Mountain  People

       High Bill Sexton, "The King of the Mountain," was a legend in his own time. As his name implies, High Bill was a giant of a man, tall and rawboned and mean as hell. He was born in the High Knob country not long after the Civil War, and he was already an old man when I came to know him. But age had done little to change his ways.
       To understand High Bill and the way he operated, you have to know something about the social climate of the place and time in which he lived. Mountain people, as I remarked earlier, don't have much regard for "law
and order."  They live pretty much by the code of the Old Frontier, and a man who is big and rough enough and a bully by nature can make a bigger splash in the backwoods than he can in polite society.

      High Bill's "territory" covered an area of perhaps fifty square miles in southern Wise County. People were scared of him. He'd walk right into the houses of the mountain ramps and help himself to anything and everything he wanted. I mean, everything. He probably fathered more illegitimate children than any other ten men in that part of the country, but he failed to claim any
of them--blaming it all on whiskey. He also was patriarch of a "legitimate" family that included some decent people and more than a few cutthroats .

       As he grew old, High Bill fell onto hard times. By 1942, he was living in a shanty and getting by pretty much on handouts. And then one night he seemed to go "off" mentally. Maybe he just decided to do his stuff one last time. He went on a rampage and started shooting up the country.
      This time the police were sent for, and when they went after High Bill he barricaded himself in his cabin and began firing at the officers with a .45 caliber pistol. Deputy Guy Sanders returned the fire, one of his bullets slamming through the shanty door and into Sexton's chest.
      The King of the Mountain survived the wound, but never fully recovered his health. He died a few years later, a lonely and despised old man.


     Now, let me tell you about  Squirrel-Head Cindy Orsborne.
     On High Knob Mountain there's a big shelter rock, known for many years as Orsborne's Rock. The rock provides protection from the south wind, and there's a nice, natural spring of always-fresh water at one end.
      Orsborne Rock is approximately three miles from my Uncle Patton Nickels' house. I recall that when I was a youngster staying at Uncle Patton's, his cows sometimes ranged as far as that old shelter rock--and it was in going after the cows to herd them home that I first encountered Squirrel-Head Cindy and her strange brood.
      Cindy was a small, slender woman with a tiny, squirrel-like head. She never was especially bright, but her disposition was friendly and so far as I know, she never in her life caused anyone any harm.
      When she died in 1960, Cindy's age was believed to be 117. According to her own estimate, she established her home under the rock a few years after the Civil War and lived there until the mid-Twenties.
      Cindy had no income of any kind. Her diet consisted of whatever vegetables, fruit, berries, and roots she could find in the mountain, supplemented by an occasional bit of small game given to her by hunters. She preserved food for the winter by drying fruits and vegetables in the fall and storing them under her rock, in crevices that rats and mice could not reach. She raised three or four children, none of whom knew their fathers--probably hunters or other itinerants. The children all drifted away as soon as they were old enough, leaving
the little old woman alone in her "home."

      Squirrel-Head Cindy moved down into civilization in 1926, living in a shack on Pine Branch until it rotted down twenty years later. Her neighbors obligingly threw up a new one-room, ten-by-ten shack for her, and that was her home until she passed on in 1960.
      The last time I called on Cindy, she failed to recognize me--even after I told her my name and tried to jog her memory. She wouldn't come out of her shack, and wouldn't open the door to me, more than just a crack. She peered out at me like an ancient, bewildered little animal, apparently no longer capable of communication. Her neighbors told me she hadn't recognized anybody for some time, and that neighborhood kids heightened her distrust of people by bombarding her shack with rocks whenever they passed by.
      Reflecting on it, one might conclude that Squirrel-Head Cindy would have been better off had she never left her home under Orsbome Rock in favor of "civilization."


