Sarvice Trees

Foreword to Sarvice Mountain, my novel that should be ready for purchase from in a couple of weeks.

Sarvice Trees


Because of the right of primogeniture, Isaac Barker didn’t inherit the farm. He and his bride Spicy, led Barney, heavy with supplies, across the Allegheny Front and down into the Indian River Valley of western Virginia. By the time they arrived, the Shawnee who escaped the slaughter had fled west across the Ohio River to join other Shawnee and get ready to fight off their extinction.

Here and there, with the coming of itinerant ministers to preach funeral services, skinny trees burst out with delicate white blossoms before they could be shaded by oaks and hickories and chestnuts. It was the earliest flowering tree in the woods, a sign in the mountains, even before the buckeye, that bad weather was about over and the light of spring was on its way. Those trees were called service trees and pronounced sarvice by the Irish immigrants.

In late winter Isaac and Spicy had the pleasure of gazing across Indian River at an unusually large number of white blossoms before other trees woke up. They named the creek coming off the mountain across from their homestead for those blossoms. The mountain too earned its name from the multitude of white blossoms. Several years after Isaac and Spicy migrated to Indian River a small community sprung up where the creek joined the river. It was the first community in the area and gave its name to the county when it was formed from Daniel Boone County of western Virginia. The town, like the white blossomed tree, never grew big and it never attained the title of incorporated, nor did it have a paved road until Almost Heaven Coal Company had need of one.

Spicy’s first baby was stillborn. In the August draught, Isaac wadded across Indian River carrying her tiny body and climbed to the top of Sarvice Mountain and buried Alice. He hand-chiseled a stone marker with the letters AB and started the Barker graveyard on the high knoll at the north end of the ridge.

After their first terrible loss the Barkers mushroomed from Isaac and Spicy’s offspring. They eventually had enough votes to honor themselves by changing the county name to Barker. The little community across the river became a dirt-road town at the edge of Barker County, which itself was on the far edge of the bigger world. For a long time the bigger world took little notice of the county or of the town. Heaven changed that.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s