90 Years of Short Stories
By Walter E. Wisdom
The White County Historical Society is proud to present this treasure of stories from the man who served as Society president in 1974 and ’75. Walter Elliott Wisdom, died May 22, 1988, at age 94, and was buried at White County Memorial Gardens, Searcy, Arkansas. In 2000, his widow, Peggy, with the assistance of Society editor and president Eddie Best updated and reissued his book, which had been out of print for many years. Originally entitled “90 Years of Short Stories,” it was expanded to include several additional stories. It also contains numerous photographs which we are unable to utilize in this on-line version. A printed copy of “White County Wisdom” may be purchased for $10 postage paid from WCHS, P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145. Peggy Wisdom has donated proceeds from the sale of this book to the Historical Society’s preservation efforts. She is WCHS secretary today.
Born on the Fourth of July at West Point, Tennessee, 1893 3
Grandfather is bushwhacked and my father leaves for Texas 4
Lee and Addie Wisdom family photo 7
Leaving Tennessee again, this time for Eufaula, Indian Territory 9
Selling whiskey bottles in Mansfield, Arkansas 11
How my mother’s father made it through the Civil War 14
Giving Oklahoma another try in 1908 18
The rolling stone Wisdom family finds Mansfield has changed 19
Going to work on the railroad for big bucks on my 16th birthday 22
When Halley’s Comet scared us all in 1910 24
Working as a “News Butch” in a uniform with brass buttons 27
Why the Wisdom family ever moved to McRae and White County 28
Yes, I did have some girl friends in some of the towns 30
The great railroad robbery that didn’t work 31
Love always wins, so I moved to Lebanon, Arkansas 32
The big snow of 1918 34
Buying the first truck in White County 35
We were in the woods when WWI finally ended 36
Getting to be a rich man when strawberries were booming 39
Losing a new car after the air show of 1926 50
Running a sawmill with old men and young boys in WWII 56
Some of my best timber deals 64
The largest load anyone ever hauled on a two-ton truck 70
Driving in my sleep 71
We were always getting stuck in the mud 75
Riding on the back of the largest turtle I ever heard of 77
My encounters with the wild hogs 78
The last blacksmith 81
Planning my mansion on Golden Street 85
Life And Times Of A Wood-Cutter (tribute by Glen Pace) 89
y name is Walter Wisdom. I was born near West Point, Tennessee, on July 4, 1893. My father’s name was Lee L. Wisdom; my mother’s name was Addie Woodard Wisdom. I was the fifth child born in a family of nine children. I had three brothers and one sister older than me. I am 10 years younger than my eldest brother and 10 years older than my youngest brother. You see I’m right in the middle of my family and it seems like I have been in the middle of most everything the most of my life. I have been in a few places in my life and have seen many changes in most everything. I have some friends who think I should write a history of my life. I didn’t think I could do that but I did write a few short happenings that I thought might be interesting to some people. These were short articles that were published first in the Beebe News.
Dedicated to the memory of my father and mother, Lee and Addie Wisdom.
PERSONAL CIVIL WAR REFLECTIONS
y father was born near West Point, Tennessee, June 15, 1860. This was just after the war began between the North and South, and he had a brother, Billy, at that time. My grandfather farmed a small hill farm in Wayne County, Tennessee. He knew he would soon be called into the armed service. This was in 1863, so he went all out to raise feed and food that would be used by his family while he was in service.
Sure enough, soon after he had gathered his crop, he had to go to war. He had feed for livestock and hogs. Also, he had a good supply of food such as hams, bacon, dried fruit and several sacks of wheat for bread.
On a cold rainy day a few weeks after he left for service, several Yankee soldiers rode to my grandmother’s place and told her they wanted all the food she had. There was nothing she could do. They took everything they could hold on their horses. But they couldn’t carry the wheat. Some of the soldiers on the ground would hand sacks of wheat to the ones on horses, who cut holes in the sacks and rode fast down the road until it all wasted out. My grandmother tried to salvage some of the wheat in the cold, and contracted pneumonia. My grandfather was in camp several miles away, but somehow he got word that she was sick. He tried to make it home but was bushwhacked and killed a few miles away from the house. Grandmother died a few days later, leaving two little orphan boys 3 and 6 years old.
After her death, my father Lee and his brother Billy were left on the mercy of kinfolk. With the war still going on and most of the men in service, they had a hard time finding a place to live. They were shifted from one kin to another. When Lee was 11 years old and Billy was 14, they were living with an uncle in another county about 30 miles away. They were being treated very badly – working like slaves, not enough food, very few clothes, no shoes, and no shoes. On my father’s birthday, June 15, in 1871, he and Billy decided to run away from their uncle and go back to Wayne County. They didn’t want anyone to see them, for fear they would have to go back, so they stayed in the woods all the way. After three weeks they made it back to another uncle’s house. Their only food in that three weeks was wild blackberries and wild gooseberries. They were almost naked, very weak and almost sick from ticks and other insect bites.
This uncle – by the name of Sipe Tucker – was very glad to see them and took them in as part of the family. He fed and clothed them and sent them to school until they were old enough to take care of themselves.
In the spring of 1881, my father and Uncle Billy and a cousin, Bob Allen, left West Point with a wagon train on their way to Texas. There were 12 wagons in the train; the train master’s name was Jonas Dixon. After about 140 days they made their final camp at a point on the Brazos River not far from Dallas.
I’m writing this the way my father told me of his experiences on the trip many years ago; of course, there are many things I don’t remember.
The whole trip was slow and many times very treacherous. Some days they made only one or two miles but they made very good time through the hills of Tennessee to Memphis. After they crossed the Mississippi River by ferry into Arkansas it was very different. There was water most all the way to where Forrest City is now. At this time the big levee had not been built to hold back the water and there were no roads or houses to speak of. It’s hard to believe there could be so much change in 100 years.
