If you'd like to learn a bit about the history of Denver, formerly called Dry Pond, you would do well to talk to Rudy Sherrill and his wife, Priscilla (Prissy). And if donkeys could talk, you'd undoubtedly hear from Buddy as well.
Born in Denver in 1937, Rudy still works on his farm off Burton Lane, near Webbs Road. It is one of only two remaining farms in Denver. The other is owned by his brother-in-law, Eugene. Rudy and Prissy currently live in the home they built nearby, on Lake Norman.
Rudy bought the property from his father, Hugh, who inherited it from Rudy's grandfather. Going back several generations, to the 1800s, Rudy's great-grandparents owned 1,000 acres in Denver, close to the Catawba River.
The property was subdivided among their children, each of whom was given 100 acres, and then passed on to the grandchildren, including Rudy's father. He was forced to sell 60 of his 100 acres because of economic necessity, leaving Rudy with the 40 acres on which he now raises cattle, as well as one old goat and a Buddy.
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Prissy, 68, grew up in Cornelius and moved to Denver when she was married at 18. She recalls the area once known as Ringdom, a cluster of three mom and pop stores on Webbs Road near N.C. 16.
"Gas sold for 12 cents a gallon from gravity-fed pumps," she remembers. "Staples like coffee, flour and sugar were either sold or traded to local farmers for chickens and eggs," she said.
"There was a bit of moonshining in the area, Rudy recalls. "I can't tell you anymore though. It was illegal, you know."
As a young man, Rudy began working for Duke Power, stringing power lines on trees and poles. He continued to work for Duke Power for many years before retiring, but found time as well to make a name for himself as a drag racer.
"Drivers came from all over, even other states, to challenge me. I was that good!" he adds, with a sly grin.
Asked how he happened to have a donkey on his farm, Rudy was happy to explain.
"I worked on the farm with my dad," he said. "He raised cotton, and I led a team of two plow mules. My father also worked in a cotton mill because the farm didn't earn enough money. Somewhere along the way, I just got kinda fond of those mules and the other farm animals."
While Rudy and Prissy were on a mission trip to West Virginia three years ago, a young calf on their farm was killed, most likely by a coyote. Their daughter and son-in-law, Lucy and Ron, knowing that Rudy would be distraught at the loss of the calf, buried it before they returned.
Shortly thereafter, while at a horse auction, Ron saw a crippled, emaciated donkey on which no one wanted to bid. He offered the minimum bid, $10, and brought the donkey to the family farm. Donkeys and coyotes, after all, do not get along.
"A friend of mine, Mark Reed, is a blacksmith. He and I treated that donkey's hooves, I nursed it back to health and named it Buddy," Rudy says.
Taking his responsibility seriously, Buddy now looks after the cattle, keeping predators at bay.
Buddy has the company of Big Boy, the imposing bull with his harem of cattle, and an old, arthritic goat, 15 years old and nameless, with one large horn (the other was broken off in a tree).
As Rudy and Prissy walked around the farm, Buddy followed them like a faithful dog, hee-hawing in hopes of getting another handful of the treats Rudy carried with him. Off to one side lay the rusted hulk of Prissy's 1936 Ford, yet one more reminder of a life well-lived on a farm in a town formerly known as Dry Pond.