Aubrey Gore was interviewed on November 27 of 1999 as part of the cultural attachment study relating to AEP's proposed route for a 765 KV power line up Dry Fork.
I was born on January 3rd 1952. I am a recreation supervisor at the Bland Correctional Center. I have lived here a life time with the exception of my brief stay in the military. We call this area Dry Fork, Rocky Gap. Ive never lived any where else, never had a desire to.
Dry Fork and the Charltons
My great grandfather originally was the original owner of the property that we reside on. I dont know if he bought or whatever, but he came from the New River Valley and he thought he would settle in this area. My great grandfather was William Charleton. From William Charleton, my grandmother inherited half an acre of property, and when he gave it to her, she in turn divided that and gave my father and my mother their house. I bought my piece of property across the road from a neighbor, but it borders my great grandfathers property. I bought mine from the Blairs. They in turn bought the property from Mrs. Toler, who was again one of the original settlers.
The Toler house was a big house. It is located now on my neighbors land, and I dont know his name. The fellow that has the double wide trailer that they just put in. The original Toler house was right on the spot that the trailer sits. It was bought by a fellow name of Leroy Bingham. He lost it on bank manipulations to an attorney, and while he owned it there was an explosion in the house and the house burnt down. So then it went to Richard Fergusons father, Andrew Ferguson and he died and Richard inherited it and he had property on the original William Charleton estate. So he sold that.
Im the fourth generation and my son is the fifth. He already owns property off of the estate. On my fathers side my entire family lives here. I have two great aunts, a great uncle, my mother. I dont have any brothers and sisters, but my two sons are here. This is not to include second cousins because then we have to go into all of them. My fathers side, with the exception of Bluefield and around there, all of them just about live here.
I live 5 miles up Dry Fork. At approximately the three and a half mile mark, thats what I call the line, where the last people live. There on the original track you find where the Fergusons probably settled, Mack Ferguson, and it has been the historic line. Of course some black settlers moved this down a half a mile, but in our original "land grant," or our original settlement, it starts at the Mack Ferguson line. From there, there is a feeling that comes over you I cant convey to you, coming in when you hit that line. There is a feeling right. I am at home. And the peace, the serenity, the pride, is something that just wells up within me.The casual viewer might not even see it. The mountains, when I look and see the head of the mountains I know I am coming home. In the winter sometimes I look and theyre snow capped and the rest of the mountains coming down, I just look at the beauty of it. It brings me a peace and the snow caps on the top of the mountains look like someone with wisdom, like I am looking at old friends, or mentors. This the way that I see, the average citizen who doesnt live here probably wouldnt see too much. They wouldnt see the same things I see, the history or the memories. It speaks to me.
Well one of my favorite things about this land is the creek. I like anywhere around a creek, which is the reason I bought the particular area I bought across from my people. Its like sometimes you are sitting down by the creek and the water is going over the rocks and it sounds like its a laugh or a chuckle at some memory that has passed. I like the serenity of it all. If you go up the back way the peace and the quiet that you find in the mountains, the stillness, it sort of comes over you. It is hard to pick one particular spot you like the best out of the whole when you love the whole thing equal and the whole thing is so much a part of you. Theres a rock house that we all used to go to, the kids, and sign our names. This is on the Toler place. There is a valley that is just a bowl, that is just filled with rocks. It is a beautiful arrangement. The peace and quiet is unreal. If you go to certain places that is back in the mountains, you will find a white sand, where in most of the area over here the sand would be red, but this white sand is like perhaps that once upon a time, it shows that there was water since it is beach quality sand. So you get into the geological aspects of it. This is the history. But anyway. The rock house is on the former Toler estate, and when you come in the fall and the winter, if you look on the left side of the mountain you can see it. Its a big gap. In this particular area, this is where the white sand is located. So you can see it from the road, you don't really have to look that hard, you can just see the big hole. When you get into it, it is a ledge that just hangs over. And just makes a small over hang. But in this there is a small hole that you can probably crawl into. Im claustrophobic, so none of us have ever like crawled in the hole. But its like caves within this hole, so really I havent ever been in the caves, because its a small crawl. My great uncle tells me there is another cave that we havent been able to find. So there is a little bit of everything here.
The Sheilds place is on the boundary of the Barskille place. And Marys sisters place. Probably five and a quarter miles up, and that family lives in Columbus, Ohio, most of them. And even living that distance away they still keep their property here. They wont sell it even though its an investment. Because of the way they feel about it and they wont even sell it.
When I dont have anything else to do, and I am not foolin with my kids, I get my chair and I have maple trees. I go sit there by the creek. And you can see it when you walk up, it is a well used area. That is where I spend the majority of my time. There is no place I would rather be.
My job is pretty much twenty-five miles one way, so Im lookin at fifty miles a day round-trip. I have commuted all the way to Blacksburg. Its about one hundred and something round-trip. I have commuted everywhere I work. I commuted to Bishop in the coal fields when I worked in the mines. And I still stayed here. Ive never lived anywhere else.
