The authors make no pretense in presenting "Rimfire" as any great contribution to literature.
It is felt, however, that the story of this humble man of the hills is a bit of West Virginia worth preserving.
The research on the career of "Rimfire" is based on interviews from many who knew him in his lifetime. The summary of his writings done in his own hand, and which he had hoped someday might be printed, are through this little book being preserved in permanent form.
With this thought in mind we dedicate "Rimfire" to all who love the great outdoors as this typical mountaineer so truly did.
HARRY P. STURM
HEISTER G. RHAWN
Hearken, ye Mountaineers, to the story of "Rimfire."
For this is the saga of a true man of the hills. his name was Eli (Rimfire) Hamrick. His life was memorable and good.
He was born in Webster County, West Virginia, on March 28, 1868. After a full life of 77 years and three days he died in his native county on April 1, 1945.
In that span of years "Rimfire" came to be an almost legendary figure. His looks and actions, his love for the mountain ways, and his devotion to the wild-life he came to know so well, contributed to the life that made him admired, as an humble son of the hills. As we study his career there are some questions which we must ponder.
Who was "Rimfire," said by the late John W. Davis, 1924 presidential candidate, to have had a face as sad as Lincoln's? Was the six-foot three-inch mountaineer, who was hailed as the man who posed for the statues of The Mountaineer both in Charleston on the capitol grounds and also in Washington, really a true son of the hills and worthy of honor and fame?
Was he an expert in woodlore, a tenderhearted man who loved wild flowers and animals?
What of his campaign for state senate in 1932 with the slogan, "You put him at the capitol in bronze, now put him there in person"?
What of the quaint language and sayings of this man "Rimfire"? Are they true or have they been placed around his name by old admirers?
Questions might go on and on. But there exists today a veritable mine of material written about "Rimfire" or living in the memories of old-timers who knew him.
The Hamricks are descended from a pre-Revolutionary ancestor who is recorded to have come from Ireland to dwell in the Maryland colony. His name was Patrick and he is known to have had 12 sons. Two of these, Benjamin and Joel, are said to have come to the Williams River area in what is now Webster County, which was carved out of Nicholas, Randolph and Braxton in 1860.
Benjamin had four sons, William, Benjamin Jr., David and Peter. It is certain that from these four sons came 17 grandsons.
These 17 men are the ancestors of the numerous Hamricks, Hamrics and Hambricks, who not only populate Webster, but other West Virginia counties with others scattered to every state west of the Alleghenies. "Rimfire" is said to have claimed several times during his lifetime that he had 4,000 relatives in and about Webster County.
Family records do not disclose just which of the descendants of Patrick was the direct ancestor of "Rimfire." But it is known, through data provided by Levi Gregory, of Bergoo, a nephew of "Rimfire," that the father of our typical mountaineer was Benjamin Hamrick, who was born May 11, 1834. His wife was Naomi Mollohan, of Braxton County, and they resided at Leatherwood, now Bergoo, where Benjamin had a small store, farmed and raised livestock. They moved to Webster Springs where Benjamin Hamrick resided until his death in 1906.
Like his ancestor Patrick, Benjamin was a man of large family. There were 14 around the family board, nine lanky, hungry boys and five calico-frocked girls. The sons were: Arnold, Adam, Isaac, William ( Bearskin Bill ), Felix, Eli (Rimfire), Ellis, Simpson and George.
Diana and Harmon Gregory were the parents of ten children. Their son, Levi, now lives at Bergoo and proved of valuable assistance in collecting data on the Hamrick family.
William Christian Dodrill, who taught school at Webster Springs (1912-1915), wrote a book "Moccasin Tracks" which contains early history of the Hamricks and other families.
"Rimfire's" sister, Diana and Harmon (Gregory are the ancestors of a large part of the Hamrick clan. Their children were: Virgie, Alice, Ada, Lonnie, Della and Levi, Orlando, Freeman, Noah, and Elbon. All, except Levi are deceased. This son of "Rim's" sister has intimate recollections of his mountaineer uncles and remembers when "Uncle Eli and Uncle Ellis" went to Charleston to pose for the Mountaineer statue.
State records show that the statue of The Mountaineer was unveiled Dec. 10, 1912; the sculptor was Henry K. Bush-Brown, of New York and Washington. Col. Seymour Edwards gave the statue to the people of West Virginia.
Director of the department of Archives and History, James L. Hupp, says that "the model was Eli (Rimfire) Hamrick of Webster County, or Ellis R.," a brother of "Rimfire." Family records of the Hamricks reveal that Ellis did help Eli in posing for the bronze figure and that their mother made a special "wamus" or coat with fringe, like those worn by pioneers, in which they posed.
The passing years have revealed that "Rimfire" was not alone the "typical mountaineer," but should share that honor with his brother, Ellis. It was James W. Wooddell, then employer of "Rim" who pointed him out to sculptor Bush-Brown as the West Virginian best-suited to model the Mountaineer statues for Charleston and Washington.
Young Hamrick finished only the sixth grade of country school, then assisted his father on the farm and in the store at Leatherwood.
Records say "Rim" said many times he was never out of the mountains until he was 19. About 1910 he opened a jewelry, watch repair and gunsmith shop at Webster Springs. Old timers recall it as "more of a watch trading place.
At other times he was a game protector, a lookout tower keeper, fire warden and handyman. Rather like Rip Van Winkle, "Rimfire" liked best to sit on a rock by the side of a stream or roam the hills in search of game.
