Percy Robinson

Percy Robinson is interviewed by John Dodson in Bluefield, WV on August 7, 2000. Percy was raised in Bluefield and now resides in Oakland, California, but spent much time at his grandparents, Charles and Mary Robinson, who lived on Dry Fork

John: Ok, Today is August the 7th (2000) and I’m here doing an interview with…I’m sorry what is your first name?

Percy: Percy

John: Percy

Percy: Robinson

John: Robinson. All right and his memories on Dry Fork. All right can you tell me what your earliest memories of Dry Fork are? Do you remember?

Earliest Memories of Dry For

Percy: My earliest memory of Dry Fork.

John: Hmmm.

Percy: Well that’s where my grandparents lived at. Charlie and Mary Robinson they live in Dry Fork.

John: Now which house was that?

Percy: That big white house. It was a big old white house.

John: Is it still standing?

Percy: It’s still standing.

John: Ok is that the one that uh

Percy: Deoretha Ferguson

John: Deoretha Ferguson

Percy: The one she is living in now.

John: Ok All right. Now the house from that, across the road from that. Whose house was that? That was a Robinson house also right?

Percy: Yes that was my uncle. His name was Lorenzo Robinson.

John: Ok, All right. Now do you remember going over and staying with your grandmother and grandfather?

Percy: All the time.

John: Could you describe what the house was like?

Percy: Well it just an ordinary house, I know uh. .. We had the wooden stove; we had the oil lamps at nighttime. And we had three meals a day. And they had cows, horses, chickens, ducks, turkeys’ animals like that.

John: What did your grandfather do for a living?

Percy: He was a farmer. He was a farmer.

John: Now did he farm full time?

Percy: Full time, all the time, full time.

John: All right, All that bottom land below the house.

Percy: Yes. It was his.

John: Okay. And do you remember some of the crops he would grow?

Percy: Wheat, corn, down in the lower part near the creek he would grow sugar cane. And also he growed his own tobacco.


John: Okay, he growed his own tobacco? Okay.

Percy: He growed his own tobacco. He had a tobacco patch.

John: How big a patch was it?

Percy: Well, enough to last him to the next following year.

John: Okay.

Percy: That he did himself privately you know. He didn’t let none of his grandsons or sons or anybody else, you know plow that.

John: Right.

Percy: Clean it up or whatever you had to do to tobacco. He did it how you cured the tobacco, he rolled it. And he growed his own tobacco. Course he chewed tobacco.

John: Oh he chewed tobacco.

Percy: Oh yeah he chewed it and Yes, he also smoked too.

John: Oh he smoked and chewed it too. That’s great. That’s the first time I’ve heard about that.


Percy: And he had sugar cane. He used to cut sugar cane and he had his own sugar cane mill. You know.

John: Right

Percy: And he used to take this blind thing on this horse and he go round and round in this circle and we put all this syrup in this bucket and they used to, right across the house there they had uh a big old thick pan. Oh it’s like four foot by six. And we put that syrup up in there and we used to boil it. Cook it and had a big old handle that used to strain, you know, strain it. We made our own molasses.

John: Right. You put it in jars?

Percy: Put it in jars. Put it in the cellar and kept it. We also take the horses and wagons and take it around and pick up apples. We made our own apple cider, and kept it until it turned to vinegar. We also had our own uh wheat. We used to take our wheat, put it in the sacks and I think Mr. Ace Toler, he had a truck. And we used to take the truck and take it down to uh Rocky Gap and you know where that uh, do you know where that uh, there is a mill over there. We take it over there and they share you know. He give him so much for flour.

John: Right. You give him a bushel of wheat or something and he would give you a bushel of flour.


Percy: That’s right. That’s the way he did his wheat. And his corn the same way. With the corn. So when my grandmother had five or six pigs and in the winter we had uh, my daddy went over there and we killed four or five pigs and we cut the meat and we fry it and we take the meat put it in the … you know we have a big old iron pot and we put the stripings of the meat in this pot you know…and uh. We put the fire under there and we take that grease and hang and cook those pork chops and put em inside that big old thing and poured that grease in there and that’s how we kept our meat.

John: Right.

Percy: My grandmother she cooked sausage put it in jars and put that grease right down in that thing and that’s how we kept it year after year.

John: Did you all make any hams?

Percy: Hams same way. Salt our hams, same way salt our hams.

John: Did you remember how they cured the hams? Did they put molasses?

Percy: Molasses, Yes uh huh, sugar cane molasses, salt and some kinda pepper. I forget what all I don’t know.

John: You can’t eat like that any more can you?

Percy: No. Well now you have to keep it in refrigeration because when you get ready to have bacon for breakfast well we used to just cut a piece off and fry it and there it was.

John: Right. And it was good too.

Percy: Yeah (laughs) well you know.

John: Yeah I know. I’m doing it now. I had some ham this morning. That’s great. And who would help? How many brothers and sisters did you have?

Percy: I had one brother, one brother. My sister didn’t participate.

John: Okay. And you all would go over there and did you have any cousins that would help?

Percy: Yeah we had my uncle Lorenzo he was there, my grandfather and my daddy. He had a car and we would go over there, not every week but we go over there like every two weeks or three weeks and give a hand. And we use to bring uh, we bring uh flour, we bring meat, buttermilk, we bring it back here to use.

John: And you sell it or peddle it to people or just use it.

Percy: No, just for our own use. Yeah, our own use.

John: Okay. Did your grandfather ever come over here to peddle and sell over here at Bluefield?

Percy: No, No he didn’t cause he didn’t drive nothing like that. He didn’t bring nothing. Well. anyway they used to kindly uh?trade with themselves you know. I trade you like a calf, uh a steer calf, you wouldn’t want it. You’d like to get a heifer you know. So you give em a heifer and a few bucks to get it because your other milk cow was going to old, you’d want a new cow you know.

John: Right. So Deoretha is your Aunt.

Percy: Aunt. My Aunt. Uh huh

John: So, Roy would be your first cousin.

Percy: Yes, Roy uh huh.


