"Hopkins' clear and evocative prose
makes [Spirits in the Field] a joy to read. What Hopkins does is something that has
been attempted in all kinds of ways before but has seldom been
accomplished with this depth of thought, facility of expression, and
clarity of purpose. This remarkable book deserves a central place in any
-- Appalachian Heritage
Review by Mickey Anders
Review by Gayle Compton
This book may be
obtained from your favorite local bookstore, on-line from Amazon,
or you may order directly from the publisher.
Bruce Hopkins is Director of Communications and Risk Manager for the
Pike County, Kentucky, School System. He holds a BA in English from
Pikeville College, an MA in English from Longwood University, Farmville,
Virginia and has taught in the public school systems in Kentucky,
Virginia and West Virginia. He has been an English teacher and
journalist for most of his adult life. He still teaches occasional
college-level classes in Southern Literature and writes a weekly
commentary for the Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville, KY.
Book order form
600 Overbrook Dr
Photographs of the the Old Prater Cemetery on Greasy Creek near
Pikeville, Kentucky, are by the author, Bruce Hopkins.
Spring 2003. The view westward from the Old Prater Cemetery and Greasy
Creek toward Pikeville. US 460 will soon
cut through the mountain that's been cleared of trees.
In 1997 the Kentucky Department of Transportation
announced plans to rebuild highway US 460 through Pike County to
Virginia. The new route would cut a wide swath through the mountains
in the valley of the Levisa, and the ancestral burying ground of the
Hopkins family since before the Civil War was in its path. For six
years Bruce Hopkins worked to discover the family secrets buried in the
old cemetery and to reclaim his heritage. This is the story of his
struggle with the Kentucky DOT and the unearthing of his family
history back to the first settlers who came there after the
Revolution. This is but one of many family histories concealed
beneath the mine tailings, highway excavations, or kudzu of the Eastern
Kentucky mountains, most of which will remain forever untold and unknown.
Excerpts from the book:
of Joseph Hopkins would
never work the [Pike County, Kentucky] cotton fields again; by the end of the war,
the land that had produced over a hundred 480-pound bales of cotton in
1860 was reduced to wasteland from neglect and trespass. In 1867, Henry
May, a former comrade from whom Joseph had purchased some of the 450
acres he farmed, bought the mortgage on the farm and foreclosed on Lucinda
and her children. When the commissioner’s deed for 100 acres of Joseph’s
best farmland was executed, Lucinda received $58.50. Joseph had
purchased the property for $117.00 in 1857 and had paid one-half of the
mortgage by 1862 when the war closed the New Orleans cotton market.
For most of my life, I ascribed the xenophobia and sullen ignorance of my race to the discarded genes of people I thought were not capable of enduring a further journey west. I thought my people dropped anchor in the mountains simply because it was easier than going on. I did not give my ancestors credit, for I assumed every stereotype I ever heard of mountaineers had a nugget of truth in it. My family was an exception, of course, for you are allowed to make myths of the people you love. But I thought my father and the men and women of my family were in opposition to the DNA that was given them.
I often wonder where Hooker slept those nights he stayed on
the cemetery. Perhaps next to Harrison, the nephew who became the closest
thing to a father he ever knew, or between Harrison’s grave and
Lila’s, where pink roses once grew, and it is not difficult to see him
intoxicated by their fragrance, drinking it in as sleep claimed him.
Perhaps he lay on the ground where Cornelius and Dorcus
were sleeping, inside the fence that had rusted into nothingness by the
time I remembered it. Perhaps he thought his daughter might be buried
there. Perhaps there were two or three such places and he lay here or
there on different trips, in the hope that somehow he would be able to
reach her and beg her forgiveness. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps; I still did
not know for sure. I was confident of nothing more than what I had been
told, and I had been told little. Hooker’s journals would have told me,
but they were gone.
But I had seen his light. I know he
was there on those nights, pressed against the earth, pleading for
knowledge and direction, and I know that my vision, regardless of whence
it comes, is not far removed from the truth:
He puts out his lamp and lies in the darkness, feeling
the night envelop him like my grandmother’s blankets once draped over my
frail shoulders. Before he yields to sleep, he invokes the spirits of his
ancestors to help him in the hope the tiny shade of his daughter will hear
his heart beating, and will somehow be comforted in the knowledge that her
father had not forgotten her after all.
And I can hear his prayer that she
will, in the sublime reparation of the grave, forgive him his abandonment
of her last plot of earth.
I have aggrieved the spirits of my
ancestors by comparing them to their descendants. I have attributed too
much of the baseness of life in these hills today to a legacy not wrought
by my ancestors. I assumed that the fatalism so common, and the diminution
of spirit so pervasive in my culture, existed before the mines came, that
it was indigenous to my breed.
But I was so wrong.