February in Pigeon Roost

stories from the mountains of Appalachia

The 1974 Winter Edition of the Foxfire Magazine contains a compilation of newspaper articles written by Harvey Miller. At the time of the magazine’s publication Miller’s weekly column had been around for sixty years and was till being published in the Tri-County News located in Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

Here are a few of the February excerpts from the magazine.


Nine sturdy, well-built homes stand in Lost Cove. The homes include a seven-room structure, but not one of the homes is occupied. Lost Cove is now a deserted, lonely community without the laughter of playing children or even the mundane sounds of a door closing. Isolation has caused Lost Cove community to be completely deserted. The last family, the Velmer Baileys, moved out recently. Lost Cove, inhabited for more than 100 years, consists of about 300 acres. It was acquired before the Civil War by Morgan Bailey and is located about seven miles from Poplar in a remote section of Yancey County. For lack of a road, Lost Cove has lost its inhabitants. The only way to get to the area was to travel a trail a couple of miles to the Clinchfield railroad and then along the tracks that wound through the gorge. Finally a railroad trestle over the waters of the Toe River had to be crossed. When the railroad closed its passenger service a few years ago, it brought more hardships for Lost Cove residents. The only way they could reach the outside world was to follow one of the three trails, the one already mentioned, an old sled road across Flat Top Mountain, and a rough road leading from the land beyond the path to the mountainous train stop. There never were any modern conveniences in Lost Cove, such as electricity, telephone, and water pipes. 2/20/58


“Ole Ern” came back to the Carolina mountain area Monday, Feb. 2, not as a hitch-hiker again but in search of a man who befriended him 25 years ago. The famous singer, Tennessee Ernie Ford, now of California, made a fruitless search at Bee Log in Yancey County for Sam Peak who took him in and put him up for the night those many years ago. Ford said for breakfast, the man gave him “fried pumpkin pie and fatback.” After an extensive search “Ole Ern” found the man on that hitch-hiked trip who gave him something to eat and a bed to sleep in. He now lives in Tennessee just outside Erwin in the Banner Hill section. He had a long chat with Mr. and Mrs. Peak, now very aged, but who recalled his visit and still recognized him as an old country boy. Ford was accompanied on the trip by his father and traveling secretary.

H.J. Miller and family observed supposedly a large weather balloon drifting over the Pigeon Roost section in a northward direction on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 5. No one else besides the miller family as we know of saw the object slowly floating ever onward as far as the eyes could see. The object was in shape and color of a long hornet nest.

Blaine ray, who resides here in Pigeon Roost, and is an employee of the U.S. Forest Service, reported that the bluebird has already taken up abode in his bird house. Ray said the bluebird is always the first migrant of spring. 2/19/59


Aspie McCoury went back to a doctor in Burnsville. He cut his leg very badly while chopping stove wood. All our folks have been down with flu. If we tried to give the names of all, it would be a very long list. 2/18/60

A red cow belonging to H.J. Miller of Pigeon Roost who earned the title to her name early last fall as a ‘tater diggin’ cow has again proved herself useful by doing a job most needful. The name of ‘tater diggin’ was bestowed upon the cow after it was learned that she could take her front foot and pull ‘taters out of the ground faster than old man Miller could himself. However, it was later learned there was a drawback to her ‘tater diggin’ career. She did it to her advantage. She would crawl through a fence and slip into the ‘tater patch – did ‘taters as fast as she could, in seven or eight hills; then she would light in and try to eat ever last one of ’em. Now here comes another story about the cow. That is of making roads in the deep snow here and there around the home of Miller. That was good to take the job away from him as he was too poor in health to do it himself. Miller reports the cow made several trips trudging through the twelve inches of snow, first going from her place at the barn to the house; then when this snow trail was completed, she made a similar road from spring to house, which would be the roads most traveled. But when she started to fix another road from the house to the highway, Miller must have thought it was too long a pilgrimage in the snow, for he went a nearer way – headed her off and flagged her down with a little bucket of 16% dairy feed. Understand this, though – this was after she had made the necessary snow trails and he had already thought of the new name. The suggested new name is ‘tater diggin’ and ‘snow trampin’ cow. She always earns her names the hard way. Miller said he was going to keep his fingers crossed from now on as to what jobs on his farm the cow could perform to keep her name in the news, as there is no doubt she will never earn a famous name as a milk champion. 2/25/60


Man everybody needs a cow like H.J. Miller’s don’t you think? And sigh…don’t you wish you could have went and seen Lost Cove? I sure do.

Jump over to the Foxfire website and poke around. They are still publishing the magazine and those wonderful Foxfire Books too!


