Memories of Jockey Alley
Way before my time, an area of Fincastle was known as Jockey Alley. The stories about it always fascinated me, and I thought that a story of Jockey Alley from my grandfather Robert A. Waid’s book might interest you.
“Jockey Alley was an area of Back Street that ran from the “Big Spring” west past the Presbyterian Church to Roanoke Street, a little over two blocks. It was truly special in that all of the farmers, horse traders, hucksters and shysters of all kinds and of every calling met. They drank, played music, fought but most of all traded livestock, mostly horses and mules.
“The trading day was Saturday and Court Day. Every Saturday to be sure the alley was full and Court Day everyone came to town and the overflow took in the “big Spring” lot also. If you had anything to sell or trade you went to “Jockey Alley.” It was strictly a male bastion, as a self-respecting lady wouldn’t be caught dead on the alley on Saturday or Court Day. This ritual went on for many years from my Grandfather Waid’s time and before until WWII.
“Poppy Crowder ran a livery stable just east and across the alley from Hayth’s Hotel. The stable was a loafer’s paradise where tall tales and whiskey flowed in abundance! Mama forbade me go near Jockey’s Alley on trade days but it drew me like a magnet! The Presbyterian graveyard served as our observation post. How grand it was! There were so many characters that came to Jockey Alley.
“My grandfather Waid was among the old timers. Some of the ones I remember were Otis ‘Truth’ Dodd, Sherman Cox, Jeem Welch and Shem Nininger to name a few. The real traders were hot competitors and took great care to give each other a scurrilous reputation in order to rise above the ‘hoypoloy’ of their brethren. Sherman Cox, while standing among his cronies, would shout out above the din, “Well I do declare if it ain’t ole ‘Truth’ hisself a’coming’” when he would observe Otis Dodd approaching. Otis would retort with, ”Sir, do I owe you anything?” Otis would approach a fellow trader that had something he wanted with, “Sir, consider it sold, if the price is right.”
“Otis had an especially high piercing voice that he used to its up most. Mr. Bob Stoner said the best election money he ever spent was to give Otis Dodd two dollars a week before every election to stand on the corner among all the loafers and speak about what a nice guy Bob Stoner was for all to hear. …
“One story from ‘the alley’ was about one old fellow telling all the perspective traders what a good mule he had for sale for forty dollars. This being a rather low price for such a reputable animal made it attract right much attention. The trader repeated several times, “Now he don’t look so good but he’s a fine mule.” Whereupon a stranger offered half price of twenty dollars for the mule. The trader reluctantly took the stranger’s money and each went their way. When the stranger led his mule off the mule walked straight into a tree and upon close examination was found to be stone blind! The stranger found the trader among his friends and immediately hauled him up the collar shouting all the while about the trader knowingly selling him a blind mule! The unruffled trader replied, ‘I got witnesses; I told you twice he didn’t look too good but was a good mule.’
“There was another similar incident involving a blind mule being led to be loaded into a truck. The mule walked directly into the truck’s side and when the trader was accosted his answer to his adversary was, ‘That mule ain’t blind- he just don’t give a ___.’
My grandfather’s memories were both informing and entertaining. Town folks always knew that if Bobby Waid was sitting on his front porch, they could join him there in the shade and be thoroughly entertained and enriched with Fincastle tall tales and some good history too.
If you would like to learn about or relive some early Fincastle history, please join us Saturday, May 20th from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and “Step Back Into History” all through the town.
~ Meredith Bowman-Shelton