This book complements "History of The World War" (Gutenberg 18993)—a broad view of many events and persons—with a personal and dramatic view of an Ideal American Soldier: thoughtful, brave, modest, charitable, loyal.
A photograph from the national archives accompanies this file.
Here are some unfamiliar (to me) words.
badinage Light, playful banter.
Chapultepec Hill south of Mexico City, Mexico; site of an American victory on September 13, 1847 in the Mexican War.
condoling Express sympathy or sorrow.
currycomb Square comb with rows of small teeth used to groom (curry) horses.
enured Made tough by habitual exposure.
fastness Strongly fortified defensive structure; stronghold.
kamerad Comrade [German].
lagnappe Trifling present given to customers; a gratuity.
levee Formal reception, as at a royal court.
predial Relating to, containing, or possessing land; attached to, bound to, or arising from the land.
puncheon Short wooden upright used in structural framing; Piece of broad, heavy, roughly dressed timber with one face finished flat.
scantlings Small timber used in construction.
[End Transcribers's Notes]
SERGEANT YORK AND HIS PEOPLE
BY SAM K. COWAN
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS NEW YORK By Arrangement with Funk & Wagnalls Company
[Stamped: 1610 Capital Heights Jr. High School Library Montgomery, Alabama]
Copyright, 1922, By FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY [Printed in the United States of America] Copyright Under the Articles of the Copyright Convention of the Pan-American Republics and the United States August 11, 1910.
To FLOY PASCAL COWAN THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED, WITH A LOVE THAT WANES NOT, BUT GROWS AS THE YEARS ROLL ON
CONTENTS I. A FIGHT IN THE FOREST OF THE ARGONNE II. A "LONG HUNTER" COMES TO THE VALLEY III. THE PEOPLE OF THE MOUNTAINS IV. THE MOLDING OF A MAN V. THE PEOPLE OF PALL MALL VI. SERGEANT YORK'S OWN STORY VII. TWO MORE DEEDS OF DISTINCTION
SERGEANT ALVIN C. YORK
From a cabin back in the mountains of Tennessee, forty-eight miles from the railroad, a young man went to the World War. He was untutored in the ways of the world.
Caught by the enemy in the cove of a hill in the Forest of Argonne, he did not run; but sank into the bushes and single-handed fought a battalion of German machine gunners until he made them come down that hill to him with their hands in air. There were one hundred and thirty-two of them left, and he marched them, prisoners, into the American line.
Marshal Foch, in decorating him, said, "What you did was the greatest thing accomplished by any private soldier of all of the armies of Europe."
His ancestors were cane-cutters and Indian fighters. Their lives were rich in the romance of adventure. They were men of strong hate and gentle love. His people have lived in the simplicity of the pioneer.
This is not a war-story, but the tale of the making of a man. His ancestors were able to leave him but one legacy—an idea of American manhood.
In the period that has elapsed since he came down from the mountains he has done three things—and any one of them would have marked him for distinction.
SAM K. COWAN.
I A FIGHT IN THE FOREST OF THE ARGONNE
Just to the north of Chatel Chehery, in the Argonne Forest in France, is a hill which was known to the American soldiers as "Hill No. 223." Fronting its high wooded knoll, on the way to Germany, are three more hills. The one in the center is rugged. Those to the right and left are more sloping, and the one to the left—which the people of France have named "York's Hill"—turns a shoulder toward Hill No. 223. The valley which they form is only from two to three hundred yards wide.
Early in the morning of the eighth of October, 1918, as a floating gray mist relaxed its last hold on the tops of the trees on the sides of those hills, the "All America" Division—the Eighty-Second—poured over the crest of No. 223. Prussian Guards were on the ridge-tops across the valley, and behind the Germans ran the Decauville Railroad—the artery for supplies to a salient still further to the north which the Germans were striving desperately to hold. The second phase of the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne was on.
As the fog rose the American "jumped off" down the wooded slope and the Germans opened fire from three directions. With artillery they pounded the hillside. Machine guns savagely sprayed the trees under which the Americans were moving. At one point, where the hill makes a steep descent, the American line seemed to fade away as it attempted to pass.
This slope, it was found, was being swept by machine guns on the crest of the hill to the left which faced down the valley. The Germans were hastily "planting" other machine guns there.
The Americans showered that hill top with bullets, but the Germans were entrenched.
The sun had now melted the mist and the sky was cloudless. From the pits the Germans could see the Americans working their way through the timber.
To find a place from which the Boche could be knocked away from those death-dealing machine guns and to stop the digging of "fox holes" for new nests, a non-commissioned officer and sixteen men went out from the American line. All of them were expert rifle shots who came from the support platoon of the assault troops on the left.
Using the forest's undergrowth to shield them, they passed unharmed through the bullet-swept belt which the Germans were throwing around Hill No. 223, and reached the valley. Above them was a canopy of lead. To the north they heard the heavy cannonading of that part of the battle.
When they passed into the valley they found they were within the range of another battalion of German machine guns. The Germans on the hill at the far end of the valley were lashing the base of No. 223.
For their own protection against the bullets that came with the whip of a wasp through the tree-tops, the detachment went boldly up the enemy's hill before them. On the hillside they came to an old trench, which had been used in an earlier battle of the war. They dropped into it.
Moving cautiously, stopping to get their bearings from the sounds of the guns above them, they walked the trench in Indian file. It led to the left, around the shoulder of the hill, and into the deep dip of a valley in the rear.
Germans were on the hilltop across that valley. But the daring of the Americans protected them. The Germans were guarding the valleys and the passes and they were not looking for enemy in the shadow of the barrels of German guns.
As the trench now led down the hill, carrying the Americans away from the gunners they sought, the detachment came out of it and took skirmish formation in the dense and tangled bushes.
They had gone but a short distance when they stepped upon a forest path. Just below them were two Germans, with Red Cross bands upon their arms. At the sight of the Americans, the Germans dropped their stretcher, turned and fled around a curve.
The sound of the shots fired after them was lost in the clatter of the machine guns above. One of the Germans fell, but regained his feet, and both disappeared in the shrubs to the right.
It was kill or capture those Germans to prevent exposure of the position of the invaders, and the Americans went after them.
They turned off the path where they saw the stretcher-bearers leave it, darted through the underbrush, dodged trees and stumps and brushes. Jumping through the shrubs and reeds on the bank of a small stream, the Americans in the lead landed in a group of about twenty of the enemy.
The Germans sprang to their feet in surprize. They were behind their own line of battle. Officers were holding a conference with a major. Private soldiers, in groups, were chatting and eating. They were before a little shack that was the German major's headquarters, and from it stretched telephone wires. The Germans were not set for a fight.
Out from the brushwood and off the bank across the stream, one after another, came the Americans.
It bewildered the Germans. They did not know the number of the enemy that had come upon them. As each of the "Buddies" landed, he sensed the situation, and prepared for an attack from any angle. Some of them fired at German soldiers whom they saw reaching for their guns.
All threw up their hands, with the cry "Kamerad!" when the Americans opened fire.
About their prisoners the Americans formed in a semicircle as they forced them to disarm. At the left end of this crescent was Alvin York—a young six-foot mountaineer, who had come to the war from "The Knobs of Tennessee." He knew nothing of military tactics beyond the simple evolutions of the drill. Only a few days before had he first seen the flash of a hostile gun. But a rifle was as familiar to his hands as one of the fingers upon them. His body was ridged and laced with muscles that had grown to seasoned sinews from swinging a sledge in a blacksmith-shop. He had never seen the man or crowd of men of whom he was afraid. He had hunted in the mountains while forked lightning flashed around him. He had heard the thunder crash in mountain coves as loud as the burst of any German shell. He was of that type into whose brain and heart the qualm of fear never comes.
The Americans were on the downstep of the hill with their prisoners on the higher ground. The major's headquarters had been hidden away in a thicket of young undergrowth, and the Americans could see but a short distance ahead.
As the semicircle formed with Alvin York on the left end, he stepped beyond the edge of the thicket—and what he saw up the hill surprized him.
Just forty yards away was the crest, and along it was a row of machine guns—a battalion of them!
