Oconaluftee/Smokemont Profiles of Mountain People

Frances David Childers 1893 – 1983


(Photo of Frances David Childers courtesy of Dwight Childers. Copyright belongs to www.childers-shepherd.org)

Frances David Childers was the firstborn child of Thomas Clingman Childers, Jr. (1871-1957) and his wife, Bertha Elizabeth Lambert (1878-1942). In 1976 Dwight Childers had the foresight to conduct an interview with his uncle, Frances. Here are Dwight’s words regarding the interview which can be found on this page of the www.Childers-Sheperd.org website:

This is a transcript of selected passages from an interview of Francis David Childers (1893-1983) which I taped in December, 1976, when I visited Uncle Francis in Asheville. My father Roy Childers was present also.

In transcribing the sound of his voice to words on paper, I have resorted to special spellings and punctuation in order to represent the sound of his speech as exactly as possible. I have done this because his speech sounded beautiful and graceful to me, and I wanted to convey as much of the actual quality as I could. I certainly had no intention of creating any sort of comic “hillbilly” effect. I am very proud of my own heritage as a mountain person, and trust that you will understand the spirit of this transcription.

– Dwight Childers, December 1976


As I told you yesterday, Dwight has graciously allowed me to share research from his wonderful website. Today I’d like to let you hear from Francis himself, by sharing two portions of the interview Dwight conducted. Both interviews give insight into the rugged landscape of the Ocona Lufta Valley and the country which surrounds it.

Moving Around To Make A Living (Interview with Frances David Childers conducted by Dwight Childers 1976. www.Childers-Sheperd.org retains sole copyright)

Now we started moving from there over across the ridge, to another little old house. He moved to where he could find land to tend. That’s all the way he had o’ livin’. Now we didn’t have nothin’ but some beds; we carried ‘em across the hill, and when we got there, there was an old chair there, that was lined with a black skin; scared me. Pa said “Aw, it’s just a bear skin. Won’t hurt you.”

We stayed there a year I think, or more, then we moved to Couches Creek, four miles across the mountain, the divide up there, you know where that was, above the old Cole place. The main divide goes between Mingus’s Creek and Couches Creek. And we carried the stuff, what little we had, in there, and holed up in that log cabin. The puncheons [floor boards] was made out of logs and hewed. The’ [wudn] nothin’ fancy to it. The cracks was in it, but they had the most of ‘em stopped. And the walls was logs; they was daubed with mud. We stayed there some years; I don’t know how long it was. Must have been about seven or eight years there. Then we moved down to the . . . called the John Smith place, on the creek. This was up in the cove, before we moved down to the John Smith place on the creek. Well, right in there, it all wound up. We must ‘a’ stayed there about seven or eight years, too.

Now we done all the loggin’ out of the cove down to the John Smith place where the saw mill set right over there in that little flat place, sawed all the timber we could get in there, and that helped pay for the place.

We had two yokes of bulls. The first ones was Bob and Bally, and the next ones we got was Doc and Jerge, two red bulls, and these others was big horny . . . one was a bay, and the other was white-spotted, and they made our livin’, most of it.

We rented the sawmill. They brought it up: One half for the other.

Well, I’d say that went on for about seven or eight years in there. We worked that, farmed that old land all we could. It got so it would make nothin’ much. Pa went to the cotton mills. Took us all to the cotton mills. He thought he’d get more money. I worked in the cotton mill, weaved and all that stuff. He stayed there a while, a year or two . . . come right back to the mountains again, back to the old John Smith place. I don’t know . . . he moved three or four times away from there to the cotton mill, before we finally left.

When this loggin’ job got done, the saw mill went out. Had some lumber left; they hauled it in to Whittier, on wagons, about thirty miles.


Crossing The River (Interview with Frances David Childers conducted by Dwight Childers 1976. www.Childers-Sheperd.org retains sole copyright)

When I was little — must ‘a’ been two years old, not over that. I remember — how I done it I don’t know. Ma and Pa had our bay mare, and we took that mare. . . . and went across the mountain, up Luftee river, and across that mountain, through the Indian Gap, that ’as the way we went. I know right where it is. We went through there, a little low place in the mountain.

