Happy Birthday, Sarah Catherine Wood Marshall! by Marilyn Mitchem

In March 1912, citing Mrs. Wood’s health as the reason, John and Leonora Wood left Ebenezer Mission so that John could accept a call to Meadow Creek Presbyterian Church south of Greeneville, Tennessee.

The summer and autumn of 1914 would prove a time of transition for John, Leonora, and their extended family.

Desiring better educational opportunities for their three youngest sons and infant daughter, in August 1914 Leonora’s parents, George and Catherine Whitaker, sold their farm near Dillingham and moved to Montreat. They bought a home exactly one mile between the train station and Montreat’s entrance gate, where they operated a boarding house during the summer for Montreat visitors. George also was hired as Montreat’s night watchman.

John served Meadow Creek until September 1, 1914, when he resigned to accept another pastorate. Their first baby was due later that month so they moved in with John’s parents, Robert and Sarah, to await the birth.

Named for both her grandmothers, Sarah Catherine Wood was born at her grandparents’ home in Johnson City, Tennessee, on September 27, 1914.

Proud papa John wrote to a friend, “Just wanted to let you know that we have a baby girl, who made her appearance on Saturday night at 12:20 a.m. She weighs 9½ pounds and mother and child are doing nicely.”


During their time at Meadow Creek, John and Leonora had kept in contact with their beloved mentor, Dr. Edward Guerrant.

Plagued with rheumatism and other ailments, Dr. Guerrant had for years wintered in Umatilla, Florida, where he owned a cottage and citrus grove.

Leonora said, “Dr. Guerrant kept on writing, saying, ‘Come on to Florida! Florida is a young man’s country. And you come on to Florida now!'”

John agreed, and accepted a call from the Umatilla Presbyterian Church. What an exotic location, so different from Appalachia! Citrus trees bearing fruit year-round, semi-tropical plants blooming on every street corner.

The Woods moved to a small rented house there six weeks after Sarah Catherine’s birth. They learned Dr. Guerrant was right. Florida was as ripe with possibilities as the sacks of grapefruit and oranges he enjoyed delivering to baby Sarah Catherine.


You may wonder, as did I, when Catherine Marshall dropped her first name, Sarah.

Research reveals that the 1936 Agnes Scott college yearbook lists senior graduate Sarah Catherine Wood from Keyser, West Virginia. The newspaper article about her November 1936 wedding to Peter Marshall uses Sarah Catherine. She’s enumerated as Sarah C. Marshall in the 1940 census. Therefore, some time later Catherine decided to omit her first name and use just her maternal grandmother’s first name. Why?

Even though she was born in her Grandmother Wood’s home and given her grandmother’s name, Sarah Catherine couldn’t abide one of her grandmother’s personality traits.

Catherine explained her aversion to the name Sarah in her book, Light in My Darkest Night:

“Sarah was a name I’d disliked and seldom used.

“My Grandmother had been so afraid of the night air that she wouldn’t raise her bedroom window, winter or summer. In hot weather my grandfather would come out of their room in the morning white-faced and dripping with perspiration.

“Grandmother Wood was so afraid of thunderstorms that at the first peal she would plunge beneath the covers. And so it went. A fear-dominated woman.”

Catherine likely considered her grandmother’s fears unscientific and superstitious, and more importantly, incompatible with God’s many Biblical commands to “Fear not.”

However, when Grandmother Wood was a child during the 1850s in east Tennessee, people thought the night air was dangerous. Deadly “vapors” rose from rotting vegetation in wetlands and swamps, polluted the soil, and spread diseases. The elderly and infirm were advised to avoid breathing night air. It was best to stay inside. Keep windows and doors shut.

No matter Catherine’s reasons, Grandmother Wood, a strict woman who “smelled of salt rising bread,” never knew about her granddaughter’s decision.

Grandmother Wood died in Johnson City on January 3, 1935, during Catherine’s junior year at Agnes Scott College. Listing the cause of death as “a brief illness of pneumonia,” her obituary stated, “Mrs. Wood since childhood, has been an active member of the Presbyterian church and at the time of her death was one of the oldest members of her church.”

