Documenting Appalachian History and Culture – The Foxfire Project

by AngelaJohnson

Ordinary people have personal stories, beliefs, and skills that shouldn't be forgotten. In 1966, English students in Georgia interviewed local folks and created a magazine.

Eliot Wigginton, an English teacher at the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Georgia wanted to show his students a practical need for good English skills. They chose to produce a magazine and called it "Foxfire," which is the name of a glowing fungus found on rotting wood in this area.

The students decided to interview their elders, documenting traditions and what had changed over the course of their lifetimes. the way of life in the area, and how things had changed over the course of their lives. They used these interviews to write articles, even learning to take photographs. Many interviews were recorded on tape and still survive today.

The magazine was first published in 1967 and included folklore, how-to information, first-person stories, and oral history.

By 1972, so many people wanted back issues of the magazine that an anthology was published. Now there are 12 books in the Foxfire series. These books are fascinating to read and are great for home schooling, classrooms, people who love history, or who are thinking of living off the land. They make a nice gift, too!

Even after 40 years, students are still producing the Foxfire Magazine twice a year. - continuing to interview their elders and writing interesting articles.

The Ephraim Bales Cabin

In the Roaring Fork Historic District, GSMNP, in East Tennessee.
The Ephraim Bales Place
The Ephraim Bales Place

Appalachia is a cultural region in the Eastern United States.

The Appalachian Mountains run through the region

The Foxfire Books

These books belong in your home library and would be great for home-schooling. They would also make wonderful gifts.

All 12 volumes in the regular Foxfire series are anthologies of Foxfire Magazine articles written by Rabun County high school students over the magazine's 40-year history,

The books cover a wide range of topics.  You can read about old time toys and games, shoemaking, gourd banjos, wild plant uses, preserving and cooking food, catching fish, hunting for game, making sassafras tea, picking berries, fiddle making, wood carving, knife making, logging, moonshining, faith healing, soap making, square dancing, weaving, log cabin making, corn shucking, and so much more.  

I own three books in the series.  I wouldn't have wanted to live so primitively, but I admire the people who worked so hard, yet found time to enjoy life.

I certainly am glad these high school students interviewed all the older people in their area and preserved their stories.  They also included many black and white photographs and illustrations.  I hope to eventually own the entire series.


The Foxfire Book Series

The Foxfire Book: Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods

This is the original book compilation of Foxfire material which introduces Aunt Arie and her contemporaries and includes "other affairs of plain living."

$16.48  $10.66

View on Amazon

Foxfire 2: Ghost Stories, Spring Wild Plant Foods, Spinning and Weaving, Midwifing, Burial Customs

This second Foxfire volume also includes topics such wagon making, midwifing, corn shuckin', and more.

$16.16  $9.99

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Foxfire 3: Animal Care, Banjos and Dulcimers, Hide Tanning, Summer and Fall Wild Plant Foods

Butter Churns, Ginseng, and Still More Affairs of Plain Living

$18.49  $14.5

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Foxfire 4: Fiddle Making, Spring Houses, Horse Trading, Sassafras Tea, Berry Buckets

Also, cheese making, making tar, plow-stock making, water systems .....

$14.59  $9.95

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A Book of Christmas Memories

This book is based on Foxfire students' interviews with neighbors and family members on their memories of Christmas. The book was a special project where the stories were not published in the magazine first.  These memories are of a time where people were poor. Sometimes there were gifts and other times there weren't.  

There was no electricity, so trees had no lights and only handmade ornaments.  There are some some simple instructions on making rag dolls, tops, and a few other toys.  There are also recipes for favorite foods.

Since this book is not a story, you don't have to read it from start to finish.  I read it at my leisure over a period of a few days and I'll pull it out each Christmas to share with others.  It sure makes me appreciate the life I have now and glad that I didn't have to live during such hard times.

Video - Appalachian Settlers and Their Dwellings

This book is about an elderly Appalachian woman called Aunt Arie (1885-1978)  This book contains Aunt Arie's own words, tape-recorded during during hundreds of hours of interviews and edited to retain her mountain way of speaking. 

Since this is a FoxFire book, the students and teachers often make comments about Arie or add to the conversation.

She speaks of how happy her life was living on the mountain, her love for her husband, tending her garden, cooking meals, going to church, activities that filled her days, and how lonely it is when your loved ones are gone. 

She was also featured in the play ''Foxfire,'' starring Jessica Tandy as Annie Nations, a character based partly on Arie Carpenter's recollections.

The Foxfire Magazine and the Foxfire Museum

log cabinAbout the Foxfire Magazine

The Foxfire Magazine has been in continuous production since its first issue in Spring 1967.

The magazine was begun in an English class at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School and continued operating there until 1977, when the program was moved to the Rabun County High School.


Rabun County High School students still produce two issues of The Foxfire Magazine each year, learning to write, communicate, collaborate, and make decisions.

You can order the magazine here. 


About the Foxfire Museum

As their revenues from the Foxfire books increased, the Rabun County students decided to create a museum of Appalachian culture. 

They bought land on Black Rock Mountain in Mountain City, Georgia and  Students helped move and reconstruct several log homes and a grist mill.  

When Foxfire students began interviewing their families, friends, and neighbors in 1966, they often received old tools or hand-crafted items they were discussing or documenting. You'll find these items throughout the museum. Link to the museum web page.

Photo of log cabin from flickr creative commons 

Illustrated with photographs of the kitchens, people, and foods of Appalachia, this captivating collection contains more than 500 recipes. A sampling of favorites includes rhubarb cobbler, sassafras tea, fried quail, Brunswick stew, angel flake biscuits, seven-day cole slaw, and lime pickles. The book also explains traditional methods of preparing and preserving food, including directions for making homemade yeast, curing pork, 'gritting' corn, canning foods, cooking with a wood stove or fireplace, and preparing wild game.

Everybody Has a Story

A Student Guide to Collecting Folklore

A complete and easy guide that introduces folklore collecting to everyone. The perfect how-to-do-it instruction book for teachers, students, folklore societies, local historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries—everyone!

$32.85  $36.48

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Turning Memories Into Memoirs: A Handbook for Writing Lifestories

Turning Memories Into Memoirs contains countless helpful suggestions for remembering--researching--organizing--collecting and writing memories and family or personal stories. It...

$24.51  $2.81

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Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, Second Edit

Since Writing the Memoir came out in early 1997 it has sold roughly 80,000 copies and is consistently praised as "the best book on memoir out there." It is thought-provoking, ex...

$13.96  $2.01

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Updated: 10/13/2014, AngelaJohnson
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AngelaJohnson on 04/02/2015

DerdriuMarriner - I applaud people who come up with projects like Foxfire. It was an excellent project for the students, the elders who were interviewed, and for the general public. Personal stories need to be recorded, not lost forever.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/09/2015

burntchestnut, The success of Foxfire shows what everyday people are able to accomplish, beginning on a small scale. The impressive effects of this endeavor are far-reaching (including inspiring me by example). And the news gets even better: there's no end in sight. Bravo for spotlighting this wonderful example of the power of the people, especially in Appalachia, a place which is dear to my heart.

sandyspider on 01/18/2015

This is a nice piece of history and good to have the museum.

AngelaJohnson on 11/13/2014

No, the school project is called Foxfire and the Mozilla browser is called Firefox. I had to be careful to type "Foxfire" all through the article because the name "Firefox" is so familiar.

WriterArtist on 11/12/2014

I was wondering if there is a connection of this Firefox project with Mozilla Firefox browser. Admire the effort to keep the Appalachian history and culture afloat.

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