Over the years there has been a great demand from the rest of the world for insight into the lives of the people of the mountains.
But people like Kephart and Murfree, while they wrote extensively about the mountain people, were outsiders looking in.
Ultimately, there was a limit to the enlightenment they were able to provide.
They were observers and their very presence changed – even slightly – the nature of what they were observing.
If you want to climb into the minds of people of a certain era from the mountains, understand better the old ways and old mountain people, read “The Hawk’s Done Gone” by Mildred Haun.
Who was Mildred Haun?
Born in 1911 in Hamblen County, she was raised in Haun Hollow in the Hoot Owl District of Cocke County in a family of farmers whose roots ran deep through the mountain soil back nearly to the time of the revolution.
Haun left the mountains at 16 to pursue more education with the idea of becoming a granny woman, aka midwife. She went to high school in Franklin County and went to Vanderbilt where her interest in literature grew.
Haun then studied under John Crowe Ransom and used the songs and stories handed down through her home and people to write the short stories. They would be eventually collected into her book.
She used the fount of knowledge at her fingertips, the lore of the mountains from proverbs to folk songs.
Haun knew about signs and the weathers and the supernatural and all were woven into her tales naturally. That’s how she’d experienced them.
You can live among the people, spend a lifetime observing and it won’t quite be the same. There’s an engrained acceptance, if not belief, in things like charms and cures that only a native can possess.
What did Mildred Haun write?
Haun wrote through a narrator called Mary Dorthula White, a granny woman.
Tellingly, in the book, White speaks with a dialect that is conversational and easily understood. It’s the dialect of the mountain people.
However, because that language is natural to Haun, it isn’t presented as an undecipherable dialect or as a curiosity.
It’s just how they speak in the mountains. She understands the cadence of it in a way that outsiders never could. There’s nothing funny, outlandish or condescending about it. It’s not played for humor.
Here’s Mary explaining about how she finds comfort in the list of names in the family Bible.
“There’s more to being a Granny-woman than some folks think there is. A body has to bear blame sometimes where blame is not due. But I just scour them things off my mind. It is not bad to.”
“Not when I can set here by the fire and look at Letitia Edes Mountain there, then down at this page of names that grew fast too. And think on them. They’re all in here, all my own youngons. And Ad’s boys by his first old woman, I put their names in too. It makes the page nigh full of names.”
The only fiction published by Haun is “The Hawk’s Done Gone: And Other Stories”. It’s a collection of stories that comes from a time when the mountains were changing mightily.
The modern world was coming in at a frightening pace, and Haun was part of that. But she was also connected to the old ways, the rites and rituals of her people that outsiders either never understood or never bothered to try.
A darker side to Haun’s work
The stories in Hawk can be dark and foreboding, filled with witchcraft and spirits and age-old prejudices. If you want to understand the people of the mountains, Mildred Haun is the author you need.
Haun, who died in 1966, spent most of the rest of her life as an editor, working for the Tennessean and later the Sewanee Review.
From 1950 to 1963, she worked as an editor and information specialist for Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma. She wrote speeches, news releases, correspondence courses and featured articles there, according to Chapter16.org.
Have you read any of Haun’s work? Let us know in the comments.