|Friends and Family
had a finer, more loyal friend than John Shepherd.
big, powerful, silent man, the kind of man who will
never be forgotten
by his friends nor by those who knew him but were not
his friends. It
been said, without too much exaggeration, that in the
outrun a deer, out-climb a squirrel, outfight a bear,
and outwit a fox.
he made the best whiskey in our part of the country.
penny-ante moonshiner. His father, Cal Shepherd, once
distillery, and John learned the art of making whiskey
from him. John
good whiskey, plenty of it, and sold it for a top
price. And he never
to go out and peddle it; the best citizens in three
among his customers, and they all came to him.
and I were close friends for many years, and I could
fill this book
John Shepherd stories. But we'll have to make do with
just a couple.
the incident at the Bent Place (named for Bent Laney,
and also known as
Pole Pence Gap), above Big Cherry Lake.
and I had been on a coon hunt, along with Eddie
Carter, a clerk for a
hardware company, and a very gentlemanly,
old-fashioned Negro named Jim
Crockett, and John's dog, Old Trail. After hunting all
night, we topped
out early the next morning at the Bent Place, where we
came upon a big,
stout-looking man with a wagon load of apples.
had that whole area--including the several small apple
back to early-settler days--leased from the Patrick
Hagan estate. So,
question, those were really his apples in that wagon!
asked the man who had given him permission to take the
became belligerent--definitely the wrong thing to do
when you were
with John Shepherd. It wasn't long before the two of
them were going
and round in one hell of a fist fight. In spite of the
fact that John
been up all night romping through that rough mountain
country and had
right to be exhausted before they ever started
fighting, he was giving
the big man a pretty good pasting--while the rest of
us whooped and
and cheered him on.
in the midst of all the excitement, the stranger got
hold of John's
It could have been a very, very bad situation, had it
not been for Jim
"White folks," said Nigger Jim, aiming his .22-caliber
rifle at the
thief, "I'se goin' have to kill you, if'n you don't
lay down that
man set the gun down, and after John had finished
whipping him, he made
him empty the entire load of apples on the ground.
wife was a nice, gentle girl, a minister's daughter
near Appalachia. When she married John, she moved into
a world very
from the one in which she'd been raised. She herself
adjusted to it
enough, but her family never did.
Shepherds lived a very pioneer-like existence in their
back in the High Knob country, and they had trouble
adjusting to the
ways of the lowlanders when, once or twice each year,
they went to
of those visits, John and his wife did their best to
coach their oldest
boy, who was about eight or nine years old, in table
etiquette. The use
of knives and forks, the saying of grace, the polite
table words like
and "thank you" were all strange to him. He made it
pretty good through
the rehearsals, on their way to Appalachia. But after
Sunday School and
church, when the big fried chicken dinner with all the
on the table, the boy mysteriously just clammed up. He
may have been
but rather than make a mistake at the table, he just
sat there with his
head down and his plate bare, self-consciously shaking
his head at each
offer of food.
of that good chicken, Johnny."
have some chicken ?"
about some green beans ?"
and some jelly, then."
want anything at all?"
and stared at his plate, as the others ate. Finally,
he raised his head
and looked hungrily at the platter of fried chicken at
the other end of
he said to his father. "Gimmie some o' that goddam
later years, John Shepherd lost his mind and became a
including himself and his family. It was I who finally
have himself committed to the state hospital at
Marion. I did so at the
urging of his wife. He wouldn't listen to her, but he
listened to me.
John did some harsh and unreasonable things in his
final year or two at
home--things that only a crazy man would do. But I
prefer to remember
as he was when he was still himself.
the time in August of 1934, the day after France died.
at my front door at daybreak, around 5 a.m. It was
his hat in his hand.
in, Dave, " he said. "I heard about your wife, and I
just wanted you to
know that my heart is with you."
that he shook my hand, slipping something into my
ain't a loan, Dave. You're going to have alot of
expenses to meet, and
I want you to have this because you're my friend."
