This interview was in November of 1999 by John Dodson. Narration by Jessica DeHart(rghs 01)
My name is Benny Lockhart. I was born in February twenty-first of 1927. My address is Rt. 1. Box 63 Rocky Gap VA, 24366. I was a prison guard, but now I am retired. I’ve lived here in this house since February the seventeenth of 1957. I’ve lived in Bland County since April of 1938. I decided to move here because it was a good county, good clean county, not much crime, good friendly sociable people, and I liked the land. Everybody around are good neighbors, very accommodating.The area I live in now is North Gap. I received this land in January of 1957. I bought it from Mrs. Coon from Bluefield. When I came here there was a two-room log cabin, but I built this house.
I have one sister that lives in Rocky Gap, she’s married to Thomas Neal. One of my family members lives in Bluefield, one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Kingsport, Kentucky. One in Johnson City, Tennessee. One lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and one lives in Conkersville, Pennsylvania. That’s my brothers and sisters.
If I were to describe my house to you, I would start with the most important thing, the spring, back there in the mountains. It’s just a good clean mountain spring, produces some pretty good drinking water, and I’m very proud of it and thankful for it. I don’t know how long it has been used, but I got a lifetime water supply from it.
Prettiest Place in Bland County
If you were here in Bland County, and I would take you site-seeing, I’d try to take you all over the county. Depends on if you wanted to settle down well might be some other place. I’d ask Rocky Gap. I’d take you to Walker’s Creek, Walker’s Mountain, in the big bend. To get here you cross 52 going into Wytheville, the old road. It’s ten miles out that fire trail, right straight behind Bland. You can see the mountain as clear as a sea up there. They call it the Big Bend.
If I had a day, where I could do anything I wanted to, and nothing needed to get done, I would go over on top of Big Walker Mountain at Big Bend, and sit there all day, of which I’ve done before, and just look at the country over. It’s a beautiful view from up there. You can see half or more of Bland County from up there. You can see to the top of Round Mountain.
I don’t care for anybody to hunt on any of the property I got here, but I don’t want them destroying the timber, cutting it up, building roads through it. I spend ten days a year caring for my land.
I have a garden here. I grow just about everything, corn, beans, potatoes, carrots, radishes, turnips, potatoes, beets, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons, and whatever. I can a lot of it, and give a lot of it to my neighbors, friends.
If I had to leave the county for a certain reason, I would go to Burkes Garden in Tazewell County. I just like it over there. It’s a beautiful and quiet country. It’s just everybody’s sociable and friendly, good neighbors. I lived in Burkes Garden five years, from 1933 to 1938. When we lived over there, we farmed a lot.
That’s where I first learned to hunt, fish, and trap some. I learned how to raise gardens, and raise vegetables, and raise something to eat. We’d trap bobcats mostly, but at that time there was, I guess, probably five thousand sheep in Burkes Garden, and they was destructive to the sheep. They’d catch the lambs when they was young and later on they’d kill the ewes and the rams. I bobcat could bring a ram down. This is how you would trap them. Well. . .you take something like meat skins, or any kind of meat and bait it, and bake it, burn it, till it got to smelling strong. Take it out and catch you a limb in about five foot high in a tree. . .a small limb. And you take you a piece of wire something like a rabbit wire, and you tie you that meat up in it, and tie that down good and tight. And set your traps under it. Cover them up with leaves or grass or whatever. It was a steel trap. We caught eight one year. There wasn’t a bounty on them, they didn’t do that back then. One got thirty five cents for his hide. There wasn’t any deer, there wasn’t no turkeys mostly squirrels, rabbits, plenty rabbits, plenty squirrels. And summer time hunting ground hog. Then trying to hunt skunks, opossum, and coons. A skunk brought good money back, for the fur. You was working for a dollar a day, and you go out at night and catch you a good skunk. It’d bring anywhere between half to five dollars a piece. I caught high as six in one night. I can remember probably 62 or 63 years ago, that you’d see people have caps made out of them like coon hide caps. See woman have furs made out of them, like they make these minks furs you know? They had a way of getting the smell off. I don’t know how they do it but for yourself if you get it on you, skinned them and dressing them out, but you just take you a few old rags, an old burlap sack is the best thing. Burn it up and strike a match to it. Maybe pour a little kerosene or something on it to get it burning good. When it gets to blazing eight to ten inches high, believe it might be, just jump in on it and stomp it our and stand in smoke for three, or four maybe five minutes it’s all gone.
There aren’t as many rabbits as there are today. Oh Lord man, back then there was rabbits everywhere. I spent a many a day sticking down a wire fence around the barn to keep the rabbits from eating up through. I believe that it was because of disease. They break down in their hips and they die out. Long about forty five was when the disease hit them. They was awful scarce for years and they begin to build back and they build back. Then long about nineteen and seventy and seventy-one that disease hit them again. And you was lucky if you could get any with a good rabbit dog. For several years I’d knowed to get two or three a day, but now. . .well they are building back. There was quite a few rabbits around. But, back then if you wanted to mess a rabbit, you peel something about every day to clip, taters, rutabagas, turnips, or something like that, cabbage. You just took it out to the corner of your yard, just poured it out. Put your dog on it. Then around about seven so or eight o’clock you just opened the door, making a light side out there, take your twenty two rifle and kill all the rabbits you want. And if you set out a fruit tree, like a plum, pear, any kind of fruit tree, you had to wrap them about three foot high. For they would eat the bark off and kill them. There was so many rabbits.