The German gunners had heard the shots fired by the Americans in front of the major's shack, or they had been warned by the fleeing stretcher-bearers that the enemy was behind them. They were jerking at their guns, rapidly turning them around, for the nests had been masked and the muzzles of the guns pointed down into the valley at the foot of Hill No. 223, to sweep it when the Eighty-Second Division came out into the open.
Some of the Germans in the gun-pits, using rifles, shot at York. The bullets "burned his face as they passed." He cried a warning to his comrades which evidently was not heard, for when he began to shoot up the hill they called to him to stop as the Germans had surrendered. They saw—only the prisoners before them.
There was no time for parley. York's second cry, "Look out!" could carry no explanation of the danger to those whose view was blinded by the thicket. The Germans had their guns turned. Hell and death were being belched down the hillside upon the Americans.
At the opening rattle of these guns the German prisoners as if through a prearranged signal, fell flat to the ground, and the streams of lead passed over them. Some of the Americans prevented by the thicket from seeing that an attack was to be made upon them, hearing the guns, instinctively followed the lead of the Germans. But the onslaught came with such suddenness that those in the line of fire had no chance.
The first sweep of the guns killed six and wounded three of the Americans. Death leaped through the bushes and claimed Corporal Murray Savage, Privates Maryan Dymowski, Ralph Weiler, Fred Wareing, William Wine and Carl Swanson. Crumpled to the ground, wounded, were Sergeant Bernard Early, who had been in command; Corporal William B. Cutting and Private Mario Muzzi.
York, to escape the guns he saw sweeping toward him, had dived to the ground between two shrubs.
The fire of other machine guns was added to those already in action and streams of lead continued to pour through the thicket. But the toll of the dead and wounded of the Americans had been taken.
The Germans kept their line of fire about waist-high so they would not kill their own men, some of whom they could see groveling on the ground.
York had seen the murder of his pals in the first onset. He had heard some one say, "Let's get out of here; we are in the German line!" Then all had been silence on the American side.
German prisoners lay on the ground before him, in view of the gunners on the hilltop. York edged around until he had a clear view of the gun-pits above him. The stalks of weeds and undergrowth were about him.
There came a lull in the machine gun fire. Several Germans arose as though to come out of their pits and down the hill to see the battle's result.
But on the American side the battle was just begun. York, from the brushes at the end of the thicket, "let fly."
One of the Germans sprang upward, waved his arms above him as he began his flight into eternity.
The others dropped back into their holes, and there was another clatter of machine guns and again the bullets slashed across the thicket.
But there was silence on the American side. York waited.
More cautiously, German heads began to rise above their pits. York moved his rifle deliberately along the line knocking back those heads that were the more venturesome. The American rifle shoots five times, and a clip was gone before the Germans realized that the fire upon them was coming from one point.
They centered on that point.
Around York the ground was torn up. Mud from the plowing bullets besmirched him. The brush was mowed away above and on either side of him, and leaves and twigs were falling over him.
But they could only shoot at him. They were given no chance to take deliberate aim. As they turned the clumsy barrel of a machine gun down at the fire-sparking point on the hillside a German would raise his head above his pit to sight it. Instantly backward along that German machine gun barrel would come an American bullet—crashing into the head of the Boche who manned the gun.
The prisoners on the ground squirmed under the fire that was passing over them. Their bodies were in a tortuous motion. But York held them there; it made the gunners keep their fire high.
Every shot York made was carefully placed. As a hunter stops in the forest and gazes straight ahead, his mind, receptive to the slightest movement of a squirrel or the rustle of leaves in any of the trees before him, so this Tennessee mountaineer faced and fought that line of blazing machine guns on the ridge of the hill before him. His mind was sensitive to the point in the line that at that instant threatened a real danger, and instinctively he turned to it.
Down the row of prisoners on the ground he saw the German major with a pistol in his hand, and he made the officer throw the gun to him. Later its magazine was found to have been emptied.
He noted that after he shot at a gun-pit, there was a break in the line of flame at that point, and an interval would pass before that gun would again be manned and become a source of danger to him. He also realized that where there was a sudden break of ten or fifteen feet in the line of flame, and the trunk of a tree rose within that space, that soon a German gun and helmet would me peeking around the tree's trunk. A rifleman would try for him where the machine guns failed.
In the mountains of Tennessee Alvin York had won fame as one of the best shots with both rifle and revolver that those mountains had ever held, and his imperturbability was as noted as the keenness of his sight.
In mountain shooting-matches at a range of forty yards—just the distance the row of German guns were from him—he would put ten rifle bullets into a space no larger than a man's thumb-nail. Since a small boy he had been shooting with a rifle at the bobbing heads of turkeys that had been tethered behind a log so that only their heads would show. German heads and German helmets loomed large before him.
A battalion of machine guns is a military unit organized to give battle to a regiment of infantry. Yet, one man, a representative of America on that hillside on that October morning, broke the morale of a battalion of machine gunners made up from members of Germany's famous Prussian Guards. Down in the brush below the Prussians was a human machine gun they could not hit, and the penalty was death to try to locate him.
As York fought, there was prayer upon his lips. He was an elder in a little church back in the "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf" in the mountains of Tennessee. He prayed to God to spare him and to have mercy on those he was compelled to kill. When York shot, and a German soldier fell backward or pitched forward and remained motionless, York would call to them:
"Well! Come on down!"
It was an earnest command in which there was no spirit of exultation or braggadocio. He was praying for their surrender, so that he might stop killing them.
His command, "Come down!" at times, above the firing, was heard in the German pits. They realized they were fighting one man, and could not understand the strange demand.
When the fight began York was lying on the ground. But as the entire line of German guns came into the fight, he raised himself to a sitting position so that his gun would have the sweep of all of them.
When the Germans found they could not "get him" with bullets, they tried other tactics.
Off to his left, seven Germans, led by a lieutenant, crept through the bushes. When about twenty yards away, they broke for him with lowered bayonets.
The clip of York's rifle was nearly empty. He dropped it and took his automatic pistol. So calmly was he master of himself and so complete his vision of the situation that he selected as his first mark among the oncoming Germans the one farthest away. He knew he would not miss the form of a man at that distance. He wanted the rear men to fall first so the others would keep coming at him and not stop in panic when they saw their companions falling, and fire a volley at him. He felt that in such a volley his only danger lay. They kept coming, and fell as he shot. The foremost man, and the last to topple, did not get ten yards from where he started. Their bodies formed a line down the hillside.
York resumed the battle with the machine guns. The German fire had "eased up" while the bayonet charge was on. The gunners paused to watch the grim struggle below them.
The major, from among the prisoners crawled to York with an offer to order the surrender of the machine gunners.
"Do it!" was his laconic acceptance. But his vigilance did not lessen.
To the right a German had crawled nearby. He arose and hurled a hand-grenade. It missed its objective and wounded one of the prisoners. The American rifle swung quickly and the grenade-thrower pitched forward with the grunt of a man struck heavily in the stomach pit.
The German major blew his whistle.
Out of their gun-pits the Germans came—around from behind trees—up from the brush on either side. They were unbuckling cartridge belts and throwing them and their side-arms away.
York did not move from his position in the brush. About halfway down the hill as they came to him, he halted them, and he watched the gun-pits for the movement of anyone left skulking there. His eye went cautiously over the new prisoners to see that all side-arms had been thrown away.
The surrender was genuine.
There were about ninety Germans before him with their hands in air. This gave him over a hundred prisoners.
He arose and called to his comrades, and several answered him. Some of the responses came from wounded men.
All of the Americans had been on York's right throughout the fight. The thicket had prevented them from taking any effective part. They were forced to protect themselves from the whining bullets that came through the brush from unseen guns. They had constantly guarded the prisoners and shielded York from treachery.
Seven Americans—Percy Beardsley, Joe Konotski, Thomas G. Johnson, Feodor Sak, Michael A. Sacina, Patrick Donahue and George W. Wills—came to him. Sergeant Early, Corporal Cutting and Private Muzzi, tho wounded, were still alive.
He lined the prisoners up "by twos."
