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B YORK

COWAVt SAMUEL K.
SFROEANT YORK AND HIS
PEOPLE

NNT3R 941272457









VIM
HSS




NY PUBLIC LIBRARY THE BRANCH LIBRARIES



The New^brk
Public Library

Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations


3 3333


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The Branch Libraries IVf IVf

MID-MANHATTAN LIBRARY

History & Social Sciences Depart.
455 Fifth Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10016

Books may be returned to any branch of
The New York Public Library. Non-print
media must be returned to the branch from
which borrowed.

Materials must be returned by last date
stamped on card. Fines are charged for
overdue items.










Form #0697



SERGEANT YORK
AND HIS PEOPLE



^







._. ' .-f-3

ESlht^..



'^fc




SERGEANT ALVIN C. YORK

"Marshal Foch, in decorating him, said 'What you did was the
greatest thing accomplished by any private soldier of all of the armies
of Europe.' '



SERGEANT '..



AND HIS PEOPLE

/f



\\

BY



SAM K. COWAN



Illustrations from Photographs
Taken Especially for This Book




FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY

NEW YORK AND LONDON
1922







COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY

[Printed in the United States of America]
Published in April, 1922



Copyright Under the Articles of the Copyright Convention of the

Pan-American Republics and the United States

August 11, 1910.







c * c



%

. i I ' i '



of



To
FLOY PASCAL COWAN

THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED, WITH A LOVE THAT WANES NOT,
BUT GROWS AS THE YEARS ROLL ON



THE N5W VORK PUBLIC

CIRCULATION DEPARTMENT



- I

t



CONTENTS

PACK

I. A FIGHT IN THE FOREST OF THE

ARGONNE 13

II. A "LONG HUNTER" COMES TO THE

VALLEY 67

III. THE PEOPLE OF THE MOUNTAINS . . 107

IV. THE MOLDING OF A MAN . . . .141
V. THE PEOPLE OF PALL MALL . . . .179

VI. SERGEANT YORK'S OWN STORY . . . 225
VII. Two MORE DEEDS OF DISTINCTION 261



ILLUSTRATIONS



SERGEANT ALVIN C. YORK Frontispiece

Facing
Page

"It was from this home that Alvin went to war, and it

was to it he returned" 32

"He declined to barter the honors that came to him;
turned all down, and went back to the little worried
mother who was waiting for him in a hut in the
mountains, to the old seventy-five acre farm that
clings to one of the sloping sides of a sun-kissed
valley in Tennessee" 48

"The York spring a brook in volume, the stream flows
clear and cool from a low, rock-ribbed cave in the
base of a mountain" 72

"The 'Valley of the Three Forks o' the Wolf,' where
Alvin was born and lives, which has been the
home of his ancestors for more than a hundred
years, is a level, fertile valley that is almost rec-
tangular in form, around which seven mountains
have grown to their maturity" 88

"The bone and sinew of the army of General Jackson
in his Indian campaigns and against the British at
New Orleans were the riflemen of Tennessee and
Kentucky" 1 12

"The very difficulty of loading the cap and ball rifle,
the time it took, taught its users to be accurate and
not spend the shot" 128

"Up the mountainside, above the York spring, a space
was cleared for shooting matches where the prizes
were beeves and turkeys, and where the men shot
so accurately that the slender crossing of two knife-
blade marks was the bull's-eye of the target" 152

[9]



ILLUSTRATIONS



Facing
Page

"Where the road tumbles down to the solid log cabin
'Old Coonrod' Pile had built, to the spring and the
York home. The roadway comes down from the
top of 'The Knobs/ a thousand feet above, and it
comes over rocks of high and low degree, a jolting,
impressive journey for its traveler" 168

"The people of Pall Mall live in farm houses that dot
the valley and in cabins on the mountainsides. But
the social meeting point is the general store of John
Marion Rains. The storekeeper is sure to know
whether the stranger seen passing along the road
stopped at the Yorks' or went on to Possum Trot or
Byrdstown" 192

"Later I saw a little fellow of six years of age chasing
a chicken that was barren of feathers over a yard
that was barren of grass. When I accused him of
maliciously picking that chicken, his face was a spot
of smiles as he vigorously denied it" 208

