The following article is an excerpt from the book, "Mountain Memories", by Clifton Caudill which will be published August 1:
The Mountain Eagle
WHITESBURG, LETCHER COUNTY, KENTUCKY.WEDNESDAY JULY 3 1996
Romance and chinquapins on Dixon mountain in '20's
By CLIFTON CAUDILL
In October and November each year after frost the young folks of the community went to Dixon Mountain between Elk Creek and Bull Creek to gather chinquapins (or chinkapins), a nut similar to the chestnut only smaller in size. I do not know of another place in this area where chinquapins are found. The land was owned by my grandfather, Wilburn Dixon, and good man that he was he had given us permission to look for the small but delicious nuts. Most times chinquapins were plentiful, but if not we were not too discouraged since we had the opportunity to walk, talk, act smart and just maybe make fools of ourselves while tying to impress the girls.
Colonel Eldridge, son of Uncle Preston Eldridge, joined the group as we came by his home. Dora Slone had come from Caney to go to school at Carcassonne and was also with us. Colonel had fallen madly in love with the beautiful Dora, but she had not responded as ardently as he had hoped so in a last desperate effort to gain sympathy and just maybe her affection he decided he would make one last try. There were some high cliffs near where the chinquapins grew and Colonel walked to the edge and, holding to a small bush, lowered his body over the cliff. Calling to a nearby couple he asked them to tell Dora to come at once and talk to him or he was going to loose his hold on the bush and plunge to the ground 50 feet below. When told of Colonel's last request, Dora answered, "Tell him if he don't have no more sense than that, to just go ahead and turn loose." When thus informed the lovelorn Colonel sheepishly pulled himself back to the top of the cliff and safety. A year or two later Colonel had fully recovered from this ill-fated romance and married the nice, respectable Lina Caudill, daughter of the honorable Jesse Caudill of Perkins Branch at Jeremiah.
Colonel was a credit to the Gander and Carcassonne community, serving as mailman, merchant, hired hand and in later life working full time for the Master as a Regular Baptist minister after moving to Indiana. Some of his grandchildren ordered the "Carcassonne" book I wrote. As have so many of our neighbors, friends, and classmates, Colonel has gone from us for more than a year. May he rest in peace.
The section of the Carcassonne community known as Dixon Mountain has been home for many of the descendants of my great-grandfather, Elder James Dixon, from early 1800 until present day. James C. Dixon (not the above-mentioned James), born 1849, died 1927, and wife Sarah, 1854-1922, owned the beautiful mountaintop farm and there raised a large and respectable family. They were the parents of our neighbor Ishmael Dixon who passed away several years ago. In 1914, James C. decided to move to Pulaski County and sold the property to my grandfather Wilburn Dixon. Wilburn's brother Tom also owned part of the farm. There was a fairly good house on the part Grandpa bought and in the 1920s I remember him renting the house to Sam and Cindy Caudill, the parents of Alice, Virgie, Franklin, Troy, Eva and Ezra. Sam worked in the mines and each evening after work would bring home a sack of coal on the mule he rode to work. By cold weather he had enough coal to last through the winter months. There was a small building maybe 8 x 10 feet out in the corner of the yard and in this structure Sam stocked a small country store which the wife Cindy could take care of while he was at the mines. At this time most items stocked in the stores came in barrels, 100-lb. bags and huge cartons to be opened and weighed, measured or counted to fill the customer's order. Coffee came in 100-pound bags, thus the name "coffee sack". The coffee beans were green and after being placed in a bread pan and stuck in the oven of the woodburning stove until browned was then ground on the hand-operated coffee grinder. I doubt the high-priced TV commercials of today could adequately describe the aroma. Boil a pot of this homeground coffee, pour into the heavy cracked mug with the handle missing and we were ready to slurp and "sasser" our morning coffee as only we old timers could.
When I was about 8 or 9 years old I was sent to Sam's store - a distance of about 1 1/2 miles by the big road or a slightly shorter distance if one took the shortcut through the "Joe Holler". Despite the fact that sightings of "haunts" and other apparitions had been reported, this route was used extensively. Arriving somewhat breathless at the store, I was greeted by Sam and three of our neighbors. Brothers Wilson, Henry and Rick Hampton were rabbit hunting nearby and had come by for a quick lunch at the store. They had ordered 10 cents' worth of crackers and brown sugar. This was 1921 - 75 years ago - and I remember the three small bags were filled and I am sure the hunters were well fed for 10 cents each. A few years later Sam and Cindy bough 25 or 30 acres of land from my father and built a nice home there. This land was adjoining the Pine Grov School (now James memorial Church).