John: um Now do you ever remember your grandparents um talking about where their parents came from before they moved to Dry Fork. Do you ever remember any stories that they told way back then?

Percy: Well, there is something very odd and strange about you know about people long time ago. They wouldn’t talk too much about where they come from, or who they belong to or anything like that. And they kept, they was close mouthed. Sometimes they let things out.

Now I used to ask my grandfather, I don’t know why, I just asked him, I said "Grandpa, where you uh, where you come from? " and he told me that his mother gave him away when he was about ten years old. Gave him away, gave him away to some white man that lived, I forget where and I think he was a bachelor. And he used to have to go and get the cows, bring in wood, stuff like that now. That’s how he and he stayed with him for about I don’t know Jesus about 12 or 13 years old and he left. Ran away.

John: So your grandfather was a slave?

Percy: No, he was freed slave. His mother was in slavery. He was born in 1865. He was born in 1865 and I uh all I know that she couldn’t keep, she had three kids and she couldn’t keep em, so she gave them away.

John: Okay, so he was just like working for this man.

Percy: Like a freed slave. Yeah. She gave him to him and he kept him. And he stayed with him, he really don’t know how long exactly himself. He said I stayed with him for awhile, like two or three years and then I ran away. And there is two more. He had a brother and sister. And in about 1930 somewhere down in near Spartanburg down there somewhere near Roanoke. There was a woman down there claim that uh, she had a son that lived over here somewhere in Dry Fork or Bland. And my daddy, my uncle, and aunt went down there to meet the woman and my grandfather. He couldn’t claim the woman was his mother but vice versa. Some years later over near a place near Charleston, placed called Marmet, you ever heard of Marmet?

John: Um hummm

Percy: Ok, there is a man and a woman live over there claim to be brother to my grandfather. There was a minister over in Dry Fork from the coalfield; I can’t recall his name. He come over every Sunday or every other Sunday and preach at the Baptist Church.

John: At the Baptist Church?

Percy: Uh huh, I’m trying to think of that man’s name. He was very good because he knew everybody throughout the whole county. Maybe you can ask Aunt Deoretha his name or Aunt Vialee his name but he was a minister. And he was well known. And he was the one who made the contact. So we went over there, they had a different last name from my grandfather. My grandfather took the name of Robinson and they suppose to have the name of Faulkner, so there you go.

John: All right so now your grandfather he did he, how did he end up on Dry Fork?

Percy: I don’t know, no, I don’t know. I don’t know.

John: Ok he never…

Percy: He never revealed that.

John: Ok, cause he had a rather large piece of land.

Percy: Yes, yes he did, yes he did. Like I said you go over there and ask Aunt Deoretha how he ended up there. Maybe she know.

John: Ok, All right. So that’s interesting. So that all you remember of uh, Now your grandmother. Do you remember what her maiden name was?

Percy: She was a Gray, I think she was a Gray.

John: And do you ever remember her telling any stories about where her people came from?

Percy: All the Grays came from down to Elgood.

John: Ok, in that area.

Percy: Yeah in that area. And she’s a Gray.

John: All right now do you remember when you used to stay with your grandparents or anything did they ever tell any ghost stories or any kind of funny stories anything when you were growing up. Do you remember any, cause you all were not too far from the cemetery. There is a cemetery back over.

Percy: Well lot of people had their own private cemetery back over there. Not too much my grandfather wasn’t too much of a talker. He knew how to do a lot of things I learn a lot of things from him. I learned a lot of things from him. I learned a lot little carpenter things, little plumber things. I learned what a preacher was, you know like what you use on the outside of the shingles on a house. You called it a preacher you made it, it was made it was a gauge but they called it a preacher. Now don’t ask me why. (Laughs) No you hang it up on this and you put that on top of there. So it would be the same height all the time, you call it a preacher. (Laughs) Don’t ask me why. And also learn how to uh? prune trees from him. He couldn’t exactly tell you word for word because if you keep asking him he would get angry and leave ya’ you know walk away. And he showed me how to prune trees and how you take and prune a tree. He showed me how to uh. Um.. Well it doesn’t work for everybody but it works for me, look water for with a uh, with a uh divining rod.

John: Ah? Ok. Now where did he get his drinking water for that house?

Percy: Right there outside that house there in a well.

John: Ok … he had a well and a pump.

Percy: Yes? uh huh No uh a crank. A crank and chain with a bucket.

John: ok. You used to have to carry water in?

Washing Clothes

Percy: Yep. Yes we used to have to carry water to wash, water for my grandmother to wash her clothes; I had to fill up them tubs all the time.

John: Now when she would wash, would she take one day that she would wash clothes on?

Percy: On Monday, On Monday she would wash clothes. I had to fill up those tubs then she pour them out and rinse them. I used to work that thing and one time I wasn’t paying much attention to it and I let it run down and slap me up side the head there. (Slaps the side of his head with his hand)

John: Oh yeah.

Percy: The handle. (Laughs)

John: (laughs) got your attention.

Percy: Yes uh huh. And when she uh, when she uh like boiled the clothes. Well she would heat the clothes; she’d put them in that old iron pot. And she heat the clothes and I used to help her hang them up and other stuff like that.


John: Well, let me ask you this. Do you remember what kind of music did people listen to back on Dry Fork?

Percy: Blues.

John: They listen to the Blues.

Percy: Blues. My Aunt Beatrice, she listened to the blues. We had an old Victorola and she listen to Bessie Smith all the time. That’s it.

John: Now did you all have a radio? Did your grandparents have a radio?

Percy: Not then. Not then. When battery radios came out they had one.

John: Ok. And what would they listen to on the radio, do you remember?

Percy: Uh. Music blues stuff like that.

John: Ok. Where could you hear blues on the radio? Do you remember a station or anything?

Percy: I would have to say I don’t know. Most likely WHIS was all I know.

John: Did anyone on Dry Fork used to make music? Did anybody play you know besides.

Percy: No not none of my people. They didn’t play no guitar or harmonica, nothing like that.


John: What did you … the Robinson’s went to the Baptist church?