Webster Springs was in its heyday back in 1913. State bribery trials filled the town and the stately hotel with guests. There were nightly dances. George Garrison, a Clarksburg musician recalls the presence of John T. McGraw, U. S. Senator and later national Democratic committeeman. James Wooddell, who later ran the Waldo Hotel in Clarksburg for the Goff estate, was manager of the Springs hotel. "Rimfire" was the handyman and met every train on the narrow gauge railroad, which ran from Holly Junction to the Springs.
In 1913 Hamrick was employed as a yard man around the big Webster Springs Hotel, where Wooddell was then the manager, for the ]ate John T. McGraw, a Democratic national committeeman and vigorous political figure of the day. It was part of Hamrick's job to prepare chickens for the hotel.
Wooddell is said to have asked him one day, "Hamrick, how do you kill those chickens?"
Levi Gregory recalls that Hamrick answered:
"With a Rimfire rifle, by God." Thereafter he was "Rimfire" to the hotel man and gradually to people in all parts of the state who came to know him or to hear of his exploits.
Another of the Hamrick brothers also bore a picturesque name. He was William G. (Bearskin Bill) Hamrick and there's a humorous quirk to the way he won his moniker. It seems that a rambunctious razor-back hog had the habit of breaking the pen and invading Bill's corn-patch. Bill dressed himself up in a freshly killed bearskin, laid in wait in the cornfield for the razorback, made a surprise leap for the pilfering porker. He so scared the hog that he didn't stop running until he reached the mouth of Leatherwood Creek quite a few miles from Red Oak Knob where Bill Hamrick lived.
When Rimfire died he was survived only by two brothers, Felix, of Rodney, O., the Rev. Simpson Hamrick, of Salem, Ohio, and a sister, Mrs. Cameron Beale, of Elkins. "Bearskin Bill" died in January, 1944 at Webster Springs.
In life "Rimfire" was often on the front pages of the central state newspapers. Likewise in death he received the special attention given to noted figures. The Webster Republican of April 4, 1945 told of the demise of the "Typical Mountaineer" and under a three column headline retold much of Hamrick's life story.
The newspaper relates that Hamrick was buried in the Hamrick cemetery at Webster Springs and there is today a simple marker over his grave. Prominent citizens of the central state area were among the honorary pallbearers for this simple son of the mountains.
L. E. Davis, L. D. Smith, Dr. J. M. Cofer, Atty. L. L. Dyer, Dr. J. B. Dodrill, Judge Jake Fisher, Ray W. Garvin, Dr. Herbert H. Haynes, Ellsworth F. Curtin, James W. Wooddell, Dr. S. P. Allen, Cherry Woodzell, George Curtin, F. K. Day, Atty. John R. Dyer, Atty. John M. Hoover, A. L. Gregory, Ward Huffman and W. H. McCutcheon, all of whom had either hunted and fished with "Rimfire" or helped and advised him were at his humble bier. L. L. Dyer that day spoke an eulogy for "Rim."
Attorney Dyer, in the funeral oration extolled the deceased man's good points as love and devotion for his fellow man, respect and honor for his father and mother, and his great love for Nature, wild life and flowers. Mr. Dyer recalled that "Rimfire" had once told him that during a winter spent in Florida, there were no flowers at the place he lived, so he planted a garden which delighted the Floridians.
Another acquaintance says that during the Florida adventure 'Rimfire" felt that $5 a week was too much to pay for lodging, so he rented a tent and camped out and practically lived by selling fish he caught in the semi-tropic waters of the Sunshine State.
Lonesome for the hills, he came home. The tale goes that he took a wrong bus, landed in Chicago and finally reached Clarksburg. The late Charles B. Johnson, attorney, found him wandering quite aimlessly along the street, seemingly lost. Finally, "Rimfire" spotted a Tamarack tree, of the larch family, on the lawn where the T. Moore Jackson mansion stood.
He said to Johnson, "I've seen that tree before."
Thus, Johnson felt, the mountain man was trying to orient himself by the memory of a tree. Anyway, the lawyer friend escorted "Rim" back to the Waldo Hotel, put him in the care of Landlord Wooddell who saw to it that he was returned safely to his Webster County hills.
In all that has been written and said of Eli Hamrick it appears clear that he was a gentle man, although unschooled in books. Some of the pieces he wrote while a patient in a Clarksburg hospital are rich in tenderness and expressed love for animals and the outdoors. (See p. 33.)
Designated as the Journal of Rimfire, some of these writings are printed in another part of this volume. Harry P. Sturm, of Clarksburg, carefully read Hamrick's words and selected the excerpts.
Dr. C. Frederick Fisher, retired Clarksburg physician, recalls having "Rimfire" as a patient during the time the lanky mountaineer was hospitalized at St. Mary's Hospital in Clarksburg. Also in attendance on the Webster Countian was the late Herbert H. Haynes, who many times had been a fishing and hunting companion of Rimfire. Not rich in worldly goods, Rimfire had as his physicians two of the ablest Clarksburg medical men.
Dr. Fisher saw the injured hunter when he was admitted in the hospital and he recalls that the injured leg had been "set" by use of homemade splints made from the bark of a small tree. Hamrick suffered the fracture while in the forest and, according to Dr. Fisher, crawled out of the woods alone to summon help.
Dr. Fisher practiced medicine while a young man in the backwoods area of Webster and Nicholas counties and has a rich fund of stories concerning the sturdy mountain men and men he treated. Later in his career Dr. Fisher came in Clarksburg and it was in that period that he and the late Dr. Haynes had the famous Rimfire as a patient.
It was July 17, 1920 when the sentimentality in "Rimfire" came to the top with full force. On that day, when he was 52, he took as his bride a pretty, red-haired mountain girl, Zella J. Cogar. They resided at Leatherwood and during the days of their honeymoon came often to Webster Springs, strolled on the streets holding hands. Zella, too, loved the outdoors. She fished and hunted with "Rim" and helped him entertain his cronies who came from town to enjoy woodland pastimes. No heir blessed the union.