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Christy: The Novel and the Reality


by Marilyn Mitchem

Chapter Five of Christy describes her orientation to life as a mission teacher in Cutter Gap. Over a breakfast of oatmeal, buckwheat pancakes, and maple syrup, Christy speaks with David’s sister, Ida Grantland, “an older woman, tall, almost gaunt, with angular features.”

After Christy learns David left early for Low Gap School, she asks if he also teaches there.

“Oh no, that school’s closed. There were some old desks there; they said we could use them here.” She pointed out the window to a still unfinished building about a thousand yards distant. . . .
“You’ve never had a school here before?”
“No. This will be the first term. That’s why we need desks. Some of the men promised to help David haul them today.”

At the beginning of Chapter Six, while Christy tries to settle her stomach and steady her nerves for the first day of school, she shares her increasing respect for Rev. David Grantland and his abilities.

“He was only seven years older than I, but somehow he seemed a thousand years older in experience and self-assurance. I thought of the Tuesday before when he had sat astride the rafters of the unfinished schoolhouse, driving in roofing nails with powerful blows, shouting down orders from time to time to the men helping him. Later I had watched in admiration his quick orderly decisions as he had supervised the placing of the secondhand benches and battered school desks and the installing of the potbellied stove.”

Two articles, published in the November and December 1909 Soul Winner magazine, describe the opening of Ebenezer’s long-awaited church-schoolhouse.

November: “We are glad to announce that the new chapel at Ebenezer, in the Great Smoky Mountains, is so far completed, that the school has been moved into it, as it had outgrown its old quarters. To Mr. John A. Wood, and Mr. E. M. Munroe much credit is due for this substantial new home. They not only superintended its erection but worked diligently with their own hands. Miss Annie Laurie Williams, the faithful teacher, had so many pupils she had to call in Miss Margaret Allison for help. The enrollment of forty-six pupils is the largest it ever had and when the public school closes, many more will be added to the roll.

December: “We will move the school into the new chapel tomorrow. It is complete, except finishing upstairs. I insisted on waiting till it was painted, but gave up as our school is so full, and we are very crowded here. We had ten new pupils this week. Mr. Wood has made twenty desks, which will seat forty children, and we have forty-six enrolled. They are real nice, light desks–a good job.

Readers will notice at least two significant differences between Christy and these Soul Winner articles.

First, Ida tells Christy that school has never been held before at Cutter Gap Mission. However, the Soul Winner article states that Annie Laurie Williams, the teacher, was so busy that Margaret Allison stepped in to help.

Second, old desks from Low Gap School will be used at Cutter Gap. Christy later mentions “secondhand benches and battered school desks.” On the contrary, Margaret Allison states, “Mr. Wood has made twenty desks, which will seat forty children, and we have forty-six enrolled. They are real nice, light desks–a good job.”

Here truth is more compelling than fiction. I find it remarkable that John Wood, amidst the stresses of completing the church-schoolhouse, built twenty new desks. Smelling of sawdust, these desks were a huge improvement from the long benches used by Ebenezer’s students in the mission house.

You and I recall those well-used-and-abused elementary school desks: replete with wads of fossilized chewing gum, penknife carvings of hearts surrounding sweethearts’ initials, and the ever-present “I HATE SKOOL” scrawled with a permanent marker swiped from the teacher’s desk.

I’d love to ask Catherine Marshall why she changed the factual “real nice, light desks” constructed by her father to battered ones hauled from a closed school. I think of Ebenezer students from the Click, Fish, Corn, Ellison, and Turner families. I relive their excitement in finding new desks in their new school.

Remember Bird’s-Eye Taylor’s compliment to Opal McHone on her sweet potato pie? As far as the desks are concerned, I think in this instance the truth “hits whar ye can hold it!”

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Baskets, Poems and Naturalist…Bill


If you haven’t met Bill Alexander yet at Christy Fest, our resident nature lover/basket maker, you’re in for a treat! Not only is he the Grand Master of bark baskets, he is also a poet, philosopher and a protector of the Great Smoky Mountains…and I might add, an actor! He pitched in to help in an episode of Christy as an extra…the beard and overalls made him fit right in.

