Whistling Woman, Appalachian Journey Book 1

Whistling Woman-e-bookA whistling woman and a crowing hen never come to a very good end…or so the saying goes. There are a couple of interpretations for the saying itself but we chose to go with the most common one; be who you’re meant to be. In other words, march to your own drummer. That’s what we feel our Great-aunt Bessie did. Rather than worrying what other people would think of her, she lived her life as she saw fit.

Bessie is the main character of our book, Whistling Woman. We were lucky enough to know her when we were kids and blessed to have her and her stories in our life. The book focuses on her late teens/early twenties, a time when she made some of the most important decisions of her young life. Part fact, part fiction, it incorporates the history and folklore of the western North Carolina mountains, the beliefs and medicinal practices of the Cherokee, and many of the stories we grew up hearing.


To our father, Raymond Earl “John” Tillery, for entertaining us with stories from his childhood and for reminding us every time we talk to him how important family is.  Also, for the beautiful painting that graces the cover of this book.  We love you very much, Daddy. This book would never have existed if it weren’t for you!

To our great-aunt Bessie, the woman behind it all.  Thank you for sitting at our shoulder while we wrote your story and for being a ‘Whistling Woman” who lived a life that’s fascinated us from the time we were small children.


There are so many people who contributed to the creation of Whistling Woman; friends, family, and fellow authors. In particular we’d like to thank:

Our father, John Tillery, for all the wonderful stories he told us, as kids and adults, about his Aunt Bessie, Uncle Fletcher, Grandpapa John, the rest of the Daniels family, and the people they encountered while they lived in Hot Springs. It’s hard to top a natural born storyteller, but we did our best to do justice to his skill on the stories we incorporated into the book.

Meghann French Parrilla for her truly awesome research and photography skills. We love you, Meghann!

Celia Miles for editing the manuscript.

Our husbands, Steve French and Mike Hodges, for their love and support over the four long years it took to plot, research, and write this book. We don’t say it enough but we are grateful to have you both in our lives.

The citizens of the town of Hot Springs for your kindness, generosity, and all-around interest in our project and for giving us that feeling of “coming home” whenever we visited your lovely town.

Deb Linton, librarian, Hot Springs Library, for helping us when we first started and for inviting us to a reunion of Dorland-Bell Institute. And to her husband, Pastor Gene Linton, for taking us on a tour of the beautiful Dorland-Bell Presbyterian Church chapel which plays an important part in Whistling Woman.

Also, the other librarians at the Hot Springs Library, Lisa Ledford and Winnie Broglin, for invaluable help regarding the town. And an extra thank you to Winnie for going above and beyond by taking her lunch break to run home and get us a copy of an article from the May 27, 2009 “News Record & Sentinel”, about the historical houses and businesses in Hot Springs.

Keith Gentry, owner, Gentry Hardware, for helping us on our quest to find Sandy Gap cemetery.

Klaus Nelson, owner of Harvest Moon Gallery, Gifts & Music, for generously allowing us to wander around in the beautiful historical house that contains his business and home–we know it’s not actually the house our great-grandfather built but it’s enough like the one we heard about as kids that we felt we’d stumbled onto the set of our book.

Don and Melanie Prater for the use of your beautiful cabins while we worked on the edits.

In Marshall, North Carolina, the librarians at the Madison County Public Library for allowing us to look through the genealogy room and answering all our questions.

Marla Gouge, Administrative Assistant, Marshall, NC, Madison County, for searching for information on the original courthouse in Marshall.

David Hunter, author and friend, for answering our question about what it would feel like to stick your finger in a bullet hole.

Jackie Burgin Painter, author and cousin, for providing a plethora of information about the Dorland Institute in her book “The Season of Dorland Bell, History of an Appalachian Mission School” and historical facts about Hot Springs and the surrounding area in her book “An Appalachian Medley: Hot Springs and the Gentry Family, Volume 1”.

The late John Parris, author, for his book “These Storied Mountains”, from which we learned about trying fortunes and other western North Carolina folklore and beliefs.

Rick McDaniel, Citizen-Times Correspondent, for his article “Melungeon Mystery” in the September 2, 2007 “Asheville Citizens-Times”.