They made very good time through the rest of Arkansas except for crossing some of the rivers and streams; they lost some much time on some of these.
Since Wayne County is very hilly and rough, I’m sure not many in the group had seen more than 100 acres of flatland in one field in their life, so when they came to the Grand Prairie in Arkansas they thought they had discovered a new world. Everything seemed to have gone very well through to Texas.
Of course my father told me of many exciting things that happened along the way that I don’t remember well enough to tell. They made their final camp on the Brazos River late in the fall of 1881 just ahead of the worst blizzard they had ever known.
It was late in the afternoon when everyone got settled in camp. They took inventory of the feed and food and found the supply very low. There was very little timber suitable for firewood and very little driftwood along the river. The icy wind was very strong from the north and they knew they were not prepared for zero weather. They went to bed early and made it through the night every well. Morning came; most everything was frozen, drinking water and all. The men got together to see if they could figure some way out. Most of them had given up and thought they would surely freeze to death. Mr. Dixon, the train master, spoke up and said he had a plan that might save their lives if the cold spell didn’t last too long.
There were several very large elm trees along the river. His plan was to leave all women and children in bed, as they did not have any campfire to cook on anyway. The men, most of them good ax men, would take turns chopping down one of the large trees. They chose one that had several cords of wood in it. It was so large, three men could chop at the same time without being in one another’s way. In less than three hours they had a roaring fire going. To get the fire started they used a large greasy wooden box that was full of hams and bacon when they left Tennessee. They soon began to thaw out and cook some food. They kept the fire going day and night and had to fell another tree later. The weather began to warm up soon and they all lived through the ordeal but they did lose some livestock. Some of the men went and got supplies – food, feed and other things – and soon they were all feeling good again.
As you may know, in 1881 the mail service was not very good but most of those in camp had sent some mail back home. After a time a man rode into camp with a sack of mail, I don’t remember where from. Some of it was for this camp and some was for a place about 30 miles away where several families had settled. The rider asked if someone would volunteer to take the rest of the mail over there and make a name for the place so they could establish a post office there. My father volunteered for this trip. It took him two days to find the place. After he had distributed all the mail, he named the place Denton. I’m not sure, but I think he named it after a friend of his. Denton, Texas, is now a very nice city. My father returned back to camp soon after this.
All the men spent several days scouting the countryside looking for places where they might spend the rest of their lives. Not many days later they began to break camp and go in several directions. My father got a job on a farm and worked there as long as he stayed in Texas. He worked for a man named Elliott. My father thought so much of him that when I came along about 12 years later, he named me after him. My middle name is Elliott.
Uncle Billy made his home in Paris, Texas, where he married, raised a large family and lived most of his life. Cousin Bob Allen moved to Mansfield, Arkansas, where he married, raised a family and lived the rest of his life. He has a son my age living there now. I visited him several months ago.
My father said several of the bunch from West Point he never heard from again. Father left Texas early in 1882 and went back to Tennessee where he soon married my mother. But he vowed that if he lived very long he was going back to Texas, which he did.
After father and mother married, they moved to a small farm not far from Waynesboro, Tennessee. Father farmed some but soon learned the trade of rock mason. He built many chimneys, fireplaces and stone walls throughout four counties. Some are still standing as monuments where the houses have either burned or been torn away. We visit that part of Tennessee every year and find that several of them are still in use. The chisel marks my father made are still visible. I am hoping to move one of the chimneys back here to Arkansas.
Of course, all this time, Father and Mother were rearing a family. But Father still wanted to go back to Texas. Early in the year 1900, he decided to make that move. He sold his little farm and all other possessions and bought train tickets for Paris, Texas. There were seven children at that time. We boarded an L&N Railroad train at Iron City, Tennessee, for Paris. We were on the road four days and four nights. (Wouldn’t that have made a beautiful movie?) We changed trains at Memphis, to the St. Louis & Iron Mountain, which became the Missouri Pacific. When we were in Memphis we saw a real automobile – rubber tires and everything. Ha. That was the only one we saw on the trip.
We came right through White County. We changed trains again at Fort Smith, to the Frisco Railroad.
Mother had prepared food for the first day and night. After that, I don’t remember much except that I do remember eating cheese and crackers (that was before hamburgers). The train did stop afterwards and we did have a chance to buy food of some kind.
We finally arrived in Paris, where Uncle Billy met us at the train station. We went home with him and stayed there until we found a place to live, which was not many days later.
We moved into an old but comfortable house about three miles from Paris, not far from a farm that raised all kinds of berries – strawberries, blackberries and others – and also had a winery. My father and older brothers and sister all went to work there picking berries and other work. It was a new world for all of us. It was beautiful and you could see so far. Most everything seemed fine except the water. It was awful. So much different from those clear free-flowing springs back in Tennessee.
Soon my seventh birthday came along on July 4, 1900. They had a picnic at the Paris City Park. It was out from town about two miles. I think everyone in Texas was there. There were hundreds of covered wagons but not one car. It rained all day. I don’t think I have ever seen that many wet people since then.
Some time later while I was out playing, I stepped on a piece of glass and cut the arch of my foot. I didn’t think much about it and I didn’t tell my mother about it until that night. Not knowing anything about a certain fly in that part of the country, my mother washed my foot and put some salve on it. She repeated this treatment each night. After a few days, the cut became very painful. I could not get any rest day or night. This lasted two or three weeks. We didn’t have any close neighbors but one did come by and told Mother that one of those flies came in contact with the fresh blood and deposited an egg and there was a screw worm in there that had almost eaten its way through my foot. You could see the red spot on top of my foot where the worm did eat through in a few days. Well, I lived over that.
The year 1900 was the time of the Galveston disaster. A hurricane hit that area and left so many people dead and others homeless that they never knew the number. Father and Mother worried about that and some other things and soon got homesick for Tennessee. Before the end of that year we were all in Tennessee, back where we started from, in time for Christmas.
