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Fisher's River
(North Carolina)
Scenes and Characters (1859)

  
 

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IX.---UNCLE BILLY LEWIS.

Clever old man!  little did he think that his name would ever get "into prent," and he ranked among the heroes of Fisher's River.  I know he never sought it;  however, I ove to honor an humble-minded man.

Uncle Billy Lewis came from the "Huckleberry Ponds," near Fayetteville.  An unfortunate accident forced him, much against his will, to leave his native section, to which he was devotedly attached.  But he was quite a philosopher, and seemed cheerful and happy in the mountains of Surry.  He was ever busy, either in building tub-mills across the mountain creeks and branches, sitting on his "hunkers" cutting out mill-stones in the lonely mountains, or hunting deer, turkeys, and bees in the wild forests.  Not a lazy bone in his tough, yellow-tanned skin.  No Cherokee Indian was more fleet on foot than he.  A quarter of a century has passed since I saw him, yet his image is as indelibly fixed on my mind as though I had seen him but yesterday.  He was an unforgetable man.

There he stands, full six feet high, well put up for walking, more limbs than body.  His rifle and shot-pouch are prominent objects, for he wears them gracefully.  It is winter, and he has on his winter dress.  Begin at his head and look down to his feet.  He wears a smooth "'coonskin" fur hat, glazed all over with sweat and grease from his head, and looks black and sleek as a dandy's boots.  A walnut-dyed linsey hunting-shirt, girded with a leathern belt --- said belt looks as if it might have come from off one of Adam's calves.  His "jacket" is made of calfskin tanned with the hair on.  His "britches" are dressed buckskin, tight as the skin, with sole-leather buttons sewed on with a leather thong.  Instead of shoes, he wears hogskin moccasins brogued with sole-leather.  He wears a tow and cotton shirt, and as to drawers the deponent saith not.

But look at that odd face, long and lank, yellow and thick-skinned;  forehead large and high;  eyes large and white, dull-looking and expressive of confidence in and generosity toward men; two large upper front teeth sticking out of his mouth like iron wedges;  his chin long and expressive of marvelousness.  The whole countenance combined says Uncle Billy Lewis is an honest, confiding, simple-hearted, artless man, easily duped by wags and sharpers.

Uncle Billy could not speak plainly, was a little tongue-tied, and then those iron-wedged teeth prevented him from articulating distinctly.  Besides, he was naturally disposed to be short and sententious in his conversation, any way.  But I must not be too long in trying to bring the image of my old friend before the reader's mind.  Let the old man, in his characteristic way, tell you the story of

THE FIRE-HUNT.

"This is a monstrous nice night to shine old bucks' eyes, Uncle Billy; s'pose we take a fire-hunt." said a quiz to the old man, to draw out of him the reasons that caused him to leave the "Huckleberry Ponds" of Cumberland.

"It mout be,"  said Uncle Billy, with his white, leaden eyes looking very sorrowfully, "but I don' 'clude I'll fire-hunt no more.  That drefful night that caused me to leave good ole Cumberland I shall never forgit.  That wur the wust fire-hunt a poor mortal ever got inter.  It was a dark, drizzly night --- good night fur jacker-mer-lanterns and old bucks.  I took O'Pan (Note:  His musket.), loaded her heavy with big buck drop-shot, which I bought in Fayetteville with huckleberries, with pan and torch on a shoulder;  got lost --- led out'n my way by  a stinkin' jacker-mer-lantern.  I went bogin along, thought I was gwine right, looked afore me, seed a whole heap o' bright shiny eyes, turned the pan round and round.  'Shiny eyes --- shiny eyes, ' says I;  'now's the time!  now's the time!'

"I whip up O'Pan, draw a bead --- bang!  went O'Pan;  jingle, jingle, jingle went chains.  I see men comin';  I throw down O'Pan, light, and all, and took through the huckleberry swamp like a 'coon.  Here come men arter me, sayin', 'Here he goes, boys!  here he goes!'

"I run on, come to mud-pond, and in I went, sock!  sock!  sock!  last up I go to my armpits, and could go no furder.  Men come up and say, 'Here he went, boys!  here he went!'

"I lay in the mud, still as a turkle, till they lost me.  When they left me I tried to git out --- had a hard time of it.  Thar stood a jacker-mer-lantern grinnin' at me.  I rake mud, fust with one hand, then with t'other --- rake, rake.  Lat out I cum, muddy as a hog.  I went home, told the fambly, left that night, fambly follered, and all the poor men got for my shootin' thar hosses was O'Pan and my torch-pan.  That was a mem'ble night --- never forgit --- never fire-hunt since."

UNCLE BILLY PREACHES.

Uncle Billy was a Baptist, and doubtless a good man.  The only thing that ever was alleged against him was shining the horses' eyes, "liftin' up O'Pan, bang!"  and making the horses' chains go "jingle, jingle!"  and then leaving old Cumberland between two suns, if that part of the story is correct.  Whether or not there were any horses killed, no deponent has testified.  It is probably Uncle Billy thought going through the mud "sock!  sock!' sinking into the mud well-nigh chin deep, and being grinned at while in that pitiable condition by that impudent and wicked "jacker-mer-lantern, "was a sufficient atonement.  At any rate, in old Surry, "by his fruit" he was considered by all a good man.

