“‘Old Counce’ was certainly the kind of man about whom unforgettable tales are told,” writes historian Betty Smith. “The tales he told have been perpetuated through several different family lines, but the tales about him have lived on as well.” Remembered as a warm and fun-loving man, Council Harmon was one of the first residents of the Beech Mountain area to gain a widespread reputation as a great storyteller. In the twentieth century, Ray Hicks would carry on the tradition, and today the storytelling continues with Orville Hicks. The rich Jack Tale tradition of Beech Mountain would be far less fruitful today, perhaps nonexistent, had it not been for Council Harmon.
The Harmons were one of the first families to settle in the Valle Crucis area of what is now Watauga County. They were Germans who came to America in the 1720s. By the end of the 1700s, the Harmons had settled in Northwest North Carolina, and Council Harmon was born around 1807. He learned his stories from his mother, Sabra Hicks (also spelled Hix) Harmon.
Council Harmon worked as a farmer all of his life, living in various areas around Watauga County, including Big Ridge, Beech Creek, Beech Mountain, and Buckeye. He was very popular in the community, particularly among children. Ballad singer and storyteller Jane Hicks Gentry admired Harmon, who was her grandfather, and there are stories of other children in the community sitting on his lap to listen to stories. Betty Smith notes, “In a family with more than its share of memorable characters, Council Harmon is the one most often mentioned.”
Harmon was known for loving good music, flatfoot dancing, entertaining children, and being the best in a community full of storytellers. During a time when families knew how to entertain themselves with music, dancing, and games, Council Harmon was a standout. Without this lively character, many of the stories still told today by Orville Hicks, a descendent, would not be around, and the rich traditions of Beech Mountain might not have been as well documented.