It came a terrible rain, come a great flood through there, down the Pigeon River. Logs, rocks, and everything was comin’. They crossed that river.

Put Ma and me on that mare, and there ’as a big log a comin’. He said go on out there; that mare’ll take you through. That log’ll get gone before you get there. It did. It went on through, and I remember she laid me down in a bunch of bushes. She sent the mare back. That mare went right on back, got Pa, and brought him across.

Ad the’ ‘as an old house over there, and they ‘as blockadin’ – makin’ liquor. He said we’ll have to go in here an’ stay the night. I didn’t hear it, but that was what Ma said. I must have been about dead. Well, I remember now, this. We went in. Now these was men of men. The’ w’u’dn’ no jokin’. They was layin’ in the bed, everywhere settin’ around was them big rifles, was right there, stickin’ up. I remember seein’ that. Now how could I remember seein’ that, ‘t that age. Must have been so strange, so much of a thing ‘t it just banged in there. [I was] about two years old, couldn’ ‘a’ been over that. They was carryin’ me. Well, I don’t know what happened. We went on. I was too young to remember what happened after that, but we stopped in the Sugarlands – Gatlinburg – we called it Sugarlands then, it was right above there. Well, he went on down through there and rented a little old place somewhere in Tennessee. I never
remember what happened after that. He was huntin’ a way to make a livin’, a farm, or something like that. He wa’dn loaferin’ He tended a little place down there a while, but I don’t remember after that what went on. I don’t know where we went after that.


I thoroughly enjoyed both interviews. My favorite part of the first one, Moving Around To Make A Living, was the part about the bear skin chair scaring Frances. I bet that was a story told many time through the years by his father and his mother. It reminded me of Chatter. When she was just a little bitty thing being potty trained, she was terrified of a cat shaped toilet brush holder Granny had in her bathroom.

My favorite part of the second interview, Crossing The River, is the part about his mother and him riding the horse across the swollen river and sending the mare back for his father. Back in the day, when The Deer Hunter and I rode horses, I was always scared to cross large creeks or rivers-and the only ones we ever crossed were shallow enough for the horse to walk across. I can’t imagine seeing a big log wash down a river then ride a horse across it while holding my child.

If you enjoyed the interviews above as much as I did-jump over to Dwight’s site and read some more about Frances David Childers.



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  • Reply
    February 25, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Those days built strength and character. Nowadays the young’uns fuss so if they have to put down the video game controller to take out a little basket of trash. Come real hard times, I wonder how (or if) they’re going to make it, and I pray mightily for them.
    Know what I mean?
    God bless.

  • Reply
    [email protected] Fresh Fun
    February 24, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Loved these interviews and all the catching up I’ve done here. Our family never tires of stories of earlier times and “hardy stock” so will return soon. Thanks for all the work you share here to keep history alive!

  • Reply
    February 21, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    I love to hear the old stories. The courage of our ancestors just amazes me. Always wonder if I could ever meet such challenges.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    February 21, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Wonderful stories…
    My mother had a fear of floods in the mountains. She was saved as a baby from rising water at their starter home on the river in Madison county. She was scooped up and carried to higher ground just as the water pushed their house off the corner stones…
    Then when Marshall flooded she lost a lot of things just after she had married.
    She faced the demon when she finally learned to swim. She was strong willed and said that at one time she was sure she knew how, but the tragic memories kept her from the water. I think her effort to face the water again shows the strong will of mountain folks…
    Thanks to all for saving the stories…
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    February 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    You, Don, Wendy, and Dwight have
    brought us real life events that
    make me so proud of our ancestors.
    Thank You All…Ken

