deschamps advised Pettit that not more than 200 Board Foot Measurement (BFM) were to be removed per acre per year and further advised that if there were large trees on the acre (what he described as “over mature”) that up to 400 BFM “could be removed without injury.”
Deschamps then provided a ten-year plan for management that included the lot to be cut and the Block (I, II, III) . He adds
In 1921 lot 2 Block II was clear cut, this operation was necessary owing to the bad shape the forest had been left in after the previous logging operations conducted a few years ago. (A few more trees will be removed from this lot but not before 1926).
During his years as the forester at Pine Mountain, Deschamps went on to create what he called the “ Perfect Acre.” It is was a small demonstration plot just behind the Chapel at the School. Today it bears little resemblance to Deschamp’s original plot as many of the trees have been removed when they over-grew the perimeter of the Chapel roof. The older trees created complex moisture issues for the backside of the Chapel and the potential for roof damage due to falling limbs and the near trees were “weeded out” of the Perfect Acre. It is difficult to know how Deschamps would have felt about this “weeding”.
In a letter from Pettit to Leon Deschamps. Just three years after the creation of the plot and after Deschamps had left the employee of the School, Pettit was fretting about the acre. Without the watchful eye of Deschamps, the little plot was causing concern. Miss Pettit with her usual demanding tone, asks Deschamp to give her some direction. Leon Deschamps had left the School in 1923 following his marriage to May Ritchie, one of the famous Singing Family of the Cumberlands Ritchies. The couple had moved to John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina where he had assumed a variety of responsibilities, including farmer, forester, and architect. Pettit’s letter pleads for guidance in dealing with the weeds on the site
July 2, 1928 Dear Mr. Deschamps: You remember you told me never to go into the Perfect Acre, and do one single thing, unless you told me to. There is so much underbrush now, especially ironweed, that I believe something ought to be done about it. We have done a pretty good job getting rid of the ironweed on this place, and are at work now on dock and ragweed.
When I asked Mr. Browning if he could give a day’s work to getting the ironweed out of the perfect acre, he reminded me again of your orders. Now, if you have any further directions, please tell me. …
We don’t have Leon Deschamp’s answer to Pettit, but it is certain that he had recommendations.
While the charm of the view out the back windows of the Chapel continues to be beautiful, and we don’t have the privilege of knowing what Deschamps replied to Pettit, nor have we photographs of the early “Perfect Acre”, the remnants of the perfect plot are still there. The anxious question from Pettit signals how rapidly the forest and the field can over-take the land and the vigilance needed to maintain the acreage at the Pine Mountain Settlement became a point of concern. An image of the plot today can be seen below. .
KATHERINE PETTIT AND EMMA LUCY BRAUN
What we can discern from the brief exchanges we have gathered regarding the “Perfect Acre” is that Deschamp, the forester, and William Tye, the poet, were both passionate about trees and that Pettit was a responsible and a respecting steward. We also know that Katherine Pettit seems to have grown into her environmental conscience. At the end of her life became a vocal and energetic defender of trees. Her end-of-life advocacy for stands of virgin timber in Eastern Kentucky is well documented. She joined forces with her friend, the well-known environmentalist Emma Lucy Braun, to save the dwindling ‘big trees” of the area. Through Pettit’s efforts and those of Lucy Braun and others, many of Kentucky’s finest stands of timber and largest trees may be found in the south-eastern counties of Kentucky. See Big Trees.
THE SCRAMBLE FOR APPALACHIA
During the first two decades of Pine Mountain Settlement School, there were other forces at work in the forests at Pine Mountain. These forces had started their push against nature much earlier. Many of these depredations are still at work. Author, Steven Stoll, in his landmark study of the ecological dispossession of the Southern Appalachian mountains, traced several paths that he and others believe led to massive take-downs of virgin forest across the region. In his book, Ramp Hollow: the ordeal of Appalachia, (2018) Stoll is focused on western Pennsylvania and on West Virginia, but his observations encompass the Central Appalachians and call attention to threats that continue to emerge in the forests of the region.