He wrote a poem for the Christy folks a while back. Of it he says:

I got the idea for this on a trail (A specific trail) while hiking and there was trash and I began to pick it up. I found an old umbrella cover that had been blown off its frame and made a bag out of it to hold the trash as my pockets were full. I got to thinking about the old saying… “take only memories or pictures and leave our footprints.” There was talk at supper two nights before I wrote this about ghosts and I got to thinking about how like on the beach, footprints in the sand disappear and “A Ghostly Track.” is the result. The Great Smoky Mountains are a special place in our great land and I have a special place in the Christy story. I believe that Christy would have wanted the mountains to be protected.

A Ghostly Track ©
Bill Alexander
A Trail Somewhere
August 11, 2009

Pack it in.
Pack it out.
That’s the way
On a proper walkabout.

If you can’t,
Then–don’t pack it in.
Otherwise, we’ll know
Where you’ve been.

So on the way in,
And on the way back
May you only leave
A ghostly track.

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“Clothing” by Marilyn Mitchem


Edward O. Guerrant, 1838-1916. Photo courtesy of Yahoo Images.

The Soul Winner

October 1909

The approaching winter admonishes us that many of the poor Highlanders will suffer with cold, unless clad by generous hands, who are able to help them. This is especially true of widows and children, whose name is legion. Many pitiful letters reach us, begging for help, for these barefooted, barebacked “little ones” whom He loves. May we emphasize a few points.

First, send no clothing to Wilmore, [Kentucky];

Second, write to the President or Secretary, at Wilmore, for instructions about where to send the clothing;

Third, don’t send old papers or magazines (we have more than we need);

Fourth, please don’t send worn-out, or soiled clothing, which can not be used. We are ashamed to tell what is sent sometimes. The Master’s little ones deserve better treatment.

Fifth, send clothing suitable for winter, and mostly for women and children;

Sixth, please prepay the charges. We are not able.

Dr. Edward Guerrant

Dr. Guerrant’s detailed instructions reminded donors that shipping wooden barrels filled with clothing was expensive. His method ensured that double shipping charges were avoided.

He received requests from all the Society’s missions, allocated the expected donations, then directed donors to which mission their used clothing should be sent. To further reduce donors’ costs, if applications were made in advance, most railroads charged half price for missionary barrels.

Christy runs to greet Ben Pentland, who is delivering "missionary barrels" to Cutter Gap. My cap.

Christy runs to greet Ben Pentland, who is delivering “missionary barrels” to Cutter Gap. My cap.

Ebenezer Mission, where John and Leonora Wood served from 1909-12, was one of about fifty missions operated by the Soul Winners Society.

* * * *

After hearing John and Leonora reminisce about the missionary barrels Ebenezer had received, their daughter Catherine Marshall blended fact with fiction. This resulted in a series of pivotal events where Christy stepped out in faith and staked Cutter Gap’s future upon God’s amazing promise to supply all the mission’s need according to His riches in glory.

Christy greeting Dr. Ferrand (Dr. Guerrant) for the first time!  My cap.

Christy greeting Dr. Ferrand (Dr. Guerrant) for the first time! My cap.

Relying on the Biblical promise, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together,” Christy impulsively wrote appeal letters to businessmen across the United States. They shipped everything from a Lyon and Healy grand piano to boxes of Plymouth Rock gelatin to Cutter Gap Mission, resulting in transportation headaches for David Grantland and storage challenges for his sister, Ida.

While Christy unpacked eleven vests, (coincidentally, the same number of mountain ranges she could see from her bedroom window) the mission staff brainstormed about how to distribute the clothing without violating the mountain code of scorning charity.

Ben Pentland, US Mail, fusses about having to hunt a sled for the donated barrels. My cap.

Ben Pentland, US Mail, fusses about having to hunt a sled for the donated barrels. My cap.

David proposed opening a barter store on Saturdays in his bunk house. It proved astonishingly successful. Christy reported, “Every woman wanted a fancy city dress, every man a vest to wear on top of faded and patched overalls.”

