"A letter to my grandchildren about my life in the mountains." - Loura Bradshaw

  • LOURA BRADSHAD in the blue stripe dress shown here with her husband and their family.

What follows is a letter written by Loura Bradshaw. She left this story as a testimonial to mountain life in the Smokies. Taking more than a year to write her story, she wanted her grandchildren to know and understand the life she and her husband carved out in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains. One of her step grandchildren was my husband Larry Waters. His stepfather, Dale Bradshaw is the little boy shown on the front left.

January 15, 1978:

"A letter to my grandchildren about my life in the mountains.

This is a cold and snowy night, Sunday January 15th, 1978. I married Homer Bradshaw 65 years ago today. It sure wasn't cold and snowy, like it is today. Much water has poured over the bridge since then. I wasn't promised a bed of roses and I was so much in love I couldn't see anything but roses. I couldn't live that way long and pretty soon I could see that work had to be the main bed of roses. 

Homer worked away from home on Little River, or taught school, both for low wages. 

I pieced quilts, quilted, sewed what few clothes I had, mended and made my own curtains by hand. I didn't have a machine.

I made a garden, canned and died fruits and vegetables. Sulphured apples and also put apples up in 10-20 gallon stone jars with Salicylic acid. I holed up potatoes, beets, cabbage and turnips in the ground to have for winter. I made hominy from corn, shelled it and cooked it first with lye in a big iron wash kettle outside. Then I washed and cooked it in clean water until the skins and eyes came off and washed it again until clean. To preserve it, I used clean cans or gallon stone jars.

A tasty dish was to fry pork meat until done and take out the meat leaving the fat and adding hominy with salt to taste. Stir and cook until it is ready to put on the table.

We raised lots of peas in corn fields. When fall of the year came, they got dry and ripe. We picked and put them in a dry place until we could shell them or beat them out on a sheet or something to clean off the hulls. This was the money crop to help buy winter shoes and clothes and sometimes blankets.

Homer's father was a country doctor. Dr. Bradshaw went day and night in all kinds of weather to administer to sick people. He knew at times he wouldn't get anything out of it, but said it's not right to let the family suffer if he could help it. Many times he walked for miles at night carrying a lantern (no flash lights in that day) and no horse part of the time. When he died of pneumonia, Homer had to take over and try to collect his debts people owed him but didn't get but a little.

We had to keep cows to have milk and butter. We had to make feed for the cows and it was extra work feeding, milking and churning. No refrigerators or freezers but we managed to take care of the milk and butter the best we could. Many mountain people had spring houses for keeping and preserving food.

We were raising a family at the same time. Lots of extra work and more mouths to feed. After having babies, I wasn't as strong as I once was but had to add more hard work. I worked in the field cutting weeds, hoeing corn, pulling fodder, gathering corn, picking peas and beans. 

When the green beans were picked, I took a big needle with strong thread and strung the beans. Then I hung them up to dry. Some called them dried beans, fodder beans or shab beans. When cooked with a piece of pork or side meat and salted they made pretty good eatin'.

Another thing that we raised were pumpkins and cushaw squash in the fields with corn. When pumpkins were yellow and ready to bring in we cut and dried them in long rings around. In winter we cooked them with pork just like beans. 

Homer was working at Little River Logging company. They were letting people move in where they were logging providing little portable houses that could be moved on the tracks. It was located 8 miles above Elkmont. We moved out there and Little River company put three rooms together for us and Homer built a small kitchen out back. Several families were there also living in the portable houses.

David Martin was the store manager. He asked Homer, who was logging at the time, to help him in the store as more people were moving in and he needed help. This was easier work for Homer and inside when the weather was so bad.

I had bought a sewing machine before we moved. To raise the money, I sold chickens and a cow. When I had the machine, I sewed for people who couldn't sew or didn't have a machine. Some would come help me wash if I made them a dress. We then had 2 boys and 4 girls. I crocheted, embroidered, done drawing work, anything I could make and get a little pay for.

When the logging was about played out, people went to moving out. The company had another prong of river to log at Elkmont. We moved there and stayed with Homer again working in the store. When they got railroad built to Walker's Valley, they moved us on the train there. They again built little portables to move on the train. We moved on up the river as they built railroads. We moved to a place called Tremont. A store was built and later a Hotel, a big shop, a school house and about 30 or 40 stationary houses. Some houses had 3 and some 4 rooms. The hotel had 20 rooms I think. We then moved into a 3 room house across the river and later a 4 bedroom house. It had a swinging bridge in front of the house to go across the river to the railroad. The railroad was the only way to travel with no roads except the railroad. 

At our 4 bedroom house, we cleared and made garden spaces, where it was level enough to plan corn and beans. We raised lots of beans, corn and tomatoes for sale. Lots of folks wouldn't work to make a garden, or lived where there were no level land to make one or was too steep to clear. I sold green beans at .10 cents a gallon, bushels of sound and ripe tomatoes were $1. Corn was .25 cents a dozen. Lots of times I gave away more than I sold. We picked blackberries, huckleberries and wild strawberries. Had to watch out for snakes, Rattlers were numerous. We kept two milk cows, and sold extra milk and butter. When people couldn't buy it, but needed it, we gave it away.

Now it's Saturday, January 20, 1979, over a year since I started this. Today is cloudy and cold, wind, and some drizzling rain. Lots of water over the dam"