Though she never lived in the Tennessee Mountains, Mary Johnson grew up hearing stories told to her by her grandmother Mary Ina Carr who was born in LaFollette in 1888. In her seventies now, Johnson submitted the story her grandmother recounted of a mountain girl named Nancy Smith
In last week’s LaFollette Press the first part of a true account of mountain life and perseverance was revealed.
The last installment found little Nannie all alone and lost on top of a mountain somewhere in the Appalachians.
“Nannie” (our name for her) said she reckoned it must have been nearly morning for when she awakened the sun was shining. What a problem for a little timid thin, redheaded freckled faced girl of approximately seven or eight years of age to face. She said, “I was skeered as a rabbit and shaking like a leaf”. Since she was on top of a mountain she could only go down on one side or the other so she started down and tried to find horse’s tracks on the pine needle covered road. She told fearfully of that descent going through mists (called smoke in those mountains) and sunshine through the trees, often falling, skinning and bruising her arms and legs, cutting her bare feet on the sharp granite stones and stuck with pine needles, like a “million pins” and often hit in the face with branches of shrubs and brush. Finally hungry, ragged and bleeding she reached a log cabin with a dog barking wildly to add to her terror. A gentleman with a long white beard and almost equally long white hair came out of the cabin and he was as surprised as she and realized she was a stranger.
“My child whar did you come from?” he asked. Nannie began to cry and could only point to the mountains. The kindly old gent said, “Whar’s your folks?” and after much persuasion and her account of their trip he said, “Well, I thought I heerd a wagon long about four-o-clock this morning. I guess then I ‘low to myself as how I’m dreaming as there’s no wagons on the mountains at night.” He gently lifted her and carried her into the cabin.
Salt pork was sizzling on a small apron front stove and the smell of hickory wood fire in it made Nannie more hungry than ever, so before they cleansed her up the fed her-a good wholesome breakfast of salt pork dipped in corn meal, eggs, hot biscuits and jelly with all the milk she could hold. “Those Tyson’s had heart”. In makeshift clean apparel and cleansed body, her wounds dressed with clean axle grease for salve, she soon fell asleep.
When she awakened she told them about her father and step-mother, her sister Catherine and brother John, but never having been to school in the village or ever having been taken to it, she could not tell them the name of the place from which they had come. (Throughout the years, mother would mention various names of N.C places but never once did it mean anything to her). The Tysons were quite sure it would only be a matter of a few days until her father would come looking for her and assured her she could be their little girl until he came. Visitors, because of the distance between settlements and a civil war on, were few, but everyone who came was told her story and to be on the lookout for her folks. Nannie was never lazy. Whether industry was beaten into her by a lazy stepmother or not, no one knew, but she could hoe potatoes, cotton and vegetables as good as a grown person and tagged along and helped with anything that had to be done.
Look for the 3rd installment of Nannie’s story in next week’s LaFollette Press