Tennessee Mountain Stories

Cord and the Mutton

Following is another of Callie Melton’s stories from her book ‘Pon my Honor

As usual, this is presented just as she published it.


Grandpa purely loved to tell about the jokes he’d played on people.  He was as full of fun as a dog is of fleas, and he was always ready for a prank of some kind or another.  His pranks were always good natured, but also always good for a laugh.  The tale us young’un liked the best was the one about the time he got Cord Hull to eat the mutton.

When Grandpa and Grandma were first married, they lived for awhile on Uncle Will Hull’s place.  Now he really wasn’t Uncle Will, but Cousin Will, but, being a lot older than Grandpa and Grandma, they just called him Uncle.

Uncle Will had five boys.  The middle one was Cord, and he was the one who was always sent out to work with Grandpa.  They two older boys, Ress and Nade, logged with Uncle Will, and they two younger ones, Wyoming and Roy, were kept at home to help their ma around the house.

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One time Grandpa and Cord got the job of farming that year, so Uncle Will and the two other boys could go on with their logging and rafting.  Cord was just about half-grown, but he was a good worker, so the two set about putting in the crops.

On the days that they worked the fields nighest Uncle Will’s house, Miz. Hull would get dinner for them.  And on the days that they worked near Grandpa’s house, Grandma cooked for them.  Grandma was a good cook, and Cord like to eat at Grandpa’s.  He’d say that Lar could cook the best sallet and hoecake that he ever put in his mouth.

Now, at this particular time Grandpa had just killed a sheep.  Grandpa rally knew how to butcher a sheep, so his mutton was always good.  Grandpa also knew, as did everbody else, that mutton was the one thing that Cord Hull would not eat.  But, being Grandpa, he laid plans to feed Cord some of that mutton!

One morning at breakfast Grandpa told Grandma that him and Cord would be eating with her that day, and to be sure and cook plenty of mutton.  “Cord purely hates the stuff,” he told her, “but don’t you say a word about mutton at dinner.  I’m going to make him eat some of it and like it.”

Grandma was scandalized, but what could she do with Grandpa!  So she just tried to outdo herself on her meal that day, and when Cord and Grandpa came in at dinner time she had the vittles on the table waiting for them.

While she poured the sassafras tea, Grandpa and Cord sat down at the table and started eating.  The first thing Grandpa did was to pick up the big platter of mutton, pass it to Cord and say, “Cord, I’ve just killed a calf… have some.”

Cord forked him a nice big piece of mutton and started in on it.  Before he had hardly swallowed the last bite of that piece, Grandpa was passing the platter and urging him to have some more.  “Make out your dinner, boy,” he said, “for we’ve got some mighty hard work ahead of us this evening.”

“Alex, this is the best beef I ever tasted,” Cord said, and forked him another big piece of mutton.

Grandma was so taken back that she was afraid to open her mouth for fear she’d say the wrong thing.  But not Grandpa!  He eat, and talked, and passed Cord the beef.  And Cord eat like there wasn’t going to never be another meal.  But, finally they finished eating, pushed back their chairs, and got ready to go back to the field.

Cord thanked Grandma for the good meal, and started out the door.  Grandpa stopped him and said, “Cord, didn’t you tell me that you couldn’t eat mutton?”

“Alex,” he said, “I just can’t swallow that stuff.  It tastes just like wool to me, and the longer I chew a bite the bigger it gets.”

“Well, you sure eat a dog’s bait today,” Grandpa told him.

Cord couldn’t believe it!  HE couldn’t believe that he had eat mutton until Grandma assured him that he had.  Grandpa said that all the rest of that day Cord kept shaking his head and saying that he couldn’t believe that he’d really eat that mutton.

Of course Grandpa had to tell what he’d done all over the settlement.  And poor old Cord!  He had to take an awful lot of joshing about Alex’s poor little young’uns having to go hungry because he had eat up all of the mutton!

The Scalded Preacher


Everybody loves a story on the preacher – and knowing we’ve got 2 or 3 preachers who read these stories, I’m hoping for your comments at the end. 

This is from Callie Melton’s “Pon my Honor” and is presented verbatim.

 James Watt Raine from The Land of Saddlebags book

James Watt Raine from The Land of Saddlebags book

One time I had the Shiloh Methodist Church Record looking it over.  The membership roll was fairly familiar, but her and there would be a name that I could not place.  The list of pastors, however, was a horse of a different color, and I had to call upon my father to acquaint me with them.

Dad was almost ninety then, but he still had an alert mind and that wonderful sense of humor that we’ve all found so delightful.   As I went down the list, he’d tell me what he remembered about each man.  I came to one name, and Dad started laughing.

