Ghost Cabin

Walking along the roadside, now hard from last night’s freeze, the old home at first seemed like a wave of heated air off in the distance. It didn’t register in my consciousness in the beginning. It looked to be just another clump of bushes down there in the valley, the valley of my spiritual home, the place I visited when I needed respite or rejuvenation. But, the more I walked, the more the shape took form, either in my imagination, or in some sort of illusion. It was an old, very old, Homeplace, a cabin in shape and outline. I wondered who had lived there and how many years ago. Nobody had dwelt in this valley for more than 75 years since the National Park Service had run off all the old families and purchased the land for a fraction of its real, market worth.

The closer I walked, the more the house became visible. It was a stunning old cabin, made the old way with front porch facing the small, wriggling creek, blue now from the freezing days and nights. Snow had not yet fallen, but the skies held that gray look they get when they fill with hue reserves of snow. I love this time of year. It is so quiet in the forests you can hear your thoughts as they pound against the inside of your head and then punch out into your reality.

The cabin’s porch was framed with a railing made from a crooked limb, round and long. The front steps were river stone. The broad front porch where all manner of old dried herbs hung from the open rafters, led to a wooden front door with lift latch. I could see most of this as I stood up on a hill, looking down into the broad, brown valley, its grasses dead now from the harsh breath of winter. It was a two-story, log house construction with one large room downstairs and one large room upstairs. It was very old in design. The kitchen would have been at the very back of the house.

Just as I was about to walk down through the valley to investigate the cabin further, a soft voice broke the silence around me.

It’s not there,” she said.

I quickly turned to see a smallish woman looking at me. Her eyes were as deep and dark as any I had ever seen. She looked to be maybe 70 years old, give or take a year or two in either direction. Her husband was beside her, smiling. He was about the same age as his wife. Both were small and slightly bent in the shoulders.

What do you mean it’s not there?” I asked, trying not to appear too startled. “I can see it plainly.”

I know, but it is a Ghost Cabin.”It’s not really there at all. You are just seeing its past energy. That cabin would be more than 150-200 years old,” she said.

Well, at first, you can understand my skepticism. I mean I knew what I saw. And a cabin that old in this valley was preposterous. If anyone was here then, it was wild with claw and hoof. I turned to look at the cabin again. It could not have been more than a mile away, across the broad, beautiful valley going dormant now for winter.

Of course it is there,” I said, turning to look at the cabin again. “I see it.”

You are seeing the outline of history, that cabin from its past life,” she said, not budging from her story. “You are seeing only its shadows from where it once stood.” She smiled sweetly and then began to walk with her husband toward the cabin. As I watched the two of them begin to disappear, it became obvious that if I wanted to know more, I would have to follow along. I hurried to catch up.

Talking to them as we walked across the valley, grass crunching beneath our boots, she told me her name was Ila Walden and her husband was Luke. She had been a Walker before marrying Luke, 55 years ago, when they were children growing up in Walker Valley, two valleys over from where we were now. That meant that there were two unbroken chains of mountains between us and their childhood homes. It seemed so close as they talked of their old home, and yet, the realization of two ridges between us seemed daunting to me, but not to them. They had walked those ridges as children and they knew them as friendly, warm places of youth. In that time, they said, people thought little of walking miles and miles in a day. Walking over a mountain was not something you thought about. It was something you did.

Walking through the white, crystalline grass, I was absorbed in the story they told me of their childhood. It was something from a book about the mountains from the early part of the 20th century. They lived on a mountain farm, down in a valley, much like this one we were walking across. It was an idyllic life, Ila said. Luke said each morning began with hard work, and the day ended with hard work. But, it was fun, he said. You were around the old ones who told stories of how the mountains used to be when they were children. They told stories they had heard from their grandparents and great-grandparents, some of the first people to come into these ridges, valleys and long finger slopes. It was like listening to someone recall a lost treasure as they talked of their youth. It was a green, lush life, unlike today’s rush of existence.

