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Ronald Dean Johnson

We, the People of Chestnut Ridge:

A Native Community in Barbour County

By Joanne Johnson Smith, Florence Kennedy Barnett, and Lois Kennedy Croston

Ronald Dean Johnson of Hanging Rock, the brother of co-author Joanne Johnson Smith, takes his native heritage seriously. Born in Ohio, he moved to the Chestnut Ridge area as an adult in order to be close to his people.

Many historians hold that West Virginia was never home to any Native American tribe, but maintain that it was used only as a hunting ground. There remains today, however, a well-documented native community which has existed since the late 1700's on Chestnut Ridge in Barbour County. Many outside writers have attempted to tell the story of these people, but never has it been told by the people themselves. That is, until now.

Author Joanne Johnson Smith is a first-generation descendant of Chestnut Ridge on both sides of her family. Lois Kennedy Croston and Florence Kennedy Barnett, the other two authors, were born on Chestnut Ridge during the mid-1900's. Now living in Ohio, these three women have devoted the past 18 years to tracing their roots. Here is their story.

We grew up and experienced life on Chestnut Ridge in much the same way as our ancestors had for nearly 200 years. Our earliest memories involve associating with our own people in the community. Everyone we came into contact with was related to us in some way.

We lived on a side road off Chestnut Ridge Road. The neighbors called it Kennedy Road because the Kennedy clan lived there. Our fondest memories are of our grandfather walking up our road on his way home from town. He carried a large handbag full of groceries, but we waited for the candy he passed out to all the grandchildren. Although he never drove a car, he always had a ride to town and back. He started out walking but was usually picked up by someone from the community.

Grandpap's two sons from his first marriage were already grown. Grandpap married a second time and raised three sons who were our age. We played and worked with our uncles and cousins. Our extended family worked together in the summer to provide the necessities to live through the winter.

You can read the rest of this article in the Fall 1999 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.