Percy: Yes um hmm. Yes, the Baptist church.

John: Did they have a piano in there?

Percy: Not at first, a little later on they did.

John: And they would I guess have gospel music.

Percy: um hmm yes whoever could play the piano eventually uh we would play gospel music.

John: Ok, now do you remember any stories from the church? Do you remember any particular preachers if you would go when you were young? Do you remember any particular sermons that…?

Percy: I am trying to think of this minister’s name and I can’t because he was from the coal fields.

John: I probably have his name somewhere in another….

Percy: Cause when he came there whatever, whatever building they decided to have the service in that’s where everybody would go regardless of whether it was Baptist or Methodist.

John: Right, now the Baptist Church is right across from Tynes Chapel right?

Percy: yeah uh huh.

John: They’d whoever they’d attend they would attend different services on different

Percy: Mr.… I can’t think of his name, but I can see his face, he wore glasses.

John: Uh huh

Percy: He was a minister and he was the minister ever since you know, I been over there. And whenever we have service that’s where everybody going. That’s it.

John: Do you remember any Baptisms in the creek?

Percy: Yes, Yes Yes,

John: Could you tell me what that was like?

Percy: Well uh. One time they had a baptism there and I remember they had that. And they had like ten or twelve boys and girls and they baptized right there in front of Cecil Showalter’s place.

John: Right, Right.

Percy: Right there, right there. Matter of fact it wasn’t very far from the school. The old school sits there and right across the road they kind of damned the water up and would baptize there. And the same man who would preach and baptize the people.

John: Right. And they would do almost a dozen people at one time?

Percy: Yeah, at one time. And if I ain’t mistaken I will send you one or two pictures.

John: Oh, that would be wonderful.

Percy: I will send it to you.

John: That would be wonderful. You have pictures of some of the.

Percy: I think a couple of them.

John: That would be wonderful to have. Ok, Oh, I’d love to have that. Ok

Percy: Now the school, the frame school that you remember. Now you never did attend there. You didn’t attend there.

Percy: No.

John: Because you lived over here. Right?

Percy: I lived here.

John: Right. But did they ever use the school for anything the you remember.

Percy: Church, used it for church sometimes.

John: Used it for church over there?

Percy: Yeah, sometime they had a revival, sometimes they have uh… oh different things that you know they use it for.

John: Right.

Percy: It was later on they started. Well they used it all the time, I remember the school they used it. They use to use it for Church service. Cause that’s where my daddy went to school at. When they tore the log cabin school down they built that school because that church, that school had a bell up in the bell tower.

John: Right. And they used to ring the bell up in the morning.

Percy: That’s right.

John: They said you could hear that a long ways.

Percy: Oh yes you can. Yeah.

John: Right Okay. Do you remember, you ever remember seeing the log school?

Percy: No. No. No.

John: Do you remember where or were you ever told where it actually was?

Percy: No, never did.

John: All right Okay. All right. Now do you ever remember that little school building being used for…? Did you ever go to any plays or umm that any of the students of the school attended?

Percy: No, No I never did.

Church Homecomings

John: Now do you remember did you ever go to any homecomings when the church would have homecomings?

Percy: All the time.

John: Now what was that like?

Percy: Oh, it was good. I go to the homecomings. They have those homecomings and all these families come together and then the people and they get out there and they set these long tables up. And there would be you know, I don’t know fifteen twenty tables, and they give away free food.

John: Um hmmm

Percy: And people used to get it and eat.

John: Now what kind of food was there?

Percy: They called it soul food. (Laughs) Good food.

John: Good food yeah.

Percy: Yeah and I know one time that I had about, about 10 chicken legs you know, potato salad, and they had free cokes, and after the service. And after that was over you could go into the church and they would have service.

John: Right.

Percy: They had sometimes like twice a year and then maybe a little later on uh? we go down to Elgood, West Virginia. And they have uh? uh? same thing.

John: Um hmmm

Percy: Same thing down there. And you find most the people who was over there was also was down there. Vialee, Andrew, most all of them, Nathaniel, Cecil, and a lot of the Stevens, the Grays.

John: Um hmm

Percy: And I hope you can talk to Warren Gray.

John: I’d love to.

Percy: Now he will. He’s down in Elgood. Now he can tell you a lot of stuff. There is a plaque down there I’d like you to look at. And he can tell you a lot of the history.

John: I would love to. Maybe we can talk to him and we will talk about that.

Percy: Yeah, later.

The Park

John: Do you, do you remember the park? Did they call it the park? What did they call that? I’ve heard different people call it different things. Where they have the swimming pool and the.

Percy: Right down there on uh, below my grandfather’s land on the Mack Ferguson land.

John: Right.

Percy: They had a park there and there was a swimming pool and uh something like uh. It wasn’t nothing much. At the bluff, you know where the bluff at there, they call it the bluff. They call it the bluff.

John: They call it the Bluff. That’s where Pete Ferguson’s land is. Okay.

Percy: Yeah, The Bluff. And right over in the bottom of the field there they had a swimming pool.

John: It’s still there.

Percy: It is?

John: Yeah, um hmm.

Percy: Yeah ok, they had a swimming pool and they had a building there for well they had a pool hall and different things in there.

John: Now how many pool tables did they have in that?

Percy: Uh… I think if was about two.

John: Okay. And did they sell food in there?

Percy: No mostly candy and stuff like that you know.

John: Do you remember, did they have dances in there sometimes?

Percy: Well, Well if they did I wasn’t there to go.

John: You were just a young, too young.

Percy: No I was young enough to go there but uh, you know most of in the summer months I was over there, but after that I was here.

John: Okay.

Percy: See the house right there? (Points out the window)

John: Right, on the right side of the road?

Percy: Yeah, where that little red thing in front of the yard.

John: Uh huh…

Percy: That was…

John: That was your house?

Percy: That’s my house. That’s my father’s house. It still is. It’s still mine now.

John: Oh is it?

Percy: It’s mine now. Yes, there are some people renting it.

John: Oh you rent it? Okay.

