CRANBERRY FORGE is the first wedge of civilization fairly driven into the northwest mountains of North Carolina. A narrow-guage railway, starting from Johnson City, follows up the narrow gorge of the Doe River and pushes into the heart of the iron mines at Cranberry, where there is a blast furnace, and where a big company store, rows of tenement houses, heaps of slag and refuse ore, interlacing tracks, raw embankments, denuded hillsides, and a blackened landscape are the signs of a great devastating American enterprise. The Cranberry iron is in great esteem, as it has the peculiar quality of the Swedish iron. There are remains of old furnaces lower down the stream, which we passed on our way. The present “ plant” is that of a Philadelphia company, whose enterprise has infused new life into all this region, made it accessible, and spoiled some pretty scenery.
When we alighted, weary, at the gate of the pretty hotel, which crowns a gentle hill and commands a pleasing, evergreen prospect of many gentle hills, a mile or so below the works and wholly removed from all sordid associations, we were at the point of willingness that the whole country should be devastated by civilization. In the local imagination this hotel of the company is a palace of unequaled magnificence, but probably its good-taste, comfort, and quiet elegance are not appreciated after all. There is this to be said about Philadelphia — and it will go far in pleading for it in the Last Day against its monotonous rectangularity and the Babel-like ambition of its Public Building — that wherever its influence extends there will be found comfortable lodgings and the luxury of an undeniably excellent cuisine. The visible seal that Philadelphia sets on its enterprise all through the South is a good hotel.
This Cottage Beautiful has on two sides a wide veranda, set about with easy chairs ; cheerful parlors and pretty chambers, finished in native woods, among which are conspicuous the satin stripes of the cucumber tree; luxurious beds, and an inviting table, ordered by a Philadelphia landlady, who knows a beefsteak from a boot-tap. Is it “ low ” to dwell upon these things of the senses, when one is on a tour in search of the picturesque ? Let the reader ride from Abingdon through a wilderness of cornpone and rusty bacon, and then judge. There were, to be sure, novels lying about, and newspapers, and fragments of information to be picked up about a world into which the travelers seemed to emerge. They, at least, were satisfied, and went off to their rooms with the restful feeling that they had arrived somewhere, and no unquiet spirit at morn would say “ to horse.” To sleep, perchance to dream of Tatem and his household cemetery, and the Professor was heard muttering in his chamber,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head.
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expir’d.”
The morning was warm (the elevation of the hotel must be between 2500 and 3000 feet), rainy, mildly rainy ; and the travelers had nothing better to do than lounge upon the veranda, read feeble ten-cent fictions, and admire the stems of the white birches, glistening in the moisture, and the rhododendron trees, twenty feet high, which were shaking off their last pink blossoms, and look down into the valley of the Doe. It is not an exciting landscape, nothing bold or specially wild in it, but restful with the monotony of some of the wooded Pennsylvania hills.
Sunday came up smiling, a lovely day, but offering no church privileges, for the ordinance of preaching is only occasional in this region. The ladies of the hotel have, however, gathered in the valley a Sunday-school of fifty children from the mountain cabins. A couple of rainy days, with the thermometer rising to 80°, combined with natural laziness to detain the travelers in this cottage of ease. They enjoyed this the more because it was on their consciences that they should visit Linville Falls, some twenty-five miles eastward, long held up before them as the most magnificent feature of this region, and on no account to be omitted. Hence naturally a strong desire to omit it. The Professor takes bold ground against these abnormal freaks of nature, and it was nothing to him that the public would demand that we should see Linville Falls. In the first place we could find no one who had ever seen them, and we spent two days in catechizing natives and strangers. The nearest we came to information was from a workman at the furnace, who was born and raised within three miles of the Falls. He had heard of people going there. He had never seen them himself. It was a good twentyfive miles there, over the worst road in the State — we’d think it thirty before we got there. Fifty miles of such travel to see a little water run down hill! The travelers reflected. Every country has a local waterfall of which it boasts; they had seen a great many. One more would add little to the experience of life. The vagueness of information, to be sure, lured the travelers to undertake the journey; but the temptation was resisted — something ought to be left for the next explorer — and so Linville remains a thing of the imagination.
Towards evening, July 29th, between showers, the Professor and the Friend rode along the narrow-guage road, down Johnson’s Creek, to Roan Station, the point of departure for ascending Roan Mountain. It was a ride of an hour and a half over a fair road, fringed with rhododendrons, nearly blossomless ; but at one point on the stream this sturdy shrub had formed a long bower whereunder a table might have been set for a temperance picnic, completely overgrown with wild grape, and still gay with bloom. The habitations on the way are mostly board shanties and mean frame cabins, but the railway is introducing ambitious architecture here and there in the form of ornamental filigree work on flimsy houses: ornamentation is apt to precede comfort in our civilization.
