In Search of Mammy Jane


This might be weird. Or not. But probably. And I want to apologize for taking so long to get this story posted, but I wanted to do it justice. It was (weirdly) important.

When I read the Mammy Jane book, I knew she had lived in the next county over, but it was only when I actually checked a map that I realized her house was a mere 15-20 miles away from my farm.

That enticing proximity led me to forget everything I’ve learned about West Virginia in the past five years, such as that 15-20 miles translates into approximately 1500-2000 miles since there is no straight path to anywhere here unless you are a crow. And so, all common sense tossed behind me, I set out upon my adventure, an intrepid explorer, full of bravado in the face of twisting, unmarked, switchback dirt roads and overlapping hills that send you to New York and back trying to get around them. I was going to find Mammy Jane’s house!

And do what once I got there, I had no clue.

I was sure it would only take a couple of hours, max, to go there and back, and I bamboozled 52 into coming along as my driver.

We set off across the river ford, in the opposite direction from town, and promptly came upon one of Skip’s cows in the road.

Dear readers, if there aren’t livestock in the road in the story, you aren’t reading a story about West Virginia. Skip is the farmer who came over here to sex Glory Bee for me, remember him? Skip owns the house my dad grew up in and much of my great-grandfather’s old farm across the river. Skip was just a bit further up the road by his sawmill. I rolled down my window and said, “Skip, your cow is in the road back there.”

Skip said, “They’re all in the road.”

Turns out someone stole Skip’s fence. Seriously. Someone stole his entire fence along the road. He put up a new fence and they stole it again. If a fence is not a weird thing to steal, I don’t know what is. They caught the guy after the second time, by the way, but Skip hasn’t put up the fence again yet because, you know, he’s a bit miffed.

So his cows are wandering more than usual. Skip said he wasn’t worried about it. They come home at feeding time.

We continued on, following the road that follows the river. The “hard road” in this direction is a dirt road. The river is narrow and shallow and looks like a creek.

About two miles from our farm, it passes by my great-great-grandfather’s house. I’ve stopped and talked to the guy who lives there now a few times, but I’ve never been inside the house.

I wondered if my ancestors knew the Mammy Jane family, but back then, 15 miles was a long way. Especially in West Virginia. And I was about to find out how far 15 miles still is.

Eventually we found hard road again as we came out at the Looneyville post office, one of the world’s tiniest post offices.

From there, we were, supposedly, maybe another 12 miles to Mammy Jane’s house. If we were crows.

The closest familiar location to Mammy Jane’s house, to me, is Newton, West Virginia. It didn’t take us long to get to Newton, and we were, in fact, still in Roane County. Mammy Jane’s house is in Calhoun County, but just barely over the county line. There’s not much in Newton. We stopped at the little store to ask questions.

Nobody’d heard of Mammy Jane, but they did know the road we were looking for. Or they said they did. “Dan” said he used to work for the State Road and he provided directions. He should know! He worked for the State Road!

It’s pretty country out there, but we didn’t find the right road.

We stopped eventually and asked a guy by the side of the road if we would find the road we were looking for if we kept going the way we were going. He told us if we kept going that way, the road would get so bad it would tear off the bottom of my Explorer. We returned to the store in Newton to wring Dan’s neck.

Unfortunately, Dan was gone, but we found someone else who said they knew how to get there and they even got out a map! We set off again. By this time, we’d already been driving around for about three hours. (And let me add here that we had, of course, looked at a map online before setting out. When it comes to dirt roads in WV, maps aren’t a lot of help, and in fact the map at the store still didn’t show the road itself, but it was a little better than the map I’d found online in providing some markers. We were dealing with unmarked roads that twist amidst other rural roads.)

We ended up on another dirt road eventually and stopped to talk to a man at a farm with some beautiful Percherons. I would have taken a picture of them but I was in a hurry after he said he knew where Mammy Jane’s house was and that we were nearly there! And sure enough, we went about another mile and there was the house.

I recognized it right away from the photo I’d seen online (here).

View out the back from Mammy Jane’s house, looking toward the holler.

I was there! I’d found it! What to do now? 52 suggested that since I was running around taking pictures outside the house, it might be a good idea to knock on the door and introduce myself before somebody started shooting.

I knocked on the back porch door. A little bitty teeny tiny woman came to the door. I told her my name and explained what I was doing and she waved her hand at me and walked off. She came back putting a hearing aid in her ear and I started over. I said, “Are you Irene?” Because I knew that Irene was Mammy Jane’s granddaughter and that she owned the house now. She said she was, then she took some cornbread out of the oven. The back porch door opened into the kitchen.

We chatted for a few minutes at the door about Jane and the book. I thanked her for letting me take pictures of the house and said I had a cow waiting at home for me, so I’d better go.

