Home | Mission & Goals | Meeting Schedule | Search | Contact Us | Submit A Story | Links

My Old Mountain Home
& Memories of West Virginia

John Miller

My dad was transferred from the Emmitsburg/Thurmont C&P offices to the C&P Offices of the Western Maryland and West Virginia area. He settled near Oakland, Maryland until his house was built at Red House, Maryland. His home is situated on the highest point of Maryland called Backbone Mountain and also bordered less than 1/2 mile from the West Virginia Stateline.

As a child growing up in Northern Frederick County, I always looked forward to going to my dadís house for the holidays, school vacations, and also hunting season. I love spending time with my dad and seeing my grandparents, and to this day, I look forward to reliving those memories and visiting old stomping grounds. I love the hillbilly life and the mountain setting. The mountains I once roamed make the South Mountain chain appear to look so small in size.

When my dad transferred to Oakland, Maryland, he rented a trailer in Swanton, Maryland. The trailer I can remember sat about 200 hundred yards from the Railroad that ran through the area. My dad, brother, two of my sisters, and myself would always walk on the tracks. I used to find all kinds of stuff such as railroad spikes, plates, and also little purple iron pellets. Once in a while I would find a marble looking piece of glass that came from the trains. I also found a track wheel from a service vehicle that was made of aluminum. We were always outside people and my stepmother knew that the railroad tracks would be the place that all us kids were at.

Swanton was the place that my dad showed me gun safety. He bought my first gun while I was there and it was a 410 shotgun. I can remember at the age of 8 or 9, when I first fired it off. I was kneeling down and after I shot it, I was sitting on my butt. I managed to get the hang of it very quickly. I always looked up to my dad for that. He was always near me, double-checking to see if I was able to correctly and safely handle a gun.

It was also the place where I started to learn the ways of the Mountain Man. Ever since my experiences in Western Maryland and West Virginia to this day I have always taken on the role of a traditional hunter in the seasons that it is allowed. For Black powder season in Maryland I will wear a full Civil War kit or I will wear something similar to honor the mountain life.

We would always go to my grandparents in Mineral County, West Virginia. They lived outside of the area called Mount Storm. The name says it all. Thunderstorms were always intense as lighting and thunder came crashing down. To this day the weather patterns have never changed, pouring down rain while the sun was out. We sit in the closed in area of the porch and the sound of the rain on the metal roof was so loud at times, that you had to yell next to the person you would be talking to.

We would always take a walk up to my Aunt Lianaís house that sat back on an old dirt road 300 yards from my grandparentís place. I remember the walk to Aunt Lianaís. The half way point was a little wooden bridge made from railroad tresses. As kids we would always stop to throw rocks in the little stream below us. We never got in the water though, my grand pap always told us kids never to do that because of Copperhead snakes were notorious for being there. On land you had to worry about Cottonmouth and Rattler snakes. As I grew older, I would carry that 410 shotgun that my dad bought me as protection against snakes.

At my Aunt Lianaís house, we would walk in for refreshments. She was such a kind woman and I always made sure that I stop and seen her up until her death. Her basement was neat. It had a spring that ran through it and she always went down with a bucket to get water. The water from the tap was not good enough for us kids. It had to be pure West Virginia spring water. My grandparents always used the one in their yard for that reason too. Once we stopped in we would tell her that weíre heading up to the meadow.

The meadow is one of those places you can loose the modern conveniences of life. The property is set up as a squared eight. The sides are covered in a heavy wooded area and had the crisscross old style rail fence. Dead center of the eight-shaped property it has a thin layer of woods that is about 10 yards wide and covers the width of the field. The top of the eight as I call it had another layer of woods in the formation of the clump of trees that you hear about in Gettysburg associated with Pickettís Charge. The meadow is situated on the top of the mountain and looking west you can see another mountainside that is about 10 miles away. The meadow was the place I love to be. There was always the sweet gentle summer breeze coming across the fields. Tall grass covered the plain and if you listened the wind would talk to you.

I remember those times that my Grand pap would walk up to the meadow with me and he would talk about stories of my father and my Uncle Terry. Grand pap told me a story about an experience he had as a young man. He and a cousin went hunting with a muzzle loader (Black powder) during the 1930ís. He told that they didnít have much money and all they had was an old black powder rifle and the old style 12-gauge paper cartages and a pack of matches. He recites the story about how they tore those old style 12-gauge paper cartages apart and placed the powder down the barrel and rammed an old lead ball until it was seated in the barrel. They took the Sulpher match heads and crammed them onto the nipple of the gun since they did not have any caps. My cousin raised the rifle up while my Grand Father held a match in reserve. My Grand Father holding the match lit it and quickly placed it onto the nipple. Once the gun fired it blew apart and my grand pap said as he laughed the only thing left was the stock of the gun that was being held. Luckily nobody got hurt, however, my Grand Pap and my cousin got into a lot trouble because the gun belonged to my uncle.

That was my last time I went up into the meadow with my grand pap. I was target practicing with a black powder rifle as he told me that story. Since then my Aunt Liana died and her house was set on fire and the bridge has over growth of weeds and brush that has grown over the years. The road itself has a gate and many ruts. I would love to take another walk up to the meadow and relive memories as a child.

As a child a favorite pass time was watching the dump trucks hauling coal up and down the mountain road. They ran six days a week. Sundays were usually quiet because of everyone going to the small backwoods churches that dotted the mountainside. Sunday evening my grandparents would take me to Uncle Lawrenceís house just at the bottom of the mountain. There I would have freshly baked pie that my aunt made and we would have dinner in a buffet style.

