“Pine Mountain is the second highest place in the state of Kentucky, and it’s as steep as a cow’s face.”
Dock Frazier, Pastor & Owner, KC Barns (Kingdom Come Barns), Vendor, Letcher County Farmers’ Market; Kingdom Creek, Outside of Whitesburg, Kentucky:
“I was raised on Cowan Creek, which is right from Kingdom Come. Most of our folks were agricultural, and so my brother and I grew up being my dad’s farm hands. We raised sustenance; corn, beans, potatoes and tomatoes and all of those kinds of things. We grew up in that kind of environment. We most always had horses and cows and chickens and pigs.
Our neighborhood was also our play area. We’d get together and sometimes there would be ten, twelve of us guys, and our favorite playing place was over at the barn. We grew up playing around the same areas that we used as our work areas, as well.
When I began in grade school around the late fifties, most of our communities had a local school. For my family, it was about a mile and we walked back and forth to school every day, summer and winter. There was three rooms, first and second grade in one, third and fourth and fifth in another, sixth, seventh and eighth in another. By the time we were almost finished with grade school, we had a consolidated school and all that began to change, and we got bussed. But was my education area, and it was really cool.
Harding Ison spent almost his entire teaching career there at that school. He taught first through the eighth, all of them, in one building, one room on Kingdom Come Creek. And his students excelled in business and professionalism. It’s amazing the number of people that came out of that environment that went on to do really well. Every day, he taught eight grades [all in different rooms]. We had spelling bees and arithmetic matches and the different little schools would get together and have a basketball tournament, so almost once a week we would have an interaction with another little school. [Harding Ison] was telling me he was doing a spelling bee and he called on this guy and he said, ‘How do you spell sheep?’ And the little guy got excited when he was called on, [and all he could say was], ‘sheepity sheep.’ He just thought that was so funny.
High school was centralized here in Letcher County and it was a little bit of a transition. Six miles out of town and we felt really rural and the guys who lived in town were, you know, city kids. I look at that now and it’s interesting that we could make those kind of divisions, but at that point we did feel that way. There was a difference [in the way we were treated] and a stigma associated with that.
I was the oldest of five kids in a small house, so I went right to work after high school. My junior and senior years in high school, we had Distributive Education [and] I worked forty hours a week for Food Town Super Market and went to school. Our teacher, Bennet Welch, was a really good teacher. We didn’t just have the opportunity to work and earn some money. We got opportunities to grow in marketing understanding, [and] we got some really good practical experience. That was a blessing to me early in my life, because I’ve always been engaged in selling. [As a pastor I feel I’m still selling] I’ve just got the best product!
People in this area migrated north. One of the things we export in this area is our people. There were no real job opportunities, and our people migrated to industrial jobs. Labor Day weekend, Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July weekend, those were really special weekends. Our people would get those long weekends off, and they would come home, and they would gather at my grandmother’s house. Families were larger then [and] sometimes there would be thirty plus of us around. There would be a bunch of kids and grandkids out playing and doing all that stuff, but even at a young age, I preferred being around where all of the older guys were.
My grandmother was a storyteller, and I loved those stories. I did shows for years, musical stuff, and I incorporated some of her stories into my shows. I produced a concept album called Stonega Run in 1996. It’s stories and songs from, and about, this area. People in our area had to make a trip to Stonega, Virginia because that was the nearest railhead. Anything they couldn’t raise or make for themselves meant that trip to get stoves and shoes and anything that they could order from Sears and Roebuck. They would always go loaded both ways; they’d take things they produced from the farm to sell and barter over there when they’d get to Big Stone Gap or Stonega, and then they would buy the things they needed over there and have to haul [it back]. Pine Mountain is the second highest place in the state of Kentucky, and it’s as steep as a cow’s face. It lies on a fault line and it’s the north side of the mountain, so it’s a tremendous wagon trip. They would cross Pine Mountain and then Black Mountain, which is the highest point in the state of Kentucky. The concept album is all about people, places and things along this trip.
Stonega is a name of a community over in Virginia. Some of them would call it Ega. My grandmother’s name was Atha but nobody ever called her Atha, they would call her Athy. My other grandmother was named Sarah and they called her Saray. We misspelled everything because we spelled it the way we heard it.