“Oh, that’s the one I scalded,” he said.

“How come?” I asked him, knowing full well that there was a good story here.

“Well,” he began, “You know that pa started the Church at Shiloh when he moved to Overton County from Old Fort Blount in Jackson County way before the Civil War.  Him and the Eldridges and the Dillens were the first members.

Now you know that we lived the closest to the meetin’ house, so ever preacher that come to Shiloh in them days always stayed at Pa’s.  The Second Sunday in ever month was Meetin’ Day, and the Preacher would allers come on Saturday and stay all night with us.  He was allers a Circuit Rider, and he usually lived a fur piece away.  Then there was always the protracted meetin’ helt during the latter part of July ever year.

Now, I’ll tell you right off that them Methodist preachers was a breed apaprt.  Besides being the eatenist set, they was allers having somebody to fetch and carry fer ‘em.  I was jest a tad of a boy in them days, so I was the one to do all the fetching and carrying.

But Brother John here capped the stack. The protracted meetin’ was going on in July as usual, but it was unusually hot.  Since Brother John was staying at our house, we all had to go to meetin’ ever day… both morning and evening.  The morning preaching was helt starting at 10 o’clock so as to give the women folks time to get dinner ready before meetin’ time, and the men time to do any work that they had that was pressing.  The evening meetin’ was helt at early candlelight, and both times Brother John never did seem to know when to quit.

 Brush Arbor that Concord Baptist Church in Chase City, VA started out with.  http://www.concordbaptistchurchcc.org/Our-History.html

Brush Arbor that Concord Baptist Church in Chase City, VA started out with. 

When we’d get back to the house at dinnertime, and even before we could eat, Brother John would have to have a cold drink right from the spring, and a pan of warm water to bathe his feet in.  I can still recollect how hungry I’d be, but I’d have to wait for Brother John to bathe his feet.  It was the same old story at night, too, and I’d have to run to the spring in the dark for cold water no matter how lond he’d helt or how sleepy I was.

Now all this meant that ever time before we went to meetin’ I’d have to set a pan of water on the hearth to have it warm to bathe his feet, and as soon as we’d get home, I’d have to run all the way to the spring and back to be sure his drink would be cold.

After a few days of this I got mighty tired of it.  But knowing my Mother, I knowed that as long as that protracted meetin’ went on I was stuck.  So one day I took matters in my own hands.          

That day when we got back to the house from meetin’ I dashed through the house, grabbed the water bucket without being told, and took off to the spring.  When I got back the Preacher was setting on the doorstep that led from the big room down to the lower room.  He had his shoes and socks off, just setting there waiting for his cold drink and his pan of warm water.

I rushed him his tumbler of cold water only minutes from the spring.  And while he was drinking it, I set the pan of water down right by his feet.

Without even looking down, he let out a deep breath of contentment jest like a sick kitten to a hot rock, and slid both feet into that pan of water.

And that’s when the roof purt night caved in.  He dropped the tumbler, fell back flat on his back in the floor, with both his feet in the air and yelling his head off.

“Lord o’mercy! Lord o’mercy,” he yelled, “I’m scalded!  I’m scalded.”

I’d got clean out to the barn, but I could still hear the uproar.  It took Pa and Mother both to convince him that the water was icy cold jest fresh from the spring and not hot a-tall.

Well, I got my hide tanned properly, but it was worth it I tell you, fer that was the last time that Brother John bathed his feet at our house.”

The Gully-Washer and Dam-Buster

Excerpt from Callie Melton’s ‘Pon My Honor

Youg’uns may learn a lot more things at school now than they used to, but I’ll guarantee they don’ have half as much fun.  Why, we all laugh fit to kill ever time we think about one day when we played meetin’ at Windle.

Now the Methodists always held their protracted meetin’ at Shiloh just about the time that school started at Windle, so we’d always play meetin’ ever recess time all fall.  There’d always be somebody good at preaching, another at leading the singing, and somebody else’d do the praying.

Miss Minerva was teaching there the year that just about ended our meetin’s.  It was one day at dinner recess, when we’d all grabbed a piece of cold bread and meat in one hand and a baked sweet  tater in the othern, and took off across the big gully to the patch of woods where we played.  There was a big flat stump on the hillside that the preacher stood on, while the rest of us’d set on the ground in front of him.  We’d been to Shiloh that morning to preaching, so everbody was all tuned up for a good’un.

Earl was doing the preaching that day, and his text was on whatever it was that he’d heard that morning.  He preached real good, and if you hadn’t known that it was just a bunch of young’uns playing, you’d have swore that it was a meetin’ going on over there in the woods.

