Transcribed by Rae Wayne
July 22, 1948 – Reprinted May 10, 1979
* CAL’S COLUMN *
We closed our last article with a promise of some additional items concerning the old Donoho home and community. So here goes again. One thing that particularly impressed us on our early visits to this old home was the kindness and hospitality shown by Uncle Tom, Aunt Polly Ann and Aunt Bide Russell. Their home was always open to visitors and they had an abundance of company. This was in keeping with the custom of that day and time. Visitors were continually coming and going and nobody had any objection to offer. We recall that it was nothing unusual for a family to have from a half dozen to a score of visitors over the weekend. These were not the afternoon visitors of this modern day, who run in for a few minutes, or who come for only an hour. They came and “stayed all night”. People then had time to go visiting and were not rushed as they are now. It was quite common for folks to leave home on Friday afternoon and spend two nights away from home; and if the “urge” were great enough, to even spend Sunday night. Nothing was thought of what was eaten and all visitors were expected to eat all they wanted. It was sometimes considered a kind of insult if one sat down to a meal and did not eat freely. The hostess thought perhaps that there was something wrong with the food on the table, or with the way it was prepared. So one was expected to eat heartily and this was surely done so far as the editor’s part of it went.
Dean Hill near which this old home was located, in 1910 was a quiet, peaceful and happy community, undisturbed by the modern, rushing world of today. People worked some, visited a lot, went fishing and hunting when they desired, and took time off for many pleasures and to enjoy life generally. Nobody was rich in the community, but nobody was on relief either. Everybody made his own living and was satisfied. The hunger for the things that were beyond their reach did not disturb this people, they had their own homes for the most part, they owned enough land to make what they needed, they were not involved in any debts to speak of, they were practically all honest and enjoyed that quiet life of working, laboring and playing that, we fear, has gone forever. They were not wasteful, but were frugal, saving the crops they made, gathering in the harvest of grain, fruits, nuts and taking care of the bounty offered by Nature.
They did not have fine clothing, nor fine carriages, nor was there any display of a proud spirit on the part of anybody. They, like Esau of old, had “enough.” To say, in the swift and mad rush for the things of life, we have forgotten how to live, how to play, how to enjoy life and are rushing ourselves literally to death. This writer is as guilty of this as anybody he knows. But we all seem to be driven by an irresistible force and it is rush, rush, rush. We long for the quietude, the peace, the contentment, and the enjoyment of those days of the long ago, but we feel sure they will not come again
Clustered about the old Donoho home are memories of a lot of things that will perhaps be of interest to our readers. We recall that one summer day Aunt Polly Ann went out to the hill field that lay to the southwest of the home, called then and even now, “The Tommy Field.” She went there to gather some beans. On her return she pulled off some small ears of corn and on reaching the pasture that lay between the field and the house, she threw the corn over the draw bars to the hogs and cows. She watched the animals as they ate the new corn. Soon she heard a strange sound coming from the valley to one side of the narrow ridge, a valley filled with timber. The ridge there was very narrow, about wide enough for a good road perhaps. She listened to the strange grunting which sounded like a prolonged “Uunngghh.” She tried to decide what it was, but could not reach any satisfactory conclusion. Soon she noted that her cows were raising their heads higher and higher, and they looked in the direction from which the “Uunngghhs” were coming. After looking that way for a few seconds, the cows turned their tails over their backs and made a “bee line” for the house.
Mrs. Donoho lost no time in following her cows. She went into her home, closed all the doors and went upstairs to remain alone all the rest of the day, the other members of the family being absent at the time. On the return of the husband, she related what had happened, but he had no solution to offer. A few days later, a large bear, with a muzzle on him, was killed a few miles east of the home, supposedly an escapee from a show. As long as this good woman lived, she believed that the grunting noise she had heard was made by the bear.
Another event that happened at the old home was on the occasion of a hog killing of Mr. Donoho’s. After the hogs had been killed and the meat stored in the smokehouse at the rear of the home, darkness gathered over those high hills and deep valleys. Early in the night Aunt Polly Ann and her sister, Aunt Bide, the blind lady, were at or near the smokehouse, when the blind sister said; “Polly Ann, what is that sound, which is like something lapping up water or blood?” She was blind but her hearing was very acute, and the sister said “I don’t hear anything.” About this time a wildcat began to let out blook-curling screams and the two women started toward the house as hard as they could go, the screaming beast apparently only a few feet behind them. Aunt Bide was able to see the light of a doorway if a lamp were burning inside and she on the outside and in the dark. This time she called out: “Just let me see the hole. Just let me see the hole.” Uncle Tom heard the screaming varmint and the calling women and hurried to the kitchen door about the time the two women rushed in and slammed the door, which caught the old man’s thumb and came near cutting it off before he could extract it. This wild animal went then down the hill to the rear of the house and then crossed the valley, continuing his piercing screams until he vanished in the far distance. Wildcats were quite common then in those hills.