I recall my grannie singing them old songs,” said Ila. “Real old. Maybe 600 years old. Older even. She taught them to me. I can’t sing them like she did though. She put a little up rise on the end of a phrase to give it that ancient sound,” she said.

My pap played the fiddle,” said Luke. “He loved playing that cherry wood fiddle. He said cherry wood set the music on fire. It wasn’t the tunes you hear today. He said they came from over yonder. He meant across the ocean. England. Scotland, Wales, Ireland, I suppose. They push move back the furniture in the house and Pap would begin. They’d dance and sing and play all night on the weekends. I’d sit up in the attic, looking down as they sang and danced. Dust from their dancing kicked up in the light like a storm. It was wonderful fun and I couldn’t wait until the day I could join them,” Luke said.

But, before Luke could join his parents and grandparents, the federal government purchased hundreds of thousands of acres of these mountains and valleys and told the people who had farmed the land for lifetimes and generations would have to leave. They no longer owned the land they had purchased with blood, money and hard labor.

Our family was given an amount of money. I’m not sure how much,” said Luke. I looked at him for the first time as he spoke. He was a man in his mid-70s, large hands, a face full of wrinkles. He was bald now and a little stooped in the shoulders. But he was as friendly as a sunrise. He seemed to be good through and through.

My pap tried to buy another farm out of the valley. But the land was no good. It just wasn’t the same. It was worn out land. Wouldn’t grow anything. We quit farming, and pap and most of the boys went to work in sawmills, cutting down the forest around the national park. It changed things around here, that’s for sure. It changed a way of life that you’ll never, ever see again. The national park ruined these mountains. They said they were preserving them. They preserved them for tourist to ruin. We took care of the land, because we knew how important it was to us. If you own something, you know its worth and importance to your existence. If you just use something, you don’t much care how you treat it, and that’s why the park now is killing the land we used to work. It is no longer good land, because it hasn’t been worked in more than 60, near 70 years. The National Park Service just let it grow up, without tilling the land each winter, getting ready for spring planting. A land has to be worked to be good. It has to be tilled.”

Luke was beginning to breathe hard. His face had reddened. Ila patted his arm, and looked at him. He glanced up to see her dark eyes staring at him. And he quit talking.

Ila reached out for Luke’s arm as we neared a stream. We were still quite a long way from the old cabin.

We lived not too far from each other,” said Ila. “Just over the next ridge. We didn’t think anything of walking the trails to see somebody, or to go check on our neighbors, who lived in the hollows miles away. Nothing at all. You walked back then, because there were no cars in here. Oh, there might have been one or two somewhere, maybe Doc Tilsey had one to make house calls, but most of us traveled by foot, horseback, mule and wagon. Mostly on foot, though, to save the horses and mules for work around the farm.

Our entire existence, our days and nights, centered around planting and harvesting,” she said. “We made our own clothes and medicines. My mother was the one who would go into the forests and come home with a basket full of herbs that she would make up into medicines. You had to pick the right herbs, because some of them look just alike. You pick the wrong one, and it will kill you dead as Lazarus. My mother had been taught by her mother, who had been taught by her mother, who had been taught by her mother, who had been taught by a Cherokee Indian. It went back that far in these mountains,” said Ila.

If something broke, we had to fix it,” said Luke. “There were no stores or shopping malls. No credit cards. No phones. No convenience stores. If you wanted milk to drink, you milked a cow. We killed our own hogs, and put them in a smokehouse to cure out in winter. We butchered our own cattle, hunted the woods for wild game, and fished the streams for mountain trout, the best eating fish there is anywhere.”

I looked up to see where we were. A small creek was just in front of us. But there was no cabin.

Well,” said Ila, “where is it?” She laughed and looked knowingly at Luke, who was chuckling to himself.

Do you see it?” she asked.

Ila was right. The cabin wasn’t there.