His own wounded he put at the rear of the column, and forced the Germans to carry those who could not walk. The other Americans he stationed along the column to hold the prisoners in line.
Sergeant Early, shot through the body, was too severely wounded to continue in command. York was a corporal, but there was no question of rank for all turned to him for instructions. The Germans could not take their eyes off of him, and instantly complied with all his orders, given through the major, who spoke English.
Stray bullets kept plugging through the branches of the trees around them. For the first time the Americans realized they were under fire from the Germans on the hill back of them, whom they had seen when they came out of the deserted trench. The Germans stationed there could not visualize the strange fight that was taking place behind a line of German machine guns, and they were withholding their fire to protect their own men. They were plugging into the woods with rifles, hoping to draw a return volley, and thus establish the American's position.
To all who doubted the possibility of carrying so many prisoners through the forest, or spoke of reprisal attacks to release them, York's reply was:
"Let's get 'em out of here!"
The German major looking down the long line of Germans, possibly planning some recoup from the shame and ignominy of the surrender of so many of them, stepped up to York and asked:
"How many men have you got?"
The big mountaineer wheeled on him:
"I got a-plenty!"
And the major seemed convinced that the number of the Americans was immaterial as York thrust his automatic into the major's face and stepped him up to the head of the column.
Among the captives were three officers.
These York placed around him to lead the prisoners—one on either side and the major immediately before him. In York's right hand swung the automatic pistol, with which he had made an impressive demonstration in the fight up the hill. The officers were told that at the first sign of treachery, or for a failure of the men behind to obey a command, the penalty would be their lives; and the major was informed that he would be the first to go.
With this formation no German skulking on the hill or in the bushes could fire upon York without endangering the officers. Similar protection was given all of the Americans acting as escort.
Up the hill York started the column. From the topography of the land he knew there were machine guns over the crest that had had no part in the fight.
Straight to these nests he marched them. As the column approached, the major was forced by York to command the gunners to surrender.
Only one shot was fired after the march began. At one of the nests, a German, seeing so many Germans as prisoners and so few of the enemy to guard them—all of them on the German firing-line with machine gun nests around them—refused to throw down his gun, and showed fight.
York did not hesitate.
The remainder of that gun's crew took their place in line, and the major promised York there would be no more delays in the surrenders if he would kill no more of them.
As a great serpent the column wound among the trees on the hilltop swallowing the crews of German machine guns.
After the ridge had been cleared, four machine gun-nests were found down the hillside.
It took all the woodcraft the young mountaineer knew to get to his own command. They had come back over the hilltop and were on the slope of the valley in which the Eighty-Second Division was fighting. They were now in danger from both German and American guns.
York listened to the firing, and knew the Americans had reached the valley—and that some of them had crossed it. Where their line was running he could not determine.
He knew if the Americans saw his column of German uniforms they were in danger—captors and captives alike—of being annihilated. At any moment the Germans from the two hilltops down the valley—to check the Eighty-Second Division's advance—might lay a belt of bullets across the course they traveled.
Winding around the cleared places and keeping in the thickly timbered section of the hillslope whenever it was possible, Sergeant York worked his way toward the American line.
In the dense woods the German major made suggestions of a path to take. As York was undecided which one to choose, the major's suggestion made him go the other one. Frequently the muzzle of York's automatic dimpled the major's back and he quickened his step, slowed up, or led the column in the direction indicated to him without turning his head and without inquiry as to the motive back of York's commands.
Down near the foot of the hill, near the trench they had traveled a short while before, York answered the challenge to "Halt!"
He stepped out so his uniform could be seen, and called to the Americans challenging him, and about to fire on the Germans, that he was "bringing in prisoners."
The American line opened for him to pass, and a wild cheer went up from the Doughboys when they saw the column of prisoners. Some of them "called to him to know" if he had the "whole damned German army."
At the foot of the hill in an old dugout an American P. C. had been located, and York turned in his prisoners.
The prisoners were officially counted by Lieut. Joseph A. Woods, Assistant Division Inspector, and there were 132 of them, three of the number were officers and one with the rank of major.
When the Eighty-Second Division passed on, officers of York's regiment visited the scene of the fight and they counted 25 Germans that he had killed and 35 machine guns that York had not only silenced but had unmanned, carrying the men back with him as prisoners.
When York was given "his receipt for the prisoners," an incident happened that shows the true knightliness of character of this untrained mountaineer.
It was but a little after ten o'clock in the morning. The Americans had a hard day's fighting ahead of them. Somewhere out in the forest York's own company—Company G—and his own regiment—the 328th Infantry—were fighting. He made inquiry, but no one could direct him to them. He turned to the nearest American officer, saluted and reported, "Ready for duty."
What he had done was to him but a part of the work to be done that day.
But York was assigned to the command of his prisoners, to carry them back to a detention camp. The officers were held by the P. C.—for an examination and grilling on the plans of the enemy.
Whenever they could the private soldiers among the prisoners gathered close to York, now looking to him for their personal safety.
On the way to the detention camp the column was shelled by German guns from one of the hilltops. York maneuvered them and put them in double quick time until they were out of range.
Late in the afternoon, back of the three hills that face Hill No. 223, the "All America" Division "cut" the Decauville Railroad that supplied a salient to the north that the Germans were striving desperately to hold. As they swept on to their objective they found the hill to the left of the valley, that turns a shoulder toward No. 223—which the people of France have named "York's Hill"—cleared of Germans, and on its crest, silent and unmanned machine guns.
Americans returned and buried on the hillside—beside a thicket, near a shack that had been the German officer's headquarters—six American soldiers. They placed wooden crosses to mark the graves and on the top of the crosses swung the helmets the soldiers had worn.
Out from the forest came the story of what York had done. The men in the trenches along the entire front were told of it. Not only in the United States, but in Great Britain, France and Italy, it electrified the public. From the meager details the press was able to carry, for the entire Entente firing-line was ablaze and a surrender was being forced upon Germany, and York's division was out in the Argonne still fighting its way ahead, the people could but wonder how one man was able to silence a battalion of machine guns and bring in so many prisoners.
Major-General George B. Duncan, commander of the Eighty-Second Division, and officers of York's regiment knew that history had been made upon that hillside. By personal visits of the regiment's officers to the scene, by measurements, by official count of the silent guns and the silent dead, by affidavits from those who were with York, the record of his achievement was verified.
Major-General C. P. Summerall, before the officers of York's regiment, said to him:
"Your division commander has reported to me your exceedingly gallant conduct during the operations of your division in the Meuse-Argonne Battle. I desire to express to you my pleasure and commendation for the courage, skill, and gallantry which you displayed on that occasion. It is an honor to command such soldiers as you. Your conduct reflects great credit not only upon the American army, but upon the American people. Your deeds will be recorded in the history of this great war and they will live as an inspiration not only to your comrades but to the generations that will come after us."
General John J. Pershing in pinning the Congressional Medal of Honor upon him—the highest award for valor the United States Government bestows—called York the greatest civilian soldier of the war.
Marshal Foch, bestowing the Croix de Guerre with Palm upon him, said his feat was the World War's most remarkable individual achievement.
A deed that is done through the natural use of a great talent seems to the doer of the deed the natural thing to have done. A sincere response to appreciation and praise, made by those endowed with real ability, usually comes cloaked in a genuine modesty.
At his home in the "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf," after the war was over, I asked Alvin York how he came to be "Sergeant York."
"Well," he said, as he looked earnestly at me, "you know we were in the Argonne Forest twenty-eight days, and had some mighty hard fighting in there. A lot of our boys were killed off. Every company has to have so many sergeants. They needed a sergeant; and they jes' took me."
In the summer of 1917 when Alvin York was called to war, he was working on the farm for $25 a month and his midday meal, walking to and from his work. He was helping to support his widowed mother with her family of eleven. When he returned to this country to be mustered out of service he had traveled among the soldiers of France the guest of the American Expeditionary Force, so the men in the lines could see the man who single-handed had captured a battalion of machine guns, and he bore the emblems of the highest military honors conferred for valor by the governments composing the Allies.