I would eat rabbit whenever I wanted to. We always could eat rabbit twice a week and sell them. Rabbit was always about high, cause back then seventy five cents a piece. Used to be a store on there in Bland Street in Bluefield, and there was another there at Tazewell, Bob Burkhart run the one here in Bluefield. They pay you seventy five cents for every rabbit you took to them. It was sixty cents for a squirrel. You wasn’t allowed to sell a squirrel though, that was against the law. But there wasn't no law on rabbits then. That’s just about it, rabbits and squirrels, that’s all there was to hunt. There wasn’t no deer, no turkey. There was a few bear, not too many.
When I was a kid I didn’t hunt bear. I started when I was seventeen years old. I was trying to hunt with a friend of mine. He had some bear dogs, and we got to go bear hunting and killed a few. We was lucky if we got three a year. I’ve never shot a bear. I feel sorry for a bear. They way they’ve been treated and everything. And I don’t eat bear meat, and I don’t kill anything I won’t eat. I had plenty, plenty chances to kill them. I been out like during this time of year when seasons open on them. Walk up right on them, but people, a bear most one of most aggravatingist things you ever saw about hurting you. A bear ain’t gonna hurt you unless you hurt him, or got to messing with him. Now you get an old female
that’s got cubs in the spring of the year, sometime now she’ll growl and make a lot of racket, but if you’ll go on she’ll leave you alone. Yeah, but I love to go bear hunting and listen to them dogs find the trail. My biggest thing is hearing them guys telling them tells about killing them.
I started hunting deer in nineteen and forty nine. That was our first deer season, here up Dismal. Bucks only, for three days. And over the years deer kept over-populating, more of them and more of them. They just kept spreading the season on and out. And I guess about, I think it was sixty-one, sixty, or sixty-one, it was county wide. They opened deer season countywide that year. There were tons of people hunting up Dismal. I didn’t kill a deer until nineteen and sixty one. In the fall out on Brushy Mountain. I killed him but I didn’t have much nothing to do with it. He’s over twelve years old. He had a tag on his ear. Just I got out in the road with him why the game warden come along. I asked him to check him and he said sure. Then he looked at the tag, and said can I have that tag. I said you can have some of the deer if you want. He said no, I just want the tag. He said the last time we turn deer loose in here was twelve years ago. And he said he’s one of them, said around twelve years ago. He’s old. He didn’t have but two teeth and two jaw teeth right there on the left side. And so he checked it in, and I just sometime after that I met him again. He told me about the deer here. He said there was a full grown deer when they turned him loose probably three or four years old and said that the deer had been in there for over twelve years. Actually he said we turn them loose in the spring, you killed them in the fall, so actually he’d been in there about twelve and a half years, in that mountain. And that was the toughest deer I’d ever seen. Course I tickled him to death to get him, you know? That was my first one. I brought him on home, and mother was a good cook. Course I think everybody thinks that about their mother. And the first chance she seen said cut some steak off his hind well and I’ll fry it. She did, she fried and fried and fried. It never did get good and tender. So I ground some of it up in butter and it didn’t do it right and I gave it to the colored people up here in the holler. And they said it was good, and that was my first deer.
I went to school in Rocky Gap, and I went to Fairview School in Bluefield a while, about two years. I went there when I was fifteen years old, to work at a dairy farm and stayed with a man for two years. Because he paid my school and paid me a little bit of the day, and I went to school up Fairview, and then went down to the gap.
At the school in Rocky Gap there was an old big white schoolhouse, big two room. And they teach from the first to the seventh. There was a little part of the brick schoolhouse, just a small one, and the high school. Then in nineteen and thirty-nine they built the upper part on to it. The high school boys built our room you know? After they get out of school, they helped build them. I don’t remember who the contractor was, but a good friend of mine, dug it out with a team of horses.John Coburn was the friend, he lives down Wolfe Creek. Then in the later years, they just kept on building. The whole brick part built there, that’s been there a while. They tore the old frame schoolhouse down, the old white one. Charlie Jeter tore it down for the lumber that was in it.
They taught more than one grade in a room. Mrs. Helvey taught fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh, four grades. Mrs. Akers taught first, second, and third. Oh it would be packed. Two desks, they seat two to a desk. They didn’t have no chimney, just a stovepipe that went out to the roof. Some boys would get to school early and saw wood. They would go outside and saw wood. Fired the stove with wood till they rang the bell. If it got low on wood during the day why, they let out maybe five or six of the biggest boys, give them saws, and ask them to get out there and cut and saw wood.
Mr. John Lambert used to live down there. He always hauled the wood on horse and wagon, took big long poles easy to get on a wagon an bump it off. Seventy-five cents a load. And us boys we’d saw it up, and put it in the stove.
It got very cold during the winter. Very cold, there was no insulation. Had just old wire, old lights hung down. You could reach and pull the string and turn them on. And it was just weather board was on the outside and it was sealed inside with what they called tongue and groove seal. You’ve seen that inside houses, no insulation, no nothing. But you could look out the crack anywhere. If you chewed tobacco in school, and got by with it, we’d just spit out the crack.
I’d say that each room was probably at least forty foot square. An old heater sat right in the middle. The teachers weren’t that mean, but now they’d lay the paddle on you, if you got out of line. Most of the time, they would send a note home to your mother and father. You’d better take it. If you didn’t you got one when you got home, if they found out. If they didn’t hear nothing from your mother and father in a day or two, they’d write them a letter, or go by and see them. They’d tell them what you been doing and all that. You’d get a thrashing at home. They’d take you out to the wood shed, and you kept it up in school the teacher would give you one. They’d give you one, you got two.
