Life In Early Calhoun County

William Thomas Cottrell was 72 years of age in the year of 1934, when he set down these recollections:

"About a mile above Oka on Beech Fork is my birthplace. I was born in 1863, so have no recollection of the Civil war except stories my father and mother told me.

"I was born in an old-fashioned log house which burned when I was a small child. We built the finest kind of hewed log house in its place. Several years later we built an addition of a frame part with a daubed cut stone chimney between the two parts. Lumber for the addition was whipsawed.

"I can remember well when the old 'Frog Pond' church at Oka was built. It was a log structure. Some people gave the church this name for fun because there was a small pond of frogs near it. However, lots of us disliked the name. "I went to school in a log school house built almost exactly where the Oka school house now stands. Simon Knotts, Sammy Tallman, Johnny Rife and Joe Jarvis were some of my teachers. Billy Ellis taught one term in a little old building in 'Jarvis Holler', and I also attend school to him.

We only had three months' term then. Jerry Downey taught one month when we didn't have a teacher. I can't remember just why we failed to get a teacher but Jerry wanted a cow and told some of the neighbors that if they'd go together and buy him a cow, he'd teach for a month for her. A cow only cost eight or ten dollars then. We only had this one month of school that year."

"I married Edie Jane Cottrell of Frozen Run, and soon after this event I threshed 60 bushels of oats for William Knotts, who lived on Siers Run at that time, and Reuben Schoolcraft and I did the work in the old log house where Earle Davisson now lives."

"We used a flail for this threshing which I made myself from a piece of hickory pole about seven feet long and a little larger around than my wrist. I pounded about three feet of this pole until it was soft so that I could twist and bend it. A person couldn't beat out grain with a straight stick and stand up at the same time, for it was hard on one's back. First we laid the sheaves in a circle with the butts out and heads in, and beat off the heads. Then we raked the straw aside and piled all the heads in one big stack, beating out the grain. You'd be surprised, too, how much grain we could thresh in one day. Next we beat the chaff up with a sheet.

To do this we took hold of each end of the sheet and swung it swiftly sideways, and in this way the light chaff was blown away. We'd have fun, too, along with our work, by cracking the sheet around Mr. Knotts' legs every time he came near us. I can almost hear him laugh yet about this prank of ours.

"My father killed most of our meat in the forest. One day while he was hunting he found an old deer's track. While following it he spied a baby deer under some rattleweeds. He caught the baby which began a frightened 'maaing' that soon brought the old doe he had been tracking to the scene. He grabbed his gun, hoping to get a supply of fresh meat, but the old deer ran away leaving her baby.

"To father's surprise the baby deer followed him unafraid and was soon a great pet in our home. About a year later this same deer, now almost grown, began stamping and tearing up our bean and tobacco patches. One day while it was in the garden my father picked up a stone, saying, 'I'm going to kill that deer,' not intending to do so at all. He flung the stone and sure enough he struck the deer in the middle of the forehead. It tumbled over, dead. Everyone in the family shed tears over its death."

"Over at Oka my father, brothers and I used to tan as high as forty or fifty sheep and cow hides every year. First we made a trough by hollowing out a log in which to 'lime' our hides. Liming meant soaking them in ashes until the hair slipped. Then we'd scrape off the hair and flesh and put them in tan ooze made by cutting up chestnut oak bark in water. Sometimes it would take five or six months to tan a hide by this process."

"When the hides reached the proper stage, we'd oil and black them. We used lamp black, which was one of the first things manufactured in West Virginia, for this. We mixed it with fish oil. You'd think you were getting a bushel of blacking if you bought a pound. If the leather was to be used for harness or hinges we blacked the grain side, but if it was to be used for shoes, we blacked the flesh side because it stood mud and water better than the grain side."

"I remember a story about my grandmother, Sabra Cottrell, and her bear dogs, that father used to tell us children. When grandfather was gone she always kept her dogs in the house with her. One night she was alone with two small children. Sometime during the night the dogs began growling noisily. Awakened, grandmother was soon up putting logs on the fire to furnish a light. When the fire blazed up she saw the dogs looking up at the rafters."

"Glancing up, she saw a huge catamount that had crept in through large cracks under the eaves that had not been 'chinked' and daubed'. It crouched just about her head. She knew the dogs couldn't reach him so she grabbed the old hickory poker and soon had the catamount crawling down to the ground on the outside of the house. But she never once allowed those dogs to leave the house for they were her only protectors."

"My people were Unioners during the Civil war. The 'bushwhackers' (bushwhackers were deserters and others who had turned outlaw) from the Southern army took father's horses and tried to take some money which my mother had sewed in an old belt she wore under her 'shimmy'."

"A soldier, one of four, stuck his old musket against her breast, cursed and said he'd kill her if she didn't give up her money. But she didn't give it up! No sir-ee! "My wife's uncle, Evan Cottrell, was in the rebel army. He deserted and came home but officers came after him. When he tried to escape they wounded him pretty badly. He crawled away from them. After the soldiers left, his wife hid him in a rock cliff just over from the head of Frozen Run on Tanner."

"Every day she took him food and water and tended his wounds. He was near death for a long time and did not get entirely well until the war was over. The officers came for him many times, but his wife would warn him by pounding an old wooden trough or a hollow log. This makes a deafening noise that can be heard a long distance. Hunters used to coax the much prized turkey gobbler to gobble by pounding on hollow logs."

"Yes, 72 years is a long time to live, and many changes have come. I only wish I had a chance to go out into the world and see them, but maybe I'm better off with my memories."