Roan Station is on the Doe River (which flows down from Roan Mountain), and is marked at 2650 feet above the sea. The visitor will find here a good hotel, with open wood fires (not ungrateful in a July evening), and obliging people. This railway from Johnson City, hanging on the edge of the precipices that wall the gorge of the Doe, is counted in this region by the inhabitants one of the engineering wonders of the world. The tourist is urged by all means to see both it and Linville Falls.
The tourist on horseback, in search of exercise and recreation, is not probably expected to take stock of moral conditions. But this Mitchell County, although it was a Union county during the war and is Republican in politics (the Southern reader will perhaps prefer another adverb to “ although ”), has had the worst possible reputation. The mountains were hiding-places of illicit distilleries ; the woods were full of grog-shanties, where the inflaming fluid was sold as “ native brandy,” quarrels and neighborhood difficulties were frequent, and the knife and pistol were used on the slightest provocation. Fights arose about boundaries and the title to mica mines, and with the revenue officers; and force was the arbiter of all disputes.
Within the year four murders were committed in the sparsely settled county. Travel on any of the roads was unsafe. The tone of morals was what might be expected with such lawlessness. A lady who came up on the road on the 4th of July, when an excursion party of country people took possession of the cars, witnessed a scene and heard language past belief. Men, women, and children drank from whiskey bottles that continually circulated, and a wild orgy resulted. Profanity, indecent talk on topics that even the license of the sixteenth century would not have tolerated, and freedom of manners that even Teniers would have shrunk from putting on canvas made the journey horrible.
The unrestrained license of whiskey and assault and murder had produced a reaction a few months previous to our visit. The people had risen up in their indignation and broken up the groggeries. So far as we observed temperance prevailed, backed by public opinion. In our whole ride through the mountain region we saw only one or two places where liquor was sold.
It is called twelve miles from Roan Station to Roan Summit. The distance is probably nearer fourteen, and our horses were five hours in walking it. For six miles the road runs by Doe River, here a pretty brook shaded with laurel and rhododendron, and a few cultivated patches of ground and infrequent houses. It was a blithe morning, and the horsemen would have given full indulgence to the spirit of adventure but for the attitude of the Professor towards mountains. It was not with him a matter of feeling, but of principle, not to ascend them. But here lay Roan, a long, sprawling ridge, lifting itself 6250 feet up into the sky. Impossible to go around it, and the other side must be reached. The Professor was obliged to surrender, and surmount a difficulty which he could not philosophize out of his mind.
From the base of the mountain a road is very well engineered, in easy grades for carriages, to the top ; but it was in poor repair and stony. We mounted slowly through splendid forests, specially of fine chestnuts and hemlocks. This big timber continues till within a mile and a half of the summit by the winding road, really within a short distance of the top. Then there is a narrow belt of scrubby hardwood, moss-grown, and then large balsams, which crown the mountain. As soon as we came out upon the southern slope we found great open spaces, covered with succulent grass, and giving excellent pasturage to cattle. These rich mountain meadows are found on all the heights of this region. The surface of Roan is uneven, and has no one culminating peak that commands the country, like the peak of Mount Washington, but several eminences within its range of probably a mile and a half, where various views can be had. Near the highest point, sheltered from the north by balsams, stands a house of entertainment, with a detached cottage, looking across the great valley to the Black Mountain range. The surface of the mountain is pebbly, but few rocks crop out; no ledges of any size are seen except at a distance from the hotel, on the north side, and the mountain consequently lacks that savage, unsubduable aspect which the White Hills of New Hampshire have. It would, in fact, have been difficult to realize that we were over 6000 feet above the sea, except for that pallor in the sunlight, that atmospheric thinness and want of color which is an unpleasant characteristic of high altitudes. To be sure, there is a certain brilliancy in the high air — it is apt to be foggy on Roan — and objects appear in sharp outline, but I have often experienced on such places that feeling of melancholy, which would, of course, deepen upon us all if we were sensible that the sun was gradually withdrawing its power of warmth and light. The black balsam is neither a cheerful nor a picturesque tree ; the frequent rains and mists on Roan keep the grass and mosses green, but the ground damp. Doubtless a high mountain covered with vegetation has its compensation, but for me the naked granite rocks in sun and shower are more cheerful.
The advantage of Roan is that one can live there and be occupied for a long time in mineral and botanical study. Its mild climate, moisture, and great elevation make it unique in this country for the botanist. The variety of plants assembled there is very large, and there are many, we were told, never or rarely found elsewhere in the United States. At any rate the botanists rave about Roan Mountain and spend weeks on it at a time. We found there ladies who could draw for us Grey’s lily (then passed) and had kept specimens of the rhododendron (not growing elsewhere in this region), which has a deep red, almost purple color.
