Appalachia Pap

Making Marbles Out Of Rocks

Using a waterfall to make marbles out of rocks

Many of the stories Pap tells are about his childhood days. As I was helping Granny in the back room the other day I heard him telling the girls a story about his Daddy, my Papaw Wade’s childhood days.

Once I realized he was talking about Papaw Wade’s youth I stepped into the hallway so that I could hear better. It was a story I had never heard before.

Papaw Wade’s father and mother were from Madison County NC. In Papaw Wade’s early childhood the family seemed to jump back and forth between Madison County, Graham County, and Cherokee County.

Pap said “Now girls my Daddy was from Madison County and he told me how he and his buddies made marbles. Now listen close because as much as you two like rocks you ought to like this. There are lots of waterfalls in Madison County, even more than there are here. Daddy said they’d find them a good handful of small roundish rocks and then they’d fix them in a trough’t in the bottom of one of those waterfalls. See the water would wash and tumble them up and over up and over, just like that rock tumbler you got at home. There weren’t no electricity in those days to run a rock tumbler even if you had had one. But Daddy and his partners figured out how to make their own rock tumbler to make their own marbles. Now the marbles he made weren’t perfect like the ones made by a machine, but if they was all you had and all you’d ever known I’d say you’d like them pretty good.”

Bet you can guess what the girls wanted to do after Pap told them that story. Have you ever heard of making marbles from waterfalls? Pap said he bet it was a skill learned from the Cherokee.



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  • Reply
    Tim Ryan
    July 26, 2018 at 12:45 am

    In Kentucky where I’m from there is a game called ‘rolley hole’ which is played with homemade stone marbles. I still have my set of marbles made from flint. Look it up!

  • Reply
    Stephen Suddarth
    July 25, 2018 at 9:03 am

    I’m thinkin’ the Cherokee people used ’em for hunting, or trading.

  • Reply
    O P Holder
    April 1, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    I made several marbles with a stone marble mill that had been in our family for generations. I have lost track of it now. It was a granite-like stone about a foot in diameter and about 6 inches thick with a cavity about an inch and a half in diameter and about the same deep. It was set to the side of a surface water spout with a hollow reed to conduct the water to the cavity. It was necessary to find a rock about the size you wanted to end up with and somewhat rounded. The flow of water was adjusted to cause the small rock to bounce around. It took a while to get a finished product, but mine turned out pretty near round.

  • Reply
    Bryant Cooper
    August 5, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Have ya’ll ever been to Laurel Falls, located in the Smokey’s?
    I bet there are a lot of natural “Marbles” there.
    I and my family spent a week there last month, and had a wonderful time exploring the natural water falls and caves.

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    July 31, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Never heard of this, but made me smile thinking about it cause it would sure work, given time, and would be an interesting educational experiment even for “modern day” kids now to do, to see how quickly the waterfalls would smooth the rocks beneath it, especially if a bit of sand was tossed in small niche below the falls with them.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    July 31, 2015 at 8:45 am

    And sometimes it’s the “marbles” doing the smoothing! Please tell Pap we’ve got something called “glacial potholes” up here in MA; maybe you’ve got them too? It’s where water has been flowing over stone for thousands of years, and small stones have been caught in depressions and, over time, drill right into the rock beneath powered by the water flowing over. If you google Shelburne Falls MA glacial potholes you can see some nice pictures.

  • Reply
    Brenda S 'Okie in Colorado'
    July 30, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    Your girls are so blessed to have Pap and Papaw Wade’s stories. I cherish my childhood full of “make do” ~ “pretend” ~ and “huge imagination” I loved exploring the woods, natural springs, and meadows of Oklahoma. Precious times. Your girls have the best of both worlds.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    I always wondered how they made those.. makes sense.. We always had a bunch in a jar at home growing up.. We’d play dirty board and make a circle see who could knock the others ones marbles out of the circle..

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 30, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    and Ed…It’s OK to lose your marbles once in a while…what’s really scary… is, when someone brings them back to you…saying “Easy now, here’s your marbles, just put them back in the bag with the others you lost!”….lol

