AMONG ELMER'S SOUVENIRS

SOUTHERN MOUNTAINEER WOMEN THRESHING BY HAND


| September/October 1964



Women Threshing By Hand

The southern mountaineer woman is in no sense a 'new woman', yet she posses a physical vigor and a skill at men's work which might justly qualify her for that title. For instance, high up on the mountaintops where the small, old fashioned horse-power threshing machines of the mountains cannot be hauled, it is not unusual to see her threshing by hand. Moreover, this vigorous, primitive helpmate considers it no hardship but merely part of the year's work.

She first makes a trip into the woods to make her flails. These are hickory poles about as big around as a man's wrist and eight feet long. Three feet from the tapering end the pole is beaten with the axe and twisted in the hands until a section of the fibre is made limp. Thus the butt end will slap up and down on the grain as the flail is whipped in threshing.

After these flails have been carried home comes the making of the threshing floor. Four rails from the nearest fence are placed on the ground in a hollow square. Across these a series of rails is laid like the boards of a floor. The oats or wheat is thrown on this, and as it is beaten with the hickory flails the seed and chaff sift down between the rails while the stalks are held above. Oatsis allowed to drop through to the bare ground, from which it is swept up with a broom. Wheat, because it is to be ground into flour for family use, is caught upon an old homespun sheet or bedquilt spread out on the ground beneath the threshing floor.

Two people stand on opposite sides and 'take a turn about', as they say in the mountains, striking down with the flails with a rythmic motion. Two mountain women whacking away vigorously at the grain have the same stimulating sense of rivalry in the work that two women in the outside world feel over a game of cards. Sometimes, of course, accidents will occur, but they are taken good-naturedly and with stoic mountain fortitude.

Then follows the winnowing of the grain. For this a third helper must be called in. The chaff and grain which have fallen together through the cracks between the rails are swept up into a box or 'riddle.' While two persons vigorously shake and whip a bedquilt to 'make a wind', a third lets the chaff and grain fall slowly down before it from the riddle. The chaff is blown away by the breeze from the sheet and the grain drops again to the threshing floor.

Two mountain women can thresh ten bushels of wheat a day. They will be ready for a hearty supper by the time it is finished; but not too tired to enjoy the meal. This threshing by hand is a relic of primitive days that is well worth watching.