She said, “Why don’t you come in?”


Sheesh, I’ve never gotten this far at my great-great-grandfather’s house.

I felt kinda guilty for showing up there like that, though, so I just stood right inside the door. The kitchen, by the way, was not the original kitchen, she explained. The kitchen had been a separate building. The current kitchen is a remodel when the kitchen was moved inside at some later point. (It wasn’t all that modern, though. It was moved inside sometime while Jane was still alive.) We chatted for probably another 30 minutes about Jane. I never stepped a foot away from just inside the door. Eventually, I told her again that I had a cow waiting at home for me, so I’d better go. By this time, it was getting dark.

She said, “Don’t you want to see the rest of the house?”

WELL, YES! So I finally stepped away from just inside the door and she took me through the entire house, room by room, telling me about each one. I only took a few pictures inside the house, and I didn’t take any pictures of Irene. She was concerned the house wasn’t picked up well enough, and she was in her robe, so I restrained myself with my camera. What surprised me the most about the house was how much smaller it felt inside than it appeared outside. The house is just two rooms deep, except for the large parlor on one side of the front that takes up the entire side of the house. The “master’s” room is at the front of the house on the other side and behind it the room that is now used as a kitchen. There is a narrow hall in the middle of the front that opens out onto the columned portico and has a staircase. (At the back of this hall, a modern bathroom was carved into the house in recent times.) Upstairs, there are three large rooms that were all used as bedrooms. The middle room opens onto the other two rooms. Jane had 14 children and many other people who often stayed and even lived at her house. In those days, they put as many beds as they could fit into every room and no one had a bed to themselves.

The original staircase in the front hall.

The transom over the front door.

Inside one of the upstairs bedrooms. (Check out the awesome floors.)

Framed sketch of Tom and Jane that hangs in their bedroom.

The floor of the house is solid and even, which is impressive for a house that is over 100 years old. No slanted floors for Jane–the foundation stones, carved from the hillside right on their farm, were laid all the way across the bottom of the house. The house is also in impressive condition with all the original woodwork in the moldings, original staircase, original windows, original floors. An interesting tidbit Irene told me about the floors was that Jane would never let a drop of water on the floors. No floor scrubbing. They were swept, but that’s it. “Jane never had a nice house before,” Irene said. “She was afraid of ruining the wood floors.” As Jane got older, there were always some of her grown children and grandchildren living with her at different times. Irene said one time some of them deliberately spilled half a bucket of “pig slop” that was always being saved up in the kitchen (by then, the “new” kitchen had been put in the house), forcing Jane to let them scrub the kitchen floor. Jane, who was not fooled by their supposed accident, was so mad at them, she made them scrub every floor in the house if they wanted to scrub floors that bad! Now that sounds like the strong-willed Jane from the book.

About the Jane in the book…… I already had an idea from some things I had discovered in searching about Jane on the internet that not everything in the book was accurate. It is, of course, a fictionalized account of Jane’s life, so that’s to be expected, but I had found some dates were wrong, too (which seemed strange to me as those would be easy enough to get right). Irene shared with me a number of fabrications and inaccuracies in the book. As for the fabrications, she said her sister (Sibyl Jarvis Pischke, who is now deceased) made up some of the more dramatic stories about Jane in order to make the book more exciting. As for the inaccuracies, she said her sister didn’t do her research very well and she didn’t spend that much time with her grandmother. Irene lived with Jane toward the end of her life and was at the foot of her bed when she died. Irene was then 20 years old, and in the time she spent living with Jane, she learned a lot about Jane’s life straight from the source and has continued since then to research her family.

If you don’t want to know the truth about Jane and the book, stop reading this post right now. (Spoiler alert.)

Tom had six children when he married Jane, not five, as portrayed in the book. (A seventh child died shortly after birth, at the same time his first wife died.) Tom and Jane married in 1867. (I had actually found this out myself in records online.) The Civil War was already over. The entire storyline in the book about Tom going off to war after they married is inaccurate. Tom was, as the book says, shot in the jaw, and he spit out several teeth and the bullet and went on. He wore a beard ever after that to hide the scar and hole in his jaw. Jane, indeed, began supporting herself as a hired girl by the time she was nine years old, and met and married Tom Jarvis while working as a hired girl on a farm near his own. But she didn’t buy all the farms, build the barn, and start building the house all by herself as depicted in the book. Tom was there. The war was over.

The order of the births of their own children is also inaccurate, probably due to lack of research on Sibyl’s part. Calvin was not their first child, and while he did die of diphtheria, he was only a few years old, not an older child as told in the book. It’s true that Jane cared for him herself, secluding the illness from the rest of the family, and no one else in the house came down with it (including Jane).

