The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Gray Mare Causes Religious Conversion

By Clayton Davis © 1992

Issue: July-August-September, 1992

Men see the light when seriously moved emotionally. Even the simplest things may change their minds. An old gray mare, blind as a bat and wearing a cow bell, caused a man's vile soul to sweeten in the years right after the Civil War.

It was a sultry, August day in the southeast corner of Tennessee. Two brothers were digging a well on the slope of Frog Mountain. Their modest home was within walking distance of Ducktown. This village of less than a thousand people lay alongside the Louisville Nashville railroad, thirty miles southeast of Cleveland, Tennessee.

All of Polk County benefited from copper smelting, therefore these men were no strangers to picks and shovels. One stayed in the well. The other pulled up dirt in the bucket.

A job like this would take more than a few days, sometimes a few weeks. Their routine was well established. One was a pious man, the other given to vile utterances, a man with firm opinions.

There was an old gray mare living on the place. She had enjoyed a good life, first as a plough-horse, then as a pet for the children. By common agreement, she was to be tethered a safe distance away from any activity where she posed a threat to herself or to others.

Affixed with a loud cow bell, you could always know where she grazed or was tethered. Whenever it was his turn in the hole, the vile man strongly insisted on inspecting the knot securing the poor beast before he climbed down.

On the day his nature changed, it was his turn in the hole. They were accustomed to bringing each other lunch, lowering it in the bucket to whomever was in the hole. The other man went inside to eat with the family.

Careful not to disturb the old gray mare, the pious man gently removed the cow bell. Asked what he was about to do with it and why he did not come in the house to eat, he said they should watch and listen, but be quiet about it.

From listening to the mare and watching her movements, one could duplicate exactly how she would sound to someone sleeping at the bottom of a well-shaft. After eating, the one in the hole would doze, taking for himself a sweet time of meditation.

Softly at first, then growing suspiciously louder, pawing, snuffling, and soft snorting crept ever closer to the freshly dug hole in the ground. He was sure it was a dream. Then suddenly he sat bolt upright.

No. Oh, Lord. No. Calling for his brother, sure he was still in the house eating, no way to tell how much time had passed, the brother in the bottom of the unfinished well dropped to his knees.

All the family gathered atop the shaft, keeping back and stifling laughter. Snort, snuffle, clank, clang, continued the sounds. Louder prayed the brother in the hole. Finally as a last desperate act of contrition, he prayed: Father, save me, I ask in the Name of Jesus.

He stopped to listen. The bell's sounds were receding, going farther away. Finally, there was silence. He could only hear the beating of his heart. He took a chance and yelled for his brother.

After helping him out of the hole, noting that he was white as a sheet, the brother asked what had happened during lunch. Vowing never to say a vile thing about anyone, ever again, the victim of this prank hugged his brother.

My grandfather swore this tale was true. He was a very pious man who loved the Lord, but would never confess which brother he was.