This public domain image is supposed to be affiliated with the famous Hatfields and McCoys feud.  I don't know any of the people so I couldn't say either way.

This public domain image is supposed to be affiliated with the famous Hatfields and McCoys feud.  I don't know any of the people so I couldn't say either way.

As I research and learn about the history of the mountains, my sheltered eyes are often opened to nuances I had no idea existed among my people.  Feuds are something I thought Hollywood stereotyped mountain-folk with.  However, a chapter in Raine’s book The Land of Saddle-Bags made me think about some of the old stories in a little different light.

Daddy always says that “Mountain folk are clannish,” and I have found it to be true.  Now, I’ve never seen that characteristic result in gun fights but we’ve discussed here many aspects of the clans.  Traditionally, the family unit has been the center of American life and certainly mountain life.  We get together every chance we have, attend decorations at every cemetery we can reach and often approach a funeral as a social event. 

James Watt Raine presents two separate stories of Kentucky feuds that lasted decades and took many lives. [If you’d like to read one or both of those accounts, please leave a comment and I will share it in next week’s blog.]  Reading that, I couldn’t help but ask myself if this has ever happened, or could ever happen on the Cumberland Plateau.  I believe the answer must be Yes.  I suspect some of you may have more information than me on some of these stories and I certainly hope you’ll share them with me.

While I can’t name any specific families I’ve known to be feuding each other, the twentieth century history of Fentress County certainly is peppered with violent events that could pit one faction against another.  (Note here that I’ve specified the twentieth century for we know all too well the fracture The Civil War caused throughout our region in the nineteenth century as men and families chose their allegiance and watched to see which side their neighbors supported.  The stories of Tinker Dave Beaty alone reflect the consequences of forcing a man into a conflict he had no interest in.)

Perhaps our most famous outlaw, Billy Dean Anderson, was included on the FBI’s most wanted list while he hid from authorities in the rugged Pall Mall country-side.  A member of his family, Kay Wood Conatser, wrote a book about him a couple of years ago in which she details how his family supported him during his life on the lam.  Moreover, the book indicates that Anderson shot or shot at a number of people, including a group of state troopers and at least one Fentress County deputy.

This violence against officers of the law seems to be a common theme in Fentress county’s history.  During the 1940’s and 1950’s there were numerous, violent confrontations with law enforcement and locals.  Sheriff Clay Stephens was caught by a group of men who rubbed mustard on his head (does anyone know the significance of that act?) after which he resigned.  He was replaced by Sheriff Clayton Upchurch who was shot while in the line of duty.  A second attempt was made on him, but his wife was shot instead as she drove the family car and was mistaken for the sheriff. 

These were tough men and law enforcement in general was a different world than it is today. 

Sheriff Upchurch killed a man during a gunfight.  On the witness stand he was asked who he was aiming at as he fired and he responded that he was just shooting, “My eyes were full of blood,” so he couldn’t see his target.  A group of ruffians sent word to Sheriff Upchurch that they were going to take his gun away from him and rub mustard in his hair.  He returned a warning that they should be sure and wear gloves because the gun would be hot when they got it.

Both Sheriff Upchurch and his successor, Irvin Jones, were known for their prowess with the black jack.  There was a notorious gangster in Ohio during the fifties, sixties and seventies.  Bill Stepp was actually born in Peebles, Ohio but his father was from Highland County, Virginia.  I don’t find any documented connection to Fentress County, but I've heard a story that he was arrested by a Fentress County man working up north; he roughed the gangster up a bit with his black jack.  Stepp asked the officer, “Did you learn that from Pont Upchurch?”

Of course these are legends, but they serve to give example of the culture of that era.

Coal mining was a boom on the plateau in the twentieth century, and it had its share of violence.  I don’t know if it would be proper to include these outbursts in a feuding discussion as there were so many people neither native to the area nor long-term residents.  The mining towns swelled with workers and managers coming from all over the place.  Some of the violence erupted due to the treatment of the workers while other instances were conflicts between individuals.

In Zenith, there was a 1937 uprising that saw several men killed then in 1940 Sheriff Horace Taylor and Deputy Casper Wood were killed while trying to arrest a miner.  That miner then engaged in a gunfight with the foreman who killed him after being was mortally woundedAn interesting note is that Taylor and Wood are the only two Fentress County officers listed on the Officer Down Memorial Page (www.odm.org).  I don’t know how complete that record might be.