I know what I saw,” I said in arrogant stubbornness to both of them. They just looked at each other and smiled.

Oh, it was there,” said Ila. “I told you that it was in the energy of the old log cabin, that you were seeing the outlines of that energy from off in the distance. Luke and I know it is there, too. But, we had to let you see for yourself.”

That’s when they told me of their years of exploring these valleys with their “wires.” Well, that’s what they called them. Some people know them as water witches, or divining rods. Ila and Luke just said they were their dousing wires, made from a cut and shaped piece of wire coat hanger. They were bent in the form of a thin L. The short end of the L was the handle.

With those rods, they said they could find old homes, roads, cemeteries, anything that once had human energy. The reason is that the past gives off an electronic field, a magnetic field, Ila said. They showed me how. Luke passed his wires over a rock and they did not move. They would cross each other if there was some sort of energy field there, he said.

Now, pick up the rock and put it back down.”

I did and then Luke passed the wires over the rock again. They crossed in his hands.

See, we all leave behind an electric field. It is here forever. That’s how we find old places in these hills.”

I learned that they had documented hundreds, if not thousands of old home places, found early or lost cemeteries, farms, cabins stuck off in the back of beyond. And now, even the Park Service, that had once shunned them as cooks or meddlesome, had discovered how right Ila and Luke were and had even put their documentation in a book with maps, showing the homesteads from another era in the park, that their historians and anthropologists didn’t know existed.

Over time, they showed me hundreds of farms, homes, cabins, fence rows, planted fields, graves, cemeteries, and rock cairns made in pre-history by early Indian tribes. They showed me burial mounds and even a strange place with a circle and broad lanes running from it, like the spokes in a wheel. From up on a ridge above the wheel, you could plainly see that it was put there on purpose. But for what purpose? Luke said he believed it was some sort of Indian ceremonial ground dating back thousands of years. This generation would say it looked like aliens had landed and left behind a strange and unknown design in the land. Luke said it was Indians, and I believed him.

With them, I discovered ancient cabins, made of puncheon floors, or just the slab of wood split from oak and locust. Luke with his wires could walk the outline of a cabin, showing the doors, windows, porch, steps. He could find the many outbuildings, the family burial plots and water wells. He was amazing.

Ila didn’t do much of the dousing because she always found something that disturbed her—a baby’s grave, or a wife who died too young. She mostly let Luke do the dousing and she took notes, or drew off the cabin and its grounds. Her notebooks were filled with hundreds of photos that she took, and her sketches of homesteads. Those notebooks eventually became a book that the National Park Service now sold at its headquarters bookshop.

With Luke and Ila, I learned how to recognize a Woodland Indian grave from an early settler grave. The Woodland Indians buried their dead sitting straight up, facing east, looking into the sunrise. Early settlers buried their dead lying flat, north and south. We even found settlers buried on top of Woodland Indians, in a layering of the generations, one on top of the other, just like the land itself.

I once took a stone from a Woodland Indian burial ground and lived to regret it. Ila had warned me to never take a stone or anything from those burial grounds. “It is more than bad luck,” she said. “It rouses the spirits, and you will be punished severely.”

The day we found an unexpected Woodland site, I uncovered a small stone, shaped like a tombstone. It was unmistakably the headstone for a baby, a Woodland Indian baby. I slipped the stone into my shoulder bag, and said nothing as we left that day.

Within hours, I was feeling ill. I dismissed the illness as nothing but flu, a cold or a virus. The next day, I was sick in bed. My family had become ill as well. We got a phone call that my wife’s father had died of a heart attack and her mother was not well at all. My wife had been so distraught that in going to the store for medicine, she had a wreck in the family car.

As troubles piled on top of troubles, I decided that I would return that stone to its place. I called Ila and told her what I had done, and all of the serious misfortune that we had experienced. She was silent, and then said, “I told you not to ever remove anything from those burials grounds. You take that stone back today.”