The hotel is a rude mountain structure, with a couple of comfortable rooms for office and sitting-room, in which big wood fires are blazing; for though the thermometer might record 60°, as it did when we arrived, fire was welcome. Sleeping places partitioned off in the loft above gave the occupants a feeling of camping out, all the conveniences being primitive; and when the wind rose in the night and darkness, and the loose boards rattled and the timbers creaked, the sensation was not unlike that of being at sea. The hotel was satisfactorily kept, and Southern guests, from as far south as New Orleans, were spending the season there, and not finding time hang heavy on their hands. This statement is perhaps worth more than pages of description as to the character of Roan, and its contrast to Mt. Washington.
The summer weather is exceedingly uncertain on all these North Carolina mountains ; they are apt at any moment to be enveloped in mist; and it would rather rain on them than not. On the afternoon of our arrival there was fine air and fair weather, but not a clear sky. The distance was hazy, but the outlines were preserved. We could see White Top, in Virginia ; Grandfather Mountain, a long serrated range ; the twin towers of Linville ; and the entire range of the Black Mountains, rising from the valley, and apparently lower than we were. They get the name of Black from the balsams which cover the summits.
The rain on Roan was of less annoyance by reason of the delightful company assembled at the hotel, which was in a manner at home there, and, thrown upon its own resources, came out uncommonly strong in agreeableness. There was a fiddle in the house, which had some of the virtues of that celebrated in the history of old Mark Langston ; the Professor was enabled to produce anything desired out of the literature of the eighteenth century ; and what with the repartee of bright women, big wood fires, reading, and chat, there was no dull day or evening on Roan. I can fancy, however, that it might tire in time, if one were not a botanist, without the resource of women’s society. The ladies staying here were probably all accomplished botanists, and the writer is indebted to one of them for a list of plants found on Roan, among which is an interesting weed, catalogued as Humana, perplexia negligens. The species is, however, common elsewhere.
The second morning opened, after a night of high wind, with a thunder shower. After it passed, the visitors tried to reach Eagle Cliff, two miles off, whence an extensive western prospect is had, but were driven back by a tempest, and rain practically occupied the day. Now and then through the parted clouds we got a glimpse of a mountainside, or the gleam of a valley. On the lower mountains, at wide intervals apart, were isolated settlements, commonly a wretched cabin and a spot of girdled trees. A clergyman here, not long ago, undertook to visit some of these cabins and carry his message to them. In one wretched hut of logs he found a poor woman, with whom, after conversation on serious subjects, he desired to pray. She offered no objection, and he kneeled down and prayed. The woman heard him, and watched him for some moments with curiosity, in an effort to ascertain what he was doing, and then said: —
“ Why, a man did that when he put my girl in a hole.”
Towards night the wind hauled round from the south to the northwest, and we went to High Bluff, a point on the north edge, where some rocks are piled up above the evergreens, to get a view of the sunset. In every direction the mountains were clear, and a view was obtained of the vast horizon and the hills and lowlands of several States — a continental prospect, scarcely anywhere else equaled for variety or distance. The grandeur of mountains depends mostly on the state of the atmosphere. Grandfather loomed up much more loftily than the day before, the giant range of the Blacks asserted itself in grim inaccessibility, and we could see, a small pyramid on the southwest horizon, King’s Mountain in South Carolina, estimated to be distant one hundred and fifty miles. To the north Roan falls from this point abruptly, and we had, like a map below us, the low country all the way into Virginia. The clouds lay like lakes in the valleys of the lower hills, and in every direction were ranges of mountains wooded to the summits. Off to the west by south lay the Great Smoky Mountains, disputing eminence with the Blacks.
Magnificent and impressive as the spectacle was, we were obliged to contrast it unfavorably with that of the White Hills. The rock here is a sort of sand or pudding stone ; there is no limestone or granite. And all the hills are tree covered. To many this clothing of verdure is most restful and pleasing. I missed the sharp outlines, the delicate artistic sky lines, sharply defined in uplifted bare granite peaks and ridges, with the purple and violet color of the northern mountains, and which it seems to me that limestone and granite formations give. There are none of the great gorges and awful abysses of the White Mountains, both valleys and mountains here being more uniform in outline. There are few precipices and jutting crags, and less is visible of the giant ribs and bones of the planet.
Yet Roan is a noble mountain. A lady from Tennessee asked me if I had ever seen anything to compare with it — she thought there could be nothing in the world. One has to dodge this sort of question in the South occasionally, not to offend a just local pride. It is certainly one of the most habitable of big mountains. It is roomy on top, there is space to move about without too great fatigue, and one might pleasantly spend a season there, if he had agreeable company and natural tastes.
Getting down from Roan on the south side is not as easy as ascending on the north ; the road for five miles to the foot of the mountain is merely a river of pebbles, gullied by the heavy rains, down which the horses picked their way painfully. The travelers endeavored to present a dashing and cavalier appearance to the group of ladies who waved good-by from the hotel, as they took their way over the waste and wind-blown declivities, but it was only a show, for the horses would neither caracole nor champ the bit (at a dollar a day) down hill over the slippery stones, and, truth to tell, the wanderers turned with regret from the society of leisure and persiflage to face the wilderness of Mitchell County.
