Saturday, August 8, 2009


You probably already knew these topics were coming up – “Critter Stew and White Lighting”

The Themes of the Interviews

After conducting interviews in all of these communities, we think we have discovered a number of themes -- themes relating to the needs to create a decent life for one's family, to test one's limits in a land of huge forests and abundant wildlife, to maintain spiritual wholeness and personal identity thousands of miles from one's place of birth. Here, briefly, are some of them.
Most of our informants had stories to tell of their trip west and seemed to regard it as one of the great adventures of their lives. The migration story Frankie Nations told us was probably typical. "We came here," she told us,
in 1937. All us kids were born during the Depression, so my dad, it was hard for him to get work there, so we started on out on September 1, 1937. There was ten of us in the car, a little '31 Chevrolet, and we had a little utility trailer pulling in the back with all our belongings in it. And those kids ranged from one year to seven -- there were four of us, four children -- Mom, Dad, and two uncles and an aunt, and a guy who came with us to help drive. So we all got in this car and we started out and it took us ten days to get from North Carolina to Darrington. My sister and I, we had to sit on a can on the floor between one of our uncles' legs, because there wasn't enough room to sit in the car, and every time I moved my uncle would say, "Sit still." Well, being five years old, you can't see out the window or anything. I had a ring on my bottom for a long time for sitting ten days on that can, and so did my sister.
Frankie remembered there was so little room in the car that most family belongings had to be left at home. Her family did bring their feather beds with them, however. When night came on the trip west, her mother took out these feather comforters and the family slept on them by the side of the road. Other Appalachians came west with even less; Corbett Hale told newcomers traveling with him that they were restricted to one suitcase. Time and again we asked people what they possessed from their family's first trip to Washington. Only Mabel Hale Compton could tell us the story of material possessions with an Appalachian origin -- some quilts brought by her family from Wolf Pen Creek, Kentucky.
When they arrived here, some families were set up in already furnished houses. Others were not so fortunate and either had no close relatives who could assist them or else somehow missed connections. About their own arrival in Washington state, recounts Ethel Toler,
We come by train to Chehalis. We were a day earlier than what the people were looking for us, and here we got off the train we didn't know where we was at, we didn't know where Riffe was and we had twenty dollars in our pocket. So the taxi was just across the street from the railroad station. So Homer went over there and we got a taxi which cost us sixteen dollars to go to Riffe. He didn't know where Riffe was, the taxi driver didn't. He knew what vicinity it was in. He'd seen somebody had had a trip to Riffe and what they had charged for going. Well, he said, it's sixteen dollars and we'll find it.
And find Riffe the Tolers eventually did, though they arrived in town with only four dollars between t hem. Nevertheless, they considered themselves fortunate to be in their new community, as evidenced by the stories of privation they told us about their previous life in West Virginia. Typical meals back home, said Ethel, were "biscuits watered gravy for breakfast and corned bread and beans for dinner. One month we had a little money left over, so we went down to Krogers and they had this beautiful curly kale, so we had enough to get that and we had enough to get a little package of yeast. We went home, we cooked that kale and I made hot rolls and we really eat that. That was treat." The Toler home near Welch, West Virginia, was also remembered as a sign of their former poverty. "The last house we lived in before we left West Virginia," Homer Toler told us,
was built in January out of green hemlock: two little rooms. The front door was a barn door. It was made out of green lumber. They put up two corner boards here and two over there and two over there and the roof was sloped one way and no studding in it, and we swept four inches of snow off the floor part of it and put a roof on it of lightweight tarpaper, and we moved in. And they just nailed the green hemlock up and down and then one by four over the cracks. And one place in front of the front door where it was kind of cut cross grain, why she woke up one night and pow, scared to death. And she wanted to know what it was. I said that's just a board seasoning and cracking. And her dad had given us a big old wool rug. And she woke me up one morning, she said what's that cat doing? And it was laying right up close to where the stove was. It had come up under the house, raised the rug up, the cat was laying there asleep. In front of the front door there was a piece busted out in one of the floor boards about that big, it was kind of wedge shaped, and the cat went in and out of that hole.