One of the anecdotes told of the son of the woodlands dates from about this period, when he and Zella kept the fire tower on Turkey Creek. It is said that he printed a sign and put it at the road leading to the tower:
"Three miles to Turkey Creek Fire Tower. Take the left hand fork. If you can't read this, come on up anyway.'
Those who knew "Rimfire" mention his quaint language. When he spoke of measurements, for instance, he had the vernacular of farm and mountain, saying to indicate length: "Three handholts and a pigeon roost."
Another story says that he once spoke to visitors who came from New York to the Springs with: "How do you stand it to live so far away?"
In the longhand writing which he has left, he uses the old English final "e" on such words as "sweete" and "speede", which gives his prose something of a Chaucerian air.
When in his early 40s "Rimfire" was employed by James W. Wooddell, manager of the once famous Webster Springs hotel, as a yardman. In the spring of 1913 things were extra brilliant at the resort hotel. Senator Johnson Cameron, of Parkersburg, had built the frame structure in 1897 and all facilities for salt-sulphur rubdowns in the chemical waters which flowed in abundance.
In 1922, Atty. John M. Hoover and others bought the popular spa. On June 20, 1925, fire started in the attic and with flames that lighted up all the Elk Valley completely consumed the resort. The site was later used for a mine-camp development.
In 1932 "Rimfire" took his first and only venture into politics. Backers thought they had a winner in the typical mountaineer, who had won fame as model for a bronze statue at the state capitol. A publicity man-possibly the late Wade Pepper of the Clarksburg Exponent-concocted a slogan about Hamrick being in bronze at the capitol and urging "now send him there in person."
No one opposed "Rim" in the primary and he polled 3,133 votes on the Republican ticket. Came the general election in that 10th senatorial district comprising Braxton, Calhoun, Gilmer, Pocahontas and Webster and Albert G. Mathews, of Calhoun, defeated the tall, little-schooled Websterite by 19,442 to 11,086, which albeit was a pretty good race in what was a heavy Democratic year. Mathews went on to become State Compensation Commissioner, appointed by Governor Kump, and Hamrick went back to his job at the Pardee Curtin Lumber Co.
It was during this campaign that Charles B. Johnson, Clarksburg lawyer, sent one of "Rimfire's" campaign posters to John W. Davis in New York. Davis wrote Johnson a letter in which Hamrick was described as a man "with a face as sad and sorrowful as Lincoln." Twelve years earlier a Clarksburg writer, the late Wilbur Swiger, visited Hamrick at his lookout station on Turkey Mountain, and described him:
"He is as straight as the ramrod that rests in its case under the barrel of his mountain rifle. His features are rugged and there is no conspicuous surplus flesh about his body; his legs are exceptionally long and his hands dangle far beyond the cuffs of his coat; his nose is rather prominent and his gray, eagle-like eyes pierce
out from either side, deep set and keen. He is six feet three inches tall and weighs 155 pounds. He told me that his father was six feet five and a half inches and weighed 158 pounds."
In that 1920 interview, "Rimfire" said that he could pick a squirrel out of the highest beech tree with a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, a weapon he prized highly. He also described his muzzle-loading rifle, which he used only at shooting matches, and which was loaded with a powder horn, homemade lead bullets, and fired by a cap.
He also owned a 32-40 Marlin rifle for big game and a double-barreled shotgun for birds and small game. He was very proud of his bullet-pouch made from the skin of a wildcat and it was with him always.
At that time "Rimfire" told Swiger that he took the fire warden job in 1915, but had been able to make only two vacation trips, one to the Jamestown Exposition and another to Atlantic City.
"I get lonesome if I am in the city for a day," Rim said, "and feel like a yearling deer strayed from its mother.
He showed Swiger a compass and declared: "I can just go anywhere in the mountains with this instrument."
An oft-told tale attributed to "Rim" is that when he was once asked if he had ever been lost in the hills, he replied, "No, but I been considerably bothered for three days or more."
In "Moccasin Tracks," Author Dodrill on page 254, says that "Big Pete" Hammons was asked if he was ever lost in the vast forest around the headwaters of the Williams and Cranberry rivers.
"No," said Pete, "but I have been bothered as much as three days at a time." Thus a quaint saying by the "Typical Mountaineer" seems to have been first coined by one whose name has never been glamorized so thoroughly as that of Eli Hamrick.
Wade Pepper, now deceased, who was sports editor of the Clarksburg Exponent for over 30 years, knew "Rimfire" well, visited him at Webster Springs, and sent him condolences when after five years of wedded bliss Hamrick's young bride, separated from the aging mountaineer. Zella later married Benny Lee and moved to Berea, O.
Pepper wrote a tribute to "Rimfire" for the Webster Republican, October 14, 1932, which was by-lined "By James W. Wooddell and Wade Pepper." It said:
"Rim loves his mountains with a fervor that is a passion. And all the wild things therein are his special delight. Once after a May snow a foot deep we walked 15 miles with Rim from his Turkey Mountain Lookout station and back to the twin branches of Gauley and back down Straight Creek. Hundreds of song birds, making their northern migration, had been caught in the storm and frozen to death. There were tears in Rim's eyes all day as he would pick up one of the songsters and say:
"'Look at the poor little feller'."
This was an appraisal of "Rimfire'' by one who had been with him around a hundred camp fires and seems best to depict the heart of the one they called the typical mountaineer. In the same article Pepper said that in his opinion Hamrick was not "typical," but an individualist, like Will Rogers or Ghandi.
