Friday, August 7, 2009


-The Setting for the Interviews-

Considering the role environment plays in the lives of our informants, it is important that we begin by giving some sense of where these Cascade Appalachians live. The families we talked to had certainly moved from one mountainous region to another, but while there are similarities between the two areas, there are also differences. As Willie Madden, one of our informants, put it, "One thing, you go back there and they talk about the hills, don't you know. And they got hills back there, but here you got a hill it's fourteen thousand feet. You take any of our hills around here, they hills." Mr. Madden's point is well taken: from his front window in Eatonville, one can see the top two miles of Mt. Rainier rising from its surrounding countryside. Not only is Mt. Rainier (at 14,410 ft.) the tallest volcanic peak in the continental United States, but its flanks are large enough to hold a permanent glacier comprising fifty square miles. Just south of Rainier lies Mt. St. Helens, still twice the height of the Appalachians even after its top fifteen hundred feet have blown off. Above Rainier are the North Cascades, clusters of snow capped mountains which march in an unbroken line to the Canadian border.
The western Cascades where most of the Appalachians settled featured lush vegetation, predominantly cloudy skies, and mild temperatures. When the migrants first arrived, some of them, including Iva Forrister's mother, thought it would never stop raining (as recounted on Forrister tape). Nevertheless, they became accustomed to the climate, so much so that when couples like Frankie and Regal Nations returned to the Southeast to visit, they found it difficult to sleep because of the combination of heat and humidity.
The Washington Cascades are pierced by four mountain passes which rank among the most spectacular in the United States. During the winter these passes may be closed by snowfalls as heavy as any recorded in our country. Nevertheless, for most of the year, communities in the Cascades are relatively accessible from the lowlands of Western Washington. Good roads would take most of our informants to major population centers like Tacoma and Seattle in less time, say, than it takes to get from Perry County, Kentucky, to Corbin, or from Cherokee to Gatlinburg. Thus it would be true to say that the communities we studied are more physically isolated from other parts of the Cascades than they are from the lowlands to the east and west. This east-west orientation extends to the political structure of the region: Cascade towns are part of large counties which stretch all the way to Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean.
The first predominantly Appalachian community in which we conducted interviews was Darrington, northeast of Seattle. Darrington is most associated in the minds of other Washingtonians with the "Tarheels" -- a term, by the way, which is often used to describe any Southern mountaineer now living in the state. Willie Madden, for example, was born in Knott County, Kentucky, but he calls himself "just a Tarheel." The word has even become a verb: "when people go back east to visit, they are said to be "tarheeling." In any event, a newcomer to Darrington quickly makes the connection to Appalachia. The town is the site of a long-running Bluegrass festival. Its Southern Baptist church publishes a cookbook with a recipe for stackcake, a traditional Southern mountain delicacy, and it still takes part in a singing convention every fifth Sunday. As recently as 1947, writes Elizabeth Poehlman, a good five hundred of Darrington's 850 residents were from the area immediately surrounding Silva, North Carolina (119).
When we pulled in to register at Darrington's Stagecoach Inn, we were greeted at the front desk by Dave Buchanan, a relative newcomer to Washington. In our interviews with him and with Regal Nations and Charlie Jones, we got the sense that many Darrington residents had moved there because they or their parents felt they had lost the freedom of the frontier back in North Carolina. Washington state seemed to be bigger, wilder, freer. Yet civilization had reached here too. The immigrants who had come to Washington to hunt without limits and be free from federal timber policy now found themselves in the thick of the fight over the last stands of old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest. The anger Darrington loggers felt toward environmentalists was almost palpable; it was in Darrington, for example, that we were told our first spotted owl joke. 3

The towns of Mineral and Morton, Washington, lie south of Darrington. These communities were largely settled by Kentuckians. Woodrow Clevinger's father had come from Pike County, Kentucky, along with over one hundred others, and Clevinger was later to estimate that over two thousand families in the immediate area of Mineral and Morton had a Kentucky ancestry (Clevinger tape). Corbett Hale, one of our informants, was responsible for a number of those migrants all by himself. For over forty years he attended Old Regular Baptist church association meetings back east, and every return trip he brought some more former neighbors back with him.
Just down the slope from Morton are Riffe (now under water because of a new reservoir) and Mossyrock. These were West Virginian communities. The first immigrants from the Mountain State may have been Anthony and Laura Bown, who arrived with their five children in 1889 (Nix and Nix 91). They were soon joined by others, including the sixty families who chartered a train from hawk's Nest, West Virginia, in 1893. We were privileged to join the descendants of these families in worship when we attended the annual communion ceremony at Western Union Old Regular Baptist Church in Silver Creek, Washington, a couple miles down the road from Mossyrock. The West Virginian families were joined at worship by Kentuckians who had previously attended a Morton Old Regular church now disbanded because of disputes over governance, use of church funds, and bobbed hair ( Hale and Toler tapes). The more liberal Western Union congregation (along with another small congregation near Raymond, Washington) still "corresponds" with sister churches in the Friendship Association of Old Regular Baptists, a loosely affiliated denominational group otherwise located along the West Virginia-Virginia border. The lined a capella singing, the rhapsodic preaching, and the emotional intensity felt during the footwashing ceremony powerfully demonstrated that a vital part of Appalachian culture could be transplanted and take root in the West.

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