The Mountains VII or how that jug of applejack got WAY UP THERE
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To catch you up, I’m currently reading and posting about David Hunter Strother’s The Mountains, his ten-part series published in the early 1870s in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. It served as the new state of West Virginia’s introduction to the rest of nation following the Civil War.
The above is the cover for the seventh installment.
Strother was known as “Porte Crayon “ to Harper’s readers, but in this series he writes about his experiences in the high mountains of eastern West Virginia as “Lawrence Laureate.” I’m not exactly sure why, but perhaps he felt “Porte” was getting a little old for the fictionalized part of the story that has him competing for the affections of the fair young widow, Rhoda Dendron. After all, Strother had been using his “Porte Crayon” nom de plume since the 1850s. His alter ego was known and beloved across the country. No sense in making Porte appear to be a dirty old man.
That’s my hypothesis, anyway. Please get in touch if you have a better explanation for the switch.
Wait, the obvious just occurred to me — the names Strother assigned to the fictional characters in The Mountains correspond to their natures, with Laureate an educated but dreamy and introverted young poet who is on a hero’s journey. That seems a more likely explanation as laureate refers to one who wears the laurels of achievement, although I still think the Porte persona was getting a little too long in the tooth to be courting a young woman, especially one named for the eventual state flower.
Anyway, at the beginning of Part Seven, our friend Laureate returns to Soldier White’s place — White being among the real people who turn up in the narrative. He was a justice of the peace in Randolph County and his home in the Dry Fork region (near Dolly Sods) served as a way station for drovers and occasional travelers. It’s where Laureate is charmed by the fiddle player Dilly Wyatt.
Laureate returned to White’s after having spent the night looking for Dick Rattlebrain, one of his traveling companions who had become lost in the woods following a day of trout fishing in the Gandy. But he is crestfallen when he learns that Rhoda, who reentered the story in Part Six, has left it again, heading back to Moorefield in the South Branch Valley with her own traveling companions.
Part Seven includes a tall tale told by Rattlebrain about what happened to him while he was lost. He apparently ended up inside the Tunnel of Gandy where he claims to have encountered a group of ruffians and is subsequently rescued by a gruff young mountain girl.
It’s also the installment in which Laureate and his companions leave Dry Fork in order to try their luck at catching trout elsewhere. There’s a lot of fishing going on in The Mountains.
Strother is, for good reason, well known for his inspiring landscape illustrations. His drawings of the Sinks of Gandy, Seneca Rocks and Blackwater Falls, for example, are iconic. But in the seventh part of The Mountains he didn’t shy away from what his biographer, Cecil Eby, Jr., called “the occasional ugliness of nature and man.”
Eby was referring to a passage in Part Seven in which Strother described emerging from “verdant archways of nature’s temples into a mountain improvement,” a neglected homestead in which “death, desolation and decay are visible on every hand” and whose patriarch was “a violator of virgin beauties.”
Seems depressing, right?
Strother, however, ends Part Seven of The Mountains on a humorous note, with a story of how a jug of applejack ended up hanging 60 feet up a tree.
Two men come across a spruce tree that has been blown down by a storm. They decide to cut it into manageable logs with a cross-cut saw. Look closely at the following image and note where they hang their jackets and their applejack jug.
Unfortunately, these guys didn’t count on what would happen once they took the weight off the top. The tree stood back up, taking that jug of applejack with it.
Think it’s still there?
Someone really ought to go look.
That applejack has got to be pretty smooth by now.
That’s it for me.
As always, if you spot any mistakes either factual or contextual, please get in touch and let me know.
See you on the radio this weekend.
And until the PCAS meets again, stay hydrated. It’s good for your kidneys.