When the Glorious Fourth Was a Rip-Snorter written by John Parris.
Joe L. Hartley, The 90-Year Old Apostle of Grandfather Mountain, remembers when the Glorious Fourth was celebrated in rip-snortin’ fashion in these parts.
“Back when I was a young fellow,” he recalled, “we had some Fourth-o’-July get-togethers that make the ones nowadays look like a Sunday School picnic and it a-raining.
This was primitive country then. A land of saddlebags and ox-teams and wagon roads, where folks took their jollification in a whole swarm of bees–corn-shucking’s, quiltin’s, bean-stringin’s, and houseraisin’s.
The Fourth of July was the only holiday observed in these parts with any sort of organized community jollification. Which wasn’t much. Folks just gathered and worked out their fun on the spot.
It wasn’t until the Linville Company started to develop a summer resort here that the occasion took on any real organized pattern.
I never will forget the Fourth of July celebration we had here in 1892. Eseeola Inn had just been opened and there was a slew of high class folks–some of the wealthiest in the United States–staying there.
Thomas F. Parker, who was the president of the Linville Company, organized the affair. He figured it would be something to entertain his guests, which included Charles Dudley Warner, the distinguished author, Talcott Williams of The Philadelphia Press, and E.G. Rathbone, fourth assistant postmaster general of the United States.
Parker had handbills printed advertising the celebration which was to include an ox race and a sack race, all to be performed by the natives around Grandfather Mountain.
Lured by the prospect of winning a handsome prize in the form of a handful of silver dollars, the men and boys hereabout started training weeks in advance for the races. One boy stole his mother’s soap and lathered his father’s old sow to practice on.
Harrison Calloway and Will Berry took the Calloway oxen laid’em off a lane at Linville Gap, and went into training for the ox race. Others did the same, including my brother Roy. I left the ox racing to the others and practiced up for the barrel race.
Come the morning of the Fourth and such a crowd as the county had never seen was gathered here. Folks had come from miles around. Come in by foot and by wagon and buggy and sled. I reckon there was more than a thousand folks, not countin’ the ones at the inn.
Just across what is now the highway, in front of the hotel was the race track that day. The folks at the inn crowded onto the porches in their finery and settled in for the races. There’s never been anything like that ox race. I reckon there was a dozen or so young fellows that lined up on their oxen at the starting place. And when the white handkerchief was dropped they set out in the wildest confusion you ever saw.
They were mean, wild oxen, and they leaped and bucked and kicked up their heels as the young fellows applied the switch. In no time at all there was busted saddles and riders rolling in the dust. Some of the fellows went flyin’ through the air like they was shot out of a gun. Oh, it was sight to see. My brother Roy got bucked off and thrown in a thicket. He went one way and his ox went the other. When Roy come walkin’ back in, a-limpin’ and his nose a-bleedin’, somebody asked him what happened to his ox and he said he reckoned it had gone to hell.
Harrison Calloway played a trick on some of the other fellows in the race by getting his girl friend to put chestnut burrs under the oxen’s tails which caused the oxen to go wild and then stop dead still. Harrison won the race, and I reckon there would have been some fists flyin’ if the guests at the hotel hadn’t made up a purse and awarded the other ox riders as well.
After the ox race, there was the barrel race. Don’t know if you ever saw a barrel race. I don’t know who thought it up, but it was a humdinger.
They took a dozen big barrels, open at both ends, and put’em on their side about 25 or 50 yards apart over a course that wound about the town. Each fellow was given three eggs. To win, you had to out run everybody, racin’ from one barrel to the next, crawlin through the barrels, without breakin’ the eggs. I was pretty fleet of foot and I figured I was goin’ to come off with the prize. In a foot-race, nobody had ever beaten me.
Well, I got off from the startin’ line ahead of the others and managed to get through three barrels before trouble caught up with me. Somebody had driven some nails into one of the barrels and the first thing I knew the nails grabbed my shirt and there I was flat on my face and with my hands full of broken eggs. Dave Stover, a waiter at the inn, who was slim as a fence rail and had hands big as hams, won the barrel race.
Just about all the men and boys got in the hog race. They had caught a wild hog and greased it with lard. It was a wild one, if ever there was.
When the time come to turn it loose, there was about three hundred of us gathered about in a big circle. We were pushin’ and jostlin’ each other for position when the judge opened the pen and let the pig loose.
That hog was like lightnin’–greased lightnin’. It was all over the place and so were we fellows. Pretty soon the hog broke out of the circle of milling men and boys and headed toward the woods with all of us in pursuit.
Unbeknowin’ to the rest of, Harrison Calloway had sanded his hands. Coated’em good and heavy. He layed back in the beginnin’, which none of us realized until it was all over, and let us run that hog till it was tired out. I run it for three miles, had my hands on it a dozen times and couldn’t hold it. Well, right at the last when I thought the hog was goin’ to fall in its tracks and I could get it, here come Harrison and he latched on to it and it was all over.
It was some Fourth of July. Besides the races there was a big picnic dinner and speech-makin’, a heap of whoopin’ and hollerin’ and nippin’ of the jug. The late Shepherd M. Dugger, who wrote a couple books about the Linville country, was the speaker that day and his subject was Wild Oxen, Wild Hogs, and Tame Men.”
The old man paused and shook his head.
“Folks,” he said, “just don’t celebrate the Fourth of July any more like we did when I was a young fellow.”
I hope you enjoyed Parris’s piece about July 4th as much as I did-I love the language throughout the story. I’ve heard Pap use the word jollification but hadn’t thought about it in a long time. And what about that Harrison Calloway and his sneaky girlfriend-good grief they meant to win no matter what.
Happy 4th of July to you from all the Blind Pig Family.
*Sources When the Glorious Fourth Was a Rip-Snorter written by John Parris. From the book “These Storied Mountains.”; Photo from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/historicbeaverton/2325873464/