Percy: um hmm. I came up there when I was five years old from Williams Street. Do you know where Williams Street is?

John: No

Percy: Go right down Bland Street. Go out Bland Street go out there. Dr. Brown lived up on that hill and I lived right there, I came there when I was five years old.

John: Ok. Ok.

Percy: then I started school. Um hmmmmm.

John: Well, a lot of people early from Dry Fork moved over here.

Percy: Yes. Yes.

John: And you all kind of…

Percy: Communicated.

John: Networked with each other and …..

Percy: Uh hmmmmm.

The Park

John : that’s very interesting. OK you say there was a, that people used to come camp at the park. You mentioned uh?or they had little cabins down there?

Percy: Oh, where Dr. Brown was at way down there.

John: Ok; Ok now this is separate? Doc Brown had a place that was separate from this one with the pool?

Percy: Yes, way down there.

John: Oh ok, I didn’t know that. Well tell me about that.

Percy: Well Dr. Brown had some property down on uh?Is that on Wolf Creek? Where’s that at? Do you know where his property is at?

John: No, I think he had land on Dry Fork. He had land on Wolf Creek also?

Percy: This other lady in there knows. He had some property down there on?Gee.. All I know is he had some property down there. He had a swimming pool, also had a or one or two cabins. People stayed in during the summer months. And he had another building down there something like you know a recreation building.

John: Right.

Percy: But it didn’t. It didn’t do all that good. Cause people didn’t do too much out door camping then.

John: Right.

Percy: That’s about all I know about that.

John: Ok. But now on Dry Fork where they have the swimming pool and everything didn’t people used to come from all over to go there?

Percy: Yes, uh huh,

John: Do you remember from where they would come? Or do you remember…

Percy: No, No,

John: Okay.

Percy: I wouldn’t say because I don’t know.

John: Okay. Now are you familiar with Mud fork in Tazewell County? Do you know anybody from Mud fork? Ever heard of Mud Fork?

Percy: Yeah, sure I heard of Mud Fork. Yes Yes.

John: Okay.

Percy: (pauses to think) All I know is not too many but a lot of black people come from Mud fork. That’s about all I know.

John: Okay. Do you know of anybody that has any pictures of the park? Or that might have any.

Percy: No I don’t. No I don’t.

John: Okay um?. What was the swimming pool like? I can see it. It was a concrete pool like above ground. Where did the water come from?

Percy: There is a, it come out of a…

John: the creek?

Percy: Yes. Well also they had a off the side of that mountain there they had a sort of like a spring and the water ran over in there.

John: Okay. So I guess it was pretty cold?

Percy: Yes, it was pretty cold.


John: All right now do you remember any all right. Anybody made moonshine back on Dry Fork?

Percy: Sure! (Laughs)

John: Okay. Can you tell me about that?

Percy: Well?uh this is what I heard. I hear one time that my father and my uncle and another man I don’t know who. Went up there and borrowed a man’s mule and one had a horse and they was a hauling liquor across the mountain over there near Glen Lynn, over there someplace. They was a hauling the liquor out of there.

John: All the way to Glen Lynn?

Percy: Yeah they hauled it over there and they uh?and I used to tease him. Because I used to tease my daddy about it cause I’d say daddy, "I didn’t know you made liquor?" Oh I didn’t make no liquor. And come to find out they borrowed a man’s mule so they could haul this liquor.

John: um hmm

Percy: and when I was about 10 or 12 years old uh … there was two, two white men, one black man was making liquor on Ferge Tynes property. Back up in that hollow.

John: Right… up behind his house there?

Percy: Right, up behind his house. Because if you get up early in the morning and look up and you see that smoke coming up and you know didn’t nobody lived up there so something got to be wrong.

John: Um hmm

Percy: And something happened and one day I was out there in the field and I saw these cars come down the road and they was going real fast And we heard a few shots and we was curious so we went up there. And they turned over eighty some barrels of moonshine liquor. And I used to know the white man’s name but I forgot his name now.

John: um hmm do you remember the stills? Was it just one still or two stills?

Percy: I think it was two stills.

John: Right. Okay.

Percy: On Ferge Tynes property.

John: And Ferge was helping him run.

Percy: I think well… he said he wasn’t but he had to be you know it was on his land.

John: Right. Yeah

Percy: I know they turn over eighty some barrels.

John: Right.

Percy: and you can go to the branch or the creek and just sip whiskey. (Laughs)

John: (Laughs)

Percy: We did. Because it was a dry year that year.

John um hmm. That’s a pretty big operation.

Percy: And then one time I was uh on my own grandfather’s land because I used to squirrel hunt a lot. And I up on the side of a, well not a mountain, well way up on the side of that hill. And I was up there early one morning cause I was up there the following week and I noticed a bunch of squirrels you know moving. You know. So what I did I went up there early one mornin and I set between the two trees so that when a squirrel come by I could pick em off. So but anyway uh uh I killed about a couple of squirrels and uh? I was coming back home and I was trying to make a short cut and I was climbing over this fence. You know them old timey wooden fence?

John: um hmm

Percy: And when I climbed over the fence, I looked down and there was a copper worm laying there. Still worm.

John: Ahhh.

Percy: So I just left it. It didn’t bother me. I just kept on going. (Laughs) You know what a worm is don’t you?

John: right. Part from the still.

Percy: Yes from the still. Great Big one. Sitting right there. Somebody hid it there and never did come back after it.

John: I understand there was quite a bit going on.

Percy: Going on. All right Okay. Yeah (laughs)


John: (laughs) Heard from different people. Do you remember there used to be a couple of little stores up that way?

Percy: Andrew had a store.

John: Okay and where was that located?

Percy: Right in his… right in his front yard.

John: Okay

Percy: He had a store there. Had another one by there near the school at one time.

John: um hmm

Percy: Andrew Ferguson yes he had this store there.

John: And what could you buy there?

Percy: Most anything you know that you didn’t have to run down to uh?Rocky Gap and get. You know sugar, flour, never meal though, nothing like that. Mostly stuff in the cans.

