Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Look Back at Bee Tree Creek

Samuel Paris McKinney (1822-1898)

The following story is about my wife Shirley's great-great-great grandfather. This story has been handed down for several generations, and was shared with me. Now I am sharing it with you.

Samuel Paris McKinney was born in 1822, and he lived most of his life in the rugged, wild mountains of Wyoming County, West Virginia. He received a land grant on Barker's Ridge where he made his home, but more often than not, could be found near his favorite hunting spot on Bee Tree Creek (which borders present day Wyoming and Raleigh counties). In Samuel Paris' days, there weren't many people in the Bee Tree Creek area and the hunting was excellent, perhaps even the best in the region. It was also considered so wild of an area that many men avoided it. People told tales of ferocious animals, evil spirits and even wild Indian hold-outs when speaking of the area. The tales grew even more frightening when they spoke of the great laurel thicket, a defining feature of the area. Samuel Paris liked it when he heard these stories; to him as long as people were afraid of the area it would remain wild and free of settlement. Taking advantage of the situation, he was often alone when he hunted, trapped and spent a great deal of time along Bee Tree Creek even though his official home was on Barker's Ridge, several miles away.

When Samuel Paris hunted, he carried with him a pack bag typical of men of the time. By his side was a mountain rifle and a tomahawk. His rifle was so long that many men found it nearly impossible to hold because the barrel was so long. There were newer rifles available to him, but his daddy had given him his rifle and it was a good rifle so he saw no need to "upgrade". He was known to be quite fearless in his exploits, taking chances that many deemed unnecessary but to him they were just everyday actions of living. Samuel Paris was known throughout the region as one of the first to raise hunting dogs, and his dogs were considered to be among the best bred and most well-trained in the region. Men would come from miles around to trade or buy a pup off of him, and it soon came to pass that having a good hunting dog by your side was essential to every hunting man in the area.

One time over on Bee Tree Creek, Samuel Paris had his favorite dog with him, and it wasn't too long until the dog picked up the trail of a great bear. When the bear realized it was being trailed, it broke into a full run right into the great laurel thicket. He had trained his dogs never to go into a laurel thicket after a bear because more often than not that action was a death sentence on the dog and quite often the man, too. But this time and against all its training, his favorite dog found a low trail and went into the laurel thicket after the bear.

Since this was his favorite dog, Samuel Paris saw no other option besides to go in after the dog. If it hadn't been his favorite dog, he probably would have just made camp and hoped the dog returned out of the thicket, but he just couldn't wait and hope when it came to his favorite dog. So against his better judgement he entered the laurel thicket after the dog. He planned on just retrieving the dog and getting out as quickly as possible, and his decision was justified after he entered the thicket. The laurel grew so thick that he was forced to crawl in many places, and seldom was there an area where a man could even stand upright. He was about a hundred yards into the laurel thicket when he located the dog, but soon realized that simply retrieving it wasn't an option. You see, the great bear had the dog penned up in a corner between two vertical cliffs on Bee Tree Creek, and was slowly closing in on it.

At this point, Samuel Paris was crawling along through the thicket as quickly as he could manage, trying to get to an open area where he could raise his gun. As it was, there was no chance of getting off a shot at the bear since he was practically dragging the rifle alongside of his body. He finally made his way into Bee Tree Creek, where the flowing water offered a slight opening in the laurel. But as he raised his rifle to shoot the bear, the bear had moved in so close to the trapped dog that it was impossible to get a shot at it for fear of hitting the dog.

Quick thinking coupled with the inherent and passionate bravery of a mountain Scotsman, Samuel Paris McKinney instantly came upon a plan. Without a moment's hesitation, he pulled out the tomahawk from his belt, ran up to the bear and grabbed the great beast by the hair on the nape of its neck, quickly and deftly swung the tomahawk once and split the bear's skull wide open, killing it instantly. For years afterward, stories were recounted about how Samuel Paris McKinney had killed a bear with only a tomahawk and in the process had saved his favorite hunting dog, all without getting so much as a single scratch on him.

In the years following this account, progress inevitably took its toll upon the region, and the great laurel thicket was cut down and the area along Bee Tree Creek was settled. Later, coal mines dotted the landscape. As the area grew in population, Samuel Paris began to stay on his land high up on Barker's Ridge, and in his last days raised and sold hunting dogs to make a living. Men would come from miles around to buy his dogs and hear him regale his tales of yesteryear. The time of the rugged mountaineer had come to an end and those times were now found only in story form. And oh what great stories Samuel Paris McKinney told.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Times Up On Pinchgut

The wind come a-whippin' around the corner of the house last night about midnight with such ferocity that it brought to mind the time me and Vern Cassell was coon huntin' up on Pinchgut. Pinchgut, you ask? Well Pinchgut was a holler that was so steep that the only way to get to the head of it was to go right up the crick bed or else you'll give out. It was up on the mountain from where we lived and it was so steep that nobody could ever farm anything up in there. It was almost too rough to even hunt in, and most people avoided it like the plague.