      Here's the story of another family that lived under a rock:
      Back in the l800's, an old man named Baker lived with his seven wives and numerous children under a cliff on Black Mountain, near the Virginia-Kentucky line, about four miles from the pine tree celebrated by John Fox, Jr. in his novel, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.
       The story was told in the mountains that Old Man Baker once returned from a deer hunt to find his wives fighting among themselves. "Now, girls," he is supposed to have said, "You ought to be ashamed. You all should get along like children--there's so few of ye." By the turn of the century, Old Man Baker and all his progeny were gone from Black Mountain. Only their legend remained.
      In 1938 I received a call from an official of the Consolidated Coal Company in Jenkins, Kentucky. He told me that a tall, aristocratic man with gray hair and trim
Kentucky-colonel goatee had come to Jenkins in a chauffeur-driven limousine for the purpose of making inquiries concerning Baker's Rock. Many people in Jenkins had heard of the rock, but nobody could lead the man to it. That's when somebody remembered my familiarity with Black Mountain and its history, and suggested that I might be able to help him.

      At the urging of the coal official, I drove to Jenkins and led the distinguished-looking stranger to Baker's Rock. The old gentleman was extremely anxious to find the rock, but wouldn't tell us why--until we got there.
       "Yes. Yes, this is it," he said. And then he related a strange story.
       "Gentlemen," he said, quite proudly, "I was born under this rock, and spent my early years here. And I'm not the least bit ashamed of it; in fact, I'm rather
proud. "

      He said he had left home at fourteen, traveling down the Kentucky River to the Bluegrass country on a log raft. He had split rails, cleaned out stables, and grubbed around, working whenever and wherever and at whatever he could.
      Eventually he had saved some money, bought a piece of land, and cleared it for farming. An endless string of good fortune had come his way. I remember him saying, "Now I raise horses and fine cattle, and a whole lot of them, sir."
      The man thanked me most  graciously for guiding him back to his birthplace. He confessed that after having been gone from the area for all those years, he might never have relocated Baker's Rock without help.
      So that's the story of one of  Old Man Baker's sons--a man who was literally "raised under a rock."


     "Babe" Orsborne was a hermit who lived at Carter Town, a backwoods settlement near the road that runs between Coeburn and Dungannon. For several years , Babe's only companion was a wild goose--a Canadian honker. The goose made a forced landing near Babe's home during its migratory flight one year, and the old man took it in and nursed it back to health. Babe named the goose Old Jim, and talked to it and cared for it so much that it quickly became tamer than a tame goose. When Old Jim regained his health, he was free to go--Babe didn't confine him in any way--but the goose knew a good thing when he saw it, and he decided to just stay on at Carter Town as Babe's friend and pet.
      Well, I was putting on a wildlife exhibition at the county fair in Wise one year, and I went to Babe and borrowed Old Jim for one of my displays. I tied a string to the goose's leg to prevent him from escaping, and he turned out to be one of the hits of the fair.
      Now comes the rough part .
      There came a big rainstorm during the fair. Old Jim, of course, was outside, but I thought he'd be all right. What I didn't realize at the time was that a goose, when tied, looks up all the time. After the storm, we found Old Jim dead. He had stood there and looked up into the rain until, by God, he drowned.
      And I had to explain what had happened to poor old Babe Orsborne.


      A fugitive from the law can be a lot harder to capture in the mountains than in an urban area. This is especially true if the fugitive is a real "mountain man" --swift and nimble afoot, and resourceful enough to sustain himself in the wild. And if he's operating on his home ground, with relatives and friends to shelter him, his chances of avoiding capture are especially good.
       Such a man was Willie Sturgill.
     I used to hunt with Willie's father, Ballard Sturgill, so I knew something about the family and I knew Willie when he was growing up. He was raised in a little
community called the Cane Patch, on the right-hand branch of Roaring Fork on Powell's River, near Pardee.

