Sunday, November 15, 2009


On cold mornings like this one when the last leaves of autumn are riding a chill wind through Rhodes Cove, I sometimes think of Abner, the wild monkey of the Smokies. It was mornings like this when I used to hear stories from folks in Deep Creek or Big Cove who claimed that they sometimes heard a knock and opened their doors to find a little shivering monkey on their porch.

“I used to find him out their in December,” said Billy Conseen. “When I’d let him in, he’d climb up in the rafters where it was warm and he usually stayed up there for a day or two. He loved biscuits and doughnuts. He also loved bananas, and sometimes the two of us would ride down to the IGA and buy a bunch.

According to Billy and a half-dozen others who played host to the old monkey, he never stayed long. “If the weather warmed up, he was ready to leave. If you didn’t open the door and let him out, he would turn mean… crap in his paw and throw it at you.”

How did Abner end up in the Smokies? Well, according to Carl Lambert, a noted storyteller (and former director of the Cherokee CETA Program), Abner came to the Qualla Boundary one October with the Indian Fair. “There was a bunch of monkeys in one of them side-shows, and I noticed this one that was laying in the corner of his cage whimpering. The guy that ran the side-show said the poor critter had diarrhea and was probably going to die. Well, I bought him for five bucks, wrapped him in an old towel, put him in the bib of my overalls and took him home. Fed him fatback, cornbread and bananas. In two days, that monkey was swinging in the rafters. I named him Abner.”
Lambert said that for a while, they got along fine. “He used to set on my shoulder at night while I read or played My guitar. He would check my head for fleas and lice, and then, I’d do the same for him. I read a lot of westerns, you know … Max Brand and Zane Grey, and it was nice setting by the fire, listening to the wind whistle around the eaves. Sometimes, Abner would set in the window and watch the snow fall outside and that was sort of unnerving. I mean he looked like he was thinking - like he was pondering what it meant to be a monkey ... alone and in the Great Smoky Mountains.”

Of course, the good times didn’t last. When spring came, Abner took to leaving. “He’d be gone for a couple of days, but he always came back. I don’t know what he done out there, but mostly, I think he ran squirrels and ate berries. I bought him a little Rebel cap in one of the craft shops, and he was real partial to it. Folks sometimes seen him up in Smokemont Camp Ground where he stole stuff. Hot dogs and beer, mostly.”

Lambert said that in the summer he got accustomed getting up around midnight to open the door when Abner rattled it. “Sometimes, he would bring me a beer,” said Lambert. Word got around that Carl had a monkey and people would drop by to watch Abner swing in the rafters. Then, a few years back, the trouble started. He took to tormenting hunting dogs down in Deep Creek. They would be hot on the trail of something ... a coon, a fox or maybe a bear ... and Abner would come swinging through the trees. The dogs would start tracking Abner. They'd end up treeing that Monkey! Then, Abner'd drop down on the back of a big redbone or a blue tick hound just like a jockey. He'd wrap his legs around that dog's belly. Make that dog run by biting his ears. He'd ride that dog til it was half-dead and then he'd get another one. A bunch of angry hunters come up her one night looking for Abner, but he wasn't home. Hell, they acted like it was my fault. They said they intended to shoot him the next time he showed up.

Abner played dog jockey all summer. Then, as if things wasn't bad enough, he paid a midnight visit to Willard Hoskit's Chicken Farm. He didn't kill a single chicken, but he plucked them. Spent all night catching 500 white leghorns and pulling all of their feathers out. Willard said that he went to feed them the next morning, the woods around his big chicken house looked like there had been a snow storm. Big clouds of feathers blowing and drifting. He said he got there in time to see Abner setting on a rafter in the chicken house pulling the tail feathers out of a rooster. Acted like I owed him money. Wanted to know how he was going to keep all them naked chickens warm.

"A few nights later, a hunter in Hazel Creek claimed he shot Abner. Maybe he did, and then, maybe he didn't. Now, that leaves two facts: Nobody brought in a dead monkey, but Abner never came back either. I miss the little devil. He was good company."

