History, News

The story behind Grandpa Jones Ginseng Hoe

Grandpa Jones Ginseng Hoe – photo by Jessica Bray

Kentucky natives, Grandpa Jones and the banjo-picking comedian David “Stringbean” Akeman, were nationally famous entertainers, and close friends.  They lived near one another in a rural area a few miles north of Nashville.


They hunted and fished together for years, and they also roamed the mountains in search of ginseng, the mystic herb which has for generations been dug in the Southern Appalachian Mountains and exported mainly to China, where it was (and is) highly prized – and very expensive.


This is the hoe which belonged to Stringbean, and which he and Grandpa carried on their journeys into the mountains digging “sang.”  Early one morning, Grandpa went to “String’s” house for such a trip and discovered the brutally murdered bodies of both String and his wife.  (Grandpa later commented, “It was a tragedy that sent shock waves among old-time music people across the country.”)  One of the items found on the person of Stringbean was a check in the amount of $27.00 which he had received for some ginseng he had sold.


After the murders, a public auction was held at the home place – so close to the Jones’ home that Ramona could hear the chant of the auctioneer.  Grandpa had gone hunting, and the person handling the estate called and told her to come up and get any personal items she wanted.  She choose the frying pan that they had used to fry the fish they caught together, and she choose this this ginseng hoe as a remembrance of the times String and Grandpa went digging ginseng.  Grandpa was pleased and kept it all these years but never used it again.  (This ‘sang hoe was given to me by Grandpa in January, 1993.)


These days, the ginseng hoe is on display at the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee, along with many other artifacts of musicians throughout Appalachia.  More information on the museum can be found by going to www.museumofappalachia.org.  Be sure to check out our story behind Grandpa Jones’ shotgun that is on display by clicking here.