Connie Bolling

Early in the 1840’s, a man by the name of Jim Baker came to the remote settlement of Flat Gap, located on the headwaters of the North Fork of the Pound River.  Where he came from, no one knew.
He was a very peculiar man, dreamy looking, talking very little to men but articulate and easy in conversation with women.  He possessed an air about him that drew women to him.  He was roughly handsome with his neatly trimmed moustache and curly black hair.  Naturally, the men hated him for having such a blessing.  They ostracized and taunted him, causing him to flee their mistreatment into the wilder regions of the mountains.

Gossip leaked out that he had been seen with a strange woman near a cave-house on a large flat atop Black Mountain.  This place was located just north of Dunbar and Roaring Fork.  Then, as time drifted on, Baker was seen around the cave with an assortment of women,

Finally, the old settlers in Flat Gap became suspicious and not a little curious of Baker’s activities with so many women.  They vowed they were going to find out what he was up to.  At two-week intervals Baker would come down with his small donkey to the big country store in Flat Gap.  He always bought two sacks of supplies, such as flour, meal, salt and lard and other staples needed to feed a fair number of people.  He tied the fee sacks together, laid them across the little donkey’s back and started for home.  He had spoken to no one.

‘What a strange man,” the women would say, shaking their heads

‘Well, if you want my word fer it, I’ll bet he’s a no good rascal,” Shanklin Hubbard kept saying.

His trail led him past a large saw mill operation, and there were those who speculated tahat he might be employed there.  This time preceded the mining camps at Dunbar, Pardee and Roaring Fork, so of course he wasn’t engaged in that type work.

“He’s right up air makin licker,”cause he haint ever out’n of money,” Shanklin would exclaim, “and the wimmen air atter him fer it.”

Great–grandpa Jeremiah and my grandpa, Jessie plotted to go up on the mountain, pretending to hunt but intending to satisfy their curiosity about Baker and his women.  Grandpa said, “I’ll bet he’s alivin’ in that cave up air.  I’ve been in it, and they’s three rooms air.”

So the two got their guns and dogs and headed for the top of the mountain which was five or six miles away over hill and down hill, up what now is called “Phillip’s Creek.”  Hunting was good as they went along, but they led their dogs and held their fire.  They wanted to slip up on old Jim.

Suddenly, at the edge of a clearing, they watched as a black clad women ran sobbing into view.  She wailed incoherently.  Presently Jim Baker appeared, giving chase to the distraught female, who, at length, flung herself across a large bolder.  Still at some distance, Baker yelled, “It looks like with so few of you, you could get along.”

At length, the two figures, talking softly, rose and headed for their cave home.  Puzzled, but amused, Jeremiah and Jessie concluded that they had witnessed a martial squabble, one of the many that must have plagued Baker with his retinue of women.

The two men followed the couple to the cave.  As they approached they saw two black bear dogs tearing through the “bresh” and hell bent for them, baring their fangs when they came nearer.  Jeremiah and Jessie who had grabbed clubs and begun beating at them through the bushes met them.  They held their own dogs back.

To their surprise, three hefty women who had heard the commotion came running after the dogs yelling, “Come back here!  Come back here!  You devils!”  They dragged their dogs back to the cave.

Suddenly, the two men saw Baker come from behind the cave, holding a musket.  Four more women emerged: one combed her hair, another held an iron poker in the air.  Baker stepped out front of them, his gun still held ready and cocked.  Jeremiah and Jessie wanted to run, but stood frozen in their tracks.  Despite their fear, one mighty peculiar thing caught their eye.  It was a cannon, sitting on a level spot in front of the cave.  The women filed back into the cave while Jim continued to glare at the two scared men.  

In one voice they offered, “Hello there.”  Jim made no response, but took one step toward them.  They knew they were treading on dangerous ground, so they tucked their tails and ran all the way to Flat Gap. 

They were two tired, heroic men.  They, at last, knew the secrets of Jim and his seven concubines.  Was he a modern day Solomon?  The whole community gathered around them and listened to the most exciting news since the Revolutionary War.

All the citizenry had learned enough about old Jim to start tongues wagging.  Women were tittering and ooohing and aaahing, while men were cussing and fuming, no small part of their response being jealousy, though they would have denied it.  Men buckled on their guns when they went into Black Mountain.  Women “dyked out” in their best dresses when they went to the store, hoping to see Jim Baker, the 1840’s heartthrob.

The people also pondered the problem of the cannon.  What was the purpose of such a huge gun in so remote a place?   How did Baker get the 500 pound cannon there?  All such questions drifted up and down the upper Pound River settlement.