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 30, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Never heard of that, Tipper. It seems pretty amazing that they could do that…that they could think of that….and that they could figure a way to do it!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 30, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    I remember finding or trading for some clay or rock marbles when I was a kid…When we showed to them to my Dad, he said they were Indian marbles and probably Cherokee…He said that on occasion they would find one or get traded one when he was a boy.
    Remember he was from Madison County NC…
    I used to love to play marbles when I was a (yes) girl. My brothers didn’t like me to play much but when only a kid or two (boys) showed up for a game, I got to play. Back in the days of the new Secret City all areas were mud and clay dirt walks and fields…It made for great marble circles. Sometimes the drawn circle would last a day or so if it didn’t rain or get scuffed away.
    I found two bags of new marbles at Moms during the “clean out” up in the attic. I’m sure she had packed them away, saved for gifts after a Christmas sale.
    I tried to teach my grandson to play marbles in the house on their low carpet this past Spring. I got a long string and tied it in a knot. I then stretched it on the floor in a circle. Yes, it was a little bit “wampy” but I remembered that all circles drawn in the dirt were a little “wampy” too, so I told my grandson this and that the string didn’t have to be perfectly round. I had a large “taw” that I had saved from a former purchase of some new marbles. We played and had a big time! I about fell out of my roll-lator to the floor several times, but am sure the stretching exercise was good, for I was sore the next day. Of course, he preceded to lose some of the marbles in his toy box but he kept the string. I have to admit playing marbles in the air-conditioned house was much different than I remember playing on a hot summer afternoon in the 50’s….The bonus…I won once or twice, nope I didn’t let him win every time. LOL
    Loved this post Tipper,
    PS…Tell Jim and Ken that I can still make a sling-shot and we used rubber inner tubes and the tongue of an old leather shoe. I remember getting in trouble for using Moms good scissors for cutting (old bike) tire rubber and leather pieces for the sling shots…that was when my brothers and I were going to go into the sling-shot business….LOL Yes, chipped slag marbles did make for good shot! Plus it would break a window for a mile…oops!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 30, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    Tipper, I love this story. It needs to be in a book. Hint! Hint!
    I never tried it accumulate marbles because I kept losing them. At least that I was told anyway. I still hear that a lot.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Love hearing grandparents share their childhood memories with their granchildren!

  • Reply
    July 30, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    I enjoyed your pawpaw Wade’s story of making round stones with water falls. There’s falls on our property, but I never thought of that.
    When we was young, my brother and
    I was good shooting marbles at
    school. About every day we came home with our pockets bulging.
    We’d put ’em in a dishpan and
    decide which ‘uns we’d keep, the
    others we’d use in our homeade
    sling shots. Daddy showed us how
    to make sling shots by using a
    forked laurel tree and strips
    from an old inner tube. The pouch
    was made from the tounge of an
    old boot and it was “look-out
    birds and chickens.” …Ken

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    July 30, 2015 at 11:41 am

    I remember my uncles playing marbles, Uncle Hubert was the champion. They also played mumblety (?sp) peg.

  • Reply
    Sallie R. Swor
    July 30, 2015 at 11:35 am

    I’ve heard about making rock marbles in a waterfall and have seen a marble-making rock with a hole in it. I think it is at the Museum of Appalachia at Norris, TN. At the risk of opening up a whole can worms/memories for some, my sister, a former 4-H agent, has a huge collection of the kinds of toys and games that were “homemade”, some from her travels in other countries. Daddy taught her how to carve animals from corn stalks & a lot of old games & he carved little baskets from acorns when I played in the shade of the trees while he and his team of horses cut, mowed or raked hay. One of our favorites was a dumb bull, a skin stretched over the end of a hollow log section with a nail that held a coarse string in the center. By pulling the rosin-coated string with your fingers inside the log you could scare the bee-geezies out of the city kids telling ghosts stories in the dark. They thought it was a bear or larger monster for sure.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Hmm. And don’t I have a wee waterfall up beside the garden…

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 30, 2015 at 8:29 am

    How inventive ! Never heard of that before. That’s a mountain folkway that seems not to have made it into the mountain lore books. I like the stories of how people have let nature work with them. They demonstrate inventiveness, foresight and patience and that ought to teach the modern world a little humility; that just maybe we aren’t so much smarter as we might like to consider ourselves just because we have better education. A human failing is to equate knowledge with wisdom. Real wisdom knows the difference.

  • Reply
    Sandy Kirby Quandt
    July 30, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Tipper, thanks for sharing this story about the marbles. How ingenious!

  • Reply
    Darlene Debty Kimsey
    July 30, 2015 at 8:15 am

    That’s pretty cool.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2015 at 7:54 am

    Thank you for more treasures from Pap!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    July 30, 2015 at 7:26 am

    Tipper–Your mention of Papaw Wade’s rock marbles brought back a whole flood of warm memories. I never saw rocks used but both saw and used plenty of clay marbles as well as glass ones.
    I guess I was “rich” since I had real glass marbles as a boy (you could buy a bag for a dime–I saw a similar bag in a flea market recently with an asking price of $5–talk about inflation). I have many fond memories of playing marbles. It was for some reason mainly a springtime game and at play period time in school we’d always have a big circle drawn on the ground for a game.
    Oh how I recall the delicious wickedness of playing for keeps; shooting to the line to see who got to go first; and fond recollections of words associated with marbles and the game such as taws (the shooter you used), dough rollers (giant-sized marbles), fins, ennies, steelies (ball bearings used as marbles), and the like.
    Marbles were also used in a game which involved trying to drop them from waist high into a tin can with a hole cut in the bottom just a bit bigger than the normal marble.
    They also made ideal slingshot ammunition, although they were precious enough that you had to think long and hard before loosing one at a rabbit or bird. I bet if you ask Pap he’ll tell you Papaw Wade used some of those tumbled rocks with slingshots. I wish I’d been ingenious enough to think along that line.
    Jim Casada
    P. S. There’s a fine article on Chitter and Chatter’s performance at the Marianna Black Library tonight in the current issue of the “Smoky Mountain Times.” It includes a dandy picture I suspect you snapped.

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