“ How heavy,” exclaimed the Professor, pricking Laura Matilda to call her attention sharply to her footing : —
When what I seek — my weary travel’s end —
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say,
Thus far the miles are measur’d from thy friend ! ’
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider loved not speed, being made from thee :
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
Which heavily he answers with a groan,
More sharp to me than spurring to his side ;
For that same groan doth put this in my mind;
My grief lies onward and my joy behind.”
This was not spoken to the group who fluttered their farewells, but poured out to the uncomplaining forest, which rose up in ever statelier and grander ranks to greet the travelers as they descended — the silent vast forest, without note of bird or chip of squirrel, only the wind tossing the great branches high overhead in response to the sonnet. Is there any region or circumstance of life that the poet did not forecast and provide for ? But what would have been his feelings if he could have known that almost three centuries after these lines were penned, they would be used to express the emotion of an unsentimental traveler in the primeval forests of the New World ? At any rate he peopled the New World with the children of his imagination. And, thought the Friend, whose attention to his horse did not permit him to drop into poetry, Shakespeare might have had a vision of this vast continent, though he did not refer to it, when he exclaimed: —
That millions of strange shadows on you tend ? ”
Bakersville, the capital of Mitchell County, is eight miles from the top of Roan, and the last three miles of the way the horsemen found tolerable going, over which the horses could show their paces. The valley looked fairly thrifty and bright, and was a pleasing introduction to Bakersville, a pretty place in the hills, of some six hundred inhabitants, with two churches, three indifferent hotels and a court-house. This mountain town, 2550 feet above the sea, is said to have a decent winter climate, with little snow, favorable to fruit-growing, and, by contrast with New England, encouraging to people with weak lungs.
This is the centre of the mica mining, and of considerable excitement about minerals. All around, the hills are spotted with “ diggings.” Most of the mines which yield well show signs of having been worked before, a very long time ago, no doubt by the occupants before the Indians. The mica is of excellent quality and easily mined. It is got out in large irregular-shaped blocks and transported to the factories, where it is carefully split by band, and the laminæ, of as large size as can be obtained, are trimmed with shears and tied up in packages for market. The quantity of refuse, broken, and rotten mica piled up about the factories is immense, and all the roads round about glisten with its scales. Garnets are often found imbedded in the laminæ, flattened by the extreme pressure to which the mass was subjected. It is fascinating material, this mica, to handle, and we amused ourselves by experimenting on the thinness to which its scales could be reduced by splitting. It was at Bakersville that we saw specimens of mica that resembled the delicate tracery in the mossagate, and had the iridescent sheen of the rainbow colors — the most delicate greens, reds, blues, purples, and gold, changing from one to the other in the reflected light. In the texture were the tracings of fossil forms of ferns and the most exquisite and delicate vegetable beauty of the coal age. But the magnet shows this tracery to be iron. We were shown also emeralds and “ diamonds,” picked up in this region, and there is a mild expectation in all the inhabitants of great mineral treasure. A singular product of the region is the flexible sandstone. It is a most uncanny stone. A slip of it a couple of feet long and an inch in diameter each way bends in the hand like a half frozen snake. This conduct of a substance that we have been taught to regard as inflexible impairs one’s confidence in the stability of nature and affects him as an earthquake does.
This excitement over mica and other minerals has the usual effect of starting up business and creating bad blood. Fortunes have been made, and lost in riotous living; scores of visionary men have been disappointed ; lawsuits about titles and claims have multiplied, and quarrels ending in murder have been frequent in the past few years. The mica and the illicit whiskey have worked together to make this region one of lawlessness and violence. The travelers were told stories of the lack of common morality and decency in the region, but they made no note of them. And, perhaps fortunately, they were not there during court week to witness the scenes of license that were described. This court week, which draws hither the whole population, is a sort of Saturnalia. Perhaps the worst of this is already a thing of the past; for the outrages a year before had reached such a pass that by a common movement the sale of whiskey was stopped (not interdicted, but stopped), and not a drop of liquor could be bought in Bakersville nor within three miles of it.
The jail at Bakersville is a very simple residence. The main building is brick, two stories high and about twelve feet square. The walls are so loosely laid up that it seems as if a colored prisoner might butt his head through. Attached to this is a room for the jailer. In the lower room is a wooden cage, made of logs bolted together and filled with spikes, nine feet by ten feet square and perhaps seven or eight feet high.
Between this cage and the wall is a space of eighteen inches in width. It has a narrow door, and an opening through which the food is passed to the prisoners, and a conduit leading out of it. Of course it soon becomes foul, and in warm weather somewhat warm. A recent prisoner, who wanted more ventilation than the State allowed him, found some means, by a loose plank, I think, to batter a hole in the outer wall opposite the window in the cage, and this ragged opening, seeming to the jailer a good sanitary arrangement, remains. Two murderers occupied this apartment at the time of our visit. During the recent session of court, ten men had been confined in this narrow space, without room enough for them to lie down together. The cage in the room above, a little larger, had for tenant a person who was jailed for some misunderstanding about an account, and who was probably innocent — from the jailer’s statement. This box is a wretched residence, month after month, while awaiting trial.
