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Granville "Mountain Man" Burke,
His Heart Is In The Mountains

An Outdoor Enthusiast, This Old-Timer Spent Days
In The Woods Hunting Game, Snakes, And Indian Relics

By Kedrick Sanders - 2007

From the time he was a teenager, Granville Burke
was known as "Mountain Man." Though his chrono-
logical age is 72, his countenance and lifestyle suggests that he is much younger. Granville was born in the Rocky Hollow, Jenkins, Letcher County, Kentucky, in 1934. He grew up helping his parents in their general merchandise store at the mouth of the hollow. He recalls times when a customer would be in the store talking with his dad, L. L. Burke. The customer would order a sack of feed for his livestock then continue socializing and shopping for various hardware and groceries items. Granville would overhear the conversation, slip back to the feed room, and put a 100-pound sack of feed on his shoulder and in a show of aestheticism, run to the head of the hollow and place it on the customer's porch. When he would return to you deliver that sack of feed?" Granville would reply proudly, "It's already on your porch."
Granville has always enjoyed the outdoors. As a kid he would go out into the woods and stay for days hunting game, snakes, and Indian relics. On one occasion, when he was about 12 years old, he had his older brother, Arville, take him to High Knob, Norton, Virginia, and drop him off. He instructed Arville to come back in a week and pick him up. To develop his survival skills, he took only a hunting knife, hatch-et, flint rock, and a steel striker. He found a rock cliff to provide shelter and built a fire with the flint rock, striker, and dry leaves. For food he ate berries, various edible leaves, and roots. He caught birds, squirrels, and groundhogs and cooked them over an open fire on a stick. When Arville returned a week later, there sat a tired and worn young boy in the same spot where he had left him but with a proud smile on his face. On his way back home to Kentucky, he excitedly related each chapter of his adventure to his brother. In the comfort of the car and the gentle sway along the narrow, curvy roads, a tired boy dozed and dreamed of his next venture into the wild.


 

Granville "Mountain Man" Burke cooked buffalo stew during the Indian summer Folk Festival sponsored by the Cumberland Mountain Arts and Crafts Council in Jenkins, Letcher County, Kentucky, in October 2006.

 



 

When he was about 12 or 13 years old, Granville recalls that he became intrigued with the exploits of his fictional hero, Tarzan. He watched every Tarzan movie that came to the local theater and read every Tarzan comic book he could find. He especially liked the parts where Tarzan swung through the trees like his wild animal friends. Granville decided to try to duplicate his hero's antics. He went back to Grapevine Flats on Pine Mountain to begin his new adventure. Enroute he charted himself a course where he could swing on saplings and grapevines all the way back down the hill. He stripped down to his loin cloth (undershorts) and swung all the way back to the settlement. "There was snow on the ground, and I darn near froze to death," he laughed. "People called me Tarzan, and I even had a pet monkey I named Cheetah."
Granville has been hunting rattlesnakes since he was about nine years old and still enjoys the sport today. He has many hours of videos of his snake hunts, and they have been shown many times on local television. He relates the time he pitted a rattlesnake and a copperhead snake with two mice. The rattlesnake ate one mouse for an appetizer, ate the live copperhead for its main course, and then ate the other mouse for dessert.
Wendell "Butch" Boggs, a lifelong resident of Jenkins, recalls when he was a grade school kid riding the school bus from Burdine to Jenkins. When the bus stopped at the mouth of Rocky Hollow, Granville, who was then a teenager, in a feat of athleticism would walk out of his front door, across the porch, down the steps, across the yard, and out to the bus on his hands.
Granville graduated from Jenkins High in 1953 then attended North Carolina State College for one year studying forestry. He wanted to make a career of forestry, but the big paying jobs in the north beckoned him. He migrated to Marion, Indiana, and went to work at the General Motors Fisher Body Stamping Plant. When he was filling out his application he asked the interviewer, "Do you want me to write my full name?" "Certainly," he replied. "There is not enough space here," explained Granville. When Granville gave him his full name, which is quite lengthy, the interviewer said, "Well, just put your first and last name." The interviewer looked at Granville's rugged physique and hired him right away. He learned every job on the line and eventually got into quality control as an inspector.
Although it was a good job, Granville's heart was still in the mountains. In the industrialized north the sun didn't shine right, the wind didn't blow right, and the birds didn't sing right. At every opportunity he returned to the Kentucky mountains to enjoy hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, and digging medicinal herbs. He said he once sold 13 pounds of ginseng when it was only $250 a pound. Today, the herb sells for $300-$400 a pound, depending on whether it is of the wild or cultivated variety. "What about the use of ginseng as an aphrodisiac?" I asked. "Well, it does give you a lot of energy," he replied with a shy smile.



 

Granville "Mountain Man" Burke demonstrates his .50 caliber muzzle-loader using black powder, ball, and cap.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in Indiana for more than 31 years did not make Granville a city boy. As soon as he retired in 1987, he returned to Jenkins to stay. His expertise in identifying the flora and fauna indigenous to the area is well-known. (Flora and Fauna? I thought that was a couple girls that lived up the hollow). Throughout his adult life he has sidelined as a master tree arborist. Even at the tender age of 72, he is frequently seen in the top of tall trees trimming, shaping, or taking them down completely, one limb at a time.
Granville has always enjoyed hobbies dealing with nature and utilizing old time tools and techniques. He proudly shows his homemade bed, tables, and seats all made without power tools, nails, screws, or metal brackets. All joints are made to fit and are put together with wooden pegs. He has a collection of wooden bowls, which he carved with only a chisel and mallet. Much of his collection of Indian goods is made from leather, bone, and willow sprigs. Some of the snakes he catches are kept for exhibit and others are utilized. He cooks and eats the rattlesnake meat and uses the skin to make belts and hat bands. The skin is processed by scraping the fatty membrane from the inside of the skin to keep it from rotting. The skin is then treated with alum and salt water and tacked to a board to dry slowly. He says he has never been bitten by a snake. "I'm not bragging," he said, "I've just been very careful." Granville frequently attends Indian Powwows as an exhibitor and to learn their customs, crafts, and to trade relics with them. When he wants a little more excitement in his exploits, he rappels off Raven Rock or better still, off the 800-plus foot high bridge across New River Gorge in West Virginia.
"I've done a lot of hunting, fishing, and trapping, but my greatest catch was my wife, Learlene," says Granville. They have been married 30 years.
Granville is a patron of the Cumberland Mountain Arts and Crafts Council in Jenkins and is a trusted advisor with the development of the 15-acre site where the amphitheater will be built. He also acts as a tour guide for the council's nature hikes scheduled each spring and fall along Pine Mountain.
Incidentally, the "Mountain Man's" whole name is Granville Eagley Orgly Thorp Everly Burke. Somehow, I don't find that name at all unusual for a man like Granville Burke.

Kedrick Sanders, 245 Forest Hill Center, Jenkins, KY 41537, shares this article with our readers.