Jane was never raped. The entire “barn kitten” incident in which she was assaulted by soldiers and later tricked them into coming back, got them drunk, whipped them, and stole their horses never happened. Sibyl made it up. Jane did carry a blacksnake whip, though, and wasn’t afraid to use it.

Newt actually married “Annie of the flowers” (in the book, they don’t marry) but divorced her after two years because she “wasn’t right in the head” and he raised their child together with his second wife. This is one inaccuracy in the book that is not Sibyl’s doing. Annie’s child grew up believing she was illegitimate. Newt’s marriage to Annie–and divorce–was kept a secret, even within the family. Irene discovered the truth when she found Newt’s divorce papers, which Jane had kept hidden in the house.

Tom wasn’t moved to a bed in the wash house in the days before he died. He died in the house, in the master’s bedroom. Irene has no idea why Sibyl depicted his death differently.

Spencer’s wife, Jeannett, was no “witch” as depicted in the book. Jeannett was Sibyl’s and Irene’s mother, and Irene said there was some upset in the family over the way their mother was portrayed. The incident with the peddler in which a peddler mysteriously disappears after Jeannett gives him the evil eye and they later find–and hide–a box of money he left behind is a fabrication. There was a peddler who died after visiting the house, but he was hit by a train. There was a box of money, but it was with him when he died. A true story about Jane and Jeannett, according to Irene, is the story where Jane rode horseback over the hill to Jeannett’s house before she married Spencer. Jane called Jeannett outside and told her that the team and buggy her son had been using to court her didn’t belong to him, so if she was marrying him for his money, she’d better think twice because he didn’t own a thing. Then she rode back home. That Jane, she was a stinker.

Of course, I didn’t get to go over every story in the book with Irene, but these were some of the highlights we discussed. Irene said what was true in the book was Jane’s character and how she worked. She never learned to read or write, but she conducted business with an iron hand and ran her home with a backbone of steel. She knew how to do anything, could make everything, worked like a dog, and managed money. She was an extraordinarily strong woman in her time. But that, Irene said, just wasn’t dramatic enough for Sibyl.

I think Jane was pretty impressive just how she was. Sibyl made up quite a few stories in the book, but what the book does do–and why it’s so engaging–is bring one of those amazing pioneer women from the past to life. Sibyl made Jane real, even when she made her up, so I can’t fault her too much. For me, it was equally satisfying to find out the truth. And I think that’s why I was so driven to go in search of Jane. I knew the book was fiction. What I was looking for was the truth.

And then finally I said to Irene, I have to go, my cow is going to be mad. By then, it was way past dark and considering it had taken us 5 billion hours to trek the 15-20 miles there, I still had another 5 billion hours to get home. Irene offered me a piece of cornbread. I said, no, really, I have to go. I thanked her for her time and she invited me to come back. Irene is 90, by the way.

So, who knows, maybe one day when the weather is nicer for dirt roads and I have 10 billion hours to spare, I’ll go back and bring Irene some fresh eggs and a pie.

And ask her if she has Mammy Jane’s nut cake recipe.

P.S. Thanks again to Jennifer Sue Elkins, who sent me the book. You can find the book here as well as at other sellers. It’s worth the read–fabrications and inaccuracies and all.


  1. Liesl says:

    Wonderful post Suzanne! It is so interesting to read these historical stories,thank you for the tour inside Mammy’s house and the pictures of your countryside. I love those floors!

  2. thunja says:

    OK so get this. I went to a labor day weekend party in LOONEYVILLE way back in maybe 1984. It was a kind of a company/employee party. We all worked @ Muldoons on Capitol St in downtown Charleston (a bar/super club) and I’m a little freaking out here cause you know what? The guy who owned the farm was one of our bartenders… His name was Skip. If you could or would please ask Skip the next time you see him if he ever worked @ Muldoons.

  3. Glenda says:

    How interesting! I love that old house.

    I suspect there is a story with Irene as the central figure too.
    Now I want to know all about her life.

    I have to admit knowing the inaccuracies in the book sort of takes the edge off for me, but if it is sold as fiction, it shouldn’t.
    I have read many books where the author tells you up front that it is based on fact but many liberties are taken to fit the storyline, etc.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. It was well worth the wait.

    I just finished Half Broke Horses. It makes me wonder if all the facts in it are true. It is based on handed-down stories from the author’s Mother about her grandmother.

  4. Dianna says:

    I am SO IMPRESSED!! Right now, I’m in he middle of reading “Mammy Jane”. Tom has just returned from the war with a broken jaw. So I skipped over the part of your post where you told the “truth” about Jane. But I will definitely note today’s post, so I can come back to read it when I finish the book.
    I can’t thank you enough for recommending this book. And how wonderful that you found her house! And her granddaughter! And that the house is in such good shape! (Can you tell I’m excited about this post?!)