Well, after we got settled down back in Tennessee everything seemed normal for awhile. I can’t think of anything exciting happening. All of us school-age children got a few months of school which we had been missing. It was my first.
Those days there was a word going around, “Young man go west,” and there were many people going somewhere in the west. You guessed right, Father wanted to go somewhere west but he didn’t want to go back to Texas. After several weeks of investigating, he decided to go to the Indian Territory. It might have been the Indian blood in him that made him want to go there. He was eligible to receive a free land grant but he missed the deadline date and lost that right. It was mid-summer 1902 before we got ready to go. We traveled the same route that we followed to Texas except we didn’t change trains at Fort Smith. Our destination was Eufaula, Indian Territory. We got there in the afternoon, and stayed that night in Eufaula. Next day, Father located a place to live about 12 miles out on a wealthy Indian farm, across the Canadian River near the post office of Malette. We made this trip by wagon pulled by two large big-footed horses. We had to ford the river, which was narrow and not very deep but very dangerous. It was quicksand all the way and you didn’t dare stop in the water. It was told that there had been many teams lost there in the past, mostly by strangers. The farm that we lived on belonged to four half-breed Indians, two brothers and two sisters. Their parents were dead. Their father was a white man and their mother a full-blood Indian. One of the girls was white and beautiful and the other looked like a full blood. The boys were the same way – one white and handsome and the other very dark. Their surname was Burton and they were all fine people. The boys Mack and Loach were considered mean and feared by some but they were good to all of us and promised protection if we ever needed it.
We visited this farm last year. Most of the farm is now part of Lake Eufaula and Malette is no longer in existence. We did find one granddaughter of the younger Burton girl.
The house we moved into was more like a fortress than a dwelling house. It was built with hewn logs. The main part was 24 feet square and it was one and a half stories high with a side room all across the back. It had a front and back door, a large fireplace, but no windows downstairs. At about shoulder height, one of the logs in the wall by the front door was about a foot shorter than the others, leaving a hole to shoot through. There was a crude stairway to go upstairs, where all of us boys slept. The upstairs room was extended about two feet further out than the lower wall at the front of the house. There were holes cut in the floor to shoot through, also, but thank the Lord we didn’t have to use any of them. There were many bullets imbedded in the logs in the walls of the room. At this time the Indian Territory was a wild place to live, to say the least. To many people, killing a person didn’t seem to mean anything and a lot of it was happening most every day. The house we lived in was near a public road and directly across the road was an Indian ballpark with a high wire fence around it. They played ball often and were very rough. They used a stick with a rawhide pocket on one end to catch and throw the ball. I don’t remember what they called that stick. We would watch the games through the fence. We didn’t know the rules but at times one player would strike another with that stick and more than once we saw players killed – but they wouldn’t stop the game. Just dragged the body off the field until the game was over.
The Burton family lived a few hundred feet away from where we lived. Their house was a beautiful southern-style mansion with tree-covered grounds. They had plenty of caretakers and everything. This house was destroyed by fire a few months after we came to live there.
On the farm where we lived near Malette, some corn was raised but cotton was the main crop. Most everyone picked cotton, for that was about the only way to make a dollar there. I picked my first cotton there and I remember the first day I picked 69 pounds. No one would work on Saturday but most everyone would go to town. Father and my older brothers would go every Saturday unless the river was too high. They would go to Canadian most of the time. It was only five miles away but on the other side of the river. It seemed like every time they went to town they would tell of one or more killing. It seemed like Indian against Indian most of the time. I remember my father telling about two families that were at outs with one another and had threatened each other. There was a father with three sons in one family and a father with four sons in the other. They all met on a street in Canadian one Saturday and began shooting one another. When the shooting was over, only one of the nine was left living.
Father decided that this was no place to raise a family. There was no law and same as no school. My youngest sister was born there December 11, 1902. Father and Mother thought so much of the Burtons they named my sister Annie Burton. By this time Father was ready to move someplace but he felt embarrassed to go back to Tennessee. So soon after several letters to cousin Bob Allen in Mansfield, he decided that might be a good place to live. As soon as he could get ready, we boarded a St. Louis & Iron Mountain railroad train from Eufaula to Fort Smith, and from there to Mansfield, 30 miles south of Fort Smith, on the Frisco Railroad.
We arrived in Mansfield, Arkansas, some time in February 1903. All of us school-age children soon started to school. Mansfield was considered a coal mining town but there was some farming done also. It was located on the Rock Island and Frisco railroads. They are both closed down now. Father and my two older brothers went to work at different jobs but they wouldn’t work in the mines. About the only way I could make any money was selling empty whiskey bottles. There were three saloons in Mansfield, and a large livery stable where the men would go to drink, as it was against the law to drink in the saloons. They would throw their empty bottles where they wouldn’t break. If any whiskey was left, they would hide the bottle in a safe place! Ha! After school in the evenings I would spend most of my time hunting bottles, empty or not. I got real good at finding those that were hidden. I would always smell to see if it was soured before I poured it out. It always was. I was selling good clean bottles at one cent each, not much money but it was all clear profit – 15 to 30 cents a day. But our stay in Mansfield was very short. Father wanted to go back to Tennessee for the rest of his life (the best place in the world). So before the summer was over, we were all back in old Tennessee, ready to start all over again. Father loved that part of the country very much, but it was hard to make a living there for a large family. Well, we got a good place to live, a good house and only three miles from school. Of course, the children had to walk but it was downhill about the same both ways. So, you see, it wasn’t so bad. Some children had to walk further than that.
f you could go with the Wisdoms when we visit Wayne County each Labor Day weekend I believe you all would understand why my father did love that part of the country. It has many clear free-flowing streams and rivers. I can count 14 clear creeks, most of them with Indian names such as Sweetwater, Shawneetee and Factory. Factory Creek was named after an Indian chief. We lived on Factory Creek most of the time. It is clear, swift and beautiful. In later years they built the Natchez Trace highway through Wayne County near our old homeplace. It is one of the best-kept highways in the U.S. – no trucks, no billboards within 500 feet of the road, and you had better not pick a wildflower or drop a piece of paper, either. There are many historic markers along the road, such as the Dogwood Mud Hole where my father and hundreds of others watered their teams and wagon wheels as they traveled a ridge road to Waynesboro, the county seat.
