NOAA's Voices Oral History Archives

The Voices Oral History Archives - https://voices.nmfs.noaa.gov - is a central repository for consolidating, archiving, and disseminating oral history interviews related to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishing in the United States and its territories. The program seeks to document the human experience of our marine, coastal, and Great Lakes environments.

The database contains recordings and transcripts of eyewitness accounts from fishermen, their spouses, processing workers, shoreside business workers, scientists, marine resources managers, and others. These stories expand our knowledge and enrich our understanding of the nation's fisheries and their impacts.

The program works with prospective oral history practitioners to add interviews to our growing digital repository and the public to use and interact with our content for educational and research purposes. The Voices Oral History Archives database is a powerful resource available to the public to inform, educate, and provide primary information for researchers interested in our local, human experience with the surrounding marine environment.

He Threw His Gun Overboard: Margaret Willis of Frisco, NC

Edited excerpt of oral history recorded by Susan West for Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s “Ethnohistorical Description of the Eight Villages Adjoining Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” 2005, IAI Inc. with B. Garrity-Blake, lead ethnographer/writer. Map drawn by B. Garrity-Blake. Margaret Willis excerpt published as part of “Sound Stories,” Our State Magazine, Sept 2011.

The old people of Hatteras Island said you could smell a storm. My granddad would look at the sky and say ‘We’re going to get something bad, something’s coming, you can smell it in the air.”  

The ’44 storm struck around the first of September.  We were sitting on the porch and the sun was shining real pretty and the sea tide was coming up fast. We were kicking our feet in the tide from the porch.  All of a sudden it started blowing the rain in. I guess the wind shifted. My dad sent us in the house upstairs with my mom. That tide, the sound tide, started coming. It got so bad that the waves were breaking on the back of our house and spattering in the upstairs window. We had them boarded up and it was coming through the cracks.

The tide came on in. My dad wanted to open the windows and doors and mama wouldn’t let him. She was scared. She didn’t want him to and that caused our house to float off the blocks.  It busted out the windows. The water was to my dad’s neck downstairs in the hallway, up to the fifth step of our stairs. He had a big tool chest made out of wood. They had two boxes sitting on top of that, and a big ham that they had cooked so we would have it.  As heavy as that chest was, the water turned it over. It washed the furniture out. The doors come open and the windows and the tide washed everything out the house.  

 We was upstairs, me and my brothers. My brother J.S. was toddling along - I can still see them fat little legs – singing, “Pistol packing mama, lay that pistol down.”  Ronald Stowe’s party boat went through our yard. Big old boats had come loose. Looking out the window you couldn’t see anything but water. I thought we had washed in the sound. If one of them boats would have hit the house, it would have killed us.  I guess the Lord was watching over us.

It seemed every September the tide would come in the house.  All you did was wash the mud out and scrub the floors. My mom used to cry. She would get linoleum down and put curtains up and here would come a hurricane and it all rolled up in a knot, mud and all.  Then they started painting the floors with light oak or dark oak floor paint.  All you had to do was wipe out the mud. 

My brother Larry was born just after the ’44 storm. He had spina bifida.  The night he was born he was kicking just like any other little baby.  He had a little place on his back about the size of a marble.  But within a month’s time he didn’t kick no more and he was paralyzed from the waist down. 

We carried him to Duke’s Hospital. We had to go across Pamlico Sound to Englehard on the Hadico. It was a freight boat. From Englehard we took some kind of a bus to Raleigh.  Then we walked from there to the medical center. 

They told mama that they couldn’t do anything for him. They said he wouldn’t live more than two or three years, and that she should put him in a home.  He lived ten years, and wouldn’t have lived that long if my mom hadn’t taken such good care of him.  

He was just our life then. We spent all our time playing with him. I would sit and rock him until my arms ached, just so he could sit up. He learned everything we learned in school.  He was real happy and he was smart. His spine was pulled apart. He had part of it grow on the outside. The Methodist church here in Hatteras used to buy his alcohol and gauze pads to go on his back. They made all of his gowns and things that he wore when he was little.  He wore diapers until he died.

 My father’s family was from just outside Raleigh, North Carolina.  My dad was in the CC camp down here when he met my mom. She was 25 and he was only 18, but he told her he was 25. Two years after they got married and I was born my grandma wrote him a letter and asked him how it felt to be a father at age 20. He had scratched over it and tried to put down 27. Mama asked him, “How old are you Mr. Layne?” He said, “I was afraid you wouldn’t marry me if I told you I was younger.”  

Just before my father left they elected him Sheriff of Dare County. I don’t know what happened. I think he just woke up one day and found out he couldn’t handle it, four babies, one an invalid, and he was young. That’s what I try to tell myself anyway. I remember the morning he left.  My mama asked him if he was going to bring my brother some potatoes home for lunch. He said he hoped to. We heard that my father just threw his gun, holster and all, overboard on the way to Englehard on the Hadico. That’s how he left.  

My grandfather took us in. It had to be hard - four kids, as old as he was.  But I never heard him complain. He used to clam all day long in the sound near Ocracoke Inlet. He would tote them clams on his back up the road. 

I was married and my young’uns were little before I ever seen my father again. He came back with his wife and his family.  That was first time knowing that I had other brothers and sisters. I didn’t see them again until he died about five years ago and his oldest son kept me informed. They’ve been coming down, back and forth. They’re the sweetest brothers and sisters that anybody could have. I love them dearly. 

