Memorable Mountain People - Charles McKinney

Jacob Carpenter (1833-1920) lived on Three Mile Creek in what is now Avery County. He kept a record of deaths in his region, which includes this famous entry, quoted verbatim.

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"Charles McKinney ag 79 dide May 10 1852 ware a farmer lived in blew ridge had 4 womin cors married 1 live in McKinney gap all went to fields to mak grane all went to crib for corn all went to smok house for mete he cild 75 to 80 hoges a year and womin never had no words bout his havin so many womin. If it ware these times thar would be har pulled thare ware 42 childern belongin to him they all went to prechin together nothin said he mad brandy all his life never had no foes got along fin with everuibodi nod him."

In case you didn't follow all that, here's a version in more acceptable English: "Charles McKinney, age 79, died May 10, 1852. (He) was a farmer (and) lived in (the) Blue Ridge. (He) had four women, of course (he was) married to one. (He) lived in McKinney Gap. (They) all went to the fields to make grain, all went to the crib for corn, all went to the smoke house for meat. He killed 75 to 80 hogs a year and the women never had any words about his having so many women. If it was these times, there would be hair pulled. There were 42 children belonging to him. They all went to preaching together (and) nothing (was) said. He made brandy all his life. Never had no foes, got along fine with everybody. (I) knew him."

In contrast to some of the people on these pages, "Cove" Charles McKinney seems to have led a happy life. He had a long life, no enemies and was loved by his family and neighbors. He was one of thousands of Scotch-Irish settlers who came to the mountains after the Revolution. He picked out a large, rich cove in what is now Mitchell County and started farming. As you travel on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you'll see a sign for McKinney Gap. That's the one in his obituary.

There's no record, at least none we could find, of how his family of one wife and three women came together. Life on the frontier, though, was much different than in the cities, where such a thing would have been the subject of scandal. The old settlers came to the region, in part, to mind their own business and they meant it. Apparently, even the preachers of the day left the matter alone.

The McKinney clan prospered in their Blue Ridge home. Children undoubtedly came like clockwork, until there were 42 in all, 30 boys and a dozen girls. No wonder it took 80 hogs to see them through the winter!

In today's fast-paced world, the thought of raising 42 children seems almost terrifying. But times were different, as we said. There were no schools to attend, no events to go to and nothing to do but stay around the home place. Children usually went to work in the fields at age five or so. By the time the youngest young'uns were born, there was a crew of teenagers to look after them.

There were, however, some familiar realities. Charles loaded up his sons in some wagons one time and took them off the mountain to get some store-bought hats. The hat maker refused to believe they were all his sons, and said he'd give them the hats if Charles could prove it. Charles tracked down a mutual friend in Marion, who brought the hat maker the unwelcome news. Charles and sons rode off into the mountains with their free hats.

The period Charles lived in the mountains was a golden age for pioneers. The land was rich, wild game was plentiful and people were neighborly, but apparently quite accepting. The logging companies and the miners hadn't come, and, as civilization swept to and over the Mississippi, this spot of wilderness survived.

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