Strange things can pull a man away from the warmth of hearth and home--even cause him to break his wedding promise.|
Women are moved by strange things, too. But it is not so strange that the last Fox Hunt, which she shared with him was for 23 years one of her fondest memories of their 40 years together.
Old Oak Grove was a huge community. The two churches, Baptist and Methodist, set just west of present Highway 96 on the southside of what has long been called Oak Grove creek, just beyond the strip pits and the old city dump. All, or at least parts, of what was to become seven (7) rural communities then belonged to Oak Grove. These were Union Valley by the low-water bridge on Vache Grasse creek North of Greenwood; Sulfur Springs which began at the top of Been Ridge and extended southward to the Devil's Backbone ridge; New Oak Grove, resulting in the consolidation of Joyce and Mountain Home schools and the moving of the two churches northward; Union Grove which was east of Highway 96 and stretched northeastward from Cornish store; Old Liberty, where the cemetery is, and which during the coal boom was called Banner camp; people also came to Old Oak Grove from over around Backbone toward Mt. Harmony, from out Burnsville way and from down toward Auburn along the old Auburn road.
Uncle Hugh Been told me that the real name of Been Ridge was Nubbin Ridge and that creek we call Oak Grove was Nubbin creek. He should know, he spent most of his life there, his father LeRoy and his grandfather, Hazzard Been, before him. It is not strange that this long, low ridge became known as Been Ridge because the Beens became the most numerous clan in east-central Sebastian county. When I was a boy, it was said that there was only one family that never got gosseped about. The reason was a simple one--if you were not talking to a Been, you was sure to be talking to a Been cousin.
On early U.S. Geological Survey maps this historic ridge bears the impressive title of Little White Oak Ridge. Just why it should have received such a sophisticated name, we do not know. Some members of the white oak family grew there--the Post oak and the Scrub oak but a true White oak never grew in this area. To find a White Oak one had to go south across Backbone Ridge and Washburn ridge to Big White Oak Ridge.
But it was Old Oak Grove, with its extensive boundaries, which brought together Tom Bryan of Been Ridge and Gather Townley of Biswell Mountain. Mother had gone to school at old Biswell Springs. The first community centers before Old Oak Grove, seems to have been Biswell Springs and Liberty. Old line Baptist continued to maintain their church at Liberty, in opposition to the baptist at Oak Grove, so we have a Liberty Baptist church in Greenwood today. It is a little hard to figure out how the traditional ritual of a young man taking his date home after church came about, considering the distances between Old Oak Grove and Biswell Mountain, and the distance from there to the midsection of Been Ridge. Grandfather Townley sold this place to Jeff David and this notable clan--all gone now but two or three--grew up there. If you go out Been Ridge and observe a large grove of White populars, then you have come to the Granny Bryan place, where father finished his growing up. Father must have trailed his saddle horse behing that old Townley wagon, and it must have been 3 or 4 a.m. before he got in home. This distant love affair led to a consideration of matrimony. But a little hitch developed. Gather Townley declared that she would never--never, never marry a fox hunter!
Tom Bryan had been a hunter all his life. Since the age of 7, when his father died of typhoid after a long trip to Texas and back, he had been the 'man' of the family. He had 6 sisters, 4 older than he. A younger brother died at 14, from 'white swelling.' The other brother, the late Will Bryan of Greenwood, was the youngest child. Tom Bryan helped to feed Granny Bryan's family with wild game; he brought in some cash from hides and furs. Some where along the way he contracted a phobia known as fox hunting. Fox hunting is completely different from other forms of hunting. The fox hunter catching nothing; if by accident a hound overtakes one of those noble creatures known as a Red fox, it is considered a tragedy by the hunters. There is no return, such as meat for the table or money from furs, in this persuit. There is only that strange fobia--love of the chase, the music of the pack, and pride from having a dog that leads the pack. Fox hunting keeps a man out all night, it takes him on long trips away from his family; it has, in many cases, led to a man keeping a pack of well fed hounds of high pedigree while his kids go hungry, barefoot and ragged, with no roof on his house. All this Gather Townley seemed somehow to know-and no husband of hers would be a fox hunter!