  5. Kelly Walker says:

    It was worth the wait Suzanne. Thanks for sharing it with us. I love historical stories about the area.

  6. lavenderblue says:

    Stories based on real life “back then” are the best. I haven’t gotten the book yet, don’t know as I ever will. I went ahead and read the whole post. If Jane was the way she was described, personality wise, I bet it wasn’t even necessary to make stuff up. I’ll bet that there was plenty ol’ Sybil didn’t even hear about that could have filled up another book.

    And, once again, may I say you are very brave to be knocking on people’s doors. Of course, WV is probably different from NY. Don’t think I’d try it in my neck of the woods.

  7. Becky says:

    Love this post, Suzanne!!! Very interesting!!
    Oh, and I know Newton store personally. Even if it’s been years since I’ve been there.

  8. Rebecca Kirk says:

    Great post! Really enjoyed reading it and looking at the pictures. Those floors are amazing.

  9. Diane says:

    Love the story. Love that you went in search of Jane. I dont know if my husband would be so willing to go in search of a farm just to see it. lol. Good of 52 to go with you like that. Irean sounds like a lovely old woman. She is 90 I wonder what will happen to the farm once she is gone. Sounds like there is lots more history there as well.

    I live among farm people. People who lived in my area for generations. I love to hear the stories of how they once lived and who lived where.

  10. Laura says:

    What a great adventure and a wonderful story. Did 52 go in with you (I hope)? If he stayed in the car all this time, he is a true hero. I hope he had a book or a newspaper!

  11. Carmen at Old House Kitchen says:

    That sounds like so much fun…off on an expedition to find a home that you know the history of(albeit off). We live in a very old home (over 100 and change years old). If someone came by and said they were the great great granddaughter of the man who built the house I would bring ’em in and let them tell me all about him and the family! However, I would hide my fine jewels and make sure the vault to my millions was locked. Ha! πŸ˜€

  12. quietstorm says:

    Love stories like this!
    Sounds like something I would do….That bedroom pic is GORGEOUS!!!!

  13. holstein woman says:

    Suzanne, the house in photo #6 looks like the house I was raised in, in Fancy Gap, Virginia. We had no halls, just doors from the kitchen to the livingroom (2 double bed inside), my grandparents bedroom and Uncle Georges bedrooom behind the kitchen and connection to my grandparents room.
    I am so glad you found Mammy Jane’s house. I just knew you had been on an adventure. They are so much more fun when you have a love to go with you.
    I’m told Spring is on the way!!! I wonder….

  14. Beth Brown says:

    This is one of my favorite posts! I love this kind of stuff – researching the history of a place, meeting the people, etc. I hadn’t read your original post about Mammy Jane but I definitely am going to find that book now.
    Thank you so much for sharing your adventure!


  15. Window On The Prairie says:

    Oh boy an adventure. Don’t you just love going down the backroads and getting lost and then finding your way again. The best treasures are off the beaten path of life.

  16. Athena says:

    It sounds like she is lonely πŸ˜₯ . You probably made her day by visiting. Hope you do so again if you ever get time for it.

  17. joycee says:

    West Virgina must be just like Arkansas, our dirt roads go on for miles and jut off in every direction! What an adventure, I have to read the book now…you have me hooked! The internet has really helped those of us who love geneaology, we can research before we go on our wild goose chases! Great post Suzanne, this one will be shared over and over.

  18. Melissa Marsh says:

    Yeah, I want to know what 52 did the whole time. Did he bring a book? πŸ™‚

    I LOVE that house. Gorgeous!

  19. texwisgirl says:

    This was great – from the stolen fence (twice!) to the 90 yr old decendant of a great woman. Wonderful… And I like how you gave Sibyl respect for her embellished portrayal – one author to another. Well done. πŸ™‚

  20. skippymom says:

    That is a wonderful visit Suzanne. You are so lucky.

    But I am still baffled. Who steals a fence? TWICE?

  21. BrendaE says:

    Great post Suzanne – I love it – history is is just wonderful isn’t it. Funny,when I was in school I hated history. This was a wonderful story and I loved that house – the pics as always were great. Yeah what was 52 doing when all this conversing was going on?

