The Good People of Hickory Tree
(I recently took the pic below while looking down the power line along Morrell Trail from the slopes of the great Holston Mountain. Hickory Tree lies in the foreground. Bristol is in the distance.)
In the eastern section of Sullivan County, TN, just beneath the western slopes of the great Holston Mountain as she faces toward Bristol, lies a most remarkable community of people, living in a geographical/cultural region known as Hickory Tree.
I should know. I once lived among them. (Well, back to that a bit later.)
If you don’t know already about Hickory Tree, my friends, I hope to present you ample evidence that this place serves as a magnificent cultural representative of Southern Highlands Appalachia (the greater geographic region in which all we locals live).
If you want an “outsider” to see real coal-mining Appalachia, you should take them across the North Fork of the Holston River and head into greater Southwest Virginia. You will find that the fine folk there, although they share many similarities with the people of Hickory Tree, are actually a distinctively different culture in several ways. (But more on the good people of our coal-mining counties at another time.)
One of my favorite places in all the world to hike is out in and above Hickory Tree. The western side of the great Holston Mountain shadows the Tree. Yes, I have such immense respect for that mountain that I imminently refer to her as “great”, which she is. Those trails are a topic for another column, in and of themselves. Meantime, one can see the great Holston Mountain on any clear day from downtown Bristol. Look due east and turn your head slightly south, my friends. She stands there. And she’ll still stand there long, long after we are all gone.
But my main purpose here is to share with the reader regarding what I know of the people of Hickory Tree.
Outside “stereotypes” of these good people can run rampant, I have found (as is common for most anywhere in Southern Appalachia). If you talk to someone who knows “a little” about Hickory Tree, you will sometimes find they may hold a preconceived notion of moonshine-drinkin’, hot-rod runnin’, illiterate, ignorant, lazy, gun-lovin’ hillbillies.
Now just like knowin’ a “little” karate, knowin’ a little about Hickory Tree can be dangerous. You make all kinds of dumb mistakes before you realize you don’t “know” much at all. Before you claim to know even a little - you need to know a lot more.
So I am here to share with you, my friends - a lot more.
Back n the ‘80s I lived in a log cabin on the South Holston River, married to a good ol’ Hickory Tree gal. She was the youngest of fourteen children, born into one of the most renowned and estimable of Hickory Tree families, that of the Morrell clan.
On one side of the river the name “Morrell” is pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable and on the other side emphasis is given to the second; an example of one of the many exquisite peculiarities I’ve found to be true of mountain communities most anywhere in our region.
This lady and her family were some of the finest people I ever met in this world. They all remain so in my mind, to this day.
At the moment I’d like to directly address each of the perceived stereotypes listed earlier in this column pertaining to the people of the Tree.
(Great news: Paid subscriptions go directly toward helping needy children, families, and the homeless in Bristol. Bless you for subscribing!)