CHAPTER IEARLY DAYS; PLOUGHING THE ROOSTER
I WAS born on Christmas morning in 1838, on an island in the
Chattahoochee River, Harris County, Georgia, but when I was two
years old the family moved from there to Troup County, where my
father was engaged in selling whiskey. This place was called Cleveland's
Cross-Roads, and there, at the age of six years, I got drunk for
the first and last time in my life. I remember falling into a
hole that was full of water, but managed to scramble out.
My father professed religion while living here, sold out his
whiskey business, and moved to Louisiana. This was in 1844.
In those days there was a man in nearly every community who
was celebrated for his fighting qualities. The settlement in which
we lived had its "bully," and the man, Jim Hunter by
name, knowing that my father had a reputation as a fighter, disputed
the championship, and boasted that he would whip him before he
left. The fight started, and Father's hat blew off. I picked it
up, then stood by and watched the fight. Our side beat. The "County
Bully" was so badly used up that he cried for mercy and begged
the people there to "take him off." I handed my father
his hat, shouting gleefully, "You are the best man in the
county, Pa; you licked Jim Hunter."
A few days later we started on our journey to Louisiana, travelling
through the country. Our teams consisted of a four-mule wagon
and a one-horse carriage. We camped when night came, and slept
in tents, and young as I was, I assisted with the tents, and anything
else there was to do. Our fare consisted of meat, bread, cheese,
crackers, and coffee. I fell out with cheese then, and for years
wouldn't have anything to do with it.
When we arrived at Wetumpka I was very much interested in seeing
the guards, with their guns on their shoulders, walking the state
penitentiary walls to guard the prisoners.
We travelled very comfortably until we struck the corduroy
roads in Mississippi, when the jolting was so rough that I much
preferred walking to riding. We saw an Indian camp one day. There
were quite a number of these dusky people, and they seemed to
take as much interest in us as we did in them. There was one old
fellow under the influence of liquor, and he followed us for some
distance, being accompanied by some of the rest of the party.
They kept up a kind of song with the words, "Where did you
come from, daddle-daddle-dah?" proving that they had acquired
some knowledge of English. We kept travelling until we came to
a house, where we got permission to take our beds inside, for
safety. Father and one of the negro men kept watch all night,
but we were not troubled by the Indians.
When we were on the road, I brought up the rear of our procession
carrying a gun on my shoulder, and thought myself an important
member of the party. We passed Jackson, Mississippi, then on to
Vicksburg. After crossing the big, black river, we came to a railroad
called the Vicksburg and Jackson, where I saw my first locomotive.
That was a wonderful sight to me; but little did I think then
that most of my life was to be spent running one. Almost twenty
years later I passed, as an engineer, over that same Vicksburg
and Jackson R. R., and coming to the place where as a small, wondering
boy, I saw my first locomotive, recognized it immediately.
Upon taking our departure, we crossed the river in a steamboat,
and found the ground very muddy when we started on our line of
march, while the marks on the trees showed a rise of eight or
We passed three other large streams of water (at least they
seemed large to me), known as Bayou Beth, Bayou Mason, and Bayou
Travelling nearly across the State of Louisiana, we settled
at Jackson Parish, nine miles from Verona, which place was about
thirty miles from the state line of Texas.
Our home was situated on a high hill, and consisted of one
large room, twenty-two by eighteen feet, built of hewn logs, with
puncheon floor. The kitchen was less pretentious; about twelve
by sixteen feet, and, as was the custom in those days, some distance
from the main house. When my mother would be preparing supper,
I often saw wolves on an adjacent hill, being attracted there
by the smell of the cooking food. They were so numerous that they
would come in herds, like sheep, and grew so bold that at times
they would go in the yard after chickens when the dogs were away
on a hunt.
There was no clearing when we first settled here, and the woods
were thick. We raised corn, cotton, potatoes, peas, beans, water-melons,
and pumpkins, the latter in great abundance, some of them being
fully three feet long. Besides supplying the family, we had all
that the horses and hogs could eat. One horse, Fox by name, ate
so many, that his hair grew to be about three inches long.
