FASCINATING TALES NORTHERN CALHOUN HISTORY: 1800s - Compiled By Historian Norma Knotts Shaffer

  Researched from old Calhoun Chronicles 1898 by Norma Knotts Shaffer

Note: The author of this article in not given, but it was probably written by the newspaper's editor at the time, S.C. Barr. History of northern Calhoun is in short supply, here a good review.

Reminiscences of Early Life in Calhoun County

In order to more fully appreciate the advantages enjoyed by the good citizens of this county today it may be wise to spend a few minutes with the early settlers of the section of country now known as Calhoun county.

In this number we will omit incidents of personal life and consult old-time friends (a few of whom are yet among us) regarding conditions and associations of life in those early days.

In the Spring of 1832 Archibald Burrows moved to this section and settled on the present site of Grantsville.  His son, William H. Burrows, who was then a lad of seven summers, went with his father to the different homes throughout the neighborhood, and learned the location of every home for many miles around, gives us the following interesting information.  He says:

"The following list represents the inhabitants of the community from DeKalb, in Gilmer county, to Sixteen bend at the Wirt county line:  Joseph Bennett, Alexander Huffman, Joshua Smith, William Stalnaker, Job Westfall; John Ball and Samuel Barr moved to the places now known by their names in the year 1834, and Martin Moore, who was succeeded by Philip Stallman, on the present Judge Reese Blizzard place, opposite the mouth of Leafbank, in 1833.  Cornelius Vennoy then lived just below, and soon after sold to Joshua Smith.  Levi Taylor soon afterward purchased the place now known as the Hardman farm, where Allen Hardman now lives, from a Mr. Harris, and John Holbert, Joseph Robinson, Robert Bennett, James Nedly Norman, Beriah DePue, Beriah Maze, Andy Sharp and John Booher, on the Wood county line below Sixteen bend included the entire inhabitants of the county with exception of Job Westaall, on Steer creek, and a few families on the West Fork."

"Then," continued our informant, "wolves spoke to us every night; we saw bear very frequently and one could not go out without scaring up a deer.

The entire country from the Little Kanawha river to Hughes river was then an uninhabited forest, and all wild game, large and small, roamed at will in undisputed possession of the territory where now stands the many comfortable homesteads."

"In 1833," continued Uncle Bill Burrows, referring to Yellow creek, "there were more wolf tracks on that creek than there are now tracks of all our domestic animals, including dogs and cats; and there was not a house or inhabitant on the creek from head to mouth.

In the Spring of 1832 I went from home, the present site of Grantsville, to where Smithville now stands, to lay in a supply of coffee for ourselves and neighbors, and found one shanty on Leatherbark, the only human habitation between the Little Kanawha and Hughes river."

Now on Yellow creek and its tributaries there are about eighty families, the greater number whom own their own homes.

Ben Jackson, an enterprising young man, settled with his young wife on the place now known as the old Jackson farm in 1843.  Their rude, but comfortable log cabin was then the only house on the path between the Little Kanawha and Hughes river, the way the path then ran from Leafbank to the present site of Smithville.

We called to see Aunt Jane Ferrel, widow of Hiram Ferrel.  Her first husband, Thomas J. Rice, with his young wife, added their names to the list of early settlers in 1838, and made their home where Granville Rice now lives, near Mussel Shoals.

Aunt Jane is a lady of remarkable energy, strength and agility for one of her years, and her memory seems to be accurate.  She can detail many interesting incidents of early life, some of which we will give our readers in a succeeding number of the Chronicle.

Aunt Jane wove, on the old hand loom, three hundred yards of carpet and blankets last winter before Christmas.  She says:

"In 1838 we had to ask hands all the way from DeKalb, in Gilmer county, to the Sixteen bend to get enough help for a log rolling."

It is interesting to review in company with early settlers the conditions existing in social, educational and religious interests as late as 1843 and during the ten years preceeding that date.  Then there were no social lines drawn between the families of this section of country.  It is true that a few persons were educated and had come from homes of refinement; but the majority of the early residents, of course were not educated, and many had never seen advantages for education and refinement of a higher order than those afforded after coming to this wooden, hilly and wild region.  But the man of education and the unlettered, alike mingled in the society of his neighbors - a welcome guest; and the only thing that excluded any from a hearty welcome was dishonor.

An interview with Elizabeth (Aunt Betty) Ferrell, who is most obliging, furnished instances to substantiate the above statement.  "Aunt Betty" was married to her first husband, Benjamin Jackson, Nov 4th, 1839 and they moved to Yellow creek March 15th, 1843, when there was only one house, that of George Rogers, on the creek; and the now famous Norman ridge was a virgin forest "from end to end."

"Aunt Betty" informs us that the first Sunday school of that section was organized during her youth (She is now nearly seventy eight years of age) at the house of Henry Bell's by Robert Bennett, James N. Norman and Henry Bell.  Mr. Bell being elected superintendent; and this school was attended by all parents and children, a majority of whom walked many miles on Sunday morning to the place of meeting.  At that time there was preaching at Benjamin Riddle's every two weeks.  Among the early Methodist preachers who traveled throughout the country were Rev. David Hess and Rev. Benjamin Athey.  These pioneer preachers traveled long distances, preached three sermons every Sunday and nearly every day during the week, and "Aunt Betty" says: "They had something to talk about besides collecting money, too."  She can give many texts, chapter and verse, of sermons preached in those early days, though no written note was made of the occasion or service.  Texts used by Henry Bell, J.N. Norman, Robt. Bennett, Benjamin Athey, Shadrich Chaney and others and the occasion upon which these texts were used are yet fresh in her memory.  She tells how she, in company with other girls, walked all the way from the old Stallman place, opposite the mouth of Leafbank, after attending to the morning's work, to the mouth of Upper Leading creek, in good time for morning service.