Well, it looked like we were here to stay this time. My father was building fireplaces and other rockwork part time. He always guaranteed his fireplaces not to smoke back in the house. I remember Father building a fireplace for his brother-in-law, my uncle. He was known to be kind of tricky. It was a two-story house and the chimney was very tall. After a few weeks when my father had finished his job, my uncle told him to come back on a certain day and he would pay him. Father went back on the day set. When he arrived there, they had a fire in the fireplace and the house was full of smoke and the doors were all open. Father had never had anything like this happen before and he began to find the trouble. After some time he retrieved an old quilt that had been pushed several feet down from the top of the chimney. After that the smoke all cleared away and everything worked fine. I don’t know what all happened after that but I do know Father got paid for his work and the man that owns the place now told me last September that it was still working fine.
ow it is 1904. After school was out in early spring I had no neighbor boys my age to play with, so I spent much time playing and fishing in Factory Creek. I liked to “hog” fish and so did my father. The fish would hide under rock ledges and hollow logs. I would catch them by hand.
My uncle Marion Casteel lived a short distance up Factory Creek with his wife Nancy. They operated an old mill and ground corn and wheat for the neighbors. I spent a lot of time around the mill house. It was built where the main part extended several feet out over the millpond and watergate (not like the one in Washington, DC). The watergate was where the water from the millpond was forced into the wheel that turns the mill. It was a large, deep, clear beautiful pond built between two hills. The dam was rebuilt by my father with limestone rocks a few years earlier. My uncle had recently replaced the old wooden overshoot waterwheel with a powerful steel turbine which made the mill much faster and more powerful.
Aunt Nancy had a nice flock of geese that fed on the pond and around the mill. The floor was rough with large cracks. One day while I was playing there I noticed that if a grain of corn fell through a crack the geese would dive after it, so I got to dropping more corn and it was fun to watch but I got the wrong idea, I think.
When I would drop a grain of corn, each time I would get nearer the water gate and when they got too close the current would take them through the powerful wheel. Some of them would not come out alive. I really hate to admit this but I led the entire flock of geese through that wheel.
Ever since I can remember, father and mother taught me to be a good boy. Always tell the truth and be honest. After father heard about this he taught me there was at least one more thing I shouldn’t do to be a good boy and I think I know how those poor geese felt that went through that wheel alive. My father must have been a good teacher, for to this day I have never wanted to do that again.
he year 1905 seemed to be a busy one for the entire family. Father bought another small hill farm, about 60 acres. They didn’t measure land by sections in that part of the country at that time. It was certain points, the corner of a farm or a tree or stone or spring and other things. We had to build a house and other buildings so Father got a man to move a small sawmill onto the place to cut building lumber and it furnished work for part of us.
Even I had a job hauling sawdust in a wheelbarrow from the big saw. I guess this was my first public work. After the building was finished, then we had to move in. This put us about four miles from school, a nice walk when the weather was bad.
This land was all in woods, no open land. After the moving was all done, we had to start clearing land to farm the next spring. Of course, there was no chainsaws or heavy machinery so the clearing had to be done with crosscut saws and chopping axes.
All the timber that was suitable was made into fence rails. All the farmland had to be fenced and rails were the only fencing we had.
After all the usable timber was processed, there were still trainloads of logs left on a few acres of land. These logs would all be cut into about 8-foot lengths then when the day was near all the neighbors would be notified that there was to be a log-rolling at a certain place on a certain day. All the logs had to be piled by hand and burned. Sometimes this would last for more than one day. You wouldn’t have to give second notice. The neighbors would all be there early and every man would get a chance to test his strength to see who could lift the biggest log. All of the families would be there too, and the women would cook up enough good food to feed a small army and this would be a day to be remembered for many years, I know.
I think it’s about time to say something about my mother and her family. Mother was the daughter of Jason and Mary Woodard. She was the child of a large family, three boys and seven girls. She was born March 12, 1863.
During the Civil War, Grandfather Woodard was a farmer. They fared much better in time of the war than my father’s family did. I don’t know how they inducted men into the armed services at that time but the way I remember it some officers from the Army would come through a community and gather up all the able-bodied men of most any age. Anyway, that seemed to be the way they did it there. In that community there were about 12 families with some 16 or 17 men and boys fit for the service. When they were all together Grandfather was the oldest man in the group. The rest got together and made some kind of deal where my grandfather would stay at home and help to see after the welfare of the other families. It was a great responsibility. The nearest place to get supplies was Florence, Alabama. They had to go there for coffee, sugar, soda, salt, medicine and many other things. It was 30 miles one way and very rough roads, so rough they wouldn’t even be called roads today. Grandfather had to make arrangements for regular trips about every three weeks the year around. He knew it was going to be a dangerous mission. The Northern soldiers were robbing anything that looked like it had value. So Grandfather had to do a lot of thinking and planning. It took four days and three nights each trip. He found a place where he could stay overnight each way.
