Transcribed by Rita O'Brien
Post-Herald and Register, Beckley, W.Va.
Sunday Morning, August 28, 1960
Raleigh County's Senior Citizen
Milam Recalls Selling
Ginseng For Food, Money
EDITORS NOTE: This is the
7th of a series of some of the
area's outstanding senior
By MAUDE PAROLARI
ARNETT (RNS) - The good earth has
always been kind to its peoples. It has taken care of man's needs
in various ways at all stages in history.
IN WEST VIRGINIA today, we worry about
the declining coal market, the replacement of manpower by modern
machinery, and the moving away of many of our people to find employment
in other industries.
In Thomas Milam's day, he had no such
worries. He, too, depended on the good earth for his
livelihood. He has been around now for ninety years and is
enjoying excellent health. He has been richly blessed; in
addition, he has nine living children, six sons, three daughters, 43
grandchildren, 77 great grandchildren, and 1 great great-grandchild.
He was born August 11, 1870, at Peach
Tree, the son of Mary Milam and Tom Webb. On the maternal side,
he had the following half brothers and sisters, all deceased but
one. She is a half sister, Mrs. Artie Rutherford,
Charleston. The others are Cal Webb, Mrs. Bill (Stella) Painter,
Mrs. Oma (Avie) Bradford. His step-father was Jim Webb.
ON THE paternal side, Thomas has these
half brothers and sisters, who are deceased. Mrs. Willie (Nora)
Burgess, Mrs. Jim (Flora) Hendricks, Mrs. Jordon (Martha) Peters, Lewis
Webb, Crockett Webb, King Webb, and Jake Webb.
He married Parthenia Stewart of Jesse,
Wyoming County. In a good-sized, worn, family Bible, is the
following record of his marriage: "Thomas Milam and Parthenia
Stewart were united in holy wedlock, September 19, 1894, by Capt. Wm.
The first nine years of their married
life were spent in Wyoming County. They came to Peach Tree where
he bought his boyhood homeplace. From there they acquired a farm
at Cove Creek, which belongs in the family to this day. It seems
the latter was a trade with Pete Webb, with Milam giving the difference
in the deal. Anyhow Webb went to Peach Tree, and Milam to Cove
Twelve children were born to Mr. and
Mrs. Thomas Milam. The nine living are Charlie Milam, Beckley,
Cal, Oma, Earl, and Arthur Milam, all of Arnett. Alfred Milam,
Oceanside, California; Mrs. Milt (Mary) Cook, Mrs. Adda Webb, and Mrs.
Carl (Martha) Wiley, all of Cove Creek, with Arnett being their
postoffice. The three children deceased are a son, Bill, daughter
Paulina, and an infant. His wife died October 27, 1957.*
and Mrs. Milam also reared Lee Lambert of Wyoming County. Later,
they reared his son, Lawrence Lambert, Warrant Officer in the U. S. Air
Force, now stationed at Cely, California.
MILAM MAKES his home with a son and
daughter-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Milam, Arnett. They moved
from the farm to a new home near the service station which Arthur
operates. With more modern conveniences than the elder Milam
could possibly have dreamed of back when he was a lad, he appears quite
content. Really, in spirit, he seems younger than his
years. He is quite jovial, and has a keen memory.
His daughter-in-law, Mrs. Milam, said
that he never complained of being sick. Sometimes he chokes like
with an asthma condition.
He keeps a cane at either entrance,
front and rear, of the house, to use when is he walking outside.
He is a member of the Freewill Baptist
Church, and has been for many years.
His conversation is rich in the
unwritten history of the past. He has worked on a farm all his
life. He has worked some at logging jobs. He never got to
go to school a day in his life. He never learned to read or write.
"If I could have gone to school, my
nearest teachers would have been either Lewis Hunter or Pole
Hendricks," Milam said. "They both taught on Peach Tree.
The schools lasted about two or three months," he added.
HIS STEPFATHER, Jim Webb, owned the
land around Peach Tree Falls.
