Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Passport Application - Olive T. Dargan - 1911

Olive T. Dargan applied for a passport on April 15, 1911, in Suffolk, Massachusetts.  Her application states she was born in Rosine, and that she currently lived in Almond, North Carolina.  I searched the census records and found Olive T. Dargan in the 1920, 1930, and 1940 census living in North Carolina. She was listed as a widow.  I found her death certificate online; it says her date of birth was 13 Jan 1868 and her date of death was 22 Jan 1968, Asheville, NC (so she lived to be 100). It shows her full name as Olive Tilford Dargan and shows her parents as Elizah Tilford and wife, Rebecca Day.  Her occupation is shown as "Writer & Poet."  The "Informant" for the death certificate was Mrs. Clarence P. Oliver, Austin, Texas.

The 1870 census shows the Tilford family living near Short Creek, in Haynes, Grayson County, KY, and the 1880 census shows the family living in Ripley County, MO.

I also found that she married Pegran Dargan 2 March 1898 in Fannin County, GA, which is near the Tennessee and North Carolina state lines.  Not too far from Asheville, NC, where she died. Her husband died in 1915.
From the internet: "Olive Tilford Dargan (Jan. 10, 1869–Jan. 22, 1968) was born on a farm in Kentucky. She was educated at the University of Nashville and Radcliffe College. She taught in ArkansasMissouriTexas and Canada before moving to the southern United States for health reasons. In 1898 she married Pegram Dargan of South Carolina. Tilford published a number of novels, dramas, and books of poetry. In 1916 she received the Southern Society of New York prize for the best book by a Southern writer, and in 1925 she was awarded the Belmont-Ward Fugitive Prize. Two novels published under the pseudonym Fielding Burke describe labor conditions in North Carolina mill towns. Dargan received an honorary degree in Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1925."
"Literature survived loss for a great mountain writer
by Rob Neufeld, 2011 

In the late 1930s, children in the Swain County town of Almond saw an old bag lady walking around, muttering to herself.  The woman was the celebrated playwright, poet, and novelist Olive Tilford Dargan.  The bag contained gifts she gave out to local kids.  The muttering was poems she recited in the act of composition. Perhaps one of the poems she was turning in her head was “Annie’s Garden,” which appeared in “The Spotted Hawk” years later.  It expressed the solace Dargan had taken in her West Asheville refuge, Bluebonnet Lodge (located at the end of Balsam Avenue, since razed) before having to leave it for a while because of dark clouds of suspicion.

The rain it raineth every day
From skies of wrath and rue,
But I’ve a garden where I play
Whatever skies may do.

While living in West Asheville, Dargan had published the novel “Call Home the Heart,” and its sequel, “A Stone Came Rolling,” in which the author had followed her beloved mountain characters to the mills in Gastonia, wrote about it, and gotten labeled a proletarian writer. She used a pseudonym, Fielding Burke, but a New York reviewer blabbed her identity.

The folks in Almond saw Dargan as a person, and not as a public figure.  They loved her short stories about them, published first as “Highland Annals” and republished with Bayard Wootten photos as “From my Highest Hill.”

“Nobody knew anything about it and no one cared,” Almond resident Sylvia Latshaw recollected about Dargan’s blacklisting.  “We weren’t even reading the daily papers.  We don’t get them out there.  And we didn’t have time to read them if we did.  There she (Dargan) stayed until the hue and cry died down.”

Eventually, Dargan returned to Bluebonnet Lodge.   She lived there for thirty more years, dying in 1968 at age ninety-nine. In 1944, Dargan sold her Almond land, and loggers stripped it of trees.   At the same time, the Tennessee Valley Authority was flooding much of low-lying Almond to construct Fontana Dam. At age 87, Dargan published two more books, including the award-winning volume, “The Spotted Hawk.”

In her last years, Dargan sold a couple her Bluebonnet House with the stipulation that she could continue to live on the top floor.  Though she willed her papers and library to the University of Kentucky at Lexington, her native home, her death was followed by the accidental disposal of her material. Dargan is buried in Green Hills Cemetery in West Asheville.  A state highway historical marker was erected in front of the West Asheville Library in 2000. Her legacy is her published work.  One poem in “The Spotted Hawk,” titled, “Vain Rescue,” imagines her death amid woodland wonders:

But rising now no inner fires outflow,
No gleam around me save a pale moon’s haze.
I know a wood of beech and birch and snow
That waits my step. And come the June-warm days,
Where two brooks wed I’ll find a lulling seat,
And stir white pebbles with my slow, bare feet."

Name:  Olive T. Dargan
Birth Date: 10 Jan 1870
Birth Place: Rosine, Kentucky
Age:  41
Passport Issue Date: 17 Apr 1911
Passport Includes a Photo: No
Residence:  Almond, North Carolina


  1. This was my great Aunt my grandmother was her half sister. Golden Tilford

    1. Golden: This lady was amazing. I would love to know more about her. If you have more material/photos, maybe we could post another article about her. If you want, write a draft of an article and email it to me. I would like the Ohio County high school English teachers to teach about her works.