Grandfather Woodard figured out a way that he could outsmart robbers and bushwhackers. He had a small mule that was healthy and worked well, ate well, but always looked poor. He got a small bull about the same size as the mule and had a special yoke made so that he could work the mule and bull to a wagon together. He got a well-built light road wagon with a good, deep bed on it. Everyone knows that the rear wheels of a wagon are about four inches higher than the front wheels. Well, he put three of the higher wheels and one of the lower wheels on the wagon so it would look like he couldn't do any better. It must have looked awful. He never shaved or got a haircut until the war was over. He wore a wide-brim floppy hat, raggedy clothes and badly worn shoes. He used old ragged quilts and other rags to cover the goods he was hauling. He always carried extra fodder and other feed to help conceal his goods. Most of the time he would have several hundred dollars worth of goods, sometimes more, under the rags. If they had ever got wise it would have been good pickings for the robbers. Sometimes he would have one thousand dollars or more, mostly in gold. Many times he was stopped and questioned. One time four soldiers on horseback met him. One of them asked, “Old man, what have you got under them rags?” He answered, “What do you think a man like me would have?” He laughed big and said, “Nothing that anyone else would want.” Many would laugh at him, some would ask about going home with him. Well, he made it through the duration of the war without any serious trouble. I’m sure he was glad to be back home all the time where he could live a normal life without constant fear, although several of his neighbors never made it back home.
Grandfather Woodard was considered a very successful farmer and a hardheaded Republican. I have heard my mother tell about him ringing his farm bell with all his might when he got news that the Republicans had won the race for President. This was in the 1890s when this country seemed to be in as bad a shape as it is now. While he was ringing the bell the clapper fell out. He went into the house and called Mary and told her what had happened. He said something is wrong, I don’t believe we got the right news. Sure enough, the Democrats had won. Grandfather said he was glad the clapper fell out, he didn’t want to ring his bell for any Democrat.
Grandfather’s home was a well-built two-story log house built with hand-hewn yellow poplar logs. All the trimming, ceiling and flooring was hand-planed yellow poplar. It was built on a slight cliff about 100 feet from Factory Creek and you could look down on the crystal-clear water from the front porch. Beautiful! It was built the old-fashioned southern style, about 20x20 feet wide, dogtrot between. A large stone fireplace was in each downstairs room. There was a large shed room on each room and it had a 12x50-foot front porch with about waist-high hand-carved banisters all the way around. The kitchen was built about 20 feet away from the main house at the back. A large house for a large family. My family lived in this house for about two years some time later.
Grandfather owned about 400 acres of hill land covered with good chestnut and poplar timber and rich iron ore deposits. Not long before Grandfather died, when he returned home from town one day, he told Grandmother he had sold all his mineral rights and he had gotten a good price for it, all in gold coins. He had buried it in an iron pot and when they decided what to do with it, they would move it. He never told her where he hid the money or how much was involved. Grandmother never told anyone until after Grandfather died and then she tried to keep it as secret at possible. He died very sudden late one afternoon. He was speechless but did make some gestures in the direction of the barn. We never knew whether the gold was ever found or not. Several years ago, four Searcy men and I drove back over there with powerful metal detectors to search for the gold. No, we did not find it but we did find the location. It had changed. All the buildings had burned and the land had been cultivated. We did find some fragments of a broken pot but as far as I am concerned the gold rush on Factory Creek is over.
I hope no one tries to keep up with the years and dates of these writings. It might turn out like something that happened to me. Several years ago when I was operating a small sawmill I got in need of a sawyer. I advertised for a man to saw who was very experienced. A man came to see me one afternoon and said he thought he was the man I wanted. I asked him a few questions, then I asked for the names of some men he had worked for and the length of time he had worked for them. When he got through, I told him that working around a sawmill was very dangerous for an old man and I thought he was too old. According to his figures, he had been sawing for 134 years or more.
ell, by this time the Wisdom family had been referred to as the rolling stones, so I guess Father thought he had to live up to it. He sold his little 60-acre farm and rented a larger farm with lots of good corn land. I think corn had a very good market value at that time. This called for another move about 10 miles away. We were a little closer to school but it was a difficult one.
I had three neighbor boys to play with and go to school with but when not at school we had some trouble finding entertainment. We spent much time along lower Factory Creek and on high rocky bluffs. We couldn’t get enough together to play ball. We had one game that we played a lot when the leaves were on the trees. We called it Follow Me. Along the creek there were lots of small sweet gum trees about 8 or 10 inches through but very tall. We would see who could climb the highest before the top would break out, then we would hold on and come down through the limbs. We hardly ever got hurt bad enough to stop us from getting up and trying it again. I don’t know how we lived through all we did!
It wasn’t far from where we lived to Moon, Tennessee. A small store and post office combined and a large blacksmith shop nearby made a good place for men to get together to talk and tell jokes, especially on rainy days. One rainy day there was several men in the shop, which belonged to a Mr. Jess Dixon. The shop had two forges, one near each end of the shop. A man by the name of Bill Frank Hollis came in and asked Mr. Dixon if he could use the other forge at the back, which wasn’t in use. Mr. Dixon told him he could. No one paid any attention to what was going on. He put a loaded muzzle-loader gun barrel in the fire to melt the bullet out. It soon fired with a loud noise. The bullet passed through the muscle part of my brother Amos’ arm, and burned a three-inch burn on father’s neck, as they were nearby. It then went through a wall several feet away.
This was the same shop where I had my first tooth pulled. Years ago, dentists were hard to find, so the local blacksmith usually pulled teeth. I had my first tooth (outside my baby teeth) pulled by a blacksmith. I was at school one morning when I developed a bad toothache. At noon it wasn’t any better, so the teacher sent me to Mr. Dixon to have the tooth pulled. Lucky he wasn’t busy. The tooth was badly decayed and on the first try he crushed it and had to take it out in seven pieces. The sight of blood always did make him sick, so he was most all afternoon between sick spells getting it out. I got back to school just as it turned out at 4 o’clock. I don’t know what kind of tool he used, the same kind he used when shoeing a horse, I think, but I do believe that is the reason I have such a big mouth.
I wonder if most people remember some things that happened when they were young? It could be something foolish or humorous or it could be most anything.