By tracing the history of the Appalachian region from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, and by exploring the idea of the history of *enclosure as a part of the history of capitalism in the region, Stoll leads his readers on a worrisome journey. It’s a journey through the early Colonial exploitation of forests to the later clear-cutting and destruction of the Appalachian forests. In his well-written exploration of the subject, he highlights the ravages of clear-cutting.
Specifically, he explores the eventual dependency of many mountain households on the ecological base of the surrounding forests and ties that cultural relationship and its ecological threads to later practices of timber harvest. It is the interwoven practices of poor timber stewardship and no timber stewardship that he contends contributes to the ongoing saga of what he calls destructive dispossession. It is dispossession not unlike that which happened with coal.
This mercenary scramble for Appalachia as described by Stoll is compelling.
… An army could invade [Appalachia] but never dominate the mountains. Capital moved differently. It acted through individuals and institutions. It employed impersonal laws and the language of progress. Mountain people knew how to soldier and hunt, to track an animal or an enemy through the woods. But few of them could organize against an act of the legislature or to stop a clear-cut. The scramble built upon these vulnerabilities, but it did not happen all at once. The first thing it required was a conversion in the ownership and uses of the land.
Stoll, Steven. Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia, New York: Farrer and Strause, 2017, p.130-131.
The conversion to dispossession came early in the Appalachian mountains in the form of land grants and very early purchases by wealthy speculators. These early mountain real estate “deals” are still being fought over and litigated. While much of the race to own land as a form of capital was quite early, the sale and re-sale and poor record tracking resulted in decades of litigation. A classic example of the practice of land speculation can be found in the so-called Speculation Lands tracts owned by Tench Coxe, his partners and successors in the state of North Carolina. The Coxe empire that spread throughout Western North Carolina and eventually encompassed over 144,000 acres sheds considerable light on the questionable race to “disposes” by any and all means. Records from the large Speculation Lands Company are held by the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Appalachian State, and at Chapel Hill and together they represent an instructive example of the “dispossession” process.
Tench Coxe (May 22, 1755 – July 17, 1824) was an American political economist and a delegate for Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress in 1788–1789. His skills at dispossession were well known during his lifetime. It is telling that he was known to his political opponents as “Mr. Facing Bothways.” As assistant to Alexander Hamilton the Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington, Coxe was an “insider.” He was also no new-comer to the monetizing of land-holdings. The cycle of his speculation centered on timber and minerals and strategies to dispossess as many landholders as possible in the far reaches of western North Carolina.
One of his partners was Robert Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who unlike, Coxe and his successors, pushed his “speculation” (another word for dispossession) beyond his means and ended up in debtor’ prison. Speculators such as Coxe, Morris, Blount, in Tennessee, and earlier even George Washington in Kentucky, set the bar for land speculation. Coxe and partners began their empire by borrowing money (some $9,000) in order to purchase land at .09 cents an acre. The land held in Western North Carolina was over the years passed along to other investors who continued the process of dispossession and a long cycle of litigation that was not completed until the late 1920s and involved investors in England and in France. The dispossession is still going on. In Kentucky, the land and timber saga has much the same narrative and can be traced in the activity of surveyors, landowners, and speculators.
It is likely that Katherine Pettit sensed this history would be written. Late in her life she returned to trees. Like old friends, she embraced them and joined with well-known environmentalist Emma Lucy Braun to spend many of her last years fighting to save the remaining patriarchs of the forests in Kentucky and Ohio.
As this Pine Mountain student reminds us about the presence of trees
All about me stately oak trees Send their sprawling branches upward: Sovereign they stand O’er trees about them. Yet drab they look, standing leafless, While other trees Of less dimension Proudly display their Easter garments.……
Pine Mountain Settlement School Series 11: FARM Series: DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH hhw 2021-09-13
TAGS: Moonshine, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, W.C.T.U, Frances Beauchamp, Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs, Katherine Pettit, May Stone, Ethel de Long, Henry Mixter Penniman, Michael McGeer, Abner Boggs, Bish Boggs, Lucy Furman, Percy McKaye, moonshine stills, kettles,
Moonshine was not a favored drink of mountain settlement workers, but it was certainly a favorite topic of conversation and generated many a tall tale within the community. The stories about moonshiners, moonshine stills, brushes with revenuers, and competition between distillers, were often collected and repeated by workers, the community, and visitors to eastern Kentucky and other locations in the Central and Southern Appalachians. These tales abound in staff letters, diaries, and scrapbooks in the Pine Mountain archive.
