This weekend we chugged along at 11 mph on the Cheat Mountain Salamander Train through perhaps the vastest expanse of wilderness remaining on the East Coast. For six hours, we were confined to the Victorian-era train as it snaked through spruce forests too harsh for permanent civilization and a 19th-century tunnel hand-carved into a quarter mile of solid rock in an s-shape.
I didn't spot any of the advertised black bears on our journey from Elkins, W.Va. to the Cheat Bridge, but I learned that Cheat Mountain either earned its name because the land cheated so many early loggers of their lives or because cheat sounds like the Native American word for rocks. We stopped to explore the High Falls of the Cheat and again to let a AAA tour group catch their bus by the Cheat Mountain Club, where turn-of-the-century aristocrats like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison got their fishing and hunting fixes.
Cheat Mountain interests my family because during the Civil War one of my great grandfathers named George Ward managed to sneak over the mountain away from his Confederate infantry every weekend to visit his wife in Mill Creek. One day the Union Army captured him and held him in a prisoner of war camp. When he caught tuberculosis, they allowed him to return to his family on the condition that he swore an oath of allegiance to the Union saying that he would never again take up arms against his country. Back home he shared his illness with his wife and children. They all died, except for one child.
.... and that's why we're Wards today.