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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
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City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 21
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Nov 20
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
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Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Nov 13
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Nov 12
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 11
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 10
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
Lockie Hunter posted an event

Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6

Harmons and Hickses brought stories and songs to Hot Springs

 by Rob Neufeld


            Beautiful coves are available in Watauga County! 

            This is what Cutliff Harmon, son of a German immigrant from the Danube River valley, might have heard when he’d gotten a job transporting goods into these mountains in 1790.      

            Except, he would have heard, “Wilkes County,” because the area around Boone did not get set aside as part of Watauga County until 1849.

            Cutliff’s employer, family history relates, had been Daniel Boone, who had established a store in western Virginia and a trading post in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina.

            Cutliff and his young wife, Susan Fouts, whose family had moved with his from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, had set out on their own after the Revolutionary War to settle in Randolph (now Rowan) County.

             They had seven children with them when they’d made the trek up the Watauga River to Cove Creek, along the way to what had been, up until 1789, the independent State of Franklin in east Tennessee.

            While building his first home there, Cutliff and his family “took shelter beneath a huge rock at the mouth of Phillips Branch known as ‘Shupe's Rockhouse,’” family historian Terry L. Harmon has noted.

            “The rockhouse was a beautiful and lovely chamber midway in the face of a cliff 100 feet high,” he reports.  “The shelter was entered by a descending stairway of three natural stone steps, and Cove Creek ran west almost to the base of the cliff and then turned directly south.”

            The baby of the family at the time of the trip, Andrew Harmon, grew up and married Sabra Hicks, daughter of the Harmons’ neighbor, Samuel Hicks.

            When Andy died at age 25—a snagged shoelace had prevented him from getting out of the way of a tree he was felling—Sabra left her two oldest children, Council and Goulder with her in-laws, Susan Harmon and John Mast.  Council got to know his grandpa, “Big Sammy,” original transmitter of the Jack Tales in this region.

            “One time there was a fine wealthy man lived way out in the forest,” one tale began.  “He went out and put him up an ad-ver-tise-ment” for someone to clear his land, though he was really after a giant-killer; and Jack responded.

            “Jack says, ‘Give me a tomihawk,” and he went out, climbed up a tree, and waited until a two-headed giant came by. 

            “What are you doin’ up there?” the giant asked.

            “I’m a clearin’ timber,” Jack says. 

            That began a series of encounters in which Jack squeezed milk out of a rock; pretended to cut open and sew up his belly when he was really cutting a pouch; and threw rocks at two giants who were carrying a log in which he was hiding—all to get the giants to destroy each other so that Jack could bring their severed heads back to his employer.

            Big Sammy was also the thrice-great-grandfather of the late, great storyteller Ray Hicks of Beech Mountain, famed for adopting the identity of Jack in his tales.

            When Council Harmon’s daughter, Emily, moved with her second husband, Ransom Hicks, to the Warm Springs (now, Hot Springs) area of Madison County (her first husband had died in the Civil War), Council, age 70, went along, entertaining kids and campers with Jack Tales, fiddle-playing, and songs.

            “After the war,” Emily testified about the reasons for leaving, “people just got so mean, stealing and everything, we just decided to leave.”

            Mars Hill, through which the Harmons and Hickses passed, had a college.  Warm Springs had a fancy resort.

            One of the children on that long trip was 12-year-old Jane Hicks (late, Gentry), famed source of traditional ballads for the collector, Cecil Sharp, and others.  Her former home and boarding house still stands in the center of town.



Detail of the cover of “The Jack Tales: Stories by Ray Hicks,” as told to Lynn Salsi, illus. by Owen Smith (Callaway, 2000).



An Appalachian Medley: Hot Springs and the Gentry Family by Jacqueline Burgin Painter (Biltmore Pr., 1994).

Jane Hicks Gentry: A Singer among Singers by Betty N. Smith (U. of Ky. Pr., 1998).

The Harmon family, 1670-1984:

The Genealogy of Cutliff Harmon and His Descendants by Terry L. Harmon (Minor’s Pub. Co., 1984).

“Mountain White Folk-Lore: Tales from the Southern Blue Ridge,” told by Jane Hicks Gentry to Isabel Gordon Carter, and published in “Journal of American Folklore,” XXXVIII, 1925.

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