John: Right. Now did they ever have refrigeration?

Percy: I uh…hmm I know he used to have a …I don’t know if was a…no I don’t know. I don’t know.

John: You could get a cold drink there?

Percy: Yes, Yeah he had pop there and it they used to have them old uh? doors you flip open like that and they had a ice in there, they had ice in there.

John: Right. And would an iceman or would deliver ice every so often?

Percy: Yeah uh huh.

John: Now did people have iceboxes in their houses?

Percy: No No. No No

Spring House

John: Were they or did your grandparents have a spring house or a spring box?

Percy: Spring house.

John: Okay. What was that like? Can you remember?

Percy: Yes uh…it was an ordinary house and we had a big old spring house and we had a… my grandfather built we had a… built the big old trough. Great big trough.

John: um hmm

Percy: And we had to take water out of the well take it down there and put it in the trough. And my grandmother take the milk and set it up in that trough. And we had a pipe run from the trough outside and when the water get kind of old and warm she would pull the stopper out and it would drain out. And then she put the plug back in there and she say, "Fill it up" Talking to me and I had to carry water from there…it wasn’t very far to the springhouse.

John: Right

Percy: And we kept our butter there, we kept our milk and when my grandmother churned…when she churned she take and put her buttermilk in there and that’s how we kept our buttermilk.

John: So you would carry the water from the well to the spring…

Percy: To the springhouse and then she kept a lot of her fruit in there, you know her canning in it. Uh huh.

John: Right right right okay. Um?

Helping Grandmother

Percy: See my grandmother, my father said he lent me out to my grandmother. In other words I was her helper.

John: Right so what would you do to help her?

Percy: I would get up in the morning I would go get cows. I feed the chickens. I didn’t feed the hogs so much because my grandfather did that and the cattle. But I feed chickens, I gathered eggs and I help her milk the cows and I used to milk, run the calf back. Let the calf out to you know after you get through milking. And uh… my grandmother used to pick blackberries I go with her to pick blackberries or whatever we pick. And then we used to walk along the edge of the fence cause we had some chickens that used to lay eggs out in the field you know like that. And uh… then I learned from my grandmother how you, how good a switch is. She used to say bring me a switch real quick so I brought her a switch and it was a snake. And she used to wear them long dresses you know and had a long apron and used to carry an old wooden basket you know. (Laugh) And uh… and she take that switch and boy she just you know…and I learn right then you could do a lot of damage and you could also control a horse with a little switch…

John: um hmm

Percy: … a dog,

John: Yeah

Percy: … and you can kill a snake with a switch. Just by a little old switch.

John: She killed a snake with that switch?

Percy: Yeah, just take that switch and just hit his head. And he can’t control his self he just have to move, run.

John: Right.

Percy: And dog same way, you can take it, horse you can just … I learned that from my grandmother. Now that’s what I learned from my grandmother. Well I learned some other things too but I learned that from my grandmother.

John: Right

Percy: You can take a switch and you can control a dog, horse, kill a snake anything like that you know. And also put it to a kid’s backside. (Laughs)

John: Oh… I knew about that, Yeah I knew about that (Laughs) I felt that.

Percy: I see you shaken your head. I said this guy been through the same road too.

The Low Gap

John: Yeah… Well now okay did you ever go, there used to be a road that they would go over the mountain to Hardy and Ingleside and over in there.

Percy: Yes, Yes, Yes.

John: Did you ever go over that?

Percy: Yes.

John: You did?

Percy: Yes, yes, yes I did.

John: All right, and do you remember what was it like? I mean how long did it take and uh

Percy: Oh?actual hours I don’t know. I know it was more than an hour soon now, you know. But I been across there in a wagon and I been cross there walking.

John: Okay.

Percy: Over there to Hardy and over there to Glen Lynn.

John: Right

Percy: Uh huh

John: You actually went on a horse pulled wagon across the road?

Percy: Yeah uh huh. Um hmm.

John: Was it pretty rough?

Percy: Well yes uh huh. Cause I was just, we just sitting in the back of the wagon. So.

John: Now why would you all go over there?

Percy: I think we used to go over there to a, seem like to me it was a farmer’s market over there. Right there on the where the uh… Glen Lynn train station was.

John: Okay…

Percy: I think there was, I think there was also you could catch a train in Bluefield and go to Glen Lynn and get off there and uh?buy something from a truckers market.

John: uh huh

Percy: And then get back on the train and come back home. Cause uh there is a place down there called Eggle…Eggleston?

John: Eggleston? (It is actually Ingleside)

Percy: Yeah that’s near there. Ain’t that near there?

John: Yeah, it’s up the river a little ways.

Percy: Okay up the river. Okay a lot of people used to there years ago and there was a big farmers market. You could buy anything there. Cattle, horse…

John: Right

Percy: Anything.

John: Now do you remember um on top of the mountain there was a cave up there?

Percy: Yes I do, I been in it.

John: Okay now what was that like? Tell me about that.

Percy: Well all I know is there was a cave up there and I just went in it. It was … I don’t know, someone said some American Indians were used to live in there. I just couldn’t see it then.

John: um hmm Right that’s okay.

Percy: uh huh that’s about all I know. And then I don’t know who this white man was one time he bought I don’t know. One time there was a bunch of cattle come through there. He came over across that mountain and drove through down … you know to Rocky Gap that’s all I know.

John: They drove cattle over that road?

Percy: yeah cattle. I was a small kid and I saw all these cows and about three or four people on horseback right down that road. And they went on further. I don’t know how far they went, but you know I couldn’t, I didn’t follow them I just know they went that way.

John: Right they were just moving cows?

Percy: Right, just moving cows over that road.

John: Okay. Now did you ever go over the mountain, Wolf Creek?

Percy: Over the mountain the other way…

John: The other way…

Percy: Yes. Yes

John: Okay. What was the road like there? Or was it just a well-worn path?

Percy: Just a path. When you said that I was thinking about that when you said it before you said it. (Laughs)

John: (Laughs) All right.

