THE WINTER OF 1920 William Pipes
It was the winter of 1920 and my son and I were hauling a load of logs to the Wilkes County lumber mill. My family’s survival depended upon us getting the logs to the mill and collecting the few dollars the logs would bring. The Farmer’s Almanac was predicting a severe snowstorm. Old timers, reading the signs, thought a deadly snowstorm would hit in about ten days.
In addition to my fifteen year old son, James, who was helping me haul the logs, my wife and I had four other children, ages two, four, nine, and eleven years. We owned a small farm, but our crops had failed due to summer floods. What little food we harvested after the floods was by now down to a few pounds of potatoes, and only a few bushels of corn. Most of the corn would be needed to feed our two mules. We had by now exhausted our credit at the general store. We had a hog we had turned loose during the summer to forage in the mountains. Our intentions were to round up the hog for winter meat, but the snowy winter came upon us early and we feared the hog might be frozen by now.
My wife, Betty and our eleven year old daughter, Jean set out to round up the, hopefully still alive, hog. Our nine year old daughter Cate would take care of our two and four year old sons. Betty said, “If Jean and I don’t locate the hog in one day and night, we’ll head back home.”
I told James, “Son, if we can get the logs to the mill, they’ll bring enough money to keep us alive until spring.” I added, “It’ll cut our travel time in half if Elk Creek is frozen hard enough to drive the mules, wagon, and logs across. My figuring showed my plan would get us back home in approximately six days. Four days ahead of the old timers’ predicted snowstorm.
Betty said, “Jean and I should be home in two days at the most. If we locate the hog, it might take an extra day driving him home. We’ll take a few ears of corn to entice him to follow us. Either way we should be home before you and James.”
We all went our separate ways. James and I to the lumber mill, and Betty and Jean into the mountains to hunt for the hog, while Cate babysat with her brothers.
James and I were soon to Elk Creek. We check the ice and decided it was frozen hard enough to drive across. As we drove across the ice, James walked behind holding onto the wagon, and I, holding the steering harnesses, walked beside the wagon. Several times, I heard the ice cracking, but soon we were across and in another day arrived at the lumber mill. Due to the poor weather, logs were in short supply so we received a nice price. We bought some supplies, had a nice meal, fed the mules, and with just a few hours of rest, headed home.
Arriving home after five days, we found Cate and the boys doing fine, but Betty and Jean were not home. I took some food, extra blankets, and headed into the mountains in search of them. That night the snowstorm came with a vengeance. I thought, I’ll never find Betty and Jean in this weather. I found some shelter and hoped, by morning, the storm would let up. The next morning desperately searching, very exhausted, and shouting their names, but not seeing a trace of them I was ready to turn back. Just as I was about to give up I heard a whistle. A whistle I recognized as Jean’s. Jean loved to whistle and was very adept at it. I started shouting and moving toward the whistling. I soon came upon Betty and Jean cuddled together with the hog. I gave them some food, extra blankets, and we, including the hog, were soon home. We decided not to butcher the hog as it might have saved the lives of Betty and Jean.