Scott Mullins, Maintenance, Dickenson County Board of Supervisors; Lee Holler, Clintwood, Virginia:
“I’ve lived here all my life. It’s home, and it’s the only place that I recognize as what matters to me. Just like this cemetery here [Dutton Cemetery], this is my family, this is my people and I love where I come from.
I grew up in a family of five kids, and I was the youngest. We attended meetings like this [dinner on the grounds], went to church all the time. My dad was a singer and a minister, and my mom was too. I ran right around all these hills and hollers. I was raised not too far from here in a little place…well it was before Wolf Pen. Wolf Pen is where I spent most of my teenage years from about eight or nine. Bartley Branch is what I was trying to think of, I’ve spent most of my life in this general area right here.
We run around through the hills, played ‘fox and dog,’ had picnics, rode bicycles all over the place, went down to Rita South’s Store when we was kids and got a popsicle. We got on an inner tube and sled in the wintertime. Fox and Dog is just about like a version of hide and seek. You go around, and one person is the fox and the rest of the kids is the dogs chasing after the fox. Basically, the dog has got to find the fox through the woods, so living in the woods like this, it is considerably harder to find you if you know where to go to.
There’s just a lot of fond memories of my childhood. I have had probably one of the coolest childhoods that I guess you could ever think of.
We didn’t have a whole lot, my daddy was a coal miner, but we were blessed. Daddy provided for us and we had family, we had music. We had a lot of music in my family. I come from a singing family that dates back to my great-grandfather. Mostly gospel music and then, earlier in the years, daddy was raised on Johnny Cash and had all kind of record collections of country music.
Whatever made the heart feel happy was what they sung. Listened to a lot of Carter Family stuff. If you don’t have an education in the Carter Family, then I feel sorry for you. I have been trying to teach that to my own children. They have a little bit of an idea from it because some of the material we do touches on the Carter Family stuff.
I was the only one out of my family that never did go in the mines. When I was about eight years old, maybe seven, Daddy took me down in the mines down at Splashdam. It was a shaft mine. I will never forget this as long as I live. He took me down the shaft and opened it up and let me look at what I couldn’t see, pure and utter darkness, except for a section of light.
One time, he made me put my hands over my eyes and he said, ‘shut your eyes real tight, as tight as you can shut ‘em.” I put my hands over my eyes, and he put his hands over my hands and he said, that would give you just a little bit of an idea what it’s like in the coal mines, just how dark it is. That influenced me in a big way to not go in that profession, even though it would have been pretty easy to do as soon as you got out of high school. But I didn’t. I chose other ways.
[Daddy] had some minor injuries and things; you don’t come out of the coal mines unless you get hurt in some degree. I remember he talked about getting the breath about knocked out of him around the pinner machine one time and it nearly killing him. He was around electricity a whole lot; he was an electrician and welder. And I remember his fingernails being black. He had two or three black fingernails where he had mashed his fingers a whole lot. Dad was a hard working person, but he loved the Lord and enjoyed playing music just about as good as any man I’ve ever known. He loved to sing.
(Describe the 69th Annual Dutton Memorial) It’s a coming together, it’s about reconnecting with your people, with the people that you may not always get to see. When I was a small child, all the way out Wildcat Ridge there used to be cars parked all the way out back to my great-grandma’s house. They was a great amount of people that would come here and they would be about all day. They would be two or three preachers and all kinds of singing.
This is an annual memorial meeting to remember those that’s outstripped us and gone on. It’s held at the Dutton Cemetery. It was started in about, we estimate about 1946, in honor and memory of Jack Dutton who had a home place all around this area right here. He was a Brethren preacher, Brethren Elder, if you want to call him.
He was responsible for helping a lot of the people like my grandfather and so many other names I could probably not name them all off, that became preachers. They came together as a form of worship, as a remembrance. Gathering together, the family just meets, the singer sings, the preacher preaches the message and we have fellowship and gather around.
For the longest time, and still in some Brethren Churches there’s no music. This is about the second year that we’ve incorporated music into the service. For a long time, we just sung without music. It wasn’t until after the service that you were allowed to bring your instruments out and play during the eatin’ parts of it, you know. David played a harp and he pleased God with his harp, and I feel like I can do the same thing. We always want to try to do things in decency and in order and reverence to God. We began to incorporate music into the services because we feel that’s just as much a part of it as anything, and still yet hanging onto the roots and singing in the a capella old tradition that we knew and grew up in.
[My singing is] kind of a mixture of stuff. Like I said, it’s Brethren Church. It’s long metered, [and comes] from Scotch Irish traditions; from the old church traditions of long call and response…the drone. I don’t think it’s nowhere near as represented today as what it was fifteen or twenty years ago. Some people might call it mournful, the sound. But to me, I didn’t think of it as a mournful sound at all. It’s that long drone it comes from, and you can hear the element of Scots Irish in it still yet today.
When I’m not doing music, I love to gather history. I love to gather, document and keep track of my family roots. I spend a lot of time with these guys here. I spend a lot of time with my son. We stay pretty busy as far as our ministry work goes. I like to go and visit a lot of people and visit other churches. It is a very great pleasure and an honor and very humbling when people ask you to come and sing for them. It’s our life. It’s my life.
We’ve all had to live through hard times. This has been a hard-pressed economic area as long as I can remember. Families depended on one another to survive. If you didn’t work and raise a garden, you didn’t eat. There wasn’t any welfare system at the time, and people had no other choice but to draw together and come together. Worship was the main connecting forces what brought people together.
[One of my favorite quotes is] ‘Never had a people know so much for so long, with so little they could just about make anything out of nothing’.
What makes this place special is our deep-rooted faith that we have in the Lord, in God and that’s what strengthens us. Without that we have nothing. The worship of the Almighty God, the love of the scripture, the love of the belief that there is a Christ, there’s a God in Heaven.
There’s all kinds of religions. Daddy used to say that you could make a religion out of a rock, if you wanted to. There’s a difference between religion, and true salvation. These are the connecting threads. It was demonstrated today. You represent what is the changing face of Appalachia. Things have changed. The older generations die out. The purity of the singing and the type of life that our ancestors lived, we’re losing that. But there are still very many elements that are still very much alive today.
[Outsiders view of us] We’ve got our negative points just as much as the rest of the whole world, [but] we have dealt with people before. We‘ve been interviewed by folks from like, National Geographic Magazine. I am not pickin’ on anybody or naming names, but I think there is the whole stigma, or the whole stereotype, that people have from what they’ve seen. Walter Cronkite saying ‘this is Appalachia,’ and the whole thing back in the fifties and sixties.
They painted this picture that we’re nothing but barefoot and hillbilly and poverty-ridden and that’s part of it, sure. But we are also a proud people. We are a very hard-working people. We are a people of faith, very deep-rooted faith.
People have their own preconceived notions of who we are. But you can’t come, for say a weekend, and begin to understand who we are. You can’t come in here for twenty-four hours or forty-eight hours and expect to understand the people unless you talk to them. Get to know them, go and stay in their homes for a little while and see how they tick.”