Pranks at school
There was always someone playing pranks. Not nothing harmful you know? You would take buckeyes in the fall, and put them in the stove, and they’ll bust like a shotgun to explode, before they dry up. Some kind of ashes in them. One of the guys there one day, he asked the teacher to take the ashes out of the stove. He did. He went down on the creek bank to dump them and there was a lot of buckeyes down on the right hand side. And he picked him up a five- gallon bucket full of buckeyes. And everybody at eight o’clock went to school. Well in the summertime school took up at eight and let out at three. So that would give you more time to work when you got at home. And a lot of them walked a long ways. They had to get home quicker. But in the wintertime, they took up at nine and let out at three thirty. But he left about two or three inches of ashes in the stove, and hot coals, and he went down there and come back and put a five gallon bucket of buckeyes in that stove. And put a lot of dry kindling on them. Teacher thanks him for it, set down and in about ten minutes they started. Blowing up and the ceiling. There wasn't nothing over head but pipes up there. But I saw one went right out in the eaves. I’d say at least twenty four or more, to the top. And I don’t guess that old stove pipe been ever had been took down, and them things got to blowing up a lot of them and in the stove. That old stove pipe got to reeling backwards and forwards and I it come apart and here come all of it down. I had never seen so much soot in my life. You could have wrote your name to it, and we looked like a bunch of darkies. When as soon as the stove pipe started to fall, Mrs. Akers said you kids run outside. You go as fast as you can and out the door they went. And all you boys just stay where you’re at. And we did, and it burned down directly but you couldn’t see across the schoolroom for the smoke and the soot. And she says, I’m telling none of you, I’m telling all of you, said I can’t see all of you, but everyone of you go outside and wait on me. So we went outside and waited on her. She come out there directly and she is just as black as she can be. Dressed nice too, ruined her clothes. And she said boys, now you all stay right here. Said you can go out here and play around a little bit but, said I’m going away for about an hour, said and I’m coming back. She did and when
she come back she had a car load of buckets, pots and pans, soap, rags, andeverythinglike that. Now said you all making a mess, clean it up. Brooms and mops. We went inthere and washed the whole thing down. We didn’t get done that evening when school was out, they said you’ll start in the morning. And the next morning while she helped the girls, she teached the girls, and kept them in there. And we lugged and scrubbed and washed all day, and I guess that was the only time, it was ever cleaned. John Lambert come and brought a load of wood, and he went back in with his horse and wagon, and got a big long ladder, and he helped put the stovepipe back up, and we had a fire the next day.The boy never got in trouble, she never said a thing to him. Well he told me that she just told him one day, Junior, I know you done that. You’re the one that dumped the ashes and picked up them buckeyes, brought them back in here. He said, yes ma’am, I done it.
I know Dry Fork pretty well. I’ve been hunting on both sides of it. I won’t say that I’ve been over every inch of it, but I will say I’ve been over every acre of it. The best place up Dry Fork is up the hill right around Pond Mountain. That’s the best hunting there is on Dry Fork. Now if you want a bunch of squirrels you go out here and kill them. But now if you want a big deer, something like that, go to Pond Mountain. That’s where the big ones are. There is a small pond up there that dries. There is a spring there, you can always get enough water but to live off to drink. The pond dries up over hot dry summers. It dries up and I seen them pump the water back in there, two or three foot deep. It covers about half an acre. It’s the only place and I’ve asked from all over and from people who travels a lot, that wild cranberries grow around that pond. I’ve been up there a couple of times of every year. and I get what I want to eat. After they fall off, they’re better after they fall off, if the turkeys don’t beat you to them, since the woods got plenty of turkeys.
Beer Joints and Motels
On top of the mountain was a big beer joint. A fellow named Charlie Coffey ran it for years and years. When he retired, a fellow named Fred Rollin took it over and run it for years and years and the after he quit, why it never did open up anymore. It was in the old big stone building on top of the mountain. And down below Woody’s, Pug Montgomery had one. He run a beer joint there and sold beer and a few other things like gas. Then the next one was right up here at the old motel. They first put this motel up, Bob Tolbert and his brothers built it and went into business there. It was called the Indian Village. There was a big nice house sitting right up there. It was about halfway between old 52 and the tunnel. A family of Mulkeys lived in it. Freddie Mulkey, raised a big family there. He was distant kin of mine on my daddy’s side. The next one was right down where Sutphin’s is. Bob Taylor had a beer joint there. He sold beer and wine and few other things, gas. Another place was called the Brown place. It was right next to a big white house, and an old brick house sat down across the creek. Another was run by Frank Fannon. Another one was an old log building next to the restaurant at the gap, at the school house there. Bill Booth run it. The next one was a big log building next to Carroll’s store called the Black and White Inn. It had a dance hall there, and you could dance for the night and a fellow by the name of Happy Tibbs run it from Bluefield. Sid Puckett, my cousin, had a beer joint where the post office is now. There was another where you turn out the Wilderness, The Johnny Davis Place. It was a log building too. At Fannon’s there was big poles put in the ground like you build a cow shed. It was framed up with poles and had a roof on it. The sides were made out of sawmill slabs. A cat could jump through the crack. There was no floor; it was just a dirt floor. Another was on up next to Hicksville there and a fellow named Murph ran it. It was called the Bear’s Den. There was one up on 52 as you turn up Brushy Mountain. It was run by a man named Havens. It was called the Bloody Bucket. Jim Owens ran one on the top of Brushy Mountain. It was like the one down here at Fannon’s. It was just made out of poles and sawmill slabs with no floor. Jim Muncey also had one below Sadler’s oil place. He had a great big one, but it was framed up out of saw timbers, and tin all over on it and a tin roof and a dirt floor. It had a few boxes and stools, pop crates to sit on. He sold beer there. There was another called the Eagle Lope, located before Brushy Mountain, up Big Walker’s Mountain. There wasn’t no more then until you got over across the mountain into Wythe County.
