Claude Ramsey

A storm was approaching from the northwest as my husband and I sat on the porch of Jack and Lynn Stoddart’s studio/guest apartment on a Wednesday afternoon. The Stoddarts live in one of the most picturesque areas of rural Overton County, and as we sat there on this particular day, we enjoyed not only the beauty of the surroundings, but we also experienced a journey by which we traveled back into a time when Jack first became acquainted with a fellow many considered a hermit living on Highland Mountain. Jack came to Tennessee from south Florida, and was staying with a friend who lived at a place called Nobody’s Mountain. His friend, Eric Bitzwand, had a couple of ponies who had wandered off from his farm, so Jack decided to go look for them. He walked for quite some distance on this particular day in March of 1971, when he happened upon someone who later became a close friend, a man whose name was Claud Ramsey. Upon seeing one another, each man was just as surprised as the other to have stumbled upon another human being in this very remote place.

After hospitalities were exchanged between the two, Claud invited Jack to walk with him back to his home which was a small two room cabin with a barn nearby. Only the barest of necessities were inside Claude’s humble home, a place that never had electricity or running water. Among the few possessions in the cabin, there were two featherbeds with handmade quilts, and in one corner of the room, stood a wood cookstove. The only item that could be considered a modern invention Claud had was a transistor radio that Jack says was given to Claud by Kenneth Winningham. Claud raised most of his own food, and walked once a week some two miles over the mountain to buy staples from Copeland’s store, a general merchandise business near the Pleasant Valley school. That particular store building still stands today. The distance would be much more than two miles to go by car from Claud’s home to Copeland’s store. On the day Jack and Claud began their friendship, Claud was dressed in overalls, was barefoot, although it was March, and wore a felt hat. Two dogs accompanied him on his walk. Claud extended an invitation to Jack on the occasion of their first meeting to come and spend the night in his home anytime he needed to.


  Over the next few years, Jack visited quite often with Claud. Although it isn’t known how much of a formal education Claud had, he was considered very much above average when it came to knowing the ways of Mother Nature and understanding how to survive in what had to be a very lonely world. A staff writer by the name of David Lyons from the Nashville Banner once made a trip to interview Claud. The article he wrote about his visit with him says that a fellow named Claude Poston, who was described as a friend of Claud Ramsey, took the reporter to the Ramsey home to do the interview.


Lyons’ article told how Claud Ramsey had never been out of Overton County, and had only been to just the outskirts of Livingston on one occasion, and that was to see his father who was in the county home and wasn’t expected to live long at the time of Claud’s visit.


He told the reporter that at one time there were as many as 200 people who lived in that area, but as time when on, people gave up farming and moved to Livingston or out of state to take factory jobs, and that eventually, he was the only one left there. The article went on to say the Claud had only ridden in an automobile twice in his 63 years, and according to Claud, that was two times too many. Other information in the article told how Claud cooked from a wood stove and washed his clothes in an iron kettle out in the front yard of his home. He survived the winters by hauling two months’ supply of wood into the house and that he caulked the cracks in the 74 year old home with mud. He spent a lot of time gathering ginseng, telling the reporter "I guess I picked a million dollars in ginseng in my time." When his parents passed away, on both occasions, he refused to ride in a car to either of their funerals, and walked five miles to the little church where their services were held. Claud told the reporter he had never been to a doctor, but said his health was better than some and worse than others. He was concerned with the environment and told the reporter he didn’t believe the world could last with all this gasoline and carbon monoxide, and that we were rushing towards the end of civilization.


Over the years, Jack became a regular visitor in Claud’s home, and upon learning from Cecil Speck about a possibly serious health problem that Claud might have, he was asked if he could try and persuade Claud to see a doctor. A place had come up on Claud’s hand that after seeing, Jack believed needed to be treated by a doctor. He tried unsuccessfully to get Claud to agree to go to a doctor, and when he refused, Jack sought the help of Dr. Fred T. White of Livingston and Dr. Catherine Goff of Monterey to go with him to look at Claud’s hand. After examining Claud’s hand, Dr. Goff advised Claud that she was afraid the place on his hand was cancer, but again he refused to get help. Dr. Goff told Claud that day that he could die if he didn’t get help, but his reply was that ‘we all have to die sometime’. I was also told that Jessie Dixon was also a good friend of Claud’s, and that he came often to check on him. Jessie also tried to get Claud to see a doctor, but he would never agree to. Sometime later, Cecil Speck came to check on Claud, and on this trip, he brought with him Dr. Fred T. White and county nurse, Avalon Hunter. They found Claud’s condition to have worsen, and he was then taken to the hospital to be treated. When Jack learned what was going on with his friend, he went there to visit him.  

The hospital room he was in had a television, and while there, Jack asked Claud if he would like to watch something. He agreed, and when Jack turned the tv on, Sesame Street was on, and the antics of Big Bird was very much enjoyed by Claud. While in the hospital, it was determined that in order to save his life, it would be necessary to amputate part of Claud’s arm. He was very much opposed to having this done, but as it turned out, the surgery was never performed. Claud died the night after he learned what was the doctors recommended needed to do done in order that he might live.

Although Claud was the youngest child of the seven sons born to his parents, James A. and Delia C. Ramsey, he was their only child who lived. The oldest son, Milard, died when only two months old, the next, Dilard, was born and died on Oct. 26, 1902; Albert was born and died Oct. 29, 1903; Preston, born Nov. 24, 1910 died when only 7 months old, on June 1, 1911. Twin sons, Corts and Curtis, were born and also died on Sept. 6, 1914. Claud was born on Nov. 11, 1915 and died March 24, 1982. He was 67 years old.

A world of knowledge that included how to live a very basic life without any frills at all went with Claud when he departed from this world. It makes me think of how caught up we can get sometimes when basically our every need is taken care of, but what about the things we want that are not at all necessary, but we think we must have. I doubt that thoughts like that ever crossed Claud Ramsey’s mind at all. Having someone come and visit who genuinely cared about his friendship and with whom he could share some of his life’s experiences would probably have been priceless to him. Jack described him as someone who was a bridge into the past. I’ve enjoyed being able to cross that bridge and look back at a life of someone who chose to stay behind as the modern day world went rushing by not too far from his remote mountain home. Thank you to Jack Stoddart for the information and the pictures he shared with me for this story, and also to Ronald Dishman who suggested Claud Ramsey as a subject.



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