This month I’m reading a bestseller about a civil engineer and a mountain girl. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, by John Fox Jr., is a tale of the Appalachian mountains of the Virginia/Kentucky border before the coal mines and before the railroad. Published in 1908, it became a bestselling novel. In 1912 The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was adapted into a Broadway play and the book was republished. Project Gutenberg offers the 1912 version for free reading.
I was completely unaware of this book before I started to research needlework patterns. However, the Lonesome Pine motif appears quite often in crochet and embroidery through the 1920s. It even became the subject of a song. You can see the sheet music in the illustration. Wondering about this flurry of interest, I began a search and ended up at this title. If The Trail of the Lonesome Pine caught the imagination of the United States through the Twenties, I wanted to know why. So I read it.
This is a tale of an engineer who has big dreams of progress and advancement. He came from the north, hoping to build up a town and make his fortune from coal mining in the region. While looking at the lay of the land, he meets a girl named June. June is sturdy and unschooled, but wise in mountain culture. Although the book repeatedly calls her “little girl,” the narrator also comments that many mountain girls would be married by her age. So she begins the book a teenager and comes to maturity throughout the tale.
Whirling around this story is a longstanding feud between the Tollivers and the Falins, supposedly started over a child’s jeers during a game of marbles. But no one really seems to know. All they remember is the clan hatred. June is a Tolliver, and her relationship with Jack the engineer complicates things.
At the same time that the book describes the possibilities for coal mining, metal refining, and railroads, it extols the beauty of the land. Jack names the local flora for June as they walk through the hills. The paragraphs describing native flowers and birds appeal to the senses much like Gene Stratton Porter’s descriptions in The Harvester. Amongst the wildness of nature stands the Lonesome Pine, the only one of its kind in the area. It sees Jack and June’s first meeting, and it witnesses their relationship as it changes.
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine appears often on Appalachian literature reading lists. John Fox Jr., who lived in the Kentucky area he writes about, actually wrote many more short stories and novels about Appalachian life and culture between 1895 and 1920. If you love Trail, you might enjoy others as well.