"From his father he inherited physical courage, from his
mother moral courage and both spent their lives
developing those qualities of manhood in their boy" 240

"The little church which sits by the road with no homes
near it is the geographical as well as the religious
center of the community it is the heart of Pall
Mall" 248

"Before Sergeant York went to war he had given an
option to his mountain sweetheart she could have
him for the takin' when he got back" 280

Sergeant York, his bride and his mother, the guests of
Governor Roberts of Tennessee and Mrs. Roberts
at the Governor's Mansion 288

"Back again at his home in the 'Valley of the Three
Forks o* the Wolf,' he asked that the people give
him no more gifts, but instead contribute the money
to a fund to build simple, primary schools for the
children of the mountains who had no schools. Of
the fund not a dollar was to be for his personal
use, nor for any effort he might put forth in its
behalf"



[10]



SERGEANT ALVIN C. YORK

FROM a cabin back in the mountains of
Tennessee, forty-eight miles from the rail-
road, a young man went to the World War.
He was untutored in the ways of the world.

Caught by the enemy in the cove of a
hill in the Forest of Argonne, he did not
run; but sank into the bushes and single-
handed fought a battalion of German ma-
chine gunners until he made them come
down that hill to him with their hands in
air. There were one hundred and thirty-
two of them left, and he marched them,
prisoners, into the American line.

Marshal Foch, in decorating him, said,
"What you did was the greatest thing
accomplished by any private soldier of all
of the armies of Europe."

His ancestors were cane-cutters and In-



SERGEANT ALVIN C. YORK

dian fighters. Their lives were rich in the
romance of adventure. They were men of
strong hate and gentle love. His people
have lived in the simplicity of the pioneer.

This is not a war-story, -but the tale of
the making of a man. His ancestors were
able to leave him but one legacy an idea
of American manhood.

In the period that has elapsed since he
came down from the mountains he has done
three things and any one of them would
have marked him for distinction.

SAM K. COWAN.



[12]



A FIGHT IN
THE FOREST
OF THE
ARGONNE






PROPERTY OF THE
CITY OF NEW YORK




A Fight in the Forest of the Argonne

UST to the north of Chatel Che-
hery, in the Argonne Forest in
France, is a hill which was known
to the American soldiers as "Hill No. 223."
Fronting its high wooded knoll, on the way
to Germany, are three more hills. The one
in the center is rugged. Those to the right
and left are more sloping, and the one to
the left which the people of France have
named "York's Hill" turns a shoulder
toward Hill No. 223. The valley which
they form is only from two to three hun-
dred yards wide.

Early in the morning of the eighth of
October, 1918, as a floating gray mist re-
laxed its last hold on the tops of the trees



SERGEANT YORK AND HIS PEOPLE

on the sides of those hills, the "All Amer-
ica" Division the Eighty-Second poured
over the crest of No. 223. Prussian Guards
were on the ridge-tops across the valley, and
behind the Germans ran the Decauville
Railroad the artery for supplies to a salient
still further to the north which the Germans
were striving desperately to hold. The sec-
ond phase of the Battle of the Meuse-
Argonne was on.

As the fog rose the Americans "jumped
off" down the wooded slope and the Ger-
mans opened fire from three directions.
With artillery they pounded the hillside.
Machine guns savagely sprayed the trees
under which the Americans were moving.
At one point, where the hill makes a steep
descent, the American line seemed to fade
away as it attempted to pass.

This slope, it was found, was being swept
by machine guns on the crest of the hill to

frf]



IN THE FOREST OF ARGONNE

the left which faced down the valley. The
Germans were hastily "planting" other ma-
chine guns there.

The Americans showered that hilltop
with bullets, but the Germans were en-
trenched.

The sun had now melted the mist and
the sky was cloudless. From the pits the
Germans could see the Americans working
their way through the timber.

To find a place from which the Boche
could be knocked away from those death-
dealing machine guns and to stop the dig-
ging of "fox holes" for new nests, a non-
commissioned officer and sixteen men went
out from the American line. All of them
were expert rifle shots who came from the
support platoon of the assault troops on the
left

Using the forest's undergrowth to shield
them, they passed unharmed through the

[17]



SERGEANT YORK AND HIS PEOPLE

bullet-swept belt which the Germans were
throwing around Hill No. 223, and reached
the valley. Above them was a canopy of
lead. To the north they heard the heavy
cannonading of that part of the battle.

