The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Mystery of The Old Mill

By Eula C. Mantz Handy © 1985

Issue: October, 1985

The Old Musser Mill.The Old Musser Mill.The Autumn chill was in the air, but it didn't seem to phase the two brothers, Russ and Joe Keiver, who were sitting on the river bank fishing, just below the old Musser Mill. It was a place to relax after a week of hard work.

The two brothers had discovered the fishing hole while working on a factory that was being built across the railroad tracks in front of the old mill.

As they were new to the area, they had not heard about the occupants of the old Musser Mill. As a matter of fact, they had never heard of Deck Musser, who was once the owner of the old mill before his death. For if they had they sure wouldn't have been on that river bank fishing, especially during the harvest moon. But it wouldn't be long before they would know what everyone else already knew.

The harvest moon had long risen and was shining brightly on the two men below. It was so bright, they decided to put out their lanterns. It was long past midnight before they finally got enough fish to fry for their supper.

While sitting around their campfire eating and talking about their day, they were startled to hear loud screaming from the old mill. Getting up, they looked towards the dark area where the screaming seemed to come from. They saw lights flicking off and on in the old mill.

Deck Musser and family.Deck Musser and family.Suddenly a young black boy came running and screaming from the old mill, with what appeared to be a deck of cards in his hands and a white boy right behind him carrying a drawing knife held high in the air. The two men decided it was just a bunch of young boys playing poker or just horsing around, so they sat back down. But the black boy headed straight for their campfire, with the white boy close behind. Jumping back to get out of their way, the two boys suddenly disappeared right before their eyes. The younger brother looked at his older brother, Joe, and said, "What in the world was that?"

Joe replied, "I don't know and I don't intend to stay and find out."

Jumping up and almost running over one another in their haste, the two brothers headed for their truck, leaving their camping gear behind. As far as they were concerned, anyone could have it at that moment. Then they went roaring out of that lane at high speed, shaking in their boots at what they had seen.

Mr. and Mrs. Richerson, who lived near by, were awakened as the truck went speeding by their house. They knew that in the morning they would find the men's camping gear left behind on the river bank. They would store it along with the gear of other campers who had camped there before and had suddenly taken off in the wee hours of the morning. They would have it for them just in case these men would come back later for their gear. But they didn't have to bother, for these men had no intentions of coming back, especially after they got to Marion, Virginia and heard about the old Musser Mill first hand. After arriving in Marion, Russ and Joe stopped at the Marion Diner to buy a couple of beers to calm them down.

Sitting in a booth drinking their beer, they decided it was teenage boys that had been playing in that old mill. They had somehow rigged up some ghost-like outfits to scare the campers off the property. How, they didn't know, but kids these days were so smart that they could do anything they set their minds to. There was no way it was a ghost they had seen, for there just wasn't such things as ghosts. After all, it was getting close to Halloween and time for pranksters.

An elderly man, a native of Marion, in a booth behind them eating his breakfast couldn't help but overhear the men talking. Getting up, he went to their booth and said, "Boys, I couldn't help but overhear you all's conversation about what you saw. I don't want to bother you all, but I can tell you that your eyes wasn't deceiving you. Also it wasn't teenage boys fooling around either!"

The young men moved over to make room for the elderly gentleman, who was around seventy or so. They listened quietly as the elderly man spoke of the mill area they had hastily vacated. He seemed to know what he was talking about.

"When I was but a young lad," he said, "my friends and I hung around the old Musser Mill. Deck Musser was a hero to all of us boys in the neighborhood. He was like a Jessie James to all of us. We worshipped the ground he walked on. He carried a pearl handled six shooter hung low on his hip, Jessie James style. He was also like an old Indian Chief for he stood tall and straight like one. I believe he had Indian blood in him, as he acted like one and did things Indians did when white men crossed their paths. Only it wasn't a white man who crossed Deck Musser's path. It was a black boy."