The good old stirring hymns like OLD TIME RELIGION, FATHER’S GOT A HOME and ON JORDAN’S STORMY BANKS were sung with feeling, and when the altar call was made the Mourner’s Bench was full.  A good old sister or two would give a shout now and then, and the “A-men’s” were heard on ever side.  Then Earl called on O.B. to pray.  Now O.B. really threw himself into it.  Long and loud he prayed, and over and over he begged, “Lord, send us a gully-washer and a dam-buster.”

No telling how long all this would have gone on, but the bell for books broke it up and everbody took off for the schoolhouse.

Not long after dinner a quick cloud come up, the wind begin to [b]low, and great deep peals of thunder shook the house.  The young’uns all got scared, and some of the littlest’uns begin to cry.  Just as the downpour of rain come, Miss Minerva started the whole passel of us across the footlog to the nearest neighbor’s house.

It looked like the sky had just opened up and was letting it all come down at once, but Miss Minerva stood there at the footlog and watched all the young’uns safely across.  Then, as she started over she remembered her Divine Book that was so precious to her, so back to the schoolhouse she run to get it.  When she finally got back to the footlog, the water was rolling down the gully like a tide, and it had just about covered the log.  But she dashed out on it anyway.  Then about middle-ways across she lost her footing and fell in.  Some of the big boys were watching and saw her, so they run out and managed to catch her down-stream and pull her out.  But her Divine Book was washed away, and she was might night drownded.

Now O.B. and Earl were half-grown before they quit crawling under the bed ever time it thundered.  And never again would they play meetin’.  They thought for sure that the Good Lord had answered O.B.’s prayers for a “gully-washer and a dam-buster.”

Grandpa Smith – Part 2 from Callie Melton’s ‘Pon My Honor

Following is an excerpt from ‘Pon my Honor by Callie Melton:



Since I’m dedicating this book to Grandpa Smith, I think I should tell you a little more about him other than his name and dates… names and dates don’t tell much about a person really, but they are important just the same.  Grandpa was known far and wide as Uncle Alex… and I don’t guess he ever saw a stranger in his whole life… he probably met a lot of people that he’d never seen before, but to him they were simply friends he’s just met.

Grandpa was a typical Tennessee Mountaineer… kind, gently, easy-going, free-hearted, not too work brickle, and with a marvelous sense of humor.  No matter what the situation, he could find something funning in it… like the story he’d tell of the old woman whose husband was being buried that day.  Everything was ready to go from the house to the graveyard for the funeral, but the neighbor man who was going to haul the old man to the graveyard was late getting there.  Since idleness was a cardinal sin in the pioneer existence, the old woman set for a few minutes after she’d put on her bonnet.  Then she got up and got her work, turned to the rest of the women and said, “They’s no use to waste time.  We kin jest knit while we air a-waitin’ fer the wagin.”

Grandpa couldn’t read or write, but that didn’t mean he was ignorant.  He knew more about the things around him than anyone I have ever known.  The weeds, the herbs, the trees, the birds… you just name it and Grandpa could tell you something interesting about it.  We had few books when we were growing up, so if we wanted to know about something we had to ask Grandpa.  He would tell us about the weather… the dominecker clouds, the mare’s tail clouds, the sunsets, the sunrises, the cricket’s chirrup, the train at Algood climbing the Brotherton Mountain… and what each thing told him about what kind of weather was in store for us.

He was a born fisherman, and when he’d take us fishing he’d always tell us the do’s and don’ts to obvserve if we wanted to catch any fish.  He’d tell us of the big mud turkles [sic] that lurked in the dep pools, and how they’d hang on till it thundered if they got their teeth in one of our toes.  He’d tell us about the seven different kinds of meat in a turkle’s body, and how good turkle meat was if you cooked it right.

He’d tell us about the time of the Big Snow and Freeze that had happened long before any of us young’uns were born, and how it got so cold that the chickens froze to death and fell off the roost… and down on Martin’s Creek even some people froze to death, too.  Then there’b be the story of the time of the total eclipse of the sun, when it got so dark at mid-day that the cows come up to the gap to be milked and the chickens flew up to roost, and how many people thought it was the end of Time and were just about scared to death…things like that were going to happen for there was nothing, not even an almanac, in the way of weather forecasting.

We would be afraid to go to sleep after he’d told us about Big and Little Harp, and the awful things they’d done… slitting babies’ throats and knocking little boys’ brains out, as well as killing about any grown person they run into.  He’d tell us about Tinker Dave Beaty, the notorious Yankee bushwhacker, and the people he’d killed and the man things he’d done… and how he was even meaner than the Harps for he’d had a good raising and maybe they hadn’t.