  22. Joy (from Illinois) says:

    Reminds me of my husband’s uncle’s house on an island off the coast of Maine near Portland. Funny how country houses are very similar. The upstairs has beds in every room and in the long corridor outside the tiny bedrooms a series of narrow beds lined the hall for the kids. They called it the dormitory and the cousins, grandkids, etc. all loved to sleep out there, talking all night and being shushed by their parents in the tiny bedrooms. Noone wanted to sleep on the 3rd floor cause it was kind of spooky, had leaks, and birds and squirrels sometimes got in from the roof to surprise you. Downstairs there was no hall but one room opened into another. I loved the kitchen best of all. Besides the modern range it had a lovely oldfashioned cast iron stove with all the “modern conveniences”–2 ovens for different temperatures, matching irons for ironing your clothes and a little shelf on the bottom to rest things on when you took them out of the oven. It was still used on long cold snowbound Maine winters when the ice prevented boats from getting to the mainland. And you haven’t REALLY got lost til you do on dirt roads in Maine that have NEVER had names but are called “the road to the pier”, “the road to Dooleys”, “the road to the point”, “the other road to the point”, “the road past the white house and then the yellow house”.

  23. Bev in CA says:

    Enjoyed this post so much! Yes, please go back to visit again. The past and the present are so wrapped up in each other. It must have been quite a job, building that house during those times. The logistics involved. I wonder how long it took to build the house. Imagine all the wood milled. The people, who needed to be fed, etc Imagine haulling all the windows. The house is beautiful. The walls full of memories of times past right up until now. Thank you, Suzanne.

  24. lilac wolf says:

    WOW!!! that was so cool! :fairy:

  25. Deb says:

    Great story! I love researching history too.

  26. Kathi N. says:

    Thanks for the awesome pics and post. Great story (all stories!)

  27. Nancy Stickler says:

    A real life piece of history…how fortunate you are and thank you for sharing! Has 52 ever posted before??? lol One thing jumped out at me in your pics, the payphone?! That’s a rare thing around here for sure!

  28. deb says:

    Just wanted to say, my husband’s relatives were in the book “Mammy Jane” not depicted well, lol “The snotty nosed Hicks'” you probably drove by most of us going out of the holler if you went rt. 16 home. Glad to see someone is still interested in small town authors.

  29. AnnieB says:

    I love this post! Glad you took your time and gave lots of details. Also so glad you took on this adventure in the first place!

    That house is beautiful. Love the staircase, and the floors. And that transom!

  30. Connie Sadowinski says:

    I think history is interesting. I do hope that you return to visit with Jane’s granddaughter sounds like she really enjoyed your visit! The old house is beautiful. It’s held up well over the years. I loved this post Suzanne! Thanks for sharing!


  31. Darlene in North Ga says:

    Wow, that was a fun read! I haven’t read the book and probably won’t as I don’t have the $$ to buy it and our (small) county library doesn’t have it. Sounds like Irene would be just as interesting as her grandma.

  32. Carrie Johnston says:

    That was an excellent book review and subsequent investigative story….you should work part time as a PI!

  33. Diane says:

    Good thing Miss Sybil didn’t make it onto Oprah’s book club and then have to explain the embellishments. Oprah would be very unhappy. I bet she’d love Irene, though!
    I’m reading “Letters of a Woman Homesteader,” by Ellinore Pruitt Stewart, who could do just about anything and everything on an early 20th century homestead in the wilderness. It helps to stop me from whining when I have to go out in a foot of snow to feed my livestock, with the aid of electric lights and heated water buckets, and then go back in to cook on a gas stove.

  34. Pamela says:

    What a delightful story.I’ve never read the book nor heard of it before. Now I want to find a copy. Inaccuracies and all.

  35. Alicia Nakamura says:

    Wow! Lovely post, great pictures. What a wonderful adventure!

  36. langela says:

    OOOOhhhhh that bedroom! It’s the kind of country bedroom I’ve always dreamed of, and so well kept. So often rooms with that character are falling down and faded and peeling.

    What a fun adventure. I have always enjoyed driving by old places and thinking of the stories that could go with them. How lucky for you to get to hear the story.

  37. Wanda says:

    I love this!! I’ve posted before about my granny who reminds me of Mammy Jane. She also wielded a buggy whip with good effect but it was on Grandpa when he came home drunk. Good news though in a way–Grandpa gave up drinking & got religion but it was the harsh kind & probably caused more trouble than the buggy whip.

    Granny was also shot in the leg when a bullet somehow got disposed of in the fireplace & went off & hit her in the back of her lower leg. I could go on & on with these stories–think I’ll write a book!!

    Thanks for reviving some neat old memories.

  38. Shirley T says:

    I really loved this post. I love to look inside old houses. Thanks for sharing the story and the photos.

  39. Jerry says:

    It’s funny, but I do the same thing when I read about a mysterious or mythical person. I must search them out, no matter where the muddy road takes me. That’s of course why I had to find Suzanne. πŸ™‚

  40. paul says:

    lookin for the I like button πŸ˜€

  41. Janet Smart says:

    I’ve read this book and was fascinated by the story, even though reading it was a little hard, because of the way she writes. I am interested in history, so I looked her up in records and also found all of the inaccuracies and was disappointed by them. I,too, thought she could have been a little more accurate with the dates and all. You are lucky to have visited her home place, I would have loved to have been there with you on your visit with Irene.