At New York he was taken from the troop-ship when it reached harbor and the spontaneous welcome given him there and at Washington was not surpassed by the prearranged demonstrations for the Nation's distinguished foreign visitors.
The streets of those cities were lined with people to await his coming and police patrols made way for him. The flaming red of his hair, his young, sunburned, weather-ridged face with its smile and its strength, the worn service cap and uniform, all marked him to the crowds as the man they sought.
On the shoulders of members of the New York Stock Exchange he was carried to the floor of the Exchange and business was suspended. When he appeared in the gallery of the House of Representatives at Washington, the debate was stopped and the members turned to cheer him. A sergeant in rank, he sat at banquets as the guest of honor with the highest officials of the Army and Navy and the Government on either side. Wherever he went he heard the echo of the valuation which Marshal Foch and General Pershing placed upon his deeds.
Many business propositions were made to him. Some were substantial and others strange, the whimsical offerings of enthused admirers.
Among them were cool fortunes he could never earn at labor.
Taking as a basis the money he was paid for three months on the farm in the summer before he went to France, he would have had to work fifty years to earn the amount he was offered for a six-weeks' theatrical engagement. For the rights to the story of his life a single newspaper was willing to give him the equivalent of thirty-three years. He would have to live to be over three hundred years of age to earn at the old farm wage the sum motion picture companies offered, as a guarantee.
He turned all down, and went back to the little worried mother who was waiting for him in a hut in the mountains, to the gazelle-like mountain girl whose blue eyes had haunted the shades of night and the shadows of trees, to the old seventy-five acre farm that clings to one of the sloping sides of a sun-kissed valley in Tennessee. He refused to capitalize his fame, his achievements that were crowded into a few months in the army of his country.
There was one influence that was ever guiding him. The future had to square to the principles of thought and action he had laid down for himself and that he had followed since he knelt, four years before, at a rough-boarded altar in a little church in the "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf," whose belfry had been calling, appealing to him since childhood.
Admiral Albert Gleaves, who commanded the warship convoy for the troop-ships, himself a Tennesseean, made a prediction which came true. "The guns of Argonne and the batteries of welcome of the East were not to be compared to those to be turned loose in York's home state."
The people of Tennessee filled depots, streets and tabernacles to welcome him. Gifts awaited him, which ranged from a four-hundred acre farm raised by public subscriptions by the Rotary Clubs and newspapers, to blooded stock for it, and almost every form of household furnishings that could add to man's comfort. It took a ware-room at Nashville and the courtesies of the barns of the State Fair Association to hold the gifts.
He was made a Colonel by the Governor of Tennessee, and appointed a member of his staff. He was elected to honorary membership in many organizations. As far away as Spokane the "Red Headed Club" thought him worthy of their membership "by virtue of the color of his hair and in recognition of his services to this, our glorious country."
The nations of Europe for whom he fought had not forgotten nor had they ceased to honor him. After he had returned to the mountains of Tennessee, another citation came from the French Government for a military award that had been made him, and in a ceremony at the capital of Tennessee the Italian Government conferred upon him the Italian Cross of War.
The "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf," where Alvin York was born and lives, which has been the home of his ancestors for more than a hundred years, is a level fertile valley that is almost a rectangle in form. Three mountains rising on the north and south and west enclose it, while to the east four mountains jumble together, forming the fourth side. It seems that each of these is striving for a place by the valley.
It is down the passes of these mountains on the east that the three branches of the Wolf River run, and it is their meeting and commingling that gave the quaint name to the valley.
The forks of the Wolf rush down the passes, but the river runs lazily through the valley. It flows beside a cornfield, then wanders over to a meadow of clover or into a patch of sugar-cane, turning the while from side to side as the varying mountain vistas come into view. At the far end where it is pushed over the mill dam and out of the valley, the Wolf roars protestingly; then rushes on to the Cumberland River a silver line between the mountains.
Pall Mall, the village, is co-extensive with the "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf." As a stranger first sees Pall Mall it is but a half-mile of the mountain roadway that runs from Jamestown, the county seat of Fentress county, to Byrdstown, the county seat of Pickett.
The roadway comes down from the top of "The Knobs," a thousand feet above, and it comes over rocks of high and low degree, a jolting, impressive journey for its traveler. It reaches the foot of the mountain along one of the prongs of the Wolf, crosses them at the base of the eastern mountains and passes on to the northern side of the river.
At the post office of Pall Mall, which is also the store of "Paster" Pile—a frame building upon stilts to allow an unobstructed flow of the Wolf when on a winter rampage—the road turns at right angles to the west. Through fields of corn it goes, across a stretch of red clover to the clump of forest trees which is the schoolhouse grounds and in which nestles the little church that has played such a prominent part in the life of the village. Then the road goes beside the graveyard and again through corn to the general store of John Marion Rains, which with five houses in sight—and one of these the York home—marks the western confine of Pall Mall.
One can be in the center of Pall Mall and not know it, for the residents live in farm houses that dot the valley and in cabins on the mountainsides. The little church, which sits by the road with no homes near it, is the geographical as well as the religious center of the community—it is the heart of Pall Mall.
Passing the Rains store the roadway tumbles down to the York's big spring. A brook in volume the stream flows clear and cool from a low rock-ribbed cave in the base of the mountain.
Across the spring branch, up the mountainside in a clump of honey-suckle and roses and apple trees is the home to which Sergeant York returned.
It is a two-room cabin. The boxing is of rough boards as are the unplaned narrow strips of batting covering the cracks. There is a chimney at one end and in one room is a fireplace. The kitchen is a "lean-to" and the only porch is on the rear, the width of the kitchen-dining room. The porch is for service and work, railed partly with a board for a shelf, which holds the water-bucket, the tin wash basin and burdens brought in from the farm.
Parts of the walls of the two rooms are papered with newspapers and catalog pages; the rough rafters run above. The uncovered floor is of wide boards, worn smooth in service, chinked to keep out the blasts of winter.
The porch in the rear is on a level with the mountainside. To care for the mountain's slope a front stoop was built. The sides of it are scantlings and the steps are narrow boards.
The house has been painted by Poverty; but the home is warmed and lit by a mountain mother's love. The front stoop is a wooden ladder with flat steps but the entrance to the home is an arbor of honey suckle and roses.
On summer nights the York boys sat on that stoop and sang, and their voices floated on the moonbeams out over the valley. The little mother "pottered" about, with ever a smile on her face for her boys. They were happy.
It was from this home that Alvin went to war, and it was to it he returned.
Visitors know, and it is well for others to realize, that Pall Mall and the "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf" are back among the rising ranges of the Cumberland Mountains forty-eight miles from the railroad.
Alvin York came from a line of ancestors who were cane-cutters and Indian fighters. The earliest ancestor of whom he has knowledge was a "Long Hunter," who with a rifle upon his shoulder strode into the Valley of the Wolf and homesteaded the river bottom-lands. Here his people lived far from the traveled paths. Marooned in their mountain fastnesses, they clung to the customs and the traditions of the past. Their life was simple, and their sports quaint. They held shooting-matches on the mountainside, enjoyed "log-rollings" and "corn-huskings." Strong in their loves and in their hates, they feared God, but feared no man. The Civil War swept over the valley and left splotches of blood.
Friends of Sergeant York, knowing that the history of his people was rich in story, and that the public was waiting, wanting to know more of the man the German army could not run, nor make surrender—and instead had to come to him—urged that his story be told.
He had been mustered out of the army and come back to the valley wanting to pick up again the dropped thread of his former life. He was striving earnestly and prayerfully to blot from recurrent memory that October morning scene on "York's Hill" in France.
His friends and neighbors at Pall Mall waited eagerly for his return. They wanted to hear from his own lips the story of his fight.
No man of the mountains was ever given the home-coming that was his. It was made the reunion of the people, with the neighbors the component parts of one great family.
When home again, Alvin wanted no especial deference shown him. He wished to be again just one of them, to swing himself upon the counter at the general store and talk with them as of old. He had much to tell from his experience, but always it was of other incidents than the one that made him famous.
