#9a Russell Burrows Tells About His Early Life – 1930’s to Present

Written by Russell Burrows

The earliest memories I have are of living on the side of a mountain just down the road from the Richwood Cemetery. Our family was mighty poor but we got by. I don’t know to this day how we did it.

My father worked for the Cherry River Broom and Lumber Company for thirty-five cents an hour, and just about all this pay went to the company store. We ate a lot of pinto beans in those days but, oh my, are they good! Most of our daily fare was made up of game: ruffed grouse, squirrels and rabbit. This sounds bad but let me say this, those were the happiest days of my life and if I could, I would give everything I have and ever will have to be able to go back in time and do it all over again. To be sure times were hard. We got a new pair of shoes once a year and wore each other’s hand-me-down pants if the seat was not totally gone. As for me, being the youngest of the boys, I got to wear them anyway because I was not yet in school, so it didn’t matter whether or not my long johns were showing through.

I remember lighting out up the side of the mountain with our two old dogs Frank and Porter, looking at just about anything and everything a boy of four or five could possibly want to look at. Why I didn’t accidentally step on a rattlesnake or copperhead is beyond me. I know that we had them there and there were plenty of them to go around, but I do not ever remember seeing one of those rascals. Just lucky, I guess.

It was on one of those sojourns that I had my first experience with a ghost or “ha’nt” as they are called over there in those mountains. As I recall the experience, the two dogs and I had walked up the cemetery road and were in fact just down over the hill from the cemetery when Frank began to growl. I remember looking around to see what he was so excited about. There were bears, bobcats and mountain lions (or “painters”) all through those mountains, and I recall thinking that we must have come up on one of those critters. That was not the case, however.

As I looked upward toward the cemetery, I saw a woman standing beside a tree. She was standing with her right hand on the tree and was looking directly at me. I can remember as though this just happened yesterday. She was a very lovely woman with long black hair which hung in waves down over her shoulders, and she was wearing a long white gown. She was looking me right in the eye and was smiling while she made motions with her left hand to come closer. By then Porter, who was the braver of the two dogs, had already hightailed it for home, and Frank was edging backwards and staying between the woman and myself. You may be saying to yourself, how could he remember something like that when he was only four or five years old? Well, let me tell you that if you had had such an experience, you would have remembered it as well. Be that as it may, I knew, I just knew what it was that I was seeing and I want to tell you this, had anyone been timing me I would have set a new world’s record for the mile, five years old or not. I mean I was picking ’em up and putting ’em down. Old Frank stuck with me, though, and he and I reached home safely to find Porter looking out from under the kitchen porch at us, as if to say, “Sorry fellows, that’s a little more than I can stand.”

I can still recall my mother’s reaction after I nearly ran right through the door, and told her about what I had seen.

“Oh, that’s just the lady on the hills,” she said. “Don’t be scared, she won’t hurt you. I have seen her many times and she still has not snatched me up and carried me away.”

That was my first experience with the spirit world; it was not my last.

In 1942, my family moved to Shinnston, West Virginia, in the northern part of the state. There, my father began working in the coal mines and it was there that I began school. We lived in the small mining town of Allied, just outside of Shinnston, for about a year. Then we moved to the outskirts of Fairmont, about three miles up the Monongahela River, settling in a small village named Holt Town. My father was lucky in that he was able to get on at the Owens, Illinois glass plant, located in Fairmont, a job he held until he retired.

Living in that small village of Holt Town was really something. Here I was growing up on a really big river, one that honest-to-goodness steamboats went up and down the whole livelong day and night. I became so familiar with those boats that I could tell by their whistles which boat was coming up or going down stream. They all had to stop at Holt because one of the locks and dams was located there.

The Monongahela River is a bit confusing when one says “up river” or “down river” because it runs north to join another big river to form the Ohio. Of course I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that it was one big river with a lot going on all the time. It was really an exciting time and place for a little fellow who had never seen a stream that he couldn’t step across.

Holt Town was quite a place. It had a history which went back to the Revolution and continued onward into the Civil War. It was at Holt Town, then called Black Diamond, that river boats and barges were built for use on the Ohio River by the Government. Before that, however, the area was rich in history so far as the American Indians were concerned. I doubt that there is one mile of that river’s one hundred mile length where a massacre did not take place of both red men and white.

Just two miles further upstream from Holt is the entrance of Pricket’s Creek and at that spot Pricket’s Fort used to stand. Pricket’s Fort has now been rebuilt and is in fact a state park. This was the home of many of the Indian fighters of that time. David Morgan, Indian Billy Ice, and the Wetzel brothers, Martin, Lewis and Jacob, all lived there at one time in their lives. It was Lewis Wetzel who was most welcomed by the settlers. He was greatly feared by the Indians because he had learned their beliefs and used those beliefs in his fight against them.

The Shawnee called him “Death Wind.” This came about because many Shawnees died at the edge of his town after hearing a strange moaning sound followed by the sharp stinging crack of Lewis’s smallbore rifle, and others reported seeing him flying away from the scene, his long black hair flowing in the breeze. It was said that when combed out his hair reached below his knees. At any rate, he was feared by the red man both because they believed he was a spirit of some kind and was protected and because they believed his gun was always loaded. He had learned to reload at a dead run, no small feat when you consider all that is involved when loading a flintlock rifle.

He also had a dead eye, as it was called. He could set a candle on each side of an axe, shoot at the edge of the axe, split the ball and put out both candles. The trouble with Lewis was that he hated Indians, as did many if not all of the whites that settled in that area. He had sworn an oath when he was fourteen to kill every Indian who crossed his path, an oath which he kept until his death in 1806. He died of yellow fever, and while ill with that fever he refused all medicines, saying that life was not worth living anymore because there were no more wild Indians to hunt. Lewis Wetzel died in Mississippi and his bones were returned to his home in 1950. He now rests with his family at Wheeling, West Virginia.

Concerning the moaning sound reported by the Indians: it is believed that Lewis blew into his rifle bore to produce the sound, most likely the same sound that can be produced by blowing into a bottle. Can you imagine the sound that would have been produced using a .32 caliber rifle barrel about five feet long? His rifle, by the way, can be seen at the museum at Charleston, West Virginia.

But enough about that. Let’s get back to the gist of the story. Nothing much happened to me in those years. I did many of the things that a youngster should do and a lot of things that a youngster should not do, just about like every other boy.