      My first "professional" brush with Willie came in 1944 when I went to investigate reports of frequent shooting in the mountains above the Lonesome Pine Country Club in Powell's Valley.  Stationing myself at the one break in the mountain where a person can get through, I waited for the hunter to came out. I didn't have to wait very long.
      A tall young man came out of the woods with a rabbit, several squirrels, and some grouse swinging from his belt. He was about twenty years old, tall and athletic in appearance. (Not having seen Willie for several years, I didn't recognize him as Ballard Sturgill's son. But even if I had, it probably wouldn't have altered what was to transpire during the next few seconds.)
      The suspect stopped under an apple tree, holding a shotgun in his left hand while with his right hand, he parted the tall weeds, searching for apples. He had no hint of my presence until I arose from my hiding place, less than ten feet away, to confront him.
      "Hold everything right where it is, big boy,", I said.
      With unbelievable speed, Willie whirled to face me-- and just that quick, we could have both been dead. As he whirled, he brought his 20-gauge, single-barrel shotgun around to within what seemed just inches of my chest.
Meanwhile, I had leveled my .44 at his head as I shouted at him to throw up his hands or I'd kill him.

      For a second or two, we both looked death in the eye. And then Willie fainted. When he regained consciousness, he asked me two favors: that I not tell anyone the details of his arrest, and that I petition the court for him to work out his jail sentence on the "poor farm"--for which he would be credited with double time, thereby cutting the time served in half. When I learned who young Sturgill was--that he was the son of a friend of mine, and a boy I'd known as a little shaver--I granted both requests.
      Willie didn't stay on the poor farm very long. His first day there, he hoed one row of corn--and when he got to the edge of the field, he broke into the woods and escaped.
     That same day, local authorities received a pickup order for that same Willie Sturgill. He was A.W.O.L. from the Army!
       Before he was finally recaptured, Willie was to make the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Criminals" list. Everyone was after him--as many as ten FBI agents at one particular time, plus a squad of MP's, plus all local law enforcement officers in the area. Because of my familiarity with Willie, his family, and the mountain country he was hiding in, the FBI enlisted my aid in the manhunt. It proved to be a long, merry chase.
       Though the search was spread over a wide area and Willie was reportedly seen as far as fifty miles away, I don't think he ever ventured more than four or five miles from his father's home on Steele's Fork. On one occasion when we called at the Sturgill place, while old Ballard sat on the porch telling officers he hadn't seen his son for many weeks, an old woman stood up where she was working out in a field near the house and fanned herself with a big, sweeping motion of her bonnet. When I saw that, I didn't say anything. But I suspected strongly that the woman was flashing a signal--and that the man we were after couldn't be far from the house at that very moment.
     A few days later, a tip led officers to a small cave at the base of a cliff not far from Sturgill's home. There they found the fugitive, in the company of his little eight-year-old sister. His only "weapon" was a jar of moonshine whiskey. But that was all he needed. He dashed the moonshine into the face of a federal alcohol tax man named Gross, temporarily blinding him, and ran off into the woods.
        Willie might have stayed on the run forever, had it not been for a chance conversation I had with an Army sergeant who was assigned to the case. The sergeant was relating to me that he had told Willie's parents that when their son was captured. he would be taken back to his base to face a court martial. A court martial! It suddenly dawned on me that to many old people in our part of the country, court martial meant about the same thing as firing squad. That was probably a carry-over from Civil War days. Deserters, when they were caught , were court martialed and shot. Very likely, the elder Sturgills thought that was what the sergeant was telling them would happen to Willie!
       I went to see old Ballard Sturgill, and found that this, indeed, was the case. I guaranteed the old man that if Willie went back voluntarily, not only would his
life be spared--he'd be restored to duty within six months.

The two Sturgills, father and son, knocked at my door at six o'clock the next morning. The great chase was over.

      World War II ended a few days later, and within six months Willie Sturgill was a free man once again--this time, legally free.


     While most of the early Scotch-Irish settlers of the Virginia Appalachians moved on westward when the Indians were pushed off the fertile valleys of Tennessee and Kentucky, a few stayed behind. Their descendents still live in those same mountains, in pretty much the way people lived two hundred years ago. Things haven't changed a great deal in places like Stoney Lonesome, the
Nettle Patch, or Gobbler's Knob.

