The Mountaineer lived near the 158 milepost on the Blue Ridge Parkway where state road 860 crosses. In these parts, 860 is known as Shootin’ Creek. Years ago, Shootin’ Creek was a one lane dirt path winding for six miles through the mountains. Today, although paved, it is much the same. In recent years, near the mid-way point, a spring erupted from the asphalt.
There are three theories ascribed to of how Shootin’ Creek got its name. Story has it that whoever lived at the top of the mountain would shoot before starting down by wagon. If you were at the bottom, you would shoot before heading up. Hence, its name. During the heyday of prohibition, bodies of revenuers strewn the creek in a “romantic” version. Lastly, the creek was so named due to its headwaters “shooting” forth from the mountainside.
Whichever version you choose to believe, this area has an indelible past. In the teens and twenties, it was forgivable and pardonable to make a living selling moonshine. Why sell corn for fifty cents a bushel when you could get five dollars a gallon for moonshine? Indeed, the practice survives to this day, although perhaps less pardonable.
Rich in bootlegger tales, Shootin’ Creek was commemorated in song by Charley Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers in 1928. The songs Shootin’ Creek and Cripple Creek share the same tune. The first three verses are also found in the earlier song, Ida Red. Clay Wood, the “Mountaineer”, played the banjo the old-timey clawhammering style and “Going Up Shootin’ Creek” was a favorite of his.
“Going up Shootin’ Creek, going in a run
Lesser known is a fiddle instrumental by the same name but with a completely different tune.
In Clay Wood, we find a gentleman who despite the 1990's he nearly lived to see, epitomized what the Blue Ridge meant from its inception. His life honored the mountains he lived in. They were his religion, if you will, his source of beauty, and his peace and joy in all seasons.
His life WAS the mountains. So single of purpose was he with his little patch of God’s world, that there never was a doubt but that the mountains called him to his way of life.
He learned to eke from them a living, almost by permission on their terms. In return, he respected their hunting laws, changing seasons, and the endless work to survive. He never begrudged what needed to be done, just wished that there was more time to do it.
As he grew older, he realized a certain sense of priority in what he would be able to accomplish and those things that would forever be “wishes and wants” and remain undone. The quality of his life ultimately exceeded its quantity when on December 9, 1989, he suffered a fatal heart attack alone at his cabin.
He epitomized mountain life now as then. These mountains knew the real article. Clay had an inner peace that made him as one with his surroundings. He could look up at the old Haycock fire tower, some seven miles distant, and become one with the visions from its altitude. He loved all God’s creatures though not in equal measure. Not by choice, he shared his garden with deer and groundhog. Complaining was to no avail. He simply planted enough to go around.
To love the mountains as much as life itself tells you, if nothing else, that the power of the Blue Ridge is a state of mind available to all.
To this end, Clay Wood’s life has furthered the concept that the power of the Blue Ridge Mountains can be the ultimate expression of the human soul.
- Excerpt from letter to:
United States Department of the Interior
Blue Ridge Parkway Commission
January 9, 1990