There was a dance hall set up almost at the end of Dry Fork. They might of had one before I moved here but they had one up there along about the sixties. It went up on the hill in next to what they called Sheep holler and built it. They just set up some poles, didn’t plant them in the ground or nothing. I’d say the building was probably twelve by twenty, maybe twenty-four foot long. Just put out up with what I call hog pen lumber, with siding on it. They had two jukeboxes up there, and they had a few Saturday night dances. One Saturday night they invited a whole bunch from everywhere, colored people in there. They got to getting in there dancing and whooping and hollering and having a big time, and the place fell. A pole come right down in the road. I come by there and I was turning up in the driveway, and Doc Hagy came by. They started blowing down there, I just turned into the end of my driveway, and I stopped and got out of my car. Doc said Benny, what you doing. I said nothing. He said Come on up here, a building fell on a bunch of niggers. Might need some help But I went up there and wasn’t none of them hurt. Skinned and bruised them up a little bit. They also had a summer resort, where you go up to Mr. Addair’s. They had a big swimming pool, and all of that stuff there. A bunch of them would go there, sometime about all the time. They had a few old shacks around there. They had about four or five old buses they’d stay in. The dance hall at the resort had a good smooth floor in it, but it was very cheaply built. Old Doc Brown put it up. He was a doctor in the hospital and stuff there in Bluefield St. Mary’s. He just tore down a bunch of old houses over there at the city. He brought them over here and built the dance hall, and built around two little rooms out there. He called it the Swimming Hole. They had a nice big swimming pool. They just had the creek dammed up there. Well. . .they didn’t have the creek
dammed up, they had it running over toward the road, swimming pool and piped water. Great big pipe run the water in. You weren’t allowed to dam a creek up. The concrete swimming pool is still down there, and it’s just creek water. It was cold, but I guess the alcohol they had in them, they didn’t care whether it was cold. Well you could just figure when they was having them big shindigs up there and dances and stuff, what law we had then. We didn’t have but two, a sheriff and a deputy and two state policeman. You could see them in every evening about five o’clock come out with a load of them. They’d take them to Bland Jail. They were there fighting and carrying on. They called that up there the Cow Palace. I don’t know why they called it that. I guess cause it was just off in the country.
Doc Brown ran the thing, of course he had other people helping him. He had one down here too. Later when they voted the country dry, all these beer joints had to go out of business for several years. He put up a dance hall. He just turned this place into a dance hall. They didn’t dance too many times, it burned down. It caught fire one night and burned up. They always said that somebody done it around here. Doc Brown lived in Bluefield; he was a very wealthy man. He owned all of this back here. Lord I couldn’t tell you, he owned that St. Mary’s hospital in Bluefield. And I couldn’t tell you how many houses. Probably twelve or fifteen or more nice homes. He was a millionaire, and he was black. He was really a medical doctor. He owned both sides of the road from the top of Buckhorn to the top of East River. He has a fellow named Moore that lived in this old brick house that fell down, worked for him for years. He farmed up there, but he just wants him to grow vegetables. He took them over to his hospital, cook them, and fed them to his patients. They had big patches of all kind of vegetables in there. He had two boys by his first wife, and he made doctors out of both of them. Then he married another woman, from New
Zealand, and they had one boy. The one they called Loopo, still around here somewhere now He got about everything there is, well he got the property, but his half brothers got the money. They got four million dollars a piece. Doc had eight million dollars, and he give that boy the property. I guess he done sold just about all of it.
More on the black community
I remember when they had that one room school house back there. Fred Saunders had the store there. That was the only store that I know of. They had two one room schoolhouses. There was a white one-room schoolhouse where that Ratliff fellow built that house on that road that goes up there on the mountain. There was a one-room colored school where the church is. The white schoolhouse quit years ago. I guess they quit using it maybe long about maybe nineteen and fifty, somewhere along there. When I moved here in fifty-seven, Mac Ferguson, he was the colored man driving the school bus out of the head of the holler, and they took them to Bluefield. In the later years, they tried to take them down to the gap to school. TJ Toler drove the bus a while, and he got old and feeble, so Mac took it over.
Mac Ferguson drove the bus, and that was the only place I ever knew him to work. He was janitor over here at Bluefield Virginia at that bank, the Bank of Tazewell County. That big one they got, he was a janitor there for years and years. Of course he pulled a big hitch in the service during WWII. He was in the Army a long time. He also farmed a little bit. For several years there, he had a sawmill. He sawed lumber and stuff for people. He had a fast machine. People grew a lot of grain through this country then what they could in the fall. He didn’t go to work over at the bank until three o’clock in the afternoon, after it closed up. He’d go in there and sweep and clean up everything. And took care of things. Most times it’d be ten thirty, eleven o’clock that night before he got back home. He worked a lot, smart man and a good man with it.
I remember this place called the Low Gap. The real name for it I guess is Ingleside Gap. It had a road, it was just a wide path. You could ride a horse across there, and on the other side, it was pretty steep. They graded it out with pick and shovels and wheelbarrels. They had probably a four or five foot good road across there. You couldn’t get a wagon through there. Some of them took a one horse and a small sled. Fred Ramsey ran a big store over there. They could drag a sled across there but they couldn’t take a wagon.
That stove, it probably weighs five hundred pounds. It is a Comfort Home stove. They got it from Sears and Roebuck. Sears and Roebuck had a store in Bluefield at that time, and they had them order it for them. During that time there wasn’t no freight station in Bluefield. Trains were going through there, but they didn’t stop. They just stop to take water, the freight trains you know, coal burners then. The closest freight station was at Ingleside. They took the horses run across the mountain. They left at two o’clock and got back at two o’clock in the morning. It just turned right back north then, and it stops out up here above the tunnel, right back in there north of the mountain, and come over off what they call the Bailey Farm. They turn back east there and come out at there at the Thompson
Chapel’s Church, and went down to Ada, cross and got upon 112, which I don’t know what it was then. God never was nothing on it just all old dirt trails. Went on to Ingleside got the stove and come back.