I looked in my hand and found a tight little roll of
one hundred dollar
bills. Ten of them.
accept the money, of course--but the story illustrates
the kind of
I had in a moonshiner named John Shepherd.
my brothers and sisters had good-size families of
their own. By
count, I have thirty-seven nieces and nephews, and I
love every one of
them. If I had the time, I could tell you a little
story about each
But that would be another book, in itself. Let's just
throw in one or
in this one:
the time he was just a little bit of a fellow, John's
boy Eddie was one
of my favorite companions. Eddie loved to go with me
wherever I went in
the mountain on hunting trips or looking for game law
violators, and I
enjoyed taking him along. He was little and
red-headed, handy as he
be, and not the least bit afraid of hard work. There
weren't many grown
men in prime physical condition who could stay with me
on a hard drive
through rough country in those days, but Eddie could.
One night in the winter of 1932-33, Eddie and I were
running our dogs
the upper reaches of Little Stoney Greek when a sudden
turn in the
caught us by surprise. It started to rain like hell,
turning the thin
of snow that covered the ground into a blanket of ice.
And then, within
minutes, the temperature dropped to below freezing, as
the cold, icy
continued to fall. We were in real trouble, several
miles from the car
and with little in the way of food or provisions.
against trying to make it back to the car, for fear
we'd bog down and
to death along the way. Picking out a spot at the base
of a big rock
offered partial shelter from the wind, I decided to
make "camp" there.
I managed to get a fire started from twigs and pine
bushes to shield it from the rain and snow. It wasn't
much of a fire,
to work at it all night to keep it
But it kept us from freezing to death.
four dogs were every bit as cold as Eddie and I, and
they crowded as
as they could to that fire. Anyone who has ever had
the experience of
to stay warm by an open campfire in really cold
weather knows that
you're warming one side of your body, you freeze to
death on the other
side. I took care of that problem for Eddie by
bunching the dogs up
him right in among them. He may have
up a few fleas during the night, but you can bet he
the steady rain had melted the ice and we brought 'er
down out of there
without much trouble. But you ask ol' Ed, when he's
eighty years old,
the night he slept in the middle of a pile of hound
dogs, and I
you, he'll remember!
made a point of telling all my nephews, when they were
what fine-looking boys they were. I even went so far
as to suggest to
boy Randy, when he was about a six years old, that he
could make a
fortune just selling pictures of himself.
Randy thought that was just about the finest idea he'd
ever heard of.
I borrowed somebody's Kodak and snapped a picture of
him head-on, from
waist up, and it turned out to be a pretty good
burned brown by the sun, hair uncombed, wearing bib
overalls a couple
sizes too big. I took the negative and had a couple of
and gave them to Randy.
The rest was up to him.
went down the main street of Kingsport, stopping every
person he saw and giving them his sales pitch: "Hey,
mister; want to
my picture? Only a dime!"
that kind of super-salesmanship, it didn't take Randy
long to sell
picture he had--and he was ready to take part of his
profit and have
Paul had lived for many years in Kingsport, Tennessee,
where, until his
recent retirement, he was employed by the Tennessee
the Forties, he used to come on visits to Norton
several times each
As a rule, he'd drop off his wife and children at her
parents, the Ewen Gilleys, were old friends and
neighbors of mine in
Norton), then come over to my place in search of a
drink or a poker
or, hopefully, both.
such visit, Paul was thumbing through his wallet,
preparing to buy into
a poker game, when he ran across a raffle ticket.
here, Chief," he said, clenching his ever-present
cigar between his
"A chance on a Piper Cub they're raffling away over in
the drawing today. Wouldn't it be something if I win
Grunting a reply, I pretended to be more interested in
my cards than in
Paul's ticket. But I made a mental note of the number,
and a few
later when he wasn't looking, I jotted it down on a
slip of paper.
that afternoon, Paul happened to be away from the
table when the Norton
Laundry Company's delivery truck pulled up outside.