We learned on inquiry that it is practically impossible to get a jury to convict of murder in this region, and that these admitted felons would undoubtedly escape. We even heard that juries were purchasable here, and that a man’s success in court depended upon the length of his purse. This is such an unheard of thing that we refused to credit it. When the Friend attempted to arouse the indignation of the Professor about the barbarity of this jail, the latter defended it on the ground that as confinement was the only punishment that murderers were likely to receive in this region, it was well to make their detention disagreeable to them. But the Friend did not like this wild-beast cage for men, and could only exclaim, " Oh, murder ! what crimes are done in thy name.”
If the comrades wished an adventure, they had a small one, more interesting to them than to the public, the morning they left Bakersville to ride to Burnsville, which sets itself up as the capital of Yancey. The way for the first three miles lay down a small creek and in a valley fairly settled, the houses, a store, and a grist-mill giving evidence of the new enterprise of the region. When Toe River was reached there was a choice of routes. We might ford the Toe at that point, where the river was wide, but shallow, and the crossing safe, and climb over the mountain by a rough but sightly road, or descend the stream by a better road and ford the river at a place rather dangerous to those unfamiliar with it. The danger attracted us, but we promptly chose the hill road on account of the views, for we were weary of the limited valley prospects.
The Toe River, even here, where it bears westward, is a very respectable stream in size, and not to be trifled with after a shower. It gradually turns northward, and joining the Nollechucky becomes part of the Tennessee system. We crossed it by a long, diagonal ford, slipping and sliding about on the round stones, and began the ascent of a steep hill. The sun beat down unmercifully, the way was stony, and the horses did not relish the weary climbing. The Professor, who led the way, not for the sake of leadership but to be the discoverer of laden blackberry bushes, which began to offer occasional refreshment, discouraged by the inhospitable road and perhaps oppressed by the moral backwardness of things in general, cried out: —
As, to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honor shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.”
In the midst of a lively discussion of this pessimistic view of the inequalities of life, in which desert and capacity are so often put at disadvantage by birth in beggarly conditions, and brazen assumption raises the dust from its chariot wheels for modest merit to plod along in, the Professor swung himself off his horse to attack a blackberry bush, and the Friend, representing simple truth, and desirous of getting a wider prospect, urged his horse up the hill. At the top he encountered a stranger, on a sorrel horse, with whom he entered into conversation and extracted all the discouragement the man had as to the road to Burnsville.
Nevertheless, the view opened finely and extensively. There are few exhilarations comparable to that of riding or walking along a high ridge, and the spirits of the traveler rose many degrees above the point of restful death, for which the Professor was crying when he encountered the blackberry bushes. Luckily the Friend soon fell in with a like temptation, and dismounted. He discovered something that spoiled his appetite for berries. His coat, strapped on behind the saddle, had worked loose, the pocket was open, and the pocket-book was gone. This was serious business. For while the Professor was the cashier, and traveled like a Rothschild, with large drafts, the Friend represented the sub-treasury. That very morning, in response to inquiry as to the sinews of travel, the Friend had displayed, without counting, a roll of bills. These bills had now disappeared, and when the Friend turned back to communicate his loss, in the character of needy nothing not trimm’d in jollity, he had a sympathetic listener to the tale of woe.
Going back on such a journey is the woefulest experience, but retrace our steps we must. Perhaps the pocket-book lay in the road not half a mile back. But not in a half a mile, or a mile, was it found. Probably, then, the man on the sorrel horse had picked it up. But who was the man on the sorrel horse, and where had he gone ? Probably the coat worked loose in crossing Toe River and the pocket-book had gone down stream. The number of probabilities was infinite, and each more plausible than the others as it occurred to us. We inquired at every house we had passed on the way, we questioned every one we met. At length it began to seem improbable that any one would remember if he had picked up a pocket-book that morning. This is just the sort of thing that slips an untrained memory.
At a post-office, or doctor’s shop, or inn for drovers, it might be either or neither, where several horses were tied to the fence, and a group of men were tilted back in cane-chairs on the veranda, we unfolded our misfortune and made particular inquiries for a man on a sorrel horse. Yes, such a man, David Thomas by name, had just ridden towards Bakersville. If he had found the pocket-book, we would recover it. He was an honest man. It might, however, fall into hands that would freeze to it. Upon consultation, it was the general verdict that there were men in the county who would keep it if they had picked it up. But the assembly manifested the liveliest interest in the incident. One suggested Toe River. Another thought it risky to drop a purse on any road. But there was a chorus of desire expressed that we should find it, and in this anxiety was exhibited a decided sensitiveness about the honor of Mitchell County. It seemed too bad that a stranger should go away with the impression that it was not safe to leave money anywhere in it. We felt very much obliged for this genuine sympathy, and we told them that if a pocket-book were lost in this way on a Connecticut road, there would be felt no neighborhood responsibility for it, and that nobody would take any interest in the incident except the man who lost, and the man who found.
