Thursday, October 25, 2007

Corn Shuckings and Pumpkin Gatherings

For those of us who grew up on the farm, fall was the time for gathering in the crops. Pumpkins, an important staple for winter use, had to be gathered in and properly stored so that they could be preserved. Corn, necessary for human consumption as meal for cornbread and for feeding animals during the long winter months, likewise had to be gathered and stored.

I remember corn shuckings, especially at my Grandfather Collins's farm.

He had a corn crib with an open shed in front. The corn was brought by wagonloads from the field and stacked high under the shed. The crib itself had openings between the planks and chicken wire liner in the crib. This arrangement of the crib gave circulation of air so that the corn, gathered when it was not quite cured, could dry without molding.

On a certain day, an event was planned that drew neighbors together. People in the community gathered in the afternoon and the corn shucking began. Young and old, men and women, attended. Some of the women helped with the evening meal that would be ready about sundown, spread out on long tables near the corn crib. Everybody enjoyed the repast. The shared meal was part of the fun and fellowship. Very similar to the dinners-on-the-ground served at church homecomings, the corn-shucking meals received special attention and some of the best dishes from the cooks in charge were spread out to enjoy.

After the evening chores were finished by the hosts of the corn shuckings, everybody gathered around the corn pile and by about midnight, with lanterns giving light, the pile of corn would be shucked and all the ears safely stored in the crib.

Then would come the fun. Any red ears of corn found in the pile had special meaning. The boy or man who happened to find a red ear would be given the privilege of kissing the prettiest girl or woman present, or of leading her out in a square dance when the shucking was done.

Sometimes a prize was given to the one finding the red ear or ears. One young boy won a heifer calf, claimed it, and when it was grown, sold it for $100.00. That was quite a prize for an evening of corn shucking. If the host family had a feeling against dancing, this activity was not held. Some in those days felt dancing was "the devil's playhouse," and it was forbidden by their religious beliefs. Instead of a dance, as they gathered around the corn crib, they told tales of old times and of ancestors' feats.

Before the corn shucking broke up, with another announced to be held at a neighbor's house on a date in the near future, it was much after midnight. Corn shuckings brought community spirit and were a means of neighbor helping neighbor.

The shucks from the corn were saved to feed the livestock. The pumpkins that had been gathered in were stored in the loft of the barn and shucks placed over them to protect them from freezing.

Hard work was broken by community festivals such as corn shuckings. They weren't called "fall festivals" then, but the sense of camaraderie and helpfulness made them welcomed breaks from the monotony of hard labor.

Poet William Cullen Bryant wrote of autumn:
"The melancholy days are come,
The saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds and naked woods,
And meadows brown and sear."

Remembrance of corn shuckings of years past helps us to paraphrase Bryant's poem to read:
"The bright days of fall are here,
With leaves of red and gold;
And together in our work--like play
We bring crops into the fold."

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Oct. 25, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Matheson Cove: In the Shadow of the Devil's Post Office Earns Prestigious Award

Through this column more than a year ago, I introduced you to author, Dr. Eva Nell Mull Wike and her book on local and family history entitled The Matheson Cove…in the Shadow of the Devil’s Post Office. With beginnings in Union County, the book moves to nearby Clay County, North Carolina and beyond to trace the family lineage, the struggles and triumphs of a stalwart mountain family, the author's parents, Joseph David Mull and Martha Jane Wimpey Mull and related families.

On Saturday, October 13, 2007, Dr. Eva Nell Mull Wike and her husband, James Wike, artist and illustrator of the book, went to near Asheville, N.C., (at the Carolina Trace Country Club, Sanford, N.C.) where they were awarded the prestigious 2007 "Robert Bruce Cooke Family History Award" for The Matheson Cove.

Awarded by the North Carolina Society of Historians, Inc., the annual award comes after judges examine carefully numerous books of history published the previous year. Several notations from judges are worthy of note about The Matheson Cove:

"We found the book to be very appealing to a wide range of people. It is the genealogy of a family written in 'story' form, which is 100% reader-friendly, and downright entertaining."
James Wike, illustrator, received praise for his part in making the book appealing:
"Adding to a delightful text are some wonderful sketches housing original artwork appropriate to the current story being told. We can actually 'see' the scenes the author wants to relay through these pictures. Also included are some very colorful, clear photographs and family portraits."
The book is a composite of "poetry, ghost stories, letters, … family hardships…successes…emotions." Included as well is the author's frustration that an industrialized society bent on development of mountain areas is "wanting to erase all traces of an area's past so quickly and so willingly."