When Katherine Pettit founded Hindman Settlement School with May Stone in 1902, near the small town of Hyden in Knott County, Kentucky, she was under the blessings of the W.C.T.U, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union but she was privately following the national trend toward Progressivism. While the two may seem to cancel one another out, they were strange companions in the opening years of the twentieth century.
By 1910 and in the following years the term progressive was commonly used in a variety of political ways. [*See: Michael McGeer. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 2003] Hindman, in 1902, was in the mainstream of the progressive Settlement Movement but it was also under the influence of the other national trend, that is the WCTU or the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
The WCTU provided funds for Hindman during its first thirteen years but the relationship soon began to unravel as the progressive ideas of Jane Addams and many of her colleagues saturated in progressive idealism did not play well with the WCTU. At the risk of the loss of funding from the WCTU, the women in Eastern Kentucky’s settlements held steady for the early institutional years as the WCTU funding comprised a considerable amount of the school’s operational budget.
During these WCTU early years, Pettit and Stone were bolstered by the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs and a close friendship with Frances Beauchamp, the Kentucky president of the WCTU. With this strong but disparate support, Pettit and Stone mounted a vigorous campaign to eradicate alcoholism through a program of education that focused on social and moral reform and scientific agriculture. But, Pettit and Stone and their Women’s Club friends were not hatchet carriers like Carrie Nation. They believed that reform started from within and not from without. The emphasis placed on health work that Pettit learned at Hindman carried over into her work and programs at Pine Mountain.
Following the departure of Katherine Pettit to Pine Mountain in 1913, the funding from the WCTU at Hindman dwindled and the school experienced several disastrous fires that added to their woes. In 1915, two years after Pettit departed, Hindman experienced a “Broadening Out,” as they described it and the name of the institution was formally changed from the W.C.T.U Settlement to the Hindman Settlement School. The name change came just as prohibition began to be a hot political debate in the state of Kentucky and as the Progressive movement rose in favoritism. Frances Beauchamp, President of the Kentucky WCTU and a friend of Pettit, was soon the object of considerable “mudslinging” as described by Jess Stoddart in her well-researched history The Story of Hindman Settlement School, (Stoddart 2002, p.82.)
While references to the WCTU school disappeared in the wake of the political battles of Prohibition, the settlement at Hindman also was charting a new and progressive educational course. Angered by the perceived retrenchment from prohibition, some significant donors pulled their support for the school. All the while, moonshine did not go away. It continued to light the midnight production of corn liquor and the revenue continued to support families who lived on the economic margins of society. Moonshine, after all, was a very persuasive form of social capital not unlike that seen in many parts of the world — not just Appalachia.
Like Hindman, the relationship of Pine Mountain to corn liquor is a story that is not easily altered by a simple change of name. Nor is the Kentucky tale a unique one. One of the most striking markers of Appalachia’s current return to what is often referred to as “localism” can also be found in locations as diverse as some South American countries and some countries in Asia, particularly in Thailand, Myanmar and Viet Nam. In those latter Asian countries, the nostalgia for social capital has been used to push for reform in health services, agriculture, and a variety of other older practices that were remembered as part of a healthy democracy.
It is interesting that place-based education, a kind of localism, has often returned to indigenous knowledge and past practice for educational assistance in an effort to re-form and inform social capital. A brief visit of a group of Viet Nam visitors to Pine Mountain in the early 1970’s revealed much about the common issues in the two countries, including the power of Asian “moonshine” cooperation to work its magic in restoring civic engagement and to nudge the people toward less destructive economic initiatives.
