Daddy and the Spring

Witching for Water


The Summer Daddy Found the Spring (A True Story Remembered) written by Ethelene Dyer Jones

It was a hot dry summer, much like this one has been. Water was scarce, and crops looked pitiful in the fields. To complicate matters, our well went dry. What were we to do for drinking water?

I don’t remember the exact year, somewhere in the ‘30’s after the economy, too, had fallen in the crash of October, 1929. Times were hard, and to have the well go dry was adding another angst to the already long list of woes the farmers in Choestoe Community faced.

I was old enough to remember, and to think of how serious was our situation. I remember my father, J. Marion Dyer, praying that he could find water as he went on his search.

Remembering this incident, I thought it quite strange that he went out to one of the peach trees near our garden and looked until he found a branch. He cut it, and in his hands he held a “y”-shaped limb.

With the limb in one hand and a shovel in the other, he went walking down the dirt road by our house. I was following close behind him, full of curiosity. When he got to the trail that angled up on the bank, the trail on which we drove our cows daily to pasture, he turned right. I followed right behind him, stepping fast to keep up with him and see where he was headed.

We had a v-shaped walk-through entrance in the fence leading to the pasture where people could enter but where the animals could not get through. Dad went through this entrance, and there I was, following not far behind him. He propped his shovel at the fence and moved on.

He proceeded on through the pasture, and after descending the hill we were in sort of a little valley, with a stream, now only a trickle from the drought, providing the only water our cattle had to drink, since our well was dry and we could not fill the watering troughs at the barn.

Daddy made a right turn again, and walked a distance into the glade. On each side of the now nearly-dry stream elder bushes grew. These too, looked skimpy in that hot, dry summer heat. Even in the mountains of North Georgia, the weather was unseasonably hot.

I saw my father grip the peachtree limb by its forked prongs, holding it out before him.

In my childlike way, I wondered what he was doing with the limb and why he held it at an upward angle out in front of him as he walked. On he went, gripping the limb and looking carefully down at the ground. He seemed to be concentrating in a very concerned way, and I kept very quiet, not daring to break his reverie or interfere with his strange actions.

He walked on in the low place in our pasture, many paces, the peachtree limb held upward as he gripped its forked prongs in both his hands.

Then, amazingly, the limb tipped over as if by magic, as if pulled by a gravity that defied reason. Daddy let the limb down to mark the spot where some force had pulled it. Leaving the branch on the spot, he went back to the fence to retrieve the shovel he had left there. Bringing it to the location of the peachtree limb, he began to dig.

I stood watching as he lifted shovelful after shovelful of dirt from the ground. He had dug down, maybe a foot or more, when, miraculously, a gushing stream of water came forth, bubbling like a fountain.

He had found a bubbling spring, buried underneath the soil right in our pasture. It was not long until water was flowing out. He dug deeper, smoothing and making a circular opening, and also digging a trench for the water to run away from its bubbling source.

Daddy had found a source of water. Most of that day was spent digging the spring deeper and shoring up this marvelous watering place, building a rock wall around it on three sides. He also went back to the house to get some lumber. He built a large spring box over the stream that flowed out from the bold spring. This spring box would be our “refrigerator” in the days before electricity came to our farm, the place where we would place our jugs of milk to keep them cold. Later, he would replace the temporary “spring box” by a springhouse, a more permanent building with space to set butter and other items, as well as the milk we needed to refrigerate. The water bubbling out from this marvelous spring was cold and clear, tasteful and pure. I had heard the story of how Moses in the long ago wilderness wandering days had struck the rock and water poured forth. My Daddy had dug into the earth at a certain spot and water bubbled forth.

Another necessary job was to erect a strong fence around the area of the spring so that the farm animals that were pastured in the same vicinity would not break through and trample on or otherwise molest this source for family water. As the summer moved along, he made the new spring an oasis, a beautiful place to go to fetch water, and a quiet, cool place apart where we could go and rest awhile from field labors.

