Regional BackgroundJohn Elree "Frail" Joines was born August 7, 1914, on Pore's Knob in Wilkes, a North Carolina county that stretches from the Brushy Mountains northwestward across the Yadkin River valley and up to the summit of the Blue Ridge. Branches of his family had been among the first white settlers in the region in the late eighteenth century. In the more isolated sections of the county the traditional farming culture survived into the twentieth century. Major changes began, however, in 1888 when a railroad was laid from Winston into Wilkesboro, the county seat, opening it to economic development. The county began to export lumber, tanbark and other wood products, green apples and dried fruits, chickens and eggs, bacon, and leather, and the town itself prospered modestly. Paved highways and automobiles were to have an even greater effect upon the county, but in the 1920's and '30's farming was still the major occupation. In 1925 the county had a farm population of 26,290 persons, most of whom owned farms of 50 to 175 acres (4,333 whites and 253 blacks lived on tenant farms). Moonshining was a profitable sideline in these years and helped to breed a race-car culture. The opening of new industries around the Second World War speedily changed Wilkes. By the time we began this film in 1975, the number of farms there had dropped from the 1925 figure of 5,208 to 1,317. While the population of Wilkes County rose by a third across these years, the townspeople remained only ten percent of the total. The rural non-farm population shifted, however, from eleven percent in 1930 to seventy-three percent in 1960. Most people, then, continued to prefer to live in the country, but now commuted to jobs in factories or in town (United States Census of Agriculture, 1925; 1974 Census of Agriculture).
During Mr. Joines's boyhood, Wilkesboro had only plank sidewalks, and he remembers seeing steers and wagons stuck in the mud of the streets. In these years most of the mountain people still lived by subsistence farming and used eggs and chickens to barter for their few store supplies: coffee, sugar, salt and pepper, soda, snuff and tobacco, and Red Devil lye. Their labor was seasonal. Mr. Joines explains, "Usually people'd work all summer on the farm and then in the wintertime they'd get out extract wood, they called it . . . dead chestnuts where the chestnuts had died all over the mountains and they was rich in tannic acid, and they'd grind 'em up -- buy 'em at the tannery. . . . Or they'd peel tanbark in the spring and haul the tanbark. Or they'd hew crossties out and sell then to the railroad companies. And that was the way the most of 'em made their money to buy their fertilizer, and pay their taxes and buy their clothes." (Newman, 1978: 94).
Eleven miles south of town -- a half-day's journey -- in the Brocktown settlement, Mr. Joines's father had a farm of fifty-five cleared acres, and he rented some thirty more. Most years he planted twenty-five or thirty acres in corn and grew 100 bushels of wheat, thirty-five to forty bushels of rye, and thirty bushels of peas. The family had four or five hundred chickens, four or five hogs, two or three milk cows, horses and mules, and a few ducks, guineas, turkeys, and geese. Each year they had 2,000 pounds of beef and put up fifty gallons of blackberries, fifty gallons of peaches, fifty gallons of apples, 100 gallons of kraut, fifty gallons of pickled beans, 125 gallons of molasses, and 100 pounds of honey. The labor of raising the crops and caring for the animals was punctuated by hunting, playing ball, going to corn shuckings, threshings, quiltings, bean stringings, molasses pullings, dancing parties, and church. Mr. Joines recalls, "We worked hard and played hard and eat a lot but we was happy." (Newman: 104).
This essay is adapted from the pamphlet "Being A Joines: A Life in the Brushy Mountains" written by Daniel Patterson, Joyce Joines Newman, and Allen E. Tullos, and published in 1981 by the Curriculum in Folklore of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
U.S. Department of Commerce. 1927 Census of Agriculture: 1925 - North Carolina. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Department of Commerce. 1974 Census of Agriculture, Volume I. Part 33. North Carolina, State and County Data. Washington, D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1975.
Newman, Joyce Joines.1978. "Humorous Local Character Stories from Wilkes County, North Carolina: An Individual Storytelling Tradition." M. A. thesis, Folklore, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 138 pp.