Suddenly, an idea
me, and I hurried outside for a conference with Fred,
"Fred, " I said, "I want you to help me play a little
joke on my
A few minutes later, Paul and I were both back in the
game when Fred
up to my front door with his load of laundered
Mr. Dave," he said "this is my almost lucky day. "
do you mean, almost lucky day?"
suh, I almost win myself an airplane, in that drawing
they had today
in Kingsport. I have No. 876538, and No.876539 win the
a minute!" Paul yelled, fumbling for his wallet.
"I've got a
in that drawing, and I swear that sounds like my
number--PRAISE BE TO
Paul turned to the Negro. "Are you sure 876539 was the
way I could mistake it , " said Fred, playing his part
missed it by one, and I had No.876538."
"Whoopee! " said Paul. "This is the greatest day of my
life. I don't
you fellows to think I'm running out on the game but
I've got to pick
'Cille right now and run back to Kingsport to claim my
to at least shave and comb your hair before you go," I
be wanting to take your picture and interview you for
right," Paul said. "I hadn't thought of that!"
Well, the drive from Norton to Kingsport in those days
took about three
hours, over some of the crookedest, dustiest roads in
the country. And
there was Paul, just a few hours after arriving on a
for what was intended to be a stay of two or three
days, gathering up
and Paula, their baby, for a wild, fender-flapping
ride back through
Wildcat in their old
"Baldy, " said Paul, grinning from ear to ear behind
that big cigar,
be back over here tomorrow in my plane, and I want you
to come over to
the airport to meet me.
over your house and buzz you, so's you'll know it's
and Lucille reached Kingsport late that night after
stopping for a
here and there along the way, Paul was surprised to
find no brass bands
out to meet them. Obviously, the neighbors just hadn't
heard the news
The only way to remedy that situation, by God, was to
wake them up and
soon Paul was on the phone, talking to someone at the
of the Kingsport newspaper office.
O'Neill. Paul O'Neill. I live here in Kingsport, and
I'm the man who
the airplane in the raffle today. I've been out of
town, but I just got
back--aren't you going to send a
and a photographer out here to see me?"
"Mister," said the man on the other end of the
line , "I don't
you won any goddam airplane. If you did, we might be
interested in the
story in the daytime. But not at one o'clock on a
say, it was years before Paul got over that one. Even
today, all I have
to do to make his neck turn red is spread my arms and
say, "Just look
at the sky tomorrow, bud; I'm going to sail over
and buzz you as I go by."
death in 1934, I put Bernice and Nancy in a Catholic
boarding school in
Philadelphia. They remained there until their
graduation, as prim and
young ladies, in the late Forties. France's sisters,
Mame and Ann, and
her brother Eddie were good to the girls and always
welcomed them into
their homes during vacations from school. I visited
them once or twice
A blessling late in life:
each year, or had them come and visit
But being a widower during their formative years, I
couldn't show them
any kind of home life. I'm thankful to God, and to the
Connors, and to
the sisters at Gonzaga, for helping my daughters to
become such perfect
young ladies. Both are now married (Bernice is Mrs.
Francis Corning, of
Trenton, New Jersey; Nancy is Mrs. David Reisig, of
and both have fine families of their own.
at whose birth France died, had a more fortunate
upbringing. My brother
John and his wife, Ellen, took Billy into their home
the day he was born
and raised him as their own child. They
him every bit as much as they did their own seven
children, and if he
up a little bit "spoiled" it may have been
because he had John's whole family
to him all the time. Bill, too, is married--to a
the former Shirley Farrar Stevens of Birmingham,
Alabama, and Long
in 1946, and if ever two people were perfectly mated,
it's Luella and
In our twenty-four years of marriage, we've never had
an argument. (Not
that things have been dull; it's just
each of us is so well attuned to the other's thoughts
that we can reach
decisions or compromises without any harsh words
being said. Lou and I discuss things,
we voice our feelings to each other. But we never
argue. Neither one of
us even knows how to argue!)