His mother and stepfather are buried
about three hundred yards up on the left side of the hill from the
Falls. He spoke of Peach Tree Falls as the Falling Rock. A
gristmill was built there by Jack Pettry. Another man who also
operated the mill was Bob Daniel. Thomas Milam, as did his
neighbors, had most of his corn ground into meal at this mill.
There was also another mill at the Flatts. The mills had to be
operated when the water was up. Then they would grind all the
He also spoke of the Obe Tabor Mill at
Cove Creek. When questioned about Obe Tabor, Milam said that he
was the father of the late Charlie Tabor, prominent land owner and
sawmill operator. The Honaker Mill at Saxon grounded both wheat
and corn. It was owned and operated by the Honaker family noted
for making Mountain Rifles.
The people back in his days provided
their own bread by growing corn and wheat. After the wheat was
gathered and threshed, the farmers took it to Beckley or Cirtsville to
have it ground into flour. Milam told of once taking twenty-five
bushels of buckwheat to Prince Phillip's Mill at Beckley to have ground.
NEARLY EVERYONE raised cane from which
they made sorghum molasses. Getting meat for the table was no
problem, for the livestock were let to run loose. Everyone fenced
in their corn fields and gardens to keep the animals out.
How did Thomas Milam make any money
back then? He made an occasional trip to the Bob Barrett General
Store at Dry Creek carrying sacks on his back which contained the
rewards of his labor. What was in them was as precious as money,
and that was exactly why he went. Bob Barrett bought ginseng,
yellow puccoon, and red puccoon roots. Milam exchanged the
contents of his sacks for money. He bought his necessities at the
store, got his mail which he said was very scarce, and headed for
home. The mail was hardly more than an almanac and no newspapers
as there are now.
With his ginseng hoe and mattock,
Thomas was out shortly after daybreak, hunting for ginseng. It is
a low plant with three leaves at the top. Each leaf is made up of
five leaflets. Ginseng has small greenish-yellow flowers.
Some of these flowers later change to scarlet berries. The
Chinese long believed that ginseng will cure nearly every
disease. The name of this plant comes from Chinese words meaning
"likeness of a man," because of the shape of its root. Those
shaped most like a human body are really worth their weight in gold to
Ginseng grew wild in the woods.
This meant money to Milam, real money. For each pound of green
ginseng roots, he would get different prices, ranging up to a
dollar. If it were dried, he would get much more per pound.
"THERE USED to be people camping out
in the mountains from many places hunting ginseng," he said. "I
would run up on these camps often," continued the ninety-year-old man.
Other roots that he dug and sold were
may apple, yellow puccoon, and red puccoon. These were in demand
for medicinal purposes also. These had to be washed and dried
before marketing. The may apple brought about two cents per
pound, the yellow puccoon from 10 to 15 cents per pound, and the red
puccoon, about two and a half cents per pound.
If Milam's income was insufficient, he
did farm labor at fifty cents a day.
According to his conversation, the
members of the Dickens Clan and also the Webbs, came from Virginia, and
settled in Peach Tree. They staked out their farms which cost
them nothing except the surveyor's fee. They got General Alfred
Beckley to come down from Beckley and survey the land for them.
The first man to ever own around the
Falls was Jim Webb. He came from Carroll County, Virginia.
His sons were Lieutenant Jake Webb, John, who was known as Carroll
John, and Amanda Clay, daughter of John Clay of Clay's Branch, Peach
HE RECALLS when the first timber was
cut and taken out of Peach Tree. The walnut timber was cut and
sawed by a firm he remembered as Waters and Kirby. The walnut
lumber was cut into squares, then into little thin boards. These
boards were put in the water, floated down over Falling Rock, into Coal
River, on into the Kanawha River at St. Albans.
The poplar timber was taken out
later. A handmill was set up by one known as "Logging Charlie
When the Thomas Milam family needed
medical attention, Dr. Jesse C. Hurst of Saxon was called. Later,
his son, Dr. Posey Hurst, and Dr. George P. Daniel, also served them.
Milam is held in high esteem by his
many friends, as one of our very finest citizens.
* Parthenia Stewart Milam died
October 27, 1956, not 1957.
** Although this paragraph appears to be missing some words, it was
transcribed as written in the article.