The Toler memories of grinding poverty are similar to other memories our informants shared with us. What Barbara Ann Austin remembers most about her first trip to Kentucky, for example, was their lack of indoor plumbing. Other Cascade families remember their former homes with more affection. The Darrington Tarheels seem convinced that conditions back east have improved so much that there is no longer an economic incentive to cause people to move to Washington. Still other families keep alive a nostalgic picture of life in the East. In the home of Mabel Hale Compton there is an oil painting of a modest Kentucky log house owned by her family. It would be instantly recognizable to many people interested in Appalachian studies because it is the Amburgey cabin once lived in by James Still.
To a greater or lesser degree Cascade Appalachians also retain memories of family food traditions. When we ate lunch at her home, Frankie Nations served us leather britches beans and corn bread. Stack cake seemed to be remembered fondly by all our informants, and Sis Dolleyheide is still supposed to bring it regularly to church dinners (Toler tape). The Jones family reported a family tradition, now ended, of raising bears for meat. Frankie Nations remembers with amusement a story about her mother who, in Frankie's words, would "try anything":
One morning there was a porcupine under the house. When Dad went to work he saw this porcupine. That evening he came home from work and there was a real nice plate of chicken on the table. During the day Mom had got the twenty-two. She'd gone under the house, she'd shot the porcupine and she'd skinned it.

Somebody had told her that was real good to eat, and all, so Mom's a real good cook, so she cooked up this porcupine, but she made the mistake of one of my sisters' still being at home. She was sick and she didn't go to school. Well, we were all eating this chicken. That night this one that had stayed at home from school and my Dad, you know, he used language that wasn't too good at times, and he looked across and the younger wasn't eating any chicken. "Well, what's your problem that you're not eating any chicken?" He looked at Mom and he said, "You're feeding us that porcupine." That was the end of the chicken. Nobody ate chicken after that.
Within some families another food tradition, of course, is moonshine. For a number of Cascade families, this was an important Depression-era business. Mabel Hale Compton recalls a relative just tin from Kentucky. Her father put him up for a few months until he could get on his feet. Finally, her brother noticed the relative spending a lot of time down in the woods by the creek. When she and her brother investigated, they found the relative's new still. It was certainly not the only still operating in eastern Lewis County during those years. As Woodrow Clevinger reported to the Lewis County Historical Society,
I don't want to mention names, but there was one merchant in this town who didn't make his money selling groceries to loggers and lumberjacks who wanted credit. He really made his money from bringing in corn, ground corn, and wholesaling it to X number of Kentuckians and West Virginians and Virginians. Unfortunately they couldn't grow corn in this climate, and God knows they couldn't grow sugar. But they was brought in over the Tacoma Eastern Railway by the carload and unloaded here and distributed out through the hills here, [and] converted into good white whiskey. It was ten dollars a gallon, and two dollars and a half for a small pint. And this money did not go in the State Bank of Morton either. These mountain knew better than to build up a bank account, because the revenue people like to audit bank accounts and so it was in cash, hard cash carried around. I hate to say, I laughingly say, that the only pin money I made in 1926, '28, '29, and '30 was picking up moonshine bottles behind the dance halls in this town and along the road to Davis Lake road, bringing t hem down, getting five cents a bottle. And every Monday I'd come in, I go to my buyer, who I won't mention, my relative. Five cents a bottle, and I'd always come through with at least ten. Fifty cents -- that's a lot of money for a kid in 1928, '29, '31. (Clevinger tape)