  42. Zusiqu says:

    I really enjoyed reading this.

  43. Mary Dunton says:

    :sun: Now that sounds like a fun adventure!! How cool that you found the house, and were able to speak to Irene. I hope she uses the internet and reads this post. She sounds like a very gracious lady. Neat!!!!!! :purpleflower:

  44. Flatlander says:

    I love history and old stories…also love old houses.
    I live in an old house..not as old as Janes house, mine is “only” 70+ years old.
    But I do have the same floor upstairs and trim around the windows. (mine are not painted)

    To bad you didn’t take more indoor pictures. πŸ˜‰

  45. GrammieEarth says:

    WHAT a great adventure! SO glad Irene is nicer than the people that live in your G-G-GRAndfathers home. I can’t understand why THEY haven’t invited you in for a tour and to get to know you as a descendent of the original homeowner πŸ˜• ONe of these nice spring days she would be thrilled to have one of your pies and a loaf of GRandmother BREad. You will have to plan it for a Glory Bee milking day!
    THIs post was very interesting, well worth the wait. Not weird either!
    I have a sticky right shift key…can you tell?


  46. Patti Jarrett says:

    Ah, yes, I remember Sunday drives, running the backroads of W.Va. I’m amazed that you found Mammy Jane’s house! What a wonderful story. Thanks for taking the time to “get it right.” It was worth the wait.

  47. Cindy says:

    Soooo, where was 52 during this history lessen? What a patient man!

  48. Courtney says:

    Here’s my trick for backroad route-finding: Don’t just look at the map view, go to satellite view and zoom in as far as you need to. Then you can see the roads and paths that aren’t labeled. Of course it only works if the satellite image is detailed enough that you can zoom in that far, which it might not be in your area. But it’s great for finding short cuts in the city!

  49. Pat in Eastern NC says:

    Oh, Suzanne. This was just the best post ever. I can’t tell you how many times my husband (a patient man like 52) has gone with me on wild goose chases. Like you, I didn’t know what I would do when I got there, but I had to go. And thank you for the wonderful, wonderful pictures of the farmhouses. We haven’t gone to the mountains in several years, and my heart warmed to see the hills and hollers with the farmhouses, especially in winter dress. I’m so glad you tracked down Mammy Jane’s house and met Miss Irene. What a great story!

  50. Lisa says:

    Suzanne, this is my favorite post of yours EVER. It sounds like you and 52 had a ball. This is definitely *my*idea of an adventure, and your skill in sharing it with us made it even better!

  51. Whaledancer says:

    A wonderful adventure. I’m so glad you’re the kind of person who would go on a hunt for Jane’s house. I hope you will go back to visit Irene; I’d like to hear about her life story.

    It reminds me of when my husband & I visited the small Australian bush town his mother came from, and found the house in which she was born and raised. I said we’d better knock on the door and explain who we were, otherwise it might freak them out to see us taking pictures of the place. The people who lived there invited us in and gave us a tour of the house, even offered us breakfast. Turns out he was chair of the local historical society, so he knew all about my husband’s family, who were original settlers of the town.

    I think that hospitality in small, out the way places follows different rules from the cities and suburbs.

  52. Jennifer Robin says:

    So glad you took a chance and have the story to tell about it. The house is amazing! I agree with the others: best post ever!

  53. Therese says:

    Durn it, now I’m going to have to buy this book!

  54. Runningtrails says:

    Oh how interesting! Sounds like a great day! I love that old house!

  55. Becky says:

    I have read alot of biography books, they are the best Especialy the old ones. I’ve always wanted to go see if I could go and see the origanal place where the story took place. I think it is awsome that you found this place! I’ve search for the cheapest place to find this book. I cant wait to read it!! Ebay has one hardcover and is $70!! I did some searching and found a used on at barnes and noble softcover for $14. plus shipping. This book hardcover version is listed as a textbook. Is very exspensive!! Who ever has this book and has already read it,put your name in it and pass it around so poeple can read it, we should all share it due to the price. Then send it bak to the origanal owner. Lets share!

  56. Monique says:

    Irene may not be around too much longer- you should go back to visit her soon….you never know what life may bring.

  57. MissyinWV says:

    What an awesome adventure! I think its wonderful that you went. I bet it really made Irene’s day too! I hope you make it back to see her when spring break. I’m gonna have to get that book!!! Great post!

  58. G says:

    How wonderful. I hope you do go back with some baked goods and eggs or cream and just talk to her: she sounds like a very nice woman who would love to talk to another woman as interesting and strong as yourself. (And it seems like she might be lonely.)

