(07/23/2021)
By Bob Weaver

We have been writing about one of Arnoldsburg's longtime characters, mountain man Smith Cottrell, who lived to be ninety-nine. A frequent bench sitter at the village's country stores, he was a spinner of tales, and one of the West Fork's men who drank hard, worked hard and played hard. (See SMITH COTTRELL - Calhoun Mountain Man (1877-1976) under People, Humor and History)

Jim Haught wrote that Smith Cottrell (pictured left) and his wife Susie lived in the head of Spring Run just up stream from Ann McKee, before he moved to downtown Arnoldsburg. Cottrell was not a very big man in stature, but he stood tall in the eyes of a young boy like Haught, who said "His beard was his most prominent feature."

"He told my cousin and me stories of his life that went back to near the Civil War. He had cut timber in the West Virginia mountains and worked on the railroad."

"He could hold his liquor pretty good, often "moonshine" purchased from local bootleggers. Many times I walked up Spring Run with Smith watching him take a drink about every third step. I felt that he drank a little to much, and one time I did an intervention on his drinking."

"It seemed to get to him. Somewhere between Clay Moneypenny's home and Gayle McKown's, he threw his bottle against a rock and broke it. There was only about three swallows left. When we got to Spring Run School, there was a long piece of bark laying beside the road. He picked it up and beat me across the back, saying, 'Now I've wasted some good moonshine'."

Smith's drinking finally got the best of him in 1976, passing on at age 99.

Smith had a legendary fox hound named "Bad," which he took fox hunting with young Haught.

Haught said "I borrowed my uncle's foxhound 'Jangle.' My cousin, Smith and I went back on the hill from my grandparent's house. I took along an old Harrington-Richards shot gun, never having killed anything before."

"Smith was going to show me how to shoot."

"He placed me behind the roots of an overturned tree and told me to be quiet. He and my cousin went around the ridge and jumped the fox. About an hour later I saw this red fox come running around the ridge just ahead of the dogs. I took aim and started to pull the trigger, when I heard one of the loudest sounds I had ever heard. It was Mr. Cottrell yelling 'Here he comes boy, now stay good and quiet!' The fox jumped three feet into the air, turned in mid air and went off into Sumpter Hollow."

Haught recalls another incident. "We were all sitting around the table near the stove at the Cottrell home. Smith's son was home for a visit. They were betting on the Louis-Conn fight and drinking moonshine whiskey. A lot of moonshine whiskey. Smith bet $5 that Joe Louis would knock Conn out in the third round. His son threw down $5 and raised the bet another $5, stating that Conn would knock Louis out sometime after the 10th round, but before the 12th round."

"Haught interrupted the betting by informing the men, "The fight was last night and Joe Louis won'."

"Mrs. Cottrell, who was more than a little concerned about the drinking and betting, walked over to the table. She put the $15 in her apron and walked into the kitchen. "The men sat there with a rather stunned look. I got up and left the house, thinking my life might be in mortal danger," Haught said.

Arnoldsburg mail carrier Harley Downs said Smith Cottrell was one of several well-known characters who graced the West Fork community. Two others were Ronzel "Hudepohl" Poling (1923-1975) and Homer Lynch (1885-1967). "Hudepohl" was a bigger-than-life guy who never missed a Calhoun football game, the team's mascot and cheerleader. Homer was a local Justice of the Peace, who tended to get drunk and disturb the peace by firing his gun up and down Arnoldsburg's main drag.

Downs recalls the heavy drinking Cottrell crossing the West Fork swinging bridge to Spring Run. Climbing a set of steep steps on the Spring Run side, he lost his footing and fell all the way downhill into the river, to be rescued by some of the local bench sitters.

About two weeks later, Harley and his mother, school teacher, Amy Downs, had just crossed the swinging bridge to encounter Cottrell, who was in no better shape. They waited to see how he would do. "He staggered across the bridge, stumbled up the steep steps and finally arrived at the top, successfully," said Downs. He then turned and yelled across the river to us, saying - "All right sweethearts, you can go home now. I've made it!"

Downs also recalled a blind tinker nick-named "Blind Hays" who often passed through the community in the 1950s. "He carried the largest suitcase you'll every see, filled with wares. How he made it around the state, I don't know," said Downs.

Downs said Hays would stay in people's houses. "Here, he would stay overnight with Junior Hoskins up Spring Run." A neighbor was going up Spring Run one evening to discover Hays sitting under a tree "cussin' and screeching profanity worse than you've ever heard." Downs said they went over to the blind man and asked if he was OK. He responded by saying "I got to get my cussin' out of me before I go on up to Brother Hoskins house, cause he won't let me swear."

Jim Haught said, "There were many great characters in my youth. I saw their fallibility's, but these were greatly overshadowed by their character. But if I could make one change in life, it would be to permit each person to go back and visit people like Smith Cottrell for just one day," he concluded.

Editor's Note: If you have other stories to add about the lives of these and other famous Calhoun characters, we'd be glad to hear from you. BW


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