More on the Black Community
I’ll tell you the story about how Jack Tynes got some land up here, two hundred and I believe thirty acres. He was working with Jim Honaker for fifty cents a day down at Gantry. Honaker was classed as a wealthy man. He owned just about all of Rocky Gap at that time, of course there wasn’t really three or four houses there. He never did say how much he paid for it, but anyhow for everyday he worked. Him kept half of his wages for the land. It was a big old log house they moved into. Moved in just as soon as he made the deal with him. Set up above the house there. In later years, he built that house, Jack Tynes did. Then the next year he built the barn up there. Jack came from over here about Marion someplace. That’s where about all of them come from. Jack and Charlie Robertson were the first two colored people settled up here. Charlie was the one that lived to be 112 past. Somebody is fixing up his old house. His heirs own it now. One of his sons used to own what was on the other side of the road across from his house, but he died years ago. He died when he was a younger man of cancer. Of course, he had several children. Woodrow Ferguson, he married one of Charlie’s daughters. That’s Lane’s daddy. They lived there in the big house. Of course, it’s still standing the old big house. Lane’s momma was a Robertson. As far as I know, she’s still living. There’s nobody up here named Robertson anymore. Robertson owned some land too. He owned on down here joining Doc Brown’s. Top of the mountain to the top of the mountain. Not the top of the mountain on East River side, they went like to the top of the mountain on the Buckhorn side. Up there’s what I called top of Raccoon Ridge. It was up there lacking a couple of hundred yards from going to the top of the mountain. That was the Hector Tynes’s. He owned a great big piece of land in there. I don’t know what he did for a living. He was probably a coal miner. Most of them old darkies lived up there, they was coal miners. They’d go and stay for the week and come in on the weekends. Some of them had some cars or they would walk down here. I’d see them walk down here and catch a bus. There used to be a bus that would run through here about every two hours. The Grey Hound bus did. You could catch a bus about every two hours, and I’d see five or six of them standing down there on Sunday evening waiting on the bus, going back to the coal fields. It probably would have been better for them to live down there, but they was probably just poor people like myself and couldn’t afford it. All of them had big families. They work down there, most of them. I talked to most of them and most of then worked down there at Algoma Coal Co. in McDowell County down in there in the coal mines. Now Hector Tynes’s grandpa, he worked on the railroad. He’s a good man. He’s tall and slim, black man just black as he can be. He’s friendly and sociable, always laughing and laughing and very intelligent, good accommodating friendly man. I remember this story about when they tried to take Hector to Columbus and he ran off into the mountains. They told him his mother lived in Columbus. She come down here a time or two after him and he’d go to the mountains. They couldn’t get him out. She sent her husband after him. Hector didn’t know him, she married and Hector never seen him. He come down up here one time, and he told some of the others what he was going to do but not to say nothing about it. He practically hog-tied Hector, threw him in the car and took him back to Columbus. Hector said he went in, said a few words to his mother and said he told them I’m going out on the porch. He said that he went out on the porch and sat there for about five minutes and couldn’t see a thing but Dry Fork and my friends back there. He said he looked around behind the corner of the house and said there was a big long alley there. He said he hit that alley, and went through the alley, and hid until it got dark. He finally come out, and met this other colored guy, and asked him where the road that come back toward Bluefield. The guy said go up there just a little ways, you can see it over there. He said that he went up there so that he could see it, cars going on it, then he went over there and went to thumbing. He said that he hadn’t went thumbing many times, till a tractor-trailer driver come by and picked him up. He said he asked him where he was going, and the driver said that he was going to Bluefield and he said that he hadn’t eaten anything since the day before. He said he was about to starve to death. The driver pulled up a truck stop and asked him if he was hungry. And Hector said yes, I’m hungry. He said I haven’t eaten since yesterday and he said he took me in there and fed me a good meal. And said when we got out at Princeton, said went over to the truck stop over there and said, he bought me a bunch of hamburgers and some sandwiches and stuff and put it in a bag and said I wish you luck son. And he said that he hitched a ride, thumbed a car and caught it to Bluefield and starting hoofing it back across the mountain. He told me who it was, somebody from here in Bland County picked him up and took him back up there, because he was living there by himself. He was just a kid. His grandmother died. I tried to get him to come down here and stay. He come down here and stay two or three nights, but he wouldn’t do it. I give him some money, ten, fifteen, or twenty dollars, and he’d go back up there. Finally somebody’s over there at Bland got a hold of it and they come. They were going to take him off someplace. They were going to put him in some kind of home, and Bud Saunders found out, and he went and got him and brought him up here. He said that he’s take him in and be responsible for him. He sent him to school. Me and Bud and Coy’s brother put him through school. He stayed there with Bud for a long time, till he got big enough, and old enough to get out on his own. Then he come back and lived in that old home place over there by himself a long time and he got a good education through high school. We seen he got that and then he went down to the correctional farm and got him a job down there, and went to work down there, and just kept climbing on up to where he is right now.
Stores of Rocky Gap and the Railroad
There was a store where Howard’s store was, it was owned by Honaker. It was tore down. There was another old store out there. It was the Conley Store. That big old white house that sits right out on the side of the road, where they got the store now. That was Jim Honaker’s old home place. That’s where he raised a big family. Most of them are gone now. I heard a couple years ago that one of the girls was still living. She was in a old people’s home someplace over the mountain, in Radford or something. He had three girls and two boys. They sold anything you wanted in that store. That is a farmer would want. They sold plows, harnesses, groceries of all kinds and stuff like that. The train went between them. The train would cross where they park them logging trucks on the side of the old bank. Dr. John Lyman run the bank there, but it folded in the thirties. Before I come down in this country, so many banks folded during the Depression.