I did, but the strangeness was not over. I thought I knew precisely where we had found the ancient fields of the dead, but somehow it had all changed on that bright morning that I decided to return the stone. Nothing seemed familiar. When I had arrived, the day was bright, the sky a brilliant blue with high, puffy clouds. But just as I entered the forest, a darkness closed over the canopy of trees. It became very scary as I walked. The wind picked up and began blowing as darkness descended over me.

The wind, though, wasn’t ordinary wind, blowing across a wide path. It blew in a narrow corridor and followed me as I walked. If I moved, the wind moved. If I stopped, the wind stopped, as if we were attached one to the other. And it only blew up a fuss off to my right. To my left, the scene was far different. Nothing was happening. Nothing at all. It was calm, but dark as a grave.

Normally, I’m not afraid in the forests. As a boy, I wandered alone in woods, climbed trees to look out over the land, a captain of a big ship of land, sailing the green, landlocked oceans of my imagination. I loved being in the forest, lying beneath a tree, smelling the evergreens or feeling the warmth of a large hardwood. I felt safe even. Once I found a large hole beneath the broad limbs of a very large hemlock, and I crawled beneath the branches. It was as if I had entered another existence. I looked out between the branches and could see the world around me, but nothing could see me. I came to this tree often in my youth, crawled under the broad, droopy green, protective limbs and lay on my back to imagine a new world, a new adventure. It was an evergreen cave, leading to my imaginary world.

Time now seemed altered. It wasn’t free and easy, but it appeared forced and jagged. The world was painted dark, and that wind just blew off to my right as I continued to walk toward the place where I thought Ila, Luke and I had been that day in the primeval Indian burial ground. The closer I came, the louder the wind blew.

Hurriedly, I dug out at the base of a tree with my bare hands. This is where I was sure I had found the small tombstone. The ground was not soft, though, as it had been. It was hard as stone. I dug, but could make no headway. The wind became intense and the sky over me was darker now, like the inside of a cave. I knew that I was in a very bad place, and must leave immediately, or the wind and the blackness would closes around me, sweep me away forever.

I sat the stone at the base of the tree on top of the knobby roots and turned to run. As limbs and branches smacked me in the face and about my body, I noticed the wind. It was no longer on my right or left. There was no wind. And the closer I got to returning to the edge of the forest, the darkness began to fall away, until I burst into the bright, blue day from whence I came. My heart was pounding so loudly in my head. It sounded like an Indian drumbeat. But I knew that it was just fright and my emotional state.

Told you not to take anything from these woods,” Ila said to me after I told her my story.

You got to learn that these places are sacred. I know people think I am crazy, or weird, but I’m not,” she said. “I’m a God-fearing, church-going woman. So is Luke. We believe in our church. Been going, both of us, since we were little ‘uns. But, I am here to tell you that what goes on in these woods has been going on for thousands of years. We don’t really know or understand all there is to know about these woods and their many spirits,” Ila said.

Luke nodded and smiled. “The old timers used to tell us that there are all kinds of spirits in the forests. Especially where there have been homes and burial grounds. You have to be careful there. Remember that energy we told you about? It’s still there.”

A few days later, the three of us returned to the Ghost Cabin, as Ila had called it. Ila told me she had been doing a little research on the cabins of the valley, as well as the valley itself.

The land was so fertile, she said, that many families had lived in the valley. Soil from the millennia had washed off of the high mountains above the valley and filled it with a fertile robustness for life, capable of reproducing in great abundance. This cabin, she said, had been one of the very first ones, and belonged to the John Cable family. Not far away was the Caleb Campbell farm. The two families had never gotten along well because of land and cattle disputes. In that time, land was marked by boundaries in word only, and cattle carried the mark of its owner in notches in both ears.

Neither family trusted the other, Ila said, and over time many disagreements were settled by the gun.

