Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 55.djvu/407

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

and the human prisoners in their cabins, huddling around the wood fires, are nearly always, as they express it, "short of" some article which would be considered a necessity in the average city home.

The varying, defiant, and incalculable moods and phases of Nature bring so many chances into the humble lot of the mountaineer that it is not surprising he should interpret her phenomena as having a distinctly personal import. Anciently, around Olympus the talk was of "omens," "auguries," and "fate"; dwellers along the chain of the Alleghanies to-day talk of "signs," "spells," and "luck," and these words held their significance for hundreds of years in the ancestral stock of the first settlers in the region, most of the folklore being directly traceable to a Scotch-Irish strain of blood. The mountain pattern taken far from cities probably differs little either mentally or physically from that of the colonial mountaineers. Even with the railroad traversing a limited area, and the infiux of summer visitors during three months of the year, the only perceptible change wrought in the natives is a little sharpening of their wits from the barter of fruit and furs at the hotels in the extensive mineral-spring section. The Alleghany mountaineer, ignorant, narrow-minded, honest, brave, and hospitable, remains what he was when the eagle soared from the inaccessible eyrie above his head to be chosen as the tutelary genius of the unconquerable young republic. The chief distinction in the temperament of the sexes is that the men are frank and talkative, the women shy and uncommunicative. Beings approaching the legendary fauns and satyrs, clad in the skins of wild animals, are sometimes discovered by the solitary horseman in the wild mountain fastnesses; they gaze at him as an apparition from a strange world, never having seen a village or heard a railroad whistle.

There is a curious and persistent survival of the belief in witchcraft through this mineral-spring belt in West Virginia. To draw out the natives on this mysterious subject they must be approached sympathetically; if twitted with their credulity they will shut up like clams, for with all the simplicity of the unlettered their intuition often arrives at a correct understanding of the estimate placed upon them by more fortunate persons. When satisfied that he is not expected to pose as a "freak," but is met on the equal plane of human intercourse, the mountain story-teller seems to enjoy recounting the traditions and beliefs of his people and their forefathers. Leaving himself a loophole of escape, he is very likely to finish his yarn with—

"'Tain't that I believe them things myself. I know they ain't nawthin' but superstition; but I kin qualify that right round here, not many miles away, there's people that believes in witches."