Uncle Tom used to relate an incident that happened in his young manhood. He and other young men were in danger of being drafted into the Army and found it necessary to “hide out,” a thing easy to do in the immense stretches of forested lands, deep valley and high hills of that section. Another factor in their favor was that the hills in many places were covered with an evergreen plant that grew thickly on the tops of the hills and which offered an almost impenetrable covering in both summer and winter, as it was always green. It was called by those who lived in that section, “ivory.” It was deadly to cattle that ate it. On this particular occasion, when Uncle Tom and some of the neighbor boys, young men who were also trying to keep from being drafted into the Army, were in hiding in the “ivory.” In the distance they heard something coming, which appeared to be a large and unwieldy animal of some kind. It made as much noise as a horse or cow, but no such animals were at large in those wooded areas then. The boys stood their ground as long as they could, with the noise growing louder and louder and the “beast” coming closer and closer. Finally when they could no longer bear the thought of what might be in store for them, they all fled, each running for life and going in as many directions as there were young men in the crowd. They ran till they were almost exhausted, but the sound of the “beast” had vanished. Uncle Tom stated to the writer that he never knew what made this noise, but that it gave him and the remainder of the group the fright of their lives that dark night during the Civil War.
That section has long been a place of some rather tall tales and of things out of the ordinary. We recall that we had not been teaching at Dean Hill very long when we heard the story of the “big, black beast,” that had appeared at different times on top of the hill a few hundred yards west of Dean Hill near the place where the old, automatic gate used to sit across the road. We were then only 19, and a “stranger in the strange land”, but these stories made a lasting impression on our mind which was then quite young and easily impressed. We were attending the revival that fall at Difficult, five miles away, going to and from the meeting on horseback. One night as we were returning alone and our imagination was running wild, we were nearing the place of the “beast,” and had to ride under the limb of a poplar tree. This limb knocked our hat off as neatly as we ever saw. It was a very good hat for that day and time, but we rode on without dismounting to pick up the hat. We looked back to note that the hat had not fallen to the ground but had lodged on our horse’s back. We grabbed that hat as quickly as possible and that was plenty fast for we were surely “skeered nearly to death.” But in all the times we passed that place, we never saw one thing out of the ordinary. But tales of that same “beast” continue today.
Uncle Jim Davis lived 40 years ago about three miles north of where we lost our hat, at a location called the old Woodard place. It was in a very remote section, with timbered hills and valleys that stretched for miles in every direction. He once reported that he was rushing home one dark night along a road shadowed by trees, making the road virtually impossible to see. As he neared his home, he decided there was something in the road just in front of him. He reached down in the direction of what appeared to be a dark object until his hand came in contact with some animal. It was not his dog, nor any neighbor’s dog, for he lived a good mile from his nearest neighbor. He was never able to explain what the animal was. He lived at a place that stood on a high ridge or hill that separates Wartrace Creek from Defeated Creek. The old log house in which that family lived is now gone and there is not a vestige of the old house and the little barn of forty years ago. It was only a few hundred yards from this place that the writer had the worst scare of his life, the episode about which he wrote some weeks ago, when his hat was pushed up on his head by his hair until he had to stop and pull the hat down two or three times. About 100 yards from this old home, an Army half-track left the road during the maneuvers a few years ago, rolling over and over several times to lodge about 100 feet below the road in the timber. Two or three soldiers were killed in this accident. We have wondered if the place is not “hanted” since these boys went to their sudden death in this out-of-way place. However, we have not heard of any such “visitors” in those parts lately.
Perhaps the champion tale of all about the “big, black beast” of that ridge comes from our friend, Richard Stafford, who resides now on Nick-o-jack Branch in Smith County, not far from Mace’s Hill church. He would take an oath that the things related here took place. Some thirty years ago he lived near Willette; and needing some corn, he went down on Salt Lick, of Cumberland River and bought a wagon load. He was returning by way of Dean Hill and the long ridge about which we have been writing. Darkness was about to overtake him when he reached the steep, but short, hill near the Buck Jones place. His team was tired and the hill was steep, and the owner and driver got off the wagon to scotch a wheel and give the team rest as they went up the hill. He had started up the hill when he heard one of his mules snort, a thing that is common among mules when they see something they do not like or which alarms them. He looked to see what the trouble was, and was very much surprised when he beheld a large, black animal, larger than any dog he had ever seen. He described his feelings as a strong desire to mount his wagon and try to get out of the way of this strange animal, but he knew his team coult not go on over the top of the hill without stopping for rest and that the only way he could hold the wagon on the hill while the team rested was with a scotch. He grabbed up some stones and began to throw them toward the beast, which refused to run away, but merely back off, coming closer each time the fusilade of stones eased up. He kept this up until he got to the top of the hill, mounted the wagon and drove, on toward Willette. He informed us some time ago that he would not go through with a like experience for a load of corn. Stafford is an honest man and evidently saw something, but we do not know what it was.
Since starting the above article, we are informed that about 45 years ago, in the vicinity of Dean Hill, our good friend, Bernice Sircy, who resides about ten miles east of Lafayette, who was a lad then of about 15, in company with another lad of about the same age, Buck Hackett, was throwing rocks at birds in a pasture not far from Dean Hill. They were both badly upset when a big, black animal of a size larger than a dog slowly got up from a reclining posture, stretched himself and took a look at the boys who had evidently disturbed him. They lost no time in hurrying away, both boys being of exactly the same mind in this regard. We do not have any explanation to make, except to suggest that possibly a black bear lived in that part of the country and that he was seen now and then.