I remember the old railroad well before. I’ve hauled fertilizer many a time from there. I’d put it up on a horse and wagon. Most of the time, he’d come along in January, door to door, taking up for orders. When he got around, why he’d order fertilizer and what kind of fertilizer they wanted. It come in on a train most of the time, in late February or March. People would gather down there with their horses and wagon to haul it home. They were two hundred pound sacks. When you take a boy at just sixteen or seventeen years old, two hundred pounds is pretty heavy. Of course there was always plenty of help there. Everybody would help everybody else. They had handles to get a hold of. You’d get somebody to help you, You wasn’t carrying about a hundred pound bag, that wasn’t bad. You had to have about a hundred pound, if you had a big heavy team of hosses, well fed. You had to have maybe fifteen sacks. There always somebody a long, about half, or two thirds of them that would starve to death. They’d have poor horses and mules. Little old bitty things and they’d put more on there than them horses could get up them hills with. And you always carried you a couple of them big log chains with you in your wagon bed. Set of single trees and spares and they’d get stuck in them creeks and the foots of them hills. You could go over the top, park your wagon, unhook the wagon, and pull them up, and help them get out of there. I went through, where Mrs. Hazel Stowers lives after you cross the second bridge going up 61, where you cross the first bridge going up there at Morehead’s, and I went through there and the horse, wagon, and axles would be dragging. There would be mud that deep. The horses would be pulling for everything thing they had. You pull a little piece and then let your horse rest, you didn’t want to kill them. When you got up there to Mrs. Hazel Stower’s, it was the same way. They creek got up on the road, that’s the reason it stayed so muddy. The roads were right along the edge of the creek.
That’s why most of the roads were tough. There was a bridge there at the Morehead’s, but down here coming from Rocky Gap, the road was over there next to where Mrs. Burton lives. You can see the old road went up to the creek there, and you cross the creek right there at where the dental office is. And on out there just past East River Metal toward the creek again. And come out there where Jimmy Martin lives. That bridge at the Morehead’s was one of those just cobblely bridges, a right cheap put up. It was done with a couple of log cribs, a few logs across it and nailed some timbers on it. Every time the creek would get up, it’d wash the bridges out. The state would come back and patch them up and put
them back in there.
We’d get maybe an average of ten sacks of fertilizer for each one. That’ would be a ton. You’d use a horse drawn spreader to spread the fertilizer. There were different kinds. They had some on two wheels. They had big iron cleats on the wheels, so they wouldn’t slip and spin. You poured it out in the wagon bed, and somebody drove the horses, and somebody shoveled it in right slow, with a whirly gig, slinging it out. Some of them, the more wealthy farmers, had a big thing on two wheels, with a big tongue about twelve foot wide, that you could put about four or five hundred pounds in it. You had a lever you’d set for it of how much you’d put to the acre. There was a big auger in there that turned, lifted it out. There was two augers. One turned one way and the other turned the other way. It worked off the wheels, and that lever you set it for how much you wanted to put per acre, and you had a lever on each side you could knock them out of gear when you didn’t have fertilizer in it; it’d make it run easier.
I hauled for Bill Bird and would get about ten or twelve tons. He had just bought a farm, where he lived until he died, the age of ninety four. It was very poor, but he built it up to good shape. He put out lots of fertilizer. You’d go put it on where you grow crops, and you had to pay for it yourself. Now if you’re going to put it on pasture fields or a meadow grass, the government paid eighty percent of it. The fertilizer came in clothe bags. It’s called Government Phosphate Fertilizer. It comes in great big old cloth bags.
When I was growing up on that farm on Rich Mountain, I used to raise hogs. We kept one sow about all the time. She’d raise two litters of pigs a year. They had them in the spring and the fall. In the fall of the year, most sows average out eight or nine. Some of them would have twelve or fourteen. You’d pick out what you wanted to use the your hog for. Two, three, or four of them, you’d keep till the next fall and kill them, big hogs. And you’d sell the other one. Most of the times, you’d buy feed, you’d get enough out of them to feed the old sow. In the spring of the year, you had another litter of pigs, and you’d seel all of them. Back then, just about everybody, I’d say ninety percent of the people in this country, always had two or three big hogs to kill.
Everybody raised a big garden, something like an acre. You could almost feed a hog in the summer time off of the garden. It didn’t cost so much. They’d turn them out in big fields, and they’d eat grass too. Back then there was lots of apple trees. Every apple tree there, them old hogs, I’d see them make naked paths, going from apple tree to another one. They’d be standing there and hear an apple fall up there and they’d squeal and had done gone after it. They’d also eat lots of walnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts. I never could figure how a hog had enough power in his jaw to bust a walnut, but they will. I’d sit and watch them. They’d scrunch them once and eat them. Everybody that kept hogs then had a sack of coal. They’d give them hogs some coal about once a month. About every three months you’d get a teacup of Red Devil lye, and a five gallon of scalding hot water, and you’d stir it up and then about once a week you’d give each one of them about a teacup full of it in his feed. That kept the worms out of them. It’d kill all of the worms and everything in them. They’d stay so fat, slick, and shine. We used to go up Dry Fork every year and kill a bunch of hogs. Everyone had about two or three they needed killing. When the weather got cold, we’d pass the word around. We’d go over there and take a horse and sled and go up on the mountain and cut a big sled load of wood. We’d bring it down there, and we had a big pan that we scalded them in. We’d stack that wood up there, and put wood and kindling and stuff under it and pour a little oil on it. We’d fill it up full of water, and sit around and talk and smoke a little bit. The next morning about four somebody would get up and fire it up. Of course we had three or four old big iron kettles and four or five tubs sitting around outside. We had them full of good clean water too. Of course we had running water there and we’d get there about good daylight and start killing hogs. When we got done that day, we’d hang them all up high enough to where a dog or nothing could get to them. There would be a couple of colored women up there, and they’d come down there that day and start cooking. They were good cooks, and they was clean too. We would never quit for dinnertime. Most of the time it’d be two or three o’clock before we got all of the hogs cooked. Then we all went in and sit down and eat a good hot meal. We’d laugh and talk, and the women, they’d go home. We’d sit there until the next morning. You had three or four nice clean couches in there, three of four cots if you wanted to lay down you could. This was in a big house. It was in old Jack Tyne’s house. The next morning we’d get out there, some would go to cutting, some to grinding sausage, some rendering lard, and that stuff. We’d work there till we’d get them all in and fixed up and salted down and everything. Sometimes it’d be way in the night. I stayed up there as high as two nights at a time. You know stay there the night we killed and after we killed then the morrow we’d go to working them hogs up and sometimes it'd be dark. We had some lights down there, and we just worked right on till we had everything taken care of. Then two or three days after that after we got all of the meat fixed up, we go back up there and sit around and talk and clean up everything around there. We had to rake up the hair, put up the tools we used, and drain the water out the pan cover it up. Then it was over with until the next year.
