The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Coming Down From The Goodson Settlement

By Rodger Goodson © 1984

Issue: December, 1984

(NOTE: It reads thataway because I wrote it thataway. RG)

(Editor’s Note; The following story was sent to us from Leysin, Switzerland. Rodger Goodson who wrote it, is from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Grayson County, Virginia, as were five generations of his ancestors. In this story, he tells how through the generations, measure by measure, they changed.)

As far as I know, the last remains of The Goodson Settlement down below Fishers Peak were finally tractored over back during the 1930's when Harry Byrd and FDR decided to build a scenic highway [Blue Ridge Parkway] for city people who could still then afford to buy cars. When I was a student at Galax High School, my grandaddy Troy Goodson, already in his 60's, told me in some confidence (as if he were hiding the information from other members of the family) that old man Leander Goodson, his grandaddy and founder of The Goodson Settlement, had been an outlaw: "one of Jessie James' boys, a-hidin' out from the law. That thar is what they always said, anyway!"

This is the way tales go in mountain folklore and it has been so wherever I have traveled in the world: Peking with its hills, Japan and the sacred mountain Fujiyama, all over the Alps of Western Europe, and of course in the Virginia Blue Ridge, where I was born and raised.

When I checked out the Jesse James connection, I discovered, of course, that old man Leander Goodson would already have been settled up on the mountain by Jesse James's heydey. Leander Goodson was rich, Troy told me; he had "two saddlebags full of silver," and he wouldn't ever tell anybody where he got it or what his real name was. (Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee was once named Goodsonville.) Leander was an educated man, Troy said, and his wife, she was an educated woman. Whenever they didn't want any of the younguns to understand, they would speak to each other in Latin...

As a child my grandaddy knew Leander Goodson quite well and heard him speak often enough - on those infrequent occasions, apparently when the old boy condescended to talk. William Faulkner, who was of my grandaddy's generation, has written of, hearing his own grandfather speak Scots Gaelic on the Tennessee border of Mississippi. None of this proves much of anything. Leander must have been one of few Goodson mountaineers to have flourished financially. He built a large home for that time and place, a grist mill, a one-room schoolhouse. His children and grandchildren built their cabins around Fishers Peak and Fox Hunters' Paradise, and they no doubt put up a church - whenever they weren't chasing rattlesnakes and foxes up and down the hollows.

All that remains today is the graveyard and the foundation of Leander Goodson's big house. Only the Goodsons and related families know how to find Goodson Graveyard from the Blue Ridge Parkway, with the enormous old cedar tree planted by Leander's youngest daughter at the foot of his grave on the day he died, the roots now growing through the bones of every Goodson up there including my Grandaddy and Grandmaw; and the unmarked slabs to mark the graves of runaway Union soldiers, and runaway slaves.

From the Civil War until World War One there was a neat little series of minor depressions (before the Great One), triggered not only by scoundrels like Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, but also by such stalwart Yankee wheeler-dealers as J.J. Astor, Andrew Carnegie and J.D. Rockefeller. All over the world, mountaineers are among the first to feel the axe. After going broke on the mountain and working a spell for Truman Woodruff in Low Gap (where my grandmother and great-grandmother came from), Troy Goodson settled in the new mill town then abuilding on the banks of Chestnut Creek. First they named it Bonaparte - I still don't know why - then Galax.

During the Great Depression Troy went bust in his hole-in-the wall restaurant on Main Street with a fare ye well. And in 1932 promptly reopened Goodson's Snappy Lunch (ouch!) Cafe on West Grayson Street, where he managed to hang in there until the restaurant finally burnt down in 1961.

In the Depression also my father Price Goodson went broke as a student (as I would do years afterward), at William and Mary law school. In a story still well known in Grayson and Carroll Counties during my childhood, Price Goodson stole his law books and came home to Galax, studied on his own in a room provided by Mayor Dacosta Wolz, and at age 19, became the youngest man ever to pass the Virginia State Bar Examination (later regulations would make it impossible to sit the bar exam at that age). Price then mailed the books back to the law school. He later showed me the horribly slashing scar above his ankle and told how, when he was a child, they were all out cutting corn stalks in the fields and he planted the axe-blade of the corn cutter into the bone. Up on the mountain in those days there were generally two prescriptions for everything: homemade (and clear, Scotch-Irish, not bourbon) whiskey, which was used to disinfect the wounds of man and beast and was then poured straight down the throat - which is why to this day mountaineers will tell you, "My daddy never touched a drop of liquor in his life!"

The only other medicine was salt, and Troy's liberal pouring of salt upon the wounds of children was, at different times, to bring both me and Price quite low. When the corn cutting agony was over, Price informed Troy that he was never going to farm the mountain. He was going to college and make a lawyer. In those days you went to university to be a doctor, a lawyer or possibly a preacher. Those were the options. Surely this story also illustrates why Price was a long ball hitter for the Galax Country Club team (he was also founding Secretary of the Club, to the best of my memory), and he never ever mowed the lawn:

"Why, he's out thar a-playin' that ole gulf when he ort to be in his office!"

With some scholarships, student "defense" loans, and a year off earning cash in the Canadian Arctic (Price had worked one summer on the construction of the Grand Coolee Dam), I worked my way through college and graduated at Chapel Hill. Then, while Deanna Hartsock worked in an office to support us, I took a Master's Degree with a thesis in comparative modern literature (English, German, French), and attempted to teach English and American literature in American colleges for the next 19 years. But that's another story.

Now Katherine Lee Goodson, named after my own mother and Euna Lee Hartsock, granddaughter of Price Goodson, great-granddaughter of Troy Goodson, great-great-great-granddaughter of Leander Goodson of The Goodson Settlement down below Fishers Peak, is entering Cambridge University.