We’ve had a lot of hard times. But true love has outweighed it all.   

Map 7.6 Frisco-2.jpg

We Found a Lifeboat with Two Bodies: Anderson Midgett of Rodanthe, NC Recalls the Manteo-Hatteras Bus Line

Excerpt from Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s “Ethnohistorical Description of the Eight Villages Adjoining Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” 2005, IAI Inc. with B. Garrity-Blake, lead ethnographer/writer. A. Midgett interview recorded by Amy Glass, 1988, Southern Oral History Program. Map drawn by B. Garrity-Blake.   

T. Stockton Midgett was a Coast Guard surfman who raised his family in the 1920s and 30s in a Rodanthe house fashioned from timbers of a wrecked ship. With no paved roads or bridges, Midgett saw a need for improved transportation on and off the island. In 1938 he began the Manteo-Hatteras Bus Line that ran from Hatteras Village to Manteo.  

But he died of a heart attack two months later, leaving his sons - eighteen-year-old Harold, fourteen-year-old Anderson, and ten-year-old Stockton “Stocky” Midgett - to carry on the business with a Ford station wagon.   

Islanders were glad to have transportation other than boat, and in the early years were not bothered by the brothers’ youth or lack of driver’s licenses. They used the bus line in such numbers that the Midgetts soon switched to larger buses. They ran the Manteo-Hatteras Bus Line for the next 35 years.  

“We used to bring just about everybody that left Ocracoke to go to Norfolk.  They all traveled with us – Ocracoke, Hatteras, Buxton, Avon, Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo, all of them.  So we got to know just about everybody in the whole area,” recalled Anderson Midgett. 

Sand ruts and hard beach formed the only routes, and a wooden ferry carried vehicles from the north end of the island en route to Manteo.  “That was a private ferry run by Toby Tillet and Pam Gallop,” said Anderson. “They were both Wanchese fellows with a small ferry named the New Inlet and a larger called the Barcelona.

“We used to call our route “the 101” – hundred and one roads because there was no designated road. If the tide was out, you drove the surf.  If the tide was in, you drove the bank of the beach or a dozen inside roads.” The Midgetts drove across shallow inlets cut by storms and avoided deepwater cuts by driving out into the sound. They maneuvered the bus around shipwrecks. They routinely got stuck in the sand, requiring passengers to get out and push.   

The brothers worked endless hours keeping the vehicles maintained, as sand and saltwater was rough on the station wagons and school bus-type vehicles.  “It wasn’t unusual to break a spring a day,” said Anderson Midgett.  “Work on them half the night to get them ready for the next day.  We started a little garage and kept them painted and washed down.  We must have used, in thirty five years, over a hundred buses.”  

The Midgetts took out loans when in need of a new bus or major repair, repaying the bank promptly.  “We’d usually wear the busses out completely until they rusted right out.  Everyone said we were hard drivers.  You had to be hard drivers to drive on the beach.” 

Villagers paid around $2.50 for a one way trip from Hatteras to Manteo, and “the fare never did go over $2.75.” Their schedule began at Hatteras Inlet, where they met the boat from Ocracoke at 8:15.  They would drive north, stopping at designated stores or post offices in each village.  People “knew to sit their suitcase out, and we’d stop and pick them up.” The bus reached the ferry at Oregon Inlet about four and a half hours later, barring no major delays from storms, flooding, soft sand, or breakdowns.  

“Sometimes it took us eight hours and sometimes ten,” said Midgett, adding that sometimes they and their customers had to spend the night on the beach. 

“We’d cross the ferry with Captain Toby, go into Manteo, make connections with the Virginia Dare Transportation company bus, turn right around and come back to Hatteras. That was a daily schedule seven days a week, and we didn’t miss many days. This taught us how to work.” Round-trip burned two tanks of gas.

The Midgett brothers transported Coast Guard personnel on liberty, students traveling to and from boarding school, and islanders in search dredge, shipyard, and other jobs. “Some really didn’t have the fare. When they come back later, they’d pay us.  They’d ride with us for years and years.” 

The bus line was busy during World War II, as islanders left to enlist or find work, and more Coast Guardsmen and military personnel were brought in.  Despite rationing, the Midgetts were supplied with all the gas coupons they needed. As the Outer Banks became “Torpedo Junction” with Nazi U-boats lurking just offshore, Anderson Midgett and his brothers experienced the close proximity of the war first hand.  

“One morning as I rounded a little turn in the beach, I saw the most tires that you could ever see. The Germans had bombed the ship off our coast that was loaded with tires bound for the Pacific - military truck tires. You could not hardly drive. One day we found a lifeboat that was bullet-ridden, with two bodies in it.  Reported it to the Chicamacomico Coast Guard station when I went by. We had to keep our lights blacked out and when you were driving at night, it slowed you up. You couldn’t drive out on the surf.”

The paving of Highway 12 in the late 1950s and the completion of the Oregon Inlet bridge in 1963 made the Midgett’s route faster and easier, although there was the continued problem of over wash and “cut-outs.”  The road spelled the end of the busline, however, as residents and visitors were able to provide their own transportation. The brothers moved on to their next business venture: Midgett Realty.  

“We’ve been in real estate for right good while,” reflected Anderson Midgett.  “But I still enjoy driving the beach.”

Map 7.1 Rodanthe-2.jpg