The 1930’s saw a huge strike in Wilder with much violence.  In fact, the National Guard was brought in at least twice to try to maintain the peace.  At least one man was killed in April 1933 when a union leader was shot.

Raine notes in his discussion of feuds that political offices were often used to fuel feuds.  I’m very interested to hear from you readers if you know of that happening on the plateau.  Certainly with everyone related to someone it would be a great temptation for an official to actin the best interest of his own family. 

These are sensitive subjects, I know.  If you have comments, please know that you can enter just your first name or initials in leaving comments here.  

Be sure to let me know in the comments if you want to hear Mr. Raine’s feud stories.

Scam Phone Calls

I was working on a story about feuds for this week until I had such a neat experience, I really thought I needed to share it.  We'll get to feudin' next week, don't worry.   Until then, today’s story is a bit off-subject for my history blog but I think you will enjoy

Despite being registered on the National Do Not Call List, I have been receiving a number of calls from “computer technicians”.  Specifically they all identify themselves a “Microsoft Certified Technicians” although they stop short of saying they are actually working for Microsoft – it took a few calls before I caught that nuance.  Now, I’m not quite naïve enough to think that Microsoft is carefully watching my computer and yours to ensure we are having no hiccups in operation.  In fact, I’ve actually tried to talk to Microsoft a few times and it’s not an easy fete.  I’ve had to talk to multiple people, wait to be transferred, been told that there is no solution to my particular problem and generally ignored by this monster-company.  It’s the same reception I get from a lot of big companies so it could just be me.

At any rate, I’m immediately suspicious when the caller tells me they are in anyway affiliated with Microsoft.  The first few times I got the call I just got off the phone as quickly as possible because I knew it was a scam I didn’t want to give them any chance to somehow catch me off guard.  I still don’t know what they are after although I suspect there would be a point when they would ask for my credit card in order to complete some kind of service on my computer or they might just gain access to my files and try to find what information they could use to rob me.

Then one day I quickly ended one of these calls and I think the Holy Spirit whispered that this would be a good opportunity to witness.  If it accomplished nothing else, it would be good practice of an incredibly necessary skill.  Now, I accept Peter’s admonishment to always be ready to give an answer for my joy (1 Peter 3:15).  And, I strongly believe when Paul tells us the lost world can’t hear the gospel without a preacher (Romans 10:14) he is not referring to Brother so-and-so who delivers your weekly sermon.  You and I are that preacher and the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) was given to all of us.

However – you knew there was one of those coming, didn’t you? – witnessing takes practice.  At least it does for me.  There have been times that I was more aware of opportunities to share the gospel or at least hand a tract with a word of encouragement.  I have no excuse for being out of practice but I’m confessing to you that I don’t speak up nearly as often as I should.  Therefore, when I think I hear the Lord hinting that He might just be sending me some opportunities, I want to be sure to respond, “here am I” (Isaiah 6:8).

And that’s how I came to answer the phone during the dinner hour on Tuesday.  Little do they know that the dinner hour is actually my best time to talk because my children are quietly stuffing their faces then.  I answered and told “Jack” I was so glad he’d called because I had a question for him.

I turned my Bible to Romans as I was asking him, “Have you ever thought about what would happen if you died?”

After the answer that he would go to heaven and the way to get there is to be good, I continued asking directive questions, prepared to lead him down The Romans Road

Here’s where it got really exciting.  “Jack” says “I want to tell you something, I am a scammer.”

Despite the smile it brought to my face, I was pretty shocked.  I know I’ve encountered a number of scammers on the phone and online but I have never ever had one admit it. 

He did go on to tell me a very sad story about how he was desperate for a job and this was the only thing he could find.  However, he did not ask again for me to turn on my computer, nor did he ever ask for my credit card or any other personal information. 

“Jack” was being recorded and monitored and he indicated our conversation would be ended any minute.  So I boldly took the opportunity to say to his monitor that he too could know for sure that he is going to heaven and that the only way is through faith in Jesus Christ.

I planted a seed.  I throw those seeds out about once a week when I get such a call.  I am fully aware that many – maybe even most – of the seeds fall on parched soil.  And maybe Jack’s soil wasn’t fully ready to nurture God’s Word but he heard it and he was instantly convicted and I find that too exciting to keep to myself.