The moonshine tradition continued until well after the Second World War. Charlie Jones remembers working with Stogie Parker for the Morison Lumber Company. Stogie used to quit work early every Friday "to get his saw fixed." Everybody knew, says Charlie, that Stogie needed the time to tend to his moonshine business. Stogie had high standards. When he arrived in Washington state, he once told another interviewer, he and his brother "went up there on the hill and got a half gallon from an old guy. I wouldn't drink it. Didn't have no bead on it like Carolina whiskey" (Strickland 41). Stogie's high standards were adopted by other moonshiners. When I asked David Buchanan about moonshine, he said, "Oh, you must have been reading about my cousin." His relative had been arrested in1989 for distilling a product which the federal agents said was the best they had ever tasted.
Still another theme in our interviews is the bigness and openness found in their adopted state. When they go back east, the Cascade Appalachians say, everything seems smaller. The Tolers now consider the river they once lived along in West Virginia to be just "a little bitty branch." When Laura asked them what had caused the change, Homer Toler said, "Just being here in the open spaces. There was no difference in the size of it-- only in your mind." The Cascade Appalachians told us that people in the East could not accept the scale of things in the state of Washington. "So when we went back and told people about what big timber there was," says Willie Madden, "they'd laugh and make fun of us, you know. It just couldn't be that way, you know. It's just not true." All the loggers we talked to had saved photographs of logging crews standing by logs measuring twelve feet or more "at the butt." It was a measure of their manliness that they had felled some of the largest trees on earth. And it was a measure of eastern provincialism that relatives in Kentucky or West Virginia had thought these pictures had been faked.
A final theme in the interviews is the relationship these Cascade Appalachians had with their church. Willis Weatherford and Earl D.C. Brewer have repeated the observation that Appalachians may be the most religious and the least churched people in America (161). To an extent that was also true of our informants. Some of them were regular church attenders; others were not. But religion still seemed important to them. Partly this was because church was indexed to so much of life as they knew it back in the Southern mountains. The dinners on the grounds, the hymns, the emotional services, the familiar accents-- all of these things could be found on Sunday mornings when, for a time at least, people could imagine themselves back home. They could fall back into familiar gender roles, sing the beloved hymns, and in general feel the comfort of "the good old-fashioned way." For people who had been born and raised in West Virginia or Southeastern Kentucky, the church was a cultural institution through which they could maintain and take pride in their distinctive heritage. And it was about the only such institution: surrounded by a larger culture with a completely different tradition, cut off from their relatives back east, working in a "democracy of the woods" which accepted any man, so long as he was a hard worker, watching their children bussed off to receive a secular education none of them had been given, the Cascade Appalachians viewed their faith as a bulwark against a larger and more sinful world. Old Regular Baptists in Washington state continued the unique lifestyle and worship practices they had known in Appalachia.
When the first generation began to die out, however, something began to happen to Old Regular membership in the Cascades. It appears to be what other migrant churches have experienced in this country (and the Old Regulars are very much a migrant religious group once they leave the Appalachians). H. Richard Niebuhr has said the following about migrant churches:
During the first period of competition and of economic conflict between immigrants and natives the churches of the immigrants tend to differentiate themselves as cultural organizations, which maintain and emphasize their separate individuality not on doctrinal but on cultural grounds. But after accommodation has set in, after the old language and the old ways have been irretrievably lost, after contacts with native churches have increased, the battle ground of competition changes. Ecclesiastical and doctrinal issues replace the cultural lines of division, and the loyalty of an English-speaking, second generation is fostered by appeal to different motives than were found effective among the immigrants themselves. The need for continued differentiation and for the self-justification of an organism which is strongly desirous of continuing its existence, are responsible now for a new emphasis. Denominational separateness in a competitive situation finds its justification under these circumstances in the accentuation of the theological or liturgical peculiarities of the group. (229-30)
Niebuhr says two things here: that first generation migrant churches concern themselves with cultural values, and that the second generation churches, seeing themselves dissolving in America's melting pot, feel compelled to re-emphasize their doctrinal differences. That observation seems to apply to the Cascade Appalachians.

