North Carolina oral history…from my uncle

My uncle got a pretty good distinction yesterday–he has his own page in the Special Collections Library website for UNC-Asheville. The page hosts oral history information from him about the family, and western North Carolina generally, along with photos.

The first piece to go up is an interview with Uncle Forrest that my sister conducted back in 2006, which has now been transcribed and illustrated. It’s a pretty great read, covering the Chunn house legend and local family history, including the first story that I ever learned about the family, about how my great-great-grandfather was almost shot for deserting from the Confederacy:

And then there was Obadiah, the great-grandfather. He lived over on the Blowhole Road and the Civil War had come along and he had already married Polly O’Dell and they didn’t have any slaves. Their hearts were not in the War. And the Confederates had already come along and took all their stock – left ‘em one old mare that didn’t have any teeth. And they had to grind the corn to make a crop with. He had a big family of children. Obadiah would desert in the spring of every year and come home to put in a crop.

…And Polly would set at the end of the field and act like she was knitting or crocheting, and she would watch while Obadiah plowed the corn and cut the wheat and all. She would wave whatever she was crocheting or sewing on if she saw the Confederates coming to capture him. He’d run for the brush. There was caves in the brush, one big cave still…the reason the road was named Blowhole Road, they called it the Blowhole Cave. I’ve been there many a time. Put milk in it in the summertime, the cool air comes out and we’d be down there fishing.

But anyway, he would run for the caves, and get away! But the third time, they knew his tricks, and so they surrounded the field. He took off for the bluff, and there was a Confederate soldier, he had his rifle laying up on the rail fence. He spotted him along and were fixing to kill him. So Obadiah, great-grandpa Obadiah, he threw up his hands and surrendered. They was a whole bunch of western North Carolina boys…the Redmons, and the Paynes, and the Jarretts, and whoever else…the Buckners…and they had all deserted and they had all been captured and they were all in the penitentiary waiting to be shot off their caskets in Raleigh.

And Gov. Zebulon B. Vance was the Governor of North Carolina at that time. He was from Western NC. He went down to see the Western NC boys who were in the penitentiary for desertion. And he said, “What can I do for you boys?”

And they said, “Give us a 90-day stay, and let us live for 90 more days.”

And the Redmon boys, and maybe some more of them, said, “Aahhh, they’re gonna kill us anyway, just go ahead and shoot us.”

And they set the Redmon boys up on their caskets and shot ’em off their caskets for desertion.

Well, before the 90 days was up, the Civil War looks as it’s going…drawing to a close in the south, and the Confederacy, they see that they are defeated. They put out instructions not to kill anybody else. So, lo and behold, Obadiah is released some little time after that, and in about 12, 13 months, Zebulon B. Vance Jarrett is born. Our grandfather.

I took a picture at the entrance to Blowhole Road a few summers ago, and we drove down it once, but without a guide it’s not really possible to find the old cave any more. A shame.

At any rate, not only is Uncle Forrest’s oral history now accessible online, but the Asheville Citizen-Times has done a nice feature on him too.

3 thoughts on “North Carolina oral history…from my uncle”

  1. That’s an awesome story! I wish I had stories about my ancestors.

    (By the way, the link to the whole interview doesn’t seem to be working for me.)

  2. Nice story, Tim. I have a few similar stories about my family ranging back to then too– some were Rebs, some were pro-Union– but pretty much everybody was dirt poor. I admire their toughness.

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