Months passed. He lived in that mountain cabin with his little mother, whose counsel has ever influenced him, and yet not once did he mention to her that he had a fight in the Forest of Argonne.
His consent was gained for the publication of the story of his people, but it was with the pronounced stipulation that "it be told right."
Weeks afterward—for I had gone to live awhile among his people—the two of us were sitting upon the rugged rock, facing to the cliff above the York spring, talking about the fight in France.
He told of it hesitatingly, modestly. Some of the parts was simply the confirmation of assembled data; much of it, denial of published rumor and conjecture—before the story came out as a whole.
I asked the meaning of his statement that he would not "mind the publication if the story were done right."
"Well," he said with his mountain drawl, "I don't want you bearing down too much on that killing part. Tell it without so much of that!"
A rock was picked up and hurled down the mountain.
I then understood why the little mother was "jes' a-waiting till Alvin gits ready to talk." I understood why the son did not wish to be the one to bring into his mother's mind the picture of that hour in France when men were falling before his gun. I saw the reason he had for always courteously avoiding talking of the scene with anyone.
"But," and he turned with that smile that wins him friends, "I just can't help chuckling at that German major. I sure had him bluffed."
According to the code of mountain conversation there followed a silence. Another rock bounded off the sapling down the cliff.
"You should have seen the major," he resumed, "move on down that hill whenever I pulled down on him with that old Colt. 'Goose-step it', I think they call it. He was so little! His back so straight! And all huffed up over the way he had to mind me."
I had watched the rocks as they went down the cliff and it seemed nearly every one of them bounced off the same limb. I commented on the accuracy of his eye.
"Aw! I wasn't throwing at that sapling, but at—that—leaf."
He straightened up and threw more carefully; and the leaf floated down to the waters of the York spring.
Down by the spring I met the little mother bringing a tin bucket to the stone milk-house which nature had built. Her slender, drooping figure, capped by the sunbonnet she always wore, reached just to the shoulder of her son, as he placed his arm protectingly about her.
I asked if she were not proud of that boy of hers.
"Yes," she answered, with pride in every line of her sweet though wrinkled face, "I am proud of all of them—all of my eight boys!"
II A "Long Hunter" Comes to the Valley
The "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf" is more than a fertile space between two mountain ranges. It is a rectangular basin of verdure and beauty in the glow of a Southern sun, around which seven mountains have grown to their maturity. Generously, for uncounted years, this family of the hills has given to the valley the surplus products of their timbered slopes, and the Wolf River has gone through the valley distributing the wealth the mountains brought in, brightening and adding touches of beauty here and there, ever singing as she came down to her daily task. The mountains and the river have worked unceasingly together to make the spot a place of comfort and beauty.
On the bare rock-shoulder of one of these mountains, in the closing years of the eighteenth century, stood one of the last of the "Long Hunters," that race of stout-hearted, sturdy-legged men who when the Atlantic Coast was dotted with sparsely settled British colonies climbed the mountains and went down the western slopes on the long hunts in the unknown land that lay below. They were the pioneers of the pioneers, who in their wanderings found a spot rich in game, in nuts and soil—such a home as they had wished—and they beckoned back for their families and their friends.
The figure upon the rock-ledge rested upon a long, muzzle-loading, flint-lock rifle as he looked out over the valley. His legs were wrapped in crudely tanned hides made from game he had killed. His cap was of coon-skin. His search for adventure and game had carried him across the crest of the Cumberlands and along many weary, lonely miles of the western wooded slopes of those mountains. Years afterward he is known to have said that the view from the crag that day was the most appealing in its calmness and its beauty that he had seen upon his hunts.
Below him stretched a grove of trees. Their waving tops told of their size and to his trained woodsman's eye the quivering oval leaves were the leaves of the walnut. It was assurance that the soil was rich. And through the length of the valley, twisted irregularly, lay a wide ribbon of saffron cane, from which at times the silver surface of a stream showed—a further evidence of the soil's fertility. Over the western edge of this tableland of green and yellow and silver the mountains cast a shadow of purple and the sun filtered slanting rays through the forest slopes on the north and east.
Down the mountainside he came, and into the valley; never to leave it, except when in bartering with the Indians he went to their camping-places for furs, or in the years of prosperity that followed he was upon a trading mission.
He first made his way through "Walnut Grove" in search of the caned banks of the river. As he pushed through the reeds that swayed above him he came suddenly upon a well-beaten path. In its dust were the prints of deer-hoofs, and he followed them. The path threaded the length of the valley beside the river's winding course, but he knew from the crests of the mountains above him the direction he was taking.
It led him to the base of one of these mountains, to a spring which flowed clear and cool, a brook in size, from a low rock-ribbed cave.
By the spring he cooked his meal. His bread was baked upon a hot stone and he drank water from a terrapin shell. As he ate his meal there came the sound of breaking cane, a familiar welcomed vibration to a hunter. A stone, that is still by the spring side, was used as a shelter and a resting-place for the rifle, and a deer fell as it stopped, astonished at the curling smoke that rose from its watering-place.
This was the first meal of the white man at the York spring or in the "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf," and for more than fifty years the hunter lived within a hundred yards of where he camped that day. He was Conrad Pile—or "Old Coonrod," as he is known, the descriptive adjectives and byname ever coupled as though one word. He was the great-great-grandfather of Sergeant Alvin Cullom York, and the earliest ancestor of which he has account.
Above the spring in the rock-facing of the cliff is a large cave. Here Coonrod Pile spread a bed of leaves and made his home. The camp-fire was kept burning and its smoke was seen by other hunters, and Pearson Miller, Arthur Frogge, John Riley and Moses Poor came to Coonrod in the valley, and they too made their homes there, and Pall Mall was founded and descendants of these men are today eighty per cent of the residents in the "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf."
This is but one of the many valley settlements made by "Long Hunters" in the Appalachian Mountains. Adventurous families in the last days of the Colonies and in the years that came after the Revolution, followed the hunters, and log cabins and "cleared spaces" appeared in the valleys and on the mountainsides. And from them sprang another race of long hunters who went out from the mountains down into the valleys of the Ohio and the Mississippi, returning to tell of the land and the game they had found. Not far from Pall Mall, as the crow would rise and journey, is a carving upon a tree that is believed, to historically mark the path of the most noted of the "Long Hunters," and it says:
"D Boon CillED a BAR On Tree in ThE yEAR 1760."
Emigrants of those days settled as Coonrod Pile and his companions took up their "squatter's rights" in the Valley o' the Wolf. As canvas-covered mountain-schooners carrying families of the settlers moved westward they followed the trails of the hunters and stopped where it appealed to them. Wagon-tracks grew into roads as the travel increased. And the roads unvaryingly led to the passes and the gaps in the mountains that offered the least resistance to progress. So scattered throughout the ranges of the Appalachians are many homes and settlements off from the old, beaten, wagon-trails, far distant from the railroads of to-day, reached only over rocky, rarely-worked roadways.
Those who dwell there are the direct descendants of pioneers. Here they had lived for generations unmolested by the rush and hurry for homes to the more fertile West. Often in those days a mountain neighbor was forty miles away, and they were long rugged miles. To-day a traveler distant on the mountainside can be recognized by the mountaineers while the man's features are still untraceable, by the droop of a hat or a peculiar walk, or amble of the mule he rides. In the case of any traveler along those remote roads the odds are long that the man, his father, his grandfather—as far back as anyone can remember—all were born and raised in the neighborhood, and the neighborhood is the valleys and the cleared spaces on the sides of all the mountains near around.
So the mountaineer of to-day is the transplanted colonist of the eighteenth century; he is the backwoodsman of the days of Andrew Jackson; his life has the hospitality, the genuineness and simplicity of the pioneer. It has been said of the residents of the Cumberland Mountains that they are the purest Anglo-Saxons to be found to-day and not even England can produce so clear a strain.
The mountain families have intermarried and because of the inaccessibility of their homes have remained marooned in their mountain fastnesses. They are Anglo-Saxon in their blood and their customs. They are Colonial-Americans in their speech and credences.