Coons were plentiful in that locality, especially in "roasting
ear" time, and I would often start on a hunt with the dogs
about four o'clock in the morning. The hounds would trail them,
but the large bulldog always kept near me. The woods were alive
with various kinds of wild animals, with snakes everywhere, so
Bull seemed to think that he ought to stay near and protect me.
The following spring, after the land was cleared, and the plowing
done, I saw how nice it looked, and decided I would have a "new
ground" myself. So, one Sunday while my mother was away,
I made a plow-stock, then looked around to see what I would do
for a horse. I spied a large rooster that Mother prized very highly,
caught him, made a harness to fit, and put him to plowing. I finished
my work, but just as I got through, the rooster refused to go.
I unhitched him, but it was too much for him; he died that day.
I thought I would get a switching, but when I took Mother to see
my "new ground," she looked it over, and let me off
with a reprimand.
We lived at that place two years, and each member of the family
averaged two or three chills a week; then Father decided to move
back to Georgia where we could get good water, as our drinking
water here was carried from a spring about a quarter of a mile
from the house. When two buckets were filled, the spring was nearly
dry, and I frequently carried a handful of salt to throw into
the spring to improve the taste of the water.
Before leaving this subject, I
want to say something about the Louisiana trees. They consisted
chiefly of different varieties of oak, and were so large that
when cutting them down for rails, there would be from four to
five ten-foot cuts before getting to the limbs. The cotton in
this section grew to immense size also. On one occasion, I climbed
a stalk for a distance of two feet, and it didn't even bend with
We started back to Georgia in 1847, going by way of Monroe,
a place on the Washita River, thence to Vicksburg, on through
Mississippi swamps, and over corduroy roads until we struck the
At different places along the route we saw negroes driving
from four to eight yoke of oxen. I was much interested in that
sight, as I had never seen so many of the "horned horses"
in one team before, and wondered how they could be driven without
I did not enjoy the return trip as much as I did going to Louisiana,
for the chills attacked me, and every day or two interfered with
my comfort and enjoyment.
After travelling four weeks, we arrived at Troup County, Georgia,
where, having good water to drink, we soon ceased to have chills.
My father first rented a place, and I went to work on the farm.
Our nearest neighbor was about a fourth of a mile away. The man's
name was Jack Burk, and his wife bore the "old-timey"
name of Huldah. Almost any time in the day we could hear Huldah
calling or scolding "Jackey Honey." He, however, didn't
seem to have much concern about it, but would go along, singing
The next year we moved east of there and settled near a cotton-mill
situated on Flat Shoal Creek. Father bought this place, and we
remained there three years farming.
I was eleven years old at this time, and it was the beginning
of my limited education, as I went to school two months during
the last year's stay, after the crop was laid by.
Our next move was to another farm about six miles away, and
this was the best and most comfortable home we ever had.
There was a mill on the place run by water, and, besides getting
our own corn ground, we supplied the farmers in the settlement,taking
toll for the grinding.
The small creek on which the mill was situated, being only
a half-mile away, was selected by my brothers and myself as a
bathing place; and we would go there on Sundays.
My mother didn't approve of our going in the creek, and in
order to keep us from it, she left the buttons off our collars
and wristbands, and when we got on our clothes, would take needle
and thread and tack them together. The thread was always the same
kind,that which Mother spun and twisted,generally
blue and white. While the other boys were being "tacked,"
I would slip around, secure a needle, unwind some thread from
the chip, and be prepared for emergencies.
When we came out of the creek I would bring out my needle and
thread, "tack" the boys all around, then one would "tack"
me, and Mother would be none the wiser. Sometimes her suspicions
would be aroused, and she would put her hand on a boy's head,
and say, "Well, your hair looks damp, but the tacks are all
We enjoyed our weekly swims for quite a while, until, one day
when I was still in the creek, and my clothes were hanging on
the bushes, a cow came along and went to chewing on my garments.
Mother made our clothescloth, garments, and alland
my Sunday suit was extra nice. It was made all in one piece. A
kind of body sewed, on the pants, and two little coat-tails, swallow
fashion, sewed on behind, at the waist.
That destructive cow had chewed one of the tails off my suit!
Of course Mother wanted to know how it happened that my Sunday
clothes were in such a plight, so I had to own up. The collars
and sleeves were all tacked, as usual, so Mother said, it was
"no use to try to get ahead of boys," and sewed on buttons.