To my knowing, I don’t think that Ligh was involved in any of that moonshining. Now Ferge, he made it. I know that he made it and they said some of the others made it. Ferge, he made some good stuff. He could make two kinds. I asked him for some one time. I said, do you got any good white mule. He laughed and slapped his leg and said, I got two kinds. He said that he’s got some white man’s whiskey, and that he had some nigger liquor. He said these niggers come by here panhandling. I took a drink of that old nigger liquor, it was rough. I tried it a time or two, tasted it. You know, Lord it was rough. But now that he made it for his friends to drink, it was just as mild as it could be. You don’t want to try to find your kin folks in the jug. You’d go to sleep. You see, good liquor will just make you go to sleep, for maybe an hour or two or three. It just depends on how much you drunk. You’d wake up and the first thing on your mind was a drink of water. You’d drink some water, and you drunk again for about thirty minutes, then you got to charge back up again. It didn’t make you sick or give you the headache, or nothing like that, good liquor won’t. He made shots for the people in Bland County and let them have it. If I live to be a hundred I’ll never forget what them two ABC said about him. They said hell ain’t no use in bothering that nigger, that damn nigger anymore, said he belong to the judge. I never could figure out how exactly to explain that. Whether the law was loose, or just didn’t care, or had more respect for the fellow man. We can’t get that good of liquor anymore. We ain’t going to bother him. State never did get him. Well, he only got caught one time, that was when them two ABC men got him up there. He was turned in then.The law overlooked a lot more back then than they do now. They were on the sidewalks in Bland. They were wooden sidewalks. We used to go over there and set there and have a jug sitting there between us on Friday evening, Saturday evening, any evening as far as that’s concerned. There was three or four of us. We’d sit there, nobody got drunk, just reach down there ever once in a while and take a little sniff. Judge Kahle come by and he’d bum you for a chew of tobacco first or a drink of liquor and out there say give me a little taste of your chew. Talk to you then about good sundown or little before dark why sheriff come by, slow down, and say something like alright boys, sun’s about down, I guess you’d better start towards home hadn’t you? He’d just ride on then, and everybody respected them. They’d just get up and they wouldn’t cause any trouble. They’d just get up and take their jug, go on about their business. I seen them and they’d be there the next day. They’d be about where the IGA is, about halfway between it and the bank.
There was a big old store there, great big general store. Scott’s owned it then, and on the other side of the same building was the drugstore. Over out where the old bank is, why the bank was downstairs, and Doc Kegley’s office was upstairs, and some more on out here coming out of Bland. There wasn’t nothing just a vacant spot. That was long before Dunn’s put all of that stuff in there. IGA and them Scott’s, I guess some of their grandparents owned it and passed it on because the same one’s own IGA. The school board building wasn’t over there.
Doc Kegley had three or four rooms up there. Babies being born, women would go there. He’d take them to Bluefield or Wytheville to the hospital. He took care of all of that stuff. His office was down there behind where Mrs. Burton lives. There was a big white house there. A beautiful big home, well the old barn is still there. He had, I guess you’d call it a mansion, his office was in his house. It’s where the preacher lives now. It was the brick house, straight up there. Pete Simms had a house right below there. That’s where he built and went to housekeeping when he got married. Doc owned that in there, that whole bottom. He retired and lived several years after that. Pete lived up there and when Interstate 77 come through here, they took his house. I heard that they did. I know that we had two meetings on it down at the gap, trying to get them to keep the house, without tearing it down. Kind of make it for old time’s sake. For tourists to come there and see it just like it was. It was pretty inside, it had the prettiest furniture. It was a mansion. He had furniture in there from all over the world. Somebody tore it down. It was tore down when they tore Pete’s house down, about the same time. If it was the state, I don’t believe the state would come down that far, they might though. It was a great big old two story house, pretty thing. He was one of the best doctors. While he was doctoring, he’d pull your teeth. He also made house calls. Doc Kegley one time was telling me about taking care of somebody out in No Business, a fellow named French. He had a lot of sickness, and he doctored him out there and helped him. French said, now Jimmy, most people didn’t call him Doc, called him Jim. He said, now Jim, I will pay you. Doc said I ain’t worrying about it, I ain’t loosing no sleep over it. And French would tell him that he was going to pay him. This went on about two years. He said he went out through there on his horse, this was back when he was riding a horse, and one day somebody there at the road told him that Mr. French lived way back up in there somewhere in that holler. And he told Doc that French wanted to settle up with him. He thanked him and went up there. He said that they come out on the porch saying, come on in Jimmy. He went in and sat down. They told him to have a cup of tea and a piece of cake, and then they asked him if he brought his book. And he had, and French had his too. They compared price books and it was just the same to the penny. French told him to eat some more coffee and cake and to talk to his wife. He said that he’d be back in a little while. He got up and went out and came back about a half-hour later. He came back with one of these big old red bandanna handkerchiefs. It was tied plum full of money. He paid him in one dollar bills, six hundred and eighty three dollars, which was what he owed him. He said that they were balled up in little bitty balls that wasn’t as big as your thumb, just as tight as you could cram them together. He said that it took about a half hour to straighten them out. He finally got six hundred and eighty three of them stretched out and he still had several more balled up in there. Doc thanked him and left. He took it out there