A black pall hung over the world in the years of 1914 to 1918. The agony started with a global war and ended with the flu. Nine million were killed in WWI, including sons from a little valley in Brackett Town, North Carolina. From across the ocean, heartbreak invaded the families of Melvin Arrowood and Brian Upton and Julius Upton. And others. For the first time in a war, everyone in the neighborhood was on the same side. And the sun came up every morning and life went on with different challenges. (Readers are encouraged to add their comments.)
In 1914, a new opportunity for mountain folks came to Marion. S.B. Pennick Drug Company opened, purchasing from individuals various barks, leaves, seeds, oil and roots for making botanical drugs. Sassafras, galax leaves, ginseng and nettle were abundant. A story told in History of McDowell County was about a gentleman who brought them so many herbs, the company had a backlog and told him they could not give him top dollar. He was not concerned since the reason he carried the herbs in his wagon was to cover the “mountain dew” he was bringing to town to sell. The drug company grew to be the “world’s largest distributor of botanical drugs” and moved to New Jersey before WWII.
The first hospital of McDowell County was lodged in a white frame house, and in 1914 it was moved to larger accommodations. Actually, another house, soon to be outgrown in the escalation of medical emergencies. Food and shelter were still the basic needs for the people of McDowell County. They did not foolishly borrow money to finance the future. They balanced their budgets.
In the spring of 1916, a tropical hurricane struck Mobile, Alabama, with winds up to 106 mph. (No-name storms back then). It made its way across Georgia and western North Carolina. Days later a tropical storm from the Atlantic headed west over Charleston and Charlotte and hovered over the South. T.B. Landis of the Dysartsville area reported fruit crop and garden damage. At the northern end of the county, Altapass area got 35″ of rain that month. Little Switzerland was isolated by raging rivers. Ruth Greenlee told of watching buildings and trees float past her house on the Catawba west of Marion. Buck Creek reached the porch of her neighbor at the Carson House.
The floods were devastating for the mountain railroad tracks. Landslides filled the tunnels with mud and debris. In some tunnels, there were two to six feet of standing water. Repairs to get the trains running again took weeks. Two passenger trains were stranded in Marion. Three to four hundred people were taken into homes when food supplies ran out. Compassionate hearts have always held a legacy in America, and we have seen each generation step up to accept responsibility wherever a situation arises.
The silver lining of this storm was that the abundant rains assisted in the construction of Lake James, a project that would eventually consume 6,510 acres with a shore line of 152 miles in McDowell and Burke counties. Bridgewater and Paddy’s Landing are established landmarks. (Bear Creek Marina has great hamburgers:)
I don’t know how many were injured in the storms, but there was plenty of need for a hospital in the 1918 flu epidemic. Before this post, I had forgotten my history. Throughout the world, 500 million were infected, up to 100 million died, 3-5% of the population. According to Wikipedia, it was “one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.” Because it attacked those with strong immune systems! Like soldiers and farmers. In the US, 675,000 deaths were reported. “There were more deaths in 24 weeks than the AIDS virus killed in 24 years.” (Again Wiki) In NC, 13,000 died, fewer than in states with large concentrations of population. (Native Americans were hit hard.) In October 1918, Charlotte was quarantined. I read in Inferno by Dan Brown that the word “quarantine” originated in the Black Death of 1348-1350 where up to 200 million Europeans died. The Italian word “quaranta” means 40, which is the number of days rat-less ships had to wait before allowing their passengers and crews to debark. (Free info everywhere I turn). I haven’t heard any stories from folks around Brackett Town about the flu. I am open to more free info/comments.
Back to our story, Marion’s hospital graduated to even more space in 1930 in the “old” Fleming Hotel. Pay as you go was a wise system. Evidently outdated.
It was around this time that George Sprouse left the farm to head west. Brice describes his grandfather, JJ Sprouse, as “pretty tough” to work for. “He had two boys. George was the oldest. So it was get up and going every morning bright and early, cold or hot, it made no difference. Uncle George decided it wasn’t the life he wanted, and he told my Dad he was going to run away. He was probably about fifteen. I’d say young.”
According to Brice, Uncle George told his brother Henry, “I’m gonna go out West and work the harvest. As it moves west, I’ll just move with it. And when I get some money ahead, I’ll send for you and you can come.” Well, that never did happen. “And Dad kept waitin’ on that. And Dad stayed here and put up with all the aggravation and herded a farm and got a big plantation here.” Chuckle from Brice.
Nora joined the conversation. “One of our grandmother’s brothers had moved west and worked in the harvest, and then he sent for his mother” and siblings. “So Uncle George was going to family. He worked in the harvest, and it seemed (I remember) they worked in California making molasses. And then ended up in Seattle, eventually Spokane.” (He may have punched some cattle and harvested wheat in Kansas also, according to The Bracketts’ history book)
Brice said his uncle lived a long time, into his nineties, but not as long as his daddy. And Aunt Virginia was well into her nineties when she died. And they had four or five first cousins on Granny Sprouse’s side who lived into their nineties. Maybe it was the Brackett Town sunshine that gave them strong roots. And less drama than what was created by the congestion of the gold mining era.
“This land was all mined up in pits and holes when we got it,” said Brice. “There was gold to be found.”
His baby sister, Nora, added, “Grandpa Sprouse found a big chunk, and he made a ring for Aunt Virginia and for Granny.”
Brice said, “They’re still finding gold. But me and my Dad spent our lifetimes trying to make a farm out of it.” About Henry Sprouse, Brice said, “I guess at that time, he was too young to help in the gold mine, but it was all winding down when he was growing up so he was farming and trying to make a farm here where they’d dug it up. When people would come here quizzing him about leasing the place, he said, ‘I don’t want nothing to do with gold mining. I spent my whole life trying to straighten up a good farm they tore up’.”