My second son, Michael Shayne, was born in Norton in
1952. Shayne has
most of his life along the east coast of Florida. He,
too, has taken a
bride--the former BaBet "Tink" Scott of Fort Pierce.
Their first child,
Michael Shayne O'Neill, Jr. , was born Dec. 15, 1969.
born to Dave and Luella O'Neill in
In his mother's words,
Michael Shayne's arrival "suprised the
out of everybody!"
through the Shenandoah Valley on their way to a summer
in Norton, Bernice and Nancy were excited at the sight
of a cluster of
young calves in a field.
Dahddy" said Nancy, who must have been about five , in
accent. "Lookit the sheep! "
incensed. "Those aren't sheep, you dope," she snapped.
age six, sat on a rock at the upstream end of a deep
pool on Big
Sandy Creek, hauling in big trout that had been
stocked there by his
dad, just a few hours before. Each one that he landed,
the hook from its mouth and then try to pick it up by
its tail for the
transfer to his creel.
spending an hour checking licenses of other fishermen
up and down the
I went back to see how Number One Son was faring.
"Well, Spike, how many have you caught?"
"Eleven," he drawled. "But nine of 'em
visited with my daughters as often as I could while
they were growing
up, going to see them in Philadelphia and sometimes
taking them back
me for a
few weeks in Virginia.
On one such trip I was accompanied by a friend named
Bill Davis, a
who had migrated to Norton. We were crossing the
Potomac River when
still just a tot, stood up in the back seat and looked
out the window
"Hey!" she yelled. "Lookit the wada.! Lookit the wada!
When nobody paid her any particular mind, she grabbed
Bill Davis by the
hair and gave his head a good shake.
you big palooka! Lookit the wada!"
driving past the recreation area near the Josephine
coal camp, and
my horn in greeting to the group of kids playing out
in the field.
old Dave O'Neill, " said a Collins boy, a
"I hope to hell he has a wreck!"
Wham! A rock crashed against the side of the boy's
head, sending him
have you know that's my Daddy you're talking about,
you s.o.b.!" said
O'Neill, age nine.
year after Bernice was married, Billy came in for a
where he had moved with Ellen and John. He and I then
bring the girls and Franny back for a
On the return trip, we had planned to spend the night
to discover when we arrived there, long after dark,
that there were no
motels available. We kept driving, looking for a "No
long, we were out in the middle of Great Dismal Swamp
and I was worn
from driving all day, and so were the kids.
a picnic table off to the side of the road, I pulled
over and called
a vote. We decided to stretch out there and have a
and I on a sleeping bag spread out on the picnic
table, and Bernice and
Fran in the car.
In the wee hours of the morning, I was awakened by
me in the ribs.
he said. "I hear something, over there by that trash
up, pistol in hand, I saw the prowler: a good-sized
just an old dog," I said. "Go on back to sleep."
and the bear soon wandered off. But when Billy saw the
next morning, he called my attention to them.
Confronted with the
I had to confess that our nighttime visitor had been a
bear. The panic
that resulted then--several hours after the
fact--convinced me that I
used good judgment in just letting Mr. Bear go his own
brings up a very basic law of the outdoors: You leave
a wild animal
and you can bet he'll leave you alone. Almost all wild
of people; and those that are not afraid (such as
bears) won't bother
if you don't bother them.