Since I first recommended The Matheson Cove for your reading pleasure over a year ago, I have had the privilege of meeting Dr. Wike and her husband. I welcomed them to our Dyer-Souther Family Association Annual Reunion at Choestoe in July. In person, both are warm and personable, as I knew they would be. We frequently exchange e-mails on various subjects, and especially pertaining to our common love for writing.

I rejoice with Dr. Wike (Eva Nell to me) that copies of her book have been placed in seven North Carolina High Schools and in the Towns County Middle School, Hiawassee, Ga., for the schools' local history and Appalachian culture studies. We mutually hope that Union County Schools at Blairsville and Fannin County Schools will recognize the book as a valuable resource and add copies for student use.

I shared this poem with Eva Nell and James Wike at the Dyer-Souther Reunion in July. Eva Nell, being the kind and accommodating person she is, wrote a letter to the Clay County Progress and commended the value of family reunions, including my poem.

I congratulate Eva Nell Mull Wike on the deserved honors she has received on her excellent book. She appreciates heritage and ancestors' struggles, as do I. To her, her husband, and to me, indeed:

These Are My People
Ethelene Dyer Jones

These are my people
Whom we honor today.
Born to hard times,
Nurtured by solid stock,
Dislocated from England, Scotland,
Ireland, Germany- seeking freedom
To worship and to work,
Pressing toward far frontiers.

In my veins runs their blood,
The same as they shed
On far-flung battlefields;
No enemy too formidable
To face for freedom's costs,
No shore too distant
To traverse and claim as home.

These are my people.
Their lives are high beacons,
Their deaths strong testimonies
Of the price they gladly paid for liberty.
Look to the mountains of home,
Majestic, like God, our help and shield.
My people, many long gone,
Are one with each other and with God.
Dr. Eva Nell Wike's book honors "our people." We are happy that it is so widely distributed. If you haven't a copy yet, check at the Tennessee Valley Publisher's website, www.tvp1. com, or "The Book Nook" in Blairsville or at Phillips and Lloyd Bookstore on the Square in Hayesville, NC. Or you may order from the author and illustrator at

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Oct. 18, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Observing Columbus Day

On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived on an island in the Bahamas and named it San Salvador, claiming it for Spain and in honor of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of that country who had outfitted his fleet of ships, the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria.

We observe Columbus Day in recognition of his outstanding navigational feat and the discovery of America. With his belief that the world was round, and that by sailing west he could get to the east and India, Columbus created bold and investigational exploration for his era.

Christopher Columbus was born, according to the best information available, in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. His father was a middle class wool weaver and merchant, Domenico Colombo, and his mother was Susanna Fontanarossa. According to claims by Columbus himself, he went to sea at age 10. Before he married Filipa Moniz, a daughter of the Porto Santo governor, Columbus had made several sea voyages. In 1481, Columbus and Filipa had a son named Diego.

Columbus had a hard time getting heads of state in Europe to believe his theory that if he sailed west he could land at the spice-rich islands of the East Indies. Little did he know that the way had other lands rather than being an uninterrupted sea.

Finally, in 1492, King Ferdinand of Spain agreed to outfit Columbus with three ships. Queen Isabella was less enthusiastic. However, if the adventurer did discover new lands and claim them for Spain, he would be given an annuity of 12,000 Spanish maravedis ($840), and he would receive one-eighth of any commercial venture brought on from new lands. He was also named "Admiral of the Ocean Sea (the Atlantic Ocean)".

It took him from August 3, 1492 to October 12, 1492 to arrive at the Bahamian Island of San Salvador (so named later). He observed in his journal: "I could conquer the whole of them (the natives) with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased." On the first journey, he also landed at Cuba and explored that island. He took several Indians (so named by him because he thought he had arrived in the East Indies) back with him to Spain, but only about seven of them survived the sea journey.

His subsequent voyages and his appointment as governor or chief viceroy of some of the islands met with disappointment. Columbus was physically and mentally exhausted. His body was in much pain from advanced arthritis. Blamed with many atrocities, Columbus was arrested and taken back to Spain. He lingered in jail for over six weeks before King Ferdinand finally released him. He died at about age 55, and following his release from jail had become fairly wealthy on the percentage he received in gold from Hispanolia.

The story of Columbus is fascinating. Having a day to celebrate his contributions to American history is significant.

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Oct. 11, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Nix connections, Part 6- John Washington Nix

My last column on Nix connections was in the August 23, 2007 "Sentinel." In that article, we saw that six sons of James "Jimmy" Nix and Elizabeth "Betsy" Collins Nix served in the Civil War (Thompson Nix, John Nix, James Bly Nix, Jeffrie Nix, Jasper "Grancer" Nix, and Newton Nix).