But the Cables were a well-respected family. The Campbells had not been in the valley that long. Well, long back then meant a couple of generations. The Cables had discovered the valley and all of its riches, taking it from the Indians. So there was bad blood between them from the beginning. But, the Campbells were like any other early settler. They took what they saw, or bought it and laid claim to a certain amount by boundaries. I often heard my grannie say that our Walker boundary ran from this big tree at the mouth of Kettle Creek to the south of the old Henry Henderson place and the big walnut tree to the top of Hard Run Ridge and then west to the Big Fork River. It was hard to know what was what, but the old ones knew precisely what they were talking about because they had walked every inch of the land. That’s also another reason why this land’s got spirits.

Big John Cable had a mill near his cabin where he ground cornmeal. It was on the head of Panther Creek. The story that has been handed down from the valley is a real puzzle, and I think that is why you can see the cabin at times, but when you get up close, it disappears,” said Ila.

A mystery?” I asked.

It has to do with the day Big John Cable and Caleb Campbell met to settle their land and cattle differences. It was close to Christmas and both men wanted to put their quarrel aside. It had been going on for a long, long time, and both had become weary of the squabbling and all the misery it had caused both families over the years. They decided they would meet on the flat summit of Bald Top Mountain and come to a conclusion. Both men took their guns that day.”

Luke brought in a couple cups of steaming coffee and some of Ila’s sweet shortbread and sat it on the kitchen table where we were gathered.

It was just a few days before Christmas,” said Ila. “Along about Dec. 23, or maybe it was even Christmas Eve. In that time, there were real snows. Not like now when we can no longer kill hogs in November, or December. It just doesn’t get cold enough now, and we have lost another of our old traditions.

But back then, it usually snowed beginning around Thanksgiving. It was called hog killing time. Big John Cable and Caleb Campbell walked out their cabin doors that morning, telling their families nothing of the meeting that was planned. They were going to settle this between them. On top of the mountain.

John Cable arrived first. He found a downed hemlock and cleared a way to sit. He laid his hog rifle across his lap and packed his pipe to smoke. And waited.

He expected old Caleb to come up the mountain by a different path, but he hadn’t counted on the one that only Caleb knew. It was an old animal trail, that had once also been an Indian trail up the backside of Bald Top Mountain. Very few people even knew it existed any longer. But Caleb was an excellent hunter and tracker and he had followed game up the trail many days. From his days in the woods, Caleb was also as quiet as his shadow as he moved up the trail toward the sitting John Cable.”

Ila paused to saucer her coffee and eat one of her sweetbreads. Luke sipped a saucer and watched the steam rise from it.

They were two mountain men,” said Luke. “Like you don’t ever see any more. That breed of people is long gone. Their word was their bond in those days. Once of those mountain men told you something, you could count on it. It had to do with honor and dignity.”

Ila nodded.

They would rather die than break their word to you. So, when they spoke, they meant what they said.” She sipped at the saucered coffee and looked out the window, now frosting from a cold blast of wind from off the mountains near her home.

It’s not like today where your word doesn’t last long enough to make an echo. They were proud people, even if some of them were meaner than a devil dog. Caleb Campbell was no one to fool with, so the legends go. He was fearless and ferocious. They say he was as big as a cabin door and had to turn sideways to get into his cabin.”

Ila paused once more to sip her coffee and Luke picked up the story.

Both of these men were experts of the mountain ways. So it was natural that they would meet on top of the mountain on a cold, snowy day. Most other people wouldn’t dare go out in that kind of weather, with snows falling and it getting heavy on top of the mountain. But John and Caleb had come to a place they knew they could be alone.”

They were unafraid,” said Ila. “Of anything and each other. Now, you also need to know that one of John’s sons had married one of Caleb’s daughters, over the objection of both men. But the two young people decided to go against their fathers’ wishes and marry anyway. Even after asking for their blessings, which they didn’t receive. The two were shunned and sent to another part of the valley to live. They had been cast out of their respective families,” Ila said. She looked sadder as she told the story.

