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Pioneer romance took curious twist

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Ellis County Press
EDITOR'S NOTE - The Ellis County Press continues with background for the upcoming documentary of the Hatfield-McCoy feud:

Resuming the captivating oral history connected to the memory quilt of Aunt Sally Cameron, we are told young Seeb McLaughlin took up land and settled in the remote back country of old Virginia; However, Seeb found life anywhere would be incomplete without his beloved Mary.

Because of a shortage of women in the back lands, lonely frontiersmen like Seeb often sought a wife among the Indians. Bartering for a wife was a common practice. Others courted an Indian girl, then eloped. Kidnapping was not unusual.

Marriage was desirable, but many had to wait for a proper ceremony. 'He planted his crops before he built' was once a quaint country expression for having children before a preacher happened by.

Most early settlers on the mountainous American frontier were doubtlessly people of hospitality and generosity, yet many had a tendency to shoot at strangers if they wandered too close. Obviously, it was safer to assume all intruders were up to no good. Frontier people had their own way of saying 'Let me alone!'

Today, we might find it difficult to grasp the necessity of this practice, but it was a time and place requiring vigilance. When you lived in such isolation you provided your own defense. It soon became a well advised custom for visitors to 'HELLO THE HOUSE' from a safe distance.

It was about this time settlers in South Carolina established a committee using the formal name of 'Regulators.' The original objective was to dispense frontier justice to horse thieves and the like. The Regulators soon took hold in North Carolina to resist official extortion. This movement became an actual political movement in the Eighteenth Century and spread readily along the frontier. This concept prevailed for many generations. 

While many modern readers may consider early vigilante movements as unrestrained forms of imperfect justice, organizations like the Regulators were welcomed by numerous inhabitants of the lawless frontier.

Because our story is so very old and distant, Mary's family name is unknown, yet this is not uncommon when you search a lengthy family history. We do know that while Seeb waited and hoped, unknown to him Mary and her family arrived in Virginia.

But shortly, we are told, bad fortune struck the immigrant family when Mary's father died, leaving his wife and children practically destitute. Compounding their problems, her mother fell into severe illness after his passing. Mary, as the oldest child, took on the responsibility of caring for the younger children and her ailing mother.

But during this period of recurring misfortune, Mary received an offer of marriage from a wealthy planter, a widower with several children. It is conceivable Mary and her mother gave the matter serious consideration before answering.

On one hand, Mary viewed the planter as a vain, cunning man who lived by greed. On the other hand, if she married the planter it would put a quick end to family hardship. Meanwhile, it is likely Mary fondly recalled her childhood love of Seeb McLaughlin, remembering him as a robust youth given to laughter and song. 

Virginia basically settled 150 years before Kentucky. Kentucky, once an extension of Virginia, was inaccessible because of the mountain barriers, and for a time its settlement was also forbidden by law.

Poor farming practices by Virginia planters wore out the land quickly, and that made it necessary to open new land and keep moving west. The land was plowed to a depth of four to six inches year after year until a hard crust formed beneath the surface, causing a shallow 'tilth' and putting an end to its value for growing crops. Each year plantations gradually moved further and further toward the western ridges.

Virginia also had a wealth of timber and the demand for lumber in England was strong. In time, many of the back land settlers became proficient in logging operations, and used the numerous rivers to float their product to market.

Seeb McLaughlin probably used oxen to drag his timber down the slopes to the upland streams. Once in place, a number of logs were fastened together with wooden pegs and a rope-like bark. Typically, two men stationed on each end of the raft rode it to market.

According to our legend, Mary made her decision to reluctantly accept the wealthy planter's offer of marriage, while at that very moment Seeb McLaughlin waited for rain to fill the streams so he could float his timber to market. 

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