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Tennessee & Whiskey
O.L. Britton and Wesley Britton
"Introduction" and "How Whiskey Saved
Tennessee" copyright (c) 1998 by Wesley Britton. All rights reserved.
Updated, Jan 2006
By Wesley Britton
This electronic publication of "It
Happened in Tennessee" is the fourth incarnation of the humorous tall
tale written by my grandfather, Olney Loren Britton. It was first
published in the QA&P Employee Magazine, date unknown. It was
then reprinted in pamphlet form by the Tennessee Railroad, but no known
copies exist. Fortunately, it was collected in the Scott County
History, and it is from this text the following version was edited.
Growing up in the mountains around Whitley
City, Kentucky, "Pop" Britton knew well the people described in his
tale in which he had fun with religion, superstition, encroaching
technology, and the lore of backwoodsmen. Being a railroad man all his
life – which was quite a catch for hill country girls in the
post-World War I days when few folks had regular salaries – Grandad
infused a love of trains that carried on for his four sons, and
ultimately became the subject of some of my own verse.
In December 1997, my uncle Charles sent me
a copy of the story which he discovered while doing research on our
family tree. As a Mark Twain scholar and sometime writer myself, I was
first happily intrigued with the story, then on an impulse, wondered
how the narrative would play in freeverse. So "How Whiskey Saved
Tennessee" is an obvious adaptation of "It Happened in Tennessee" – I
hope the reader will enjoy both versions of American humor set in a
time now long past now available on the internet.
By O.L. Britton
The Tennessee Railroad had completed their
line into one of the best coal and timber territories
of North Central
Tennessee, and were operating on regular
schedules from Oneida
to Fork Mountain through as rugged a territory as you could imagine.
The Natives were old settlers of true American type. They still
relied on the musket and hog rifle to get their meat; the hollows and
coves were alive with
squirrel; the ridges had plenty of turkey and
the creeks and rivers had fish to spare.
Store bought clothes in these parts were
unknown; the girls had never seen corsets, powder or
paint. They got
their tan by working in the field, and never
had to take other exercises to keep from getting overweight. These
folks would walk for miles to
meetin' and set for hours on split log
benches with no
back while one preacher after another tired out.
The social season for the ladies began
with bean stringing and to be up in society one must be
popular enough to be invited to all the bean stringings,
shellings, corn huskings and log rollings. Many grown men and women had
never ben to town or
seen a train, but they were happy with the plentiful things
of life, which they had.
Everything went along fine with the
Railroad (even if these mountain folks did not take to 'them
thar new fangled idears') until one of the engineers out
of his own pocket purchased what he called a wild cat whistle and had
it installed on his engine,
and without advanced information to folks down the 45
miles of track, proceeded to blow it for the crossings, stations, and
flagmen and between times
played Yankey Doodle, Ho How I love Jesus, etc.
Well, that caused more excitement than
those folks had ever had before and have ever had since.
It was one of those peculiar whistles that would echo up
and down them hollows, and you could not locate what direction it was
Those near the track were convinced that
it was the end of the world and that it was the great
Trumpet sounding. Men, women, and children rushed for Home
and went to praying and confessing their mean doings. Moonshine stills
were chopped up,
chawing tobacco throwed away, and every drop of corn liquor in
that part was poured out.
But farther away it sounded like a vicious
"pantor" and those that were convinced of this dropped
their work and double quick got to the house and started
baring up doors and windows, feeling sure it was only out in the woods
a little way.
The chickens had run under the floor of
the house and were having one fit after another. The
dogs ran in the house and refused to get out from under the
bed. Some of the horses dropped dead from fright, while others made it
to the barn where they
pawed and snorted for someone to close the door, and in less
time than that train would have run the same distance, the cows,
yearlings, and razor backs come
running out of the woods from all directions.
Cows bellowing, yearlings blating and pigs
and hogs squealing; they were a pitiful sight. Too
tired to run and too scared to stop.
The folks living in close, who thought it
was the end of time, soon found out what it was and
went back to their meanness, but the folks across the river
kept hearing it every day and became more sure it was a "panter." Every
man available got out to
hunt it with his hog rifle, and the women and children
were staying in the barred houses.
The chickens became nervous wrecks and
quit laying. The hogs, cattle and horses refused to
range far from the barn and were getting thinner every day, and
the crops were all growing up in weeds.