Last fall when we were driving around through our old community in Tennessee, we passed an old house place and I thought of something that happened when I was very young that was very funny at the time. The man who lived there in a big white house at that time was a very prosperous farmer. His name was Billy Cruise and he was one of my father’s very best friends. We lived about one mile away. It was about 12 miles to West Point, Tennessee, where most people bought their supplies. People didn’t go to town very often, so when Father was going one day, he stopped by and asked Billy if he wanted anything. “Lee, I’m sure glad you stopped, we are about out of everything,” he said. “Get me 10 cents worth of coffee, 15 cents worth of sugar, 10 cents worth of sale, one gallon coal oil. I guess that’s all.” Father drove on then stopped when he heard Billy holler. “Get me a 5-cent box of soda,” Billy said. “A man has to live while he is living!”
fter we left the Cruise place, a short while down the creek we came to a big white house that has been there longer than I can remember. The man who built it lived there the rest of his life. He was from a large respected family but he was mean, stingy and dishonest all his life. He tried to beat everyone he had any dealings with and he was mean to his wife and children. You have heard of a man who didn’t have enough friends to bury him, well this was that man. We heard he had died some time after we left there. A few neighbors went to his home. His wife set a time next day for the burying – no funeral. When they arrived at the grave there was no hole dug so they had to take the body back home and hire someone from another community to dig a grave. But they did get him buried, for we visited his grave last fall. They even had a monument at the grave.
As we traveled on down Factory Creek we came to a place that made me think of my father. Wild ducks were rare on this creek. I think the current was always so swift they were afraid to light on the water, but at this point there was a big eddy. As Father was passing this spot a large flock of wild ducks lit on the water. Father went to a neighbor nearby and borrowed a shotgun but they had only one shell. Still, he wouldn’t give up. He went back and found the ducks were still there. When he shot into them on the water, he killed 13 ducks with that one shell – hard to believe, but it is the truth. If there is anyone who doesn’t believe this, I can prove it if they will go with me. I can show them the very spot where it happened!
I wonder if there are any kids who can read this scribbling of mine. In case there is, I will tell you another little hunting story, about the time me and my brother Sam went a rabity-dabskooon-skin hunting. The dogs treed a rabity-dab-skoon-skin up a great big white oak hickory log, biggest stump I ever saw. I told brother Sam, being as how he was the best climber, I guess I had better climb it myself. So up I went, down I came, all the dogs on top of me. I told brother Sam if he didn’t take the dogs off me I would get up and take them off myself. When I got home Mama told me to go out and shake enough peaches off that plum tree to make an apple pie. So, up I went, down I came straddle of the fence, both feet on the same side. There I sat all scrooched up, afraid I hadn’t hurt myself but I had stuck a knot hole in my eye.
ell, here we go again – Oklahoma bound! It was now January 1908. Father had two friends who had moved to Davis, Oklahoma. They had been writing him about what a wonderful country it was, so on January 19, 1908, we went to see. They were right. It was a great country and still is. Davis had a population of about 2,000 and last year when we were there it didn’t seem to have changed very much. It is near the Washita River (not to be confused with the Ouachita in Arkansas) and is surrounded by prairie mountains on the west and north and at that time a lot of cattle were grazing on them. There was rich farmland along the river and good cotton land all around. When we arrived at Davis we rented a house in town. Father and my older brothers all soon got jobs. My oldest sister was married then and they bought a café. The rest of us kids started to school. Davis is also on the main line double track of the Santa Fe Railroad and has many long and fast trains. From the depot you can see 13 miles south, perfectly straight. One day they stopped all the trains for a time so they could move 10,000 longhorn cattle across the tracks. I didn’t count them but it seemed like a lot more than 10,000 to me. I spent most of my spare time around the old depot and the stockyards nearby where they would load several trainloads every day. The old depot still looks just like it did 75 years ago.
Turner Falls is a beautiful waterfall a few miles across the river from Davis. At that time there was no public access to the falls. You either rode horseback or you walked. The boys and men made it a private swimming pool through the summer and we were perfectly safe without bathing suits. Now it is a noted public summer resort. Last year when we were there, there were thousands of people going and coming. It is a beautiful place. Below the falls is a large lake and the creek it forms is about one mile long. Hundreds of people were swimming, wading and playing in the swift, clear water.
hen spring came Father bought a team of beautiful large western horses with good harness, a good spring wagon with bed and spring seat and some farming tools. He rented several acres of upland for cotton. It was a nice spring and Father started farming early. Got his corn planted all in March. It was a good seasonable spring and everything grew so fast. Being from the hills of Tennessee we had never seen corn so thick and beautiful. All the family loved field corn so when it got in roasting stage we really got to eating up that corn. But it was too good to be true. After a few days the hot winds began to blow and within 10 or 12 days the whole field would have burned over like a flash. Not one ear of corn left – what a shock! Most of the corn stalks fell to the ground. The hot winds were so early we did make some cotton. The stalks were so small it was hardly worth picking but we got what there was. By this time Father had decided Davis was not the place he was looking for so he sold his team and wagon and tools for whatever he could get and began to think about a place to move. He didn’t want to take us kids out of school until the end of the first semester so he worked at what he could until that time. By then he had decided to move back to Mansfield, Arkansas. Believe it or not, I finished the 8th grade in school before we left. My brother-in-law, Hiram Brewer, and my sister May sold their café in Davis and he went to teaching school, so they didn’t have to move back to Mansfield with us. But they did follow us in a couple of years.