Well, you recall me telling you that there is spirits on the land. Those spirits were unsettled with this marriage and before long, the Campbell girl grew sick. They said she got the valley fever, whatever that was. And she died. The Cable boy died soon thereafter, they said, of a broken heart. Both families were distraught over the loss of the two youngsters, and that is what got Big John and Caleb Campbell to the top of the mountain on this Christmas time. They didn’t want to see any more strife, so they were going to settle the family dispute the only way they knew how: only one of them would come down off of the that mountain.”

Ila got up from the table and walked to her kitchen window. It was as if the story had settled in her bones. I could almost see her sag. Luke was no longer smiling. He was looking at his hands. She crossed her arms standing at her sink, looking out through the half-frozen pane into the brown light of a winter’s day. She continued, but it was as if she were lifting something heavy from the floor as she spoke.

Caleb Campbell came up behind John Cable that morning, so quiet that not even the animals heard him. He was as silent as his thoughts. He looked at the back of John Cable and softly lifted his hog rifle. He aimed and was about to pull the trigger when old John spoke.

I know you are back there Caleb. So, you just go ahead and shoot your best shot. You make it good and true, or I’ll kill you dead. But before you pull that trigger, I just want to tell you that before my boy died he told me he wanted me to know something.

Caleb looked up from the gun barrel sights. The sun glinted off the hard, cold metal of the long, ancient rifle, which had seen many a battle against Indian, British, and game.

My boy Jacob told me that he truly loved your daughter Sarah. He said they had often talked about the hopes they had that their marriage would stop the family feud, that through their love something new would grow.”

John Cable paused. He halfway expected to feel a lead ball split his shoulder blades. But Caleb Campbell was listening instead of aiming.

I just listened as my boy Jacob talked. He seemed so sick then. It broke my heart that he was dying. I could hardly stand it. He said he had buried his Sarah only a few days before, and that I had to promise him something. He asked me to not kill you.”

Caleb put his finger back on the big gun’s trigger. He had heard enough, for he was a hard mountain man. There was no softness to him.

Make your peace John Cable, Caleb said. I aim to kill you here and leave you for the animals.

John Cable made not a single move to defend himself. As the shot rang out, it rattled down through the mountains like a thunderclap. It startled deer nosing through the snow to nibble twigs. Squirrels looked up in their tree nests and birds fluttered in the bushes, scattering snow dust.

Caleb Campbell didn’t bother to look at John Cable. He turned quickly and walked back down the mountain trail he had come up that morning. He didn’t tell anyone what had happened that day, and as far as the valley people knew, John Cable simply disappeared hunting.

With John Cable gone, and his son Jacob being the last of his children to survive, Caleb Campbell quickly moved to claim the old Cable cabin and the land. No one protested because Caleb was a hard man.”

Ila turned to look at me and Luke.

The spirits moved then,” she said. “This is why me and Luke know that they are always with us.

Caleb Campbell went crazy, they say. He would wake up screaming in the night, asking John Cable not to shoot him. It was said that he saw John Cable everywhere he went until he went, until he could stand it no more. He went back up the Bald Top Mountain one day, and never returned.

The land around the cabin seemed to dry up. None of Caleb’s children could make it grow anything at all. It was like a sickness had infected the land, and soon, Caleb’s children just moved away, leaving only Caleb’s wife Hattie Campbell to live out her life alone.

After Hattie died, some years before the Civil War, everyone else was afraid to move into the old Cable cabin, and it seemed to fall into a solitude. Some people in the valley said they thought they saw lights in the cabin at night. Others said they had seen someone walking about the place. But no one was willing to go there, for fear of finding the ghost of Caleb Campbell lurking about, or being tormented for the killing of John Cable. Or, maybe even both of the ghosts were there, people said.