I have intimated that he was a very credulous man, and easily imposed upon by wags.  He had wanted to preach for some time --- had some "loud calls" --- but his Church gave him no encouragement, believing else was "called" and Uncle Billy had answered.  He was not "slow of speech," but he could lay a good claim to a "stammering tongue."  His brethren, on that account, thought he could not "edify them."

There were, however, a few "outsiders" who urged the old man to "exercise his gift."  Bill Holder, Hen Holder, Ike Puckett, Bill Auberry, Shack Gallion, and others, encouraged him to "hold forth."  "They wouldn't ax the Church no boot, no how.  He were a free man.  We'll make you up the biggest crowds ef you'll jist hold night meetin's."

The thing took.  There was a shrewd man, Jim Blevins, in whom Uncle Billy had unbounded confidence, who urged him forward to his "duty."  Jim's advice was taken, and Uncle Billy made several appointments, and had "thundering crowds," mostly young people for their amusement.  There they sat, with their "heads bowed down like the loonsome bulrush," as Uncle Billy poetically expressed it, weeping over their sins, as he thought, but the wicked creatures were laughing.

Jim Blevins alway attended, and manufactured a good portion of the old man's thunder --- would tell him what to say to "relarm the wicked folks."  The last sermon Uncle Billy ever preached, Blevins, his Vulcan, manufactured some heavy thunderbolts for him.

Jim told him, one evening before he preached, that he had "suthin' relarmin' to tell him."  That he had been that day on the Bald Rock on Fisher's Peak, and while sitting under a bunch of bushes near the edge of the Bald Rock, it being very hot, he saw a huge flying snake in the air above him, full twelve feet long, with a stinger at the end of his tail at least twelve inches long, and its eyes were like balls of fire.  It would fly round the Peak and the Bald Rock, looking first on one side, then on the other, screaming worse than a panther.  "I sloped," continued Jim, "back uv Fisher's Peak, but it were like jumpin' out'n the fryin'-pan inter the fire;  for thar I hearn a yahoo.  It was a-bawlin' louder than a cannon, 'ya-hoo!  ya-hoo!'  I hid, and it come by in thirty yards uv me.  What a bustin critter it was!  It had horns ten foot long, mouth as big as a hogshead, and teeth long as a sword and sharp as a razor.  The way it kills things is, it gits them on its horns, and keeps tossin' them up till they are dead as a herrin', then he swallows them down slick as a bar swallerin' down a piece uv honey-comb.  Uncle Billy, you ought to warn the people uv thar drefful danger this night.  I've discharged my duty in tellin' you, and I now leave it with you to clare yer skirts of thar blood."

That was enough.  The conscientious old man felt newly commissioned, and more thunder to his former stock was added.  He met his audience, commenced, and soon got through the doctrinal part of his sermon, and then came to the "pathetic part."  I shall only attempt to give the closing part of his exhortation.  With great earnestness in his sad, woe-begone countenance, he said,

"Sinner, you'd better 'pent!  Danger abroad!  Look out, I tell ye.  Skin yer eyes good.  Open yer ears wide.  Listen, that you may hear.  Your blood mout be 'quired o' me.  Jim Blevins seen --- O sinner, 'pent and listen --- Jim Blevins seen --- O my soul! --- Jim Blevins went on Fisher's Peak this mornin', and to the Baw' Rock, got tired, sot down under bunch o' bushes to rest, and what did he see?  O my soul!  Sinner, 'pent!  He seen a flyin' snake --- drefful critter --- twelve foot long, stinger 'bout a feet long, eyes red like balls o' fire from Pandermonium --- O sinner, 'pent!  My bowels yearns over you --- lookin' fust this way, then t'other, to see what he could see, and a-squallin' wusser nur a painter --- O sinner, 'pent! --- 'pent, I tell you else yer a gone sucker.  For sartin and for sure, ef he pops his stinger inter you, yer gone world 'though eend, amen, 'thout the benefit o' clargy.

"But, sinner, flyin' snakes is mighty bad; bad as they is, howsomever, 'tain't nothin' to what Jim Blevins seen arter that.  Jim soon as the flyin' snake went out'n sight, he run over back o' Fisher's Peak, and --- O my soul! --- what did he see?  A yahoo, sinner --- a yahoo!  Jim hid, and it past along close by, and it was high as a house, horns ten foot long, mouf big as a hogshead --- 'pent, sinner, 'pent!  It run by Jim, hollerin'  'ya-hoo!  ya-hoo!'  louder nur canon at the battle o' Guilford Court-house, whar 'Wallis was fout by Greene.  Jim says the way he kills folks --- sinner, 'pent! --- he gits you on his horns, he tossee up --- he tossee up, jist like trouncin' a bullfrog, till life clean gone --- 'pent, sinner, 'pent! --- then he'll take you in his mouf, and he'll lick you down like a hongry bar does a piece o' honey-comb, as Jim Blevins says.  Sinner, I've warned you;  I'm clare o' yer blood.  Ef that flyin' snake or that yahoo gits you, you can't blame me fur it.  No, don't blame the old man nur Jim Blevins."

The about discourse came to the ears of Uncle Billy's church, and they "called in his gift."  But he never quit cutting out mill-stones, making tub-mills, and hunting bees long as his "head was above the yeth."

 

 

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