You might conclude that David’s idea was a new concept. On the contrary, Ebenezer Mission’s barter store had operated since early 1902, stocked with clothing from missionary barrels.

* * * *

While visiting in May 1905 Dr. Guerrant witnessed the success of Ebenezer’s barter store and later mentioned some of its patrons by name. He wrote, “Lovely day at Ebenezer Mission. Trading Day & crowds of Mt. People, (Clicks, Corns) come to buy cheap 2nd hand clothes. . . . The little store room full.”

The barter store in full operation at the Mission. My cap from "Judgment Day", Christy.

Dr. Ferrand surveys the barter store in full operation at the Mission. My cap from “Judgment Day”, Christy.

Both the Click and Corn families were fictionalized in Christy. Census records show that the Marion Click family resided near Ebenezer Mission. Their son, Bernie, died of an epileptic seizure in January 1918. After reading Christy the Clicks concluded that the O’Teale family was modeled after them and disputed Catherine Marshall’s harsh portrayal.

The Corn family would grow to include Opal, born in February 1911. Catherine Marshall relied on Opal’s memories of Ebenezer’s history and the Morgan Gap community while writing Christy. Her family is portrayed as Hugette and Mary Lee in its prologue.

Ruby May convinces Uncle Bogg that the plaid vest is The Look for him!  My cap from "Judgment Day", Christy.

Ruby May convinces Uncle Bogg that the plaid vest is The Look for him! My cap from “Judgment Day”, Christy.

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Water Darn Near Everywhere by the Possum Laureate


imageHomecoming 2013 at the Christy Mission was again a pure joy to attend. I’d say nearly two-hundred and more made their way to Chapel Hollow throughout the day.   The Open Door church again assisted Larry Myers with set-up, cooking, and music.    And you might recognize that redhead in the middle of everyone (photo).  Yes, the Moonshiner’s Daughter, Lucy Teague Mullinax attended.  There were some relatives and old friends of Larry’s  who he hadn’t seen in a long time.  The sun greeted us with gentle breezes and the rain and rumbling stayed away all morning and afternoon.

Besides food and fun, the main topic amongst most folks was the excessive rainfall.  The newspapers say that Cocke County experienced as much rain from January through early July as they usually get in a calendar year. Cocke County has really taken a hit as water cascades down the mountains and into the coves as well as swelling Big Creek, the Pigeon, and French Broad.


Barbarosa Saloon and Campground, located perilously near the French Broad banks, claims to have lost some deck tables during flash flooding.  Punkton Road, near the eastern end of the Old Fifteenth, washed out, and was still under repair Homecoming weekend.  I took a pic of the raging Big Creek very high and close to Old Fifteenth Road.


Results of all the rain is evident at the mission site, especially if you
want to meander up to the Click cabin site.  The road is nearly covered with kudzu.  I’ve never seen it cover the area to this extent.  I included a couple pics of it.  Yes, there’s a road under there.  Probably critters- most likely snakes – too.  Wayne told us at Homecoming he killed a copperhead the previous day.  It was trying to sneak in his dog pen intent on harming a new litter of pups.  Bravo Wayne.


We learned of water damage of a different nature at Del Rio Elementary. In mid-June, a pipe-fitting failed in their brand-new gym.  It ruined their new floor.  The work was still under warranty, so hopefully it will cover the cost of replacement.   Cary Myers had = said that the new gym is far superior to the high school facility in Newport.

Driving out 107 (O how I hate to leave!) , I noticed the deteriorating
iron gates of what was meant to be a housing development too close to the French Broad for anyone’s good (see photo).  Especially accented with the above-level French Broad behind it.  No takers.  Ever.  No takers in that development below the Mud Hole, either.  Guess even the invading Floridians and half-backs (Yankees who move to Florida, hate it, and then move just half-way back where they came from) are wising up.


A little more than a month has passed since Homecoming, and already I’ve had enough of here.  Heading back down.  Lord willing, I’ll report back to you.

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We Beg Your Prayers and Help For These Faithful Teachers by Marilyn Mitchem

The Soul Winner August 1914


After a brief vacation, some of our faithful mission teachers are returning to their work in the mountains. Some of them took no vacation. Every week now the various schools are beginning, and crowds of Highland children are starting, anxious to learn. These are not ordinary schools, where the Bible and Christian teaching are excluded, but the Bible is a text book, and the chief aim of the teachers is to make Christian scholars, not infidels, as many others are doing.