By the time the travelers pulled up at a store in Bakersville they Lad lost all expectation of recovering the missing article, and were discussing the investment of more money in an advertisement in the weekly newspaper of the capital. The Professor, whose reform sentiments agreed with those of the newspaper, advised it. There was a group of idlers, mica acquaintances of the morning, and philosophers in front of the store, and the Friend opened the colloquy by asking if a man named David Thomas had been seen in town. He was in town, had ridden in within an hour, and his brother, who was in the group, would go in search of him. The information was then given of the loss, and that the rider had met David Thomas just before it was discovered, on the mountain beyond the Toe. The news made a sensation, and by the time David Thomas appeared a crowd of a hundred had drawn around the horsemen eager for further developments. Mr. Thomas was the least excited of the group as he took his position on the sidewalk, conscious of the dignity of the occasion and that he was about to begin a duel in which both reputation and profit were concerned. He recollected meeting the travelers in the morning.
The Friend said, “ I discovered that I had lost my purse just after meeting you; it may have been dropped in Toe River, but I was told back here that if David Thomas had picked it up it was as safe as if it were in the bank.”
“ What sort of a pocket-book was it?” asked Mr. Thomas.
“ It was of crocodile skin, or what is sold for that, very likely it is an imitation, and about so large” — indicating the size.
“ What had it in it ? ”
“ Various things. Some specimens of mica; some blank checks; some money.”
“ Anything else ? ”
“Yes, a photograph. And, oh, something that I presume is not in another pocket-book in North Carolina, — in an envelope, a lock of the hair of George Washington, the Father of his Country.” Sensation, mixed with incredulity. Washington’s hair did seem such an odd part of an outfit for a journey of this kind.
“ How much money was in it?”
“ That I cannot say, exactly. I happen to remember four twenty dollar United States notes, and a roll of small bills, perhaps something over a hundred dollars.”
“Is that the pocket-book?” asked David Thomas, slowly pulling the loved and lost out of his trousers pocket.
“ It is.”
“ You ’d be willing to take your oath on it ? ”
“ I should be delighted to.”
“ Well, I guess there ain’t so much money in it. You can count it (handing it over) ; there hain’t been nothing taken out. I can’t read, but my friend here counted it over, and he says there ain’t so much as that.”
Intense interest in the result of the counting. One hundred and ten dollars ! The Friend selected one of the best engraved of the notes, and appealed to the crowd if they thought that was the square thing to do. They did so think, and David Thomas said it was abundant. And then said the Friend: —
“ I’m exceedingly grateful to you besides. Washington’s hair is getting scarce, and I did not want to lose these few hairs, gray as they are. You’ve done the honest thing, Mr. Thomas, as was expected of you. You might have kept the whole. But I reckon if there had been five hundred dollars in the book and you had kept it, it would n’t have done you half as much good as giving it up has done; and your reputation as an honest man is worth a good deal more than this pocket-book. [The Professor was delighted with this sentiment, because it reminded him of a Sundayschool.] I shall go away with a high opinion of the honesty of Mitchell County.”
“ Oh, he lives in Yancey,” cried two or three voices. At which there was a great laugh.
“ Well, I wondered where he came from.” And the Mitchell County people laughed again at their own expense, and the levee broke up. It was exceedingly gratifying, as we spread the news of the recovered property that afternoon at every house on our way to the Toe, to see what pleasure it gave. Every man appeared to feel that the honor of the region had been on trial and had stood the test.
The eighteen miles to Burnsville had now to be added to the morning excursion, but the travelers were in high spirits, feeling the truth of the adage that it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have lost at all. They decided, on reflection, to join company with the mail-rider, who was going to Burnsville by the shorter route, and could pilot them over the dangerous ford of the Toe.
The mail-rider was a lean, sallow, sinewy man, mounted on a sorry sorrel nag, who proved, however, to have blood in her, and to be a fast walker and full of endurance. The mail-rider was taciturn, a natural habit for a man who rides alone the year round, over a lonely road, and has nothing whatever to think of. He had been in the war sixteen months, in Hugh White’s regiment, — reckon you’ve heerd of him ?
“ Confederate ? ”
“ Was he on the Union or Confederate side ? ”
“ Oh, Union.”
“ Were you in any engagements ? ”
“ Did you have any fighting ? ”
“ Not reg’lar.”
“ What did you do ? ”
“ Which ? ”
“ What did you do in Hugh White’s regiment ? ”
“ Oh, just cavorted round the mountains.”
