Deal with the Devil
Some of the old folks believed the Devil himself descended on Doe Gully in the form of a whirlwind one night in 1891. Though the Evil One interrupted a festive occasion when he spirited away Silas Deal, the hearts of many of the young people were gladdened.
The site of the diabolical kidnapping was McNamara’s Grove, a few miles up Doe Gully Road from the western Morgan County homeplace of my ancestors.
Dances and festivals were often held at the grove, just down the hill from the B & O Railroad mainline on one of the Paw Paw Bends of the Potomac River. The open pavilion sported a large wooden platform for dancing and was a community center for Doe Gully, nearby Orleans Cross Roads and the surrounding vicinity.
McNamara’s Grove was a frequent stopping point for excursion trains and attracted boatloads of folks from Little Orleans across the river. People rode the train from Hancock and Cumberland and even from Baltimore for the bigger shindigs.
Saturday night, August 22, 1891 – the night of the Devil Wind — saw one of the larger gatherings for a “Grand Pic-Nic” organized by George Gloyd and D. G. Shipley. The tale had been passed down for generations by the time I heard it from Floyd Hansorth and Ford Shipley, D.G’s son, about 30 years ago.
The festival poster proclaimed: Refreshments of all kinds can be had on the ground. Apparently moonshine flowed freely at many of the Saturday night parties. Much of the homebrew was said to be made a mile away at a still up Rockwell Run Hollow. Other jars may have come from Kasekamp across the Potomac in Allegany County, Md.
One story holds that a federal agent was out looking for a local whiskey maker and offered the neighbor’s son fifty cents to lead him to the fellow’s still. When the boy asked for the half-dollar up front, the fed said, “No. Take me there first. I’ll pay you when we get back.”
To which the boy replied: “I want my money now, ’cause you ain’t comin’ back.”
Such was life (and humor) in what was one of the most rugged sections of Potomac River country.
Into this world around 1890 came a new school teacher named Silas Deal. By midterm, he was hated by every kid in the valley. As sour as a persimmon, Deal was one of the most pompous of his breed. He could find a moral in every small thing that happened and never seemed happier than when he was scolding his pupils or preaching to them about their worthlessness. He took particular glee in paddling any boy whose desk so much as squeaked when he squirmed in his seat. Children stood in the corner for hours, dunce cap on their heads, for whooping too loudly during recess.
Deal’s animosity toward his students was matched only by their animosity toward him. Everyone was quite surprised when he was contracted for another year at the one room school.
The Saturday night revelry was just getting started when Silas Deal walked up the road from his boarding house. His pupils from the previous year glared at him silently. His cold eyes met theirs and seemed to say, “If you thought I was hard on you last year, just wait.”
You could almost grab the hatred in the air. At that moment, every young person was of one mind, and that mind wished they could make Deal disappear from their lives.
When the fiddling began, all tension was forgotten for a time. Come one, come all and tip the light fantastic toe, proclaimed the poster for the big picnic. And tip the light fantastic they did.
The music was provided by fiddlers James Ashkettle and Wesley Kaylor, whose repertoire included old mountain tunes as well as waltzes and other dance pieces. Ashkettle was a relative of festival organizer D. G. Shipley and also of another legendary fiddler, Grant Hamilton, who may have been there, too, since he played at most events in western Morgan County.
Suddenly, in the midst of the old fiddle tune “Devil’s Dream,” a loud noise was heard, like a belabored steam engine coming through the valley. Of course, the local folks knew another train wasn’t due for nearly an hour. The sound got louder and more ominous until the fiddlers stopped their bowing.
Dancers froze in place, listened to the roar and wondered what it signified. Then, down the valley came a fierce, bone-rattling wind, raising dust on the road as it twisted and turned toward them. The whirlwind made a sharp turn into McNamara’s Grove and spun down under the pavilion roof and inside, pushing aside the dancers and coming to a swirling stop in the middle of the floor.
Those who dared to look swore that inside the whirligig stood the Devil himself, staring out at the crowd with red eyes. He didn’t stay in one place long but wound his way toward the corner where Silas Deal stood alone, shunned by all the others.
In a matter of seconds, it was like the school master was sucked into the whirlwind and, then, the dervish was on the move again, swooping out from under the pavilion and back up the dirt road, raising dust, then up the hillside toward the railroad tracks and beyond, picking up speed, until the cyclone twirled to the top of Sideling Hill where it seemed to drop sharply into the woods and out of sight.
The crowd stood in silent awe for a full five minutes before Jim Ashkettle picked up “Devil’s Dream” right where he’d left off. Without missing a beat, Wes Kaylor joined in. A few feet began stomping on the wooden platform and then more until the dance was in full sway again. Voices whooped wilder than ever and the moonshine shone bright. It was like nothing had happened, though, of course, everyone knew that something had happened — something they would never forget.
Silas Deal didn’t return to his boarding house that night, so a gang of local farmers went hunting for him the next day. They headed to the top of the ridge where the Devil Wind had dropped down.
There they found a flattened circle of uprooted trees. Though it was the height of the summer, every living thing had turned brown. In the center of the circle was a weird swirl as if something had been cork-screwed into the ground. To this day, they say nothing grows at that spot.
Nothing more was ever seen of Silas Deal.
The children of Doe Gully decided that the whole thing had one of those morals that Silas so often preached, though this one might have been lost on the heavy-handed teacher. And, the moral was this: When everyone wishes for the same thing, it just might happen.