Appalachia Appalachian Writers Folklore

The Summer Daddy Found 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! Yesterday, as we enjoyed the first real soaking rain we’ve had in weeks-it felt like I could hear the waters of the deep being replenished. I know many people’s Labor Day plans were rained out-including the rest of my bunch who wanted to go to the big Labor Day race-but I enjoyed a day of being indoors listening to the rain and thinking of those waters of the deep.

As I listened I thought of how thankful I was for the rain-especially for the folks with dry springs or wells like Ethelene’s family experienced so many years ago. Today as the rain levels continue to rise and creeks are beginning to flood I find myself thinking of the Poor Man song-remember it? If you don’t just click on the words for a listen.

Don’t forget to leave Ethelene a comment-and I’ll make sure she reads it!




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  • Reply
    Kay Keen
    September 13, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    This is a wonderful story,We have been blessed so much. and it is good to know that people have lived and learned these things that parents did,I think that is the Lords way of showing us we might need to do some of these things our selves. Thank you so much for sharing this, Have a Blessed day, Kay

  • Reply
    B J Holt
    September 9, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Lovely nostalgic story, Ethelene…I heard of this all of my growing up days in north Ga….Good to know you’re still writing. B. J.Holt

  • Reply
    September 7, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Great story, Ms. Ethelene!
    I’ve always wanted to watch a “witcher” at work.
    Thanks for sharing it, Tipper!

  • Reply
    September 7, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Beautiful story. My grandfather could find water that way, and his mother could stop bleeding by reading a certain passage from the bible. I wish I could do those things. Thanks for the memory jostler, Tipper.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    September 7, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Thank you, all you dear people, for your wonderful comments to my true story.
    Some events from early childhood truly stand out in memory. This is one of my clear and precious memories.
    To those who have suffered this summer from extreme heat, draught, and raging fires, God bless.
    We are praying for you. Yesterday I drove from the mountains to middle Georgia (where I now live) through hard, hard rain at times.
    I was so grateful for the rain because we need the moisture so badly! -Ethelene

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 7, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Thank you, Ethelene, wonderful story and wonderful reminder. There are many things out there that we don’t understand and many uses for dousing and witching that are not commonly known. All it takes s an open mind.
    There is a dousing organization in Western North Carolina that has regular meetings and quarterly, I think, guest presentations.

  • Reply
    September 7, 2011 at 4:17 am

    Thank you for sharing a great story Ethelene, it was a joy to read!
    My father was a plumber for several decades. He’s a religious man, who had fits when I would “read” the cards as a teenager, saying it was the devil’s work. Imagine my great surprise when he was talking about work one day and mentioned that he used witching rods to locate water lines!

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    September 6, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Sigh. Miss Eytheline, thank you so much for your story. It pays such beautiful tribute to your daddy & your love for him shines through every word.

  • Reply
    Tim Mclemore
    September 6, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Enjoyed the story, I can remember when I was young, an elderly gentleman came and witched my grandmothers well, she always had good tasting water and plenty of it, a lot of wells in our area would have what they called sulfur water, it was not to bad to drink, if you would hold your nose, in short it “stunk”. Also some folks would have “rust” water, it was a red looking color just like rust, it would stain your clothes and anything it touched. Most folks would put a filter on the water pump to filter out the rust, so you could drink it or cook and wash clothes. But we were blessed with good ole mineral water and always had water when the neighbors wells were going dry in bad long summers. By the way I think I can remember someone saying that years before, that same gentleman witched our well also. Thanks for the memories.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    September 6, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Ethelene, you write such enjoyable stories. This one is wonderful in many ways; the story itself, the memories it evokes and the capturing of folkways not known to many nowadays. Isn’t it a blessing to have Tipper’s Blind Pig and the Acorn as a magazine we where we can tell our stories and read those of so many others.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you and Mrs. Jones for that
    wonderful story of water witching.
    I guess we all share memories of
    similar times.
    While my prayers go out to those
    friends in Texas, I’m so thankful
    that the rains have blessed most
    of our beautiful mountains. We
    were dry too.
    When I got big enough, it became
    my job to carry milk in for
    supper. We had a cold spring and
    not too far from the house which
    was located close to the mountain.
    Sometimes on hot days daddy would
    bring a watermellon he’d hid in
    another spring and we’d enjoy it
    on the porch banisters, spitting
    the seeds across the yard just for
    the fun of it…Ken

  • Reply
    Dale Anderson
    September 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Wonderful story. I remember visiting my Grandfather at a construction camp at Smokemont when they were building the Parkway over the Smokies to Tenn. There was a springhouse behind the cabin which provided water and cooling. Across the road was the river. Remember seeing the bears eating the huckleberries.

