Friendship and the art of telling a good lie

Jaynell Graham
Another Pioneer Days is in the books. Many of the original displays and contests have fallen by the wayside over the years, but one particular contest was revived last week in a smaller, but still meaningful way.

Longtime friends Janice Via and Jake Ray were regular competitors in the Liars Contests of the early days of the festival.

Via, formerly of Stony Bottom, is now a resident at Pocahontas Center. When I delivered The Pocahontas Times to the center last Wednesday, Recreation Assistant Rachel Vance said Via wanted to tell me one of her Liars Contest stories, a story she had shared with the other residents a few days before.

I went to the center to meet with her on Thursday. No conversation about the Liars Contest is complete for Via without a few comments about her friendly rival, Jake Ray. 

There is always a story within a story, and so it is with this one.

First thing Friday morning, who should walk into The Pocahontas Times office but Jake Ray, who was visiting from Twin Falls, Idaho.
And that, dear readers, is no lie.

Ray’s eyes lit up at the mention of his friend, Janice.

Ray said he won first place in the Liars Contest three years in a row, by telling the truth. He laughed and said he came in second three years, because Via won by telling his stories.

But, when you’re dealing with Liars Contest winners, you just don’t know what to believe, but you can draw your own conclusions about their stories.

Via had several stories to tell.

“The one about the dog is the best,” she said. 

“There was a man named Roger who was a logger. He left home one morning to go see his girlfriend, and he found a great big dog tied to a tree. He took it to town and when he stopped at C. J. Richardson’s, he tied the dog to a parking meter.

“There was a man on the other side of the street, and he came up to Roger and asked him if that was his dog. Roger said he paid for the taxes, tags and food, so he guessed it was his dog. The man said ‘that dog’s in heat.’ Roger said it wasn’t in heat, because he tied it to the shady side of the truck. ‘No, I meant that dog wants bred.’ Roger said it can’t want bread. I just fed it ten pounds of dog food before I came to town, and I just live in Dunmore.

“Someone in Richardson’s said ‘Can I help you?’ and Roger said he just wanted a wash tub and he wanted it filled with water. So they got if for him.

“When he got ready to leave Roger laid his hand up on the back of the truck, and the dog got up on the truck as close as it could get to the cab.

“He started home with a whole line of dogs behind him. When he got to the Dunmore church people asked where he got all those dogs. And a man came up to him and said, ‘Here’s you a $200 reward. We don’t have a dog catcher, and we’ve been saving up a long time to get those dogs out of Marlinton.’

“So, Roger went home, tickled to have the money.”

Ray said he was walking down the street during one of the early Pioneer Days when WVMR was broadcasting from in front of First Citizens Bank.

He recalled that Norris Long yelled to him, and said, “come over here and tell us a lie.”

Ray says he doesn’t tell lies, but his story is pretty hard to believe.

The Hoop Snake

“You’ve heard old people talk about the hoop snake, how it puts its tail in its mouth and rolls and chases you.

“Well, up on Cheat Mountain in the 1930s, there was a Taylor boy from around Cass, and he worked on Cheat. While he was working, this hoop snake started chasing him, so he went into the outhouse. The snake missed the outhouse and hit a small sapling that was four or five inches around. That Taylor boy came out and went on about his work, but the poison from that snake went into the wood of that tree, and it started to swell. It swelled so much that it pushed the outhouse into the creek. That tree swelled for a week and got so large that it took a whole crew of men to cut it down.

“They had to call for help to get the log into the river to float it to the mill. They wanted Paul Bunyan to come help them. He lived in Minnesota, but he was sick, so he sent his two nephews, who were six feet tall sitting down. They brought Paul Bunyan’s ox, Babe, in on the train and it was so big it tore up the train tracks from the weight.

“Well, they got the log to the river, and when they took it out at the mill, the river went down nine feet.

“You can’t make something like that up,” Ray said.

“They sawed up the lumber, and since the Cass mill needed a boarding house, they used the lumber that came out of that tree. Then they sent to Ohio to get a special painting crew to paint the boarding house. The paint they used was special, and it killed the poison that was in the wood and the house shrunk every day, and got so small that they couldn’t get a baby carriage in it.

“They had also built a wood shed and filled it with wood, but after they painted it, it started to shrink, too, and they couldn’t get the wood out.”

“Woodrow Sharp, Pat Elvie and Lester Hevener, were three hardworking, honest men, and they are the ones that told me that story,” Ray said. “They’ve passed away now, so they can’t verify it, but I know they would never tell a lie.”

One thing Via and Ray don’t lie about is their friendship.

Ray came back to the Times office Friday afternoon and said, “If this is a contest, I want Janice to win.”

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