As long as people respect the property, I have no problem with hunting on my land. As long as they respect the property. When they dont respect the property, they dont respect me. Then I have a problem with you, I dont care who you are. But as long as youre showing respect and you are not here with a bunch of people raising hell, and you dont interrupt the serenity then I dont mind, because the land is meant to be enjoyed. I dont have up the No Trespassing signs, and I dont have up the No Hunting signs. An amusing story to me, I dont know if it is good taste or whatever, but when I was still married, my wife and I were in the bed, and at about two-thirty in the morning there was some noise and it woke me up. I looked out and I saw this light flickering, it really looked like a flame, so I thought the house was on fire and I went running out on the porch and these fellas were in my yard coon hunting. So I asked them, "What are you doing?" and they said, "Well were coon hunting." And the dogs treed the coon. So I had to inform them, "Well, I am sorry but you are gonna have to go, cause no damn coons live here."
And down one time at the upper end of the hollow, it was rented out to the bear hunting club. I had a problem with them because hunting was one thing, but not when you run a bear or when you run any animal. Dogs with transmitters on their collars? Then it ceases to be a sport. Ceases to be you against another limb of nature. I really had a problem with the way they did that. Hunting around the clock,twenty-four hours, I mean they had no respect for the property, they had no respect for the people. So I really had a problem with this one, I love animals, and in the mean time I have quit hunting. I have given it up because I took a look at it. But I dont hate people that do hunt, that type of thing to me is just not a sport. And I would like to see that go out of our community, which it has fortunately, since ten years ago.
Now right at the end of the holler they fenced it in. And it is someone elses property. But it sort of hurt me to see that part of our history is fenced off to people. It is up on Pond Mountain. This is something I think should have been kept open to the public, where the old plane wreck was. The people used to go, so I try not to fence my property off to people that want to come see what has been and what is. They moved all the way down to where it says end of state maintanence.
Like I say, back up in there is a big part of history of the hollow, with the airplane crash. And people went back there all the time, still do. There is still old rusted pieces of the plane. But the part that stands out the most is the actual pond. And to imagine right, you can imagine at one time that this pond was full, you can still see where the pond was, and to imagine the pond being full and the ducks were lying in it and the geese. And there were even elk back then at that time. And the rugged beauty of that country back in there to me compares with the rugged beauty of any place in the country. I have no idea what happened to the water. The water was gone before my time, but the stories came to me right again from my great grandfather, who cut timber all in the mountains. He was the one that really gave me my aspect of the mountains. Because he lived it, so all this folklore, he is where I learned it. But now it is more like a swamp. I havent been back there in eight years, since they moved the gate up to the posts. I dont infringe on other peoples property. I saw they didnt want me back there. And I quit going. There was a family that had a house back in there, a black family. Miss Naomi Wilson and her husband and that old house, unless they tore it down, that old frame, it still stands. It is about a mile past the end of the road. Mr. Wilson was a college professor but back during this time, with segregation and such, he ended up making more money over here so he worked in the mountains. A lot of the people up here did; Ed Saunders, Reverend Saunders, and Ferguson, all these people worked in the mountains, so they stayed in the coal camps and came home during the weekends. They would catch the train and walk across the mountain from Ingleside on that old wagon road. That is where the rock house is. The road runs down by the rock house. Thats what I call it, its just an overhang. It is just a beautiful area.
I dont spend as much time caring for my land as I would like to. I dont do a lot to my land, I just sort of let nature take its course. I am one those people, I am not a farmer. I have chosen another profession. So to me, I like the land there and I enjoy it like it is, so I dont do a whole lot.
If I had to move, I most definitely wouldnt move to cities. Id probably move to where the terrain and land is similar to what it is here, because I dont like cities. Ive had my share, I lived in Chicago, I lived in Denver, Colorado. Lived in Charleston, South Carolina, I lived in Norfolk, Virginia for spreads of time when I was in the military, and it just wasnt me. I was in the military for four years.
John: Ummm.., if I were viewing the county and I had seen your place and wanted to see some of the rest of whole county, where would you take me?
I am extremely fond of the national forest. The NoBusiness there, out on 606, back up in there, that is beautiful land. So is down 61, going from Rocky Gap into Narrows,from Wolf Creek down there. The cliffs, the waterfalls, the scenery down through there is breathtaking. Especially once you get down and you get back up on the mountain, take some of those branch roads that take you back into some of the farms and back up in there, it is really beautiful. I cant say a whole lot about the county because the only black community needless to say is up in here. So with segregation, while weve never had any problems, I have never went out and explored a whole lot of Bland County and parts.