So Tom Bryan sold his fox hounds and made Gather Townley a promise before their wedding--he would never--cross-his-heart--never take up fox hunting again!
Tom and Gather moved about for a few years and then built a new home of their own. Old Joyce school and Charley Greenfield's farm was just north; Albert Joyce was just west; Joe Lee Joyce, on the old Joe Joyce place, was to the south; Sam McConnell and George Clark joined on the east. Cornish store was about half a mile northeast. Grandfather Ben Townley lived on our northwest corner. I was born on this place in 1908. Grandfather Townley took one look at his new grandson, I am told, and said: 'Daughter, this boy will never get into any trouble. He can't affored to with that mole between his eyes he will be too easily identified.'
At this place I planted my first tree. Since we moved away when I was 5, I must have had some help. But I remember that father and mother put much emphasis on the fact that this was my tree and I was real proud of it. For some years we never passed the place without checking to see how my tree was doing. This early experience may have contributed to the fact that I became a tree man-and have spent the last 30 years taking care of and planting trees. Anytime I am moving about Dallas, as I am constantly doing, I find myself checking on my trees- to see how they are doing- just as I checked on my first cherry tree, there were I was born. We sold this place to Jim Stenson; Wright Gant lived there quite a few years and then Vernon Winford, who married Raye Gant. Noel 'Pete" McConnell moved this house to Greenwood during the Camp Chaffee expulsion and it still stands up there on the hill north of the schools.
When my parents sold my birthplace, they bought the old Judge Rutherford place, just north of Grandfather Townley's. Tom Findley, the pioneer, had build a shotgun house there-two huge rooms with a hallway down the center and a fireplace on the east end-with chimney, hearth and front formed by fine native stone. I loved that old fireplace dearly. Another pioneeer, Uncle Henry Brown-buried under the Great oak at old Liberty-gave Judge Rugherford his wife. She was one of his six daughters who contributed so greatly to the populating of the country. Another married Phil Shockley, the family on our east. To our west was the Gants-Evertt, Martin and Bob, and Bertie Been--children of Cage Gant (or Gaunt) and another of Uncle Henry's daughters. William Jones of Greenwood--once a prominent family--married another. Then Jones family seems to have been the first pioneers out beyond Vache Grasse creek and perhaps extablished the McConnell cemetary-where the first generation of the McConnell and the Osborn's are buried. (Wrong, Nat Osborn who married a McConnell is buried there but his father, Nathanial D. Osborn and his wife, Jane Been, are buried at Liberty).Clem McCord married another daughter of Henry Brown. Need we say more ? Llewellyn Been, son of the pioneer, Hazzard-whose wife was Martha Osborn-married another. That almost completes the connection. Considering the connections of the Beens and the Browns, it is probably that the children of Llewellyn and Mealie Brown Been had more direct kin in this county than anyone of their time.
It had been said that there is nothing new under the sun. All things are molded from the clay of the earth and the cycle of life is constantly molding it into new forms. As the cycle of life spirials it is constantly passing a point of previous passage.
Knowing this, one might forcast things to come. First, there had been an old road east of our new place. It had been long closed, perhaps because it divided the lands of Aunt Mintie Brown Shockley (Her husband, Phil having died from wounds inflicted by the old Corhist Cotton jin in 1901). It also cut off the woodspasture of W. Lee Been from his other holdings. I suspect that hunters had raced their steeds up that old road many time before, when it offered the most direct route from down around Cornish store to the top of Biswell Mountain near the den of the foxes. So when it was opened again, for a short time, here the hunters came again.
We had a grand view of that old road from our long front porch, across W.Lee Been's field, as it mounted the hill. These hunters on their prancing steeds reminded me of knights of old riding off to battle. The deep musical sounds of their horns came to us clearly in the still evening air. Their hounds raced back and forth.