Doubtless, among the other Hamricks, Gregorys, and the Dodrills, or Hammonses of Webster there were hundreds, who like Eli Hamrick fervently loved the quiet, awesome beauty of the lonesome hills, but who never looked and acted like "Rimfire" nor sought public acclaim. There will be, of course, typical mountaineers, but never another "Rimfire."
On March 28, 1945, a correspondent in the Webster Republican wrote:
"We are having very nice warm weather. Peach and cherry trees are in bloom and ramps are plentiful."
Four days later, April 1, "Rimfire" was dead. Spring had come to his mountains, but he had gone-"to that beautiful shore, where we shall know even as we are knowen!"
But who shall truly say that this humble, untutored man of the hills can ever be fully forgot?
Foregoing sketch of "Rimfire's" career was published in the Charleston Gazette, January 7, 1962, and is now reprinted with permission from that paper.
NOTE: The following was written by "Rimfire" Hamrick when a patient in 1931 in St. Mary's Hospital, Clarksburg, after he had broken his leg while working at a lumber camp. The phrasing and spelling herein is an exact copy, taken from Rimfire's original journal, and is presented here without correction or alteration, other than partial punctuation and paragraphing to aid the reader.
H. P. Sturm, of Clarksburg, author of "Saplin Ridge Letters" chose the excerpts from the writings left by "Rimfire'. Mr. Sturm sees in the language of "Rim" the Elizabethan influence and the even Chaucerian and pre-Chaucerian terms once in good usage by the Anglo-Saxons.
I have been on my cot now for 23 days an nights an never been out. I am getting restless as I never was in bed two dayes in all my 63 years before. It is no wonder those beautiful lines come to me, after spending most all my life in the woods: "How dear to my heart are the scenes of the mountains when fond recklections presents them to view". The Deer that pass by and look so innocent at you that I almost said, speed on little Deer no harm shall befall you as you are one of the little innocent creatures that God made and placed in this world for man who loves nature to look at. The wild Turkey that passes with its feathers ruffled up, and calls for its mate on the other ridge. And the red fox that hears the gobblars call follows along and tries to pounce upon the Turkey, but the gobblar is not to be cot napping. Then possibly a Bear will make its way from one laurel thicket to another, and I say Mr. Bear I dont have so much love for you as you kill so meny little young Deer. An as you get older you some times get the habit of killing stock on peoples farms, so speed on an stay in the wilds where you were intended to stay.
Meny years ago, high upon the Allegaina Mountains, a tiny little spring come out of the mountain from among the Pine roots an rocks, an made its way down the mountain side through the tall pines an the mountain Laurel and rocks. No doubt if there had been men at that time they would have said: Little spring you will never be able to find your way out of these wilde mountains. The wild bear no doubt could have stept in the little stream and changed its course. The buffalo might have stopped to take a drink and stoped its flow for some time. But that little silvery thread of watter ran on till another small stream joined it and they ran along togather. Meny Deer, Bear, Buffalo an Elk crossed the little stream daily an quenched their thirst from its sparkling clear water. So on the little stream ran and found the third that was trying to get out of them mountains an no doubt the larger said join in with us an we will wander togather.
An so on they went still gathering small streams till at last it become a good sized brook. As the little brook gathered up other streams on its way an become a larger stream, no doubt it was surprised one day to see something of a silver and red spotted object darting here and there through its sparkling waters. (Trout) But the little brook could not stop to make an investigation. On an on it run an began to pick up larger streams. The stream is now in what is now called W. Va.
But the stream did not stop to think where it was but kept on a North Western course, still gathering other brooks. So, one day found it a good sized river an still it ran on. It began to root up trees and turn over large rocks and make its chanels where-ever it wanted to go, till today it has cut its way 300 feet down from the top of the mountains it runs through. It has come through Pocahontas county into Randolph county where it is joined by the big spring where the river comes out from under the mountan. Then shortly gathers up another stream. Thus it runs on for a distance of thirty miles through which it gathers nine other streams at which place we will stop and leave the other part to Mr. William Birns, to chase it on out as it passes Elk Lick and flows on to the watters of Kanawah River at the Capital City at Charlston. Watch for next article.
I will turn back and give the names an discoveries of different places that I passed on my way down the river, so in my way back up Elk River I will start at what is now the forks of Elk, at the famous Salt Sulpher Springs, at Webster Springs, West Virginia.
The Elk River was named Elk on the account of the large herds of Elk that romed along it an around the salt springs where is now the beautiful town of Webster Springs. The Buffalo also was plentitful in that section of the country. Their trails may be seen yet today against the mountain sides where they traveled to an from that salt spring at the forks of Elk. The first account the people of Webster Co. can remember of that famous spring being discovered, is that two hunters followed one of those Buffalo and Elk trails to see where they were going. And they come to the forks of this river and found hundreds of Buffalo and Elk around this spring.
The story told years ago and looks reasonable, was that the men got up as near to the spring as they could and climbed up a tree to watch the Buffalo come and go. When a heard come in the leader of that herd had to fight the leader of the herd now there, and if the new bull could not master him the new herd got no water. But if the last bull to come in whiped the first bull then the last bull went in to the spring and onely the ones that come in with him got eny salt water.
And that last bull stayed and kept all others out till another herd came in and its leader could put him out as he had the last one. The story also goes that long in the day a large herd come in and the leader was so large that there was no other one could whip him an put him out of control. After several battles he staid an kept all cows, calves and all others out till the bottom land around the spring was a moveing mass of Buffalo wanting to get to the spring. So the men shot this big bull through the hump on the back of the neck so he, the King of the Elk River Buffalo, give way for others to get their salt water.