Grandpas’ speech was as full of tang and color as the leaves on Clark Mountain in the fall, or a glass of hard cider fresh from the springhouse.  He never lacked for a word or an expression to give us his exact meaning… but he talked just like everybody else did who lived in his time and place.  He never cared for material things… just enough food to keep him from being hungry, enough clothing to keep him warm in cold weather, and a place to shelter him from the elements.  He wasn’t a leading light in the Church, but I never heard him swear or use a dirty word in my life… nor did I ever know him to do a mean or under-handed thing… I don’t believe he had a mean bone in his whole body.

Grandpa lived a long and a full life… from pioneer days through the Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression, and into the horrors of World War II.  He loved everything and everybody… but he loved us young’uns better than anything else.  He died praying to live only until his grandsons got home from Across the Waters so he could see them once more.

Grandpa enriched our lives greatly.  He was the hub around which our world turned while we were growing up.  He did not leave us anything in a material way, but he left us something infinitely more valuable than gold or silver.  We miss him still, but we do not think of him with sorrow.  And that is the way he would have it be… that we remember with joy the days he lived among us.  He would have us be the kind of young’uns that would do him proud… good, kind, generous, and above all, full of the joy of living no matter what our lot.

‘Pon My Honor

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Back in July last year I shared here a couple of newspaper article written by Mrs. Callie Melton.  Mrs. Melton had the same passion for preserving our history and culture that drives me back to this keyboard week after week.  She had the foresight to record some of the tales she’d always known and publish them back in 1979.  This self-published book is no longer available so I want to share some of it with you over the next few weeks.  Today we’ll start with the preface of the book in which she shares her love of the heritage and reasons for writing.


‘PON MY HONOR is a book of folk tales collected in and around Overton County, Tennessee.  Since I am a Tennessee Hillbilly born and bred, I have been familiar with these stories since the moment when I first saw the light of day.  But, unfortunately, it was not until 1933 that I started writing them down.

This book was undertaken for the sole purpose of preserving for our children and our children’s children a small part of this wonderful heritage that is theirs, for nowhere else in the world is there a richer vein of stories or better story tellers than right here in the mountains of Tennessee.  It’s always been that way, for whenever or wherever at least two people get together, there’s sure to be a tale of some kind told.  The first of the Long Hunters who came into this area regaled each other with just such tales as these around their campfire after a long day of hunting.  Today the Atomic scientists at Oak Ridge always tell each new-comer the stories of old John Hendrix, the Prophet of Anderson County.

The stories I have included in this collection will fall roughly into four types.

The stories that are based on actual facts and have a definite time and place are in the chapter HIT HAPPENED HEREABOUTS.  Here I have sometimes, and sometimes not, changed only the names of some of the people involved, relating the main facts just as they actually happened.  Of course these stories have naturally picked up a little color here and there.  But doesn’t’ a good cook always add a dash of spices and herbs to perk up stew?

Haint tales and the ones with a hint of the supernatural are covered in the chapter I WOULDN’T A-BELIEVED HIT IF I HADN’T SEEN HIT MYSELF.  This is a favorite kind of story around here, and rare it is to find a family that doesn’t have its very own haint tale to add to those of their neighbors and friends.

The CHILMEY CORNER TALES are the old, old stories that must have come to us from far away and long ago.  Research has shown me no stories like them.  But they are stories that I grew up with, and I always told them to my school children wherever I taught.  And the high school students loved them just as much as the little ones.

In the chapter ONE FER THE ROAD, you will find “jest tales”.  These are the old ones that nearly everybody has heard in one way or another, for they had been handed down and passed around for generations before they ever reached me.  And I just up and put them down on paper the way I had always heard them.  There’s no moral, not much point, but they are always good for a laugh when a real story teller gets hold of them.

In all of these stories I have tried to tell them word for word just the way I have always heard them.  It hasn’t been easy, this task I set for myself.  The folk speech has been most difficult…it has been hard to write, and I found that it was harder for the present generation to read.  So, sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn’t!  But I got in enough to give the true flavor.  Before and up to World War II, we through this area spoke almost pure Elizabethan English… words, terms, expressions and what have you.  But the English teachers in our schools, bless their dear hearts, have just about rooted it all out!  And it is our loss.

So, if I have succeeded in any small measure in this task I set for myself, I must give the credit to the greatest story teller of them all, my Grandpa Smith.  Whenever possible, I have given the source of each story in the story itself.  That’s always the custom around here… when you tell a tale, you start off by telling who it was that told it to you.  That’s the way Grandpa did, and he ought to have known for he told his tales not only to us young’uns but to anybody who would come in and set a spell.