  • Reply
    Wanda in NoAla
    September 6, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Tipper and Etheline, thank you both for sharing this wonderful story. I can briefly remember people doing this, but this story makes it all so clear to me.
    The rain has almost stopped here now, after renewing us with 6 1/2 inches. I’m loving it!

  • Reply
    September 6, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Very interesting story Ethelene. Not far from our house, on the road, there must be a spring, because even in this dry summer, water has trickled out into the road ditch. I’ve seen men use the “witching stick”.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    September 6, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Wonderful story about “water witching” by Ethelene.
    I was always skeptical until our well went down in ’72..The man (country plumber) we hired to check our pump said the well was going was an old deep well…We were going to need a new well, but he wouldn’t begin to hire a well digger until he got the “witcher” he used to find where to dig…I was doubtful, but when you’re thirsty?..ha
    She brought her own Peach or Dogwood limb..She didn’t say much, looked over the place, walked and cross walked, marked it, and said here it is and told him the well would not be deep..He told me previouly not to offend her by offering her money. She was a elderly lady and went to his church and condsidered it a God given gift. I had been making preserves…I gave her some jars and she thanked me and said she just didn’t can anymore but loved jelly..I was so thankful in four days after the well was gushing water at 85 feet, that I would have paid her my whole canning season…I am a believer…and no one can change my mind about “water witching” and I think it is a God given gift!
    Thanks Ethelene and Tipper

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    September 6, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Ed, the technique I use to locate lost graves is called dousing and was taught me by an Older Cousin of mine by the name of Mac Sutton when he was helping put together the “Cemetaries of Swain County”. I didn’t beleive he was able to locate unmarked graves and he handed me his rods and had me walk down a row of marked graves, as I crossed each grave the rods would swing then straighten out as I walked off the other side. I was telling my wife about this and she was a “Doubting Thomas” just as I had been. We went to an old family cemetary which was supposed to have several unmarked graves. I handed her my rods, showed her how to hold them and walk over marked graves to show her it worked. When she walked over the first grave the rods crossed and then straightened on their own volition, she tried to give them back to me stating “this is to weird”. We then proceeded to locate fifty six unmarked graves. I have shown several people this and it has worked for every person I’ve shown. I made my own rods out of quarter inch brazing rods bent at a ninty degree angle three quarters of the way down the rod, simply hold the rods loosly with the short ends pointing down through your hands and the long ends pointing away from you and parallel to each other and the ground. Make sure they can pivot then walk forward. This also works on water lines and underground water sources. Witching uses a green Peachtree “Y” where dousing uses metal rods. Metal coat hangers work also. My youngest sister can “witch” but I cannot. I have heard of some “Witchers” who can tell you how deep underground the water will be but I haven’t witnessed this.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2011 at 9:27 am

    What a wonderful story Ethelene has written about “witching” for water. There are usually many sources of water in the mountains of WV. This brings memories flooding back! Grampa kept the milk stashed in a little area where the water trickled off the mountain, and on the 4th of July the watermelon was placed there until cut. They had feather matresses,oil lamps, and a pot-bellied stove. We brought the cows home in the evening. Truly priceless memories, and so wonderful to read of others experiences in Appalachia.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced Southerner)
    September 6, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Great story! Wish all those old ways weren’t being lost. I’d take a peach stick “witching” rod over some new fangled, electronic machine any day.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    September 6, 2011 at 8:54 am

    I also enjoyed this story. There have been lots of stories in my family of mysterious ways that don’t seem mesh with science. It would be interesting to know what the origins of water witching are. There are charletan witchers out there who discredit legitimate witchers, but I have seen enough to think that there is something to it, whether or not science can explain it.