The Clark Place

Percy: And I was, dog and it bugs me. And there was a white family lived over there and I oh my god, I don’t know how in the world they lived.

John: Clarks?

Percy: Clarks! Yeah, Yeah, Oh Thank you. Yeah Clarks yes, yes.

John: Lived right up there on the mountain.

Percy: Yeah, I know them. I know the Clarks. I know them then.

John: Right

Percy: I don’t know anything about them now.

John: Now do you remember going through their place what was their place like up there?

Percy: Well just you know just home and house and barn just like everybody else had. You know things like that. Uh…

John: Right.

Percy: I knew them, I knew them the Clarks. I fixing to say Roy Clark but that ain’t right.

John: Um… I know I think

Percy: Matter of fact my grandfather got a horse from him got a white mare. And it was belong to the Clark somehow they got it or bought it or traded it or something.

John: Traded it.

Percy: Yeah, uh huh. Clark.

John: Did they have fruit trees? Did they have an orchard up there?

Percy: I don’t remember too awful very much. You know.

Helping Neighbors

John: Now they were friendly with the people on Dry Fork.

Percy: Yes. Yes. Yes everybody helped each other. When they cut wheat up there, and they stack it, let it stay out there and let it dry out. And then after it would get dried out you get it in a wagon, you take that wheat stacks. And you take it and put it in one great big huge stack. And so when they get ready to thrash wheat, everybody help each other. The Ferguson help ah, Mr. White, now he was white man. Mr. White helped the ah Boyd French. You know Boyd French?

John: Um hmm

Percy: Helped the French. And there is another family there I can’t quite call the name. They used to live there in kind of like a old log cabin. Part log cabin part house. And they come up there and they help us and we thrash and we eat out there in the yard. And everybody cook and then we ? next day we move up there we get the tools. Uncle Willie live next door now he was a Gray and Ferge with Elige and Ferge Tynes they had wheat. Mr. Ace Toler, Mr. Shield he had wheat too. And going back down the other way, uh? the other Ferguson, Mack Ferguson’s son, then Boyd French and then the other French brother. I can’t recall his name right now.

John: Ruben Ferguson.

Percy: that’s right. Ruben Ferguson. And then there was a white family that lived right there in kind of a curve like. We go there and help do his wheat and also we did uh in the other curve there was uh… Mr. White. Now he sold milk here in Bluefield, you know milk and eggs and stuff like that. And we helped him with his wheat. And we all cooking it together.

John: Right. So the whites and blacks of Dry Fork got along pretty well?

Percy: Yes, yes, yes, yes. You know if you needed a helping hand, matter of fact they use to, well not too much when I was young when well it happen as I was there, but not too much like when I was, like when they was plowing. Or one time who was it? Somebody was sick. I think he had gout in his leg or something, (laughs) and they went up there and it needed to be plowed. They helped him plow it.

John: Right.

Percy: They helped each other.

John: Okay. Well now did you ever go across the mountain all the way to Wolf Creek?

Percy: Uh.

John: Do you remember there used to be a train that ran up there?

Percy: Yes, Yes, yes. Sure Sure. Used to be right down there at Wolf Creek. Uh. I don’t think so, I don’t think so. I’d have to think about it but I don’t think so. I used to know I used to go down there at that service station. You know that service station at the head of the holler?

John: There at North Gap?

Percy: Yeah, uh huh. Okay. That train used to come right down through there and used to go down there. That’s about all I know.

John: Okay. Alright. Do you remember did you ever go into Rocky Gap?

Percy: Um hmm

John: Do you remember the stores?

Percy: Yeah.

John: Which stores do you remember?

Percy: Mr. Burkhart.

John: Mr. Burkhart?

Percy: Yeah.

John: Now where was that?

Percy: Oh right there not very far from that white school.

John: Okay

Percy: Burkhart cause he’s got a store had a store right down here. Mr. Burkhart. Matter of fact he had one right up the street a little further from um right below the laundry. That was his brother.

John: Carroll

Percy: Carroll

John: Palmer Carroll?

Percy: Palmer Carroll, Palmer when I now when I come here Palmer Carroll used to drive a truck. Then he moved over there and had a store. And Mr. Carroll had this one, and Mr. Carroll brother had one up the street.

John: Okay, Right. Right.

Percy: And I know all his, well ? I forget the names but anyway I used to know all his boys and

John: Buddy?

Percy: Buddy and had one girl.

John: Well she lives in North Carolina.

Percy: North Carolina now, yep sure do. (Laughs) As a matter of fact Miss Carroll when they had that store down there they stayed in that apartment building. She was what 90, 95 or 96. I used to send her birthday cards all the time.

John: Really?

Percy: Sure did, I sent her cards from California out there. And Mary lived?. Is it Mary or is it Webster?

John: I don’t know.

Percy: Oh you don’t know him?

John; No

Percy: Well there is one that lives up south Bluefield now. I think its Webster.

John: Okay.

Percy: Mary… no Marys not there. It’s Webster, Webster.

John: Okay. You know I’ve only been living in Rocky Gap for about 20 years.

Percy: Uh huh, but they all passed uh huh. Cause that’s where Andrew Ferguson had his barber shop.

John: All right now let me ask you about that.

Percy: I don’t know too much about that but go ahead though. (Laughs)

John: Okay, (laughs) now you remember where Andrew had his barbershop?

Percy: Yes, yeah

John: All right now? did now?black people didn’t get there hair cut there did they?

Percy: No uh

John: No just the whites. Now did Andrew did he cut he did cut up Dry Fork he would cut black people’s hair?

Percy: True, true.

John: All right.

Percy: Cause there used to be a bank down there. You know where that bank is?

John: Yep, Yep.

Percy: The banks down there. Uh huh uh hmm

John: Okay all right.

Percy: Yeah he cut hair up there and you know he had? as a matter of fact he used to cut it up there in his little store up there I think.

John: In his little store?

Percy: Yeah, I think he used to cut it up there. Yeah.

John: Um?let me turn this tape over I’m about to run out.


