East Tennessee History: The Hog Killing

Published 9:36 am Wednesday, April 8, 2020

When I was growing up, we rarely bought meat, but we raised our own livestock. Dad did not have much luck raising cattle, so most of our meat were hogs and chickens.
I learned early in life that I should not get too attached to the animals we raised. As a boy I remember making a mistake one time of naming some of our chickens. A few weeks later we were having chicken for supper when I noticed that one of our hens was missing. A hen I called “Faithful.”
Then it occurred to me that “Faithful” was a partially eaten chicken thigh on my plate. After that, I remember that each bite was harder and harder to swallow, and that taught me very quickly that everything on our little farm was there to eat, except the dogs and cat of course.
I especially did not get too close to the hogs because to me they were walking bacon strips. As the weather grew cool, I would get excited because I knew it was almost time for a hog killing.
Almost every one of our neighbors had hogs. Some made their mark on them and let them free roam in the mountains, growing fatter every day on the abundance of acorns and other wilderness food. Others, like my father, kept the hogs in pens until the weather grew cold and the nights grew long.
It was my job to “slop” the hogs, adding a little hog feed or corn to everyday waste from the kitchen table. Whatever the dogs and cat would not eat, the hogs got, including peelings and extra scraps of food. All of this would be mixed with some hog feed called “chop” and then a little water was added.
As I poured the concoction into the hog trough, sometimes I would stand and scratch the hogs’ backs or just watch them eat, and image the sausage and tenderloin that was going to be on my table.
When November came, it was time to have a hog killing. Neighbors gathered to our house and helped us kill and “render” the hog. We usually paid them in pieces of meat, and when they killed their hogs, we would help them.
Probably the most memorable hog killing that I can remember happened at our house one year. My grandfather was there to help us kill and “work-up” the hog, and he insisted on doing the actual killing of the hog with an old beat up pistol he owned.
My grandfather was known to have a drink of alcohol from time to time. Some said he would drink at the drop of a hat, and he would drop the hat.
That day he had taken a few sips of his favorite spirit, and he was ready to shoot the hog. His first mistake was he opened the door of the hog lot and got in the pen with the hog. His second mistake was having a gun that could not kill a squirrel, much less, a fully grown hog.
Grandpa shot the big male hog, and all that bullet did was make the hog mad. He turned on grandpa and ran between his legs while grandpa was busy trying to reload. The hog knocked him off his feet and ran out the gate with my grandpa holding on for dear life riding backwards on that hog.
The last we saw of grandpa was his hat fly off his head and the hog finally throwing him off his back.
Grandpa recovered from his wounds and sobered up. Eventually, someone found the hog, and we had that hog killing. The hog was delicious by the way.
I told this story to say one important thing. East Tennessee history includes many facts and dates, and it also includes stories that have been woven into our heritage. Some of these stories may be sad, some may be happy or funny, but all are a part of who we really are as a people.
While we are isolated from each other because of the coronavirus and all we have is time, make a phone call to an older person who has lived in these mountains all their lives. Talk to them about their past, and you will be amazed at what you discover and the stories they tell.

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