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  • Reply
    Kevin Miller
    May 23, 2020 at 11:25 pm

    My name is Kevin Miller. I grew up on pigeon roost, first house below the left hand fork game refuge. I grew up exploring the lost cove, the devil’s nest, the bear wallow and looking forward to getting the weekly paper and reading Harvey J.s news from pigeon roost. I have moved far away now but still travel back to pigeon roost in my mind from time to time.It was nice to read a Harvey J. article again and remember the good old days.

  • Reply
    February 5, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    What fun!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 3, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    b. Ruth – This old man remembers “This Old House.” It was written by the same Stuart Hamblin who wrote “Until Then” for the Blind Pig Gang. Besides Tennessee Ernie Ford, “This Old House” was performed by the likes of The Statler Brothers, Rosemary Clooney, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and many more. George Younce who sang for the Cathedrals is probably my favorite. He had one of the deepest bass voices I’ve ever heard.
    My son in law floats his drift boat down the Toe River to where it turns into the Nolichucky at the mouth of Cane Creek then on over into Tennessee. I’ll bet he passes right by Lost Cove. Lost Cove appears on Google Maps but it is on the Nolichucky River not the Toe. Back when the story was written it may well have been the Toe. He offered to take me down through there one day.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    I kinda think like Miss Cindy, cause I’m a believer in UFO’s. …Ken

  • Reply
    February 3, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    Lost Cove sounds like my kind of place to visit.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    Looks like it took my other comment so I’ll try another one.
    I love those clippings of yesteryear. I was about 10 or 11 at that time, and we have a Lost Cove over at the head of Ledbetter. I’ve squirrel hunted in there but I had been told about everything looking alike, so I never had that much trouble finding my way back out.
    That cow musta been smart to know the paths taken most of the time, and digging taters seemed almost as good as a shovel. …Ken

  • Reply
    February 3, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    These articles are great! Makes you wonder what happened to those homes in Lost Cove?

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 3, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    Awww, it is a shame about Lost Cove! I wonder if it is still lost? I doubt it very much, some savvy outlander has probably found this gem by this time, co-noodled with the guvement, got a road in thar and tourist cabins built! Ha….Just sayin’, but maybe I should research this before speckulatin’ !
    I miss “ole Ern”! He was a goodin’! He just might have visited “Lost Cove” and got inspiration for his famous song, of which my Dad loved….”This Old House” ! Bet most of your readers don’t remember or know of this song!
    I dare say that ole Forest Service Employee wasn’t too observant of the Eastern Bluebirds with maybe the exception of his yard! It has been known since the bird books where writ that the Eastern Bluebird is a all year round bird even in winter in the lower half of the US. It might migrate to a wooded area from your yard, where it finds more protein n’ drying berries, etc. but not a long stretch of miles. They are sort of elusive in the winter, just trying to stay warm and build up their strength if the winter is bad. The show starts about mid to end February when the males begin to j pop out their showy bright blue garments and burst into territorial song at your nesting box! Yes, they try to grab that bluebird box early before the indecisive wrens or sparrows beat them to it!
    Flu, if I remember was bad and put you to bed for two or three weeks In the early 60’s…No “sich thang” as a prescription of Tamiflu back then! Guess, we are some better off medicine wise today!
    I just can’t think of anything to say about that “tater diggin'” or “snow trampin'” cow! Except, my granny would walk to the barn on a stomped down cow trail sometimes!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Love Foxfire magazines and books!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    February 3, 2017 at 11:25 am

    I would love to have seen Lost Cove and I would also like to have seen that tater digging, snow tramping cow. That is a funny story!!

  • Reply
    February 3, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Loved these stories. Ill be thinking ´bout that tater digging, snow stomping cow all day now- with a smile on my face!

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    February 3, 2017 at 9:11 am

    I would love to go to Lost Cove. I wonder if anything is still up there. When I was a kid, there were old houses all up in the woods. It made for great exploring.
    I don’t think I ever got over it. I’ve worked to make my living crawling around in old ruins out west. It never gets old.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 3, 2017 at 8:26 am

    There were quite a few abandoned coal and timber camps where I grew up. There was also a farming community called No Business just over the line in Tennessee. In the 1920’s there were extensive fields along No Business Creek. But by the early 1970’s when I first saw it, I do not think there any residents, only deteriorating buildings . In the mid-seventies No Business was included in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Like Lost Cove, it never had electricity and only three jeep roads led into or out of it. One of them passed through a massive sandstone boulder called The Split Rocks.
    I have a bluebird here now that has been here a week or more. He or she keeps fighting their reflection in the truck window. I expect the wasted energy puts it at risk. I wish I knew how to convince it to stop.
    The moon has been holding water and we may get rain today.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 3, 2017 at 7:46 am

    That is too funny, Tip. I’ve never heard of such a talented cow before.
    I bet that long hornet’s nest looking thing was a UFO!

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