The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Down The Country In A Covered Wagon

By Lois S. Poff © 1985

Issue: October, 1985

Had I known the dangers along the way, I might not have begged to go with my father, P.E. Sweeney, when he was hauling pigs from Floyd to Martinsville, Virginia in 1921 when I was seven years old. When we started down Shooting Creek he stopped the wagon and told me to get out and walk behind the wagon for the horses might run away going down the mountain. Back there alone in the big forest I thought of bears and panthers. Then when I saw the hind wheels just sliding along and heard my father hollering, "Whoa, whoa," to the horses, I was glad I wasn't in there. It looked like the wagon might run over the horses and they were having a time holding it back.

Later on that day we saw a man out in his yard and my father stopped, handed me the lines and said he wanted to talk to that man. After he got out, the horses just started on with the wagon. I didn't try to stop them for I knew I couldn't. I didn't scream or holler for I was afraid they would run away. They soon stopped and one of them started eating growing corn in an unfenced field by the side of the road. The other horse wanted some corn too, but he couldn't reach it, so he began pushing the other horse around to get to the corn. The more he pushed and pulled the more I thought the wagon was going to turn over. Soon my father came, scolded the horses and we went on.

When we approached a train track, my father stopped, said he could hear a train coming and for me to get out and stand behind the wagon for the horses might run away. The horses didn't act up, they just stood and watched that freight train snake by. They had seen them before, but I hadn't.

After all the food in the mess box was gone, my father stopped the horses at a high porch at a country store, handed the lines to me and went in to buy food. All the children in the store came out on the porch and stood and looked at me. I was so embarrassed sitting in the wagon holding those big horses, or trying to.

The first night we camped out and I went to sleep on the hay in the wagon, listening to the oink, oinking of the pigs. The next night I stayed with my Aunt Eliza Yates at Fieldale while my father went on to Martinsville to sell the pigs. He stopped by and got me the next afternoon and on account of robbers, we drove on after dark until we came to Mr. Jim Meadors store. He heard my father unharnessing the horses and tending to them and came to the door and told us to come in and sleep. We took our bedding in and slept on the floor in his store. The next morning Mr. Meador cooked breakfast for us.

When we started up the mountain the last day, my father stopped, handed me the lines and said he was going to walk to make it easier on the horses. Along the curvy road he was out of sight at times and I figured if the horses didn't run away they would step over the mountain. About the time I decided the horses knew how to go on alone, I saw a man riding a horse down the mountain. All four ears shot up and both horses nickered at the same time and I thought they were starting to run away. About that time I saw my father was holding the horse in the lead by the bridle and they never nickered another time. He had a way with horses.

I was glad to get home that afternoon and even though the trip was frightening at times, I had a wonderful time. The wagon went slow enough for me to enjoy the beautiful scenery and I was always glad I got to go on a big wagon trip down the country.