I went to school in Rocky Gap in 1967-1968. I was playing in the band with some fellas I went to school with, and I was the black person in the school over there at a dance, playing in this band. I never had any problems. I guess what I am sayin is the conception and just the idea running down in the mountains. Not in the schools. No weve never had that problem. We integrated Rocky Gap when I was just going into the eighth grade. We had no concept of what to expect and it was totally different than what I expected. Kids will be kids, but what I remember the most is any problem I had, it was never with the kids, it was with the adults. And thats the thing that stays in my mind. I never had a problem with the kids, it was always with the adults. About 14 or 15 of us started at Rocky Gap. Before that to get to school we went through three counties and two states. We went from Bland County to Mercer County in West Virginia back to Tazewell county. Right to get to school yeah, We went across East River mountain. We passed four schools to get to school. It was an all black school,Tazewell County High School, and they have a old folks home up in there now, Wilderness Citizen Refuge Apartments. It is on the hill once you go under the bridge in Bluefield, Virginia. You go up on the hill and you will see the old school. Tazewell County integrated a year before, so they could play sports. We had incidents, but the students stuck together, it was the faculty and parents. I was put out of a dance at Rocky Gap for slow dancing with a good friend. They didnt allow that, so I had to ask him, "Youre having a dance and you dont allow dancing?" So I had incidents like that. I will never forget the gentleman. The first principal we had, though, smoothed the way. He was Mr. Worrel, and because of his views and because he didnt quite do all the things the parents wanted him to do, they sort of terminated him. He really integrated Rocky Gap, he made it a smooth transition. He didnt last but one year, the first year we were there. And when they terminated him, the students protested it, and we had a march around the school for Mr. Worrel. But of course they didnt put it in the terms of what he did towards integration, this wasnt the reason. They came up with a new reason, and I cant remember what it was but it was extremely unfair. He was an effective moderator and effective politician, when you have the entire student body marching the school to keep this man says a lot. I cant remember what happened to him; this was 1965. I was in the beginning phases of my life.
Growing up on Dry Fork
All the kids in the community have always been close knit, I see it happening with my boys now. Always, it has been a group of kids. We used to take great pleasure in whatever our ancestors had done, just to see what it was like. To mimic it, just to see what it was like. My fondest memories from here is walking from our house to the store in Rocky Gap, and it was 5 miles, but we would ride bicycles. We had taken the journey many a time over the mountain to Ingleside; they used to have little stores over there. So we walked,the kids would get together and walk every Sunday. Then, the group would get together whenever and take off, you know, ride our bikes and walk. So I have no regrets, no regrets at all about not missing nothin. Now getting to Ingleside, it was an all day affair, but we would explore and the group would cut up and do everything on the way, but out and out if we just started out it is probably 5 hours round trip. As far as water goes it all depended on what time of the year, because the branches and whatever that flow out of the mountains, if you know them like I do, back then it was perfectly safe which it still is now to drink out of. We came up on a spring or stream or branch and if we wanted water we could get it no problem. Up until here recently you could drink out of the creek, but when I was growing up we had no problem, youd be squirrel hunting or deer hunting, and you could drink out of the creek branches.
For many years I was a church pianist. From the time that I can remember I went to church up here until here recently when I became a cynic and decided that religion was something to great to play with. So I quit going. I played guitar in quartet and piano when I was a young teenager, then I played for the young adult choir. When I came back from the military, the Charleton sisters and my mother was with me as pianist and we were doing television. We had been to Alabama so we were gaining notoriety. We have had some memorable stories come out of here. We had a preacher named Reverend Wilson used to preach at the old Baptist church, he was preachin one Sunday and they had a old pot belly stove and he got to preachin and he was one of the fiery preachers, and he jumped out of the pulpit and hit on his knees and he hit so hard it knocked the stove over in the church and the church filled with smoke. And as a kid, I used to sit back and this is before we became technically correct in church and I used to wonder when I set in Sunday school, my Aunt Regal was the Sunday school teacher, and this is back during the time of segregation, and we had a picture of Jesus that was white with blonde hair hangin on the cross and Aunt Regal would tell us how much Jesus loved us. So one Sunday I asked her because I didnt know any better, I asked her, "Aunt Regal, did they hang him cause he liked blacks?" Well she was caught off guard, she told me they didnt hang him because he liked black people, she said they hung him because when you try to do right among people, people tend to persecute you if you step on their toes, and she finally said that they did hang him because he loved black people and he loved all people.
My fondest memory of the church, well we used to have a homecoming church anniversary, and people would come in from all over and there was just as many people outside the church as was inside, and we had a park and that was the place to come for black people. You would see bus loads of people come in, it was packed. People cooked food and they partied even though it was a church event. Another story; and I cant use names because it is really embarrassing. But there was a guy over here that was real tight with the judge, and I guess he had an argument and had hit his wife, so they got him on assault and battery, and when he went to court the judge called him by his name and said, Well are you guilty of assault and battery, did you assault and batter this woman. He says, No I didnt put no salt on her bat, but I whipped the hell out of her. Thats a part of the history I remember.
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