So, from those dayes the spring was knowen Elk Lick, then changed to Addison, named after Addison McGlonthlin, who settled there and made the County a deed for the public square where the Court House now stands. Meny years after the Salt Sulphur Springs become so famous that the town was known better an farther for the Springs the name was changed to its present name, Webster Springs, West Virginia.
With the large amount of Buffalo on Elk the mountains of Webster, at that time, was full of Bear, Deer, Turkeys and all kinds of small game. The wolves was so numerous that the first settlers had to bild a good strong pen and put their sheep in it every night or they had no sheep in the morning. The panther helped to make it harde for the people to raise stock of any kind. The father of the writer was maried in Braxton co., some 75 years ago, and settled on Elk River where one mile below where now is the Pardee Curtin cos. big lumber mill at Bergoo P.O. That fall there was no mast or nuts for the Bear to eat. There was some apple trees near the log cabin and the Bear would come at night and break all the limbs that had eny apples on them and eat the apples. They onely had one pet pig and kept it in a pen in the chimney corner. So one night a big Bear tore down the pen and got the pig an carried it away. That same man (Rimfire's father) killed the last Panther that was ever killed in Webster, near 50 years ago.
But we are straying from the Elk River, and at that time this river was one of the best fishing streams in the state of W. Va. It was well filled with Pike, Bass, Trout an all kinds of suckers, sunfish, Chubs and Minows. The Leatherwood Creek was named by the amount of Leatherwood that grew at its mouth. This Creek had both the river trout, as we call them on account of their large size, and the Brook trout, a smaller size. This creek has been fished in the last 75 years by more fishermen from all over W. Va., and meny other States and more than eny other stream in W. Va. It was a favorite stream for the people of Sutton, Weston, Clarksburg, Parkersburg, Fairmont, Buckhannon, Grafton, Philippi, Beverly and adjoining towns. I mean the older men who have mostely laid the rod an reel down an fish no more. The Bergoo Creek that emptys into the Elk is two miles above Leatherwood, although meny people gets these Creeks rong in name. The P. O. years ago was at the mouth of Leatherwood and was named for that stream. But it was discontinude an after a few years was reestablished but had to go by another name an was called Bergoo, the name of the creek above. So the P.O. is Bergoo, W. Va., at the mouth of Leatherwood, where Pardee & Curtin Co. has their large double band mill an employs hundreds of men.
We cant pass Bergoo Creek without giveing it its share of explaination. It is a Creek some smaller than Leatherwood but has always been a more wild an uninhabited stream and wilder mountains till this day. The story goes that meny years ago, when moonshiners had to begin to hide their stills, an some of them went on this Creek an put up their stills. So they run out of grain and gathered a lot of ramps and run off the steam as they did the Corn Licker. When one man tasted it and another man asked how is it, he said Nothing but a Boogaboo, and that name got changed around till it was called Bergoo, and it is an always was a fine trout stream.
NOTE: The late George Curtin, whose famous father developed vast timber acreages in Webster, disagreed with "Rim" about the name Bergoo. Mr. Curtin told the writer that Bergoo was named for a highly seasoned soup called "Burgoo" which was served three times a day in the lumber camp boarding houses. "Burgoo" is incidentally quite a Kentucky delicacy.
Baltimore Creek or run is two miles below the Leatherwood. It took its name from one of the first settlers on Elk. He got mad at some of his neighbors an said he was goeing to move out as he wouldent live by such neighbors. One asked him where he was goeing to go, an he said cleare to Baltimore. He went to the mouth of this run and put up a littl Cabin and that run has gone, since that day, as the Baltimore Run on the Elk.
The last Elk that ever was killed in Webster co., or probaly in the state was killed as the chase started on Bergoo Creek. The last Buffalo on the head of Baltimore Run. The last Panther on Leatherwood, and all are tributaries of the Elk.
Meny is the interesting hunting stories the writer has heard around the ole fashion log fires, when some of the old time hunters would come to visit their relations an tell of their encounters with Bear or Big Bucks. Meny of the fights with wounded bear is still fresh in my minde to day. But while the Beautiful Elk still flows on to the Kanawah I am sorry to say it has not got the fish that ought to be in it, as it is an ideal stream for all good sportsmen an easy to get to.
The next noted place is the Whitaker Falls, ten miles above Leatherwood Creek an in the county of Randolph. We venture to say there has been more big trout cot out of that hole of watter than eny other hole along the Elk. There is but fiew old sportsmen but what has fished there. John Hamrick that lived just below the falls, told me that when he first settled there, some 70 years ago, he could go to the falls an catch all the big trout he wanted without bait- just a rusty naked hook. Now we go on up the river five miles an come to the valey fork. Then soon to the Cowger Mill, where a large spring or river comes out of the side of the hill, big enough to run the mill. About a half mile further we come to the big spring, where the main river comes out that sinks several miles above. Meny is the stories told by the old settlers, of things that happened along this river 75 years ago, but we will have to stop here and camp for the night.
Next we sit down on a log to rest, and listen to the sweete songs of the birds. The gray squirrel is seen jumping from limb to limb, till it gets to the old tree where it makes its home . . . he of the bushy tail and planter of the forest nut trees. Then the little red pine squirrel sits on a pine lim and chatters and quarrels with us till you feel like flinging a stone at him. As we have spent most of the day, we start down to the river. Soon we run onto an old Ruffled Grouse and her young. We watch the little ones hide under the leaves, but cannot finde one. The mother Grouse comes up to us and then starts away, trying to make you think she is in no shape to fly, so you will follow her from her young. We pass on.
