Saturday, October 29, 2005

Signs and Wonders from Burl Hammons: The Yayho

Photograph of Hammons brothers Pete, Paris, and Neal; older brothers of Edn.

Burl Hammons tells this story in "The Hammons Family: Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Friends." This photo shows Burl's father, Paris (center) and his brothers Pete (left) and Neal (right). Their father, Jesse, was born in the early 1830's, and these three brothers were born between 1856 and 1864. Their youngest brother, Edn Hammons was a well-known Pocahontas County fiddler.

Yayho stories are common in West Virginia. Typically, the people telling the story are in the woods after dark, and they hear someone on foot following them. Whenever they stop walking, the footfalls continue for a few seconds. Other people hear the sound of someone striking a tree trunk with a big stick, far off in the woods. The unknown stick-carrier seems to be following them. The yayho is, as far as I can tell, the same sort of creature as Bigfoot out west. When modern people hear something in the woods they can't identify, I'm not really surprised. However, the three Hammons men in this story made their living hunting and logging in the backcountry 150 years ago. Any animal they didn't know would have been a wonder indeed. Fallen Timbers, at the head of the Cherry River, remains a remote hard-to-reach destination to this day.

They was a yayho but I don't know what it was, now they didn't either, just to tell the truth about it. Well, it was my dad and a feller they called Wilburn Baldwin, and, uh, and my father's dad, they always, they'd go over there on the head of Cherry....They'd go over there and bear hunt in the fall. And, so, out of grub and....this feller thought that they'd send him to Hillsboro and get some grub, enough to do 'em a couple or three more days. Well...away he went.....He was supposed to be back and it commenced to getting late. And...they didn't have no lamps and lanterns and stuff, they just had rich pine, they'd split 'em up a big lot of rich pine so they could make a light so they could see when they went to meet him.

So after dark...they heard something a-hollering. And they went to answering it. And it, and it got to getting closter and they thought it was him, you know. And them old fellers, you couldn't hardly fool them on any thing, any kind of animals now....Now Uncle Pete...he was with em', Uncle Pete Hammons, he said, "Now boys," he said, "that ain't no body a-hollering," he said, "that's something else," he said.

And it kept getting closter and closter....So they got the light and they started. Course they took the guns with 'em and they started to meet him. And after while they heard this feller a-hollering....And of course they answered him. And they got there, they got to him at last and he...had a gun with him, but he'd dropped it and clim a tree. He said there was some thing just ready to catch him, he said. It jumped two or three times at him, some big thing, he said, he didn't know what it was. And he was up in that tree when they found him....

The next day, I believe it was, my dad said....he was a'comin out through there and he said there was that thing's looked like it had hair on the bottom of its foot and, he said it run back kind of at the heel...but he said you couldn't tell it from a man's track. And he covered it up with a piece of bark....His dad said--of course he'd killed kinds of bears and stuff, and--he said, "Why," his dad said, "it's nothing but a bear walking on its hind feet...."

And he said that they went out and looked at it, at that track, and they said no, it wasn't a bear's track. They said they didn't know what it was, then they just named it a yayho, now, that's what they called it, a yayho, of course they couldn't live in that country at that time, could they now...? dad said...them old fellers looked at it and they said they never seen a track like that. They didn't know what it was. And he said it was as big as a man's track. But he said ...the heel...ran right back right sharp, he said, back next to the heel....Now you know, boys there couldn't have been nobody in that country way back in there now, barefoot, well gosh, miles and miles and miles in that, back in the head of that Cherry River.

The quote is from "The Hammons Family: Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Friends, as is the photograph of the Hammons brothers. If you're curious, you can visit the link and hear samples of many of the tracks on these two CD's.

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