Tag Archives: Shenandoah Valley

“The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow” And Ice, Freezing Rain…

Robin“The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.”

From Nursery Rhyme & History: “This nursery rhyme is referred to as either the North Wind doth blow or The Robin. ‘The North Wind doth blow’ is British in its origins and believed to have originated in the 16th century history. ‘The North Wind doth blow’ uses the olde English word ‘doth’. The purpose of the words to ‘The North Wind doth blow’ is to ensure that a child associates security with home whilst empathizing with the plight of the robin.”

I thought of this old rhyme because we are under a winter storm watch in the Shenandoah Valley late tonight through Sunday night and threatened with snow, sleet, freezing rain, and ice. So, the generator and backup generator are as ready as they can be to keep the farm going and cows milked. I’d also like some electricity in the house, being the product of a modern spoiled age. Our internet provider is a small local company (two guys in their basement, I think) so chances are that will go out. 

ganderAnother favorite of mine is Christmas is Coming:

“Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat. Please do put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do. And if you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you!”


From Christmas is Coming: (same site as above)

“The lyrics of the poem “Christmas is coming” associate the Christmas feast with geese which are eaten in traditional English Christmas feasts. The meaning that is conveyed to a child in “Christmas is coming” is that the festive period is where each should give to charity, according to their means… even if all they could give was their blessing (If you haven’t got a penny…)”

***A pertinent post from past holiday’s you may enjoy: Christmas is coming the Geese are Getting Fat

‘A Very Virginia Christmas Stories and Traditions’–Charming Christmas Collection!

ea3ae-averyvirginiachristmasA Very Virginia Christmas: Stories and Traditions (2012 Independent Publishers Gold Medalist) by Wilford Kale debuted last November at the Barnes & Noble in Colonial Williamsburg. I was among the authors who took part in the auspicious signing. Why, you may ask?

Because I’m delighted to have an account from my nonfiction book, Shenandoah Watercolors, included in A Very Virginia Christmas. My holiday excerpt in this wonderful collection describes celebrating Christmas at the old Family home place in the Shenandoah Valley. I’m honored to be among the illustrious authors who span centuries of life in my beloved Virginia, and proud to add my voice to the holiday reminiscences from our beautiful valley. If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, you’re missing out, and it’s getting to be that time of year again. The book would make an excellent Christmas gift. A Very Virginia Christmas is available in hardcover at Amazon and from many other booksellers.
The publisher of this lovely Christmas Collection, Parke Press, has this to say about A Very Virginia Christmas:
“For the past 400 years, Virginians have created traditions of their own, borrowing from a variety of Christmas celebrations in other countries. This year, Wilford Kale has compiled the work of 16 contributors telling how Virginians observe the Christian wintertime holiday: from the Shenandoah Valley to the Eastern Shore, from colonial days up to the 21st century, in times of need to times of feasting and merriment. Read about eggnog, Robert E. Lee‘s Christmas, Parke Rouse‘s Christmas on the Southside, Richmond’s Nativity pageant, and Earl Hamner‘s childhood Christmas in the Virginia mountains. You will also find stories including the Christmas Truce, the origin of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph,” along with other Christmas favorites. Your storytelling time at Christmas will be warmer and cozier than ever with these tales that remind all ages of the real meaning of  “the most wonderful time of the year.”
An article in the Virginia Gazette gives even more insights to this vintage Christmas collection and the special man behind it, Wilford Kale. Entitled A Jolly Collection of Virginia Christmases, the article goes on to say: “Who better to compile a book about Christmas in Virginia than a man who could pass for Santa Claus. Wilford Kale, a long-time journalist, short-term politician and part-time Kris Kringle, has edited “A Very Virginia Christmas – Stories and Traditions,” a new collection of stories, anecdotes and traditions about Christmas. He’s included the work of some heavy hitters, including Earl Hamner of “The Waltons” fame, Booker T. Washington, Park Rouse and Francis Church. Oh, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Alfred Tennyson are included too.
The collection includes four centuries of Christmas memories and anecdotes, ranging from Capt. John Smith to the generations of children who visited perhaps the state’s best-known Santa at Miller & Rhoads in Richmond.”
To that I add, and me! For the complete article, visit the link. And God Bless us Everyone!
***Images of the old family home place outside of Staunton, Virginia, a wreath in Colonial Williamsburg, and a Victorian Santa Claus (royalty free)