When they passed into the valley they
found they were within the range of another
battalion of German machine guns. The
Germans on the hill at the far end of the
valley were lashing the base of No. 223.

For their own protection against the bul-
lets that came with the whip of a wasp
through the tree-tops, the detachment went
boldly up the enemy's hill before them.

On the hillside they came to an old trench,
which had been used in an earlier battle of
the war. They dropped into it.

Moving cautiously, stopping to get their
bearings from the sounds of the guns above
them, they walked the trench in Indian file.
It led to the left, around the shoulder of

[Til



IN THE FOREST OF ARGON NE

the hill, and into the deep dip of a valley in
the rear.

Germans were on the hilltop across that
valley. But the daring of the Americans
protected them. The Germans were guard-
ing the valleys and the passes and they were
not looking for enemy in the shadow of the
barrels of German guns.

As the trench now led down the hill,
carrying the Americans away from the gun-
ners they sought, the detachment came out
of it and took skirmish formation in the
dense and tangled bushes.

They had gone but a short distance when
they stepped upon a forest path. Just be-
low them were two Germans, with Red
Cross bands upon their arms. At the sight
of the Americans, the Germans dropped
their stretcher, turned and fled around a
curve.

The sound of the shots fired after them



SERGEANT YORK AND HIS PEOPLE

was lost in the clatter of the machine guns
above. One of the Germans fell, but re-
gained his feet, and both disappeared in
the shrubs to the right.

It was kill or capture those Germans to
prevent exposure of the position of the in-
vaders, and the Americans went after them.

They turned off the path where they saw
the stretcher-bearers leave it, darted through
the underbrush, dodged trees and stumps
and brushes. Jumping through the shrubs
and reeds on the bank of a small stream, the
Americans in the lead landed in a group of
about twenty of the enemy.

The Germans sprang to their feet in sur-
prize. They were behind their own line of
battle. Officers were holding a conference
with a major. Private soldiers, in groups,
were chatting and eating. They were be-
fore a little shack that was the German ma-
jor's headquarters, and from it stretched



IN THE FOREST OF ARGON NE

telephone wires. The Germans were not
set for a fight

Out from the brushwood and off the bank
across the stream, one after another, came
the Americans.

It bewildered the Germans. They did
not know the number of the enemy that had
come upon them. As each of the "Buddies"
landed, he sensed the situation, and pre-
pared for an attack from any angle. Some
of them fired at German soldiers whom they
saw reaching for their guns.

All threw up their hands, with the cry
"Kamerad!" when the Americans opened
fire.

About their prisoners the Americans
formed in a semicircle as they forced them
to disarm. At the left end of this crescent
was Alvin York a young six-foot moun-
taineer, who had come to the war from "The
Knobs of Tennessee." He knew nothing of

[21]



SERGEANT YORK AND HIS PEOPLE

military tactics beyond the simple evolutions
of the drill. Only a few days before had he
first seen the flash of a hostile gun. But a
rifle was as familiar to his hands as one of
the ringers upon them. His body was ridged
and laced with muscles that had grown to
seasoned sinews from swinging a sledge in
a blacksmith-shop. He had never seen the
man or crowd of men of whom he was
afraid. He had hunted in the mountains
while forked lightning flashed around him.
He had heard the thunder crash in mountain
coves as loud as the burst of any German
shell. He was of that type into whose brain
and heart the qualm of fear never comes.

The Americans were on the downstep of
the hill with their prisoners on the higher
ground. The major's headquarters had been
hidden away in a thicket of young under-
growth, and the Americans could see but a
short distance ahead.



IN THE FOREST OF ARGONNE

As the semicircle formed with Alvin
York on the left end, he stepped beyond the
edge of the thicket and what he saw up
the hill surprized him.

Just forty yards away was the crest, and
along it was a row of machine guns a
battalion of them I

The German gunners had heard the shots
fired by the Americans in front of the
major's shack, or they had been warned by
the fleeing stretcher-bearers that the enemy
was behind them. They were jerking at
their guns, rapidly turning them around, for
the nests had been masked and the muzzles
of the guns pointed down into the valley at
the foot of Hill No. 223, to sweep it when
the Eighty-Second Division came out into
the open.