Next we heare the sound of the clear, sparkling river as it ripples over the rocks, and soon we are at the side of it. We set down on a rock and watch, and soon we see a nice brook trout jump out after some kind of a fly. It is getting late and we must get a fiew fish for our supper an breakfast. We cut a small pole an hunt us a crawfish and use the tail only for baite. We throw in the baited hook and-swish-we have a ten inch trout. We repeat this till we have ten an quit. Next we gather some wood and finde a pine tree that answers for a shelter if it rains, an then we start a fire and get our supper. We have bread, coffee, jelly, Butter an five nice trout.
Next we gather small pine limbs an make us a nice little bed an lay down and soon are at peace with both men an animals. Is it any wonder that after a man spends the best part of his life thus, that it is tough on him to have to stay on his cot 23 dayes and no telling how much longer, and the thermometer up to 104 in the shade. But I am like the little bird that sings there is better things ahead. I say little bird you are right, autum will soon be here an seeds an food will be more plentiful. And when autum is come, it still sings better things ahead. I say, little bird, I cant see it that way, as the cold frosty winter is comeing on and food will be scarce. But it sings the last song, better things ahead, and drops its wings and flys south where it is warm.
As I still lay on my cot in the Hospital an cant get up, I am among the best Doctors and the most attentive nurses that can be found on earth, so that is one comfort a man has. But it is different from the mountains. There is no birds to sing for you in the morning. There is no wild geese to hum in the air. There is no wild flowers to bloom around you, and no tall pines scent the air with their fragrance. Even the little ground squirl is not here to jump upon a rock or log, and watch you eat your breakfast an chatter as if to say, through me a small piece of that bread.
When a stream is stocked with Rainbow, or when the span is small, they go up stream to near the head. They are near six inches the first year, an that is the time that nonsportsmen catches and make a big waste of them, as they should not be caught at this age. The second year they are about twelve inches, an the third year they are fourteen. By this time they are working down stream toward deeper watter. The small trout is much faster in movements than the larger ones, so the small ones can gather the fede from the larger ones and the big ones go down stream and leave the smaller ones at the head. The Rain Bow, as I have been able to find out, is they are a cross between the Steel Head and the Brook Trout. But there is two species of the Rainbow. One has more red collor and the flesh is a samon color like the Brook Trout, and they put up so much more of a fight that I can distinguish dayes and no tethem before I see them, from the more lighter collored ones. The light colored ones is not as solid meated an not as sweete meated as the more red ones. We has both kinds in Elk River, an have had for fourteen years. I used to fish on Williams River for Brook Trout, and occasionly would catch a rainbow. The first I ever saw was one day that I caught a trout near ten inches long. To look at one side of it it was a plumb Rainbow. Eye, fins, spots, stripe an all. To turn it over and look at the other side it was the Brook Trout in every particular. That proved to me that the two trout will cross. My thery is that those red Ranbow is crossed with the Brook. In fishing for Ranbow it is different from fishing for the Brook. In fishing for Rainbow, with artificial flies, they strike best when the flies come around in a circle or almost flote down stream. With bait it is best to let the hook lay on the bottom and move it occasionaly. The Ranbow can see line, leader or hook, quicker than any other fish. So you have to prevent that with small hook, fine mist colored Leader and fine watter colored line. Best time to fish is from 4 to 8 P. M. or 5 to 8 A. M.
Our mind passes back over our past life and we remember the pleasant dayes we have had along the brooks, the rivers and on the mountain tops, with friends an companions. But a number of them is passed over the great divide, and while they will not greete us no more on our fishing an hunting trips, the memory of them will linger in my mind till I pass over to join them on that beautiful shore, where we shall know even as we are knowen.
To be honest, to be kind-to earn a little and to spend a little less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence, to renounce when that shall be necessary and not be embittered, to keep a few friends but these without capitulation-above all, on the same grim condition to keep friends with himself-here is a task for all that a man has of fortitude and delicacy.-R. L. Stevenson
These are some speculations on the literary style of Eli (Rimfire) Hamrick. Words and spellings used by the typical mountain-man seem to be akin to some of the Old English diction to be found in the ancient poems printed below.
Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
And springeth the wude nu-
Awe bleteth after lamb,
Llouth after calve cu;
Bulleth sterteth, buck vereth,
Murie sing cuccu!
NOTE: Is there any kinship-count the centuries-between the writing of Eli (Rimfire) Hamrick (1868-1945) and the ancient Anglo-Saxon bard, with his "merrily sing cuckoo"
These are a few lines from Chaucer's Prologue to the famous Canterbury Tales. Chaucer was formally university-educated in the style of his age, 1340 to 1400.
Was the untutored "Rimfire" perhaps hearkening down through centuries when he wrote of "recklections", "gobblars", "wilde mountains", "have mostely laid", "knowen", "goeing" and so on and on?
Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
And bathed veyne with swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephrus eek with swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre cropses, and the yonge sonne,
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
Ans smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages)
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages-
The statue of the Mountaineer unveiled December 10, 1912.
The sculptor was Henry K. Bush Brown of New York City and Washington, D. C.
The model was Eli "Rimfire" Hamrick of Webster County or Ellis R., a brother of "Rimfire."
This statue was a gift from Col. William Seymour Edwards to the State and the people of West Virginia.
James L. Hupp
In 1915, a group of local hunters and fishermen organized a club or secret organization in Webster County, for the expressed purpose of conserving woods and streams for the propagation of wild life and fish. The chief organizers were Eli F. (Rimfire) Hamrick, John F. Meeks and several other fishing and hunting enthusiasts. At that date there were several of the old time deer and bear hunters living in Webster County, who could tell many tall tales of fishing and hunting exploits in past years.
