Appalachia Holidays in Appalachia

The Way The 4th Of July Used To Be

July 4th from

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:

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  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    July 4, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    I was thinking back to July 4th family reunions when I was a child. Some of them was frisky, but boy – nothing like what’s described above. LOL
    God bless.

  • Reply
    July 4, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    That was a nice story for our
    Independence Day. I like to read
    John Parris’ stories.
    Happy Independence Day to all…Ken

  • Reply
    July 4, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing!!! I was thinking aback to when I was a kid and we used to do big family get-together picnics and lots of fireworks and go watch them. Anymore, I’m the one who still likes to go watch them. Hubby would prefer to sit in the cool of the house and watch some of the shows on TV. Family spread out too far to come together for the 4th, especially, when like me, most have to work tomorrow. Thank you for bringing back memories!

  • Reply
    Gina S
    July 4, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Mama took the paper, so I daily read the John Parris column. He offered up history from the folks he interviewed. I have several of his books. Reading the tales again always brings new insight.

  • Reply
    July 4, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Thanks for the great reach back into history and painting a vivid picture of what happened way back when. I really enjoyed it.

  • Reply
    José Luis
    July 4, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Hi Tipper
    I wish you all Happy Day of the Fatherland!FELIZ DÍA DE LA PATRIA!
    July is a month of independence in more than one country.
    For us, in Argentina is the July 9, 1816.
    Make it a day to remember and honor all those who fought for our independence and our freedom!
    Best wishes from Buenos Aires, Argentina, José Luis.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 4, 2013 at 11:02 am

    The only game they left out in this story was climbing the greased flag pole!
    I loved the post today! I’ve had to miss a few lately and am tryin’ to catch up.
    John Parris is one of my favorites, of course me being born in Asheville, NC and hearing stories about his stories from relatives.
    I haven’t heard “rip-snortin'” in a long, long time. “Slew”, is also one word I use in that context also…Others I may have missed ’cause I still use’m! LOL
    We’re having the big boat races in town and farworks tonight…that is if the rain stays away for a while! We live just a mile from the lake, (the way the crow flies) and have been hearing the qualifiying races most of the week when the wind carries the sound! They shut off the whole dike in town and set up tents, etc. for music, food and so forth. Lots of fun for the young folks, but lots of noise for the old folks…LOL
    Have a Happy Fourth!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….The dam broke and our little few rows of beans are pretty wet! We are getting okra, peppers, cucumbers and squash! Tomatoes are very late, but a few Sweet 100’s are ripe and eaten as soon as we see them right off the vine…Soooo, so good!
    My daylilies are the prettiest they have been in years…due to the early Spring rains…The rain now will spot them up…I have a few that I have not seen bloom before due to the crazy dryness in previous couple of years…
    PS…we have been picking a few blackberries around the edge of the woods too…

  • Reply
    Mel H.
    July 4, 2013 at 10:47 am

    4 July was never the big deal that Memorial(Decoration)day was up in here. That is until the outlander(yankee) influence became prevalent in these mountains—There were observances of course, but not nearly as elaborate as in places outside of the South.
    When merchants found they could make a buck, well, that helped, too.

    • Reply
      Stephen Suddarth
      July 4, 2018 at 11:40 am

      I figured as much myself, about the Yank influence and when it kicked in- thanks for your input

      • Reply
        Stephen Suddarth
        July 4, 2018 at 1:49 pm

        Thank you, Tipper for posting this again…newbies like me had never seen it and its such a great story !

  • Reply
    July 4, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Barrel races have a whole different look around Central Texas – and many other parts of “the West”: Barrels up on end in a large rodeo arena or pasture and a rider on a horse running as fast and as tight as they can without knocking the barrels over and get the best time. Sometimes it looks like they are runnin’ on their side!
    As for the other celebrations and festivities: lots of neighborhoods around here have parades and picnics and various competitions. My daughter once begged for a unicycle (she had to pay half) which she rode in the neighborhood parade when we lived in town – from age 8 or 9 until mid high school years – then between not being able to w find a post long enough for her 6 foot 2 inch body and her teaching dance and working various camps in the summer, she didn’t ride in any more parades.
    Lots of decorated wagons, bikes, trikes, strollers, kids, wheelchairs, pets and lots of prizes for silliness such as most patriotic bicycle decoration, best handlebar mustache, most unique entry, longest hair (in the 70s it wasn’t unusual for a man to win that!), most different colored hair, most sweat producing costume, smallest and largest pet, youngest and oldest participant – – just whatever struck that year’s organizer’s fancy.
    And then there would be games and contests. . . and, depending on burn ban status – there may be fireworks – recent showers mean we will have them this year if the wind doesn’t come up; but, the volunteer fire departments are always standing ready.
    The last two years we had to settle for glow sticks!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    July 4, 2013 at 8:15 am

    I enjoyed the story very much. Quite a celebration.
    The weather is not good for celebrating the Fourth here in Brevard. All the festivities are scheduled to happen regardless of weather with the fireworks being decided at 9:15 PM tonight with alternate dates tomorrow and Saturday. The Patriotic Concert is scheduled to be at 2 PM this afternoon at Brevard Music Center. The Brevard Community Band, of which I am a member, is combining forces with the VERY talented high school-age Brevard Music Center attendees.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 4, 2013 at 8:14 am

    You know when I was a dumb youngin, I used to the read the Asheville Citizen-Times every day I could get my hands on it. John Parris had a column in there and it was the only part of the paper I wouldn’t read. What a fool this mortal be.
    I found this article about Joe L Hartley that might interest you.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 4, 2013 at 7:44 am

    All that jollification is just more than I can imagine. Men, wild animals, and money, now that’s a combination guaranteed to bring a lively outcome!
    I guess aging brings calming, that kind of excitement no longer appeals to me.
    Linville is just down the mountain from me. Driving through it is very quiet and sedate. It’s hard to imagine the wild hilarity described above, but I do expect it happened just as it’s written.
    Happy Independence Day to all and let’s not forget that the 4th of July celebrates our independence!

  • Reply
    Ryhelene Dyer Jones
    July 4, 2013 at 7:23 am

    What a delightful tale by John Parris on the “Rip-Snortin'” 4th of long ago! I think inventiveness and “doing with what you have” come through clearly in this account. With very little equipment and no “traveling circus” to entertain, the people used what they had–like “greased pigs” and eggs, barrels, oxen to put on a show and have some fun. I hope everyone has a good 4th of July–safe and enjoyable–with a good bit of remembrance of “how it once was” in our neck of the woods we call America!

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