Memorable Mountain People - The Calloway Sisters

One of the early settlers on the Upper Watauga River was Ben Calloway. Ben had two daughters, Fanny and Betsy, who were known for their beauty and charm. Both of them are remembered in history for the problems they had with men.


Both their stories are tragic, in spite of some elements of humor in them. Fanny married John Holtsclaw, a Baptist preacher who was once moderator of Three Forks Church and they had seven children.

In 1825, after years of marriage, John ran off with the 18-year-old daughter of Bedent Baird, Delilah. They rode off over the mountains to live in Kentucky. Well, at least John told Delilah they were in Kentucky. They were, in fact, just over the mountain from Valle Crucis (which was both their homes) about a mile from Banner Elk. After settling in a lean-to, they had a child. Then John built them a rough cabin and they settled in apparent harmony.

One of the few ways to get money in those days was to dig ginseng, which sold for a whopping 10 cents a pouind. One day, Delilah wandered up in the mountains to find some "sang." While up there, she heard a cow bell that sounded just like that worn by Old Jers, one of her father's cattle.

She decided her father must have moved to Kentucky, too. The next day, without telling John, she headed off to find the bell. She found it, and her family.

It wasn't long before Fanny Holtsclaw discovered where John was living. She came over to Banner Elk, begging for work to help support the children. John gave her none, and even willed his land to Delilah. Fanny and her family struggled for years, but one grandson, James W. Whitehead, came to own all the land given to Delilah.

This wasn't the last we hear of Delilah. In 1881, aged 74, she persuaded a man named Ben Dyer to return from Texas to marry her. Basically, she promised him lots of land and money, pledging "all we have to do is sit back and enjoy ourselves." He came, saw and wasn't conquered. And then he sued her for his expenses! An undoubtedly humiliated Delilah had to fork over $47.50, the railroad fare to and from Texas. She died about 1890. Betsy Calloway also had her problems, but, all in all, had a better time of it than her sister.

She was living at home in 1819, when a handsome fiddler and hunter named James Aldridge arrived in the community. He was attractive and single and very interested in the beautiful Betsy. Soon, they married and settled in a large cabin.

Everything went fine for about 15 years. Then a fur trader by the name of Price stopped at the home of Edward Moody, which was near what is now Foscoe. Price knew "Fiddling Jimmy" Aldridge. He also knew Mrs. Aldridge, who, with their five children, was still living on the Big Sandy River on the Kentucky/(now West) Virginia border. When he went north again, he shared news of his discovery with the original Mrs. Aldridge.

That Mrs. Aldridge soon appeared on the scene. Jimmy came by Edward Moody's mill the day she appeared and shared the news that Betsy was sort of sulky about these developments, but he was sure she would get over it. She didn't.

There was no place for her to go, but she made it clear their marriage - which never really existed - was over. Relations cooled considerably. Sometime afterwards, several of his children by the Big Sandy Mrs. Aldridge appeared on the scene, further complicating matters.

So Jimmy headed up north to try and patch things up with his wife. This (big shock!) was not successful. Betsy came north to check things out and found her wayward lover living with a young girl. He returned to Watauga one more time, visiting his family in about 1838. He then returned to the Big Sandy and died at an advanced age during the Civil War.

Betsy, like her sister, struggled to survive and raise her family. She dug "sang," made maple sugar, washed and did any job that came her way. She was baptized in the Linville River, and always found enough food to provide hospitality for preachers who came by. Betsy Calloway died about 1900.

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