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Richmond Times-Dispatch Newspaper Article
Dated 14 Oct 1998
by Steven Evans, Media General News Service

[Page B-4]

Family farm 'the best life'

Clan raises cattle, sheep for 130 years


TAZEWELL -- A Yankee bullet almost ended the Correll family line and the 130-year-old farm that bears its name.

Now, more than a century later, John Correll sits on the front porch of his house overlooking Thompson's Valley and the farm, where his father and grandfather before him tilled the soil and raised beef cattle and which carries Virginia's prized Century farm designation.

Correll looks over page after page of curling, yellowed photographs.  The man with the snow-white beard in the photos is his grandfather, James Correll.  He was nearly killed during the Civil War when a bullet struck him in the chest and exited through his back.  Had he died, John Correll would never have been born, of course, nor would the family's 1,000-acre spread be around today.

But fate looked favorably that day on the Correll clan.

"The story I heard," Correll says, "was two Yankee soldiers came up to him while he was bleeding on the ground.  One soldier says, 'C'mon, let's shoot him,' but the other says, 'No, don't bother -- he's going to die anyway.' "

James Correll survived the war and settled in this majestic valley in 1868, the year he married Mary R. Thompson.

"They were childhood sweethearts back when Lincoln was president," John Correll says.

Her family gave the valley its name.  Corrells and Thompsons have lived here ever since.

"Farming's all I've ever done," Correll says, rocking in his chair.  "I think it's the best life on earth."

Crickets drone in the underbrush, safe from the scorching sun.  An unseen bull bellows and crashes through a brace of pines.  Perhaps he's disgusted, Correll says, because the breeding season is over.

"There's a few of them back in there, knocking heads," he says with a dismissive wave of his hand.

The Corrells have a stunning view of the surrounding hills and pastoral lands, extending to the treeline behind their house.  Jutting hundreds of feet overhead, an outcropping of rocks grazes the sky.

[Photo of John and Doris Correll with source as "The Associated Press".  Caption beneath photo: "HERE THEY STAND.  John and Doris Correll say they wouldn't trade their farm life for anything else.  "Farming's all I've ever done," Correll said.  "I think it's the best life on earth."]

Soon Correll and his son Robert will take 180 head of cattle to market.  Most are 17 to 18 months old.  The animals will be sold and taken to a slaughterhouse.  From there, sides of beef are swiftly delivered to butcher shops for cutting into roasts and steaks.

Back on the Correll farm, another 180 calves will be born this year to replenish the herd.  It's a cycle that few people think about while they're flipping T-bones and hamburgers on the grill.

"They're going to have to realize that somebody's got to feed this country someday," Correll says. "They're building houses on the best land.  And I'll tell you, it's hard to farm on these hills."

It takes up to four hours a day to feed the herd.  When that's done, Correll and his son Robert can always find plenty to do -- mending fences, putting up hay in the barns, keeping an eye out for coyotes.

A state trooper killed four coyotes in the spring, Correll says, intimating that he'd personally like to put an end to the rest of them.

"Coyotes got 40 of our lambs a few years back," he says.

Some are the original structures that his grandfather built in the late 1860s with white-washed logs and pressed tin.

"We use 'em mainly for storage now," Correll says.

He hops over a wire fence into a holding pen where half a dozen lambs bolt from their barn, cautiously appraising the intruder.

"Granddaddy was 96 when he died," Correll says suddenly.  "I was 7 years old.  My daddy farmed here.  I never wanted to do anything else."

John inherited the farm when his father died.  Reese Correll was also a cattleman all his life.

John and Doris Correll say their grandchildren have shown interest in farming.  They would be the fifth generation of Corrells to till these hills.

"I hope they'll stay with it," Doris says.  "I hope it's here another hundred years"

Steve Evans reports for The Herald-Courier in Bristol.

Source:  The Richmond Times-Dispatch [Richmond, VA]; Wed, 14 Oct 1998; Page B-4.  Transcribed by Susan Shields Sasek.

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