  59. Curtains In My Tree says:

    That is the best story I have ever read on a blog. Because I love history like that and hearing about jane is wonderful and you being there at that fabulous old hose WOW

    Love the story
    I have the same picture hanging in the bedroom, the one with the little girl with a pink dress on laying down and her baby chickens, It’s on the right side in the bedroom picture. I got it from my Great Aunt Ollie from Sikeston Missouri. The only other picture I have seen like that so now i can guess it’s age

  60. Daria says:

    Thanks for sharing this incredible story!! I was intrigued by Mammy Jane before this and want to read the book now, more than ever!!

  61. Londa says:

    Wonderful post!! I read this book about a year ago and I too was very intrigued by Mammy Jane!! It makes you appreciate the modern conveniences we have today, yet makes you long for the simpler times of yesturday. It makes me think of all that can be accomplished with a little bit of hard work. I enjoyed the pictures!!

  62. Julie B says:

    A truly great story. When my grandparents passed away, I told my husband that it was sad that none of us had taken the time to write down all of their “stories”. Embellished or not, these great stories should be remembered. I hope to read the book. Really enjoyed reading about your adventure!

  63. Leanna says:

    Now that is one well-spent afternoon! What a treat.

  64. Diann says:

    Oh PLEASE,PLEASE,PLEASE go back and visit Irene! How sweet of her to offer you cornbread, I would have eaten it! What a wonderful step back in time you took.

  65. Rachel says:

    I was sad when the book didnt turn up in my library catalog, and it isnt available from B&N in nook format πŸ™

  66. cindy provins says:

    I reserved the book for my mother from the Fairview (WV) library and my brother picked it up for her today. I’m sure she will enjoy it and then I can’t wait to read it myself! Mammy Jane’s house looks similar to the house my father grew up in. Thanks for your stories and pictures…..Cindy Lou

  67. Luann says:

    You were in my neck of the woods! I moved to Newton in December…to begin homesteading, a new career in nursing (during the second half of my life). You are an inspiration to me and help me smaile every single day. Thankyou!

  68. leavesofthefall says:

    Sounds like an excellent adventure and one I’d randomly be inspired to make. So next time, give me a call and a few minutes… er, hours… and I’ll drive from Indiana and join you, cause that’s just the kind of gal I am. lol πŸ™‚

  69. Vicki Weyrough says:

    I felt the same way about Laura Ingalls Wilder and finally made it to her home outside of Springfield Missouri. The home is still in it’s orginal design and very well maintained. An onsite museum has Pa’s orginal fiddle from the “Little House” books she wrote. While standing on the front porch, I felt Laura’s presence and thanked her for writing about a period of time and the women in it so we can look back and see how strong we all can be.

  70. Debra Clanton says:

    If no one else has suggested it, surely you realize that it is meant to be that you write “the” book about Mammy Jane. You’re fascinated with her (with good reason), you live near the home and the lovely relative that can give you factual material, and you’re a writer! How many more arrows do you have to have pointing the way? πŸ™‚ It’s your destiny.

  71. Rechelle says:

    Ooooooh! Nothing better than old houses and old stories to go with!

  72. Larry Eiss says:

    Great post! Our neighbor in Newton had a hardcover copy of Sybil’s book signed by the author. Apparently our neighbor’s Dad and Sybil used to play together in the Oka area. We borrowed her book, but when we discovered its value, bought a paperback copy from (a good place to look for such material) and I have read it cover to cover. We’re looking forward to seeing you in September!

  73. Larry Eiss says:

    …and by the way, your description of the back roads in WV is really on the mark. We drove over from Newton to Oka last spring and it was a good thing we took the big four-wheel-drive truck or we’d be out there yet! At some points the “roads” listed as county routes on the map were so indistinguishable from a driveway that at times we were uncertain whether we have veered onto private property.

  74. Lauren Scheuer says:

    Wow. This was a wonderful read. I can’t wait to read more of your blog. thank you!

  75. liz in wis says:

    Suzanne…I bet that visit was very special for Jane…I hope you go back again πŸ™‚

  76. MaryB says:

    This is so neat! I am even more curious now. This would make a great book in itself!!!

  77. Marge says:

    This is so ironic! Shortly after reading your post about the starting to read the Mammy Jane book at one of your children’s sports events, a friend who gives us books she has read included “Sibyl’s Legend of Mammy Jane.” Hubby read it and said he knew I’d like the book too. I began to put 2 + 2 together and realized this was the book you spoke of in your blog. Suzanne, the book I have is SIGNED BY SIBYL!!! The inscription says “First edition, to Toni Fauchner. Sincere Regards, Sibyl.” If you have a minute to spare, I’d like you to email me. Thanks!