We beg your prayers and help for these faithful teachers.

Dr. Edward Guerrant

Dr. Guerrant believed it vital to give Soul Winners Society missionaries time away from their duties during the summer. In years when adequate support was raised, missionaries from the Midwest and Northeast attended the Christian conferences at Winona Lake, Indiana, or Chautauqua, New York. Southern Presbyterian missionaries favored Montreat, North Carolina, where, in 1909, Leonora Whitaker had volunteered to serve the Highlanders. Some missionaries preferred to visit friends and family back home, where they could relax and recharge.

While missionaries took sabbaticals, Dr. Guerrant arranged for temporary workers to operate his missions. For example, a minister and his wife spent summer 1913 at Ebenezer renovating the mission house and preparing for the upcoming school year.

Through arrangements with the American Bible Society, Dr. Guerrant obtained Bibles for his mission schools. However, no amount of preparation could solve the ongoing problem of textbook shortages and scanty school supplies.

In August 1910 Leonora wrote about Ebenezer’s plight, reminding fellow North Carolinians of their patriotic duty and the rewards reaped by acts of Christian charity.

Each day we hear appeals for help, women walk ten miles to ask us for help for their children. We cannot help them unless the people of our country, loving God and their countrymen, will aid us. . . . Day school will open within a few weeks, and we need clothing, books, paper, pencils and numerous things.

Christy’s Dilemma

         In Chapter Six, Christy tells us that the day before classes began, David toted all the textbooks to the schoolhouse. One trip did it. She was dismayed to learn that the school owned “so few [textbooks] it was scarcely believable! And these were tattered, with pages missing and torn, most with no covers.”

On the first day of class, John Spencer brought a battered plane geometry book from home. Other older boys brought four books: Little Red Riding Hood, Fowler’s Arithmetic, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Smith’s Primary Grammar. None of Christy’s professors at Flora College had discussed how to teach 67 students with so few textbooks.

Therefore Christy’s stopgap plan was simple.

“Books: Write father.”

Christian Education Exemplified

         Dr. Guerrant defined Christian education as a trinity of elements: hands, head, and heart:

Education of students’ hands: to learn upper and lower case cursive letters, to plane a board, drive a nail, piece a quilt, mend a sock.

Education of students’ heads: to recite a Shakespearean    sonnet, decline a Latin verb, memorize the value of pi

Soul Winner Society schools were extraordinary because  the Bible was used as a textbook, treasured for its ability to convey Biblical truths to students’ hearts, truths such as: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

And a favorite verse of children worldwide:

“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:16

How You Can Help: Christy Spirit Volunteers

         Christy Spirit Volunteers began as a project stemming from the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Leonora Whitaker Wood’s arrival at the Ebenezer Mission in Morgan Gap in 1909. Christy Spirit Volunteer projects focus on finding worthwhile and creative ways for the Christy community to carry on the spirit of Christy. We assist children from the Del Rio community, some of whom are descendants of Leonora’s pupils.

With an enrollment of 150 students, Del Rio Elementary educates children in kindergarten through eighth grade. With limited material resources Principal Jan Dellinger and her staff work tirelessly to meet every child’s needs.

For more information about how you can help, please contact us at volunteers@christyfest.org

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Huge News in ChristyWorld!!

Photo courtesy of Inspiration Channel.

Photo courtesy of Inspiration Channel.


Christy will be reairing on the Inspiration Channel this fall.  No details yet on the day and time, but as soon as we know something, we’ll post it.

Meanwhile click HERE to check if the Inspiration channel is in your viewing area.  If it isn’t included on your cable network or satellite, let them know you’d like to get it.  I do know it’s on our Dish Network here…channel 259!

Two other new and view-worthy programs included in the fall schedule are Robin Hood, the BBC series and Lark Rise to Candleford, another BBC series.

If you have information on possible channels in your area or for your cable or satellite system, please let us know!!

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