May 6, 2019: My hiking partner at the time, Pa On The Trail (trail name courtesy of his granddaughter) and I followed the AT through a long valley near Buena Vista, VA, alongside a musical creek. A US Forest Service sign told us the history of the valley:
Known as Brown Mountain Creek, a group of freed slaves had remained in the area following the Civil War and lived as sharecroppers, meaning they paid a share of their crops as rent for the use of the land.
As we followed the AT along the creek, the jumbled remains of stone walls and building foundations were faintly recognizable. Up until 1920, when the US Forest Service purchased the land, the Freedmen and their families had lived and thrived here.
By today’s (or any other) standards, this would have been considered a hard-scrabble existence. But in a USFS oral interview with former resident Taft Hughes, conducted October 7, 1992, (www.nbatc.org/1992Interview.htm) Hughes recalls a childhood like many others, full of good and not-so-good memories.
I encourage you to take ten minutes to read his interview. His descriptions of his mother’s “ash cakes” alone will be worth your time.
Pa and I hiked on to U.S. 60 where we caught a shuttle into Buena (pronounced Byoona here) Vista for a needed shower and resupply.