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Seedtime On the Cumberland by Harriette Simpson Arnow

Miss Arnow combines her talents of novelist and historian in Seedtime to produce a beautifully-written account of life among the settlers on the Appalachian frontier. Her: geographical focus is the Cumberland River drainage, which begins in Eastern Kentucky and sweeps southwestward into middle Tennessee. The book is loaded with details of frontier life-style which provide pictures not only of the pioneers' daily life, but their psychology as well.

Von Graffenried had chosen his people carefully, so that most needed skills would be represented, as many were required. There had to be carpenters, joiners, plasterers, and sawyers in order to build the only kind of home they knew to build on the rockless, clayless coastal plain one of sawed timber. This, in addition to. skilled workmen, demanded saws, hammers, nails, trowels, chisels, shingles, and lime that had to be got from the burning of oyster shells. Such a house took time in the building that might have gone to clearing fields and fortifying against the Indians; and during the long weeks of its building the owner and his family had to live in some makeshift shelter such as a tent or even house of bark and boughs, thereby increasing their liability to illness through exposure to rain and cold.                                                           

The man who could with felling ax, broadax, drawing knife, auger, and froe ride into the woods and in a few days' time build an all-weather house of logs in which he could live decently, and in comfort when it was finished, was not there. The "house made of logs Such as the Swedes very often make in America, was still very much a rarity on the Carolina coast.

The New Bern settlers had brought plenty of clothing, but soon they were almost naked. They had when food got low, bartered clothes with a nearby tribe of Indians for "wild meat, leather, bacon, beans, and corn." Less than a day's journey away were game-filled woods, but there were no hunters in New Bern, and nobody to teach hunting." There were in North Carolina at that time famous hunters, who could, wearing the head and skin of a deer, stalk the living animal until they could get close enough for the kill; but these were lndians. The white hunter, so proficient he could make money from the selling of skins, was not yet in America; the North Carolina planters paid the Indians to hunt for them.

Skills alone were not enough; it is true any man who would survive on the border had to be an artist in the use of the broadax skinning knife, scraper, hoe, froe, auger, awl, adz, and other tools, but equally important or more so was a knowledge of the woods. All borderers who lived as farmers were woodsmen. The forest was only part enemy to be pushed aside for cleared fields. It was for the Virginia or North Carolina settler a vast and seemingiy bottomless widow's barrel yielding up all manner of things from walink for the newborn baby's tea to dogwood for the weaver's shuttle. The settler had to know these offerings, where to hunt a slender hickory sapling for the corn pounder sweep, lightwood for a bit of tar, cane stalk for the weaver's sleigh, a small and crooked white oak for a sled runner, but a straight one for a splitting maul. He had to know his wood-poplar for hewing and gouging, but cedar for riving, and so for several dozen: what would sink and what would float, what would bend, and what was best for a shoe peg. He was dependent upon the woods around him not only for building materials for house, barn, fence, much of his furniture, and many of his appliances from pitchfork to gunstock, but the woods gave him fuel, drugs, dyes, and a good bit of food. All new-settled farmers, even the wealthy, had, until fence could be built, to use the open range so that meat, milk, and butter came from woods pasture.

Years ago before the days of consolidated schools and good roads, I taught in remote sections of Pulaski County, Kentucky now part of the Cumberland National Forest. My pupils were chiefly the children of small farmers, but all around them were the woods. At that date in that community most farm animals were still on the open rangeso these children like earlier generations spent much time in the woods; in rounding up the forever straying animals, in going to church, school, or to a neighbor's, and in collecting herbs, fruits, nuts, fuel, and in hunting and trapping.

They had had no nature study or lessons in woodscraft, but on a Monday morning they could, with no apparent study of the either muddy or dusty road, tell all who had ridden or walked by the schoolhouse during the weekend, for they knew every shoe print, mule and horse "sign" in the neighborhood. They knew the common names as well as uses of several dozens of plants, and they knew them winter as well as summer.  One faint clink of a distant bell and they could tell whether made by horse, cow, or sheep, who owned the animal and what it was doing, grazing or sleeping or "hid-out." They could track a strayed mule or hog or cow for miles when there were no tracks I could see.

They, no different from the young hunters of earlier generations, ranged over rough lands and were never lost or hurt. They delighted in swinging out over creek or river and dropping into, a pool of water; they climbed tall trees, explored sinkholes, caves, creek pools, rock houses, yet I never had a school child hurt by a fall or suffer a snake bite, and though many of the boys started hunting alone at ten years of age I can recall no gun accident. Bred into them was the same caution the hunter had to have; a perch in the swaying top of a "slim" fifty-foot hickory made for good safe fun in a high wind, but only a fool would on a hot summer day stick his hand under a rocky ledge or into any hole where he could not see that was a good place for a copperhead to be. They were forever cautious; they respected the woods, the caves, and the river as one respects honorable enemies; young children were constantly watched and guarded against the dangers there, and it was not until they were eight years old or so they were allowed to walk the paths alone.


ISBN: 0803259263

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