In those days, the Blue Ridge Mountains was another world. Very few folks had automobiles back then and the trains didn’t go anywhere near.
The little town was called West Culpepper, and if you had just clambered up from the Shenandoah Valley then you hadn’t gone far enough and if you got all the way to Blacksburg, then you’d gone too far.
It was such a beautiful little place. You know, one of those towns that burrowed into your heart and would stay there for ever. We had gone one summer to visit an aunt just after the war (the Great one that is). My aunt Jemima had moved to West Culpepper when her husband had got a job to help build a road that could take folks all the way into West Virginia; right over the tops of the mountains. Some said that from up there you could see all the way to California.
The troubles all started back in the ‘Twenties. Up until then, the old town had had a run of good luck all the way back to when it was started by an Englishman - who went by the name of Samuel Huntingdon. He had heard of stories of magical creatures which roamed the Appalachians – he never found any but died a peaceful death after a real happy life.
So how did all those troubles get to showing themselves? Well, it began with Jasper Howridge’s farm, his cattle seemed to catch some disease and all of them died real quick. Some folks said that maybe Jasper had brought something back from Europe, on account of fighting in the war over there. Others said it was a curse brought in by the new people who’d moved to Culpepper. Whatever the reason, the cattle were stone cold dead. Some of the other farmers and friends helped burn the carcases – that’s what folks did up there, help each other.
Jasper didn’t have the heart to start again and took to drinking hooch most days. The Reverend Jack wanted to help Jasper and his family, but the tired farmer seemed have put himself on a runaway train and nothing, and no one, was going to stop him.
There was also a good guy in the midst of all this chaos. His name was Slim Jim Cook: ‘Slim Jim’ on account that he liked to eat anything and everything and it showed on his belly.
You see Jim had come to the area to write a book about George Washington and the years he spent surveying in those hills. But the place had got to him and he had settled, never actually writing the book. Something he was always going to do when the weather got better. And yes, the weather got better but that didn’t bother Jim, he just said that since the weather was so nice and the hills so pretty, it seemed a waste to spend in indoors writing. So he read, and read, read everything that he could get his hands on and one of the folks who did catch his eye was that Englishman, Samuel Huntingdon. Jim decided that after his Washington book, he’d write one on that man.
People didn’t need to hear about the Wall Street Crash in West Culpepper ‘cause things had been going downhill for a long time now. Folks helped each other out with slimmest of pickings, but to be truthful the town was dying on its feet. There was only one real doctor and he lived a day’s ride away. In those days, Mother Hitchens saw to births, and deaths – bathing the newly arrived and washing the newly departed. She would only take from the families what they could afford and sometimes that was nothing.
People started talking about leaving and heading south to say, The Carolinas to see what was happing down there. Some families packed up and left and said they’d come back when things were good. To be real honest we never laid our eyes on any of them ever again.
So Slim Jim sat up nights thinking about what to do with regard to the dying of West Culpepper and no matter what came to his mind, there was always a flaw in all of it.
It was just as he was looking out at the moon one night that he asked the good Lord to help him find a way. And that was when (least ways that’s the way he tells it) his notes about that old Englishman Huntingdon fell from his bookshelf – right in front of him. Now whether it was a sign from the Lord or a gust of wind that shot straight down his chimney, we’ll never know, but it got Slim Jim to thinking and reading.
Samuel Huntingdon had only been twenty three years of age when he had crossed the oceans to land in Philadelphia. It was a city that Sam took to his heart as much as it took to Sam. He settled for a few years and worked with the great Ben Franklin in his newspaper office.
It was while he was working there that Sam heard of the magical beasts who roamed the mountains of Virginia, and that was when Sam decided to give up the newspaper business and head south.
Ten years he spent walking those hills, and although he saw many exotic creatures, he never once set his eyes on a unicorn. But that’s not to say he didn’t find magic. Sam had been told of a well that lay just outside West Culpepper that contained water from deep beneath the earth. Water so special that it could cure all a soul’s ills and so, for the rest of his life, Sam walked to that well and drank from it every single day.
This got Slim Jim thinking who then set out to find the well. Retracing all the steps he could find written about Sam and his travels. Try as he might, he never found the well but this didn’t stop Jim, and so one day he called a meeting at the town hall. Some say it was the power of Slim Jim’s talking or maybe it was just that the town’s folk were so tired and hungry that they’d believe anything - but believe it they did.
Slim Jim told them that he’d found the lost well of Samuel Huntingdon and that the well could cure all their troubles. It wasn’t that Slim Jim really believed any of it, it was just that Jim knew a secret of life, and that was if people believed hard enough, then good things happened. Sure hadn’t Mother Hitchens given her cure-all medication which was nothing more than some water and sugar but because folks believed it, a lot of them got better.
Slim Jim marched them all down to a little well he’d dug out himself. Slim Jim said a prayer for the town and then he took the first drink.
Jim looked to the sky and shouted ‘Thank you’ and then told the people that he felt like a million dollars. So the town’s folk did the same - even Jasper the farmer.
Now I’m not saying that it was a miracle or anything, but the town’s folk went back to that newly-dug well every day and drank like there was no tomorrow.
And do you know what?
People started getting better and luckier and getting on with their lives. Sure the businesses were struggling but with belief people walked further, worked harder and so day by day, the town of West Culpepper and its people got stronger and better.
Not because of what was in the water, you understand. No sir, they got better because they believed in themselves and I tell you folks, that’s the strongest medicine of all.
I thank you kindly for reading my little story.
bobby stevenson 2015