News & Events
Mars Hill University Publishes Historic Appalachian Diary
Os Deaver and his nephew Jimmie Osbourne McElroy were ordinary men, who ran an ordinary store in an ordinary Appalachian community in the late 1800s. We know about their lives today because each day Deaver – with occasion help from McElroy – made an entry in a store diary, recording weather conditions, community events, births, deaths, accidents, crimes, visitors and other items of interest. Individually, the entries reflect the minutia of daily rural life. Taken together, however, they make an incredibly accurate, sometimes surprising, and historically significant record of life in western North Carolina from 1885 until 1896.
Mars Hill University has now published the Historic Diary of Os Deaver and Jimmie Osbourne McElroy, and the volume is for sale in the university bookstore. The original, hand-written diary, as well as a typed manuscript of the diary is also available in the Southern Appalachian Archives, located in the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies on the university campus.
“The Historic Diary of Os Deaver and Jimmie Osbourne McElroy is the only written document that I know of that gives us a ten-year daily history of a southern Appalachian rural community in existence,” said Richard Dillingham, Mars Hill University Regional Specialist, emeritus.
While the diary focuses on events in the Forks of Ivy community near Mars Hill, it offers a glimpse of the larger society and lifestyle in rural southern Appalachia. Dillingham describes these facets of life in the book’s forward: “[The diary] gives a daily record of weather; food ways; comments on local, regional, and national events; the comings and goings through a crossroads settlement; family and extended family activities; church events; an accounts ledger of a dry goods store; the seasonal agricultural history of a mountain farm during the boom years of the flue-cured tobacco industry; but more importantly, it is a social history of relationships between neighbors, both black and white, revealing clashes in values, most often revealed over debts or land disputes, between the industrial values of the store keepers, valley dwellers, and the traditional rural Appalachian values of ridge neighbors at Ivy Hill.”
Among many of the gems contained in the diary are the following:
- The diary provides evidence for changes in climate through Deaver’s faithful daily record of weather conditions. For example, he records at least one instance when ice on local rivers is up to 18 inches thick and the temperature is 24 degrees below zero, Dillingham said.
- Among the visitors recorded is James Lunsford, who was married to one of the Deaver kin. In the late 1880s, Lunsford was president of a very young Mars Hill College (founded in 1856).
- Deaver also records in the diary that he played his fiddle for James Lunsford, and his young sons Blackwell and Bascom. One of those boys, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, would grow up to be known as the “Minstrel of Appalachia” for his tireless work to preserve and record the music of the region.
- The writers’ word usage and spelling is very consistent with Appalachian speech patterns, Dillingham said. For example, Deaver often uses the word “hoped” for “helped.”
- There is a record of a visit to the community by Deaver’s first cousin James Keith, traveling incognito. Keith was one of the perpetrators of the regionally-infamous Shelton-Laurel massacre. To escape punishment, Keith fled to Arkansas, but was known to return to western NC to visit family members.
The original diary was owned by Keith/Deaver/McElroy descendant Sandy Davis Jordan of Leicester, NC, until 2012, when it was donated to the school archives.
The manuscript of the diary was typed by Kern Lunsford, daughter of Bascom Lamar Lunsford. The transcript was donated, together with Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s instruments, written music, photos, recordings, and other memorabilia, totaling over 4,000 items, in 1968.
Proceeds from sale of the Historic Diary of Os Deaver and Jimmie Osbourne McElroy will go to upkeep of the pioneer Keith/Deaver/McElroy graveyard, which is located near Mars Hill.