The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Lewis Mountain Feast

By John W. Stoneberger © 1988

Issue: May, 1988

John Scot Roach around 1900 when he owned Lewis Mountain.John Scot Roach around 1900 when he owned Lewis Mountain.My mother Elizabeth, daughter of John Scot and Cora Virginia Roach, was like a flower. Just being in her presence was a joy. She had wisdom and understanding, the gift of holding one's attention when speaking. She found great joy in entertaining with encouraging tales of human goodness.

Often she has told me of the yearly event that took place at her home on Lewis Mountain [Virginia] as she was growing up called the Mutton Feast. I remember no story she enjoyed more than this one.

As you may know; the American Indians had tribes with those who were the strongest in body, soul and spirit being chief. The mountain people had clans, and just by mutual agreement they operated somewhat the same way in order to survive.

This type of government worked well where love brought harmony, harmony brought unity, unity brought power, and everyone was caught up in the benefits.

I am sure Mama felt a touch of dignity because her parents were the heads of the Lewis Mountain clan, and their accomplishments were well worth mentioning as very progressive for mountain people in the highest elevation of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the early 1900's.

John Scot Roach hauled bark with a four mule team to the tannery at Elkton, Virginia. Two loads per week for twenty years; the tannery being the largest industry in the Shenandoah Valley at that time.

The spring of the year when the sap in the Chestnut Oak tree began to rise, the bark peeling season would begin. About sixty men would work cutting the trees, and taking the bark off with a speed bar for about six weeks to produce enough bark to haul two loads per week the full year.

John Scot Roach, by means of selling bark to the tannery, brought the payroll to the Lewis mountain men.

Mr. J. L. Armentrout who owned the Shenandole Tourist Home and a large river bottom farm on the river road between Elkton and Shenandoah paid Mr. Roach 50 cents per head a month, to pasture 150 head of cattle on the Lewis Mountain grass land during the grazing season.

This cash income was a great help for Mama's family who provided for a school and Mission built onto their home, and paid one man's wages to work on the roads year around, to make water breaks, and fill in the flash flood wash outs.

All of the Lewis Mountain roads were private, rough, steep, in need of much construction, and there were no public roads until the construction of the Skyline Drive.

As Grandpa looked over a year of progress there was much to be thankful for, so at the end of bark peeling season and summer on its way, it was time for the mountain community to gather at the John Scot Roach's Lewis Mountain farm for a Mutton Feast and a full day of rest, and fellowship.

A full grown sheep had been selected months before, and was stall fed to prime condition on grain, hay and good cold spring water.

Early morning of the Feast day the animal was butchered and put in a large cast iron kettle and cooked good and tender for the noon meal. Other things were prepared like fresh cabbage cole slaw in three gallon dish pans along with baked food.

Some people consider mountain people poor by some standards. It is true they had little money, but don't forget the great natural resources of the bountiful mountains. John Scot Roach was one who understood these things and could feed 200 people a delightful meal in one day with no strain, and considered it a great pleasure.

Cora Virginia Roach, his wife (we called Grannie), was well accustomed to feeding a large number. I remember her springhouse where large amounts of cold food were stored.

In the spring of the year when her milk cows were in a heavy flow of milk she would churn lots of butter, put it in pound size blocks with her printer, and store it in five or ten gallon stone crocks in the cool spring house. When the need would arise to use large amounts, she would rinse off the salt with cold water, and it would be fresh and delicious. Corn hominy, sauerkraut, and salt fish were stored in the springhouse.

She lived to see how much she could help or give. The mountain people showed her much gratitude and one professional minister left in print that the food she served in dish pans was more delicious than some he had eaten in silver in rich estates where there was mistrust.

Food was one of the things that helped make Feast day a great day of enjoyment along with many other things. Young mothers and fathers showed off new babies, children searched for old friends and made new friends. There was the excitement of new romance, or marriages. Older men and women formed their circles of interest. Many games were played and always wrestling.

After the food, games, talking, contests, singing and wrestling there would be a story or tale told by the chief of the clan. All would listen and John Scot Roach once told this one.

He said, "I had a musket rifle and a good pack of dogs and was hunting near Lost River, West Virginia.

The dogs had put a huge buck deer on the run. After several shots he had wounded the animal bad, and the deer went down to a little basin and refused to run. Here the deer decided to fight the dogs with hoof and horn."

He said, "The musket was a great rifle. It would shoot hard and hit almost anything except what you would aim at. With the dogs all around the deer I was afraid to shoot at the deer for fear of missing the deer and hitting a dog.

I decided to sit the rifle against a tree, and take my large, very sharp hunting knife and go in to finish off the badly wounded deer, and make the kill."

He said, "As I went in and grabbed the deer by the large horns, the deer seemed to have unbelievable strength to throw me in many directions, but after many tries and almost exhausted I finally made the kill.

Then it dawned on me what a foolish, dangerous thing I had done to try to kill such a large deer in this fashion!

With sweat dripping off of my face, I walked a few steps to surmise the situation. I was talking to myself and I said, 'Oh yeah, old fellow! I can see this is your old fighting ground! I can see that old snag on the tree about ten feet off the ground hangs an old pair of faded, patched up overalls and you have killed a man here some time ago'!"

He said, "I reached for my hip pocket to get my big red handkerchief to wipe the sweat from my face, and could you believe it? I had no pants on, and those were my pants hanging on the snag that I had lost while fighting that deer?"

After much laughter, Mr. Roach would ask Reverend Frank Persons the Episcopal Minister to come forward who would offer, "Prayer, Praise and Benediction for the day, reminding all to keep love in your hearts, to support both the school and Mission with attendance and look forward to another Mutton Feast next year!"