I remember looking at all the guns on my uncleís table that he cleaned and repaired for hunting season. He was a funny old man. I was 10 or 11 years of age and he was about 60 or 70 years old. He and my father would pass time away telling jokes about West Virginia. They always had pride for their home and their state. My brother to this day says the motto on the license plates is true "West Virginia almost Heaven."

Before I was to come home near Emmitsburg for school, my father and step-mother Nancy would take me to Black Water Falls in West Virginia and my grandparents would always meet me us there for a picnic. After we all ate then we would go to see the falls. I always loved the walk down to the falls. Grand ma would always tell us kids not to go off the wooden platform because of the bears that ran wild through there. She would ask Grand pap to tell us about a recent bear attack story, I guess this was done to make sure we listened.

I will always remember my mountain home as I always think about the old homestead. The West Virginia Mountains have given me shelter from modern day inconveniences of work and the fast paced world that we live in. I always adore the scenery as I cherish every moment that I am there. I can still see my self reliving those memories that I experienced when I was a child.

Just as history needs to be preserved so does our outdoor activities such as hunting. Hunting gets people involved with nature. Ask any hunter out there about nature, and most will tell stories about the sunrises and sunsets he or she has experienced. I have hunted mostly in Western Maryland all my life with my father. Iíve been mostly in the mountain terrain and I can tell you the scenery is nothing compare to whatís around here. I have seen the sunrises and sunsets for many years. I have hunted in the rain, snow, sleet, wind, hot and cold weather conditions. To this day I am still telling my wife stories of my hunting experiences in the mountains of along the West Virginia and Maryland State line.

I remember one time I was hunting on the highest point on Backbone Mountain, in Garret County and I seen the lights of Oakland, Maryland some 15 miles away from where I was sitting at. I then saw red, orange, and yellow rays of light bouncing off the clouds as the sun was rising behind me. Then about thirty minutes later Oakland disappeared right before my eyes, fog rolled in from nowhere in the valley below. The blue skies turned to a grayish tent as a weather system approached from the west. Sensing a change in the barometer, I was amazed how my body started to feel the changes in the air. What started out as a mild morning, turned into a very cold afternoon.

Around 10 am the fog rolled onto the mountain where I was at then the wind picked up. Then the mist became more aggressive as rain came rolling in. I remember the rain started to beat down as a flash of lightning covered the sky. I then saw three doe as I picked up my rifle to look at them through my scope. When I did that water came rushing from the end of my barrel. Sensing I wasnít there I continued to watch the doe, because usually the buck isnít too far behind.

By then the rain started to change over to sleet, so I packed up my gear and headed for the truck to get some coffee and a midmorning snack. By 11 am it was snowing and the ground started to get covered in the white stuff. My dad made his way back to the truck and we decided to ride into Gormania which sets along the Potomac River near the West Virginia Line. We both warmed up on fresh coffee and went back out to the spot in which we came. The rest of the afternoon was a slushy mess, but an unbelievable good time.

Most people who donít adventure into the woods might think, you wonít catch me out in the middle of nowhere like that. But they surly missed the whole point when I tell my stories. My body sensed and felt the change in the weather before it occurred, which is the same sense our forefathers had when they went hunting in the woods. City slickers might find this dumb on my behalf, but the experience is overwhelming. I didnít shoot a deer that weekend. I as a teenager 15years of age; I connected with my instincts of a hunter for the first time. Itís a feeling I get to this day around the end of August and the beginning of September. My body senses the change in the air. I can smell the sweetness of the warm air that is starting to mix with the chill of autumn that is around the corner.

I also remember when Dad took me to this place on the mountain. I forget the name of the place, but I still see the natural beauty of where I was hunting at. I got situated in my hunting spot fifteen minutes before sunup. The ground still covered in frost since the temperature dropped to low thirties. I sat against an old oak tree and played the waiting game. When the sun finally rose, the woods came alive with the sounds of critters coming from the tree tops. Then I became aware of an unusual sound coming from below. I waited until about hour and a half past sunrise, then my curiosity kicked in. I picked up my gun and walked a short distance until I came upon a cliff. I looked down and the scene was breath taking. There was the Potomac River sparkling with every ripple. The banks covered in brownish gray rocks and boulders that neatly followed the river. On the other side was good Olí West Virginia. The scene was picture perfect and I ended up writing a song later on about it.

I sat there on the Maryland side watching through my rifle scope the wildlife getting a drink of water. I then saw the deer. I couldnít get a shot in because of the fact it was on the West Virginia side, and not to mention the steep downward incline near the cliff I was sitting on. So I sat there for several minutes watching, learning, and getting to know the creature I was after. After I watched them make their way further on the West Virginia side, I decided to go back and wait some more. Finally 11 am came, and I decided to look for my dad and see how his luck was going, and just maybe I would drive a deer his way.

As I made my way further up hill, I stop and notice on the West Virginia side where the trees were cleared and the hill was covered in black. I saw yellow machinery and the black was where a mine was located. Mining being West Virginiaís biggest industry, I never saw one that close before, even though it was far away in terms of miles on the West Virginia side. I looked through my rifle scope and checked it out. Everything looked dead near the place, but being a student in Agriculture, I knew it was cycle that had to be processed.

The reason I tell you these two stories is because you donít have to hunt in order to enjoy and become involved with outside activities. More Americans are getting addicted to the TV, video games and they are forgetting about the adventure that awaits them in the great outdoors. Go hiking or do some photography in the woods and experience Mother Nature for yourself. As Ted Nugent says; "Feel the Sprit of the Wild inside of you." You wont regret it, trust me.

Read other articles by John Miller

Have your own memories of growing up in Emmitsburg?  
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net