Edward “Green” Bass had to move his family after he traded his farm away for a horse. Eva Smart (1891–1985) said that Green Bass moved his family to a small rundown shack up in the woods behind her house. She said that Green’s wife Nancy and his mother-in-law Matilda Plemmons would fry meat skins people had given them for their meals and then pour the grease in a glass to drink with it. Neighbors would bring Green Bass beef, pork and chicken to feed his family. But Bass would call his dog and feed the meat to the dog, telling the person who brought the meat that his dog was a “good dog” and deserved the best they had. This made the neighbors mad and they stopped bringing his family anything.
Green Bass also had a “know-it-all” attitude. He was not smart but he thought he was. When someone would try to help him he would argue with them and tell them they didn’t know what they were talking about. Mountain people do NOT tolerate a “know-it-all,” not then and not now. They would just tell him that since he knew everything, he could just do the job his d… self. These two traits pretty well left Bass to fend for himself. Since Bass knew everything and wasted what they gave him, people just ignored Bass and his family.
Green Bass moved his family to what locals call the Sam Nesbitt mountain place, a tract of land located on the top of the mountain between Fairview Forest and the Flat Top Mountain development. Henry Whitaker (1811–1883) had left this land to his daughter Margaret Whitaker Mitchell (1844–1906), who owned the land at that period of time. (Mitchell left it to her daughter Ellen at her death. Ellen married Sam Nesbitt.) Aunt Margaret’s husband, John Coston Mitchell (1845–1902) allowed Green Bass to move into a little cabin on the property as part of a share crop arrangement by which Bass would plant and tend the fields and Mitchell would receive a share of the crop.
John Mitchell’s son, Augustus Lafayette “Fate” Mitchell (1872-1939), and his first cousin, John O. Whitaker (1872–1958), were the same age and best friends. They were also the neighborhoods biggest pranksters. Fate and John not only pulled pranks when they were teenagers, but they kept at it until they were old men. Their favorite prank was to both carry five-gallon buckets of water and drench unsuspecting people. They would knock on someone’s door at two in the morning and then drench them when they opened the door. Fate and John found out that no one hated being drenched as bad as Green Bass, so Bass became their favorite target. Fate and John would hide in the woods at the edge of the field Bass was working in and when he got close to them they would run out and drown him with water.
Green Bass was so afraid of being drenched that he would continuously watch the woods when he was working in his fields. This caused Bass to ignore what he was doing and plow up his crops or chop them down when he was hoeing them. Since Green would find a way to mess everything up without this added distraction, the fear of being soaked with water made things much worse.
John Mitchell would go up on the mountain every few weeks to check on Bass. He would be furious when he saw where Bass had plowed up corn or chopped down beans. Mitchell was already mad at Bass for letting his chickens in the field (they would peck the tomatoes and pull up and eat the bean and corn sprouts as soon as they peeped out of the ground). Green would also let his horse loose in the field on occasion. The horse would also eat up the crops. John Mitchell would pitch a fit and call Bass the stupidest person who ever lived.
Uncle Ben Chatham (1860–1921) was walking by Bass’s cabin one day and saw Green out in the field by himself in a rage. Bass was calling John Mitchell everything he could think of. Chatham asked Green if he had called Mitchell all those things to his face. Bass said no, but as soon as Mitchell got out of sight he yelled “I give the son of a b….. Hell.”
Marion Bass was the fourth child and son of Green and Nancy Bass. In the spring of 1901 Marion Bass asked Laura Ingle to marry him. Marion wasn’t much smarter than his father. Laura Ingle wasn’t very bright either or she would not have agreed to marry Marion Bass. Marion went around telling everybody about his planned marriage. When Will Miller (1863–1936) and Joe Wright (1874–1922) heard about Marion Bass getting married, they decided to have a little fun with it and convinced Marion and Laura to get married in a hog lot. They were married by Reverend Jamerson, the preacher at Fairview Baptist Church at that time, who was blind. Preacher Jamerson was led into the hog lot and there he married Marion Bass and Laura Ingle; they were all standing in pig manure up to their ankes and had no idea. Will Miller and Joe Wright were laughing so hard they could barely stand up; as soon as they stopped laughing they left and told everybody they met what happened.
Green and Nancy Bass moved to a small cabin on what is now called Guffey Mountain, an area which David and Mary Clements owned at the time. Bass had a similar arrangement with them that he had with John Mitchell.
Around this period of time another husband and wife from the area decided to go to West Virginia. They had heard about the big money that was to be made working in the coal mines. The man and wife packed up what they had and left for the coal mines. The wife’s sister went with them. The man worked in the coal mines a short time, maybe six months, then decided working in the coal mines was too hard for him. The man, his wife and sister-in-law moved back to Fairview.
The sister-in-law had been a little wild in the coal camp, and she was a little wild after she got back home too. She started having sores pop out on her body. They sent for the doctor. The doctor told them that the sister-in-law was going to have a baby and that she had venereal disease. The news spread rapidly; as far as anyone knew she was the first person in Fairview to ever have the disease. Most people had never heard of it.
Carrie Chatham Jenkins (1894–1985) and her sister, Carmie Chatham Guffey (1888–1982), said they would walk by the house and the woman would be sitting on the porch staring into space. Carrie and Carmie said they were afraid of her and so was everyone else. They said the woman’s face was covered with sores and her lips were swollen 3 or 4 times bigger than normal. She died when her baby was born and the baby was also born dead. Because of the disease, the bodies had a terrible stench, so they rounded up every oil lamp they could find and placed them all in the room where the bodies were located. They dug a large grave, and the lamps covered the smell while they brought the bodies out, placing the mother with her child in the grave and quickly covering them up.
The whole community was in shock. They had never heard of such a mess as that. But then they found out that Green Bass and two of his children had gotten the disease from the woman. People in the neighborhood had a meeting. They decided Green Bass and his family had to go. The horrible disease had to be removed from Fairview now, before it spread to anyone else.
John Pinkerton and a bunch of men took a wagon and went to Green Bass’s house. They dragged the family out of the house and put them in a wagon. They then tore the shack down to make sure the Bass family could not move back.
They took Green Bass and his family to the County Home (this was the name given to the poor house), which was located near the present location of Erwin High School (the Poor House Cemetery was moved in the 1980’s to allow the school to expand). Green Bass and his family cried all the way to the County Home.
The next week someone from the neighborhood went to the County Home to see how Green Bass and his family were getting along. Green Bass was grinning from ear to ear. He told the man, “Poor house my foot, this is the rich house. You sleep in store-bought beds. They cook you three big fine meals a day. All you have to do is come sit at the table. They give you clothes to wear and wash them when they’re dirty. You don’t have to cut fire wood. Someone does it for you. They say you have to pitter in the garden in the spring and summer, but with all these people that won’t be bad. Tell everyone back home to come here and stay. This is The RICH HOUSE.”
Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. Contact Mr. Whitaker by phone at 628-1089 or email [email protected].