February is always an iffy month in Tennessee; some days are wicked, some days are spring-like. This past weekend proved to be the former in spades. There have been winter weather warnings for a few days before the event. They called for temperatures in the thirties by day and 3 degrees with windchill factors into the minuses. Anybody else would have had second thoughts about holding a muster in these conditions but we’re the Militia, descended from tough and hardy stock, iron men and women. A little snow and cold never stopped us before as it didn’t stop the Overmountain Men marching across the Roan. There was also the knowledge that Earl Slagle, God bless him rich and deeply, had gone through every cabin, filling in every possible place that was open with chinking material. Those that planned to stay overnight knew that we’d be warmer than we ever were before and with a full shed of wood, a semblance of comfort was achievable.
On Friday, Tony DeVault, myself and Kim set up our spaces for a long stay. Kim had a diamond fly under the trees outside the fort and actually slept there on Friday night. I worried about him but this mountain man knows what he’s doing.( He was persuaded to sleep in the Talbot House on Saturday; thank God he listened.) He also set up his outdoor smoker as he was planning to smoke six deer hides on Saturday. The Bennetts set up the Talbot House but they were smarter than us and day tripped it both days. Saturday night, Ethan and Scott Walling came and opened the Tavern so all but one of the buildings inside the fort were occupied. Friday night was cold, the sky was fully blanketed by clouds, but there was a luminosity that comes with a full or nearly full moon. It was eerie but beautiful and it was a cozy time for us, sharing food and stories. Before I went to bed I made biscuits and bacon for the morning and slept reasonably well except for getting up every few hours to stoke the fire. I could hear Tony doing the same, as I heard him at the wood shed every now and then.
Saturday was cold and clear, a good day for indoor activities. Lisa, Rachael and Susanna spent the day cooking and sewing, Tony was in the man cave doing woodworking, I cooked Saturday and did a wool processing demo on Sunday and of course, there was Ken with his hides. Many members came for the day including Ken Markland, Mel McKay, ,Bucky Claubaugh, Ronnie and Linda Lail, Donna and Doug Ledbetter, Earl Slagle, who had hand surgery right after he made things comfy for us, and daughter , Sarah, David (Who came after work) and Matt Simerly to name a few. It was especially nice to see Col. Bob McCrosky. He braved an irate wife to come out for a while to cheer us all on. He’s just gotten over pneumonia and Margie had every right to worry but Bob did come and we so loved it. Chad roused the militia to march from time to time, banging on the window saying “I mean it” (Mel: ” Militias don’t drill” as he laughed out the door, wooden musket over his shoulder). In spite of the bitter cold, there was a surprising number of people who showed up and while the wind whipped, Chad and the men did put on a fine cannon display each afternoon. For myself, I especially loved having the class from Milligan College who came, partook of chocolate cake and hot mulled cider and stayed a while. The professor was a very nice man, a country boy from west Tennessee, and he and Mel and Ken enjoyed a long conversation. I loved being in the cabin all day cooking and Mel, Ken and Tony made it ever so nice staying and talking. There was a lot of laughing coming through the door to be sure.
After everyone left, we combined our food and had a wonderful meal and then after all the clean up, the crazy ones resupplied themselves with wood for the night before we turned in. The acid test was going to be making it through the night, with blowing snow, and arctic temps. I made it really well through the night but began to notice that my nose was filling up. I ascribed it to the dry heat but around 2 :30, I woke with a raging headache and knew that stopped up nose signaled a head cold. DAMN!! Thinking about the frontier women, I figured I’d just “man on” as they say and do the best I could. everyone had speculated that we would have a very mean number of people on Sunday with all the advisories for them to stay indoors, but would you believe???? Shades of Field of Dreams- to paraphrase the famous quote “If you build it, he will come” to “if you’re crazy enough to be there, somebody crazier will come”. Sure enough, when Chad was conducting services in the Talbot House, here came two women, one cradling a hairless Chihuahua in a blanket. Throughout the day, people did come and enter the cabins to see what they could see, but when the coast was clear, most everyone but me went to the Talbot House for company. I didn’t want to share the wealth and kind of isolated myself so I wouldn’t share what no one wanted.At 3 PM, precisely, colors went down and by 3:10, I was on the road with my cabbage of a head to a nice warm shower and bed, Vicks on chest, box of tissue in hand.
You can say what you want about the Washington County Regiment of North Carolina Militia, but the one thing that you can say the most is that this is one dedicated group of people who cheerfully keep alive the heritage of the area no matter what. Herodotus must have been looking into the future when he said “….these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed.”
—Herodotus, Histories (8.98) (trans. A.D. Godley, 1924)