The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Soldier

By Kelly D. Webb © 1989

Issue: October, 1989

Editor's Note: For an October Halloween Story, Kelly Webb combines a bit of actual family history with a ghost story. We hope you enjoy, "Black Bob."

Black Bob, he was called. "A Mountain Man," it had been said. He was born May 1838 to Joshua and Mary Hylton Goad, and his name was Henry Robert Goad. Henry was born in Grayson County, Virginia, the fifth child in a family of eight. He was a small child and developed a dark complexion as he grew.

In later years he was to be called Black Bob because of his complexion. Henry "Black Bob" Goad died in 1909, and was buried near the village of Newbern, Virginia. This could be the end of his story, but that would leave too much of it untold. I came to know Black Bob one rainy Summer day, just about twilight as I drove along route 799, in Floyd County, Virginia. The figure of a man stepped out of the trees just in front of my car. He did not indicate that he wanted a ride, but the thought of a man out in the weather caused me to pull up beside him and stop.

He opened the door in a reluctant manner, an slid into the seat beside of me. "It will be a dark night, and a wet one at that," he said. "I've just come from off the Buffalo; it has always been home to me. "He remarked as if in answer to a question. He continued the one sided conversation as I turned to face him. He had his hat pulled down so I could not see his face clearly. I ask him if he ever heard of Black Bob Goad. He answered, "yes I have heard the name, in fact, I know the story very well. He talked with me often.

Black Bob said to me, " My family farmed the land; we never seemed to think of anything else. I worked with Pa until I was growed. We helped the neighbors with the harvesting of the crops. I enjoyed swinging the cradle, and could cut with most men. Old man Hilton had a team, and he would haul the oats to the thrashing floor. When the oats were just at the right stage the women folk would walk out the grain. They knew just how many steps it took to separate the grain from the head. Some folks used the flail. Then they swept the grain into a row to wait for a windy day to winnow. Buckwheat was also handled this way, and some winter wheat. When the grain had gone through the cure we took it to the stone mill along the creek for grinding. Most farmers ground some wheat with their buckwheat; it made better cakes this way."

"When I was about sixteen we went to help old man Bill Semones cut his corn. My brother, Pete had married Cretia, one of Bill's daughters, and he had ask Pa to come help. The weather was freezing that morning, and my hands were numb when time came to eat: I was trying to get closer to the cookstove when my elbow bumped a pan of biscuits almost knocking them from the grasp of the prettiest girl I had ever seen. Now, I was numb all over, and could not utter a sound. The young lady told me her name was Amy. I just grinned, then turned to the table. I never knew what I put on my plate, or how I found the big rock out beside of the house. I had just put a bite of bread into my mouth when she came out the door. That bite of bread just got bigger and bigger; too big for me to gulp down. I turned my head to one side and slipped the bite of bread into my hand. I pitched it behind me, but somehow it went straight up into the air and came down at Amy's feet.

That was my introduction to the world's prettiest girl. Come May 12,1857, me and Amy was married. Sarah Jane was born the next March 21st. Then Mary Angeline came along about three years later. At that time they started talk of a war with someone up North, and before I knew what was up, I was enlisted in the 45th Virginia Reg. May 29th 1861. We went to camp where we trained to walk in groups; never had no guns until we was at the fight. We walked all over them mountains and waded them rivers until I wished we would stop. We had a little fight here and there, and in August 1862 I was in a fight at a place called Gauley Bridge. While chasing the Yanks I had a bullet burn a rut across my arm. I never did see no bridge. In some battles they was falling all around me, and some nights I would dream that my dead buddies would come up out of the ground, and tell me to come down with them, and it would be over then. We got hungry and never had enough to wear to keep warm. All my friends were killed or sent home wounded, and I refused to make new friends because I could not take any more heartache. I wanted to go home and see Amy and my babies. After about two more years I was taken prisoner in the battle at Piedmont. I was held at Camp Morten about a year before I was allowed to return home. I had been home on furlough a couple times before I was captured.

The last time I was there Amy acted as if she did not know who I was. I did not know what to expect when I got home this time, however, Amy was glad to see me, and we lived the old sweet times again. Martha Emily had been born while I was away. And soon Louisa was born. Two years later Ruth was born, but before this time I noticed Amy walk away from the house and some of the times other people would walk back with her.

She seemed to be far away in thought. One day after helping Bill Semones slaughter hogs I came home to find the girls up on the roof of the house with Ruth under the porch. They came to meet me crying that mother had chased them with a knife. I could see Amy walking across the field toward her father's house. I called out to her and started walking toward her when she ran into the woods. Several of the neighbors came out to help hunt her. About midnight Amy came walking up the road to home as if nothing had happened. She could not understand why the girls were afraid of her. I was afraid to leave the children with Amy when I was away. She seemed most hostile toward Sarah so I arranged for her to stay with Chesley Alderman. Amy got worse and was a threat to us all so I arranged with other families to take the girls in and give them a home. Amy's sister, Cretia seemed to be able to handle Amy, and keep her calm so I left her there.

When I was in the Army I was showed how to mend shoes. Since we had to make our eating utensils I had learned how to make knives there also. I started making big knives that people could use on the farm. To carry these I hung them on a string around my neck. I traveled all around the country selling my knives and repairing shoes. I had picked up a little trick with three little wax balls. One of these balls contained a horsehair, and with slight of hand I would substitute a ball without the hair when someone volunteered to pick the ball containing the hair from the three.

This with my wandering ways caused some people to call me a witch. It was told that I could make people disappear or cause their cow to dry off. I never let on that I heard this; and I never told of the hurt I carried in my heart. My wife did not know me, and other people was raising my daughters, as I was unable to care for them. Through confusion, the girls thought I was somehow responsible for their mother's problems. They turned from me, and left me a lonely man.

In my travels I met Annie, who listened to me talk, and seemed to have an interest in what I said. I learned she was no stranger to trouble. She told me I was a wistful spirit that called to her. Soon we had a family to raise, and I set up a little shoe repair shop. We had a family of six wonderful children. A livelier bunch never existed. We loved them and they loved us. However my heart could not forget the five lovely girls that were torn from me. I often went up on the Buffalo to commune with my lonely heart. The children married and moved away, and as the years came upon Annie and me, Elizabeth and her husband took us in. We lived in Newbern a few years."

The man's voice trailed off as if he were going to sleep. Not wanting to startle him I stopped the car until he awoke. However he was not asleep, and when I stopped the car he opened the door, and stepped out. Once out of the car he turned to face me. He was a man of dark complexion and seemed to be ageless. He said, just before he walked away, "I was told they buried Old Henry over there around Newbern, but it is my guess that he came back to the Buffalo because he could not rest until he was near his girls." As he walked away I am sure I heard a voice say, "I just want to find my girls." Now when I see the Buffalo I wonder just who the stranger was, also I wonder if Henry has ever found his girls.