O'Neill, age about four, tied the biggest plug in my
on his line and began casting into Claytor Lake, off
the Rock House
Dock where we lived and ran a marina in the
A big walleye pike struck the lure as Shayne reeled it
him off the dock, in full view of thirty or forty
he struggled to keep the tip of the rod high.
it, son!" I yelled. "Hold on, boy, you've got a good
Daddy, don't worry," Shayne replied. "I've got the
to live with us in the summer of 1955, working
weekends at the
dock while going to college at VPI. He and my sister
Kate's boy, Glen
handled the boats, and Mammy Lou ran the concession
stand. But it was
Shayne who became our super salesman when it came to
mister," he'd say, when a fisherman pulled in. "Want
to buy some
Big night cwawnuhs (night crawlers)? Want to
buy some pretty
Spwing wizards? What are you going to fish with? Huh?"
a carload of pretty girls would pull in, Shayne would
give them the
bait routine, and then do a little hustling for his
big brother :
feller over there? The big, handsome one, with the
curly hair? That's
Brother Bill, the middleweight champion of Virginia.
Wanta meet him...?"
left the mountains in 1960, after Shayne had lost the
vision in his
right eye in the unfortunate aftermath of a playground
Shayne, and I headed south in a big camper truck,
looking for a home in
a warmer climate. We stopped for a few weeks at Orange
moving on down the coast to Ft. Pierce, about 115
miles north of Miami.
We bought a home there, and never looked back.
a place where the fishing and hunting are good, the
weather is mild,
you aren't scared of a few bugs and a little hurricane
living is easy.
still in easy reach of our folks in Virginia and
Tennessee, and we do
best to visit Lou's mother, Maxie Dillon, and her
sister, Catherine, in
Norton each summer.
ticker acts up on me every now and then, but I have a
good doctor who
introduced me to a lot of pills that make it possible
for a man to grow
old without feeling too damned old.
can lay back in the warm Florida sun every day now and
highball, and admire the pretty girls as they pass by.
It may not be
best life in the world, but it sure beats the hell out
of loading coal.
always said if a man ever reaches the point where he
can't enjoy a
of good liquor and the sight of a beautiful girl,
you'd might as well
him in a grave and start shoveling dirt in on top of
of a bitch is already dead!
Luella, answers to the name "Mammy Lou"--and I always
enjoy telling the
story of how she got that name:
few weeks before our wedding in 1946, I was waiting
outside the Royal
in Norton for Lou to get off work. I saw a couple of
playing outside the laundry a minute or two before
of them the cutest, blackest, wooliest little fellow
you ever saw.
take me long to get acquainted with the kids, tell
them what fine
young gentlemen they were, and sell them on the idea
that if they'd
me greet a certain young lady when she came out of the
the Passmore Pharmacy and treat them to
the ice cream they could eat.
that little fuzzy-wuzzy didn't need much coaching. All
I had to do was
point out Lou to him as she came out of the building,
in company with a
half-dozen of her friends and co-workers. I, of
course, was lurking
out of sight.
"There's mah Mammy Lou!" the little fellow yelled out,
right on cue,
a bee-line for her. He threw his little arms around
her neck, pulling
down to his level and squeezing for dear life.
Mammy Lou! Mammy Lou!" he cried. "Where you been,
the hell's going on here, honey?" Lou asked, when she
finally found her
loves you, Mammy Lou!" the kid sang out, squeezing
Lou's neck tighter
it dawned on Lou that she'd been set up.
"Hey!" she hollered. "Where the hell's
a man goes, and whatever he does, a part of him must
where his roots are. For Luella and me, it's Southwest
where we were both born and raised, and many of our
people still live
(Lou came from a fine pioneer family of long standing
in Wise County.
widowed mother, a wonderful lady named Maxine Vest
Dillon, and her
Catherine, share a home in Norton, and we try to visit
them at least
each year. )
Luella and I have lots reserved in Powell Valley
Memorial Garden, a few
feet from where my mother was buried. From there, God
willing, I'll be
able to spend eternity hearing the hounds run in Stone
I love so well.
When Herietta O'Neill fell ill
twelve surviving "children" gathered to lend moral
Sam's home in Kingsport are Felix (Pete), Sam, Etta,
Jim, Dave, Paul, Clara ("Tad"), Kate, John, Tom, and
, "Mammy" rallied, regained her heath, and lived
three more years.