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    February 21, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I really enjoyed the interviews. I wish I had taped my older relatives. The river crossing reminded me of a story about my Stonecypher ancestor. James, the youngest son of John Stonecypher(N.C. Rev. War veteran) and his wife, Martha Ruth Camp and their 2yr. twins, John and Joseph were attempting to cross the Tugaloo River to visit her parents in S.C. They had started out from Eastonollee, Ga. each carrying carrying one of the twins on their respective horses. This crossing is known as Cleavlands Ford. Martha and baby John were swept off their horse by the water. Before James could put baby Joseph on the bank of the river, mother and son drowned. Copied from The Weekly Tribune of Jan.24,1890 by The Lavonia Times. Franklin Co. Historic Co. Ga. Historic Families
    John went on to marry Patsy Curtis and they had 8 children. My gr.gr. granfather, Marion Stonecypher was their 8th. He married Hannah Lavinah Corn, granddaughter of Adam Corn who was one of the founders of Lufty Baptist Church.
    During troubled times, I think about my ancestors’ hardships and how they were able to endure.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    February 21, 2013 at 11:13 am

    reminds us of just what hardy stock we come from! What a treasure to have that interview to pass along through the generations.

  • Reply
    Tom Ball
    February 21, 2013 at 11:06 am

    beautiful — I knew Mr. Francis Childers. He used to come frequently into my father’s camera store on Wall Street in downtown Asheville (Ball Photo). He was a friend of my dad’s. I remember him well, though I was pretty young. He always wore a suit and he had small chains and strings attached to his wallet and pocket watch and perhaps other items — as I remember him. He had a ring that he said he had gotten from Frank James (Jessie’s brother) that he showed me once. He was always very friendly to us kids and we loved when he would come in and tell us stories. I’ve actually based a character on him in a novel I’m writing (a minor but colorful character). Thanks.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 21, 2013 at 9:45 am

    I listened to the audios as I read the interview segments. That puts even more life into the stories. You know this is the kind of stuff people today watch on a screen. Our mountain ancestors lived it! Excellent post today!

  • Reply
    February 21, 2013 at 8:55 am

    I could almost hear him speak. Thank you for sharing, I just finished the book “Serena” by Ron Rash. The references to lumber in that area made me wonder if you have read it?

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    February 21, 2013 at 8:50 am

    That was a great story and I like how he wrote it the way it was spoken. After reading a story like that it makes it hard to really complain about anything nowadays.

  • Reply
    February 21, 2013 at 8:31 am

    It is so incredible the hardships our ancesters suffered. Yet, I feel that this was considered just a part of life for them. In a way, we are so spoiled with all the conveniences we have, and we still look for more. I haven’t ridden a horse for a long time, and I can’t imagine going through a river, or even a stream for that fact. You see, the last time I rode, something spooked the horse I was on, and off it took into a nearby pond. I had a bath not planned on and a bump on my head from hitting a tree branch. I am so glad that the horse had a mane cause I had not had a hold of the reins; I was waiting for the leader to get my friend on her horse. It was an interesting day!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    February 21, 2013 at 8:14 am

    Enjoyed the Childers interview! Thanks for posting it. We tend to forget the hardships our forebears endured just to “get by” and “get started” in places they lived.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 21, 2013 at 7:56 am

    Wow, I’m trying to conceptualize that life in my mind. I can read it and understand it but just cannot imagine living it. Moving but not knowing where your going, looking for a home and a way to feed your family. Logging and gardening….we just go find a job. This sure makes our life look easy no matter our difficulties.
    I don’t even want to think about crossing the river!
    Thanks Tipper and Mr Childers. for this rare look at real life.

  • Reply
    February 21, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Like you Tipper, I enjoyed the part of The crossing of the river the most. What an event that must have been! I also would have been afraid to cross that river especially with a baby. Still, this is just another testimonial of the strong stock of which these people came. I have no doubt she must have been terrified and her husband must have also been terrified to send her to cross that river But, these strong people had the capacity to push their fear aside to do what they had to do. These people were what this country was made from.

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    February 21, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Good stories, and we think we have it hard sometimes, we just don’t know what hard is..

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 21, 2013 at 7:00 am

    I really enjoyed ‘listening’ to this elder speak, and so glad people are taking to time to listen and write down their memories.

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