The Mountaineer

Jim Howell
Canton, NC

Jerry Alden Howell Family
seated: Bell (Issabelle) Lominac Howell & Jerry Alden Howell
their children:
baby: Tom Howell
standing: Harry and Fred Howell
Pearl Howell is held by Jerry.
**Harry is the father of Jim Howell, author of this piece.**

photo courtesy of Mr. Clyde Allison

“Now the strangers came and tried to teach us their ways,
and they scorned us just for bein’ what we are,
but they’d just as well be chasing moonbeams,
or lighting penny candles from a star.”

As the tramontanes infiltrate the Appalachians, and view in wonder the giant escarpments from overlooks on modern highways or from the monstrosities of dwellings that have been imbedded into the sides and tops of the mountains, they often remark of the beauty of the far ranges and mists.

They sleep in comfortable motels and eat in the many restaurants, then easily drive the next day through still more of the scenic splendors of these ancient mountains.

They have been coming now for many years. They respond to the sheer beauty of this land, yet they do not understand what these massive heaves and lifts of earth have meant to a race of people who came here to settle, and stayed to make do on what little was provided by these rugged terrains.

For many years the mountains were standing like the Great Wall of Jericho, known only to the Indians, the White man ventured not across them. But gradually the most strong spirited began entering into the Red Man’s domain. Although commonly thought to be of a Scotch-Irish heritage, the Mountaineer's blood is heavily mixed with German and British stock.

About the time some settlement was being made on the eastern coast of America, the Catholic-Irish were driven out of Ulster, Ireland and replaced by people from England. The Crown wanted people in the uplands who would not freely associate with the Catholics in this time of xenophobia and religious turmoil in Ireland. This may explain why so many of the so-called Scotch-Irish have English names.

They were a ruddy people with wild frosty blue eyes, and brown dry hair. Only about ten percent of them have brown eyes. This English race thrived in North Ireland and Scotland and founded a superior education system. However, this defeated the Crown’s purpose. The people were becoming a threat to London’s politically potent merchants, so heavy taxes were levied on them. Then, to add to their general hardship, the potato famine struck in the 1840’s. Nearly a million people died from starvation. The people became even more difficult for those who had to deal with and rule them. They evolved into a stubborn, cantankerous people.

One of the first to come was Colonel John Carson, an immigrant from Ireland who settled in Burke County, North Carolina in 1769. He was an acquaintance to Andrew Jackson, David Crockett, Sam Houston and John C. Calhoun.

At the time there were five Indian trails leading through these North Carolina mountains. They were known as the Catawba Trail, Cherokee Trail, Cataloochee Trail, Tuckaleechee Trail and the Tuckaseege Trail. The Tuckaseege Trail later was called the Rutherford War Trace named for General Griffith Rutherford who followed it with 2400 soldiers in 1776. His object was to drive the Cherokees further into the mountains and open the land for White settlers.

The Tuckaseege Trail ran from Fort Davidson (Old Fort), which was built in 1757, to the head of the Swannanoa River and Bee Tree Creek where the first White settlers stopped in 1782. From there it ran to what is now known as Cherokee County.
In 1776 North Carolina was divided into Military Districts. General Griffith Rutherford was Commander of the Western District called Salisbury.

The first land grant in the Western District was issued to CaptainWilliam Moore for 450 acres on Hominy Creek west of the French Broad River in 1787.

Buncombe County was formed in 1792, and named for Colonel Edward Buncombe, an officer in the 5th North Carolina Regiment, Continental Troops, who had been wounded and taken prisoner at the Battle of Germantown and died in Philadelphia in 1778.
In July 1793, the court ordered a road to be laid off from the Courthouse of Morristown (now Asheville) to the home of Jonathan McPeters on Hominy Creek.

Samuel Ashe was elected Governor of North Carolina and the name of Morristown was changed to Asheville in his honor in 1798.
As the pioneers began to come to American in the early 18th century, the good lands along the coast were already taken. They were the kind of people who would have pushed into the privacy and isolation of the mountains anyway.

They came here and lingered in the lush green coves and rich valleys, settling the region. Their possessions were what they could carry or ride. An ax, rifle, dog, a woman, possibly a horse and some brood stock, and in no particular order of importance.

These people brought with them the genius for survival and endurance. They were a people to contend with, in any matter, educated, and shrewd, thrifty, and industrious, They spoke the Queen's language, of which has survived in parts of this area since that time.
Despite the misconceptions, the Mountaineer continues to astound and puzzle those who take the time to study him. He is in every sense an individualist, and most often he has figured out his own way of dealing with the world. He has a reputation for honesty, candor, kindness, hospitality and courtesy. Yet in the same frame, his brain harbors a paradox--there are no people so devious, secretive, or anti-social as these Mountaineers when there is a just cause.

Often differences are found in their customs, habits and attitudes--which range from sullen suspicion of strangers to an openness calculated to allay suspicion on the part of the stranger until he can be studied.

Mountaineers will generally do anything they can for anyone, even a stranger--but are exceedingly careful about being indebted to anyone. They feel deeply obligated if someone does something for them. A sort of commonlaw--without even the authority of the Apocrypha Books--is usually found among the Mountaineers, and they “forget not they friend nor enemy”

Usually a mountain man will make a concentrated and sincere effort at forgiving someone who has wronged him--but in the end, a great majority of them wait their enemies out and deal with them within their own sense of justice.

Family is, or was until recently, all-important. The far-flung cousins are kept track of, and there are reunions at fairly regular intervals. The Mountaineers are careful about caring for their dead ancestors--usually found clustered in one family plot or cemetery, and as often as not most of the family lines go back to the early settlement of the area.

The mountain men in generations past were inclined to gather and whittle and shoot their guns at targets. To an outsider this may appear to be just that, but it goes deeper and is a kind of communication among the clan.

The mountain man is prone to the protection of his wife, daughters and sisters, along with the family honor.

He has plowed these old slopes with a bull-tongue plow and harrowed with nothing more than a big evergreen bough. He has made do with little and he is eternally in charge of his own fate.

The dark, visionary mind of the Mountaineer can accept God when he cannot accept the teachings of either the New or Old Testaments.
No king or duke nor president can rule him if he doesn’t want to be ruled, and he belongs to no particular political philosophy. But following family traditions, “if’n Pap belonged to hit, then reckon I will too.”

The old breed has nearly died out now and in many cases has failed to pass on to their descendants many of the old ways. The world is coming in here rapidly now, and even those people who have been taught the old ways are finding it hard to keep up. The time is not far off when all these shall have passed.

Edgar Allen Poe once alluded to the mountain men in some of his works. “Those mountains,” he said, “were tenanted by a fierce and uncouth race of men.” Poe may have known them, but be did not know them well.

The Mountaineer is best described in the words of an old Irish ballad, “Now the strangers came and tried to teach us their ways, and they scorned us just for bein’ what we are, but they’d just as well be chasing moonbeams, or lighting penny candles from a star.”

Jericho Sawmill

Left to Right: Jerry Howell (son of Albert) on the boiler, George Ward (short), Jess Raby, John Ward, Olis Howell (son of Cance), Alford Galloway (first Galloway to own land on Jericho), Bill Howell (son of York), Wylie Galloway (son of Alford), York Howell, and Elbert Galloway (son of Alford, with the mules).

photo courtesy of Mr. Clyde Allison


(c) 1996 - present, Haywood Co., NC

© copyright 1998 Jim Howell