       Some of the residents of Wise County still live so far back in the sticks that they have little contact with the outside world. Prior to the building of access roads by the Roosevelt Administration's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the late 1930s, the only means of reaching many communities within the county was by horseback or on foot.
      I worked the rural areas on horseback for several years beginning in 1932, becoming well acquainted with the mountaineers and their ways of life. I became the principal carrier of news, settler of disputes, friend to the needy--and on more than one occasion, a pretty good midwife. Many a mountain-ramp young-'un let out his first wail after getting a spank across his little
red ass from old Davey's hand.

      One peculiar custom of the mountain people was that if the man of the house wasn't home, the women and children of a family would all run and hide when a stranger came along. But I made it a point to stop and get acquainted at every house. Experience taught me that one man cannot begin to enforce the fish and game laws in an area that encompasses several hundred square miles unless he has the public on his side--to the degree that private citizens will act as "scouts" and inform on offenders. And the best informers of all, I discovered, were women and children.


      Poverty in the mountains is a very real thing, even today. Children are going hungry , and often without adequate clothing or shelter. It was even worse during my early days as game warden, before roads were built into the back country. County welfare, such as it was in those days, did not extend back into the mountains.
      I remember an humble-appearing old fellow named Phillip Sexton, back in the High Knob country. He had the yellowest, crookedest teeth I ever saw in a man's head, growing in all directions. His hair hung almost to his shoulders, and he seldom shaved, and he was cockeyed as hell. Outside of that, he looked pretty good--for a Sexton. 
      I was running my dogs in the mountain one day when I ran into old Phillip.
     "Goddlemighty!" he said. "What fine dogs you have. Lord God, I'd like to have me a hound dog like that!
    "Just think of all the ground hogs I'd catch, to fatten my chillun up--they as pore as they can be!"
    I'd like to say today that I left one of my dogs with Phillip, so he could catch some ground hogs to feed those kids. But I didn't; I was afraid that if I loaned
him a dog he'd let it starve to death, like he did his own dog.


      Young Sam Penley came from a long line of moonshiners. And moonshiners, as a rule, tend strictly to their own business, never infringing on the rights or property of other people. But Sam broke the code--and that's what got him into trouble.
      Back in the early Forties, a mountaineer named Creed Collier lost a solid black bull calf. No trace of the animal was found for several days. Then its hide, head, and feet were discovered near Sam Penley's place. Of course, there was no way to prove that it was Sam Penley who killed the calf, but it was pretty obvious to everybody that he was the guilty party. To top it off, I was told by informants in the area that Penley had a habit of killing deer out of season, too.
      I set about trying to get the goods on young Mr. Penley. About a week after the remains of the calf were discovered, I was patrolling the mountain near the Penley place when I almost stepped in a bear trap. Nearby, I came upon a moonshine still--and not far from the still, another trap. This one was a snare trap, baited for deer with corn meal, salt, and ripe apples.
      Ordinarily, I did not report the many stills that I ran onto in the mountain. The moonshiners were my friends, and if they made good whiskey and respected the game laws, I saw no reason for turning them in. But I did report the Penley still, because of the traps. The ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) boys moved in within a few hours and destroyed the still.
       A few days later I heard by way of the grapevine that Sam Penley had boasted of setting traps "for Dave O'Neill or any other s.o.b. that wears a badge into the mountain." Not too long after that,. Sam was drafted into the Army. But the Army couldn't hold him. He promptly went A.W.O.L., staying on the run for about a year.
       Acting on a tip, I guided a pair of military policemen to Penley's place early one morning. Sure enough, Sam was there, and he was taken without a struggle. The Penley home was a one-room shack, with a stove, one bed, and a gang of snotty-nosed kids. Sam's only request was that he be allowed time for a good drink of whiskey before the MP's led him away. They granted his request, and he went along peacefully.
      I arranged for Penley's family to go on county welfare, supporting them out of my own pocket until welfare payments started.
       Here are a couple of postscripts to the Penley story. Sam's wife got his Army back pay, which amounted to somewhere between seven and eight hundred dollars. She used it to buy whiskey from her brother, a bootlegger named
Wiley Peaks, and stayed drunk all the time until the money ran out. Then she died in that one-room cabin, suffering from what is commonly called the DT's (delirium tremens). 

