The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Treasure Hunt

By John W. Stoneberger © 1991

Issue: June, 1991

Aunt Lonie Lam once said, "John, let's you and I go on a treasure hunt in Lewis Mountain one day!"

Then she told me this story. One mile from the Skyline Drive at the Bear Fence going East down Staughter Road is the Devils Ditch Stream.

In the early 1900's there was a small cabin on the left just after you crossed the stream. It sat on a  little knoll just barely big enough for the cabin and a tiny garden. The wagon road ran between the knoll and the steep mountain leaving the road for the front yard and a steep drop off behind the cabin.

At the cabin lived a nice lady named Jennie Morris. It seemed everyone loved her. She was neat, trustworthy and grew a beautiful garden. It was rather unusual for a single woman to live alone in the mountains.

A well loved young man named Joe Samuels worked for Grandpa John Scott Roche for years on the private mountain roads, making water breaks, filling in washouts after heavy rains, etc.

One cold winter night he was found dead a short distance west of Jennie's cabin, lying on the Staughter Road. The true reason of his death was never known. Was it a stroke or had he drunk too much, went to sleep and froze, some people questioned.

No doors were locked in the mountains, so the one who found him carried him to Jennie's cabin and laid him on her bed until daylight when they could come back with more help and a mule and sled to move the body.

Jennie had been gone from home for several days and when she returned and heard the news that a dead man had spent the night in her bed, it disturbed her and she said, "she would never spend another night in that cabin..."

Aunt Lonie was nine years old and lived near by so Jennie called the child in to confide in her and ask for a special favor.

A well-to-do business man from the valley had come up in the summer to do work at the W.B. Stoneberger sawmill that was a short distance down the stream at Franklin Spring. He had asked Jennie to take care of two pistols and two expensive gold watches for him while he worked at the mill.

She knew his name but had no address or way to contact him, so she had wrapped his valuables in cloth, put them in a heavy metal box and buried them under a porch at the cabin. She said, "Lonie, if he ever comes back to inquire of me, tell him where I put them, but don't you ever tell anyone about this secret!" She kissed Lonie and shed a tear and said, "I am leaving my little home now, and I never expect to come back, so good by, Lonie, and may God bless you!"

The little cabin grew old, rotted and fell down. Aunt Lonie carried the secret in her heart over fifty years and told me the story. A few years later she died and we never took our treasure hunt, but I enjoy the story every time I pass the location of the Jennie Morris cabin.

What I really like about the story was Jennie's beautiful character; she had rather deposit those treasures in the Blue Ridge Mountains in safe keeping forever than to take something that belonged to someone else. She also put her trust in a loving-child to carry out her request.

Old time mountain people talk of the sadness of Joe's death. Carrie Mackley the teacher at St. Andrews Roche Mission made note of Joe's death in her diary in 1916. Many people regret that Jennie was spooked to despair and left her home by a man showing kindness for his dead friend.

There seems to be something about the mountains that is mystifying in both sunshine and darkness; it seems the sunshine is more pleasant and the nights darker.

If you could imagine spending a day at Jennie's old cabin site, you could walk under the huge hemlock trees on a heavy carpet of thick needles. Here Mama as a young girl used to catch rainbow trout with stickworm bait. They would flash in the morning sunshine in the clear crystal white water. Beautiful butterflies floated over the gorge and big bumblebees bumbled over the heavy dew covered flowers. But at night, in the dark of the moon, it gets as black as a wolf's mouth in that hollow. Foxes bark and tree limbs rub together under great pressure that causes sounds like groans of misery or death. As the stream goes over the falls gurgling rhythms fill the air and every cricket or bug seems to have a fiddle in the grass. There is something about the environment that can cause you to have a mythological imagination and play tricks with your mind!

Knowing these things you can better understand what brought Jennie to the mountain and why she left.

My brother Bill did well for himself as a worker and business man. He married a wealthy lady and they enjoy travelling the world searching for precious stones in the fields, or haggling over prices at special markets.

I would like to be the first to admit, "The Pigeon Blood Ruby" or "Star Sapphires" are beautiful, but I find the real jewels I love best are in mountain memories in the Blue Ridge Mountains like Aunt Lonie Lam, Jennie Morris and Joe Samuels!

We should never stop searching for treasure and the "Pearl of a Great Price is the greatest of all..."