Now it’s up to God himself to provide the water and ultimately the fruit (1 Corinthians 3:6-7) and I’m confident He will.

If you’ve had witnessing opportunities drop in your lap recently, I’d love to hear about them.  Just leave a comment below.

How do you Measure Success?

Today’s blog is part philosophy and part mountain history.  Do you ever experience a series of conversations and articles that seem to direct your thoughts toward subjects you might not otherwise even think about?  Ah, could that be The Holy Spirit guiding my thoughts?

Well over the last few days several sources have driven me to consider success The Steve Laube Agency blog recently talked about missionaries Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming and Roger Youderian who were killed in 1956 by The Huaorani tribe they were trying to evangelize.  Dan Balow points out in this article that the day these men set up camp near the tribe’s village they were in the center of God’s will – at least they certainly were striving to be and they had prayed and sought God’s will in making this bold move.  Three days later the Huaoranis killed all five of them.  Were they successful?  Well, those men have been inspiring Christian people for sixty years with some going into the jungle to carry the Gospel to remote peoples, others coming to salvation and many others drawn closer to God through their testimony.  I could only hope to be so successful.

A missionary was recently touted as a great success while another man was accused of being a depressed complainer.  The latter I know to be a strong man of God, one of those people who runs toward a fight to seek justice for the helpless when most of us run toward a safe corner.  Can this man ever be a success if the world around him calls him names and advertises his flaws?  Probably.  Do we measure our success by our reputation?  If so, Martin Luther was a great failure for he had no acclaim in his own lifetime yet his reforms have shaped the very way we worship today.

A few weeks ago I made a passing comment in this blog from the James Watt Raine book about the mountain man’s love of leisure.  He says in The Land of Saddle Bags (Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1924) “…if one is satisfied with Nature’s own providing…why reproach him for indulging in philosophic and contemplative leisure?” (pg 70).

Raine makes a good point.  Why must we judge our neighbor’s success by our own goals?  I have a nice home and I’m very thankful for it but just down the road is a man living in a single wide trailer with neither running water nor electricity.  I’ve heard it my whole life but I now question whether I can call him sorry, or do-less, if he’d rather live there.  If one man chooses to work from daylight till dark, earn a six-figure income, drive fancy cars and vacation in Europe should we compare him to his brother who works just forty hours per week, has bald tires on his ten-year-old car and hasn’t been out of town in years?  Seems like you’d have to look a little deeper at these lives and see whether the meager living of the one man is allowing family-time and church-work. 

As I study the history of the Plateau, I often ask “why” and work hard to find the answer.  I say this often, but it’s really hard to understand yesterday when measured by the values of today.  An elderly relative recently remarked that her children “eat-out too much” and that they will never “amount to anything”.  Her depression-era values tremble at our budgets that plan for Sunday dinner in a restaurant or grabbing some fast food on the way to an appointment.  Many of us today aren’t “amounting to much” as our wages are drained by the electric bill required to air condition large homes, cable and cell phone bills that were completely foreign to past generations, and the endless fuel our cars burn.

From an historical perspective, I drive through old towns with stately homes that have stood for generations and I admire them.  In our neck of the woods there are home-places with only fallen chimneys and bright yellow Easter flowers to mark our grandparents’ childhood.  We know from the stories that have passed down there was both joy and sadness in that place and we are the product of their lives.  I suppose the measure of their success is in my life and yours.

History Fair

I recently re-read my “about” page for this blog and remembered that one of the things I intended to present to you was summaries of historical commemorations and demonstrations.  I’m afraid that’s one area of the blog that I’ve been less successful with.  Today we’ll change that.

Fair overview.jpg

Last Saturday, The Soddy Daisy and Montlake Historical Association hosted a History Fair which I was able to attend and it was surely worth the time.  I wish I could detail for you the contents of every booth and list the names of every person willing to spend their Saturday talking history with complete strangers.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t even able to meet them all. 

All of East Tennessee has a wealth of Civil War relics and there were lots on display at the fair.  There were lots of musket balls, metal-jacketed shells, even cannon balls not to mention belt buckles, pocket knives and a bayonet.