      Sam returned home after the war. He made whiskey in partnership with a boy named Tunnell, until they had a falling out and Sam killed him. Sam was tried for murder, came clear, and went back to moonshining.


       Giles County, about 1953. The county wild life manager, whose name I shall not reveal in this story, lived with his family in a little home beside a lake. One day Giles County Game Warden Bill Jamenson and I, along with some U.S. Forest Service people, had stopped at the fellow's home and were chatting with him on his front porch when a U.S. Forest Service plane began circling overhead, just above the treetops.
       Airplanes are still a rare sight in that part of the country. Wanting his wife to see this one close up, the wildlife manager called to her.
       "Hey, Oshie," he yelled. "Come out here and look at something."
        There was no reply.
       "Hey, Oshie!" he repeated, somewhat louder.
       "What?" she answered, from inside the house.
       "Come out here, I want you to see this big airplane."
       "No, " she snapped. "I don't want to see no airplane. "
        "Hey, Oshie!" the fellow called.
        No answer .
        "Hey,  Oshie!" he shouted, louder than ever, as his guests blinked at each other in wonderment.
         Still no answer.
        "Hey, Oshie!" he bellowed.
        "Kiss my ass!"

        Old Pinkney Carter, a Scott County farmer and store owner, brought the first hybrid corn into Southwest Virginia in the 1920s. His bottom land along Big Stoney Creek soon produced the finest yield of corn folks in that part of the country had ever seen.
      Carter had the reputation of being a fine, community-minded man. But when it came to sharing that hybrid corn, he became a little bit selfish. When Floyd Green, a lifelong friend, neighbor, and good customer, asked him for some seed, Pinkney refused to give him any.
      "I don't want to have this good corn of mine scattered allover the country," Pinkney is alleged to have told Green.
      A tornado swept through Big Stoney Creek the following spring, missing Floyd Green's place by half a mile but destroying seventeen buildings on Carter's big farm. It strewed his property--including his corn--all over the valley.
      Floyd went to call on Carter after the storm.
     "Pinkney," he said, "I tho't you said you wasn't going to have your corn scattered all over this country. Looks to me like God Almighty had a hand in what happened here!"


       Same of my younger readers may have thought I was "putting them on" a bit when I bragged earlier about having played midwife on several occasions. I wasn't. Here's one example of how it went:
      Pearl Bates lived with his family in the next-to-last home in the Nettle Patch. It was a regular thing for the fellows I 'coon-hunted with to wind up a night's
hunt by stopping at the Bates place for a cup of coffee or a shot of good whiskey before heading for home.

       One wintry night in the mid-Thirties, I came down out of the mountain into the Nettle Patch with my dogs in the wee hours of the morning. When I called at the Bates place, I found Mrs. Bates in labor and nobody with her but a couple of small children.
      Pearl, it developed, had gone to Norton in search of a doctor. When he couldn't find one in Norton, he went on to Dorchester and got Dr. Bobby Jones. But by the time they got back to the Nettle Patch, the job was already completed.
       With a little bit of help from me, Nettie Bates had given birth to a healthy baby boy.
      "Dave, old boy," said Dr. Jones, "you've done as fine a job as anybody could have done."
      I said, "Doc, do you reckon that if I went down to the medical school at Charlottesville and told 'em about all the experience I've had, they'd give me one of those licenses like you've got?"
        Well, Pearl and Nettie named that boy after me, so I naturally maintained an interest in him as he grew up. He turned out to be the kind of boy that wouldn't go to school, and in my capacity as part-time truant officer a few years later, I helped get him out of trouble several times. I don't know what he's doing today, but it probably isn't much.