We used several on-line and written resources for the history and legends of the Cherokee but would like to acknowledge three books: “Long-ago Stories of the Eastern Cherokee” by Lloyd Arneach, “Medicine of the Cherokee, The Way of Right Relationship” by J. T. Garrett and Michael Garrett, and “Trail of Tears, The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation” by John Ehle.

The on-line sites we consulted in the massive amount of research on everything from how a body was prepared for burial in the late 1890′s to the traditions and celebrations of Old Christmas Eve were many and varied. We’d love to name them all but that would be a book in and of itself so we’ll have to settle for saying a simple thank you–our gratitude is longer than our Favorites list. We do, however, wish to acknowledge four sites that proved invaluable to us: the Hot Springs, North Carolina home page, http://www.hotspringsnc.org/, for help with the history of the town, the Cherokee NC Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina site, http://www.cherokee-nc.com/, for help with the history and folklore of the Cherokee, the Melungeon home page, http://www.melungeons.com/, for help with the history of the Melungeon people, and the Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/, for help with language and word usage in the late 19th century. From these sites, we found most of the information we needed to write Whistling Woman.

The lyrics to Seven Drunken Nights may differ from the lyrics as you know them or have heard them. The words we used in the book are the ones we were taught by our father as kids. Thanks, Daddy!

And finally, like the stories the book is based on, we tried to stay as close to the actual history of this amazing area as possible. We did, however, take the liberty of changing some of it to help the flow of the story. While we did use the names of some of the actual people who passed through Great-aunt Bessie’s life while she lived in Hot Springs, we took some liberties with them and may not have been true to their characters and personalities. Hopefully, we got more right than wrong, but any mistakes in the history or the people are solely our own.

Table of Contents

Chapter One – A whistling woman and a crowing hen never come to a very good end

Chapter Two – She’s enough to make a preacher cuss

Chapter Three – Chugged full

Chapter Four – Be like the old woman who fell out of the wagon

Chapter Five – She looks like she was in the outhouse when the lightning struck

Chapter Six – Trying fortunes

Chapter Seven – That girl’s just naturally horizontal

Chapter Eight – That boy’s more slippery than snot on a glass doorknob

Chapter Nine – Mad enough to spit in a wildcat’s eye

Chapter Ten – He looks like something the dog’s been keeping under the porch

Chapter Eleven – Like two peas in a pod

Chapter Twelve – In high cotton

Chapter Thirteen – The trail where they cried

Chapter Fourteen – Barking up the wrong tree

Chapter Fifteen – She’s resting at peace in the marble orchard

Chapter Sixteen – Scared as a sinner in a cyclone.

Chapter Seventeen – He couldn’t pour water out of a boot with a hole in the toe and directions on the heel

Chapter Eighteen – He’s so windy he could blow up an onion sack

Chapter Nineteen – Shucking corn

Chapter Twenty – He’s so useless if he had a third hand, he’d need another pocket to put it in

Chapter Twenty-one – Breaking up Christmas

Chapter Twenty-two – A sight for sore eyes

Back Cover

A whistling woman and a crowing hen never come to a very good end.

In the waning years of the 19th century, Bessie Daniels grows up in the small town of Hot Springs in western North Carolina.  Secure in the love of her father, bothered with her mother’s desire that she be a proper Southern belle, Bessie is determined to forge her own way in life.  Or, as her Cherokee great-grandmother Elisi puts it, a whistling woman.

Life, however, has a few surprises for her.  First, there’s Papa carrying home a dead man, which seems to invite Death for an extended visit in their home.  And shortly before she graduates from Dorland Institute, there’s another death, this one closer to her heart.  But Death isn’t through with her yet.  Proving another of Elisi’s sayings, death comes in threes, it strikes yet again, taking someone Bessie has recently learned to appreciate and cherish, leaving her to struggle with a family threatening to come apart at the seams.

Even her beloved Papa seems to be turning into another person, someone Bessie disagrees with more often than not, and someone she isn’t even sure she can continue to love, much less idolize as she had during her childhood.

And when Papa makes a decision that costs the life of a new friend, the course of Bessie’s heart is changed forever.