Mansfield had changed quite a bit in eight years. The old livery stable where I used to hunt bottles was still there but I didn’t go back into the bottle business. I started back to school, in the 9th grade. I went one day and for some reason I quit. I don’t remember why. Father and Mother wanted me to continue but some way I out talked them and got a job on a farm at $15 per month. My job was to take care of several cattle, feed, water, etc. I had to cut briars and clean fencerows. I worked there until late spring then I contracted some kind of fever. It must have been a slow fever for I was in bed for more than three months. The doctor came to see me every day for 90 days. I had to take quinine every two hours, day and night. They wouldn’t give me anything to eat, just a little broth and not much of that. I was slowly starving to death but that was the way doctors treated a fever those days. I was so poor, my hips and elbows were a solid sore. Mother sat by my bedside every night. She would sleep some through the day. She would let me keep apples in the bed. I could smell but not eat. One morning Mother had to be away from home for some reason and left my two younger sisters to watch over me. After Mother left, my sisters were eating persimmons. I was so hungry I could have eaten anything. I began to beg for one. I begged so pitifully, they finally gave me several. I had heard the doctor tell Mother that one bite of anything would kill me so that night late I caught Mother napping. I decided I wasn’t dead so I ate an apple. I ate the whole thing, seed core and all. Next day, when the doctor came he told Mother I was much better. After the doctor left I told Mother what I had done. She sent for him to come back and told him what I had done. He told her to feed me some food which she did and in a short time I was up and around and able to walk to town. I weighed less than 60 pounds so I really believe that an apple and a few persimmons saved my life.
That winter, after I got over the fever, Father rented a small hotel, about 20 rooms, and we moved into that. It furnished work for most of the family that was at home then. There were no restrooms or bathrooms nor running water in the building. Each room had a large wash bowl and large pitcher for water. It was quite a job to keep all those pitchers filled with water from a well, especially on the second floor. Then all that water had to be carried back down later and some extra, of course. There was lots of cleaning to do, beds to make, laundry and cooking, too. We had a cook named Bert Cox. He was also a professional gambler. Someone had to meet all the trains, day and night, about a block away to help the roomers carry luggage. So you see, we had plenty to do. I had met one of the best friends I ever had, Ben Bethel, who lived about three blocks away. We were together most of the day until late at night. He would help me with my work then we would rabbit hunt a lot through the winter.
Spring came, and the wild turkey season opened. We decided to go turkey hunting in the Ouachita Mountains south of Mansfield. We set a date in April. The weather was still cool so we had to pack a large bedroll and three days’ food supply. With that and our guns we had a big load for a 15-mile walk over rough hills. We left Mansfield early one morning, and arrived at our location – a small stream between two mountains – about 4 o’clock that afternoon. We were very tired but decided to walk a few miles upstream where the pine timber was larger. After a mile or two we came to a new-made grave. Animals had dug a badly decomposed head and arms of a man from the grave. I won’t try to tell you how we felt. I think we were real homesick right then. We couldn’t turn back, it was almost night. We decided to go as far as we could, as we had to get our water supply from that branch. Just about sunset we came to a good spring where we knew the water was pure. We put our guns by a big pine tree a few feet away and sat down on our bedrolls to try to get a good breath. Then we decided to get some pine knots and build a fire. As the smoke began to rise we heard a turkey put put. We made for our guns just in time to see two large turkeys fly from the tree where our guns were leaning. We tried to eat some supper but it was impossible to get our minds off that grave. You can imagine, we didn’t sleep much that night either. We got out early the next morning without seeing or hearing another turkey but we were ready to start that long hike back home. We reported the grave to the law when we got home but never heard anything more about it. We were glad we didn’t get murdered and I have never wanted to go turkey hunting again.
y friend Ben was always talking about what we wanted to do in the future. We talked of trying to be FBI agents or car tracers for the railroad company. We even talked of being hoboes but we decided a little later that wasn’t what we wanted. Ben’s father owned a good farm about a mile from town and it had a nice apple orchard on it. Ben’s sister and her family lived on it, so we spent a lot of time out there. At this time, there was a good crop of apples. Late in the summer we decided to take a load of apples to eastern Oklahoma and make some money. Ben’s father had a team of big mules and a good wagon, so we loaded several bushels of apples and started out to Howe, about 40 miles away. We were gone five days and sold about that many bushels of apples. We hauled the rest back to the farm and fed them to the hogs. Selling apples turned out about like turkey hunting, but we tried. What apples we sold, we got 50 cents per bushel for them.
One day later in the fall, Ben and I were at the depot when a long freight train stopped. It was a nice warm day, so we decided it would be a good day to start hoboing. We surely never thought about how we were dressed when we found a nice clean boxcar and loaded in. The train was west bound, a fast freight, and it soon pulled out. We hadn’t gone far until we could tell it was getting cold. Naturally, we wanted to go back home. Lucky for us there was a freight train stopped there headed east. We soon found an empty boxcar that had been loaded with grain and lined with heavy paper. We closed the doors and wrapped ourselves in paper. It was cold but we made it back to Mansfield before night. When the train stopped, we started to get off. The brakeman had locked the doors. So we began to holler and beat on the doors but no one heard us. We were afraid the train would pull out for Little Rock and we would freeze. We decided we would rather burn than freeze, so we set some paper on fire. When the train crew saw the smoke, they came and let us out. They didn’t talk very nice to us but they put the fire out and left and we left, too.
The Frisco Railroad had a short-line from Fort Smith to Mansfield, where they made two round trips each day with a short passenger train. Ben and I would visit the old fort and Judge Parker’s old court building where he had so many men hung. We would also like to go down on the Arkansas River bank and watch the boats. We could get a round trip ticket for about a dollar. They called this little train The Slicker. It seemed like it stopped at almost every house.