The Dixon cemetery at Carcassone
Sam continued to work in the mines for awhile until he came down with appendicitis. He was taken to Mount Mary Hospital in Hazard - the only hospital in the area at the time. Penicillin, sulfa drugs and antibiotics had not been perfected and to the dismay and sorrow of all who knew him, Sam died at the hospital. Cindy lost a faithful and loving husband, the children lost a devoted father, the community lost a solid citizen and a strong supporter of the Carcassonne school. He was a trustee of the school board. In summertime many evenings after work he and Cindy came up to the school and, sitting on a bench on the library porch, would sing the Regular Bapist songs loud and clear. Cindy crossed the River some years ago to join husband Sam, I am convinced that those of us who live in a manner that will allow us to at some time cross this same river will find Cindy and Sam still singing those sacred songs.
Soon after the Sam and Cindy Caudill family moved from Dixon Mountain, grandfather Wilburn rented the house to the Willie and Polly Ann Back family. Willie was a son of Uncle Dave Back, one of the early settlers on Elk Creek where Artie Ann Bates lives. Willie and Polly Ann had a large family of boys and girls. All the girls were beautiful, and I at age 14 imagined I had fallen madly and hopelessly in love with one of them. Not being one to postpone important events - on a Saturday evening I dressed as best I could from my Carcassonne ragsale wardrobe even to the necktie and walked through the Joe Holler to Willie Back's house to pay my respects to his daughter. Arriving there I sat on the porch with Willie and the boys. They asked about the health of my family, how was the corn crop doing, did I think we would get enough rain for a good crop year. I mumbled something in a quavering voice as I glanced nervously around in the hope I would get a glimpse of the daughter. About an hour later, I took leave of Willie and the boys and made my way beck through Joe Holler, vowing at every step that I would leave this foolishness of courtin' and sparking to someone else and stick to playing marbles, round town and riding our bull calf on Sundays.
A year or so after the Willie Back family moved back to Elk Creek, grandfather Wilburn sold the property to Spencer Witt, son of Tom and Liz Witt, two of our good neighbors who used to live on the head of Montgomery Creek just over the hill from Lonnie Whitaker's place. Later their son-in-law Henry Back and wife Martha lived there before moving to Breedings Creek in Knott County. Spencer married Uncle Preston Eldridge's daughter Nannie and they had several children, one boy I remember being Claude. Spencer worked in the mines at Meems Haskins on Montgomery Creek when they worked, and farmed and gardened a little. I had been appointed as a deputy notary public at this time and prepared the deed for the land and was given a fat hen for my fee. I don't remember for sure what the farm sold for, but I think it was $300. I made deeds and other papers for 50 cents each or if something we could use was offered as payment I accepted it. Since Ruby and I had just recently married and the Great Depression was upon the land, we could use about anything and the fat hen was special for the possibility of an egg now and then and if no eggs there would be a delicious chicken and dumpling dinner in the near future.
B., Witt Spencer's brother, lived at Blackey and worked on the rail road as a section hand. B. was one of the best fiddle players in the county. His sons Virgil and Ollie were the best on fiddle and guitar, and often came to stay Saturday nights with their Uncle Spencer and
play the good mountain music. Many were the nights we and others sat patting our feet to the rhythm of "Chicken Reel", "Sally Ann", "Cripple Creek" and many more that have been passed down to us by our ancestors.
(Continued on Page C10)
Auto travel in 1920's was a real trip
(Continued from Page C9)
Sometime in the 1940's, Spencer decided to quit mining and moved to either Pulaski or Lincoln County, I am not sure which. Cousin Gerna Campbell, a grandson of Wilburn, bought the property from Spencer and built a nice house there. He and wife Cora Lee taught a few years at the Carcassonne Grade School then went to Harlan County where they were employed by the Harlan County school system until retiring some time ago. They still own the place on Dixon Mountain, but live in Harlan County. The old home has been torn down for many years and as with many of our landmarks, only memories remain.