I decided that I would get even with that cow for getting me
into trouble, so the next Sunday we rounded up all the cows we
could find, and made them jump off a bluff about fifteen feet
high into the water. I thought I had satisfaction then, and went
After the tail was sewed on my garment, and buttons on my shirt,
I decided, as I was in such fine trim, I would go to Sunday-school.
I yet remember, as distinctly as if it were yesterday, the lesson
that Sunday. It was about John the Baptist.
On my way home from Sunday-school, I stopped and took dinner
with one of the boys. Something I ate for dinner disagreed with
me and made me sick. I connected my trouble with Sunday-school,
and that was my first and last appearance. I was thirteen years
old then, and have never been to a Sunday-school since.
Shortly after this, Father decided to send me to school again,
and I attended, this time, nearly four months.
The teacher was a refined lady, Mrs. Whitby, by name. She sometimes
took a small boy to school with her. That small boy grew to be
a large boy, and is now one of Selma's foremost dentists.
A family of four girls attended this school who were always
making a disturbance with the other pupils. They started a quarrel
with my sister, who was a little more than two years my senior,
and were about to fight her, all four consolidated, when I stepped
up and told Florence to stand back, that I would do her fighting.
I knocked the girls right and left, and came out victorious. They
reported me to the teacher, and added that I had used bad language.
In my wrath I had made use of a name of which I did not then know
the meaning and that was sadly to their discredit. When Mrs. Whitby
asked me what the word meant; I replied, that "it was people
who were always talking about somebody."
My explanation satisfied the teacher, but the Bass family would
not accept it. A big brother of the girls made his threats that
he was going to whip me; so I armed myself with a large knife
and made readybut he never molested me.
Shortly after this I stopped school and went back to work on
Father had made a good deal of money at this place, so he bought
six negroes, then moved to North Georgia where he settled in Cass
County, five miles from Cassville, remaining there one year. At
the end of that time he bought a farm one mile from Cassville.
On this place was a gin-house with a thresher attached, and
I ginned all the cotton and threshed all the wheat. During our
second year there, my father sent me to school for three months,
after which time he said he needed me on the farm. I made all
the plow-stocks, and all the baskets that we used in picking cotton,
besides assisting with the plowing. Between times I hauled wood
to town and to the railroad, having to rise at four o'clock, "roust"
the negroes out, and get to work.
The third year I was again started to school,a college
this timethat had just been completed. I attended here two
or three months, but, getting into trouble then, my school-days
ended. The trouble came about in this way. The bell had been rung
out of school hours, and I was accused of doing it. Upon denying
it, my word was not taken, and I was called before the faculty
and informed that I was not to speak to any one for four days,
as punishment. As I walked out, one of the professors, Mr. Roberts,
said to the boys: "All of you get away from Thomas, he is
not allowed to speak to any of you for four days." I was
quite indignant at this unjust treatment, and my temper blazed.
I told the gentleman that "my tongue was made for talking,
and that neither he nor the whole faculty could keep me from using
it." He called the other three teachers and they rushed at
me. Backing up in a corner, I drew out my "Arkansas toothpick,"
the blade of which was five inches long, and told them to "come
and get me." They stood looking at me for a while, then left,
one at a time. I then walked into the schoolroom, got my books,three
in number,said goodbye to my teacher and went home, taking
up my farm work again.
About a week after I left the college, the principal told Father
that they had discovered I was innocent of the charge against
me, and said he wanted me to go back. I refused to return, remarking
that they might treat me that way again. I was then sixteen years
old, and my work consisted mainly of driving a four-mule team.
Father decided that he would "swap" his mules for
horses, which was not a wise move, as we discovered that the horses
would not pull as well as the mules.
One day as I started off with a load of corn to take to the
mill, the horses stalled on a hill, not far from home, and refused
to pull. I sent a message to my father, telling him that I couldn't
get the team up the hill, and asking what I should do. He came
to investigate; and, upon arriving, told me that I was not fit
to drive a team. My temper rose, and I agreed with him. Then,
telling him that I would never do any driving for him again, I
gathered together my belongings and left home that day.
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