“I don’t think I could have made up the memory of crawling through barbed wire with 40 pounds of squealing, snapping, struggling pig in my arms”

[Story contributed by Neil McBride]

Ok, I’ll join with the two stories that suggest Bill’s conversion from radical mountain agitator to organic farmer was not as sudden and distinct as some might think. They also address the sense that when Bill asked someone to do something, they usually did it.

I am sure that given my fuzzy memory, there are several people out there who could improve the accuracy of these recollections, but here goes.

One hot summer weekend afternoon, on the place Bill was living outside of Lake City, some bees got bored or hungry or crowded and they covered up their queen and swarmed. So Bill calls me, since he knew I had a couple stands of bees, and asked if I could gather them up for him and take them somewhere, or at least get them out of his yard.  I dropped what I was doing and found my bee gear and drove from Jacksboro to Lake City, put on my overalls and hat and gloves and screen and fired up my smoker and somehow pulled off the branch they had lit on and put the angry mass in the trunk of my car.  For reasons I don’t remember, and probably never knew, he wanted me to deliver it to someone in Briceville, or it could have been Nashville.  So we did, and all the way there — Briceville or Nashville — the odd bee would find his or her way out of the trunk, into the car, and try to get us to run off the road.  Looking back, the amazing thing about the episode was that no one thought it was strange.

And then, of course, was the great escape of Jimmy Dean, who was one of several pigs Bill was raising, on the same farm in the Lake City suburbs. Jimmy had gotten loose and I remember about a dozen people running all over the farm trying to catch him. There might have been a softball game going on, or Bill might have just called a lot of people. Either way, the amazing thing was that it was normal — just another day in the life of the little band of ex-patriots who were starting health clinics, running Head Start programs, working with the Black Lung Association, suing strip miners and organizing people all over the Cumberland Plateau.  I am pretty sure that I caught Jimmy because I don’t think I could have made up the memory of crawling through barbed wire with 40 pounds of squealing, snapping, struggling pig in my arms.

So Bill’s organic farming roots and his persuasive leadership skills were planted well before he left the world of radical organizing in the mountains.

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