In Appalachia drinking was a discreet part of many social gatherings. It enhanced conversation, made young men bold, softened the sensibilities of young women, and lessened the aching back of the subsistence farmer. In many cases it was the juice of existence, providing desperate families a means of providing for a house full of children or a poor crop. But it is the stories of rampant drinking and associated violence like that documented in the records of the Hyden school and also at Pine Mountain, particularly in the health centers at Big Laurel and Line Fork, that are seared into the public mind.
The novels of Lucy Furman, a staff member at Hindman, and many other writers promoted “moonshine stories” to an eager national audience. Percy MacKaye, the playwright, John Fox, Jr., and other visitors to Pine Mountain continued to romanticize the practice of distillation of the mountain’s principal crop — corn. John Fox, Jr. was notoriously energized by the marketing of what Darlene Wilson in her article for Back Talk From Appalachia (1999) called the “dichotomous stereotype of twin Kentuckys — the twins being the “…sneaky, murderous, moonshiners,” versus the “civilized ‘outer-world’ of the rest of the state. (See: Wilson, Back Talk … p. 112). Yet, marketing and publications at Hindman and later at Pine Mountain can be found using moonshine stories to capture the imagination of an audience that believed the area to be rampant with stills and guns.
Unfortunately, the written records of the rural settlement schools, largely the record of “outsider authors”, gave credence to some of the tales of violence, redemption, and survival centered on moonshine. After all, in the 1920s Harlan County’s murder rate was the highest in the country — a ready testimony to the mixture of guns and alcohol. “Bloody Harlan” was at its core a name born out of the mine wars, but the rage was often fed by corn liquor. But, then, even this story is much more complex than the easy tales often spun about moonshine in the mountains of Kentucky and there is little doubt that it enables the easy path to the long road of stereotyping.
THE MOONSHINE MEN OF KENTUCKY
“The Moonshine Men of Kentucky,” Harper’s Weekly, October 20, 1877.
At any rate, Pine Mountain staff and community also added to the many moonshine tales found in the public literature. After all, moonshine tales are good entertainment for many. One of Pettit’s first traveling companions into eastern Kentucky was the “expert” on mountain moonshine tales, Henry Mixter Penniman. The Rev. Penniman was a faculty member at Berea College in Kentucky and a well-known authority on mountain culture. It was Penniman who had led Pettit and a group of fellow troupers into the eastern mountains to explore the Appalachian culture. Berea often accommodated visitors and their own faculty who wished to visit the rugged mountains of eastern Kentucky and to see first-hand how the “notorious” mountaineer lived. Often visitors were directed by the college or the President, to seek out the Pine Mountain area in order to give the folk a deeper dive into the local culture of Appalachia. Berea had for many years provided consultation and support to the settlement schools in the southeastern corner of the state and was particularly fond of Hindman and Pine Mountain. Many articles by William G. Frost, an early President of Berea , and by his faculty from the college, signaled that they felt the region to be under their care and their watchful eye. They kept in close touch with the settlement schools in the southeastern region and “moonshine” was often part of their concern and sometimes and somewhat, their exaggerated focus. Penniman was their moonshine expert.
DR. HENRY MIXTER PENNIMAN
Dr. Penniman, a faculty at Berea College, was particularly concerned by what he saw in the Southern Appalachians and in its people and was someone who had built up good relations with many of the people in the southeast corner of the state. He was a close observer of the culture and of the language and the wry humor of the people of the region. Not much was missed by Penniman, as seen in two tales both collected and somewhat concocted and, reportedly, recited by Penniman in public performances. These selections from the Berea Quarterly have surrogates in the archival record at Pine Mountain.
THE BEREA QUARTERLY 1908, p. 20-22 Henry Mixter Penninman
Professor Penniman is a Massachusetts man, educated at Brown University and Andover Seminary, who has been connected with Berea since 1895. More than any other member of our Faculty he has assisted the President in making friends for our enterprise, and more than any other, except Professor Dinsmore, he has come into immediate contact with the mountaineers. He is what the Kentuckians call a “good mixer,” and he has preached on half the creeks in Eastern Kentucky, entering into the real life of the people with a sympathy which opens their hearts.
