SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Split-Tongue Talking Crow, Sigogglin' And Dauncey


By Bob Weaver

Jeff Truman, an elderly man who lived on Rowels Run near the Village of Hur, was said to have a talking crow. The oldsters on my grandfather McCoy's porch said Jeff had split the crows tongue to allow it to speak proficiently.

Jeff, who never married, was born after the Civil War and lived with a number of families in the Hur-West Fork area, eventually building a one-room shack along the country road where he lived out his days, passing in the early 1940s at about 80.

His place name on Rowels Run was known as "Jeff's Bank."

Jeffs's crow, unlike most taking birds in the country, was not taught profanity, but taught to ask passing folks, "Where ya goin'?"

Going up and down Rowels Run, at the time, the answer would like be goin' to Hur, Mt. Zion or Grantsville.

The talking crow tale related to the splitting of the tongue was likely a practice in early America, but the surgery, according to modern day sources, did not help the crow to speak.

Crows are among the bird worlds smartest creatures, very social (at least with each other) and can learn to mimic. A number of talking crows can be found on YouTube.

Jeff moved around a lot, being counted in the census as a hired hand.

In 1900, Thomas Jeff Truman was living at Altizer with well-known Civil War soldier George Gibson and his wife Elizabeth Starcher Gibson. He was 27. In 1910 he was living with Phillip Starcher at Hur, a descendant of Calhoun original Phillip Starcher. In 1920 he was living with Ulysses Grant Adams on Rowels Run, as a hired hand.

It is fascinating to consider how Jeff survived, although the answer is simple - growing, hunting, trapping and some farm labor wages.

William "Tap" Kerby of Hur says Jeff often trapped, using deadfalls, and sold Christmas cards and Rosebud salve on the side.

Up through the 1950s, rural families bought their home liniments, salves and household products from traveling salespeople, the Rawleigh or Raleigh men who came a'callin.

Jeff had a next door neighbor, Willie Little, whose life was similar. In his early days, he stayed with area families, a 'neer do well," but later lived on a small hillside farm on Rowels Run, later occupied by longtime resident Hollie Kerby and family.

Just who built the two-story jenny-lind house in the early 1900s is not known, but other families living there included Lane Bell, Willard Digman, and Clay Roberts.

Willie would frequenly announce, "I mind my own business."

Willie's primary mode of transportation was a donkey, one such animal suffering his final days in the hillside woods below my abode. Willie rode the donkey, usually off the road, and it fell into a sinkhole with Willie trapped underneath.

Yelling for help, my mother responded with her sister, prying the donkey off Willie with some poles. Willie seemed to be "all stoved up." I was about four, witnessing the rescue and then the shooting of the donkey, whose legs were broken, buried in the same sinkhole.

Another encounter with Willie at McCoys Store at Hur. I was with my dad sitting on a bench with other loafers, about five years old.

Willie got off his donkey, staggering around, walking sideways, his body out of control.

Why I remember what he said is a strange occurrence in the human brain. He exclaimed to the bench sitters, "I'm sigogglin' and dauncey."

"Sigogglin" in Appalachian mountain talk, meaning not built correctly, crooked, skewed, or out of balance.

"Dauncey" in mountain speak means peaked, haggard, and listless, often spoken by women when they were "light-headed."

Willie died in 1956 at age 70.

Neither Jeff nor Willie worried about paying their utility bills or income taxes.

They didn't have any.