They have a love for daring that comes from the wildness and freedom of their surroundings. They have a directness of mind that is the result of unconscious training. They must be sure of the firmness of each footstep they take, and it is through and past obstructions that they locate their game. They are keen of observation, for the movement of a shadow or the swaying of a weed may mean the presence of a fox, or a dropping hickory-nut indicate the flight of a squirrel. They are physically brave, for it is the inheritance of all who live in mountains. Their word is accepted, for they wish the good will of the few among whom they must spend their lives; and to them lying is a form of cowardice.
They are sensitive because they are observant and realize they have been criticized and misunderstood—misclassed as a rare race of "moonshiners" and "feudists."
Quickly and clearly they see through any veneer of democracy the stranger may assume, to conceal an assumption of superiority. Yet for the stranger on the roadside, in answer to the halloo at their gate, the mountaineers are willing to go out of their way to do a favor, and they will cheerfully share such food and comforts as they may have, with any man. But they give their confidence only in proportion to demonstrations of manhood and genuineness, and as humanists they are not in a hurry. If there is an aura of caste, the distinctions must be created by those who have come as strangers into the mountains and not by the mountaineer.
They know they are not ignorant, except as everyone is ignorant who lacks contact with new customs and changes in world progress. They are fully cognizant of their lack of that knowledge which "comes only out of a book." But whatever their educational shortcomings, no one has ever laid at their door the charge of stupidity.
Raised in nature's school they are masters of its non-elective course. They know by the arc the baying hounds make the size of the circle the fox will take and where to intercept him. They can tell by the distance up the mountain's side where the dogs are running whether the fox is red or gray. They know by the sound a rock makes as it is dropped into the stream the depth of the ford. They have even a classical finish to their woodland schooling and they find a pleasure in noting that the bullfrog sits with his back to the water as the moon rises and faces it as the moon sets.
They know the signs of changing weather that will affect their crops. The tints of the clouds that float above them convey a meaning. There are cause and effect in the wind that continues in one direction. They watch the actions of wild animals and fowls, and they are wise enough to attribute to beast and bird an intuitive protective sense superior to their own. They note when the moss has grown heavier on the north side of the tree.
The steadiness of their poise and their silence in the presence of strangers is not due to moroseness or the absence of active thought. They have learned in the woods, if they are to be successful in their hunts, to be personally as unobtrusive as possible, often to remain motionless, and all the while to watch and listen alertly. Whenever they can be of real assistance, no one can more quickly or more generously respond.
They have their own standard of values in personal intercourse, and they can wait patiently and in impressive silence. They are always willing for someone else to hold the spotlight on their rural stage.
About themselves they are naturally taciturn, and public and unfriendly criticism has been proved to be a hazardous diversion. If the thought and comment of the stranger upon the mountaineer could be compared with the keen and often humorous analysis of the stranger the score would be found in surprizing frequency on the side of the calm and silent mountaineer.
They give but little heed to the clothes a man wears but look clear-eyed at the man within the clothes. They have no criticism for the way a man says his say, so he has something to say. A noted college professor, himself a mountain boy, maintains:
"I would rather hear a boy say 'I seed' when he had really seen something, than to hear a boy say 'I saw' when he had not seen it."
Old Coonrod Pile lived in the valley until his life spanned from the days when it was a hunting-ground of the Indians to the time when he can be remembered by some of the men and women now living in Pall Mall, who knew him as the most influential man of his time in the section, the owner of the river-bottom farm land, vast acres of hardwood timber, a general store and a flour mill worked by his slaves—a man grown to such enormous size and weight that in his last days he went about his farm and to oversee his workers in a two-wheeled cart pulled by oxen.
Those of the valley who now remember him were children when he died, for he was born on March 16, 1766, and his death occurred on October 14, 1849.
He saw his valley home changed from a part of the State of Franklin to a part of the State of Kentucky, then to Tennessee, and the abstracts to the deeds for land he owned show that Pall Mall was first in Granger county, later in Overton and finally in Fentress county as the State of Tennessee developed. Pall Mall is but seven miles from the Kentucky line, and for many years Coonrod thought he had taken up his residence within the Kentucky border.
Settlers of those days in leaving the Carolinas and Virginia traveled usually due west in search for a new home. It was this belief that he had settled in Kentucky that has led many to the opinion that Coonrod's former home was in Virginia. Others, without more definite knowledge for foundation, maintain that as he settled in Tennessee he had lived in North Carolina. The written word was rarely used and the stories of the earlier days in the "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf" are tradition.
In a newly settled territory a man's birthplace and antecedents are facts immaterial to the community's welfare and many incidents historical in nature concerning Old Coonrod have been lost in the waste-basket of forgetfulness and no one now at Pall Mall has "heard tell of jes' where he come from." Yet some readily say that he came from "over yonder," and they point back across the mountains toward North Carolina.
In the first map of Tennessee, made by Daniel Smith, there is a dip in the northern boundary of the state line where Fentress county is located. But this was found to be an error of survey and later corrected. The surveyors of those days were men of courtesy and accommodation, for in the establishment of the Tennessee-Virginia line they surveyed around the southern boundary of the farm of a hospitable host and left his lands in Virginia because the old fellow maintained he had never had any health except in the mountains of Virginia.
That Coonrod was of English descent there seems scarcely room for doubt, and "Pile," or "Pyle" and "Pall Mall" stand as mute testimony. And "York" too is a component part of old England.
I was never able to learn why the village was given its unique name and there is no tradition that associates it with the noted street in London, though even to-day Pall Mall in Fentress county is but a single road. I asked a white-haired mountaineer how long the place had been known as Pall Mall. With a memory-reviving shake of his head that ended in a convinced nod, his answer was, "quite a-whit."
And that is the nearest I ever came to accuracy.
But seeing his reply did not contain the information wanted he looked at me thoughtfully and said:
"Hit's jes' like 'Old Crow!' Every morning for eighty-two years I ha' looked up at the rocks o' that mountain 'en they h'aint changed a-bit."
The government records show that Pall Mall was made a post-office on April 3, 1832.
Old Coonrod was a man of Big Business for his time; one of force of character who dominated his community and who "sized his man" by standards that were peculiarly his own.
A man would come to him to buy a "poke" of corn or flour, or for a favor. To the surprize of the stranger the favor might be over-granted or the corn given without cost; or, upon the other hand, he would be bruskly dismissed without the least effort at explanation. Unknown to the stranger the condition of his "britches" had probably given him his credit rating with Old Coonrod, for he held that patches upon the front of trousers, if the seat were whole, were decorations of honor, showing the man had torn them doing something, going forward. But, if the front of the trousers were good and the seat of them patched, no dealings of any nature were to be had with the dictator of the valley, for to Old Coonrod it meant the man "was like a rabbit; he could not stop without sitting down."
But the residents of the valley, many of them Methodists, claim this estimate works a hardship upon members of their faith for a good Methodist could wear the knees out at prayer and the seat out in "backsliding."
Old Coonrod's trading with the Indians was a series of successes. He is known to have had their confidence and friendship, and he was arbitrator between them and his neighbors whenever disputes arose.
Fentress county lying on the western slope of the Cumberlands was part of the great hunting-grounds of the Shawnees, Cherokees, Creeks, Chickamaugas, Chickasaws, and even the Iroquois of New York. The basin of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, that part now Tennessee and Kentucky, was claimed by each of these tribes as its own, not as home but as a hunting-ground, and when bands of hunters of rival tribes met in the territory each fought the other as an invader, and their battles gave to Kentucky its Indian name, meaning in the Indian tongue the "Dark and Bloody Ground."
But Old Coonrod kept pace with all of them and prospered from their friendship, and an Indian trail turned and led close to where he lived. The last of the Indians passed through the valley in 1842.
As Old Coonrod prospered he bought land and slaves, and was a large owner of both in his day. He was a cautious and judicious purchaser of realty. The court records show that at some time or other he was the owner of the most desirable parts of Fentress county. He held title to the land upon which Jamestown, the county seat, now stands, which is the "Obedstown" of Mark Twain's "Gilded Age." He owned "Rock Castle," a tract of hardwood timber that is enclosed by mountains and can be reached by but one passageway, a place that became famous during the Civil War. He bought and sold much of the county's best farming-land along Yellow Creek.