Some of the old settlers “Aimed on going after him to tar and feather him and run all of ‘em off the mountain.”  Everybody was mad and hostility was at a fever pitch.  Wilse Church, their Primitive Baptist preacher sent runners out to summon all of them to a meeting at the old log church the following night.  He wanted to preach a sermon to them.  The time was ripe.

The text for his sermon that night was “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.”  And what a foot stomping good service it was.  Some women shouted, while some of the men cussed.  But it seemed to lessen the tension among the people.

But during the next week things took a turn for the worse.  One morning, just at daybreak, all the countryside was awakened by three booming explosions from Baker’s cannon.  The hills and valleys echoed with the deafening noise.  People gathered in-groups and speculated about Baker’s reasons for shooting off the cannon.  Most everyone thought he was mad because of Grandpa’s visit.  For several days their tongues wagged, but no answers came.

So the men returned to hunting game for the supper table, and the women settled back to their housekeeping and attending their children.  But one queer fact was beginning to emerge – none of the huntsmen had been able to kill any of the game they stalked.  Even though they were at close range and had a fair, open shot, their aim missed.  The deer, and other animals, just trotted away.

Grandpa Jeremiah was a good marksman, and he shot at a deer and missed even though he was close enough to see the rings around the deer’s eyes.  He turned and fired at a rock about two hundred yards away, and the rock shattered into pieces.  “Something is wrong, I know it is.  I hit the rock and I know I should have killed that deer.”

Jeremiah had heard that the woods could be “RUNG” by a witch and that no one would be able to kill any game as long as the “spell” was in effect. Baker, they reasoned, must be a witch who had cast the “spell” all over the hills and mountains.  The three shots from the cannon had really “RUNG” the woods, Jeremiah concluded.

As time went by, men continued to hunt, only to return home empty handed.  The news spread quickly about the “ringing of the woods.”  It was an accepted as fact by everyone and sentiment was running high against Baker.  Some wanted to go up on the Flats and beat Baker to death.

Benjamin Bolling, having fallen ill, called his son, Jeremiah, to his bedside.  He told him he knew a way to “cast a spell” on a witch and kill it if certain directions were followed very closely.

Benjamin said he had found the witch-killing ‘receipt’ under the stock of a rifle that he had brought from England when he was 14 years old.

With trembling fingers, Benjamin removed the old brown parchment paper from a box beside his bed.  He said, “Read this Jerry.”  So Jeremiah read the witch-killing ‘receipt’ as follows: “Carve the image of the witch on the smooth bark of a chestnut tree that faces the morning sun.  The step back 13 steps from the tree and as the sun rises, shoot the image of the witch.  Then speak the words, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”  Go home and plug the muzzle of your rifle with bee’s wax.  Turn the muzzle down and drop 30 drops of water in the gun barrel.  Put the gun in the chimney corner.  In a day or two the witch will fall ill with fever, as the water dries up in the gun barrel.  When all the water dries from the gun barrel, the witch will die a most terrible death.  Beware!  If, after the witch sickens, any of his family seeks to borrow anything from you, your spell may be broken if anything is actually lent to them.

So, Jeremiah carved the image of Baker on the smooth bark of a chestnut tree that faced the morning.  The next morning he was at the tree at sunrise.  He stepped back 13 steps from the tree and shot the image of Baker in the heart.  He went home to await the outcome.

The tenth day following, a strange woman shrouded in black, appeared at Jeremiah’s door asking to borrow a shuttle for a loom.  Jeremiah responded, “I have no shuttle and none of our people has one.”  She turned away rejected.  “Aha, my witch killing “receipt” is working,” Jeremiah gloated.  He went about warning his kinfolk not to lend any thing to any stranger that might come to their doors.  If Baker was clever enough to “ring the woods” to begin with, he might be clever enough to foil the witch-killing receipt.  

On the twenty-ninth day after the image had been shot, a trembling woman with tears streaming down her cheeks, came to Jeremiah’s door and pleaded, “Jerry, if you don’t do something for Jim, he is going to die.”

On hearing this, Jeremiah reached in the corner and got his gun.  When he removed the bee’s wax plug, only one drop of water came from the gun barrel.  “Now,” Jeremiah told her, “in one more day Jim would have been dead.  Go back to him now and give him this plug of bee’s wax.  Have him eat it and he will not die.”

From that day on no one saw Baker nor any of his women again and the settlers returned to their day-to-day activities.

Post-Script:  Baker did live in the cave with seven women.  To this day some of the older people will well remember the area as Baker’s Flats or Baker’s Rock.  When I was ten years of age, my father took me to the tree where Baker’s image had been carved.  I am writing and compiling these articles in the hope of preserving our Appalachian heritage as best as I am able.
C.C. Bolling, Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Source: The Coalfield Progress, Thursday, April 5, 1984.

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