Coal has long been a mainstay of Tennessee’s economy and there were some great exhibits from the industry.  One booth even had miniature replicas of coal cars sitting on rail lines.  There was a description of coal’s formation and the types of coal found in East Tennessee.

And there were pictures.  Pictures of homeplaces and children in front of houses; pictures of church groups and school children and a pre-Civil War portrait of a full-blooded Cherokee woman.

All of these exhibits were wonderful and a joy to see but the real treat were the people.  They know their stuff.  They spend their leisure time digging through historical documents, walking cemeteries and pouring over aged maps.  That passion gives them a level of expertise that’s often hard to find in local history.

This was a great event and I want to applaud the work of this association for taking steps to preserve our local and oral history.  I know there are a number of historical associations in the region and if they are sponsoring similar events, I sure hope to be a part of them.

So here’s the funny story of the day.  I have a big Cherokee history project I’m wanting to research and write about.  There was a great booth about Cherokee roots and I wanted to ask the gentleman there how he would explain all of the Cherokee blood we still have in the area despite the 1838 removal and Trail of Tears.  I told him a little family legend about an ancestor who as a young man, was able to escape the soldiers and was taken in by a local farmer and given refuge.  He pointed to an adjacent, now empty, table and said, “There was a man set-up over there that you need to talk to.  He told me just about the same story.  His name was Doil Harvey.”  I actually squealed.  Doil is my cousin and I hated that I missed seeing him there.  But how exciting to know that he’s the resident expert.

Officers of The Soddy Daisy and Montlake Historical Association

Officers of The Soddy Daisy and Montlake Historical Association

A Life Worth Celebrating

Gladys Pell

Gladys Pell

On Sunday morning my husband’s maternal grandmother stepped over into Gloryland.  After 96 years living a faithful, hard-working and service-filled life she reached her reward.  I won’t try to preach to you here but I can’t help but think of what the Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:6-8:

…my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

As we waited for this dear, dear lady to pass, I found myself asking a lot of questions – how much did she know at the end?  Was she able to peek over into heaven?  I’ve talked several times about how thankful I am for the advances in medicine that we enjoy today, however, this process of dying is one that science just can’t quite reach.

Still, my history-driven mind wants to draw comparisons between the week my family just passed and similar times over the last hundred years.  The family sat with Mawmaw around the clock for four days because we wanted to be with her, we wanted to celebrate the very moment she was freed from her suffering.  But we sat with her in a medical facility surrounded by competent and compassionate medical professionals.  They cared for the patient as well as the family.  Before, it would have been the neighbors who came and offered this service.  I remember when my great-grandfather died at home over thirty years ago, within the hour several ladies were busily cleaning the whole house.  It was the first time I had been that close to death and I was very moved by these friends who came in to do work that even as a young teenager I recognized was far from glamorous.  In the 1980’s of course we had a funeral home who whisked away the body and presented it to us a few days later dressed in his Sunday-go-to-meeting best and positioned in a store-bought casket.

Can you even imagine the layers of complexity this process of death presented when those neighbors needed not only to clean a little and prepare some food but also to clean and dress the body and place it in a homemade casket? 

Invariably sitting with a family opens windows into lives and I love those moments.  Well this week I heard the story of Edker and Gladys and it’s worth sharing.

Edker lived in Alabama and his brother lived in Dalton where he was preaching at Poplar Springs Baptist Church.  Edker walked to Georgia to visit his brother and of course he went to church with him.  He chose to sit on the same pew with the Crow family – perhaps the beautiful fifteen year old girl drew him to that seat near the front.  As Gladys looked over this stranger she found him barefoot and was embarrassed by it.  Now, why that would bother her is a mystery to us today because her family certainly wasn’t wealthy, but I guess she had shoes for church.

Gladys, Edker and Pam Pell

Gladys, Edker and Pam Pell

Edker kept coming back and his charm soon blinded Gladys to his poverty.  I wish I could have heard his version of this story because every picture and every memory of their daughters is him loving her.  He is always wrapping his long arms around her petite shoulders or even sweeping her off her feet – literally – for the camera.  Their love story was all too short for he passed away very suddenly when he was only fifty-four years old.

Theirs was a love worth remembering and Gladys Pell’s was a life worth celebrating. 


Gladys & Edker Pell with their daughters Donna and Pam

Gladys & Edker Pell with their daughters Donna and Pam