At that time most of Webster County was still in virgin forest, owned by Pardee & Curtin Lumber Co., Cherry River Boom Lumber Co., and other large landowners. Game and fish u-ere plentiful and the headwaters of Gauley, Elk, and Williams Rivers were hard to reach, as there were no roads and few trails. Fishing or hunting at 3 Forks of Gauley required walking through dense undergrowth and carrying food, and other camp supplies in a "back-poke" or haversack.
The custom was to find a large fallen log near the stream, rake up a bed of leaves in front of it, drag in fallen limbs for firewood and sleep with no roof except the starry heavens, unless the weather was rainy; in that case a crude roof of bark and brush would be erected. Even in summer months the nights were cool and sometimes cold and the waters never warmed too much and provided good drinking water and for boiling coffee.
Food carried in usually consisted of a slab of bacon, a "poke" of corn meal to roll the trout in before frying in bacon grease, plenty of bread was carried, which our wives baked, along with plenty of ground coffee and a can to boil it in. It was usually boiled until it was strong enough to almost float a coin.
A fire was always made out away from the fallen log so that the blaze would warm the wet and weary fisherman, as well as ward off any "varmints" prowling through the woods at night. In dense woods the nights were extremely dark and the only way you could tell direction was to look straight up at the stars. Native trout were caught by the hundreds and many of them wasted, as none but the largest were kept for eating.
Back to the Rimfire Scouts: Eli "Rimfire" Hamrick was unanimously chosen as Chief Scout, and John F. Meeks was Chief Deputy Scout. John Meeks administered the obligation to the candidates, after a ballot had been taken and found reasonably clear. A cardboard O.N.T. thread spool box with a slit in the lid was used for a ballot box and before balloting, one of the brethren whose duty it was, circulated a bag of soup beans and a bag of coffee beans among the brethren present. Some of the younger fellows who were a bit "devilish" would grab a handful of coffee beans from the "poke" and when the ballot box came around they would deposit them in the box.
It was the duty of Chief Scout "Rimfire to count the ballots cast, and it was usually a long, drawn out affair, as old Rim could hardly count. However, he would look out over the audience, over the top of his "spectacles", and announce in a disappointed voice: "I 'saze' brethren, there is something wrong here-there has 'been' more ballots cast than there are brethren present". It would, therefore be necessary to re-circulate the ballot box and finally determine the correct number. In order to appreciate the situation it was necessary that you be acquainted with all of the characters.
When first organized, the Rimfire Scouts were sadly misjudged by some of the local people, who accused them of being a disreputable lot, banded together for the sole purpose of violating the game laws, cheating at "shootin'" matches, stealing hogs and various other crimes and misdemeanors. However, as time progressed they observed that many of the more substantial men of the community were joining and enjoying more fun in watching "Rimfire" and the others perform, than you could have at a circus. Part of the initiation of the candidates was to impress the importance of preventing forest fires, which would destroy timber and wild life. Wires were suspended across the hall and brush was thickly strung on the wires to simulate dense woods.
The candidate would be blindfolded and conducted through these woods by a proper officer who would lecture and admonish him of the necessity to douse campfires and take other precautions to prevent fire. Part of the lesson was exemplified by filling the coal scuttle with dry leaves and setting them on fire to generate smoke. On one occasion when they placed this bucket of burning leaves in front of a candidate, he peered down his nose and could see the flames vaguely and he undertook to stomp the fire out. His oversized foot got wedged in the bucket and the blaze flared up and singed the hairs on his leg, as he was wearing no sox. This created quite a commotion among the brethren present, as they were afraid the brush might be ignited and cause a real fire.
After a time, the local politicians and candidates for State offices who came to Webster to campaign for votes were eager to join and pay the initiation fee of $5.00. Among some of the more prominent candidates initiated was a Governor of West Virginia, a Circuit Judge and a Congressman for this district.
Subordinate lodges of Rimfire Scouts were organized at Weston and other places, and seemed to flourish for a time. The mother lodge was maintained at Webster Springs and Rimfire and his deputies continued as "Grand" officers of the organization. Rimfire and his officers were the whole show, as at that time there were no movies, radios, or other form of entertainment and you could always count on a large attendance at the Scout Hall at their regular meetings. Rimfire and all of his old cronies are long since gone to that happy hunting ground where we hope that streams and forests abound with fish and game to occupy their time.
Mr. Huffman, distinguished Webster Countian, knew Eli Hamrick and of his career intimately. We are greatly indebted for this personal recollection about the "Rimfire Scouts of America."
A rare picture of John W. Davis, contemporary of "Rimfire" Hamrick. Davis was the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1924. Hamrick ran for the State Senate in 1932. Davis admired "Rimfire" and one time remarked that the Webster County mountaineer had a face like Lincoln. It is said that Davis had a picture of "Rimfire" in his New York law office. This picture of Davis shows him making his "notification speech" in Clarksburg in the summer of 1924, just after the New York convention where he was nominated. Note state flag in foreground.
"Rimfire" a true West Virginian, simple, straightforward, with a deep and untarnished devotion to the woods and hills of his native Webster County.
"We keep on thinking better days and we remember the pleasant days had along the brooks and rivers and in the mountain tops with friends and companions. My memory of them u ill linger in my mind until I pass over on that beautiful shore where we shall know even as we are knowen."-Written in 1931 when hospitalized in Clarksburg 23 days with a leg fracture.
The story of Rimfire would not be complete without a chapter concerning the ramps of these mountains. Reprinted herewith are two articles about the spring delicacy. The first sketch is from The National Observer, April 10, 1967, by James F. Dent, datelined Charleston, W. Va. The second from Clarksburg, W. Va., and is a letter to the editor of the Hillbilly of Richwood, W. Va., May 13, 1967.
