The animal kingdom

All my young life I was surrounded by animals. We kept chickens and hogs and occasionally a cow. Just about everybody around us kept animals of various sorts, from milk cows to mules. We had no need of petting zoos. Animals were everywhere. Often a loose cow would stray into our yard tempted by the tender green grass of our lawn. I would be dispatched to drive her away, not always an easy task. When all else failed, Mother would get a pan of boiling water and throw it on the heifer’s back, sending her scooting with a bellow.

My first dog was Tiny, a mixed-breed female terrier. Dogs weren’t “fixed” in those days, at least not in Jellico, and so the big problem with Tiny was that she was constantly producing litters of puppies. We tried to keep her locked up when she was in heat, but I would always take pity on her and let her out. And of course right away some male dog would be humping her. Still, we kept her for several years until she finally died giving birth to yet another litter of puppies. I sat up with her that night and held her as death approached. It was a sad moment. But I can see now that in the grander picture I was learning about life, reproduction and death.

Tiny was replaced by a succession of mutts, all male and all eventually killed by automobiles. But she is the only one whose name I can recall.

I’ve mentioned my pony. After my grandfather Miller, TiTi, died, Daddy took over as general manager of the business TiTi and a Kentuckian named Bert Kitchen had founded. During World War II, the Kitchen Lumber Co., over my daddy’s often vociferous objections, had employed a policy of clear-cutting to get the timber out for the war effort as swiftly as possible. Daddy argued with TiTi that the young growth some be spared so that new trees would be available. TiTi brushed those arguments aside. By 1948, the company had reached the end of the line and went out of business. Although Daddy had revolutionized logging by introducing Caterpillar tractors to snake the logs from the woods to the sawmills, the company had retained a couple of teams of huge draft horses. As the country became more and more mechanized, there wasn’t a big demand any longer for draft animals. So Daddy was stuck with feeding their voracious appetites without getting any benefit from them. I think that in part is what led him to decide to try a farming scheme on Pine Mountain in the Laurel Branch area where the company had lately logged. He used one of the team for plowing and other farm chores. He managed to trade the other team to a LaFollette horse farmer for a pony and a white Tennessee Walking Horse. The walker, of course, was Daddy’s, and he rode it proudly through the streets of town. The pony, a stallion that had never been ridden, he gave to me.

His name was Dan, and he had been used—and I suspect abused—as a mine pony, hauling mine cars from deep within the coal mines. However, as a young stallion, he was unruly and unreliable, so the miners got rid of him, selling him to the farmer who swapped him to Daddy in the trade for the draft horses. We stabled him in a barn over on Yellow Row, a couple of hundred yards behind our house and across the railroad tracks. That’s were we also kept our hogs and, when we had one, our cow. The farmer had thrown in a saddle—the English type, which I hated. We saddled him up and led him over to a nearby field. Daddy held him by the halter while I jumped into the saddle. Daddy let go and Dan took off, galloping at full tilt across the field. I was caught unaware and leaned sideways in the saddle, which hadn’t been chinched tightly enough, allow the saddle to turn and throwing me off. My foot also had slipped deep into the stirrup so when I hit the ground Dan dragged me for a few yards before the strap broke, freeing me and keeping me from serious injury. We finally caught up with Dan peacefully eating grass in a neighboring field. The next time I rode him it was without a saddle. In fact, I never put a saddle on him again. Sometimes Dan would accept me riding him without any problem. Other times he would jump and buck. But he never again ran away. After that first time, I was always ready for him with the bit pulled tight until I was firmly astride his back. One day I was riding Dan through town and he decided to give a show at Jellico’s main intersection. In those days U.S. 25W was the main north-south route from the Midwest to Florida. During the summer especially, the streets were always clogged with the cars of tourists from Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and even Canadian provinces. On this day, Dan waited until we were in the middle of the intersection under the traffic light and started bucking. I was used to it by then and knew how to wrap my legs under his forelegs to keep from falling off. When he finally tired of his game, he calmed down and we started up the street. To my surprise, a number of tourists who had gotten out of their cars to watch the show started applauding. I was embarrassed and rode away as quickly as I could make Dan go.

During my junior year in high school, I was a member of the Future Farmers of America. As such we had to have a project. Mine was to raise a bull calf. I bought the purebred white-faced Hereford for $10 from a farmer as soon as it was weaned. We put it in the barn and I took care of it for a year, buying its feed and seeing to its needs. Actually, it was a pretty easy project, and shortly before the end of the school year, Daddy and I loaded the calf, which was starting to get big and contrary as bulls tend to do, onto a trailer and took it to a stock auction in Knoxville where it brought me a little over $100. All in all, I made a profit of about $50 for my six months of work.

After the Kitchen Lumber Co. folded, Daddy got into raising bird dogs. My favorite was a pointer named Jake. We also had a feisty little English setter and various other dogs from time to time. But Jake was the mainstay. I recall on one hunting trip in the Elk Valley, Jake tore out to retrieve the downed birds after we had shot into a covey. But he didn’t come back. We searched high and low, calling out for him and whistling. No Jake. It was lunchtime so we sat down on some logs in a clearing to eat our sandwiches, wondering what had become of Jake. As we ate, we heard a slight stirring under one of the felled logs that was still resting on its stump. We eased over for a look. There was Jake, crouched down under the log in what had to be a very uncomfortable position, rigid in a point at a wounded but still living bob-white quail. Daddy picked up the bird and killed it, and Jake came out, happily wagging his tail. We had been within a few yards of him the whole time but he wouldn’t give up his point or betray his position no matter how much we called.

After the lumber company’s demise, Daddy still had thousands of acres of mountain land, particularly in the Laurel Branch area. He got the idea that cattle could range in the mountains and be almost self-sustaining. There was plenty for the cows to eat and abundant water. He would let a bull roam with them to produce a continuing supply of calves. We had a couple of left over draft horses from the logging operation, and I helped Mac plow a big field and plant corn. The cornfield was fenced, but the rest was open range.

The bull was a beautiful animal, a registered white-faced Hereford that Daddy had picked up in an exchange for some horses. Everything started off pretty smoothly. The cows didn’t roam too far and the bull did his duty by them when the time came. The problems started when we discovered that one of the cows was a “whore cow.” She was constantly coming into heat, but could not be impregnated. The poor bull was being worked to death trying to service her. He began to lose weight and Daddy became concerned. One day we went up to the mountain and found that the bull, undoubtedly starved after another round with the whore cow, had broken down the fence and gotten into the cornfield. The corn crop was decimated. Afterward, the bull took off down the mountain looking for water. We found him stuffed and exhausted about five miles away at the Clear Fork River.

Another adventure with the farm came one night during a storm. Daddy got worried about horses in their stable beside Laurel Branch. We drove out there in the middle of the night and found that the ranging creek had already washed out the bridges on the road leading to the stable. We took off up the mountain and along a high bluff over the creek. It was slippery going in the rain and mud, but we made it to the stable and rescued the animals, who were already standing in about two feet of water.

Next: The teen years

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