Old-Time Cures and the ‘Granny Women’

Old Home in the Blue Ridge Mountains (Old home in the Blue Ridge Mountains—image by my husband, Dennis)

About the Granny Women: Historically, they were elderly women from ‘back in the holler’ reputed for their healing and midwifery abilities. The term is often associated with ‘Appalachia.’  However, I don’t know anyone who actually lives in Appalachia. We refer to the specific mountain ranges, the Alleghenies, the Blue Ridge, or the Smokies…but I digress. In a time and place when doctors were few or nonexistent and no one had the money to pay them anyway,  the Granny Women were relied on for the wisdom and practices passed down to them by the hardy females who’d gone before them. Sure, a generous dollop of superstition and white magic was mixed in with their practical herbal remedies, but they did a lot of good. In the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains, these women were invaluable. Some of my friends with deep ties in the holler (or gap) remember their family calling in the Granny Woman when they didn’t know what to do for an ailment or injury. One of them had a grandmother who was the Granny woman. Officially, these women are no longer with us. Unofficially, they are.

I recently learned more about the Granny Women after reading The Red Flannel Rag, by Peggy Ann Shifflett, a fascinating book about life in the Alleghenies. Hopkins Gap, where Ms. Shifflett grew up, is just a hop, skip, and a jump from our farm in the Shenandoah Valley, and yet, how different is the world she brings to life. Some of these customs and practices were known in the valley–still are with the real country folk–but many are unique to this more isolated mountain community. The little elementary school Ms. Shifflett describes being bussed to from Hopkins Gap is the same school my children attended, and their father before them, now replaced by a far larger modern structure. Much is gained, and lost, in our modern era. The author also happens to be the aunt of my friend, Sandy, who grew up with many of the old ways. Sandy’s widowed grandmother made moonshine to keep the family afloat, but that’s another story.

Log Cabin, Cabin, Hillbilly, Forest, Log, Appalachian Mountains, Rustic, Tennessee

(Mountain cabin, royalty free image)

Before taking a closer look at the Granny Women, I’d assumed they mostly used herbs and other old-time remedies to cure, but they were also very into white magic. In a section of The Red Flannel Rag entitled Witches and Granny Women, Ms. Shifflett explains the widespread belief in and dread of witches among the mountain people (parts of the valley too, I add). The bad witches, she says, were just called witches and the good witches were referred to as Granny Women or Healers. These women used their powers not only to cure illness but to remove an evil spell cast by a witch. The lengths Granny women, and other fearful souls, went to in order to avoid being cursed or rid oneself of an evil spell boggles the mind. For example, when brushing your hair, or trimming a baby’s fingernails, care must be taken to collect and burn every remnant or a witch might come into your home and take these personal leavings to cast a spell on you or your infant. And if a bird were to snatch your hair and use it to build a nest, you will have a headache until you find and destroy that nest. It’s a whole other mindset.

old log cabinMs. Shifflett describes incantations and instructions given for everything from ridding oneself of freckles on May Day to detecting and thwarting a witch. Here’s one: Make a three-pronged pitchfork red-hot and poke it through the bottom of a chair then pull it out.  If at any time in the future a suspected witch sits on that chair and can’t get up, then he or she is definitely a witch. Another ploy is to lay a broom across the doorway, as though its fallen. A witch will not step across a broom to enter a house. However, it was believed they could change themselves into a snake and sliver in through the keyhole, or transform into a cat and enter through the rafters, so then you have another problem. The lore, beliefs, and superstitions among mountain people is a class in itself. Some of the treatments have practical herbal applications, but much falls into the realm of magic or faith healing. If you believed the ritual employed by a Granny woman would cure your ills or break an evil curse, then maybe it could, that whole mind/body connection thing.

(Image of cabin in the Smokies)

Shenandoah VoicesFor a more in-depth exploration of the subject, read the book. I also recommend late Shenandoah Valley author and historian John Heatwole’s wonderful collection of Folklore, Tradition and Legends of the Valley entitled Shenandoah Voices. Mr. Heatwole interviewed older mountain and valley people to record this valuable resource before his death. I often refer to his collection both for the herbal lore and superstitions. Again, some are quite useful practices, others fall into the realm of fancy, unless you believe a witch can change herself into an egg and float across the stream and this worries you. Then I refer you to the time-honored ways and herbs for protection against spells. Which brings me to our next topic:

Acifidity bags: Small cloth bags worn on a string around the neck containing a mixture of chopped roots and/or spices having a strong disagreeable odor. The purpose of these bags is to ward off illness or evil. I asked my friend (mentioned above) what she remembered about acifidity bags. Sandy said her grandma (the moonshiner) made up these bags when she worried a witch had put a curse on the farm and hung them around the kids necks and put them in the hog pen to protect the pigs. Her grandma was dirt poor (likely used feed sacks to make the bags as they came in printed cotton cloth) and Sandy didn’t think she bought anything special to go in them, that she’d have filled the bags with whatever herbs she could gather, and they stunk like rotted wild onions or garlic. Children, and even pigs, wore these bags around their necks to protect them.


(Image of the Alleghenies  by my husband)

Another friend, Jana, whose husband, Jerry, grew up back in Nelson County, Virginia, an extremely isolated region where they experienced a terrible flood in 1968, also had to wear these bags around his neck. Neither Jana nor Jerry remember what went into the bags, only that they stunk to high heaven to ward off anything and anyone who might cause harm to the children. There’s a pungent spice called Asafoetida, but it’s not native to the United States and has to be imported. If mountain or country women had access to a drugstore and could get asafetida, then likely that’s what they used in these bags, if not, they improvised. But I suspect the term acifidity is a corruption of asafetida, and before its introduction into America, these bags would have been called something else. Maybe just medicine or charm bags. Putting herbs, spices, or amulets into bags worn around the neck is an ancient practice.

From an article entitled: What’s in your Acifidity Bag by Bev Walker

“According to the book “Healing Spices,” asafoetida was endorsed by the US Pharmacopedia as a remedy for the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed almost 100,000,000 people globally and claimed tens of thousands of American lives per week for two years. The putrid smelling spice was stocked by pharmacies to be draped around the neck inside acifidity bags in an attempt to deflect the deadly strain of influenza. Naturally, the word “flu” struck terror in the minds of generations to follow, and the smelly cure-all medicine bags appear repeatedly throughout history whenever an outbreak of potential epidemic illness or disease occurs. Babies and school-aged children were forced to wear acifidity bags during outbreaks of polio, measles, and during the winter to stave off influenza.”

***An interesting article on Appalachian Healing Traditions

“Rowan trees and red thread put witches to their speed.”

Winter beautyThe Rowan Tree has a wealth of ancient lore and many associations with magic and witches. The tree is thought to lend protection against evil and bad spells. It’s old Celtic name, ‘fid na ndruad,’ means wizard tree. But it has many names. Ask an old Celt which they favor.

Rowan, known as the Mountain Ash in America, and Dogberry Tree in parts of Canada, is a familiar sight in the mountains surrounding the Shenandoah Valley. My mom planted one in her yard, just up the road from us, and it’s doing well (last time I checked). My dear grandmother who lived to be 99 and a half, and really knew her trees and wildflowers, was very fond of the beautiful mountain ash. Grandma would point it out to me in the Alleghenies when she lived in Blue Field, West VA. It’s gorgeous in autumn when covered with bright red berries, and particularly attractive to birds.

Rowan Tree, Mountain, Black Mount, Scottish Highlands

(Rowan Tree at Black Mount in the Scottish Highlands)

Red, the color of the berries, was thought to be the strongest color in battling the dark forces. In Ireland, rowan trees were planted near houses to protect them from the spirits of the dead; in Wales they favored graveyards for their tree plantings. In Scotland, the Rowan Tree is among the most sacred and cutting one down, or using any portion of the tree for any purpose other than spiritually approved rituals was taboo. The wood was seen as the most protective part and fashioned into sticks to stir milk to keep it from curdling, pocket charms (or amulets) to ward off rheumatism and bad mojo, and made into divining rods (for finding precious metals). Because the tree is associated with Saint Bridhig, the Celtic patroness of the arts, healing, smithing, spinning and weaving, spindles and spinning wheels were made of rowan in Scotland and Ireland.

Scotland, Forest, Old, TreeWalking sticks made of rowan were thought to lend protection to the traveler on their journey, and from evil spirits. Rowan trees planted near stone circles in Scotland were thought to be favored by fairies who held their celebrations within the protective tree enclosed circle. Fairies are extremely cautious. But the fae can also get up to mischief, so the rowan would protect you from that as well. One of those multi-use herbs/trees. (Image of old Scottish forest)

Rowan twigs were placed above doorways and barns to protect the inhabitants from evil and misfortune. These twigs might be formed into a cross and tied with a red thread while chanting, “Rowan trees and red thread put witches to their speed.”