When rains came again to water our valley, our well was restored to its former productivity. We no longer had to carry water in buckets the half-mile from the spring in the midst of the pasture to the house for our daily use. But we kept up the spring, kept the foliage trimmed from around it, and kept the springhouse as the place for our refrigeration until electricity finally came to the valley later on.

Today, with many seasons having come and gone since that bubbling spring was discovered that summer day in the 1930’s, I’m not sure if it still bubbles forth in the midst of that little dell near the elder bushes in our old pasture. In fact, the land has changed and been developed since those long ago days when a family was desperate for water.

In memory I think back to that day when in wonder I followed Daddy as he held his peachtree limb in front of him, and with a prayer on his lips went forth to find water. There was a name for the peachtree limb:  it was called a ‘witching stick.’ And the person who held it just so to find water was called ‘a witcher.’ Thinking about it, it doesn’t sound so good, as if the person endowed with such a gift would have some power of a darker nature as bestowed by witches or seers. This method was also used to detect water deep beneath the ground as folks in our community sought to find the right spot to dig a new well. Whatever the power, whether of gravity working on the chemistry in a peachtree limb, whether coincidence, or whatever, it seemed to work.

Now there are technological imaging devices that declare a source of water before well drillers take their machines and quickly get to the source of water. But back in the days of our forefathers, they used what they knew in the ways common to their culture. And, miraculously, these ways seemed to bring the desired results. After finding the spring, we didn’t take water for granted any more. We thanked God for clear, pure water.


I hope you enjoyed Ethelene’s guest post as much as I did!


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn in 2011.


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  • Reply
    David Templeton
    June 21, 2016 at 8:49 am

    TimMc writes good. I bet he could write a good story …. just judging by his way of word picturing.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 19, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    In responsed to Ron Stephens’ story above about the spring at the church house in Fannin County, GA. He’s right about a spring being in Epworth, GA, near the Epworth United Methodist Church. But the origin of the spring is a little different. The water was miraculously provided and “found” during the time of “Camp Meetings,” (exact date unknown), after the Camp Meetings were revived at Epworth after the Civil War. The campers had been getting water at a well or spring nearby the encampment, but the landowner forbade their getting water there any more. The campers had a prayer meeting about the necessity for water. The next morning, a bold spring was bubbling up at the location where the spring still flows freely and is commemorated now at the spot where the water appeared for the campers so many years ago. This provision of water is another true and inspiring story. (And, as I am in the habit of doing, I’ve written a longer story about this “Spring of Faith”.

  • Reply
    June 19, 2016 at 6:59 am

    The well where I was raised had been there for a very long time, my Mamaw who lived beside us, would use from the same well, but one year they all decided as Mamaw got older to have a well dug just for her and buy a pump and pump it to the trailer she lived in, and I remember a Man by the last name of Dutton, came and witched the well.. They said he had witch most of the wells in our area.. I cannot remember how old I would have been, but I remember him cuttting a peach tree limb off Mamaw’s peach trees and using his knife to trim the small limbs and make a forked stick.. You can watch it on YouTube, some call it Dowsing..

  • Reply
    Mrs. K
    June 18, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Great story, Ethelene and Tipper. I enjoy reading these stories very much.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 18, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    I really enjoyed reading Ethelene’s recollections of her father dowsing for a spring.
    My recollections of life on Wiggins Creek are quite the opposite. We never suffered for lack of water. There was three streams of clean water running through my Daddy’s property. Nobody lived upstream so we could drink from the branch without worry and often did. There was an abundance of springs available but the water we used in the house was from a especially productive one. We had running water in the house as far back as I can remember. The spring was higher up the hill so Daddy only had to build a little springbox/reservoir and run a pipe into the house. We still had to carry our milk and butter to the springbox but we had a sink in the kitchen with cold and cold running water.
    All that water would seem a boon to many but it also had its downfalls. The watertable was high. Just below the surface. Many times if you dug a hole, it would fill with water. It took very little rainfall to make the branches into raging creeks that tore a new channel wherever they chose and wash away whatever topsoil there was. We spent day upon day rerouting branches that suddenly decided they wanted to run across a tobacco or corn field.
    When I moved to where I live now 23 years ago I was on a community well. After many years of bickering over the well and the electric bill for it, I decided to get my own well. When the man came out to discuss it, he asked me where I wanted to put it. I asked him where the best chances of hitting water was. He told me it didn’t matter. He said that out here there is water anywhere you wanted to punch a hole in the ground. He found water at 60 feet and drilled the well to 120. It cost me $5000 but it’s better than having to pay to pump water to somebody else’s house. And it probably add more than that to the value of my property.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    Tipper, and Ethelene,
    What a wonderful Father’s Day story and thru the eyes of a curious little girl. I love reading what Ethelene writes. My water comes from way up on the Mountain. Years ago, I dug out a spot at the base of some falls and piped it 300 feet to a reservoir. Then it is in pipes underground for 2000 feet, which helps keep it cold. I’ve never had any experience with a “Witching Stick” but I know about them…Ken