This whistle would have probably caused
starvation for man and beast out in them hills if the
boys closer to the track had not poured out their liquor.
Getting over their excitement early, they began to crave corn, and low
as how the boys over the
river did not hear it, maybe, and kept their stock.
Well, the next morning a bunch uv em gets
their jugs, takes their hollowed out log canoe and
crosses the river, climbs the hill and by noon they had reached
their destination, imparting the news and got their jugs filled for the
The engineer removed that wild cat
whistle, and folks went back to work, in a normal way, but
the old timers have never forgotten the scare of their life,
and it is said that was the only time in history that whiskey saved the
lives of both man and beast
on so large a scale.
Now, I must acknowledge that I was not
there during all this, but my information was gotten
from one of the most successful horse traders in that part of
the country, and I have no reason to doubt it.
How Whiskey Saved Tennessee
By Wesley Britton
(Adapted from a dstory by O.L. Britton)
AS you might imagine,
it could only happen in Tennessee.
Well, maybe in Kentucky,
but the way I heard it
when the Tennessee Railroad completed its
and operated regular schedules
from Oneida to Fork Mountain through Whitney and Knox,
old settlers of the true American type
weren't sure what to make of it.
In those days, muskets and hog rifles got
Hollows and coves were alive with squirrel,
the ridges flew plenty of turkey and grouse,
and creeks and rivers had enough fish
for all Jesus's loaves at the Olive Mount.
No store bought clothes for women and
never seen no corset, powder, nor paint.
Tanned and fit from working the fields,
they walked miles to mountain meetins in the trees
sitting for hours on backless splitlogs
while one wangdangdoodle preacher after another
wore themselves out.
Those up in society never missed
one bean stringing, shelling, corn huskin log rolling bout.
Most grown men and women never seen train nor town,
but were happy enough in the plentiful world.
Still, everything went along fine with the
even if these mountain folks did not take to them
like other people
until one engineer,
out of his own pocket,
bought a wild cat whistle
for his engine. Without advance notice
to folks down the tracks,
he proceeded to blow it
for every flagman, crossing, and station house.
In between times he played Yankey Doodle,
Ho How I love Jesus, Coming Round the Mountain
and other hymns
causing more excitement than folks ever
It was a most peculiar whistle
echoing up and down them hollows.
No body could spot
which way it blew from and
those near the track were convinced
it was the trumpet for the end of the world.
All Christians prayed and confessed their
moonshine stills were chopped to dust,
chawing tobacco throwed away,
every drop of corn liquor poured
on the unsuspecting land.
Further down, they said, it was a vicious
howling like Satan or Dan Webster or worse.
Folks dropped their work and double quick
got home and bore up doors and winders,
feeling sure the Lord's trombone
was only out in the woods a piece,
the second coming coming to Tennessee.
Chickens ran and hid under floors,
sqwaking one fit after another nearly
drowning out braying dogs running in
and hiding under beds.
Some horses dropped dead on trembling
others darted to barns
pawing and snorting
for their masters to close the door
In less time that train would have run the
cows, yearlings, and razor backs shot
from the woods from every direction as if looking
for Noah to save them again.
Folks living in close soon learned what it
and sent off an opinionated petition.
They went back to their ordinary meanness,
but folks cross the river kept hearing the hollowing,
even more afraid of the uncommon panther.
Every male available took out his hog rifle
and women and children hid inside while
chickens stopped laying.
Hogs, cows, horses kept close to their barns
getting thinner and more nervous
as the crops fell to weeds.
This whistle of perdition would've starved
the whole territory
if the boys closer to the tracks
hadn't poured out their liquor.
Having got over their excitement early,
they started craving corn,
regretted their reforms,
and glared at their sawdusted stills.
So, at sunup, a bunch of them gets their
takes their hollowed out log canoes, and crosses the river.
They climbed the hill and by noon made it up top,
imparting the news while filling their jugs.
The engineer removed that wild cat whistle,
and folks returned to work in normal ways.
But old timers never forgot
and said it was the only time in history
whiskey saved the lives of both man and beast
on so large a scale. At least
get in touch with Wes Britton, please contact him at:
All Writing by Dr. Wesley Britton Copyright © SpyWise
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Copyright © 2007-2008 by Cheryl Morris