“ You lived on the country? ”
“ Which ? ”
“ Picked up what you could find, corn, bacon, horses ? ”
“That’s about so. Did n’t make much difference which side was round, the country got cleaned out.”
“ Plunder seems to have been the object ? ”
“ Which ? ”
“You got a living out of the farmers ? ”
“ You bet.”
Our friend and guide seemed to have been a jayhawker and mountain marauder — on the right side. His attachment to the word “ which ” prevented any lively flow of conversation, and there seemed to be only two trains of ideas running in his mind : one was the subject of horses and saddles, and the other was the danger of the ford we were coming to, and he exhibited a good deal of ingenuity in endeavoring to excite our alarm. He returned to the ford from every other conversational excursion, and after every silence. “ I do’ know’s there’s any great danger; not if you know the ford. Folks is carried away there. The Toe gits up sudden. There’s been right smart rain lately. If you ’re afraid, you can git set over in a dugout, and I ’ll take your horses across. Mebbe you ’re used to fording ? It’s a pretty bad ford for them as don’t know it. But you ’ll get along, if you mind your eye. There’s some rocks you ’ll have to look out for. But you ’ll be all right, if you follow me.”
Not being very successful in raising an interest in the dangers of his ford, although he could not forego indulging a malicious pleasure in trying to make the strangers uncomfortable, he finally turned his attention to a trade. “ This hoss of mine,” he said, “ is just the kind of brute-beast you want for this country. Your hosses is too heavy. How ’ll you swap for that one o’ yourn ?” The reiterated assertion that the horses were not ours, that they were hired, made little impression on him. All the way to Burnsville he kept recurring to the subject of a trade. The instinct of “ swap ” was strong in him. When we met a yoke of steers, he turned round and bantered the owner for a trade. Our saddles took his fancy. They were of the army pattern, and he allowed that one of them would just suit him. He rode a small flat English pad, across which was flung the United States mail pouch, apparently empty. He dwelt upon the fact that his saddle was new and ours were old, and the advantages that would accrue to us from the exchange. He did n’t care if they had been through the war, as they had, for he fancied an army saddle. The Friend answered for himself that the saddle he rode belonged to a distinguished Union general, and had a bullet in it that was put there by a careless Confederate in the first battle of Bull Run and the owner would not part with it for money. But the mail-rider said he did n’t mind that. He would n’t mind swapping his new saddle for my old one and the rubber coat and leggins. Long before we reached the ford we thought we would like to swap the guide, even at the risk of drowning. The ford was passed, in due time, with no inconvenience save that of wet feet, for the stream was breast high to the horses ; but being broad and swift and full of sunken rocks and slippery stones and the crossing tortuous, it is not a ford to be commended. There is a curious delusion that a rider has in crossing a swift broad stream. It is that he is rapidly drifting up stream, while in fact the tendency of the horse is to go with the current.
The road in the afternoon was not unpicturesque, owing to the streams and the ever noble forests, but the prospect was always very limited. Agriculturally, the country was mostly undeveloped. The travelers endeavored to get from the rider an estimate of the price of land. Not much sold, he said. “ There was one sale of a big piece last year ; the owner enthorited Big Tom Wilson to sell it, but I d’ know what he got for it.”
All the way along the habitations were small log cabins, with one room, chinked with mud, and these were far between ; and only occasionally thereby a similar log structure, unchinked, laid up like a cob house, that served for a stable. Not much cultivation, except now and then a little patch of poor corn on a steep hillside, occasionally a few apple-trees, and a peach-tree without fruit. Here and there was a house that had been half finished and then abandoned, or a shanty in which a couple of young married people were just beginning life. Generally the cabins (confirming the accuracy of the census of 1880) swarmed with children, and nearly all the women were thin and sickly.
In the day’s ride we did not see a wheeled vehicle, and only now and then a horse. We met on the road small sleds, drawn by a steer, sometimes by a cow, on which a bag of grist was being hauled to the mill, and boys mounted on steers gave us good evening with as much pride as if they were bestriding fiery horses.
In a house of the better class, which was a post-house, and where the rider and the woman of the house had a long consultation over a letter to be registered, we found the rooms decorated with patent - medicine pictures, which were often framed in strips of mica, an evidence of culture that was worth noting. Mica was the rage. Every one with whom we talked, except the rider, had more or less the mineral fever. The impression was general that the mountain region of North Carolina was entering upon a career of wonderful mineral development, and the most extravagant expectations were entertained. Mica was the shining object of most “ prospecting,” but gold was also on the cards.