Fentress was made a county of Tennessee in 1823 and the first four pages of the new county's records of deeds show that within eighteen months Conrad Pile had added, through a number of trades, over six hundred acres to his already large holdings.
So cautious in land titles was he that at the time of his death he owned three rights to his home-place including the farming-land along Wolf River. The first was his squatter's rights, which he had homesteaded. But against this, North Carolina in ceding the territory of Tennessee to the United States Government reserved title to the land grants the state had offered to her soldiers of the Revolutionary War, and "one Henry Rowan" of North Carolina entered warrants given him on March 10, 1780. The Revolutionary soldiers had twenty years to locate their grants, and in 1797 Rowan appeared with surveyors, claiming by his entry of 1780 the "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf." He operated under two land warrants of 320 acres each, and in his registry of one of them he specified "a tract on the north side of Spring Creek (now Wolf River), together with the improvements of Coonrod Pile."
Old Coonrod traded with him, and Rowan took up his residence in what is now Overton county. As late as 1817 there appeared "one Vincent Benham" with title under a conflicting grant dated in 1793. Old Coonrod traded with him and with "$10 in hand" Benham went his way.
But the deeds which Coonrod recorded were voluminous, with corners as explicitly marked as any land title of to-day. Up on one of the mountainsides upon a rock there is a crudely carved "X" which was made by Coonrod to mark a corner which called for a "beech tree" that has disappeared, and this mark and the forks of Wolf River, corners in Coonrod's titles, stand to-day as survey points for the boundaries of the farms now in the valley.
Coonrod built his home beside the spring, now known as "York Spring." Its yard includes the spot where he made his first camp and where he killed his first deer. Characteristic of him, he built well. The house was hewn logs, large logs, some of them over fifty feet in length. And the dwelling is now owned and occupied by one of his great grandchildren, William Brooks, the only brother of the mother of Sergeant York. The house is to-day one of the most substantial in the valley. Just across the spring branch and up the mountainside is the York home.
Old Coonrod built one of the rooms without windows and with only one door. That door led into his own room and opened by his bedside. In this windowless room he kept his valuables and it was both a safe and a bank for him. Into a keg covered carelessly with hides he tossed any gold coin that came to him in his trades. His rifle was kept there. He had the prongs of a pitchfork straightened and sharpened. The latter was his burglar insurance and he felt amply able to take care of his savings. And in those days men frequently passed through the valley whose occupations were unknown and whose countenances were often evil to look upon.
Pall Mall is not without its legend of the hidden keg of gold. It is known that Old Coonrod had his keg and kept in it his gold pieces. It is not known just when and why this method of saving was abandoned by him. But after his death no trace of the keg was found and it is said that upon his deathbed he tried to give his sons a message which was never completed, and it is believed he wished to reveal where his gold was hidden.
There are some who say he was seen to go up a ravine with a mysterious bundle and to return without it. The ravine is pointed out. It opens on the roadway about halfway between the Rains' store and the old home of Coonrod.
But there is no myth to the present-day side of the story. More than squirrels and rabbits have been hunted up that ravine.
But the legend of the hidden keg of gold is popular in many of the valleys of the Appalachians, and it will even be found to have leaped the valley of the Mississippi and almost identical in form appear and appeal to the impressionable imaginations of those who live in the Ozark Mountains to the west of that river.
There was but one thing in which Old Coonrod stood really in fear, something not made or controlled by man. It was lightning. Whenever a heavy thunder-storm broke over the mountains Coonrod, even in the last years of his life when he had grown so fat, ran with all the speed he could command for the cave above the spring, Here he would stay, muttering and unapproachable, until the storm abated. Then he would come from the cave swearing in that deep voice that carried both power and terror, and, as the story goes, "for hours 'niggers' would be hopping all over the valley."
Coonrod had a genuine admiration for the man or beast willing to fight for his rights. Once finding one of his jacks eating his growing corn, he put his dog upon him. The jack was old and small and shaggy. He turned upon the dog sent after him and seizing the aggressor by the hair at his back lifted him from the ground and maintaining his dignity trotted out of the corn-field carrying the squirming dog. That jack was pensioned. He was given his full supply of corn in winter and granted the freedom of the meadows and the mountainsides in summer. Old Coonrod would never sell him.
John M. Clemens, Mark Twain's father, lived in Jamestown when his "dwelling constituted one-fifteenth of Obedstown." He and Coonrod Pile were close friends, Pile helping elect Clemens to be the first Circuit Court Clerk of Fentress county. Both were firm believers in the future value of the timber, coal, iron and copper to be found in the mountains. In the 30's both acquired all the acreage their resources would permit.
Mark Twain makes "Squire Si Hawkins" of "The Gilded Age,"
[Footnote: Copyright by Clara Gahrilowitsch and Susan Lee Warner. Harper & Bros., Publishers, N. Y. Permission is also granted by the Estate of Samuel L. Clemens and the Mark Twain Co.]
conceded to be drawn from the life of his father, struggle to keep the value or the land unknown to the "natives." Squire Hawkins confides to his wife that the "black stuff that crops out on the bank of the branch" was coal, and tells of his effort to keep a neighbor from building a chimney out of it.
"Why it might have caught fire and told everything. I showed him it was too crumbly. Then he was going to build it of copper ore—splendid yellow forty per-cent ore. There's fortunes upon fortunes upon our land! It scared me to death. The idea of this fool starting a smelting furnace in his house without knowing it and getting his dull eyes opened. And then he was going to build it out of iron ore! There's mountains of iron here, Nancy, whole mountains of it. I wouldn't take any chance, I just stuck by him—I haunted him—I never let him alone until he built it of mud and sticks, like all the rest of the chimneys in this dismal country."
Again "Squire Hawkins'" appreciation of the speculative value of his lands is shown in a talk with his wife:
"The whole tract would not sell for even over a third of a cent an acre now, but some day people will be glad to get it for twenty dollars, fifty dollars, a hundred dollars an acre." (Here he dropped his voice to a whisper and looked anxiously around to see there were no eavesdroppers—"a thousand dollars an acre!")
To-day many of the acres owned by Coonrod Pile and John M. Clemens have passed the hundred-dollar mark and are climbing toward that whispered and seemingly fabulous figure. And this, too, before the coming of the railroad for which "Squire Hawkins" could not wait.
Twain delighted to have "Squire Hawkins" sit upon "the pyramid of large blocks called the stile, in front of his home, contemplating the morning." But John M. Clemens had his practical side, and the specifications for the first jail for Fentress county, drawn by Clemens and in his own handwriting made part of the county's records in 1827, show a very substantial strain:
"To wit, for a jail, a house of logs hewed a foot square, twelve feet in the clear, two stories high, and this surrounded by another wall precisely of the same description, with a space between the two walls of about eight or ten inches, and that space filled completely with skinned hickory poles, the ground floor to be formed of sills hewed about a foot square and laid closely .... the logs to extend through the inner wall of the building"—etc.
And that jail was standing serviceable and strong until a few years ago when the prosperity of Fentress county called for an edifice of red stone.
Clemens and Pile remained friends and competitive land owners until "with an activity and a suddenness that bewildered Obedstown and almost took away its breath, the Hawkinses hurried through their arrangements in four short months and flitted out into the great mysterious blank that lay beyond the Knobs of Tennessee"—to Missouri, where a few months afterward "Mark Twain" was born.
Another friend of Coonrod Pile was David Crockett. The "Hero of the Alamo" had many hunts in Fentress county, upon the "Knobs" and along the upper waters of the Cumberland. The old Crockett home still stands a few miles to the north of Jamestown beside the road that leads to Pall Mall. It was in a house upon land owned by Coonrod Pile that "Deaf and Dumb Jimmy Crockett" spent the last years of his life, and from which he made so many journeys to locate the silver mine of the Indians who had held him captive and who pinioned him to the ground while they dug their ore, never allowing him to see where they worked, but using him to help carry the mined product. David Crockett in his autobiography tells the story of "Deaf and Dumb Jimmy" but he places the scene in Kentucky, making probably the same mistake in the location of the state-line boundary which Coonrod Pile had made.