In the 1930s, there were eight Old Regular churches in eastern Lewis County, Washington. By the fifties there were still six of them. Now only two Old Regular churches exist in the whole state. Some of this attrition is due to the fact that there is no longer a significant Appalachian migration to the Pacific Northwest. In the first forty years of this century, people like Corbett Hale could practically guarantee work for all who came. In the days when whole families arrived, and then sent back for their relatives, the Old Regulars could always maintain some kind of "critical mass" with which they could maintain their cultural integrity. But the influx of new families from Appalachia has dried off to a trickle, and the timber industry is in t he tenth year of a depression. The children of Cascade Appalachian families have also been much more willing to use education as a ticket to the thriving communities along Puget Sound. At any rate, the towns we visited were no longer prosperous, if indeed they ever had been, and they could no longer keep their younger residents from looking longingly elsewhere.
I shall claim here, then, that the Old Regulars have gone through a transition like that which Niebuhr predicted for other immigrant churches when the first generation gives way to the second. Without their children, without the replenishment of adults from back home, the Old Regular churches found their memberships dwindling. A natural tendency when something like this happens is to seek converts. But the Old Regulars were not used to doing this and had not developed the naturalization processes that would make the assimilation of new converts from other traditions easier. Outsiders brought disturbing ways with them -- singing out of noted songbooks, for example, or bringing womenfolk with bobbed hair (Hale tape). In the absence of a culture no longer shared in common, what Niebuhr predicted would happen in the immigrant church, an emphasis upon religious peculiarities, happened to the Old Regulars as they fought to retain their distinctive identity.
Whether or not to bob one's hair, for example, was an explosive issue which swept through the Washington churches during the 1950s and 1960s. This shows how, after the passing of the first generation, an immigrant church retreats to doctrine in order to differentiate itself from the outside world. When he joined a little over forty years ago, Corbett Hale found himself in the middle of this transition. "They was a lot of older people," he told us, "and all of them passed on, and it got down to me. I moderated the church for I guess twenty some years after the older ones went out. We had six churches at one time, and before they all died we began losing them. People coming in from other denominations and overpowering the majority of the vote, and just pulling them out of the Association." Hale referred here to the New Salem Association, a large group of Old Regular churches, headquartered in Kentucky, to which the Washington churches belonged. In 1955, the New Salem Association passed a resolution restricting the admission of women with bobbed hair. In 1968, the Western Union Old Regular church in the state of Washington asked for a reconsideration of this rule. When the resolution was softened some churches in the East protested, and newcomers found themselves arrayed against the Old Guard.
Other issues arose to exacerbate the difference between the two church factions. In Washington state the intramural fights over faith and decorum brought the Old Regulars to almost total disarray: the church at Mossyrock left the Old Regulars altogether, Morton locked its doors, the Mt. Olive and Western Union churches switched to the more liberal Friendship association, individual congregants also switched their affiliations or stopped attending altogether ( Hale and Toler tapes). The bitterness is still there after more than twenty years. "It's a shame what they done up there," Dovie Hale told us. "They'll have to stand before God for it." Of the breakaway churches, her husband says, "They call themselves Baptists and they lying when they do."
Mt. Olive and Western Union are the last of the Old Regular churches in Washington state. When we attended a service at Western Union two summers ago, a combined service for the two congregations, we sat among forty members. Only one younger couple was there. Despite their obvious devotion, the congregants could quite accurately be described as a "faithful remnant."
Fifty years after Clevinger's first studies, therefore, we could still find worshipping Cascade Appalachians whose mountain religion had bonded them together in a new home for a hundred years. Of course, very little else exists that can take the place of their old-time mountain faith in giving a sense of social cohesion and a feeling of distinctiveness. Little of an Appalachian material culture got transplanted to the West because these families arrived with so little. Once they began work in their new homes, they found themselves scattered throughout a heterogeneous workforce which included, besides Americans from a dozen or more logged-out states, a number of other nationalities. Then, as has happened with so many other immigrant groups, they found their educated offspring learning new skills and different values. Finally, the small communities in which they clustered found themselves subjected to a decade-long recession. Why stay among one's fellow "Tarheels" when the prosperous towns along the nearby I-5 corridor can offer so much more?

1 comment:

KathyB. said...

Brad, I am wondering if Bob Nations, from here in Roy is related to the Nations you are writing about. Seems there are a few names that seem familiar from our experiences in the agricultural fairs via 4H and FFA. That would be very logical too. I bet some of the people you are writing about are related to the Basketts, and we know them too. Old time logging and farming families.