The first day school ever taught in this section was by Joseph Robinson, who consented to teach a two-months school, provided a sufficient number could be interested to justify him for giving his time.  The old cabin of John B. Goff's, on the bank of the river at the mouth of Philip's run, was secured, and in the early winter of 1831 Mr. Robinson opened the first school ever taught in this section of country; and Henry, George and Jane Fling, from Tanners Fork; Jane Burrows, Mary Vennoy, two of Job Westfall's children, two of John Westfall's children, Joseph Bennett's family, the children of John Ball, Sandy Hoffman, Levi Johnson and "Aunt Betty" were the scholars.

The next winter, 1832, the citizens having built a school house on the flat above Samuel Barr's, "Uncle Sandy" Hoffman taught there three months, and Ephraim Sayers taught in the same place in 1833, and again "Uncle Sandy" Hoffman taught three months during the winter of 1834 and 1835.

"Our school house," "Aunt Betty" says, "was 12 x 15 feet, built of logs with clap board roof, the boards held in place by weight-poles extending from one end to the other of the building, the solid earth was the floor, one door at one end, no chimney, but instead a wall of rocks built against the logs inside the building with stones placed at each side in front to keep the log fire in place and a large aperture in the roof above to admit of the exit of smoke; round poles split, with four pins, two at each end, driven in auger holes for seats; and one window the full length of the building, one log being left out for that purpose, which was covered with greased paper, dipped in hogs lard or bears oil to admit the light.  There and at the end of the old cabin, and at the Sunday school," continued "Aunt Betty," "I received during three winters all the schooling I ever had."

"Aunt Betty" is spending a truly comfortable and contented old age.  She has pieced and sewed together many quilts, and few are her friends who have not some token of her regard for them, in patch-work of some kind  Thus she spends her time coming and going at will, among her children, grandchildren and intimate friends and many doors stands open wide for "Aunt Betty."

We will close this sketch by giving one peculiar incident to early life in this country.

"When we were girls," "Aunt Betty" says, "Jane Burrows (afterward Jane Taylor,) and I were going from "Granny" Burrows' down to our house, and we crossed the river just at the mouth of Philip's run.  Incidently the cows were in front of us in the path, and as Jane and I were going along, at about the place where Mr. Zach Stump's house now stands, the largest black bear I ever saw stood almost in the path before us.  The cows passed on and we followed, and as we passed I could have laid my hand on the bear, but he did not move, and we passed him and left him standing there.  The next afternoon, that same bear, crossed the river to "Granny Burrows' and went into the hog pen and lifted out "Granny's" big old sow, took it up in his arms and carried it across the river, carrying it in his arms as one would carry a child, walking on his hind feet; walked up the steep hill on the opposite side of the river and disappeared, the hog meantime squealing and trying to get away.  It was only a few days after this incident that that same bear was killed by old "Uncle Jimmy" Hoffman, after it had chased his hogs in from the woods, and the old hunters all said its skin was the largest bear skin they had ever seen."

Philip's run received its name from Philip Lyons, who was the first settler on the Burrows place, where Grantsville now stands.

Your correspondent visited Uncle Bill Burrows, and though time is precious, in answer to queries Uncle Bill said:

"I was married on January 13, 1848, to Malinda Mayze and resided at the present site of Grantsville until November, 1851, when I moved with my little family to my present home on the head waters of Laurel.  At that time, except a small improvement made by Johnson Yoak on Bull river, there were no improvements of any kind in all the scope of country now included between the Gilmer county line - or even the Trace Fork of Tanner - and Grantsville.

"The resources upon which we then depended for a living have mainly vanished; and we only remember the old hand-mill and the old hand-loom.  We ground our own corn upon our own hand mills; and manufactured, by the use of the hand break and hackle and (illegible line) flax into wool and warp; and with the hand cards we prepared our own wool for spinning, made our own winter and summer clothes of cloth of our own manufacture.

"We generally cut and fit our own garments.

"Then, our roads were narrow paths winding along the valleys and over the hills the nearest way to our next neighbors.

"If my memory is correct our first school on Laurel was taught by Adolphus Ayers in 1866; and the second school in that section was taught by J.W. Taylor, near White Pine, in 1867 and 1868, in a house built for that purpose.  This school was attended by many young people from adjoining districts.

The Rev. Alex Holden was the first Baptist minister whose work resulted in a regular organization of the Baptist church.  Mr. Holden held regular monthly meetings at the house of Alexander Hoffman during a long term of years.  There were however several good men - local preachers, who did excellent work in holding revival meetings at private houses in more thickly settled districts; and John A. Goff, a local Methodist preacher, is remembered as one of the most active and useful men of that class.

"For many years Mr. Goff did the work of a regular itinerant preacher, while at the same time he earned his own support.  He made and promptly filled many appointments regularly, and held many revival meetings, at which many were converted.  Those good men made many sacrifices to carry the Gospel to the needy in remote district; and Mr. Goff lived to a good old age and was permitted to see the results of his earnest, honest Christian zeal in the more advanced conditions.  In 1860, while holding a meeting at Pine Bottom, he was taken seriously ill and announced to a large audience that he was then preaching his last sermon.  This proved to be so, as he never recovered from that illness, but died soon after, full of years and of faith and good work, by the memory of which, He being dead yet speaketh.

Everybody then went to meeting,  Well dressed or poorly clad if necessary and all were brothers and sisters "Godliness with contentment" more generally prevailed then than now."