Of these six, Thompson, John and Newton died in the War, and possibly Jeffrie, as well, for no further trace of him is found in census records. The father, James Nix, also enlisted and served in the Georgia Militia.

Near the end of the war, Jasper "Grancer" Nix married first to Harriet Carolina "Tina" Duckworth, on April 2, 1865. "Aunt Tina" was a well-known midwife in the mountain area of Choestoe, traveling on horseback in all kinds of weather to assist in birthing and to attend the sick. She often brought very sick or premature babies to her house to tend them. She made them a bed before the fireplace in rocking chairs made by Jasper, and carefully nursed them until they were able to go back to their own mother.

Grancer and "Tina" Nix had twelve children whose names were Mary "Molly", John Washington, Benjamin, James, William "Bill", Martha, Albert, Emma Lena, Alonzo "Lon", Frank, Joseph, and Jerry. Their first son and second child is the subject of this column.

John Washington Nix was born to Jasper "Grancer" and "Tina" Nix on July 19, 1867. He was married three times and had children by his first two wives.

It is an interesting story how John Washington Nix met his first wife, Mary Dover. He was in White County, and suffered an accidental gunshot wound to his shoulder in the late 1880's. He stumbled into the Dover house, suffering greatly from his wound and thinking he would die.

Mary Dover and her mother devised a way to clean the gunshot wound by hanging a water bucket over him as he lay on the bed. They punched a hole in the bucket, and the cool spring water dripped onto the wound, partially numbing the pain. He recovered, and the good Samaritan Mary Dover became the wife of John Washington Nix on August 30, 1887. He moved her to his farm on Choestoe. There were born their three children: William Arzie Nix on July 10, 1888; James Lester Nix on February 13, 1891; and Wilburn, who died young. The cause of Mary Dover Nix's death is not known; it may have been in childbirth when her third child, Wilburn, was born.

John Washington Nix married second to Catherine Clarenda Dyer on December 29, 1895. She was a daughter of Henderson Andrew Dyer and Adeline M. Sullivan Dyer. Her paternal grandparents were Micajah Clark Dyer (inventor of "An Apparatus for Navigating the Air", 1874) and Morena Owenby Dyer. It is reported that Henderson Andrew Dyer, Catherine's father, was the "richest man" in Choestoe, loaning money to many people who migrated west in the late 1800's and early 1900's, as well as helping young couples to get established on a farm or in business. When they married, he gave each of his children acreage for their own farm.

John Washington and Catherine Dyer Nix had eleven children: Harvey (1897-1916) never married; Dora Lou (1899- 1966) married Franklin Hedden Dyer; Magnola "Nola" (1900- 1987) married John Jarrett Turner; Mary Elizabeth (twin, 1902-1904); Martha L. (twin, 1902-1904); Joseph Spencer (1905-1982) married Doris E. Nix and Cathryn Clark Birgel; Roy Walter (1906-1971) married Idell Nelson; Maver Clarenda (1908-1990) married General Pat Harkins and Edward Collins; Howard Benson (1911-1979), married Ellen Erwin; Florida "Flo" Lee (1911-2007) married Carlos Turner; and Cleo Inez Colorado (1917-2003) married Rouse King.

When her youngest child, Cleo, was only ten years old, Catherine Clarinda Dyer Nix died September 7, 1927 and was interred in Old Liberty Cemetery. John Washington Nix married the third time to Maggie Rice on December 25, 1928.

John Washington Nix was known as an excellent blacksmith. He was also quite a musician. He owned a genuine Stradivarious violin, a valued heirloom owned by one of his great grandsons today. To the delight of neighbors, friends and family, the strains of "fiddle" tunes and lilting mountain arias often came from his Stradivarious which he played from his front porch. The old gunshot wound tended by Mary Dover and her mother had left his right arm and hand with limitations, but since it was his "bow" hand, he could still produce excellent music. After a long and eventful life, he died July 14, 1942, and was buried beside his second wife, Catherine, at Old Liberty Baptist Church.

John Washington Nix was noted as an excellent marksman with the gun. A grandson, Eric England, often went with him on hunting trips and learned from his grandfather how to be a sure shot. This knowledge Eric employed as a member of the United States Marine Corps as a scout-sniper and has earned the title of "the greatest marksman in world history."

Resources for this article are "The Nix Family Tree" by Wanda West Gregory, 1980, and Dr. Joseph Blair Turner who answered questions about his great grandfather by e-mail.

(Ethelene Dyer Jones is a native of Union County. She is recovering well from five bypasses heart surgery performed August 30.)

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones. Published October 4, 2007 in The Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. All rights reserved. Used by permission.