Some of the Germans in the gun-pits,
using rifles, shot at York. The bullets
"burned his face as they passed." He cried



SERGEANT YORK AND HIS PEOPLE

a warning to his comrades which evidently
was not heard, for when he began to shoot
up the hill they called to him to stop as the
Germans had surrendered. They saw only
the prisoners before them.

There was no time for parley. York's
second cry, "Look out!" could carry no ex-
planation of the danger to those whose view
was blinded by the thicket. The Germans
had their guns turned. Hell and death were
being belched down the hillside upon the
Americans.

At the opening rattle of these guns the
German prisoners as if through a pre-
arranged signal, fell flat to the ground, and
the streams of lead passed over them. Some
of the Americans prevented by the thicket
from seeing that an attack was to be made
upon them, hearing the guns, instinctively
followed the lead of the Germans. But



IN THE FOREST OF ARGON NE

the onslaught came with such suddenness
that those in the line of fire had no chance.

The first sweep of the guns killed six and
wounded three of the Americans. Death
leaped through the bushes and claimed Cor-
poral Murray Savage, Privates Maryan
Dymowski, Ralph Weiler, Fred Ware-
ing, William Wine and Carl Swanson.
Crumpled to the ground, wounded, were
Sergeant Bernard Early, who had been in
command; Corporal William B. Cutting
and Private Mario Muzzi.

York, to escape the guns he saw sweeping
toward him, had dived to the ground be-
tween two shrubs.

The fire of other machine guns was added
to those already in action and streams of
lead continued to pour through the thicket.
But the toll of the dead and wounded of
the Americans had been taken.

The Germans kept their line of fire about



SERGEANT YORK AND HIS PEOPLE

waist-high so they would not kill their own
men, some of whom they could see grovel-
ing on the ground.

York had seen the murder of his pals in
the first onset. He had heard some one say,
"Let's get out of here; we are in the Ger-
man line!" Then all had been silence on
the American side.

German prisoners lay on the ground be-
fore him, in view of the gunners on the hill-
top. York edged around until he had a
clear view of the gun-pits above him. The
stalks of weeds and undergrowth were
about him.

There came a lull in the machine gun fire.
Several Germans arose as though to come
out of their pits and down the hill to see the
battle's result.

But on the American side the battle was
just begun. York, from the brushes at the
end of the thicket, "let fly."



IN THE FOREST OF ARGONNE

One of the Germans sprang upward,
waved his arms above him as he began his
flight into eternity.

The others dropped back into their holes,
and there was another clatter of machine
guns and again the bullets slashed across the
thicket.

But there was silence on the American
side. York waited.

More cautiously, German heads began to
rise above their pits. York moved his rifle
deliberately along the line knocking back
those heads that were the more venturesome.
The American rifle shoots five times, and a
clip was gone before the Germans realized
that the fire upon them was coming from one
point.

They centered on that point.

Around York the ground was torn up.
Mud from the plowing bullets besmirched
him. The brush was mowed away above



SERGEANT YORK AND HIS PEOPLE

and on either side of him, and leaves and
twigs were falling over him.

But they could only shoot at him. They
were given no chance to take deliberate aim.
As they turned the clumsy barrel of a ma-
chine gun down at the fire-sparking point on
the hillside a German would raise his head
above his pit to sight it. Instantly backward
along that German machine gun barrel
would come an American bullet crashing
into the head of the Boche who manned the
gun.

The prisoners on the ground squirmed
under the fire that was passing over them.
Their bodies were in a tortuous motion. But
York held them there; it made the gunners
keep their fire high.

Every shot York made was carefully
placed. As a hunter stops in the forest and
gazes straight ahead, his mind, receptive to
the slightest movement of a squirrel or the



IN THE FOREST OF ARGONNE

rustle of leaves in any of the trees before
him, so this Tennessee mountaineer faced
and fought that line of blazing machine guns
on the ridge of the hill before him. His
mind was sensitive to the point in the line
that at that instant threatened a real danger,
and instinctively he turned to it.

Down the row of prisoners on the ground
he saw the German major with a pistol in
his hand, and he made the officer throw the
gun to him. Later its magazine was found
to have been emptied.

