Walk in my Homeland
As a young country boy growing up in the foothills of the Warrior Mountains, I became very familiar with the creeks and woodlands of the northeastern portion of the Bankhead National Forest. I grew up next to forest service property and was introduced to the mountains by my granddaddy. Along the banks of West Flint Creek, I learned at an early age to hunt and harvest wild game from the woods, catch fish from the clear deep holes, gig suckers during their spring run, probe for mud turtles on sandbars in the creek bed during the late summer, to dig ginseng and other medicinal plants from the rich hillsides, trap furbearing animals during the winter months, and to follow a pack of hounds on dark dreary winter nights for possums and coons. All these activities taught me a way of survival that my grandfather and other ancestors followed by living off what mother-nature provided. My grandpa would always give me half the money from the night’s catch after the furs were stretched, dried, and sold. If I assisted him with the trap line, he would always give me an equal share of the profits from the sale of the furs. Many memories have lasted a lifetime were instilled within my heart and gave me a love for the great outdoors that I still have to this day. It is my hope that I too can teach my grandchildren the ways of the wild and a love for the great outdoors
During the early years of my life, the adventures and activities with my grandpa occurred in the area of West Flint Creek drainage which was the central place of focus during my boyhood days. Brushy Mountain, Sugar Camp Hollow, Indian Tomb, Beech Bottoms, McVay Hollow, Thompson Creek, Indian Creek, and the Mastengill Hole were just a few places that were the regular stomping grounds of grandpa and I. These places were etched into my memory by day and also during the nighttime hunts.
Sacred Marker Tree in Indian Hollow Tomb by Rex Free
When I was too small to drive, the main area of my adventures were always within walking distance and were associated with that slow meandering creek which split the old Alexander Plantation. During my youth, we lived for a while in an old clapboard house on the old plantation site where my father was a workhand on the farm of Mr. Joe Jacobs, who was the son-in-law of Mr. Jake Alexander. Jake, the son of Thomas Jefferson Alexander and Sally Fitzgerald, managed to control the huge estate, even though he had a lot of siblings who also had a claim to the big farm. After the Alexander Place was sold to Mr. Dallas Yeager, my uncle lived in the old plantation house while he worked for Yeager. I remember spending many days playing with my cousins in the big house and exploring the farm. The Alexander family built two other big plantation houses besides the one that Mr. Jake Alexander lived in that was just alike. One was near the south end of the Drag Strip Road and was built for a daughter of Thomas Jefferson Alexander who married Captain Warren. The other was built for Henry Alexander the half-brother of Jake and it is the only one still standing and is the home of Mr. Don Alexander. The home still standing is about one mile east of Flint Creek Bridge on highway 36 on the north side of the highway.
West Flint Creek not only flowed through the Alexander Plantation but also formed the hollows and bottoms in the foothills of the Warrior Mountains. A lot of the land surrounding the upper drainage of the creek is now part of the William B. Bankhead National Forest. The creek began in the southeastern part of Lawrence County in Poplar Log Cove. The limestone spring in the upper portion of the Poplar Log Cove was the source of a steady stream of water and was the beginning of the West Fork of Flint Creek. The main tributaries near the southwestern beginnings of the creek were Wiggins Creek, Indian Creek, Thompson Creek, and Elam Creek. Thompson Creek also had two important tributaries that included Gillespie Creek that flows through the center of Indian Tomb Hollow and Lee Creek that starts at Shiloh Church on the Leola Road. It was along these creeks and hollows of West Flint that my boyhood life was formed in the tradition of my ancestors who depended upon the area for survival. Not only did these woodlands provide my grandpa and I many wonderful meals of fish and wild game, but also provided my grandfather the major portion of his income during the winter and spring months.
The way of the wild sometimes seemed harsh but the rewards, even though small by todays’ standards, were great in the eyes of a young boy following his grandpa through the woods. I knew that the animals taken would be a tasty meal after being prepared by my grandmother on the old wood cook stove. She would help prepare and cook rabbits, squirrels, opossums, coons, muskrats, beaver, groundhogs, turtles, and fish for many daily meals. In addition, my grandparents knew that the sale of medicinal roots, honey, wild meat, and hides would supplement their fall harvest of three to four bales of cotton grown on the poor hillsides. Such was a way of life and the focal point of a lifelong adventure into a world not far removed from the old creek of a boyhood memory.
Today, I still hunt and roam the forest service property in the drainage of West Flint Creek and it always feels like it is my homeland. Indian Tomb Hollow is still a very special place to me which I visit on a regular basis. Each visit to Indian Tomb recharges my inner being and refreshes my spirit because I know I am walking the trails my ancestors walked for many generations.