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  • What I Know About Scott County, Tennessee
  • Meredith Sue Willis
    Spring 1994

After growing up in the Appalachian region, I lived for twenty years in New York City. During my time there, many of the things people dread most about big cities happened to me: I had my apartment burglarized and my pocketbook picked; I was mugged by knife-wielding thugs. But [End Page 22] the only time I ever had a gun pointed at me was in Scott County, Tennessee.

My Aunt Okey Jo and Uncle Thurman Mullins lived in Scott County. She was a school teacher, and he was a store manager for one of the timber companies working the mountainous Tennessee forests. Uncle Thurman grew up a few mountains away, near Wise, Virginia. After serving in World War II, he didn't want to go to college, and he didn't want to dig in the earth or under it, so he signed on with the company. As store manager, he got to wear a white collar and live in a management-level house on Bosses Row in New River. The house had four rooms, an attached kitchen, and a bath. Whereas, as Uncle Thurman liked to say, the mill workers up on Mud Street got two rooms—and a path. But even though Uncle Thurman and Aunt Jo had a bathroom, their house was covered with raw planks. Only the general manager of the mill got painted clapboards.

Later, when the company had taken what it could use and moved on, Uncle Thurman—unlike the folks on Mud Street—did not end up unemployed. Uncle Thurman had saved enough capital to start several small businesses: a hot dog stand, a private grocery store, a shed full of factory chickens, a herd of black Angus cattle. What with Aunt Jo's salary teaching for the county, and only one child, my cousin Thurma Jo, they did okay, and bought a house of their own on Route 27.

They stayed in Scott County because they were comfortable there, although I wouldn't say anyone ever mistook them for natives. Aunt Jo taught grammar in one-room schools and then in the high school; she and cousin Thurma Jo rose through the ranks of the Eastern Star and Rainbow Girls; Uncle Thurman got elected to the school board. When you visited, they liked to give you tours of Scott County in their vast, air-conditioned Lincoln. We saw their church and the county offices in [End Page 23] Huntsville. We toured Rugby, a brief-lived utopian community founded by nineteenth-century British educators. They showed us places you could find Indian arrowheads if you wanted to get out and look.

They told us that Scott County was discovered by Daniel Boone, but I have learned in my later years that most Appalachian communities west of the Cumberland Gap make that claim. The county was named for General Winfield Scott, under whom a lot of Tennessee men fought in Andrew Jackson's war and the Mexican War. Scott County loved its warriors.

Uncle Thurman, thought not a native, was a warrior. He fought in the Second World War, participating in, but never talking about, the Battle of the Bulge. He and his people, like Scott County people, always fought in whichever war.

Scott County seceded from Tennessee to fight with the North during the Civil War. Another of the marvels of the county, Aunt Jo told me, was that they declared war on the Kaiser in 1914 in advance of the rest of the United States, and had never yet made peace. That was the kind of thing they like to tell about, my aunt and uncle. Also about how when Aunt Jo first went to register to vote in the late 1940s, eighty years after the Civil War ended, and she asked for the Democratic party form, she was told at the courthouse that you couldn't register as a Democrat in Scott County. We've always been Republicans here, they said.

I'm sure they told her this politely and knowing Aunt Jo, who liked to get along with people, she probably registered as she was told. She...


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