[My grandmother was] always was cooking and preparing and serving. Our family provided beans and corn and potatoes and sweet potatoes; we grew all that stuff. My grandmother would inevitably wind up with ten, fifteen of us grandkids, gathered around her and she’d tell us scary stories until we was afraid to go to sleep by ourselves. She told a lot of Jack Tales.
She had strong character; worked all of her life, raised a family and her husband passed away relatively early and she was on her own. When she first went on her own, she had no kind of income and she made homemade things like needlework, doilies, quilts, baby blankets and large [quilts], too. She sold them and generated enough for her to live.
I do think [the Appalachian culture] is special. In fact, I know that it’s special. I went as an eighteen-year- old to Cincinnati, Ohio and got my first job in a plastic factory, and that was a tremendous culture shock for me. I think a lot of people might have done this; we’re grown up and we just can’t wait, we’re going to get out of here and we’re gonna go somewhere and do some big thing. Some time out, I realized how special this area is, and how special our culture and our people are. I worked for the Appalshop Filmmakers for a number of years. I used to do sound for some of their documentaries, and in doing that I worked with a wonderful man named Andy Garrison. He taught me about sound. Back in those days, it was analog and a lot different than today, but he taught me how to professionally gather sound and I did that for a number of years as an interest/profession. I’ve always had fifteen irons in the fire at the same time, so this was just one of the things I did. I lasted [in Cincinnati] for about two years, and that was about a year longer than I wanted to.
Andy Garrison awakened me to the idea that Kingdom Come, right in my own back yard, is a special place. When the earliest settlers begin to [arrive] in this area in the early 1800s, my family was some of those that settled there. I live on the same land that was first settled in the early 1800s. My great-grandfather had this particular piece of land, but I live on a 190-acre farm over there on the same land that he originally began to build and develop and make a farm out of. [There are] so many stories about how neighbors help neighbors, and if you were building a barn they’d have a barn building and everybody would come around, and they would have a square dance on Saturday night and everybody would have fun together.
That was the kind of environment that my grandmother grew up in. She passed a lot of that on to us as grandkids in the way of her stories. These days, we have televisions and computers and we’re so engaged we can’t even walk across the road without our cell phones in our pocket. They had none of that, so when they got together they did this most awesome thing…they sat and talked. They were interactive socially, they worked hard, but they always had time. [If] a neighbor passed by, they would sit down on their front porch and drink a cup of coffee and share and it was just part of their lifestyle.
We are doing this farm project, ‘Grow Appalachia.’ We need to redevelop it and maybe help more people understand our heritage. I farmed for a number of years for some local stores and restaurants, so this is not my first experience in raising produce and farm raised products for market. More and more people are trying to get back to food grown in their local areas and not so much processed food. In our area, so many times we’re a little bit slow about coming to that, but we’re developing.
Once upon a time, I used to be a Scouting Location Management person for the film industry. I was registered in Frankfort. Believe it or not, we have a commission of films there. I worked on a really cool project. It was a music video of singer Karen Tobin for CMT. Her song was called, Carolina Smokey Moon, and [they] wound up in eastern Kentucky shooting all the shots. I got to be the Scouting Location Manager. Some of those guys really respected the people, and that’s how Larry Boothby was, the guy who was producing this video. He was awesome and wonderful to work with.
This may be getting too personal, [but] Steven Segal’s group came in here to shoot Fire Down Below. I got contacted and hired to do the scouting location. I worked for those guys for three days, and I said I would not represent you to our people for nothing under this sun because they did not respect our people; they just wanted what they wanted.
The problem with the filmmakers so many times, [is] they’ll drive right by fifteen other environments to go to the one horrible looking environment. I decided a long time ago, if you wasn’t gonna represent our area for the fullness [it offers], I didn’t want to be a part of it.