He noted that after he shot at a gun-pit,
there was a break in the line of flame at
that point, and an interval would pass before
that gun would again be manned and be-
come a source of danger to him. He also real-
ized that where there was a sudden break of
ten or fifteen feet in the line of flame, and
the trunk of a tree rose within that space,
that soon a German gun and helmet would



SERGEANT YORK AND HIS PEOPLE

come peeking around the tree's trunk. A
rifleman would try for him where the ma-
chine guns failed.

In the mountains of Tennessee Alvin York
had won fame as one of the best shots with
both rifle and revolver that those mountains
had erer held, and his imperturbability was
as noted as the keenness of his sight.

In mountain shooting-matches at a range
of forty yards just the distance the row of
German guns were from him he would put
ten rifle bullets into a space no larger than a
man's thumb-nail. Since a small boy he
had been shooting with a rifle at the bobbing
heads of turkeys that had been tethered be-
hind a log so that only their heads would
show. German heads and German helmets
loomed large before him.

A battalion of machine guns is a military
unit organized to give battle to a regiment
of infantry. Yet, one man, a representative



IN THE FOREST OF ARGON NE

of America on that hillside on that October
morning, broke the morale of a battalion of
machine gunners made up from members
of Germany's famous Prussian Guards.
Down in the brush below the Prussians was
a human machine gun they could not hit,
and the penalty was death to try to locate
him.

As York fought, there was prayer upon
his lips. He was an elder in a little church
back in the "Valley of the Three Forks o'
the Wolf" in the mountains of Tennessee.
He prayed to God to spare him and to have
mercy on those he was compelled to kill.

When York shot, and a German soldier
fell backward or pitched forward and re-
mained motionless, York would call to
them:

"Well! Come on down!"

It was an earnest command in which there
was no spirit of exultation or braggadocio.



SERGEANT YORK AND HIS PEOPLE

He was praying for their surrender, so that
he might stop killing them.

His command, a Come down!" at times,
above the firing, was heard in the German
pits. They realized they were fighting one
man, and could not understand the strange
demand.

When the fight began York was lying on
the ground. But as the entire line of Ger-
man guns came into the fight, he raised
himself to a sitting position so that his gun
would have the sweep of all of them.

When the Germans found they could not
"get him" with bullets, they tried other
tactics.

Off to his left, seven Germans, led by a
lieutenant, crept through the bushes. When
about twenty yards away, they broke for him
iwith lowered bayonets.

The clip of York's rifle was nearly empty.

He dropped it and took his automatic pistol.






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IN THE FOREST OF ARGONNE

So calmly was he master of himself and so
complete his vision of the situation that he
selected as his first mark among the oncom-
ing Germans the one farthest away. He
knew he would not miss the form of a man
at that distance. He wanted the rear men
to fall first so the others would keep coming
at him and not stop in panic when they saw
their companions falling, and fire a volley
at him. He felt that in such a volley his
only danger lay. They kept coming, and
fell a-s he shot. The foremost man, and the
last to topple, did not get ten yards from
where he started. Their bodies formed a
line down the hillside.

York resumed the battle with the machine
guns. The German fire had "eased up"
while the bayonet charge was on. The gun-
ners paused to watch, the grim struggle be-
low them.

The major, from among the prisoners,

[33]



SERGEANT YORK AND HIS PEOPLE

crawled to York with an offer to order the
surrender of the machine gunners.

"Do it!" was his laconic acceptance. But
his vigilance did not lessen.

To the right a German had crawled near-
ty. He arose and hurled a hand-grenade.
It missed its objective and wounded one of
the prisoners. The American rifle swung
quickly and the grenade-thrower pitched
forward with the grunt of a man struck
heavily in the stomach pit.

The German major blew his whistle.

Out of their gun-pits the Germans came
around from behind trees up from the
brush on either side. They were unbuckling
cartridge belts and throwing them and their
side-arms away.

York did not move from his position in
the brush. About halfway down the hill as
they came to him, he halted them, and he
watched the gun-pits for the movement of

' [34]



IN THE FOREST OF ARGON NE

any one left skulking there. His eye went
cautiously over the new prisoners to see that
all side-arms had been thrown away.

The surrender was genuine.


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