(02/27/2021)
By David Kirby

Eli Roberts migrated from Wetzel County, WV to Buckhorn Holler, tributary of Barnes Run, tributary of West Fork of Little Kanawha River, etc., Calhoun County, WV. That I am sure of.

The story of why he left Wetzel County may be a fable. However, as my Great Uncle Hollis Kerby related it to me with almost exact wording more than a few times, he surely believed it. Hollis lived behind Eli on Kerby Ridge, about one fourth mile away.

Eli, and his wife Sarah took in my mother as a young girl, and raised her after their primary family had all grown and left home. Everyone except her own generation, (which was in the minority when I knew her) knew Sarah as Aunt Sarry, (she lived to be 98, Eli lived to 97). Aunt Sarry had crippling arthritis, and walked bent 90 degrees at the waist, using a short cane to keep from falling on her face. She was a woman of small stature, and in her bent condition could walk under a high table without even bumping her head.

Eli, whom I called Grand Pap, was a stately old gentleman, and walked upright as to offset the bent condition of Sarry. As such, they were a strange looking couple when out walking together. Grand Pap had very little hair, and what hair he had was snow white. What I remember vividly were carbuncles on his head, resembling small volcanos on the verge of erupting.

I don’t think he drank a lot, but Eli loved whiskey. That may have contributed to his speedily exiting Wetzel County. When I was a small kid we would frequently visit them, and sometimes Dad would take him a bottle. Whether or not, he celebrated all visits as a special occasion and would break out a bottle. He always greeted Dad the same way “Well Roy, anyone married or barried on your Crik?” After the preliminary gossip they would always start arguing the Bible. Eli read a lot, and I think he had memorized the writings of Paul. Dad also read a lot of the Bible, and I sometimes think he was motivated to read more so that he could better dialogue with Eli. I loved to hear them argue. I call it argue, but it was always very friendly.

Sometimes they agreed on the interpretation of a passage, and sometimes they disagreed, all within the context of the King James Version. As the bottle was depleted the discussion became louder and livelier. Eli would slap his knee and thunder “Now Paul says “ – then some line of scripture, followed closely by chapter and verse.

Eli may have come to Calhoun from Wetzel with his younger brother Jim, in about 1880. The year isn’t important, except that defiling the dead, which may have been a major contributing factor in his fleeing, was a more heinous crime at that time in the Scotch-Irish Protestant community than it would be now days.

Jim’s claim to fame was that he was considered by most to be the wickedest person anyone in that part of the county had ever known. His religion, or lack thereof, did not even elevate him to the rank of heathen. He lived with Grand Pap during the final months of his life, his fatal affliction being tuberculosis. At unpredictable times he would shout an obscenity from his death bed as though he suffered from Tourette’s syndrome in addition to TB. His outbursts must have been mostly from mental anguish, as TB is not known as an especially painful malady.

Neighbors would gather and pray over him, trying to get him saved, until he cussed them out and they would put on their hats and leave. I think even atheists would have prayed for his wretched soul, except they don’t have anyone to pray to. Women, of delicate nerves would not visit, reducing the inventory of those willing to sit up with him during his final hours. Had he been converted I am sure they would have conveyed the invalid all the way to the Stony Point Baptismal watering hole, known for its gravel beach and calm waters.

Turbulent waters can result in Baptismal drownings, (Another Pine Crik Tale) which would have been a supreme blessing in his case, resulting in his reduced length of suffering. However, such was not to be. Uncle Hollis, highly superstitious, surmised that the poor man had been impaled by the Devil, and refused to even get close to the house. Hollis kept listening and looking for mystic signs to affirm his suspicions. Upon the night of Jim’s passing, uncle Hollis reported hearing wolves howling, (although a species extinct from Kerby Ridge for hundreds of years).

Eli’s exodus, the way Uncle Hollis told it: Eli, 23 or 24 years old, was sweet on a girl about 15 years old that lived in his neighborhood. He had escorted her home from church, and sat on her porch a few times. She and her older brother were being raised by her grandfather. Her grandfather, feeling that Eli was much too old and experienced for his tender granddaughter had words with Eli, with the outcome being the grandfather ordering him off his property forbidding him from ever seeing his granddaughter again.

That was the situation when Eli was walking past her house on an early afternoon. The very distraught granddaughter hailed him down saying grandfather passed away in the night, and they needed help preparing the body for the funeral. Eli said, ‘No way can I do that”. “He would turn over in his grave”. Whereupon she said, “Well, he is not yet in his grave. “Would you do it for me?” “My brother will help you.” Eli, with the prospect of a better relationship to come, agreed.

So Eli and the brother laid the old man out on the dining room table, and began washing and shaving him. It is unknown if any whiskey was involved during the procedure, but it was unlikely if it wasn’t. When news of the passing quickly spread throughout the small village of Burton, Wetzel County, the women, as was the custom, began bringing in food, and gathering in the parlor to commence the wake. It was a warm day, and men who had an early quit from the fields congregated on the front porch.

As a young man, the grandfather had fallen from a horse, breaking his middle and ring finger on his left hand. Not reset properly, the two fingers ended up being permanently crooked, forming a claw. Nearing the end of the body preparation Eli turned his back to the table, and the brother mischievously hooked the two crooked fingers into the Eli’s trousers waste band and galluses. Feeling a tug, Eli turned around, and saw that the old man “had a holt on to him” (Hollis’s words). Eli was probably already pointed in the direction of the front room parlor – at any rate, that is the direction he broke and ran, dragging the deceased.

As Uncle Hollis told it: Dragging the body, Eli bolted through the parlor full of women. Hollis said “them-on’s that didn’t scream, fainted”. Eli burst through the screen door, streaked across the porch, and deposited the corpse to lean against the front porch railing as his waist band stretched and galluse failed, whilst he leaped the banister.

The few men that were there, some maybe more pious than they deserved, did not look kindly or with humor upon the display. Eli did not attend the funeral. Furthermore, no sightings were reported of him in Wetzel County after the event.


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