I have been a pastor for sixteen years. I got saved, and that was a radical transformation for me. I [discovered] you can spend a lifetime trying to help make and bring changes that would be beneficial for the area, and maybe not feel like you got that far. I realized that if I really wanted to make a difference for these people, the first thing I needed to do was lay on to a relationship with Christ. God touched my heart about that. You can almost see [my church] from here. It’s Faith Community Church. It’s the old Food Town Supermarket where I worked my Junior and Senior year in high school. It’s amazing how those circles work. We got 250 people thereabouts on our church roll. It’s non-denominational.
My great-uncle Henry Ison lived on the property I live on now. One of the things they said of him was he could take a little bail wire and a couple of screwdrivers [and make what he needed]. They couldn’t run to the shop every time they needed something. They were very creative, and they knew how to make this thing work. My dad was very creative mechanically. He would walk into a store and see things he liked and then he’d say, ‘But you know I could make that stronger and better if I did this.’ The guy who owned Doug Frazier, would look at my dad and say, ‘Look at it Paw, and go home and build you one.’ [Dad would then] go home and make one. I grew up in that environment. I’m not that mechanically oriented. Somehow I didn’t get that part, but we’ve always learned how to take what we’ve got and make do with it, and arrange it and work with it until we can make it happen.
My hobbies have always been something that I’m oriented to. I played music for a number of years and woke up every morning with a guitar in my hand and went to bed every night with a guitar in my hand and I drove my wife crazy. I have an obsessive personality, so when am into it, I’m into it. Currently my pastoral responsibilities are always first with me, and will always be that way.
[I love my farm] My aunt lived on the farm where I’m at for fifty years on the same piece of land with the same man. They knew that I would be the one that would come there and be the steward of that place when she would go. She told me, ‘honey this land has always provided a living for whoever has been here, and it will do that for you.’
I’m an animal lover. I raise Labs and Goldens and Poodles and Golden Doodles and Labradoodles. I had two litters, and we’re down to two puppies left, but I have some new ones coming. I love puppies, and that’s the only way I can figure out how to have puppies, and then have them again.
I’ve reintroduced myself to this land. I’ve always had goats and sheep and chickens and dogs, now I am raising eggs and produce. This is my first year to do this, but again, I have some background there. I hope by next year I’m going be one of the suppliers at our school system from this piece of land, and doing that same thing that our people have always done. What a blessing for me. I am maturing and my opportunities for doing these things are diminishing so I am very blessed to be able to come back to that place where my ancestors were, and be in touch with that land.
You’d better believe [I’m a hillbilly]! When I went to Cincinnati they said, ‘you’re not a hillbilly, you’re a briar hopper.’ That’s what they call Kentuckians [and] that’s what they called me when I worked there, a little briar hopper. To me I was never a briar hopper I was always a hillbilly. So many of our people were not formally educated, but boy, they were very practical; capable, talented, and wise people that are in many ways, underappreciated.”
I’m named for my grandfather, who died a year before I was born. He was a true entrepreneur. Over the years he logged and had coalmines and a grocery store. He went to central Indiana and raised cattle toward the end of his life, which was something he loved. He took what people thought was swamp land and did some very simple things, like installing drainage, to make it very productive farm land. Some people around here call it Jack-Of-All-Trades. I sort of have done that in my life. I had a little short musical career. I have always owned businesses. And then, the pastoral work that I have done for the last sixteen years, that’s the most important thing.
[A local family had] lost two sons over a short period of time. I was sharing with a lady in this family who knew my family. John D. Ison, my grandmother’s brother, was a Regular Baptist pastor and she said, ‘honey it didn’t matter what was going on, John D. could be planting his field and you come and say John D. we need you, and he would drop what he was doing and come to you.’ I hope I have a little bit of that; when my people are in need and they call on me I will be there for them. I hope I would be remembered a little bit for that.
I hope to contribute to our farmer’s market and reestablish our people being productive from their own land. I’d like to be a part of that. I guess I’ll be remembered for doing a little bit of everything over the years.
I have been blessed in my life that the kind of people I have encountered would look at me and say, ‘with a little bit of help, this guy could do thus and such.’ Long before I ever surrendered to being a pastor, a couple of local pastors used to tell me, ‘Dock, you’ve got the heart God’s looking for, for our local people.’ I have been blessed to have a lot of people in my path that’s helped direct me from place to place along the way.”