That’s when the valley discovered there had been a child in the union of Jacob Cable and Sarah Campbell. She had been named Rose of Sharon. Jacob and Sarah had written in their bible, that she was the lily of the fields.

She had lived with Caleb and Hattie and that was the promise Jacob had asked his father, not to kill Caleb Campbell so that his daughter could live with the hard mountain man and to become a reminder of the good that can be born from something black and callous. He asked that John Cable not interfere with the life of his granddaughter and let her be a Rose of Sharon to the Campbells. She was the last of the children in the old cabin and when Hattie died, Rose of Sharon, remained in the old Homeplace.

Jacob’s Promise is what this story became known as,” Ila said. She seemed to sink lower into her shoes as she talked.

When the Civil War made its way to the valley, Rose of Sharon was living alone. Federal soldiers from an Indiana Cavalry rode up one day and began taking foodstuffs from the farm. They searched the house and found Rose of Sharon, sitting in a rocker, looking out the front door toward Kettle Creek.

You live here? One of the soldiers asked.

Rose of Sharon said she did.

Well, you best be leaving. We are going to burn the place down and set fire to the valley. We are tired of Johnny Reb hiding and getting foodstuffs from you valley people, the soldier said to Rose of Sharon. She didn’t seem to hear what the young officer was saying. She just stared out toward the towering peak of Bald Top Mountain, where her two grandfathers had been that day long ago.

Oh, said Rose of Sharon, this place has been dead a long, long time, I reckon. You can burn anything you want, and it won’t kill it. You can’t kill what is already dead.

The soldiers looked at this strange little woman, her head in a tight, gray bun on top of her head. She didn’t look to be old enough to be gray. She wasn’t wrinkled in the face at all. She was right pretty, matter of fact. She was slender, and her nose was small to match her hands, which rested in her lap. She had rosy lips and her cheeks glowed with good health. This was no old woman rocking in her chair before the soldiers in blue.

Ma’m, you will need to go afore my boys put the torch to the fields. We don’t mean you no harm, but your fields are helping Johnny Reb in these hills, and we got to stop that.”

Ila returned slowly back to the kitchen table. Luke was still looking at his hands. They seemed to feel something heavy on their shoulders, the two of them.

Rose of Sharon left the farm that day, never looking back. She came to Walker

Valley and married my grandfather.” Ila stopped to take in a deep breath. Luke got up and left the table, as if something had pushed him from the room.

Luke and I are cousins,” Ila said. “His father was my mother’s brother. We sprouted from Rose of Sharon and Leb Walker. They had something like ten children and me and Luke was related back there somewhere in all of that gaggle of people.”

Luke returned holding a large family bible. In it was a list of names, going all the way back to John Cable and Caleb Campbell. The names sprang forward to Ila and Luke, where it stopped.

We feel these spirits because we are part of them,” Ila said.

We found John Cable’s old bible and that’s how we figured out we were related way back there,” Luke said as he thumbed the bible’s worn pages.

And, we found Jacob’s Promise. It was in a letter. Only, John Cable never did tell all of the story. Jacob wrote in the letter to his father that not only was he to let little Rose of Sharon stay with Caleb Campbell and Hattie Campbell, but he said his ghost would haunt Caleb Campbell if he refused to take care of Rose of Sharon, and his succeeding generations. He said that Sarah had also made the same vow for her family.”

Ila resettled herself in her kitchen chair.

Over time, no one ever thought about the promise,” Ila said. “It was forgotten, just like a lot of things in a family. Forgotten or just ignored. Anyway, when Luke and I found John Cable’s bible we wondered about Jacob’s Promise and how he thought he would carry it out. And then it dawned on us.

Old John Cable went to the mountain that morning knowing precisely what he was doing. He wasn’t going to die, but he meant to have Caleb Campbell shoot him, so he could join his son in the promise. They would both look over little Rose of Sharon in the spiritual world. You see, John Cable had no wife left. He had no children left. He had forced his only son out of his life, and now he was re-joining him in the spiritual world. Together, they would keep Jacob’s Promise.”