Professor Penniman has a keen sense of the ludicrous and a good scent for literary material as well. Instead of giving a statistical or scientific account, he gives pictures, impressions, which have made his presentations of the mountain work most attractive, in spite of his being a ”minister of the Gospel” he has become a great impersonator, so that a business men’s club. or a camping party in the Adirondacks counts itself fortunate when it can secure an hour of his recitals.
We find room this month for one brief anecdote which is almost a photograph, but a photograph selected with an artist’s eye. Following it is a testimonial which recently came to President Frost regarding Professor Penniman’s impersonations before well-known people in Cincinnati.
Henry Mixter Penniman.
Splash, splash down the mountain passway, for the path lay in a stream fretting and playing in the narrows of a “V” shaped valley. A mountaineer on his big mule and a preacher on his horse, after a long, hot, hard day were riding forward in the edge of the night. The preacher was tired enough to fall off.
A long silence was broken by the man on the mule.
“Mr. Preacher, you’ve ben yere nigh six year an all thet time I’ve knowed you’ve wanted to ast me one thing an you ain’t ast hit. Now I’m goin to promise hit to ye without your astin.
“You’ve alius wanted to ast me not to drink no mo’. Now I promise I’ll drink no mo’.”
This was like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky. The horse moved over to the mule, and the big mountain hand almost crushed the preacher’s. The stump and rock in mid-stream that made them unclasp was a relief.
Again the silence was broken.
“Mr. Preacher this country will take notice that I am quitting and they’ll know you are into hit, and thars plenty of folks round yere will try and spile your mind about me. Now if you hear I git drunk come to me, ef I get drunk I’ll tell ye an I’ll still be a pullin’ to be a temperance man.”
Not long after, the preacher heard his mountain friend was drunk and riding to his cabin asked point blank,
“Did you get drunk?”
“Yes” was the answer,
“I got powerful drunk but I got drunk innercent.
” How was that?
“I’m troubled with cramps, when them cramps ketch holt I hev to hev some whiskey to subjew their pain and when I git nuf whiskey down to subjew their pain, hit onhinges my ides as to what’s right and I slip into the rest innercent.”
‘ ‘Mr. Preacher I don’t low hits wrong to take er dram, but I do say hits wrong to git drunk. I cayn’t tak er dram and not tak mo’, so I ain’t goin to tak er dram.”
HARD AND HIS KETTLE
Another tale, among many about the use and abuse of Moonshine can be found in the Pine Mountain Settlement School collections .”Hard and His Kettle,” is a chapter from Henry Mixter Penniman’s book, Moonshine Life of the Mountains of Kentucky. It is uncertain whether the book was published, but this particular chapter was printed in the Berea Quarterly, Vol. 12 No. 9, 1908 and captures the same regional dialect and humor often found in the community around Pine Mountain.
The typescript found here varies only slightly from the Berea Quarterly version and appears to be a transcript from the papers of Katherine Pettit
“Hard and His Kettle,” from Moonshine Life of the Mountains of Kentucky, by H.M. Penniman of Berea College, 1908. 01 penn_moonsh_001.jpg
“Hard and His Kettle,” from Moonshine Life of the Mountains of Kentucky, by H.M. Penniman of Berea College, 1908. 02 penn_moonsh_002.jpg
“Hard and His Kettle,” from Moonshine Life of the Mountains of Kentucky, by H.M. Penniman of Berea College, 1908. 03 penn_moonsh_003.jpg
“Hard and His Kettle,” from Moonshine Life of the Mountains of Kentucky, by H.M. Penniman of Berea College, 1908. 04 penn_moonsh_004.jpg
“Hard and His Kettle,” from Moonshine Life of the Mountains of Kentucky, by H.M. Penniman of Berea College, 1908. 05 penn_moonsh_005.jpg
“Hard and His Kettle,” from Moonshine Life of the Mountains of Kentucky, by H.M. Penniman of Berea College, 1908. 06 penn_moonsh_006.jpg