Appalachia

A Trek Back in the Hills

creek

In the early 1960s I actually made a trek to a home way back in the hills of Johnson County Kentucky. My hubs, a student pastor, was a seminary student I was a college student. He had been assigned to a charge of four churches, the parsonage was in Oil Springs. Paintsville is the county seat. We went to the churches on weekends, returning to Wilmore, Kentucky during the week to attend classes.

One nice spring day it was decided that we would make a Sunday afternoon visit to an older gentleman. A member of the church went with us. We drove until we got to a crick. A really old pick-up truck was on our side of the crick. We got in and crossed the crick.

Then the interesting part began. We walked the rest of the way, there were field full of weeds. There were narrow ridges where we had to walk single file. There were fences to climb. I was glad someone who knew the way was with us.

The cabin was small, sparsely furnished, and very neat. The visit with the gentleman was uneventful and was appreciated. I imagine we were offered something to drink and maybe to eat, I truly do not remember. I do know that would have been the custom for anyone, especially the preacher.

We reversed our steps on the way home. There are a couple more things. It was in the days that women wore dresses and stockings. We were pretty much broke, I had only one dress. The whole trip was complicated by a rain storm that blew up late in the afternoon. We got soaked. My hose were ruined, my dress was the kind you dry clean. When it got wet it shrank. I had a miniskirt before they ever became a fashion statement.

Once we finally reversed ourselves and were home someone came by with a dress for me to wear to church for Sunday night services. It was baggy, but I had no choice. Friends still in the dorm loaned me dresses for the next few weekends.

I am sure that only ruins remain of that  little cabin. It would be astonishing if anyone lived back there now unless a bridge and road have been built. It was definitely quite a memorable adventure!

—Eldonna Ashley 2016

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Makes me wish I could have tagged along on the trip with Eldonna.

Tipper

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    SusieQ
    April 2, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    Now that was quite the trip. One you sure would be remember to tell … as I read that I could almost feel like I was walking along , taking in every little thing , remembering in the scripture reading that the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way. Psalm 37;23

    • Reply
      SusieQ
      April 2, 2020 at 3:54 pm

      🙂 Correction; One you sure would remember to tell :), meant to swat that little ”be” out of the sentence.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    April 2, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    It might do use all a world of good to go back to simple surrounding. Where Gods word was taught and old mountain folk tried their best to live up to the good book (only when the moonshiners had to provide for their families while the godly wife stay hope making a garden to feed them all)!what a story to write as lived somewhat for humor).

  • Reply
    Dee
    April 2, 2020 at 11:34 am

    I would have loved to take that trek back and just asked that dear old gentleman about his life and family. What a story he could have told. As a child I loved going back to my grandparents in the hills of NE MS. A creek snaked through, around and over every hilly area. It seemed you were walking or driving beside it or crossing it numerous times before it ever entered the bottom. Back then little homes were scattered all over, 95 per cent gone now and replaced with pine forest, but there are still remnants of the old places and I remember the families that lived there.
    Talk about hard work – I remember my Mother telling me that when my Father’s Aunt were married they started their married life clearing out a piece of the forest to build a cabin. My great aunt tied rags around her hands and a rope around her waist and as her husband cut down a tree she tied rope to it and pulled it out to another area where they could cut off the limbs and skin the bark. How I wish she had been alive when I was a teenager and could have met her and heard some amazing stories of her growing up in an area where painters roamed and there were no bridges crossing streams.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    April 2, 2020 at 10:45 am

    As a little girl in Wise Co. Va., we sometimes walked up to the”old mountain” ….where my great grandparents and grandparents lived, my parents ,too, for a while after marrying in 1940. There were remains of several of the seven cabins and houses that made up our “family compound, among people so poor they had to share a wind up clock. I had seen pictures of the original cabin where 7 huge poplar logs made a 2 story home. Sadly, it was fallen in , almost gone. There was a spring in a chiseled out rock…my great grandpa had made it and left his name in the rock…Mommy said it once had a metal dipper hung on a tree nearby. The old graveyard had head and foot rocks …Mom told us who was buried in each one as no graves had real markers…” most of these folks could not have read their names anyway” , she said. My brothers and I went back up there a decade later and climbed over the rocked up edge of a strip job….every thing was flat …gone…except the graveyard.