Salem Witch Trials movieTo the 17th Century Scots, however, practicing folk medicine was associated with witchcraft, which could include carrying a Rowan charm, a twig tied with a red thread for protection. I don’t know if this (or some equally petty reason) is why my Scot’s ancestor, John Mack’s, parents were executed for witchcraft, but he left Inverness and settled in New England. There, he married Sarah Bagley, whose brother, Orlando Bagley, arrested his neighbor Susannah Martin for being a witch. Poor Susannah was later hung during the infamous Salem witch trials. So there was no getting away from the witch frenzy for John Mack. For more on my family’s involvement in the witch trials check out my post at: http://bethtrissel.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/my-ancestor-orlando-bagley-and-the-salem-witch-trials/

In the witches’ favor, it’s interesting to note that the rowan is also called the witch tree because they used it to increase their powers and spells and for fashioning magic wands, so there appears to be some disagreement here. Did it speed witches on their way, or empower them? *These conflicting beliefs are often the way in herbal lore.

The_Bearwalkers_Daughter_Cover3The tree was also sacred to the Druids (of course) who believed in its protective powers and burnt it on funeral pyres, also in rites of divination and purification. The tree was associated with both death and rebirth. Because Rowan was thought to bring the gift of inspiration, ancient Bards called it the ‘tree of bards.’ I suppose all writers should have rowan. I used Rowan (among other herbs) in NA/Scot’s historical romance novel, The Bearwalker’s Daughter. The elderly Scot’s-Irish woman, Neeley, uses it to protect the home.

Rowan is one of the nine sacred woods burnt in the Druids’ Beltaine fire. And, the tree is associated with dragons who apparently once guarded sacred rowan. Not sure if dragons are still on the job, or have slacked off. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any dragons in ages. let me know if you have.

I should add that where it wasn’t deemed wrong to use the timber, the strong wood has also traditionally been used for the handles of tools, cart wheels, and planks or beams.

“Rowan tree, red thread, hold the witches all in dread.” ~another old herbal saying

Teen wolfWood from the ash tree, in the form of ash outlining a building or circle, is showing up in a lot of paranormal TV shows with American settings, like Teen Wolf, and The Secret Circle, used to ward off evil, so even if some of these characters are the nicest werewolves or witches you could ever want to meet, they cannot cross a barrier of ash.

For more on Rowan Lore, this is an interesting site: http://www.druidry.org/library/trees/tree-lore-rowan

Award-winning Historical Romance Novel Red Bird’s Song on .99 Sale

Red Bird's Song CoverThis sale is for the novel in kindle and nookbook, and runs through Nov 1st, so get yours now.

Red Bird’s Song is a 2012 EPIC eBook Finalist. The setting for this story is the same as the other novels in my Native American Warrior Series, Through the FireKira, Daughter of the Moon, and The Bearwalker’s Daughter, the spectacular Allegheny Mountains, On a clear day, the ridges of the Alleghenies are visible from our farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Much of the history depicted in Red Bird’s Song was inspired by accounts I came across while researching my early American English/Scots-Irish roots (among the first settlers in the valley) and the Border Wars. The French and Indian War is the most well-known, but there were others. Pontiac’s War followed on its heels, and is the war taking place in Red Bird’s SongDunmore’s War came after that one and so on it goes. Life in the frontier was unsettled even after The American Revolution had ended and warfare a reality. The boundaries of the frontier just keep shifting farther west.

(*Images of the Alleghenies by my mother, Pat Churchman)the Allegheny Mountains toward Reddish Knob

In the early to mid 18th century, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and surrounding mountains were the colonial frontier. Only hardy souls dared to settle here. The bulk of these were the tough Scots-Irish. If the Indians had only had to fight regular British troops, they might ultimately have won because they scared the crap out of men trained for conventional warfare, but the long knives weren’t easily intimidated and soon learned from their cunning enemy. The famous rebel yell came from the Cherokee.

Last of the Mohicans 2Although Hawk Eye in The Last of the Mohicans is an adopted Mohican, his lifestyle is that of a colonial frontiersman. The more rugged of these men dressed as he did, much in the Indian way. They hunted and fought with muskets, tomahawks, and their famous knives. Skilled marksmen had long rifles. Indians soon acquired these weapons and blended traditional ways of living with the new-found tools and warfare of Western man. A highly adaptable people.

