“[Hillbillies are] God-fearing people that that love everybody, but they don’t want to be messed with and they want to have their own life. They want to live it the way they want to live it. We love our culture, our land, our people, and taking care of one another. We’re living in this great place God gave us to live…the mountains.”
Bob Howery, Civil War Reenactor with the Giles Light Artillery; Bluefield, Virginia:
“Things were a whole heck of a lot different than they are now. Back when I was growing up it seemed like everybody was more closely-knit, and they cared more about their neighbors. We all got together and did work together, we all ate together, and everything was built around the community. People cherished their time with one another, and friends and family counted. It was what life was all about.
It seems to me like nowadays, I don’t know if it’s because of the world, or the people in it, but people have grown apart and they don’t have time for what really matters to me. Things that I cherish, seems like the world doesn’t care about those things any more. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been forced into the life that we’ve had to live now, or we’ve had to accommodate to them or whatever. But things have definitely changed; it’s nothing like it used to be.
When I was a kid, we used to get out and play marbles together. We would fish, pick berries, and stay out in the woods and the mountains and hills, and chasing rabbits. [We would] build forts, climb trees and pick apples and sell them. It was all things that kids nowadays don’t really experience or don’t know anything about.
I can remember when I was little [my grandfather] had some chickens and stuff, and I’d always wanted me some chickens. I was probably about six years old, and he came and he built me a big chicken house of my own. Mom and Daddy had chickens, but they would kill theirs and at that age, I wanted some for pets. I had names for all of them. I had rabbits, and goats and I remember all those things. Even today, I’ll catch myself doing things just like he taught me to do it. I can remember he told me not to lie, and to always tell the truth no matter what. If I caught a fish, he’d get up at 3:00 in the morning, and cook that fish for me. He loved me. My Granny was the same way. I’d get a skeeter bite, she dipped snuff and she would put snuff on [the bite.] When I was little, my Mom and Dad would try to whip me, and I’d run up to my Granny and she’d say, ‘you’re not gonna whup my baby.’ (Laughs) I’d almost crawl up under her apron to hide from them. But I truly love my grandparents because they were so good to me.
They instilled a lot of work ethic in me, my love for the soil and growing things. [From them I got] my love for animals and the respect for everything living, not to waste things and live for today, but save for tomorrow and plan for your future. [They taught me to] be gracious and good, treat everybody like you want to be treated, to feel blessed with what God has given you, and if you can help people, do it. Yeah, they really affected me. A whole lot!
I really enjoyed high school, and it was a simpler time. I like sports and everything, but it seemed like the subjects that we had were more relevant to my life, than what I see a lot of kids getting today. They teach them a lot of things now that I don’t think, with the economy, most people are even going to use. Back when I was going, it was more reading, arithmetic, and the basic things that I really used.
I spent four years in the Marine Corps. I have a whole lot of respect for our military people. I used to run and train with the Seals in Coronado Island, and did a lot of Special Forces type of things and a whole lot of training. I was in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Cherry Point, North Carolina, spent a couple years in Oceanside, California [and did] my training in Millington, Tennessee. There were a lot of things that I enjoyed about those places, and there were a lot of things that I didn’t much care for. I found they were a lot less God-fearing in most of these places, especially in California, than what we were, and it sort of shocked me. It was a culture shock. I had a good time. I was young, and it was a different world out there. I experienced things and all that, but it still wasn’t like home.
I used to be patriotic, and I still love my country, but I’m not really in love with the government so much, you know? When I was growing up, my Mom and Daddy used to tell me they didn’t trust the government, and I used to wonder why. But now that I’m older, and I start seeing how things are going with this country, I don’t trust them either. I think it might be because we live in the mountains and we’re just that kind of people. We don’t trust a lot of things that’s going on in this world, unless we can see it, and deal with it ourselves.
When I came back, I felt more peace and more security, and felt like I was in my element amongst my people. It’s always a good feeling to know you belong somewhere, and that you have something in common with the people.
[After the] Marines, I worked in the corn and feed business, I worked at Farm Bureau for year, and I helped my Daddy with some logging and all. He was a coal miner, and so my family did a lot of timber business. I helped them on the side, and then I’d work at the Farm Bureau. By the time I got out [of the service], the mines were starting to decline due to politics and machinery, and things started changing. They [didn’t need] the manpower, and what miners there were, were still hard up trying to keep a job. Sort of like it is nowadays; a lot more unemployed than there was employed. It was still the same people and the same wants and needs, but just not enough jobs to go around for the miners.
My grandfather, Luther Howard, was born in 1911, in Howery Hollow, in Piskey, Virginia. My grandparents owned some of Fort Whitten down there, and they donated that land to them. He was a lifelong farmer. His name was Reece Howery. His Daddy lived there, and his name was Wade Howery. He owned a big farm in Piskey, and during the Depression, the hobos would get off the trains, and [my grandfather] would kill flocks of chickens to feed them. That’s just the way they were then. They cared about their fellow man, whether they were someone they knew, or a stranger. In my belief, the same kind of thing doesn’t exist any more.
The people that moved to these mountains years ago, the Scots-Irish, the Germans, have been the dominant culture. There hasn’t been an influx of new bloodlines or new kinds of people moving in here because of the economic depressions that we’ve been [through] down through the years, and the lack of jobs. There’s nobody really moving in to diversify us, or break it down, or water down the culture that we have, so we pretty well have kept most of our culture intact. We do have to live in the computer age, and there’s things like that are affecting us, but for the most part people like to hold onto the things of yesterday, at least the beliefs that we had and the special things that are good.