      Remember our story about High Bill Sexton, the old "King of the Mountain" who disgraced half the women in a dozen different settlements? Well, we once had a "big buck deer" that did the same thing. Only, he didn't go after the women, like High Bill did. His hang-up was cows.
     I started getting a lot of calls from the eastern end of the county concerning a buck deer that was running with the farmers' cattle, destroying crops and "having
his way" with the cows and heifers. In my investigation of the reports, I talked to a number of eyewitnesses. When I asked one man just how large the buck was, he showed me by making & mark on his barn door. It was six feet tall!

       No further sightings of the "deer" were reported for the next few days. But then I was told that it had taken up wi th a widow woman's cattle, and was "servicing" them on an average of once every thirty minutes. I authorized the farmers in the area to shoot the buck--not to kill it, but merely to pepper it with No. 8 shot, so as to drive it away. This one of them did, from a distance estimated at thirty yards. The buck went away, all right; but he came right back, as soon as the farmer had left, and took up where he had left off with the widow's cows. So then a farmer shot him with a No.4 shot, and he went away again--but only temporarily.
      And then one rainy morning, Babe Orsborne and the widow lady's brother came to my house at about 6 a.m. With them they had a badly injured heifer. That amorous buck had been at it again!
      Well, that was the last straw. Taking my .30-.30 Winchester, I went back with the two men to the "scene of the crime"--the widow's pasture. And there, in broad
daylight, forcing his attentions on one of the lady's cows, was a big, bull elk! There was nothing I could do but shoot him. He was a fine, healthy specimen, weighing 650 pounds.

       Since we were at least 150 miles from the nearest elk herd, and elk are not known as "wanderers," I theorized that the elk had been brought into Wise County with a group of calf deer. At that age, they look enough like a deer to pass for one. In any event, to make the widow and her neighbors feel better about things, I went to the Wise courthouse and took out a marriage license for
the elk and his "lady love," the widow's roan cow.


      In the winter of 1940, I was caught in a snowstorm near Orsborne Rock--the former homesite, you will recall, of Squirrel-Head Cindy Orsborne. The only house within miles was the home of a fellow named Tom Ramey. I headed for the Ramey place, seeking shelter. As it turned out, Ramey and his family needed help worse than I did.
     I knew something was wrong, as soon as I came in sight of the house. There was no light in the window, and no smoke coming from the chimney. I knocked quickly at the door, then opened it and stepped inside. The sight and the smell that greeted me were almost beyond description.
     Tom Ramey was seated on a keg, half-conscious, too weak to move. He was suffering from dysentery, and had been in that condition for several days. A woman and her infant baby, both suffering terribly from malnutrition, lay on a bed of leaves in a corner. The stench of the place was horrible. There was no fire in the fireplace, and no firewood in the house--though the temperature was below freezing and an eight-inch snow covered the ground.
     I grabbed Ramey's ax and chopped enough wood for a big, roaring fire. Then, as the three Rameys thawed out, I gave them water and what little food I had with me. Then I struck out for Norton to get help.
       Doc Ussery accompanied me on the return trip to the Ramey cabin. We couldn't find another horse in town, so the doc rode mine and I led him in. It was a rough trip: uphill all the way, about fifteen miles, through rugged country and heavy snow. But I was one hell of a man in those days.
      Tom Ramey and his wife and child all survived. We rolled them out of the mountain on a wagon, and within a few days they were well enough to walk home.
        Years later, I lost a valuable hunting dog named Old Dan on the High Knob. After searching for him for several days, I had finally given up on ever finding him. But then a mountaineer sent word to me that he had found the dog and was caring for him.
      The mountaineer's name was Tom Ramey.