The author is William G. ( Tad ) Johnson, lawyer and outdoor man. Johnson and David D. Taylor are famous for having hosted their 30th annual ramp feed where they fete about 150 West Virginia friends. The Clarksburg ramp dinner was inaugurated thirty years ago when the late Jim Wooddell was a co-host.
Some who live in the great cities may get their kicks from discotheques, or even LSD, but back in the hills of West Virginia it's ramp season again. And the devotees of this innocent looking vegetable are preparing to indulge themselves in their annual spring orgy of ramp eating.
The ramp is a near relative of the onion except that what the onion has, the ramp has tripled and in spades. Its odor is pervasive, a breath-catching mixture of garlic and limburger cheese that stuns the uninitiated. The taste is indescribable and clings for weeks.
Ramps once flourished throughout a large area in the United States and one major American city-Chicago-got its name from them. Indians around Lake Michigan discovered a large concentration of ramps growing there and referred to the area variously as "shikako," meaning "skunk place," "checagou" or "powerful," and "shekagong" or "wild onion place."
With population explosions, housing developments, and the march of industry, however, the ramp today is found growing primarily in Nicholas and Webster counties in West Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains country of Tennessee and North Carolina.
Once having eaten ramps, a person is stuck with them for weeks. There is no effective breath purifier that works against them. Old-timers here say that gargling with vinegar helps. "You should swallow a little too," one said. "It won't kill the smell but it'll tone her down some"
From this description, it would seem logical that the ramp would be shunned. Not so. Every spring, in sort of an Appalachian vernal rite, ramp festivals are held in many of the hill communities of southern and eastern West Virginia and are attended by enthusiasts from all over the nation. Ramps are even gaining a distinction as a gourmet food.
The festivals are locally referred to as "whiffs," for fairly obvious reasons. The typical whiff menu includes raw ramps and ramps parboiled and fried in bacon grease, plus scrambled eggs, brown beans, fried potatoes, ham, bacon, corn bread, apple pie, and coffee. It will be easy to tell if any of your friends attend. Just breathe deeply.-James F. Dent
The recent article by James F. Dent in the National Observer, under a Charleston dateline, on ramps needs correcting and Dent needs to be taken to task for his ignorance over and above that allowed by law for newspaper specialty writers.
He says, "the ramp today is found growing primarily in Nicholas and Webster counties." This is enough to cause Dr. Hull, the delegate from Pocahontas County and Cal and Andy Price, to turn in their respective graves and groan, "What ignorance!"
Both Pocahontas and Randolph counties and parts of Greenbrier County, produce ramps superior in every way to those in Webster and Nicholas. In Pocahontas County, in particular, the ramps are of extra strength due to the presence of large numbers of bears roaming and rolling in the ramp patches.
This is supported by Meshach Browning who recorded his observations in that respect, so is entitled, ipso facto, to belief by all newspaper people. He says he was puzzled by the physiological aspects of hibernation, especially the body functions during that period of inactivity, but in his own way he resolved the problem by personal observation.
He noticed the bear rubbing his head and chewing and scratching on certain trees, usually pine, hemlock or spruce, just before going in for the winter. He reasoned the rosin from the trees formed a sort of plug good for pressures up to 20 pounds per square inch and on the average bear that is ample.
Then came spring. Said bear-plus-plug came forth and headed for the nearest ramp patch where he rolled and ate great gobs of ramps, roots and all. Lo, the pressure built up and the plug blew and the bear in gratitude for this most marvelous cycle of nature, tended the ramp patch in dry weather that came.
Next spring there would be plenty of well grown, strong ramps again. As Jake Mullens, according to Dr. Jim McClung, used to say, "That was powerful trying on that bear."
Bears are more plentiful in Pocahontas than in Webster or Nicholas so the ramp patches high on the ridges are better producers of fine, strong, tension relieving ramps, for the city raised man of today.
The menu listed in Dent's article is the product of a warped and flat-lander mind. The most essential catalytic in the menu of a ramp dinner is sassafras tea, sweetened with maple syrup, and never is any dessert served.
The sassafras tea being recognized by all ramp eating doctors, as an active blood thinner is necessary to cause that plug-blowing quality of the ramps, and to avoid the blood curdling smell that marks the unsuspecting victim "asocial," as the Poverty workers say.
Incidentally, a big slug (water glass full) of what is now drinkable in most any place called by the Legislature "A Private Club," will serve the same purpose for a ramp eater as it does for snake bite victims after taking it-he either will die anyhow or won't give a damn.- Tad Johnson
The reader of "Rimfire" who craves something academic on the "ramp" will do well to peruse Vegetation of West Virginia by Dr. Earl L. Core or the larger work, Flora of West Virginia by the late Dr. P. D. Strausbaugh and Dr. Core.
On Page 45 of Vegetation of West Virginia Dr. Core comments: "Ramps ( Allium tricoccum ) are very abundant and are much eaten by mountain folk in spring, imparting a powerful odor to the breath. 'Ramp-eater's festivals', sportsmen's dinners at which ramps are served, are held in various towns."
The 1966 book by Dr. Core, published by McClain Printing Company, Parsons, W. Va., cites an early work, "Ramps, Castanea 10: 110-112, 1945."
The reader of "Rimfire" will recall that when the Webster County paper wrote the obituary of the "Typical Mountaineer" in April 1945, there was another story in the newspaper to herald the news that "ramps poking their heads upward."
"Rimfire" never knew the "Allium tricoccum" as such, but we may be sure that he had many a meal where the succulent ramp was a part.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.( Quoted in part by John W. Davis in Clarksburg in August 1924 when he accepted the nomination for the presidency of the United States. )
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.