We’re more in sync with the land. We hold things here more special, more sacred to us, than a lot of other places do. We have a bigger respect for our history, we have respect for the land and we don’t really want too much to change. If we change it to be like the rest of the world, then we become something else, so we want to keep it the way is it.
My family’s been here for about ten or twelve generations, on my Daddy’s side, especially. I’m kin to people who were Indian fighters, or owned coalmines, or were legislators. Everything from when Virginia become a state; and we’ve had to dig out a living in these mountains. We’ve been here for generations and generations, and we’ve had to work for everything we got. I never had got a handout, and I never expected one. But I’ve always enjoyed a family, [and knowing that] that if I was ever in need, they would offer it to you and help you. We’re the kind of people that, if somebody needed something, we’d offer them without them having to ask. We’re prideful people; we like doing for one another and we like to give them respect and do what’s right. Because we believe in God and we believe in the Bible, we hold our moral standards higher than I think the rest of the world does.
(Appalachian stereotypes] I don’t really worry about it too much, how other people do. If they’re not talking about us, they’ll be talking about somebody else, too. I’ve been to places like California and all that. They call me a redneck and a hillbilly, and probably [say I] married my cousin, and all that sort of stuff. But we’re the kind of people that let things like that slide. I wasn’t raised up to judge people, that’s for God to do. There were times, maybe back when I was younger, that it bothered me. Maybe because when you’re younger and you’re in the Marines and you go to different places, everybody wants to fit in and feel like they are a part of that. But as you grow older, you find out sometimes fitting in ain’t what it’s about. You want to hold on to what’s near and dear to you, and what’s sacred to you. We’re all individuals, and I like being where I’m from.
I’m a hillbilly. [Hillbillies are] God-fearing people that that love everybody, but they don’t want to be messed with and they want to have their own life. They want to live it the way they want to live it. We love our culture, our land, our people, and taking care of one another. We’re living in this great place God gave us to live…the mountains. Most of us ain’t rich or wealthy, but we’ve got each other. In times to come, when things break down in these big cities, I think a lot of other people would start loving these mountains, too. They might want to come back here and hide out with the rest of us. You live in the mountains when the world goes to you-know- where.
The saddest time [in my life] had been when my grandparents died [but later], my first wife died. She turned forty-one on Tuesday, and died the next Tuesday. We were married for about twenty-five years, had four kids together, and I dearly loved her. She just died in the middle of the night [and] to this day they don’t know what killed her. Shew. I think her heart just stopped, but death…it’s always sad. If it wasn’t for my belief in God and, and that there would be a hereafter and that we’re going to a better place, I guess I would be really devastated. I’ve always been an emotional type person, and I cried, and let it out. I would fall back on the scriptures, and that He promised us that there would be everlasting life. That whosoever believeth in Him would not perish, but there would be a better day coming and we would see these people again. Maybe not like in the flesh, but we’d see them again and know that they are okay. I try to always dwell on the good things, the good memories that we had together.
The happiest times were when my children were born. They all turned out to be healthy; had a few problems with them. That was probably the happiest times of my life, when my children were little, and I could get out and play with them. I always knew then that there would be a day that they’d grow up and go away, so I always tried to cherish what time I had with them. Because the way the world is, and because coal mines are fading away, and because people are going [away] to schools and colleges and getting jobs for different professions, they have to go different places to live.
Both sides of my family, their ancestors all fought in the Confederate Army, and my grandfather had passed down stories about the Yankee Army coming through and destroying stuff. I was a young boy, and I said, ‘why would any people want to come do that? I would never do that.’ My people didn’t seem like they were ones that would want to leave these mountains, and go hinder anybody else, but they talked about defending their homes and family. I thought that’s an honorable thing for any man, to go to defend his home and family against an intruder that was coming here to invade us. I don’t think that, here in these mountains, we would have been involved in the Civil War if the Yankees hadn’t come here and started tearing things up and abusing us. I really feel like it was abuse, and maybe that was their mission. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in their situation.
I’ve been doing [Civil War reenactments] since the eighties. In today’s society, they judge these soldiers and they want to put this away and let it die. I think that any man that stands up for God, his country, and his family is worth remembering. These are good, decent, human beings that carved out a life here in these mountains. They gave their all, and a lot of them gave their life, for survival. No one would want to be done that way today, and these men stood up for what was right. What else is there, really, that’s worth anything in this world?
I’m a private in this unit here. All my life I’ve done infantry, and now that I’m getting older, I’ve been doing the artillery. Most of [my ancestors] fought in the infantry, some of them fought in the cavalry, and some of them fought in the artillery. This is something a little bit different, and I enjoy learning things about the different branches and how they fought. These were good, decent people. It was simply survival for them. Their country called on them to serve, and they did it just like they would today. It was about doing what is right, what is noble.
A lot of times, these units were made of the same communities, and they all came together to serve. Everybody wanted to do a good, decent job, because no one wanted to show a white feather amongst the enemy, especially to leave the war and go back and live in these same hollers and mountains with people that would know you may have run. So you stood there and died, rather than run.”