      As Wise County Game Warden and loyal Democratic Party worker, it was sometimes my "duty" to take VIPs from the state capital on quiet little two- and three-day fishing trips into certain mountain lakes where fishing was not normally permitted.
        On one such trip, I picked up a boy at West Norton to accompany the party and act as handy-man around the camp. The boy's first name was James, and I could tell you his last name, too. But it's really immaterial to the story, and could bring embarrassment to the family. Let's just call him James.
      Well, James did a swell job. He hustled all the time, making coffee and frying fish and helping out with the bait and the tangled lines and the rowing. Most important of all, he was a very shy, quite kind of boy--never saying a word, unless it was in answer to a question, and then he answered with a nod or a grunt or, at the most, just a word or two. When the trip was over, each of the
visitors gave James a nice tip and wished him well.

       The following year, some of the same party came back for another visit to the lake. Remembering the good job James had done, I went by his house to see if he'd like to go with us again. James wasn't there, but his brother William was, and he volunteered for the job. William was just a year younger than James, and looked so much like him that one of the members of our party didn't realize he wasn't the same boy until we were rowing out across the lake.
      "Aren't you the same boy we had last year?" he asked.
      "Nope, " said William.
      "Who was that boy?"
       "That was m'brother, James."
       "Where is James now?"
       "Up north. "
       "Where at, up north?"
       "Harvard University?"
        "Yep. "
        "What's he studying?"
        "Who James?"
        "Yes. What's he studying at Harvard?"
         "James ain't studyin' nothin'."
        "Well," demanded the guest, "What the hell is he doing at Harvard, if he isn't studying anything?"
          "Harvard," said William "is a-studyin' James!"

        Grover Begley was a mountaineer who lived with his family on Devil's Fork of Stoney Creek, in Scott County. Be and his wife raised eighteen children in a one-room log cabin, feeding them on beans and berries and ginseng root and anything else they could forage in the mountains.
        One day in the fall of 1933, Grover sent word to me to bring my hounds and come over to his place; he had a big gang of coons located. It seemed that a family of Lanes who lived below Grover on Stoney Creek had ordered a new coon dog. They had boasted to Grover that they were going to catch all the coons in the country, and they made a point of not inviting him to join them.
       Well, old Grover decided to show 'em.  In fact, he specifically wanted the Lanes to hear my dogs "boo" around the ridge above their place when we went after the coons.
      Setting out with two good dogs of my own, I put in at Cracker's Neck with Hugh Graham and another fellow, each of whom had one dog. On the long walk to Devil's Fork, we treed and killed perhaps twenty-five squirrels between us--the makings of a wonderful feast at the Begley place.
        The coon hunt began right after supper. And it was a rough one. We walked seven miles through rough country before we heard a dog bark. Then one of my dogs, Little Queen, picked up a track, right under our feet. Sounding an urgent trail bark, she took off up a little branch into a nearby hollow. The other dogs, hearing Queen, rushed in to pick up the same track--but they all followed it downstream. While the other hunters took off after the three dogs, I followed Queen. The race lasted for about a mile, before Queen treed her quarry up a big, spreading oak at the head of the hollow. Actually, it turned out to be not one coon, but five!
        Grover said, "Let's wait till about four o'clock; I want them damned Lanes to hear the dogs and the shootin'!"
       Grover started building up a fire so we could keep warm--but he built it right under the tree the coons were in.
      "You'll smoke 'em out that way, Grover," I protested. "Leave 'em alone, and they'll stay in that tree all night, but you build a fire that close to the tree, and they'll leave here."
       As it turned out, four of the five coons escaped the tree and ran into a cliff, where they were safe. We shot the other one out.
       On the way back to the Begley place, Hugh Graham had trouble with his feet. Hugh, a Southern Railway locomotive engineer, was a big man, not accustomed to a lot of walking , and on top of that he was wearing new boots . Every few hundred yards, we'd hear him say, "Wait just a minute, boys..."
       Back at the Begley place, Grover's wife praised that coon like nothing you ever saw. Parting its fur with her fingers, she'd say, "My Lord, ain't that purty!"
      There were two beds in the Begley cabin, and they both reeked of baby pee so bad I just couldn't take it. But after hunting all night, a man had to sleep some place. I solved the problem by finding a big chestnut log a half-mile or so from the cabin and curling up along side it with my two dogs snuggled up against me--one before, one aft.
       By late afternoon, I was ready to go hunting again. The others kept talking a good hunt, but all of them, Grover included, were more inclined to stay there and take nourishment from the five-gallon keg of moonshine setting at Grover's back door than they were in tramping up and down those ridges again. Grover's son Jack, a big, strapping boy of about thirteen, was the only one willing to go with me. So he and I set out with the dogs, and before midnight we were back with another coon.