  78. Mary Byers says:

    Dear everyone at Chickens in the Road,
    Your blog is the best thing I’ve come across in ages. Thank you so much for sharing your kind approach to life with your readers. I originally was interested in your goat pictures (a lifelong passion, though I haven’t lived with a goat since I was five years old). Now, however, I just love reading about your farm. Blessings on you and your family and your work, and have a great trip to Charleston. It’s a fascinating city.
    Say hello to all the new babies from a fan in Minneapolis.

  79. Maralena says:


    Thank you so much for this post! I was so intrigued at the first post about the book. I love stories like these! I love old people…Please do visit Irene again! I would if I had the “moxy”!

    Boy Howdy is that an awesome idea or what? I also love how you kept saying that you had a cow to get home to…

  80. brookdale says:

    Just finished the book, and then came back and re-read this blog. I couldn’t help noticing some of the misspellings and grammatical errors in the book; however, it was a great story even though it wasn’t all true. How brave of you to go and find the house! And knock on the door. Hope you get to go back and fill us in on some more of the true facts.
    Thanks again for introducing us to Mammy Jane!

  81. JeannieG says:

    I live just over the hill from Mammy Jane’s house.
    My husband (Jim) and son & daughter-in-law visted Irene last summer. It is about a 10-15 minute ride from us. We took some pictures and visited the grave sites. Irene even asked my Jim if he would like to pick a few pears from Jane’s tree. And of course he did and they were delicious! Debbie (our D-I-L)place wild field flowers on Jane and Tom’s graves. We also met Irene’s daughter Barbara, she was just as nice as Irene. Funny about your visit with Irene in her bathrobe, she was in curlers when we met! She did tell us that some of the stories in the book were fabricated and exagerated but that doesn’t curb any of the enjoyment of reading it. We plan to go back over this summer and visit with Irene again. She is a sweet lady to talk to and loves our visits.
    ps. My 2 favorite pictures taken during our visit was one with Irene and one of us on standing on the balcony looking out over where the Jane’s orchard was. Our visit with Irene will always be a treasure to us as well as the book. I hope many others read and enjoy it as we have. Jeannie G.

  82. jillster says:

    I loved this book, it was so life changing. I’m kind of sad that its so inaccurate, but a good memory still. Thanks for the photos, the long haul of the dirt road for some pictures for us. I love it.

  83. SueSue says:

    I’ve read this book 3 times and have enjoyed it every time.Usually I read it during the winter months. I was so disappointed when you said you were told some of the stories in the book were fabricated and exaggerated. Why would the family want to dishonor the person that wrote the book after they have passed on. She did a wonderful job writing the book and it has put a spark in a lot of peoples lives, I know it has mine. Sybil took a lot of time writing the book and should be honored as such I think. I did enjoy your pictures and your story of you trip to find Mammy Jane’s home. Such and interesting day.

  84. CarrieJ says:

    I won this book at 2011 CITR retreat. I answered the question about your cat, Spice. Anyway, I had put the book away for reading after canning/summer and forgot about it. I was scrounging for something to read and BINGO I came across Mammy Jane. I had it done in 4 days. Then I came back to your post to re-read. You are lucky to have been able to go out there! It is so much fun to look at the up to date pictures of the house and remember the story. It was a great book, lies and all! My husband is going to read it, then my good friend. I’ll point them here afterwards to get the “real deal”.

  85. chellebryant says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of the great information you got from your visit with Irene and for allowing us all to see Mammy Janes house! I am thrilled to have discovered your web page!

  86. DianeArcuri says:

    Suzanne, we had the pleasure of celebrating Irene’s 92nd birthday with her today on the farm. She’s quite a character and loved her chocolate birthday cake. We live very close by and plan to spend time with her more often. Lovely lady with wonderful stories.

  87. McIntyre says:

    My Grandmother who lives not far from mammy Jane’s house told me about this story. She found the book for me and I read it. I have gone by the house with her and took pics of the out side but we didn’t have time to stop that day. You have Answered some questions I’ve had since ready the book. I also wonder if some of my family could have known them. There are talk of the Biggs in the book. My great grandmother was a boggs

  88. ashnmcp says:

    I’m so glad to hear Irene is still well and going strong. I met her a few years ago when we set out to find Mammy Jane’s house. we had 5 of us who had read the book and went searching. when we got there we were waved on over and taken inside. we toured the entire house and the cemetery up the hill. I have quite a few pictures from our adventure if you would like to see them let me know and I could email them to you or something. My username is my email address for gmail. Irene was such a sweet lady who insisted we take a plant on our way out. I, of course with my black thumb, managed to kill it before it ever grew.

  89. Dee says:

    Hi, Just registered on your site. I saw to the top of your page you live in Walton. My parents use to live at the top of the hill from the community center. Have a great rest of your day.

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