The attack at the opening of Red Bird’s Song is based on one that occurred to my ancestors in the Shenandoah Valley and is recorded by Historian Joseph A. Waddell in The Annals of Augusta CountyA renegade Englishman by the last name of Dickson led the war party that attacked them.  Initially I’d intended to make the Colin Dickson in Red Bird’s Song a villain but as soon as he galloped onto the scene I knew differently.

Wicomechee, the hero in Red Bird’s Song, is based on the Shawnee warrior by that name who lived early in the nineteenth century and to whom I have ties. The Moffett’s, an early Valley family I’m related to, include a reference to him in their genealogy. Wicomechee’s father, John Moffett, was captured in Kentucky by the Shawnee at the age of eight and adopted into the tribe. It’s said he was a boyhood companion to the great war Chief Tecumseh, a chief for whom I have enormous admiration. The accounts of John Moffett and Wicomechee are recorded by Waddell. It’s also noted that during the Black Hawk Wars Wicomechee recovered the captive daughters of a Dr. Hull and brought them safely into camp, which reminds me of Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans. I’ve included more on this amazing warrior at the end of the novel as a bonus for those who read it.

the-alleghenies-the-virginia-colonial-frontier.jpg“With “Red Bird’s Song”, Beth Trissel has painted an unforgettable portrait of a daring and defiant love brought to life in the wild and vivid era of Colonial America. Highly recommended for lovers of American history and romance lovers alike!” Amazon Reviewer Virginia Campbell

Blurb: Can a Scots-Irish woman terrified of warriors fall in love with her Shawnee captor?

Taken captive by a Shawnee war party wasn’t how Charity Edmondson hoped to escape an unwanted marriage. Nor did Shawnee warrior Wicomechee expect to find the treasure promised by his grandfather’s vision in the unpredictable red-headed girl.

George III’s English Red-Coats, unprincipled colonial militia, prejudice and jealousy are not the only enemies Charity and Wicomechee will face before they can hope for a peaceful life. The greatest obstacle to happiness is in their own hearts.

As they struggle through bleak mountains and cold weather, facing wild nature and wilder men, Wicomechee and Charity must learn to trust each other.~

ReviewerTopPick-NOR“A beautifully written story filled with adventure and suspense…This book touched my soul even as it provided a thrilling fictional escape into a period of history I have always found fascinating.” –Night Owl Book Review by Laurie-J

“I loved the descriptions…I felt I was there…Many mystical episodes are intermingled with the events…The ending is a real surprise, but I will let you have the pleasure of reading it for yourself.”  –Seriously Reviewed

Also Available on sale from The Wild Rose Press and other online stores.

Ties to My Past and A Colonial Recipe for Syllabub

“Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” ~Benjamin Franklin

George ElliotOne illustrious tie to the past for me is my grandfather, seven greats back, Sir George Augustus Elliott. A British general and Governor of Gibraltar during the American Revolution, he was given the title Lord Heathfield, Baron of Gibraltar, in honor of his bravery in its defense during the attack by the Spanish and French. While Sir George was giving his all for king and country, his grandson was fighting under George Washington as a commissary officer. There must have been quite a rift in that family.

Then there are the Scotch-Irish of whom I am one of the many descendants that people this land. The politically correct term is Scots-Irish, but we have always referred to ourselves as ‘Scotch.’ A colorful description of these highly vilified folks is given in an excellent Revolutionary War history, The Road to Guilford Courthouse.

‘They were belligerent, loyal, bigoted, valiant, crude and tough. The men drank hard, fought hard, and moved often. Their young women shocked sensibilities with public displays of bosoms and legs rarely seen in eighteenth century America.’ An Anglican missionary in South Carolina back country described them as ‘Ignorant, mean, worthless, beggarly Irish Presbyterians, the scum of the earth, Refuse of Mankind, and white savages.’

That’s my blood y’all, and the Scotch-Irish made all the difference in how the revolution played out. I hasten to add that my mother insists we descend from the pious noble Scots, but I suspect these others are also somewhere in my heritage.

My absorption with Colonial America encompasses  the high drama of the Revolution. Research into the Southern face of the war was partly inspired by my great-great-great grandfather, Sam Houston, uncle of the famous Sam, who kept a journal of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, 1781, that is used by historians today.