It was almost midnight, as I recall, and was gettin' down in the fall of the year and me and Vern was out coon huntin'. We'd only been out for a few minutes when we heard the dogs and knew they was on the trail of a coon. We took up the ridge after them, figgering they'd go out toward the spring and the persimmon grove. It wasn't long after being on their trail that we seen they was headin' up into Pinchgut. We knew we was in for a time right then and there, but we also knowed that if we didn't go in after the dogs that Ol' Mag, the lead hound, would stay on the trail until she dropped dead right in her tracks. They wasn't no callin' her off the trail once she was on it, either. Well, we started up into Pinchgut, making our way through the laurel thickets and acrosst downed tree's, until we got right near the head of the holler. We stopped for a minute and listened for the dogs, and wouldn't you know it, halfway up the hillside stood Ol' Mag and the rest of the dogs baying at a big oak tree. We knew they had something treed and we knew we had to try and get up there to them, or else they'd stay there until they barked themselves hoarse or something worse.

Well, me and Vern started up the hillside, grabbing onto saplings to make our way, and having to stop ever so often to catch our breath. That hill was so steep that at one point we noticed we was climbing down the hill but still having to hang onto the saplings to keep us from falling off of it. After about an hour or so, we finally come up on Ol' Mag, and she looked at us like we'd abandoned her because it took us so long to get up there to her. But all was forgiven, all the way around, when we seen what Ol' Mag had treed a big she-coon, she must have been about 50 pounds if it was an ounce, and it had its 8 twenty pound pups with it. Vern got the monkey trembles, he was so excited at the prospect of all that coon, that he lost his balance and took to falling up and down the hillside. He caught hisself about 50 yards down. He told me that I'd better go ahead and shoot 'em down since he didn't think he could make it all the way back up to the tree. So I up and shoot, and dang if that wasn't the steepest tree I'd ever seen, 'cause my shot just went up halfway and got lost, and come peppering back down on me. I tried again and the same thing happened. Then I took to studying on the situation and figgered the easiest way to get the ol' she-coon and her pups out of the tree was to cut the tree. I reckoned I'd chop down that big oak tree and send it ball hootin' down into the holler where we'd collect the coons. I had my hatchet for just the occassion, and I soon set to work gnawing at that tree like a beaver.

About halfway through chopping it down, Vern hollered up the hill at me and asked me if I heard that. I stopped and listened and heard one of the most God-Awful sounds a-comin up the ridge, sounded like Beezlebub hisself a-comin. Then we seen it, it was a white mass of wind a-tearin' out trees and stumps and lifting up leaves and swirlin' them around like you ain't never seen. Me and Vern figgered it was one of them tornadeys like we'd heard about from out west. People had been sayin' that so many people had been going west that the tornadeys was being pushed out of that country and had nowheres else to go but to come back east. Yessiree, it was one of the tornadeys and it was snow white and it was a-bearin' down on us. When that thing got to the mouth of Pinchgut, it cut up in the holler, right along the same route that me and Vern had took earlier. Well, that Ol' tornadey soon figured out that it made a big mistake because the hillsides up in Pinchgut was too steep for it to climb so it stayed right in the crickbed. It made it up to the head of the holler and then it spotted us and took to comin' at us like a banshee on the warpath.

Vern braced for it, but I took to hacking at that tree like nobody's business, and just in time I hollered "TIMBER" and watched that old oak tree fall square on top of that ol' charging tornadey. Yessirree, it killed it deader that 4 O'clock, it did. Thing of it is when that tornadey got kilt, it dropped all that dirt and all those rocks that it had been haulin' inside of it, and it filled in the whole of Pinchgut, I mean to tell you that ol' tornadey quit blowing just like somebody put a warshtub over it. By the time it got done filling up Pinchgut, poor ol' Vern was standing knee deep in prime Kansas cropland.

We was so dumbfounded by this that we had nearly forgot about the ol' she-coon and her pups, but I heard a rustlin' in the leaves and there she stood, grinnin' at me like a kid at a carnival. She knew as well as I knew that after what we had been through together, there wasn't no way neither me or Vern was gonna hurt her, so I just says to her, "Ol' Mother, you'd better get. Ain't nobody here gonna harm you." I do believe that ol' she-coon was dancin' a jig as she walked with her pups out on that new plowed dirt that we got from the dead tornadey, she only stopped to pick up a giant ear of corn, courtesy of some unknown Kansas farmer.

Now you might ask, what ever happened to Ol' Mag? Well, I was saddened to see her get buried in the aftermath of the dead tornadey, but you know what, about a week later she dug her way up out of that holler, up through all that loose dirt, and took out on the trail of that ol' she-coon. I ain't seen her since, but I reckon she's still somewhere up on the mountain trailin' that ol' coon 'cause Ol' Mag never was a dog to give up the trail.

Now that was something, I ain't never seen nothin' like it since but I reckon that wind last night come close to it. Good thing I built me a nice sturdy house out of good oak, or else I'd likely have been tryin' to hang onto the side of Pinchgut holler again instead of sittin' in here by the fire in a fine house on the best farm in Pendleton County.