Larry Webster: Trail of Tears a two-way street?

Contributing ColumnistMay 25, 2014 

Larry Webster

My brother and sisters and I knew in our hearts that we were being child-abused in those tobacco patches in the '50s and '60s, but we never said anything for fear of being beaten half to death with a tobacco stick.

It took the United Nations, or one of those world health or children's rights organizations to figure out that being sent into a field on a dewy morning to sucker tobacco when you are 11, or being made to stand in a stripping room for hours and listen to Wayne Raney on the radio is child abuse.

We thought nicotine poisoning was when Uncle Howard spit down on you from the top tier until — far too late for us to be rescued — it was announced last week that kids in a tobacco patch or stripping room were being mistreated.

Two things eased our childhood exploitation.

One was the single most important scientific discovery in the history of mankind, womankind or childkind — namely the discovery of maleic hydrozide, better known as MH-30, or sucker control. No wonder farmers became chemical-dependent after some absolute genius invented a spray that kept you from having to sucker tobacco.

The second revolution was when quotas went from acreage to poundage. When you got to grow so many acres of tobacco, children were forced to pick up fallen tobacco leaves from the tobacco patch and the barn on the theory that every little bit helped. After poundage, you just planted a little more and let the leaves lay.

The worst form of abuse was having to extract and squash those green science-fiction-looking worms that come from somewhere and lit on a tobacco plant. When you squashed them they were full of green-looking stuff, the memory of which could only be erased by some fried chicken at noon.

Where did those worms live before tobacco plants grew up to receive them? Where do horseflies stay when there are no horses? Where do greenflies hang out when there is no cooked cabbage?

When they got rid of tobacco, Sen. Mitch McConnell did not go around hooting about a War on Tobacco because his side was doing most of the waging of that war. Now that climate change is threatening to flood Louisville, he is bellowing like a dying calf in a hailstorm about a War on Coal.

But, take heart.

Alltech's Pearse Lyons has discovered that there are more knowledgeable distillers per capita in Pike County than in Woodford County. He is going to take advantage of all those liquid folk artists to make liquor about 200 feet from my office, which will cause the city of Pikeville to smell like, well, a distillery.

We just hope he makes the pure clear kind and not some of that lemon-grass beer that tastes like a tobacco worm.

The other good news about employment has to do with cockfighting, which, after coal's demise, constitutes the major economic force in the mountains and certifies our savagery.

Many of the chicken fighters from the mountains are traveling to Oklahoma to fight their roosters on Indian reservations, where about anything is legal. So somebody got the bright idea of force-marching all those Cherokees back to Eastern Kentucky and giving them just enough of their land back to have a reservation so that we don't have to drive chicken trucks all night just to avoid federal prosecution for an activity which dates back a hundred years.

The Trail of Tears is a two-way trail.

Reach Larry Webster, a Pikeville attorney, at

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