During the 1920's many mountain families sold out and moved to Lincoln and Pulaski counties to farm the more flat land rather than the steep hillsides. Some families moved, stayed a few years and came back to the mountains homesick and often times poorer. Among those who stayed were the Tom and Susan Fields family. They were good solid citizens of the Carcassonne community, Tom being our local miller, mail carrier (via muleback) and member of the school board of trustees. Tom and Susan were both faithful members of the Regular Baptist Church. Relatives of the gone-away families often visited if they owned a car or could get a ride with someone who did have one. Susan's son Henry (by a former marriage) and wife Mint lived with their children in the Carcassonne community. Henry worked in the mines and owned a car of what age, make or model I am not sure. I do know there were no late models in the community until many years later. We did the maintenance on our old models, tied them together with baling wire, cleaned the spark plugs and breaker points regularly, took up the slack in the adjustable tie rod ends so the driver need not give the steering wheel more than a full turn on the curves.
Before starting on a trip the trunk or back seat of the car should contain a water pail, hand tire pump, jack, tube patches and glue, three quarts of motor oil, a gas can, assorted tools, wrenches, hammers and screwdrivers. In the absence of stop-leak for the dripping radiator, dump in a handful of cornmeal which is sure to stop the leak and maybe the whole circulation system.
The motor gets hot. Can't hardly see the road for the steam boiling up. "You hear that noise out there? What is it? Sounds like a loose rod to me. I just tightened them all up last week. Guess I had better pull off to the side of the road, drop the oil pan and take out a few shims, it won't take long and we will save the oil to put back in when we get done."
Flat tires, motor overhauls and other repairs were common sights along our few winding and narrow highways of those days. Today's motorist would probably take a dim view of such modes of travel. But to those of us who owned one of these ancient vehicles, the door was opened to the outer world. We could go to Whitesburg or Hazard and return the same day or even a hundred or more miles to visit gone-away relatives or friends. I have made trips to Tennessee and Ohio in trucks at that time that I would now not trust to get to Blackey and back - a distance of five miles each way.
In the late 1920's and early 1930's the route by car from Letcber County to Pulaski County was from Whitesburg across Pine Mountain and down the Cumberland River to Pineville on 119 which was a graveled road at that time. Highway 25 was blacktopped and led to the Bluegrass region. On the outskirts of Pineville the Hamptons pulled into a small "filling station" for gas from the hand operated pump. As Henry pulled away from the station with a full tank of 17 cent-per-gauon gas, Mint leaned from the open car window and above the roar of the motor issued this invitation to the startled attendant, "Come and go with us, we are going to Pulaski County to see Henry's ma."
This writing is in no way intended to belittle or ridicule anyone or anything but as an example of how we who live here in the mountains honor, respect and value the friendship of our fellow man. The Hampton family were honest hard working and the Carcassonne community was made better for their having been here.
In the 1920's Uncle Tom Dixon, a brother of grandfather Wilburn, owned the part of Dixon Mountain which was across the road and opposite the cemetery. Here he and wife Fannie lived and raised their family. There were the girls Susanna, Mary, Betty and Cindy, and boys Willie and John. Granddaughters Ruby and Cora Lee also lived there until Ruby married James Fields and Cora Lee manied Gerna Campbell. I may have overlooked some of this family and if so I am sorry. Sometimes memories of yesteryear escape us.
In summertime anyone traveling along the rough and rutted dirt road through Dixon Mountain would most always come upon Uncle Tom seated by the roadside, leaning back against a huge chestnut tree, a big pile of shavings was around his feet - the result of much whittling as he eagerly awaited the next traveler. Uncle Tom was a great storyteller and philosopher and a firm believer in an unhurried lifestyle. A theory that I fully support.
James C. and Wilburn Dixon set aside near two acres for use as a cemetery on Dixon Mountain. Here beside the road on this beautiful knoll are buried the many Dixons, relatives and friends awaiting the resurrection, to rise and stand in judgment by the creator of man, the earth and all therein. "As a tree falls, so shall it lie." (Ecclesiastes 11:3)
Letcher County, KY, Genealogy