  • Reply
    Emily from Austin, TX
    April 2, 2020 at 9:45 am

    Thank you all for sharing those memories. It is in our nature to went to go back to see old places,
    like those shacks and houses and abandoned old cemeteries.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    April 2, 2020 at 9:34 am

    Eldonna’s memory sounds much like she could have made a trip up Pinnacle Creek. Sadly, the yearly treks up the creek to explore has ceased for the time being. Many made the trek yearly, and one such trek was posted on YouTube. There are many pictures with some of the young men lined up in front of the old fallen root cellar. All that is left is a pile of neatly piled rocks against a hillside. In the sixties we once tried to gain entrance, but a leaseholder where we would have headed up the creek refused us entrance. We later found he did not have that right, and possibly was making moonshine. Many visits were made in the nineties by the members of the very large family who once enjoyed living and visiting there. Children chased butterflies, made hideouts, and played Lone Ranger along the banks of the creek. 4th of July had watermelons cooling in a mountain spring, and ice cream was enjoyed on dry ice. There was so much playing in the yard that not ne sprig of grass was to be seen. Fast forward to today where many ride their ATVs past the old root cellar, past the still visible old well, and the rock on which we perched at the old swimming hole. Pinnacle Creek has become a big part of the Hatfield and McCoy trails. The riders cannot know of the lives lived here, and the logging and farming families that had moved on to big cities to make a more lucrative living for their families. Changing times, and my stash of memories must remain for the present on a flash drive full of large family gatherings with the familiar rolling hillside in the background. That hillside has a small neglected cemetery with unknowns marked by fieldstones. Genealogists can never know what secrets this small cemetery holds.t Thank you Eldonna and Tipper for sharing a memory and letting me take a brief walk back in time!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 2, 2020 at 9:27 am

    There was a creek (branch) crossing the road on the way to our old home place. It was just big enough that we kept a big rock in the middle to step on if you had your shoes on. The State finally took over the road maintenance but it stopped right before that branch and built a turnaround. Harold and I were getting old enough that we could envision a car in our future. But what about the branch? Are we going to drive through it? Are we going to build a bridge? We had no money for materials to build a bridge! But hillbilly ingenuity is unstoppable. We dug a channel about 300 feet long and moved the creek.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    April 2, 2020 at 9:07 am

    If I made the same trek Eldonna and the others did, I would be writing about my fear of ticks and snakes in those hills. I’m sure it was a memorable adventure that makes her giggle each time she talks about her mini skirt 50 plus years later. Having only one dress that was ruined was not one bit funny back in the 60s.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 2, 2020 at 8:38 am

    I recognize the placenames Eldonna mentions. Her description of the route to that furthest out cabin is somewhat familiar to. Homesteads made before cars existed could be variously reached by wagon road, bridlepath or footpath. In that part of the world (and I daresay any hilly or mountainous country), wagon roads were often partly up the creek bed. It had the great advantage of not washing away!

    I once found either an ‘upper field’ or a homeplace in the north Georgia mountains that appeared to have only a footpath/bridlepath access. It was in a cove just under the mountain crest. The stream draining the cove had a waterfall just below the old field (grown up in poplar when I was there). A deeply cut trail on the crest of a narrow ‘finger ridge’ led past the falls and into the cove.

    Places that today are large acreages of woods once had a surprising number of subsistence farmssteads and a surprisingly large population. The lifeway was destined though to fall apart because increasing population and decreasing land that could be farmed were on a collusion course. It was a hardscrabble life yet with its own good side. Sadly, we cannot now truly appreciate the physical effort it took to wrestle fields and buildings from the woods and maintain them year by year.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    April 2, 2020 at 8:00 am

    The little cabin that Eldonna visited probably is not there anymore. If it didn’t rot, there’s a good chance somebody burned it. I’ve seen quite a few old empty houses in E.KY. that were burned. What you are more apt to find now in those out of the way places are hunting shacks with 4 wheeler trails into them.
    Back in the 1970’s my Wife and I walked over the hill and up a holler to an old cabin. This had been the home of a Great Great Aunt. This was in Elliot co. KY. close to Johnson County. We took a metal detector and a shovel with us to dig all the treasure we knew we would find. Well, we didn’t find anything but old corked whiskey bottles. There were too many to carry out so we dug a hole and buried most of them. We never went back until the next year and the hill had been strip mined and the spill of rocks and dirt that came over the hill had covered our antique bottles. I guess they will be there until the end of time. Don’t know who drank all that whiskey.
    Fortunately for Elliot county, pronounced Ellet, high sulfur coal was outlawed and very little of the county was strip mined.

  • Reply
    Leon Pantenburg
    April 2, 2020 at 7:55 am

    I would have gone along! I bet the old gentleman could have told some stories.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 2, 2020 at 7:30 am

    That is our heritage. In years gone by I’ve made a hike back in the mountains above my grandparents home to see the remains of some cabins where my family once lived. One particular place still had the cabin, though it was falling.
    There was a clearly defined garden plot with rhubarb still growing on one edge. There was the remains of a spring house and a can house. The can house was hollowed into the side of the mountain, as was the custom, to keep it cool. Most of the shelves were gone but a few empty jars remained.
    That hike was around 50 years ago. I wonder if anything remains.

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