100 Years Ago

But I have also the fancy that there is something in this particular locality which makes for long years in man and woman – that a business-racked, nerve-worn world will discover it – and come here to borrow, from the dark of the future, a few years more of life.

Hon. Victor Murdock in the Wichita Eagle

January 4, 1912

The other day at Marlinton, West Virginia, I found the fountain that Ponce de Leon missed – the fountain of youth. Or at least so it seemed to me.

I had come dodging down among the hills from Grafton on a day train. My seat mate and I struck up on politics – and in some narrative I caught his name – Sturm.

On a hazard I said, “Did you ever hear of Tyler Sturm?”

My seat mate said, “I know him. He is a relative. He lives in Sumner county, Kansas.”

Which proves that the world is just as small a place as it appears in many of the universe.

I changed cars at Elkins, and my acquaintance took me to the end of the platform to show me the big houses of the Davis family and of the Elkins family and a third one – that of Richard Kerns’ of St. Louis – all perched in a row on the hill. Then I took another train, changed cars once more and finally reached Marlinton, a little city nestling in a perfect circle of mountains…

Before I left Marlinton, Calvin Price, the editor there, gave me a book – a history of Pocahontas county, written by his father.

I have read it, and I am convinced that there is no section of the United States which can equal in longevity records of this particular spot in West Virginia. The book attempts neither to prove nor assert even anything of the kind. It is innocent of anything of the kind.
It is a story of a community going on two hundred years old – with the inclusion of a lot of biographies of local folks – and it was in these biographies that I found that virtually every one here lasted beyond the eighty-year mark.

Here are some of the names famous in local history and the ages to date of death:

Joseph Mayse, 89 years; Ellis Hughes, 90 years; Andrew Washington Moore, 83 years; Adam Arbogast, 100 years; John McNeel, 80 years; Martha Davis, 88 years; Susanna Kinnison, 83 years; Polly Edmiston, 87 years; James Gilliland, 95 years; John Barlow, 85 years; Martha Wardell Barlow, 82 years; Diana Saunders 103 years; Andrew Sharp 97 years; Elizabeth McLaughlin, 91 years; Mrs. Jacob Warwick, 80 years, Mrs. Joseph Varner, 114 years; Mrs. Henry Harper, 86 years; Elijah Hudson, 80 years; John Gay, 85 years; Margaret Poage, 98 years; Rebecca Auldridge, 90 years; Ruth McCullum, 79 years; and “Mad Ann,” 105 years.

Now, this is not a selected list to prove the case. I took the names at random from the biographies. If anyone should read this who comes from Marlinton, the family names will prove familiar.

For Marlinton is unusual in this – the family names of the locality today are those of the locality a hundred years ago. The families have stayed. And they have kept records, and what is more, family traditions.

The battle of Point Pleasant – with the Shawnees back of the revolution – is familiar to the children. Here is a boy whose great-great-great-grandmother – a Clendennin – had the bloody scalp of her husband slapped in her face a hundred and fifty years ago. How we forget those things when we crowd and scatter into the West.

Here is the mild-eyed daughter of hers – a Drinnan, who dug the grave for her slain baby with her fingers.

Here is the descendant who knows how his ancestor, captured by the Indians, ran the gauntlet of torturing squaws – how he grabbed a frying pan and whacked a squaw over the pate, won applause from the Indians and life – everything is here – it happened yesterday, and is yesterday’s memory.

In the wars of 1776 and 1812, this section and these families had part – and in the war between the States, here the waters turned wine with the conflict.

Just this fragment: Henry Arbogast, the local Methodist preacher, was a sympathizer with the Union cause. When last seen alive, he and his neighbor, Eli Buzzard, were in charge of a squad of persons claiming to be Confederate scouts. A few days afterward these two civilians were found dead near the roadside, about halfway from their homes, toward Frost, a nearby point. The historian says: “From the attitude in which the body was found, it is inferred that he died in the act of prayer.”

And at Marlinton, they remember, too, the tender things – the sentimentalities of long ago.

Listen: William Sharp married Elizabeth Wardell. Here is the historian’s record of the courtship:

“Sharp first saw the young person he married at Thomas Drinnon’s where she spent a week or two spinning flax. While she was there a preacher happened to come along. Mr. Drinnon drummed up a congregation, and among those present was a young and bashful youth with a new coonskin cap that he seemed to set a great deal of store by.

Miss Wardell seemed to think it was very funny, and when she went home, she made some remark about the ugly, funny looking young man she had seen at the meeting. The mother remonstrated and said, ‘Oh, Betsy, don’t talk so; that young chap will be to see you the first thing you know.’ Sure enough, he did slip in and found Betsy not exactly robed and ready, either. She had just finished and hung out a wash, and by way of restful change was performing on her spinning wheel, in short petticoat, chamise and bare-footed. Having shown him a chair, she resumed her performance at the wheel, and as he meant business, and time was precious, matters were pretty well arranged by midnight.”

Today, Marlinton is a modern little city with modern ways, attitude and views. Only its family names and its traditions are old. The railroad came in ten or twelve years ago, and I have a fancy that with the addition of steel rails to the broth, that the family names in a little while, comparatively, will disappear, and the traditions will fade. But I have also the fancy that there is something in this particular locality which makes for long years in man and woman – that a business-racked, nerve-worn world will discover it – and come here to borrow, from the dark of the future, a few years more of life.

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