and put it in the saddle bag on the horse. He said that he had a saddle bag full but didn’t have none either. Doc said, I often wandered, he said, I knowed the man wasn’t a bootlegger or nothing like that. Just a hard working farmer. I just wonder how long it took him to save up all of them one dollar bills? He said that after the man gave him the money that he tied it back up and said that he’d be back in a few minutes. He got up and went out, and after a while he came back. Of course he probably was taking it out there and hiding it. Doc said that he never knew why he wadded it up. So. . .Doc went around on a horse. He said one time in the spring, the creeks were full of fish here, you could just go anywhere set down and catch a mess of fish in just a few minutes. He said that Mitchell French came out there one day. He lived out there at No Business. He was a big man, wasn’t fat just a big old tall raw bone man. There used to be an old swimming hole out there. A public swimming hole before they put 77 through there. A nice big swimming hole, wasn’t built up just nature built it. There were a lot of big rocks hanging over that water. Pretty, and big trees all along there and it had a park there. It was fixed up nice. Doc said that Mitchell told him that that swimming hole was full of big white suckers out there. He said that he just stopped and looked at him. He said that he needed a mess of them. He went about five, and took about a half a stick of dynamite, put a fuse in it, cap and everything. He said now you just go out there and just watch them fish, and when they get together, just light this and throw it back in there and get back out of the way. He said that he’d be out there directly to help him gather them up. He said that he heard a big bang. He said in about five minutes, he got on the old horse, and went out there got off and walked down there. He said that he didn’t see Mitchell no where, and he said that he looked around, and he hollered for him. He heard Mitchell say, Oh Lord Doc, I’m glad you’re here. He walked right on over to the other side of that big rock and there he laid all up in the alders and the brush. The creek was full of fish, I bet there was a bushel, Doc said, big old suckers just floating. He said that he had to get Mitchell out of there. Like to never got him up on his horse. He got him out of there at the office and patched him up. He said that crazy man had waded out in that water about waist deep, and had his hand up against the rock, and threw that dynamite in there and stood there until it went off. Doc says if he’s living today he said that he could prove it to you. He said that it blowed his shoes off his feet, blowed his toenails off. He said that about half of his fingernails come off. He said it was a miracle of the Lord that that man lived through that. He lost that half stick of dynamite and had to patch old Mitchell up. He said he took him to Bluefield hospital. He said he stayed there a long time, thought he was going to die, and said he didn’t get a fish out of the deal.
There used to be a lot more water in the creeks, and it used to be a lot colder here too. I was talking about that to Jake Tolver just last year. Me and him growed up together practically. There were days when we’d get our work caught up and in the winter time that creek would be frozen bank to bank for miles. We’d get on a sled and ride. We’d go a half a mile sometimes. You would just guide your old sled around holes and go on. You’d walk back and ride again. Jake said that he hasn’t seen that creek frozen over in years. He said that sometimes it’ll freeze over maybe a foot or two out from the bank. I know that one time we’d been sleigh riding on it up there for about two or three weeks. Our daddy and mother pulled us off and said that we were gonna get drown dead, because there were some deep holes in there around eight foot deep. The ice could break. We slipped out there, and took an axe that evening, and hunt the thinnest part we could find. We chopped through it and it was at least four inches thick, that ice was. People’s cut the timber all out. It worried me when they cut East River back there that everybody’s springs would dry up. You cut the timber, and the water, it don’t dry up it sinks. It comes out somewhere else.
Lumber Mills in Rocky Gap
Dave Conley had a big one working. He had a big crew of men there, big log rig.That’s when the old railroad come up here and got the lumber and stuff. Of course people ordered stuff you know, like I say brought that fertilizer. If you order anything it come in down there. He had a big crew of men there for years and years. He cut it, he planed it, sawed it, and dried it. Otherwise when the hardwood went out of business there in Bastian, he took their place. You could go down and buy you a nice planed 2 x 4 or anything you wanted. He stayed in business there for years and years. He got old and wasn’t able to do anything. He had both of his legs took off because of sugar. He gave his saw mill to his children. It folded then, he sold it out. There were about fifty men that worked there. He had a truck closed in in the back, tight and warm, He’d go up Laurel, Dry Fork, upClear Fork, down Wolfe Creek, and out the Wilderness in the morning and pick them men up and bring them to work. And then he’d take them back that evening. There used to be old boarding houses in the gap. A lot of men would live say like Tazewell, Wytheville, somewhere like at over in West Virginia, they’d stay in the rooming houses.They’d try to go home on the weekends. Hardwood had it the same way up here at Bastian. That old boarding house is still standing there. It’s that great big old building first one on the right going down to the post office. It used to be three stories. They had a big wooden sidewalk down through there, on both sides when you came down the post office. This was in Bastian. I don’t think we ever had a sidewalk in Rocky Gap. I know one evening, Saturday evening, about six thirty, me, Lloyd Hull, and Albert Kitts was sitting there drinking bootleg. Almost over on the left going down to the post office. The old road went around a curve. It didn’t go up where fifty two is now, and it come out in front of Jay Fred’s Store and went over that way and went up. And we just say in there drinking and we heard something. And we looked and there come three seated limousines driving down there. Albert says, who in the world is that, ain’t nobody around here that’s got a car like that.
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