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    September 6, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Tipper: Ethelene’s story brings back many memories of early life just over ‘the Georgia Line’ in the Matheson Cove, NC. Daddy was a well digger and we children were his helpers. Drawing those barrels of dirt out of the well he had dug was a mighty dangerous job! I think I was Daddy’s most devoted follower as he went about his tasks on our little farm. Thanks Ethelene!
    Love, Eva Nell

  • Reply
    September 6, 2011 at 8:15 am

    Enjoyed the story. What a blessing to have found good water in such a time of need. Don’t understand water witching. Have also heard it being of the devil,but could be a gift from GOD. Folks don’t always have big bucks to pay for drilling. We here in Texas are in dire need for rain. Fires are all over here in east Texas as well as central part of the state. Your prayers are welcomed.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 6, 2011 at 8:15 am

    You need to get Bill Burnett to tell you about witching for graves at the old Brush Creek Church. That’s the most unusual use for witching I’ve ever heard of.

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    September 6, 2011 at 8:13 am

    Thank you for sharing such an interesting story. It did bring back memories of our spring well in Mississippi. When I was just a mere 4 or 5 my daddy found a spring on our farm. Unfortunately I played all around while he was cleaning it up and ended up with a bad case of poison oak. Still those are good memories. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    September 6, 2011 at 7:45 am

    What a wonderful story, an affirmation, if you will, of both the promise and the reward of living in these mountains.
    One thing to keep in mind, particularly in light of this spring being some half a mile from the house, is the weight of a gallon of water. It’s about 8.35 pounds, give or take a drink.
    If you consider that the average liquid intake per person, particularly on a hot day, is something around three quarts, then add in the washing of dishes, the preparation of food, etc., we’re talking about a lot of weight that had to be carried each day, even for a small family.
    Remember as we turn on the stove we do not chop wood for, visit the grocery store that is miles away, but only minutes by car, look at our gardens mostly free of weeds, or many of the conveniences we take for granted in our “modern” world. Remember.
    In line with this, I bet the author never again tasted water as sweet as this, water made sweeter still by the effort involved in getting it.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2011 at 7:26 am

    I loved this. Thank you and Ethelene. Pop Shipman taught me to ‘water witch’ using the same technique described here.
    I ‘witched’ our well site. We have always had the best water on the ridge, and in 40 years there has always been plenty. Some of our neighbors come here to get water.

  • Reply
    B f
    September 6, 2011 at 7:26 am

    oh yes i remember the “witching”altho i dont understand it . we had a well that was found by witching , an 80 foot well at that is still good today
    most of the ones that done it like that is gone and slowly all the old ways are dissapearing just like everything else
    we also had the concrete box for our milk, butter etc and did you ever eat anything better than a piece of hot cornbread slathered with that good butter all full of cholesterol(ha) now carrying it to the house and back was my job most of the time
    too bad the young-uns these days cant enjoy the times we had , of course they wouldnt call it “enjoying” it would they?
    God Bless

  • Reply
    September 6, 2011 at 6:20 am

    I truly enjoyed Etheline’s story and can relate to it up to a certain extent since Cyprus suffered from serious water shortage only 3 years ago. That was due to the lack of rain and we had to put up with water cuts 3 times a week. Fortunately, all four desalination units have been completed since then,so rain or shine we always have plenty of water. I don’t like rainy weather, but last Sunday I enjoyed the downpour over here. It hasn’t rained for ages in August, in my area. So that was a very pleasant surprise.

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    September 6, 2011 at 4:16 am

    “I remember my father, J. Marion Dyer, praying that he could find water as he went on his search.”  — my favorite part plus “with a prayer on his lips.” Great storytelling, she has a great “voice.” (Watched a WBIR Heartland show yrs & yrs ago about this….fascinating.) AND, I hadn’t even considered technology and well-digging being connected — just so few wells dug it seems.
    We had a cozy rain off and on all day Monday….and we are in prayer for the folks in Central Texas – in one county alone, almost 500 homes consumed. Those Texas folks need our prayers.

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