John: Okay. Okay now. What was the road like going up?

Percy: Dirt road.

John: Dirt road.

Percy: All the way dirt road.

John: All right okay. Um…

Percy: It was a dirt road. I only been over there once or twice when there was a road grader. One of those road graders?

John: Um hmm

Percy: Come up there and scraped the road. That’s the only thing I know about that road.

John: Okay. Now do you remember, okay I guess um Mack H. Ferguson was still living. Do you remember Mack H. Ferguson?

Percy: Um hmm yes, I remember.

John: All right. Now what was he like? Did you all ever go visit? Cause you all basically, you all were neighbors weren’t you.

Percy: Yeah neighbors, right. Next farm. He was okay he was all right. He was a nice guy. He had two mules and had a lot of sheep. Had a lot of sheep. Had some cattle. Not many cattle, milk cows. Uh Cousin Mary Fannie she was there. Seywood you know he was had I think one of those uh had a sawmill over there one time. Sawmill belt came loose and hit him in the eye and destroyed his eye. I don’t know how they got crippled in the leg I don’t remember.

John: Okay, now where did Seywood live? Now this is one of Mack sons?

Percy: Yeah Mack’s sons yeah he lived right there with them.

John: Ah. He lived with them.

Percy: Yes he did uh huh.

John: Did he ever marry?

Percy: No, I don’t think he ever marry. No, No.

John: Okay. So he just helped farm?

Percy: Yep he did.

Sawmills and Logging

John: Okay, now do you remember that they used to do some timbering and they would have sawmills?

Percy: Yep, used to be right below, right below Cousin Mack’s right there on the creek bed. Used to be a sawmill there.

John: Um hmm. Now how would they power the sawmill? Do you remember how?

Percy: By steam heat. You know had a thing they throw wood and logs in there.

John: Okay.

Percy: And I was over there when I was a small kid and they used to uh…as a matter of fact my grandfather cut the wood for that church himself. They pulled that timber down there with horses and they had this uh…they uh … cut the wood. And my grandfather they had the… it was steam it was powered by steam.

John: Right. Was it like a wheel or a wagon type…?

Percy: Well… it did have a… it was on wheels but somehow they take it off of wheels and so it won’t roll. So it would be uh … steadfast.

John: Right. But they could move it from place to place.

Percy: Yes, uh huh. When they needed to. And they had um… they had a big old belt run from here to the saw mill blade.

John: um hmm

Percy: And they had a big old, oh uh…kind of a big old wheel barrow they used to throw the saw dust in so they could get rid of the saw dust.

John: Right.

Percy: And uh?my grandfather, now how in the world he know. But he couldn’t tell you, he used to cut timber you know with that a?with that gauge. You know they had a thing made uh? have you ever seen those gauges about that long? And they got a diamond shape? You know a hook over there so you can measure the two by four, four by four or four by six.

John: um hmm

Percy: And I don’t know how they use that thing but they used to have a handle on it and you have to…got a ratchet on it you know. And that’s how you pull the log you know over certain distance and you and you go over there and measure the log and then you cut it. Then you take this thing and do like that and turn it over and you just keep going until you cut all the logs. Now he could do it him self but he couldn’t tell you how he did it. Now how my grand pa know I don’t know. Like he showed me how to … he could show me how to…he say if you do what I do, you could learn to sharpen a saw but if he had to tell you in words, he couldn’t tell you because well he couldn’t read or write or nothing like that.

John: um hmm

Percy: So there you go.

John: Now that’s interesting okay.

Percy: It’s a thing made like a diamond shape. Made just like this (makes shape with his hands) And they got something like a rule that comes out of the center of it and that’s how you, you put it over there and that’s how you measure the uh ? the uh width of the log. So what you do is you pull this ratchet. And this ratchet will ? had a thing that would keep shoving the log to the blade so you know how wide to cut the? so when that thing comes back it moves over, when it comes through it cuts the thing to the width that you want it. Two by fours, four by fours, and four by six.

John: Do you remember anyone else that had a sawmill up there?

Percy: No. There used to be a?some company come out of over there near uh?over near Bland somewhere use to come up over there and cut timbers in there for awhile. Cut here and cut different places.

John: um hmm

Percy: But it didn’t last too long. Cause that ‘s some pretty rough land up there.

John: Right. Right.

Percy: Rough Land.

John: Right (laughs)

Percy: (laughs) Yep.

John: Yeah but it’s pretty.

Percy: Yeah uh huh.

John: It’s really pretty. Do you remember Powell Saunders?

Percy: I talked to him last night.

John: I meant his father.

Percy: uh who uh Fred?

John: No, No. No wait a minute let me get this straight. You’re right. Powell Saunder’s grandfather was called Powell Saunders too.

Percy: No I don’t remember … not him.

John: Okay. Yeah, I need to talk to him.

Percy: Yeah I talked to him I was talking to him last night.

John: Yeah okay. He lives near here?

Percy: I don’t know where he lives at. I don’t know.

John: But he was at your reunion? You all went to school together?

Percy: Yes, he was…uh huh. Him and uh…one of the Saunders boys uh. I’m trying to think of his name Saunders. Which one was it? Well anyway it was one of the Saunders boys. I know him.

John: Was he a brother to Powell?

Percy: Well they may be kin I think but uh … no his name is Saunders. No uh… they’re cousins.

John: They’re cousins.

Percy: Yeah, they are cousins.

John: Okay.

Percy: Epps Saunders and Fred Saunders are brothers.

John: Okay.

Percy: Have you ever heard of Epps Saunders?

John: Yes, Epps Saunders

Percy: Epps Saunders, Fred Saunders, Archie and there’s another one and I don’t know the rest of them. But I do know Epp and I know Fred and I know Archie, Archie Saunders used to work in the coal mines. That’s all I know.

John: Now what did your father do?

Percy: My father? Road Brakeman.

John: Ah he was on the railroad.

Percy: Yeah, my father spent 50 years on the Norfolk and Western Railroad he got a diamond pin and he retired.

John: Yeah okay. That was a good job wasn’t it?

