The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Jake's Rock

By J. Carlton Smith © 1990

Issue: June, 1990

The twilight deepened into darkness and a white mist floated above the river like a shroud. Uncle John and I had come to the river earlier to fish. There had been a thunderstorm in the afternoon and another seemed to be building over the mountains. You could hear the faint rumble of thunder and see the far away flash of lightning.

In the darkness there were eerie sounds. Frogs croaked, crickets chirped and above all this was the song of the river. From up on a steep bluff on the opposite side of the river came the call of a laughing owl. Ha! Ha! Ha! The mournful call of the whippoorwills sounded all around.

Uncle John said that the river must be muddy and on the rise for good fishing, especially for catfish. The afternoon thunderstorm had brought about these conditions. The river was rushing down its course very muddy and several inches higher than its usual depth. The fish were biting good and we had caught several nice ones. We decided since we had such luck we would continue fishing after dark. We built a fire for light and to keep the gnats and mosquitoes away.

The owl that some people call a laughing owl gave its weird laugh again, "Ha! Ha! Ha!" From above the bluff on the opposite side of the river came the blood curdling scream of a wildcat. It was probably stalking its supper and was getting impatient. If you have ever been out in the night and heard a wildcat scream, you know it will make your hair stand up and shivers run down your spine. Uncle John said not to be afraid it would not come near the fire.

The wildcat screamed again and then it seemed very quiet. On the opposite side of the river where we were fishing, there was a steep mountain like bluff. This bluff was covered with mountain laurel and rhododendron. At the foot of this bluff was a huge rock that seemed tilted against the river bank. Suddenly there appeared a strange light that seemed to float in an uneven course down the bluff!

"Look, Uncle John", I whispered in a voice that quivered, "What is that!" Uncle John seemed just as shook up as I was when he answered. "Well, well," he said, "I have heard about this light since I was a boy, but this is the first time I have ever seen it." He went on to say that when he was a boy, he was told about a man named Jake who used a path to come down the bluff to his favorite fishing and frog hunting spot. The rock on the other side of the river was his choice place and was called "Jake's Rock."

Jake was of Indian ancestry. There was a community of his relatives living nearby. Like his Indian forefathers, he liked the outdoors and tried to make his living off the land. He hunted, fished and harvested nuts, wild grapes and other edibles that grew wild. In mild weather, he camped out and only came in to stay with his relatives when it was rainy or cold. Sometimes he would help some of the farmers to get some pocket change for necessities. This would include coffee, sugar, salt, and kerosene oil for his lantern. For the most part he depended on nature to supply his needs. He had one vice, he liked whiskey too well and often took a nip. He said it was to ward off fever and prevent snake bite.

Jake's greatest enthusiasm was fishing and frog hunting. He said that catfish and frog legs were the best eating there was and creasy and polk greens were good enough for anybody. Almost any evening you could see Jake come down the cliff path as it was a short cut to the huge rock. The rock was tilted against the bank and the water flowed under the back side. this was a good place to fish as the water was deep and a good place for frogs to sit and sun.

Every fishing hole has its big fish that would be a feather in any fisherman's cap. This rock was the home of a huge frog. Jake said the frog lived in an under water cavern that flowed back of the rock. He said that he had caught a glimpse of the frog in lantern light. He said it was as big as a wash tub. It had eyes big as saucers and fiery red. He also claimed to have seen its tracks which were as big as a man's hand.

This frog became an obsession with Jake. He said that he was going to get that frog if it was the last thing he did. He made a gig with a foot long spear. He said if he speared it with this spear it would not get away. Almost every evening he would descend the cliff path to look for the frog. He said that he had made the frog mad and it would bellow from behind the rock sounding like a wild bull. He became even more determined to get the frog. He said it would have legs as big as turkey drumsticks.

All Jake could think about was getting the frog. He began to drink more than usual and wasn't rational. It seemed that the frog had bewitched him. Sometimes he said the frog was a demon sent by the devil to taunt him. He claimed the frog had put a spell on him and the only way he could break the spell was to kill the frog.

Late one summer afternoon after a thunderstorm, Jake took his spear and lantern and started for the rock. His relatives begged him not to go. They were afraid something would happen to him. He had talked idle and hadn't seemed normal for several days. Jake just laughed and said the devil took care of his own.

Morning came and Jake had not returned. Some of his worried relatives went to look for him. They knew that he always went to his special rock to look for the frog. When they arrived at the rock a gruesome sight awaited them.

The lantern was still burning and nearby lay Jake, his eyes wide open in horror! Although there wasn't a scratch on him, Jake was dead. The rock was covered with blood and the spear was missing. Had Jake fought the devil and lost? What had happened here? Then as if to mock them, there came a loud bellow from behind the rock.

The men decided that they would put an end to the frog for all time. They planted a stick of dynamite behind the rock and exploded it. Part of the hillside came down and filled up the underground cavern. Some claimed that the water around the rock was bloody for days. Others said that it was iron ore in the rocks that the dynamite had released. The rock became known as "Jake's Rock."

For many years people avoided the rock because of the tragedy that happened there and the rumors of the strange sights and sounds. No one would go there fishing after dark. One man bet five dollars he would go and stay the night at "Jake's Rock." Everything went well for a while. The moon went down and a grey fog enveloped the area.

Suddenly from under the rock there came a loud bellow! This frightened the poor man so much he could hardly stand for shaking. Then from up on the bluff coming along Jake's cliff path a light seemed to float along the old trail. The light hovered above the rock for several minutes and disappeared. Strength came back to the man and it would have taken a fast horse to outrun him. He later told that the devil tried to get him but he outran him.

Uncle John said, "That's the story of Jake's Rock. I have heard of strange and weird happenings here but this is the first time I have seen anything. Guess old Jake still comes to the rock to hunt that frog." About that time there came a loud bellow from over near the rock.

This made my heart beat rapidly with fright. I told Uncle John we had fished enough for this night. I said, "Let's go home, bet I can beat you to the truck." I never went night fishing near Jake's Rock again.