milk gap

A term once common in Tennessee, the Carolinas, Kentucky, and Arkansas, a milk gap is, variously, any outdoor place where cows are milked; the structure that encloses such a place; or, in mountainous areas, an actual gap or notch in the hills through which farmers bring their cows for milking. In keeping with the variations in meaning, milk gaps can be located at some distance from the main farmhouse (in Smoky Mountain Mysteries, Juanitta Baldwin writes: “Lucius and Almarine lit lanterns, picked up zinc buckets, and set off over a path up the hill to the milk gap”) or fairly close by (in an oral story collected by Silas Turnbo, a resident of Wileys Cove, Arkansas, reported that “near 10 o’clock in the night while the calves were at the milk gap I heard a great racket out there—I knew a savage beast had attacked the calf but having no dog and as the night was very dark I was afraid to run out to the milk gap to try to scare the beast away”). The sense of a milk gap as a physical structure is given in Robert Morgan’s Brave Enemies, a novel set in the eighteenth-century Carolinas: “‘We must all do our share to help your darling mother,’ Mr. Griffin said. He said it while he leaned on the milk gap and I carried leaves to spread in the cow stall.”

Emily Hiestand