This rich heritage led to further research and a deeper appreciation for those who’ve gone before us.  Some of my books are straight historicals while others include light paranormal elements (more or less) but my fascination with the past is a constant.  Historical Romance novel Enemy of the King grew out of my preoccupation with early American and the Revolution.

Being a Virginian from the Shenandoah Valley, I’m immersed in history. Nor are we far removed from historic Williamsburg, one of my most favorite places to visit.  I’ve touched on various aspects of Williamsburg in other posts and will from time to time.

A popular food that would have been served in the homes of early America is Syllabub. To quote from Colonial food in Colonial Williamsburg: “This dessert/drink tastes like fermented lemon chess pie. It has a thick portion which rises to the top of the glass. This section is eaten with a spoon, then the diner drinks the remaining wine mixture.”

For more on colonial cookery visit:http://www.foodhistory.com/foodnotes/road/cwf1/

Recipe for Syllabub from the Charleston Receipts book.  This one is reprinted from The Carolina Housewife by a lady of Charleston, Miss Sara Rutledge, daughter of Edward Rutledge the signer of the Declaration of the Independence.

To 1 quart of cream add 1/2 pint of sweet wine and 1/2 pint of Madeira, the juice of 2 lemons, a little finely powdered spice and sugar to taste. The peel of the lemon must be steeped in the wine until the flavor is extracted. Whisk all these ingredients together, and as the froth rises, take it off with a spoon, lay it upon a fine sieve. What drains from it put in your pan and whisk again.  Pour the froth into glasses.  Serves 12.  Chill.

*Nutmeg was very popular in colonial American so may be the spice referred to in the recipe.

Sleepy Hollow and the Persecution of Witches in America

Sleepy Hollow (TV Series)With all the TV shows featuring witches, like Sleepy Hollow, which is a fun show but its historical ‘facts’ are a hoot, (great costumes and dude, though) I want to clarify. No accused witches were ever burned in America. Hanging, dunking, drowning, pressing with stones, dying while imprisoned, lashing, banishment, and shunning were inflicted, but no burning. Also, some arrested for witchcraft were later freed and the charges dropped. And none of the poor souls hung or otherwise killed during the Salem Witch trials were practicing witches, but victims of an insane mania that overtook the people of that time and place whose madness is still begin explored today.

I did a post on My Ancestor and the Salem Witch Trials 

For historical records on the punishment and execution (or release) of various individuals accused of witchcraft visit:


historicalromancenovelkiradaughterofthemoonMy fascination with the supernatural, whether real or imagined, played an important role in my historical romance novel, Kira, Daughter of the Moon. Murmurings against the unusual, young Scots-Irishwoman, Kira McClure, grow into accusations of witchcraft. Never a good thing, but especially not in the colonial Virginia frontier. Acceptance in a close-knit community could mean the difference between life and death. The highly superstitious Scots settled in the rugged Alleghenies on the heels of The French and Indian War were already wary. The dangers these dark woods held heightened their fear of the supernatural. Sick livestock, children struck down with illness, and other misfortunes might be blamed on witchcraft. Settlers were alert to anyone in their midst they could point to as the culprit. The farther people ventured from more civilized society, the deeper their superstitions ran. And taking the law, such as it was, into their own hands was often how they dealt with miscreants in the frontier .

veiled mountains

Late Shenandoah Valley author/historian, John Heatwole, put together a wonderful collection of accounts from valley and mountain people regarding their experiences with and feelings toward so-called witches. His book deals with beliefs lingering into the 20th century, but they’re still present among some rural Virginians today. Fear best sums up their sentiments. In his book, Shenandoah Voices, Mr. Heatwole says, “Witches have not been tried, jailed or executed in America since the early 18th century, but tales of their activities persist. During that period in our history, superstitious practices invoked for self-protection were considered prudent dabbling in the occult and virtually harmless. Powers or practices called upon for mean-spirited or evil purposes were attributed to malevolent people in the community who wielded demonic powers. Despite the perception of evil, people suspected of being witches, who were mostly women, were often tolerated in society because of their family ties or from fear of retribution—no one wanted to get on the wrong side of a witch.”