The elderly man seemed to know the facts first hand. Pausing just long enough to catch his breath and sip a little of the beer the men had bought for him. He continued with his tale about the old mill and what happened there in the early twenties during the harvest moon.

"When Deck Musser, was but a very young lad, despite the objections of his father, Big George Musser, he would gamble until dawn in his father's mill by lamplight. He would gather his friends several times a week for a game. Sometimes they would put out their lanterns and gamble by moonlight, especially during the harvest moon, for then it was the brightest. That way Mr. Musser couldn't tell if his son was there and break up the poker game which he often did when he caught them."

"There was a young black boy who came to the mill to gamble also, even though his father had warned him to stay away from the Musser boy, as he was known to have a bad temper, but the father's warning fell on deaf ears."

"It was during the harvest moon in October that the father's warning came true. The black boy started cheating to try to get back some of the money he was losing. That didn't go so well with Deck Musser, who was losing a lot of money, too, especially when he realized that the black boy had been cheating him. So, in a fit of anger he grabbed a drawing knife that lay near by and started after the young black boy. Seeing the Musser boy was going to use it on him, he took off like a cat on fire, but Deck caught him at the river bank and scalped him Indian style. He then took the young boy's scalp and tacked it over a hole in the mill door, as a warning to all cheating gamblers, be they black or white, of what would happen to them if he caught them cheating him.

Some of the boys at the poker game that night slipped away on horseback and got word to the law about what Deck did, but the law wouldn't come. They were afraid of Deck Musser, anyway you didn't mess around with any of Big George Musser's boys. As Deck's father was a constable there in Atkins, they felt he should take care of the matter himself.

Deck didn't stay around to see what would happen. With the help of his Uncle Tayler, who had been at the poker game that night, he hopped a freight train when it stopped to get water at the Atkins Tank (as it was called back then) and headed out west.

The black boy wasn't the only person to cross Deck Musser's path, or the only one he had to kill. There was one man he had to kill in self-defense though, at the tourist court he owned there in Atkins. (It was called Camp Valley Tourist Camp.) They got in a fight over a bill that Sam Crowe refused to pay when he had rented a cabin for the night. Mr. Crowe had Deck down on the ground, so Deck pulled his pistol and shot him off of him.

Deck Musser never went to prison for any of his crimes. They never even had a trial because the law was afraid to arrest him. The newspapers in Marion were afraid to publish anything about him. They knew if they did, he would tear up the place. Local people were so afraid of him that they would carry a gun (for protection) when they passed his place. The only people that stopped at his place were travelers from out of town that didn't know him. They would rent a cabin for the night and be gone by daybreak the next day."

The young fishermen were very quiet as the elderly man finished his tale, stating that he could be there for years talking about Deck Musser. He got up and slipped quietly away leaving the young men to their thoughts.

These young men weren't the only ones who have seen things on Deck Musser property. Some claim they can see Deck at the mill door and even been awakened by the sounds of screams along with the noise of a hammer in the middle of the night. Even now they shudder at the sound of Deck Musser's name and look behind them as if he was there.

The old mill is now run down. The rattlesnakes and copperheads occupy it in the summer and wild animals in the winter. The bushes and trees with low hanging limbs seem to be trying to hide the past from the many who come to see the old mill and to look for the money that they think was buried there by Deck during his many poker games.

Deck Musser was my grandfather. As a child I spent many a snowy evening being rocked by him, or at his feet in front of a warm fireplace as he told me about that night long long ago. From that day until his death in 1940, he never gambled again. He also never allowed a deck of cards in his home.

It was grandfather's life long friend, Ralph Repass, who still resides in Marion, who said that my grandfather reminded him of an old Indian chief. He knows many things of my grandfather's past, as he too used to hang around the old mill. Some things I was too young to remember.

By the way, there is good fishing below the old mill. But for heaven sakes don't go during the harvest moon, or you might get scalped. For the Musser Mill is no place to be - especially if you are a cheating gambler!