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    June 18, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Oh, what a wonderful recollection and what a wonderful story. Miss Ethelene’s words not only bring back the good feelings for her and her readers from that summer but she allows us to revisit that sunny pasture every time we read her story.
    Thank you, Tipper, and thank you Miss Ethelene, for a very touching Father’s Day remembrance. I’ll read your story whenever I need a salve from some otherwise weary day.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    I remember my grandfather and two of his sons did this. They used willow limbs. Dad never had any luck at it and would ask one of his brothers to ‘douse’ for him.

  • Reply
    anita griffith
    June 18, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    I don’t remember using the well or a spring to keep things cool.I was only two yrs. old when we go electric.We did have two springs on the ole home place and we drank out of the one that was way up the hollow,when we worked up that way.We shared that one with the spring lizards.The other spring was way upon the hill,and it ran out of a coal seam.It was full of sulphur and iron.Tasted awful! There was once a moonshine still there and they must of have used that foul tasting water.Boy ,I bet that was some Horrible tasting moonshine. EKY LG

  • Reply
    Betty Louise Saxon Hopkins
    June 18, 2016 at 9:47 am

    This post by Ethelene Dyer Jones brought back such good memories of my own childhood. I grew up in the mountains of North Georgia before electricity came to that area, too, and one of my chores was to go bring up the cold jug of milk from the spring each evening for supper. I remember skipping down that little hill to the spring, singing “Little Sir Echo” to the top of my voice, then taking some time to play with the spring lizards in the spring. Many times our supper consisted of just a cold glass of sweet milk and a slice of warm, crunchy corn bread straight from Mama’s oven. Yum! Tough times, but happy times and such good memories!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 18, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Thank you so much, Tipper, for posting again this true story of my father finding water for his family. I had not remembered this story in awhile, and I must admit the remembrance of it brought tears to my eyes as I read it again early this morning. I had a wonderful father, and when I think of all the hard work and knowledge he put into rearing his family, I am so grateful. May all of you honor your own father on Father’s Day June 19. But better still, instead of one day to honor and remember them, we can honor them at all times by living up to their “raising” of us and their expectations for their children!
    (P. S. This story is one in my memoirs which I’m seeking to write and compile.)

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 18, 2016 at 8:34 am

    I heard another spring story somewhat similar.
    There is a church on the side of a valley in Fannin County, GA. All around the land is dry. The cutbank of the road is gray and rocky. The woods growing on the little ridge end where the church sat were dry site trees.
    For years they carried water a long way from a spring on a neighboring farmer’s land. Then, for some unknown reason, he forbid them from getting water at his spring anymore. So they prayed for a solution.
    Out of the dry cutbank besides the driveway, a clear stream of water appeared, less than two hundred feet from the church.
    As best I recall, there is today a small brick springhouse beside the road. It looks out of place still with no other evidence of water anywhere near.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 18, 2016 at 7:54 am

    It’s really something to think about! All we have to do now is turn the shiny little handle and we can have cold or hot water. No walking, digging or buckets to haul.

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