Percy: Yeah he worked.

John: How old was he when he moved over here do you remember?

Percy: No? he started over there right after he came from Europe. When he came back from World War I, my father started working for the Norfolk, I think, not right away but after he started working on the Norfolk and Western railroad.

John: Yeah.

Percy: And we used to live…we used to live out on Williams street I think. Yeah we lived on Williams Street and then we moved right there. Been there ever since.

John: Okay. So he worked on it for 50 years. Now you ended up moving to California?

Percy: Yeah uh huh

John: Now right after the war?

Percy: Yes, Yes?uh huh.

John: Now why or how come you ended up in California?

Percy: Well I was in the Marine Corp and I was at Camp Pendleton and I saw that country out there and I liked it. And it wasn’t like the land that my other grandmother had, this one over here had and I said it’s pretty nice and level out here.

John: Yeah.

Percy: And I said I’m going to come back. I made a deal I said I was coming back and when I got out of the service. ? I started working out of the freight station a little while and that wasn’t too good. And my uncle Lorenzo, got me a job in the Gary coal mine and I stayed there maybe about a year and almost got killed one night and I said this is it and I left.

John: Okay.

Percy: And my mother didn’t want me to go to uh? she didn’t want me to leave.

John: Right.

Percy: She said you don’t know nobody out there. I said well that’s the reason I’m going. And I’ve been out there ever since. (Laughs)

John: Okay. Well now what did you end up doing for a living?

Percy: I work for the City of Berkley.

John: In Berkley. Okay.

Percy: The City of Berkley.

John: Okay. And is that where you live now?

Percy: No I live in Oakland. Just right next door to each other.

John: To your daughter. Your daughter lives out there too right?

Percy: Yes, uh huh.

John: But you live most of your life in Berkley?

Percy: No, in Oakland. I worked for the City of Berkley.

John: Okay, I don’t know Berkeley’s not far from Oakland is it?

Percy: No. Just right down the road there. A few miles.

John: Okay.

Percy: But anyway Berkley is all right nice town. Nice college town. You know.

John: right.

Percy: And I worked with the City of Berkley and I retired from there.

John: Now how many children do you have?

Percy: Five.

John: Five?

Percy: Three girls, two boys and one’s a set of twins. One of them is a set of twins.

John: And do they all live in California?

Percy: All in California.

John: Have you ever brought them back here?

Percy: Yes, I’ve brought them back here when they was small. Couple of times. Drove, rested and we drove.

John: Yeah? And how often do you come back here?

Percy: Almost about every 2 years and to my class reunion.

John: Yeah. Okay. Well do you remember any other stories about Dry Fork? I know you will remember stuff after I leave.

Percy: That’s what I’m thinking about. I am a little ahead of you. No it’s about. I’m hoping I can remember these stories and then put them down and then put them on tape. And then I can send them to you. You know like that. And I have some pictures. Some pictures one or two pictures of like people living on, living up there as a matter of fact I give a lot of pictures away. Here yesterday at my reunion. Because when I leave my kids don’t know who they are so they would end up in the trash so I just give them to my friends.

John: Well anything you have on Dry Fork I would love to have.

Percy: Okay, I will send it to you.

John: I’m trying to think of something else to ask you that might uh…um.

Percy: Last night, last night I saw this young lady. Some how she … I don’t know what caused us to come together. She was talking to a girl. I knew her when she was young she was my cousin but after so many years she lived in New York.

John: um hmm

Percy: and uh…she come over and she said uh… I think you are my cousin and I said what is your name. She said my name is Gwendolyn Gray. So since we are some kin to the Gray we started talking. She said I’m, Thomas Gray is my brother, Cal Gray and uh Winfred Gray is their father, he’s dead. He was in World War II and I think that man. And I’m not sure I think this man here is Winifred Gray.

John: And this lady’s name is Gwendolyn Gray and she lives in New York City?

Percy: yes in New York City. She was at the class reunion.

John: Okay, you don’t know there isn’t any way we can get in touch with her is there?

Percy: No. Well anyway.

John: You don’t have her address or anything?

Percy: No. So uh….she was talking to another girl. Her name was Kay Couch. Kay Couch.

John: C.O.U.C.H?

Percy: Kay Couch, yes.

John: okay.

Percy: Kay Couch was she was kind of disturbed because she said I have kin people and I don’t know who they are. So I tried to help her out. See Kay Couch mother is some kin to Oscar Lewis. Oscar Lewis is her father and Oscar Lewis married this woman her name is Ethel. She was a uh?I’m trying to think of Nathaniel’s last name, god dog it?. Nathaniel. Should ask Denise.

John: I don’t have it.

Percy: She do.

John: Okay yeah I don’t know she’s got all that stuff.

Percy: Ok, Denise, not Denise. This girl mother was some kin to this woman and so she is …looking up her family history. Yeah.

John: You have her phone number and everything.

Percy: Everything right there.

John: Kay Couch. Live in Roanoke Virginia. And that’s her email.

Percy: And that girl her name was Gwendolyn Gray. I was telling her to go to the Mormon Church. And she said I don’t know where no Mormon Church at.

John: I tell you then she will want to talk to Denise then.

Percy: um hmm I don’t know how she’s going to talk to Denise though.

John: Through the Internet.

Percy: Oh… that’s right.

John: I want to tell you something I went to a wedding Friday night. It was a girl from Laurel married a guy from Denmark and they met over the Internet.

Percy: No kidding. Well I told her I said well I know. I was telling her uh Kay. … I tried to help her best I could. Then come to find out I am some kin to the girl. Charlton yes Charlton.

John: Ah Charlton.

Percy: Yes her mother and sister are some kin to the Charlton.

John: Okay. Something just went through my mind. Do you remember who used to run that park with the swimming pool and everything?

Percy: No I don’t, I don’t.

John: Okay can you think of anything else.

Percy: No not right now.

John: Well it’s amazing how much you do remember.

Percy: Thank You.

John: Well I appreciate you.

Percy: Well I’m glad to do that. Because it’s very interesting.

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