Coonrod Pile lived to the age of eighty-three and at the time of his death was the most powerful personality in Fentress county. His business interests had grown to such proportions that he had economic problems to solve and the simple practical methods he used are followed in the valley to-day.
He dug only so much coal as he could use, the transportation problem preventing its sale. He could only market the poplar, the cedar and such woods as he could float on the rises of the Wolf to the Cumberland river to be rafted. He raised cotton, but only the amount the women needed for their looms. He grew wheat and corn, but no more than was necessary for flour and meal for the neighborhood and to feed the stock he owned, laying aside a portion for use in time of need for the improvident and unfortunate.
He was ready at any time to trade with anybody for almost anything. In the last score of the years of his life, the most successful financially, he found that the money he could accumulate came only from the sale of products that could move from the valley across the mountains by their own motive power—something that could go on foot. So he turned to stock-raising and with his own slaves cut the present roadway from Pall Mall to Jamestown, there to join with the old Kentucky Stock road which ran from Atlanta and Chattanooga, along the Cumberland plateau by Jamestown on to the north through Frankfort and Cincinnati.
Old Coonrod was not a one-price man on the realty he owned. If the purchase was for speculation he was a trader with his sights set high. If the buyer wanted a home, he was generous. It meant the upbuilding of his community. So the people of that day lived in comradeship. There were few luxuries and no real want. If there was "a farming patch" to be cleared, the neighbors came from miles around and there was a "log-rolling." If it was a home or a crib to be built, it was a "log-raising," and everyone worked and made fun from it.
The steeple of a church arose in the valley. It was built by those of the Methodist faith. But before that and even afterward they held "camp-meetings" and "basket-meetings" where a community lunch was served under the trees and where the service lasted through the daylight hours, allowing for a mountain journey home. And the religious fervor was so sincere and intense at these meetings that they were called "melting sessions."
Up the mountainside above the York spring, a space was cleared for shooting matches, where the prizes were beeves and turkeys, and where the men shot so accurately that the slender crossing of two knifeblade marks was the bull's-eye of the target. And everyone went on hunts, long hunts when crops were laid by or winter had checked farm work. And as human nature is the same the world over, there was many an upright resident of the "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf" who left the plow standing in the furrow because the yelp and baying of the hounds grew warm upon the mountainside.
The families of mountain men are usually large in number, and the estate of Old Coonrod has passed through a long division. He had eight children, and his son Elijah Pile, the branch of the family to which Sergeant York belongs, had eleven children. That portion of the estate which Elijah inherited passed into good hands. He conserved his part, handled well the talents left with him; but the second division by eleven, together with the ravages of the Civil War and the years that followed, left only seventy-five acres, and far from the best of it, to Mary York, the truly wonderful little mountain mother who gave to Alvin York those qualities of mind and heart which stood him in good stead in the Forest of Argonne, who taught him to so live that he feared no man, and to do thoroughly and always in the right way that which he had to do. "Else," as she so frequently said to him, "you'll have to 'do hit over, or hit'll cause you trouble."
III The People of the Mountains
The log cabin of the pioneer influenced architecture and gave to us the house of Colonial design, the first distinctively American type, for the Colonial home grew around the pioneer's two rooms of logs separated by an open passageway.
The muzzle-loading rifle—and it was the pioneer's gun—with its long barrel and its fine sights, gave confidence to the American soldier who carried it, for he trusted the weapon in his hands.
Progressive inventions finally displaced this rifle in military use, but for the accuracy of the shot it has never been surpassed, and it is to-day a loved relic and a valued hunting-piece. Men trained to shoot with it, used to the slender line of its silver foresight and to the delicate response of its hair-trigger, have made rare records in marksmanship. The very difficulty of loading—the time it took—taught its users to be accurate and not spend the shot.
This rifle stopped the British at Bunker Hill and Kings Mountain, and over its long barrel Alvin York and some of the best shots of the American army learned to bring their sights upward to the mark and tip the hair-trigger when the bead first reached its object.
It was training acquired in the forest, the same manner of marksmanship, the same self-reliance and individual resourcefulness as a soldier that gave to Sergeant York the power to come back over the hill in Argonne Forest, bringing one hundred and thirty-two prisoners, and to the army under Andrew Jackson at New Orleans, more than a hundred years before, the fighting resource to achieve victory with a loss of eight killed and thirteen wounded, while England's records show that "about three thousand of the British were struck with rifle bullets."
[Footnote: From "The True Andrew Jackson," by Cyrus Townsend Brady, Chap. IV, p. 88; published by J. B. Lippincott Co., 1906. ]
The man trained behind the muzzle-loading rifle in all the wars America has fought has been individually a fighter and "a shot," formerly but little skilled in military training, who while obeying orders fought along lines of personal initiative. In the earlier wars of the nation this soldier was known as a "rifleman." It was with this class that General Jackson fought his campaigns against the Indians and the British, and at New Orleans "the bone and sinew of his force were the riflemen of Tennessee and Kentucky."
Against Jackson, England had sent the flower of Wellington's army, distinguished for famous campaigns on the Spanish peninsula against the marshals of Napoleon. Wellington said of these men in his "Military Memoirs": "It was an army that could go anywhere and do anything."
Late in life when General Jackson had grown old, had twice been President, and was spending his declining days at the "Hermitage," his home near Nashville, as calmly and peacefully as it was possible for the fiery old warrior to live, he was shown this appreciation by Wellington.
"Well," he said, "I never pretended I had an army that 'could go anywhere and do anything!' but at New Orleans I had a lot of fellows that could fight more ways and kill more times than any other fellows on the face of the earth."
Returning from the Indian wars and from the War of 1812, the mountaineers and backwoodsmen, who were then rapidly settling up the valley of the Mississippi, hung their rifles over their open fireplaces, or between the rafters of their cabin homes and turned to the enjoyment of the peace they had won.
In the "Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf" Old Coonrod Pile was still the dominant figure.
Those who had settled in the valley were prospering on its fertile soil. It was then, as it is to-day, remote from popular highways, but the valley had grown into a community almost self-supporting. The owners of the land had equipped their farms with such agricultural tools as were in use in those days, and the Wolf river had been dammed and a water-driven flour mill erected.
The houses tho built of logs and chinked with clay were comfortable homes, where in winter wood-fires roared in wide chimney-places, where there was no problem of the high cost of living—and few problems of any kind relating to living.
The men of the valley farmed diversified crops, furnishing all that was needed for food and clothing, and they even raised tobacco for the pipes smoked at the general store run by Coonrod Pile in an end room of his home.
It was the day when the weaving-loom was the piano in the home, and all the women carded, spun and wove. The table-garden, the care of the house, the preparation of the meals and the making of the covering and the clothes were in the women's division of the labor. The families usually were large and every member a producer. To the girls fell shares of the mother's work. The boys helped in the fields, chopped the wood and rounded up the stock, that at times wandered far into the mountains. There were bells on the cows, on the sheep and even the hogs, and the boys soon learned to distinguish ownerships by the delicate differences in the browsing "tong" in the tone of the bells.
Residents of the valley sold to the outside world the live stock they raised, and poultry and feathers and furs, and tar and resin from the pines on the mountaintops. They purchased tea, coffee and sugar, a few household and farm conveniences, and little else. The balance of the trade was heavily in their favor and they were prosperous and happy.
They had no labor problems. They recognized without collective bargaining the eight-hour shift—"eight hours agin dinner and eight hours after hit; ef hit don't rain;" as one old mountaineer, living there to-day, interpreted the phrase, "A day's work."
Even when the home of the mountaineer was a one- or two-room cabin, accommodations for any stranger could be provided, and if he wished to remain, work could be found for him. They observed without thought of inconvenience the Colonial idea of "bundling."
When the stranger proved worthy there would be a log-rolling and a space of ground cleared for him to till, and a log-raising in which the community joined, and made a merry occasion of it, to give him a home. The way was easy for his ownership of the land and the cabin. Prices for cleared land, around the middle of the last century, ranged from twenty-five cents to five dollars an acre.