The country about Burnsville is not only mildly picturesque, but very pleasing. Burnsville, the county-seat of Yancey, at an elevation of 2840 feet, is more like a New England village than any hitherto seen. Most of the houses stand about a square, which contains the shabby court-house ; around it are two small churches, a jail, an inviting tavern, with a long veranda, and a couple of stores. On an overlooking hill is the seminary. Mica mining is the exciting industry, but it is agriculturally a good country. The tavern had recently been enlarged to meet the new demands for entertainment, and is a roomy structure, fresh with paint and only partially organized. The travelers were much impressed with the brilliant chambers, the floors of which were painted in alternate stripes of vivid green and red. The proprietor, a very intelligent and enterprising man, who had traveled often in the North, was full of projects for the development of his region and foremost in its enterprises, and had formed a considerable collection of minerals. Besides, more than any one else we met, he appreciated the beauty of his country, and took us to a neighboring hill, where we had a view of Table Mountain to the east and the nearer giant Blacks. The elevation of Burnsville gives it a delightful summer climate, the gentle undulations of the country are agreeable, the views noble, the air is good, and it is altogether a “ livable ” and attractive place. With facilities of communication, it would be a favorite summer resort. Its nearness to the great mountains (the whole Black range is in Yancey County), its fine pure air, its opportunity for fishing and hunting, commend it to those in search of an interesting and restful retreat in summer.
But it should be said that before the country can attract and retain travelers, its inhabitants must learn something about the preparation of food. If, for instance, the landlord’s wife at Burnsville had traveled with her husband, her table would probably have been more on a level with his knowledge of the world, and it would have contained something that the wayfaring man, though a Northerner, could eat. We have been on the point several times in this journey of making the observation, but have been restrained by a reluctance to touch upon politics, that it was no wonder that a people with such a cuisine should have rebelled. The travelers were in a rebellious mood most of the time.
The evidences of enterprise in this region were pleasant to see, but the observers could not but regret, after all, the intrusion of the money-making spirit, which is certain to destroy much of the present simplicity. It is as yet, to a degree, tempered by a philosophic spirit. The other guest of the house was a sedate, long-bearded traveler for some Philadelphia house, and in the evening he and the landlord fell into a conversation upon what Socrates calls the disadvantage of the pursuit of wealth to the exclusion of all noble objects, and they let their fancy play about Vanderbilt, who was agreed to be the richest man in the world, or that ever lived.
“All I want,” said the long-bearded man, “ is enough to be comfortable. I would n’t have Vanderbilt’s wealth if he ’d give it to me.”
“ Nor I,” said the landlord. “ Give me just enough to be comfortable. [The tourist could n’t but note that his ideas of enough to be comfortable had changed a good deal since he had left his little farm and gone into the mica business, and visited New York, and enlarged and painted his tavern.] I should like to know what more Vanderbilt gets out of his money than I get out of mine. I heard tell of a young man who went to Vanderbilt to get employment. Vanderbilt finally offered to give the young man, if he would work for him, just what he got himself. The young man jumped at that — he’d be perfectly satisfied with that pay. And Vanderbilt said that all he got was what he could eat and wear, and offered to give the young man his board and clothes.”
“ I declare,” said the long-bearded man. “ That’s just it. Did you ever see Vanderbilt’s house ? Neither did I, but I heard he had a vault built in it five feet thick, solid. He put in it two hundred millions of dollars, in gold. After a year, he opened it and put in twelve millions more, and called that a poor year. They say his house has gold shutters to the windows, so I’ve heard.”
“ I should n’t wonder,” said the landlord. “ I heard he had one door in his house cost forty thousand dollars. I don’t know what it is made of, unless it’s made of gold.”
Sunday was a hot and quiet day. The stores were closed and the two churches also, this not being the Sunday for the itinerant preacher. The jail also showed no sign of life, and when we asked about it, we learned that it was empty, and had been for some time. No liquor is sold in the place, nor within at least three miles of it. It is not much use to try to run a jail without liquor.
In the course of the morning a couple of stout fellows arrived, leading between them a young man whom they had arrested, — it did n’t appear on any warrant, but they wanted to get him committed and locked up. The offense charged was carrying a pistol; the boy had not used it against anybody, but he had flourished it about and threatened, and the neighbors would n’t stand that; they were bound to enforce the law against carrying concealed weapons.
The captors were perfectly good-natured and on friendly enough terms with the young man, who offered no resistance, and seemed not unwilling to go to jail. But a practical difficulty arose. The jail was locked up, the sheriff had gone away into the country with the key, and no one could get in. It did not appear that there was any provision for boarding the man in jail; no one in fact kept it. The sheriff was sent for, but was not to be found, and the prisoner and his captors loafed about the square all day, sitting on the fence, rolling on the grass, all of them sustained by a simple trust that the jail would be open some time.
Late in the afternoon we left them there, trying to get into the jail. But we took a personal leaf out of this experience. Our Virginia friends, solicitous for our safety in this wild country, had urged us not to venture into it without arms — take at least, they insisted, a revolver each. And now we had to congratulate ourselves that we had not done so. If we had, we should doubtless on that Sunday have been waiting, with the other law-breaker, for admission into the Yancey County jail.
Charles Dudley Warner.