There is no name given in this
account but I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty the
author is none other than Will Allen Dromgoole.
Tuesday, October 14, 1890; pg. 3
IN TENNESSEE'S HILLS
The Mysterious Tribe Known as Melungeons
LIVING IN A LAND OF PROMISE
Degraded Human Beings Whose Homes Are in a Country of Natural
Wealth and Beauty
--A Malungeon School
During a recent tour among the Malungeons, the mysterious mountain
tribe whose origin has baffled research, I stayed at the cabin of one
Gowens, says a special correspondent writing from Nashville, Tennessee
to the New York World. The polite prefix Mr. or Mrs. is unknown
in that region. A majority of the Malungeons live within five
miles of Sneedville, the county seat of Hancock County, and their
habitations are windowless log huts. The march of progress since
the war has reached the Malungeons in the ability to raise
tobacco. Otherwise they are as nearly savage as they were a
quarter of a century ago. Their orchards are the wonder of the
country round and always have been. But the fruit, as fruit, goes
no further than the stillhouse.
They live upon corn bread and wild honey, coffee and
tobacco. I class tobacco among their articles of food from the
fact that all use it constantly, men, women, and children.
Gowen's house, where I was guest, is a double log cabin, with two
rooms, without daubing or window. There were eleven in Gowen's
family, and a widower brother and his five children increased the
number to seventeen. In one room were three beds-- brown ticks
filled with leaves-- in another two, while a big white tick of new
straw occupied the front porch. the porch was a rude platform of
A Malungeon Belle
Mrs. Gowens wore a garment, a skirt that hardly covered her brown
knees. The waist of dark cotton, copiously "plugged" with yellow
domestic on either breast and across the shoulder-blade. She was
smoking a pipe, seated on the bare earth with two brown babies pulling
at her breast. She told me the family lived 'mos'ly on fruit in
apple time' So I considered, did the other pigs squealing at the
The Gowens family, however, live on Blackwater: the people of the
Ridge own neither cattle, dogs, pigs nor cats - nothing indeed that
requires food and drink.
One old squaw was the mother of seventeen living children.
The number ten is very popular in children, but the rule is not
imperative, some mothers having as many as twenty-two.
A Malungeon Boarding House
The Blackwater country abounds in excellent mineral springs, and
of late years the people from the valley go there to drink the
water. there is only one boarding-house, a low one and half story
building, with one room front and one back, and a loft reached by a
ladder. There is no window in the house, and lamps or candles
have never been lighted in the place. The family sit in darkness
after sundown, go to bed in darkness and rise in darkness. The
proprietor is the father of twelve children, none of whom can read or
write. The father, however, is very progressive, and continually
on the watch for the railroad that is coming ''ter the Ridge.''
He will first ask the traveller's name as do all of the Malungeons
Wher f'm? Next, how old are yer? and then come the all
Did yer hear an'thin' or ther railroad comin' up ther Ridge?
The Malungeons are very like the negroes in the matter of
worship. They believe very strongly in the efficacy of water in
religion, it being their custom to immerse converts by three dips, face
forward. they shout, sing, and in short are extremists in noise
and enthusiasm on "meet'n day." On other days they steal, lie, drink
and are as filthy as humanity can be.
I attended preaching at one of their churches in Big Sycamore
Creek one cool day in August. The church was built of logs, with
no windows, but an opening sawed at one end, through which the people
came and went. There were no benches, but stout logs answered for
The congregation was a collecton of Malungeons, whites and
negroes. The negro children are all the offspring of white
of Malungeon mothers, for the races in Sycamore swamp are exceedingly
mixed as well as immoral.
The Malungeons do not use the "you uns" and "we uns" of the
On The Ridge
On the Ridge, the real stronghold of this peculiar people, life is
a great deal harder than in the swamp or on Blackwater creek.
They live more like Indians than the dwellers in the valley, and are
entirely content with their life. I visited several huts,
spending a month among them, living on corn bread, honey and black,
They were as utter strangers the day I left as on the day I
arrived among them.
Calloway Collins in an Indian if ever one set foot on Tennessee
soil. He is very fond of his red skin, high cheek-bones and
Indian like appearance.
His cabin has two rooms, connected by a kind of shed. There
are dirt floors in one room and the shed, but the other room has a
floor of oak logs with the bark still on them and laid side by side,
just as they came from the forest. A bed of dry, last year's
leaves was the only furnishing the room could boast.
The cooking and eating were done in the connecting shed, and a
large coffee-pot always occupied a low shelf just above the table, for
Calloway, like most of the Malungeons, is a slave to coffee and drinks
it instead of water throughout the day and night. Calloway
himself is a king, a royal good fellow, who, seated upon a great stump
that marks the fate of a giant beech that grew precisely in the center
of the site selected by the Indian for his shed, or hallway,
would entertain me by the hour with his songs and banjo-picking and
stories of his grandfather.
The man's very instincts are Indian. He sleeps in leaves,
inside or out, as he feels inclined. He smokes almost
unceasingly; so often, in fact, that his wife, Ann Calloway, finds it
necessary to cultivate a 'torbacy spot'' for her ''ole man ter smoke
They have fourteen children and grandchildren, but Calloway is
especially fond of Dorcas, who, he declares, "shows the Injun in her."
And truly she does, with her dark sullen face, black hair and
small eyes, Dorcas, however is a true type of the Malungeon belle.
The district school was a most interesting place. The
teacher, a full-blooded Malungeon, was a curiosity. His learning
was limited to a meager knowledge of Webster's old blue-back spelling
book, the only volume used in this district. He was very nervous
at my call, and was, moreover, determined not to begin lessons until we
left. We were equally determined not to leave until he did
begin. He sat upon the end of a long bench and issued his
orders in a voice calculated to wake the dead.
The Malungeons are very loyal to their dead, denying themselves
food and clothing if necessary in order to proved find tombs.
they mourn departed friends and kinsmen for years.