Carl Lambert once told me that he saw Abner one last time. He claimed that he got lost in the Smokies while he was fishing and while he was blundering about in dark coves and laurel hells, he came on the "Gall Place." That is the name of a magic lake that is sometimes sighted on the Tennessee Side of the Smokies, and then it shows up on the North Carolina side. Carl said it moves. People who blunder on it usually see it in the morning. It is a great foggy lake with purple-tinged waters and it is encircled by huge water oaks. It is here that old and injured creatures come to be healed. Bear and deer wade into the water where they are "restored." Wounds heal and youthful vigor returns. Carl claims he saw animals coming and going to the Gall Place. Great hawks and eagles nested in the towering oaks ... and yes, Carl said in the lofty heights of one of those trees, he saw a little capering figure wearing a Rebel hat. Now, for what it is worth, that is what Carl Lambert, the Cherokee storyteller, said.


  1. Great to see you yesterday, Gary! And what a interesting story -- I love the idea of the Gall Place.

  2. Well, it is "for real." It is in Mooney's Myths of the Cherokees. Yes, I thought the Sylva Book Fair was wonderful. I saw people that I hadn't seen in a long time, and my play did well the night before the fair.

  3. What a great story! I think that the idea of trickster runs strong in the south. When I was growing up in eastern NC it seemed that every town had either a monkey or a parrot that would make mischief. My dad used to tell of an appliance/paint store owner in Plymouth that had a monkey. He got out of his cage one night and opened up all the paint cans in the store and repainted the appliances with a rainbow of colors. White is probably pretty boring to a monkey.

  4. Gary,

    This story remainds me of the time back in the early 1950's when word spread around Cartersville that the Martians had landed in a pasture just outside the mill villaqe of Atco. Turns out that someone had seen a chimp on the loose and thought we were being invaded from outerspace. For a short while, War of the Worlds had come to the red clay hills of North Georgia.

    Hope to see you soon,

  5. Don,
    There was also a famous incident in Georgia that involved a barber who made a bet that he could convince the local paper that he had run over an alien (the rest got away in a flying saucer). A friend gave him a dead monkey and he shaved it, ran over it with his car and called the paper. He made the headlines with the dead alien. However, somebody called the paper with the true story and he ended up paying a heavy fine.

    I guess that monkey saw someone use a paint brush and wanted to try it. I heard a story once about a monkey that cut its own throat with a razor after watching his owner shave with one.

  6. Didn't you used to tell a story about that monkey? I seem to remember it on an audio tape that you did a long time ago. Do you still tell that story?

  7. When I was a kid, 7 or 8, my Uncle Ernie, I was told had spent a few days in jail
    on Halloween night for painting his nephew Jonas bright pink.

    He told his family and the near neighbors that his pet worm, Pinky had escaped through the basement window. When asked how anyone would be able to tell Pinky apart from any other worm, Ernie said the worm weighed 20 pounds.

    Well that put a scare into the entire neighborhood, so much of a scare that Ernie thought he better head Jonas off at the pass before some do gooder neighbor shot the poor lad.

    Ernie found Jonas in the corner candy store. He was completely inside one of the candy cases helping himself to the bounty inside.

    Reports of a giant pink worm stayed in the community for years. Jonas confessed to anyone and everyone that he was that worm. As a rule whomever was the teller of the tale would just laugh and nod their head and say, “Sure you were!”

    Jonas later in life joined Cirque du Soleil where he remains today. He has this bit where he climbs a 50 foot brass pole upside down and backwards where no one gives it a second thought. His Cirque mates know him as wormy.

  8. Delightful story. I especially loved that mental picture of a monkey in the chicken shed pulling the feathers off 500 pullets. Ha ha. Hee hee. The stories by the commentators are almost as good! Glad to see you back, Gary.
    (btw, I finally ordered Midnight; next I'll be thinking about ordering your DVD of Nance Dude. Hope you still have some then.)

  9. Alice,
    The number of DVDs is shrinking fast. I think I only have 800 left.
    What is Midnight?

  10. Midnight is Maurice Stanleys book about Silver somebody, another woman in the Appalacians who did her husband in, and reputedly the Frankie and Johnny legend came from that incident. You told me about it I'm pretty sure. I'll be sending it soon; had a lot of unexpected expenses this month!

  11. You are talking about the Frankie Silver story. There must be 30 books (and a couple of plays) based on Frankie. Maurice did a book entitled Midwinter that is a re-telling of the Frankie Silver story. His latest book is ...Sorrow's Ending ???? I'm not sure of the title, but I intend to review it ... is another outlaw....this one rode with Jesse James.

  12. Oops! The book just came in the mail today. And it's Midwinter. I made a mistake, it's not Midnight. I'll be looking forward to your review of Sorrow's Ending (if that's the title).

  13. Alice,
    I just discovered that the title is Sorrow's End. It will be a while since I have a backlog.