Thursday, November 29, 1895
FIFTY men in these United States have it in their power, by reason of the wealth which they control, to come together within twenty-four hours and arrive at an understanding by which every wheel of trade and commerce may be stopped from revolving, every avenue of trade blocked and every electric key struck dumb. Those fifty men can paralyze the whole country, for they can control the circulation of the currency, and create a panic wherever they will. ~ Chauncey M. Depew
The Hammonds of Bug Run
Along in the sixties, old Jess Hammond came to the three forks of Williams River from Kentucky, seeking a secluded spot. He had just been married and the war held no inducements for him. He reached Williams River where he rested undisturbed until the late railroad developments brought him in contact with others of his kind.
Here he raised a large family of sons and daughters in a very primitive style. They are interesting people to know. As wiry and hardy as the bears which they pursue, with good keen sense hid under a drawling brogue they use.
And what they don’t know about the woods would be hard indeed to find out. The old man and all his boys have that faculty of reading the signs of the forest that James Fenimore Cooper (who could follow the wolf by the cobwebs it had broken in its path) writes of. They have their keen eyes cultivated to the extent that they never pass a living animal without distinguishing it. This is a great faculty, for with the majority of mankind, a bird or beast that remains at rest is apt to be undiscovered, greatly to its advantage, for game once startled cannot be easily shot. The Hammonds have good eyes, which they thank heaven they have never injured by reading.
Their marksmanship is something truly remarkable. They use Winchester rifles, and Pete Hammond has a Winchester, made to order that is a long as any mountain rifle…
Neal Hammond says he has never had any use for a mountain rifle since he “busted a cap” at an old he-bear at about twenty-five yards, and him a feeding. It is no uncommon thing for them to kill a wild turkey on wing with their rifles.
On one occasion to the writer’s knowledge, Pete Hammond ran a half-mile at the top of his speed to get to a “low place” to which a deer was running. His nerve was good enough to kill the deer the first shot at a distance of seventy yards. A few days after, Neal Hammond shot a deer in the head that was running directly from him. With both eyes open, they take aim in an instant and what they aim to kill, they kill.
The revenue they derive from their hunting must be considerable. The boys kill perhaps an average of twenty deer each a year and several bear. The skins of other animals bring them in a good deal of money. An occasional otter or black fox skin, worth from $8 to $10, is a prize which they often secure.
On the contrary, they will work for a day or two or all night to get a miserable coon out of a mountain pine. On one occasion they spent the greater part of a night after one. They cut down three pine trees, all monsters, and each time the coon escaped, and finally they abandoned him in the biggest tree in that part of the state.
The woods lore that these men know would make a better “Jungle Book” than Kipling ever wrote, and it is a pity that the knowledge of nature which they have acquired cannot be preserved. The ways of the animals that roam the woods are known to them, and he who appreciates the immensity of this kind of knowledge will know that we have been speaking of no common men.