      Grover Begley made whiskey in a hollow between Devil's Fork and Johnson Pastures. The Peaks family also made whiskey in that same general area, and from time to time a little bit of professional jealousy existed between them and Grover.
       One morning a couple of the Peakses found Grover alone at his still and proceeded to beat his brains out with a pole ax. Then they shot him a couple of times for good measure, and buried him in a shallow grave nearby, covering his body with rocks, leaves, and tree limbs.
       Grover's wife knew where his still was, and when he failed to come home that night, she went looking for him. She found the grave, uncovered her husband, and discovered that he was still alive. Then that hardy woman went back home, hitched up the family mare, and retuned to drag Grover home on a makeshift stretcher. Within a few weeks, she nursed him back to health.
     To cap off the story: several of the eighteen Begley children eventually married Peakses, and raised fine, properous, law-abiding families!

       Remember Jack Begley, Grover's husky son, who accompanied me on that second night of coon hunting?
      Jack left home not long after that, and found a logging job in Bland County with the Virginia Hardwood Lumber Company. He was on his way home for the holidays one cold Christmas Eve in the late Thirties, traveling in the company of another young man. They stopped in Norton and Jack bought a bottle of whiskey, paying for it out of a fifty dollar bill. Then the two of them set out afoot
for Jack's home in Scott County, across High Knob. 

      Later that evening, an out-of-state motorist came down off the Knob and reported having seen a dead man lying in a ditch back around Chestnut Flats.
Officer Ray Wells jumped in his car and took off up the mountain to investigate the report. Along the way, he passed a man walking down the mountain carrying

a small suitcase. Wells drove on to Chestnut Flats and found the body, but discovered when he got there that he had forgotten to bring along his camera. Not wishing to disturb the body until photographs had been taken, he left it where it lay and hurried back to Norton--picking up the suitcase-carrying suspect along the way.

       Meanwhile, I had received a call from Wise County Sheriff Clyde Bolling, asking me to accompany him to Chestnut Flats. We got there just as Wells returned with his camera. The "murder victim" was lying face down in a ditch, shot full of holes. After the necessary pictures had been taken, I turned the man over and recognized him as a Begley--although at the time, I didn't know which
one. Then, to our amazement, the man groaned. He was still alive!

       Jack Begley's traveling companion confessed that he had shot him seven times, leaving him for dead. Obviously, nobody had explained to him that those Begleys don't die that easy. Jack, a man of extremely powerful physique, was back on his feet in a week's time.
       A few years Later, Jack went over to Kingsport, Tennessee, and got himself shot through the guts with a .38 special. But a few days later he was stepping high again, stronger than ever.
        Jack's undoing came on Little Stoney Creek, near Hanging Rock, in the cabin of an old man named Dooley. Jack broke into the old man's cabin one night, declared who he was and what he was there for, and began to make lustful advances toward Dooley's attractive young daughter.
      The old man slipped off into the kitchen, where he had a single-barrel shotgun propped against the wall. Returning quickly to the front room, he fired a load of birdshot into the back of Jack Begley's head from point blank range, killing him instantly.

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