True. However, ‘often tolerated,’ doesn’t mean those perceived as witches were popular. He shares accounts, and I’ve read others, of outspoken or in some way unique females, perhaps even deformed, thought to be in league with the devil who were ostracized. Not being accepted and possibly even tormented by your neighbors was harsh, particularly for the poor and elderly. On the one hand, a woman might gain power over others, even men, in a historically male dominated society, through the fear she intentionally or unintentionally provoked, but the danger that people would shun her was always present–unless she was well-to-do. The rich were always better tolerated.

Spells and hexes were countered by witch doctors, usually men, although ‘Granny women’ were also known for battling the dark arts with magical incantations. I have friends who grew up ‘back in the holler’ and remember bringing in the Granny woman when home remedies failed. One common protection prudent mothers undertook for children was to sew little ‘acifidity’ bags filled with pungent herbs, garlic and asafetida,  to hang around their necks. “Oh my, did these kids stink,’ one friend told me. The stench was to drive away illness and evil. These stinky bags may be out of favor now, but the fear that lay behind them is still quite real among some folk.

Owl, Barn Owl, Tree, Hole, Bird, Animal, Bark, WildlifeYou may ask if any of the women, and occasionally men, thought to be witches actually were? Yes. And some of them sound pretty darn scary.

For my recent post on that visit:

One of the Scariest Ghost/Witch Stories Ever

Supernatural Tales from Back in the Gap

These excerpts are taken from Supernatural Tales,The Virginia and West Virginia Mountain and Valley Folklife Series by late Shenandoah Valley author and historian John Heatwole. Mr. Heatwole interviewed many inhabitants of Brock’s Gap and wrote up a wonderful collection of stories included in his series. He said, “The Brocks Gap section of Rockingham County is rich in folklore of all kinds. It is an area in the northwest part of the county isolated by the North Mountain range.”

The following spooky stories are a great source of entertainment while snug inside next to a warm hearth, but not so much fun if you find yourself out on your own in the woods and hollows after dark.~

“Frank Caplinger lived across the road from the old Caplinger Chapel near the Criders Post Office in western Brocks Gap. In the evening Frank would sometimes hear pews scraping on the floor of the church on the other side of the road. Each time he walked over to check on things he would find the building empty with no signs that anyone had been there.

Once Frank was crossing the German River on the old suspension foot bridge; he was going to the post office on the opposite bank. As he entered the bridge he looked up and saw a strange man sitting on top of the cable frame, still and quiet. When Frank neared the other end of the bridge he looked back and the figure had vanished. It was impossible for the man to have scrambled down and run out of sight that quickly.” 


“Other folks remember strange lights on the mountains or in the cemeteries.  Harrison May recalled: ‘We’d see lights up in the Caplinger Cemetery every so often. When we got there to check there’d be no lights anywhere. Guess they were just spooks.’”


Moonlit Night

“When Nelson Whetzel was a young man he had an interesting experience while walking home from work one evening. In Brocks Gap in earlier times the only things to light ones way were the stars or the glow from a lamp in a neighbor’s window. 

As he walked Nelson heard a horse coming up the road behind him.  Nelson stopped for a moment, thinking, ‘Good! I’ll have someone to talk to.’ But the sound of the horse’s hooves stopped when he did. He called out, asking who was there in the pitch-black.

No answer came and Nelson began uneasily walking again, this time a little faster. The sound of the horse picked up pace to match Nelson’s. He stopped a second time and the sound of the horse ceased to be heard. Nelson started trotting and the sound horse’s hooves were heard at a trot behind him, close on his heels. He grew very frightened and began to run as fast as he could.  The galloping horse seemed to be so close, Nelson thought he felt the breath on the back of his neck.

Up ahead Nelson saw the lighted windows of the cabin belonging to George and Mat Smith. He was so terrified that he hit the Smith’s front door at full force. He knocked it down and went right through the structure, knocking down the back door as he exited. The Smiths blinked at each other in wonder and amazement. They saw no phantom horse follow Nelson through their home.

Immediately after his encounter with the doors Nelson noticed the sound of the pursuing horse was gone, however, he ran on home as fast as his feet would carry him.”


*That tale reminds me of the headless horseman from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Scary!

“The Roadcaps lived in a two-story log cabin just down the road from Gospel Hill Mennonite Church. All of the girls of the family shared a room upstairs.  One night one of the sisters, Peggy by name, went to the bedroom alone.  There she saw a woman sitting up on the iron headboard of one of the beds.