Then Ila looked at Luke and smiled.

We named our first girl child Rose. The first day we took her to the valley is the first day we saw the old Cable cabin. It was as if it reappeared in some way to remind us of Jacob’s Promise and the Rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley.”

But why had I been able to see the cabin, I asked.

If you will read your bible, you’ll find the answer,” Ila said.

That afternoon, I rushed home to find the bible and the passage about Rose of Sharon. It is in the Song of Songs. But that didn’t answer anything for me. That is verses of love from Solomon, and nothing to do with cabins or valleys. But it is about how love lives on, despite the realities of life.

Then, I discovered something in the book of Joel. Mostly this is about bad things happening to you if you don’t repent and do the right thing. That didn’t provide an answer, either. Neither John Cable nor Caleb Campbell were particularly sin-free, I was certain. And, God knows I wasn’t.

But there was this. Joel, the prophet, told the story of great problems for those who fail to atone for their past. There was all this stuff about locusts and armies and floods and fires.

The mystery was solved though when I figured out that Joel said he was the son of Pethuel, his father. Joel named his earthly father to who how the generations are connected to overcome evil, and they are expected to hand that down, from father to son to daughter. This is the only place in the bible you will find a prophet naming his earthly father, to bring the generations together down through the eons to beat back the darkness of evil.

The son Jacob made the promise and through the father, John Cable, it was kept.

And when Ila and Luke married, it brought together the two families again, answering Jacob’s Promise of bringing peace and love to the valley.

Finally, I understood why I had seen the cabin. It is revealed to those who want to see it, who are searching for peace and tranquility in their lives. The cabin says that all you have to do is believe, and it will be there, It was promised a long, long time ago.


About tennwriter

FRED BROWN is a retired Senior Writer for The Knoxville News-Sentinel. He has been a journalist for 45 years and is a member of the Scripps Howard Hall of Fame. He is a recipient of the Malcolm Law Trophy for Feature Writing and in 1983 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in Journalism to study at the University of Michigan. He has published both fiction and nonfiction. Brown has a B. A. Degree in English Literature from Presbyterian College. Other highlights of his career include: Books and Stories Authored: Marking Time: East Tennessee Historical Markers and the Stories Behind Them, published by The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tenn. 2005. Discovering October Roads: Fall Colors and Geology in Rural East Tennessee, published by The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tenn., 2001. Co-authored with Harry Moore. The Serpent Handlers: Three Families and Their Faith, published by John F. Blair Publishers, Winston-Salem, N.C., May, 2000. Co-authored with his wife, Jeanne McDonald. Growing Up Southern: How the South Shapes Writers, published by Emerald House/Blue Ridge Publishing, Fall, 1997. Co-authored with his wife, Jeanne McDonald "We Can Eat Sparrows," New Millennium Writings, Vol. 1, Issue 2, Fall & Winter, 1996. "The Devil's Roost," Voices From the Valley, Knoxville Writer's Guild anthology, 1994. Snake-Handling Believers, 2 chapters in book by Dr. Thomas Burton, University of Tennessee Press, 1993. History of Commission on Religion in Appalachia, 1992-93. "Seniors: Telling Tales to Life's Upperclassmen," Storytelling Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 4, fall 1992. Coker Creek, Crossroads to History, history of a mountain community and its people near Tennessee-Georgia border, 1991. "Character Building," Storytelling Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 4, fall 1991. The Faces of East Tennessee, a history of East Tennessee Counties, 1990. "Tillman Cadle, Memories of the Coalfields," Now and Then, The Appalachian Magazine, Center for Appalachian Studies, East Tennessee State University, Vol. 7, No. 7, fall 1990. Trader Jon, a biography; Castle Books, Memphis, 1986. "Mining Reform," Sierra, Vol. 71, No. 5, September/October 1986.
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