This scene brought a strange light to father's steel grey eyes. He would walk out to the edge of the porch and point out to us boys who each hunter was; he knew the tone of each hunters horn-a basso, tenor or alto. And he knew the names of their dogs, and their voices and their respective merits in the chase. Strange things, indeed, for a man to know who had no interest in fox hunting. We were informed that a dog named Tribble-so named because of the tripple repeat of her voice when she was leading the pack, was 'Queen of the Hills.' She belonged to Homer Davis, who had a fine singing voice himself-and was a fine baseball pitcher-a big man who sat as proudly in the saddle as any knight.
So the spirals. One evening as the hunters came up the old road father got up and went out back. He came around the front on his horse and galloped off to join the hunters. I did not know that he had that horse saddled but mother did. She had been sitting there silently and not a word had passed between them before father rode away. Mother was not one to hold her tongue if something displeased her. But this was such a shocking blow that she hardly spoke for several days.
Next week father brought home two young fox hounds. From then until I was grown, father was again a fox hunter. Many a time as a boy he threw me up behind his saddle and took off for the hills. If it was not me then it was Hilliar; we were always fussing about whose time it was to go. But he finally got the girl fever-then I got to go more often. Those foxhunts of my youth will always remain one of my fond memories. I came to know all the great dogs and the great hunters-Nathin Cumbie, A.W. Hannah, Jim Shackleford, Homer and Doye Davis and Al Thomas. Ray Shockley, Coye McConnell, Bud Martinson, and Ed Lewis were often with us on the hunts.
In a few days after father returned to the fox hunt, mother recovered from her shock and got her voice back. It was a one-sided tassle because father could never match her in a word battle anyway.
Father gave up his foxhounds after he began getting old and the depression hit. He might go out with the 'boys' three or four time a year. Al Thomas was his closest hunting buddy and mother and Mrs. Thomas often went along. They never stayed out too late.
Father was 62 when that rock fell on him in the mine out in the Excelsiour Valley. I was in San Antonio, working with the CIO, when the family notified me he had been injured.
I learned at the Colonial Hospital at Ft. Smith that Father was dead and then headed for Greenwood. There I had to face mother and that was the most dreaded ordeal I ever had to face in my life. I knew she would be crushed. All her life she had lived in fear that Tom or one of the boys--or all of them together, would be destroyed in the mines. I had heard comments from kin and neighbors since I was a lad: "What would happen to Gather if Tom or the boys got killed in the mines?"
But when I reached home I found my little weak, dependent mother sitting by the pug stove as erect and solid as a statue. Many close friends and relatives had been crushed by father's sudden death but not her.
Later, with other members of the family, we went down to McConnell funeral home. Mother moved in close to review father's remains. She touched the coal-darkened scars on his face; her hand moved across his fire-crinkled ears and down to his hands-deeply scared by the flames of a mine explosion.
'He was an honest, hard-workin' man,' she breathed, 'and he has many scars--scars for me and you boys.' She talked on quietly, without tears, relating many things and reliving most of a lifetime in a few moments there over his body. Then she straightened up, proudly, a slight smile on her face. 'But he was a naughty man--he broke his wedding promise. He promised he would never fox hunt again--but he did.' she said, pretending anger.
She stood there a moment without speaking. Then without taking her eyes from his remains, she said: 'You know, we went fox huntin' only last week. Al and Mrs. Thomas came by an' me and Daddy got in and went out to Gentry Cut. We had a beautiful chase an' Daddy enjoyed it so much. I will always remember that fox chase.'
Father was killed in 1939. Mother lived all alone for 23 more years. That last fox hunt always remained one of her fondest memories. I do not believe that I was ever home, during all those remaining years that she did not mention it. So the thing which produced the sharpest crisis in their life was in the end to bring them closest together.
Maybe there is truth in the old saying that the most fun of fussing is in the making up.