The woman didn’t say anything or move toward the frightened child, just sat there and looked at her. Peggy was rooted to the spot in fear but able to find her voice and call to her father to come to her aid.  There was something in her voice that demanded immediate attention and she heard his heavy footfall as he hurried up the stairs. As her father neared the room, the woman vanished into thin air.  Peggy never entered that room alone again.


The children of the Roadcap family loved to play on the banks of the little Shoemaker River near their home. Once they came running home and told their father they’d seen a woman all dressed in white walking along the opposite bank of the river from where they played. They’d never seen her before and being shy had not spoken to her but only observed her progress.

Their father listened thoughtfully and then told them they had seen the spirit of a young woman who had died years before of a broken heart. They were told they would probably see her again and that she would do them no harm. They were to behave as they had before and refrain from calling out to the spirit.

They believed their father. There were not that many people living in those parts and the children knew them all. They promised not to disturb the apparition if they encountered her again. During their childhoods they witnessed her strolling along the river on several more occasions.~

That story reminds me of the novel, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which was a very intriguing BBC mystery/thriller starring Tara Fitzgerald. I saw the film on Netflix and highly recommend it.

***If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy the one I wrote entitled:

The Poltergeist in our Old Farm House

***John Heatwole’s books are at Amazon, but may only be available as used copies.


“Of Cabbages and Kings.” The Wisdom of Lewis Carroll

Down the Rabbit HoleDo you feel like you’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole? I do most every time I check the news, which I avoid as much as possible. Lewis Carrol speaks to this present day craziness.

“I don’t think…” then you shouldn’t talk, said the Hatter.”  (Or govern, Beth adds)

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Me too.

Alice: “How long is forever?”
White Rabbit: “Sometimes, just one second.”

Alice in wonderland book cover

“Curiouser and curiouser.”  (Indeed)

“The hurrider I go, the behinder I get.” (Always)

“If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison’ it is certain to disagree with you sooner or later.”

Undoubtedly. And remember to follow the white rabbit. I have a particular fondness for rabbits, and if you follow one as it scampers about, it’s bound to lead to an adventure. (Unless, it’s riding on the back of a turtle.) Speaking of which, “No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.” Alice in Wonderland (oh yes. Skip the boring stuff)

alice“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
***I totally get that quote. We’re living in it now.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” ― Lewis Carroll  (Fitting quote for Beth in her writing cave

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked. ‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘We’re all mad here.’

“Have I gone mad?
I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” (Amen to that)
“I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”  (It happens)
Alice-in-Wonderland-3-“Mad Hatter: “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?
“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
“No, I give it up,” Alice replied: “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.” (I’m puzzling over this one)
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“The time has come,” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships – and sealing wax – of cabbages and kings.”  (Such wise words)
“I’m not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different from yours.”
“How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.”  (Me either, on some days)
Colin and Chloe spring 2011“I’d give all the wealth that years have piled, the slow result of life’s decay,
To be once more a little child
for one bright summer day.”
Lewis Carroll
(Image of two grandbabies)
“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”
Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky 
My dear father can recite the Jabberwocky.  When the severe windstorm swept through the Shenandoah Valley the summer before last, daughter Elise and I huddled in the dark in our ‘safe’ spot in the house and she read it aloud with a flashlight while the wind raged. Also, other Lewis Carroll quotes. Somehow, it seemed fitting. And so, with this profundity, I leave you.

I’m Gonna Sell Ice Cream–No Seriously! Beth Trissel

Shenandoah Family Farms -image.jpg3This is a historic day for our family and 20 other dairy farmers in the Shenandoah Valley as we realized a huge step in our dream to market our own dairy products. Banding together, we purchased the former Unilever ice cream plant in Hagerstown, MD, a two-hour drive from the valley. Today, we assumed full ownership, visited the plant to begin readying it, and held a press conference. The city officials of Hagerstown are very welcoming, and we look forward to working together with this supportive community.

Under the label Shenandoah Family Farms, we hope to market our own natural, locally produced milk and ice cream in late fall and expand product lines as our company grows. My husband Dennis (Company President) has worked tirelessly toward this goal, as have many other farmers and business advisers who’ve given generously of their time. So, if you live within a 250 mile radius of Hagerstown, MD (as the crow flies, so a larger area than you might think) look for natural, sustainable, locally produced dairy products coming soon, from us to you. ***Please ‘like us’ on Facebook!  Also visit our website and fill out the form to request our products from your local stores! And hugs all around. 

Shenandoah Family Farms -image