At one time Mansfield was without a butcher’s shop and I had to ride my bicycle to Huntington two miles away each day to get our meat supply for the hotel. One day when started back home, I had several pounds of meat, mostly steak and pork chops. Huntington is on a hill and when I started downhill with the meat and started to apply my brakes, the chain came off the sprocket. Well, it seemed like I quit riding and went to flying. It is a long hill and I rode that bicycle faster than I ever rode before or since. I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but there had to be a rock that I couldn’t miss. So that is where I made sausage out of all that meat and my hands and knees, too. I looked and felt like I had been run over by a streetcar. Of course, I had to go back and buy more meat but I also had to walk home and lead my bicycle. Well, I began to look for a job on the railroad. I tried the section foreman but he wouldn’t hire me because I wasn’t 16 years old. But I did get work for awhile at a cotton seed oil mill where they pressed seed for the oil. I worked the night shift, 12 hours each shift at 9 cents per hour. But the work wasn’t hard, oiling machinery. The biggest job was staying awake.
When I was almost 16 I went back to the section foreman to talk about a job on the railroad. He told me to come back when I was 16. I was 16 on July 4 and went to work the next day. The foreman’s name was Pat Flanagan and he was known as a hard man to work for. Before I started, he came to me and said, “Wisdom, I want you to know that we are here to work. We will be out here 11 hours each day. We will have one hour for lunch; we will work the other 10 hours. There will be no foolishness, no playing, no joke telling, no smoking while on the job. When you go to the water keg for a drink, get a drink and go back to work. When you to go the woods [rest area] don’t be gone long. But you are in luck. The company just raised the wages from 10 cents per hour to 11 cents per hour. You will be making one dollar and a dime a day.” Think about that! I was making more than $25 per month, $300 per year. We worked six days per week. The days were long and the weather was hot. We had to do everything by hand. We had to level the track by driving rocks under the crossties with a tampering pick. We called this work “riding old beck.” This was about the time they first began to use creosote cross ties. They would load the fresh-treated ties into coal cars and they had to be unloaded over the walls of the cars by hand. There was no way you could avoid being covered with creosote and many times in the hot sun you would get burned and blistered all over your arms and face. I finally got burned so badly that I had to quit work. My hands and arms were almost a solid blister. The railroad company didn’t have any hospitals then so I had to pay my own doctor bills. My sister May Brewer was visiting our home from Davis, Oklahoma, and when she went back home I went with her and stayed the rest of the fall with them. After my burn cured, I helped bale prairie hay for awhile. My brother-in-law lived at Russel school near Davis, where he taught. While I was there a gospel preacher held a meeting for several nights in the schoolhouse. My brother-in-law and I were both baptized into Christ in Wild Horse Creek, a beautiful clear stream not far away.
fter I went back home I got a job with an “extra gang” building and repairing right-of-way fence for the railroad company. We had to cook, eat and sleep in old boxcars with crude hard bunks for beds. They would set our cars out at some lonely siding as far away from town as possible. Our first location was Echo, between Mansfield and Booneville. Each man had to take turns cooking, except me. The foreman favored me in every way. I guess it was my age. It seemed like all we had to eat was rice three times a day and we had some very bad cooks. The boss hired a new man one day and told him he would have to do the cooking next day. He said he didn’t know how to cook, so the boss said “Learn!” The next day,
the man had tried to cook five pounds of rice. When we came in for lunch he had rice in everything. There must have been 10 gallons of it.
Well we rebuilt and repaired all the fence between Mansfield and Booneville. Our next move was to Limestone Prairie, a few miles west of McAlester, Oklahoma. The weather was very hot and dry. There was supposed to be a good spring there where we would get our drinking water. There was only one house in sight, about a quarter-mile away. The people who lived there told us where the spring was supposed to be but it wasn’t there and they wouldn’t sell us a keg of water. By then it was late in the afternoon and our water supply was about gone. Our boss said we would have to take the handcar and go to McAlester and get some water. When we got there we found that water there was almost as scarce as it was on the prairie. No city water but we finally found a man who sold us two kegs of water from a well, but told us not to come back. The boss went to the depot and ordered a tank car of water to be delivered by the next train. We got the water and a large cake of ice early next morning, so were ready to go to work. The ground was so dry and hard you had to have a pick, a shovel, post hole digger and a keg of water and plenty of time to dig a post hole. Our boss was a nice fellow. He never rushed us. We worked there until our tank of water was gone several weeks later. The company discontinued the job and we all went home.
have read and heard so much on TV about Halley’s Comet I might as well tell you what I remember about it. I know everyone didn’t have a chance to see it in 1910 as I did. I remember in 1910 there was much more said about it [than when it returned in 1995]. Many people were plain scared and no one felt good about it. On a certain day when the comet’s tail was to touch the earth, many people thought it might be the end of time. I remember where I was on that day. I was working with the fencing gang for the Rock Island Railroad Company. Our boarding cars were set on a side track just a few feet from where the trains passed at Echo, just west of Booneville.
Our sleeping car had double deck beds, upper and lower. The boss had hired a man the day before. He was sleeping on the upper bunk. We all sat up late and talked that night about how it might be the last night on earth. When we went to bed most of us went right to sleep but when the first freight train came by, this poor man thought that was it. He almost tore the roof off that car with his head.
Morning came, we cooked and ate breakfast but no one was talking much. The sun wasn’t shining bright. It was smoky like when we met at the tool house to start to work. The boss hung his head down and said, “Men, this is a sad day. I feel like this is our last day on earth.” Then he began to laugh and talk about something else. We all felt better.
On November 17, 1985, when the University of Arkansas gave a reception in honor of all of us who saw Halley’s Comet in 1910, Peggy and I attended and it was very enjoyable. There was a large number of us there from several states. Several told it how it looked to them at that time. After the reception we attended a show in the planetarium, where they showed us the universe and all the planets. It was beautiful.
hen I got back home it was cotton-ginning time and I soon went back to work at the oil mill and worked there until some time after Christmas. There wasn’t much work around Mansfield at that time. I had a friend who had moved to Stigler, Oklahoma, and I decided I would go out there. I told Father and Mother what I had in mind. They said they wouldn’t stop me but they would rather I not go, but I went anyway. That was really the first time I had left home to work. It was only about 65 miles away but seemed farther. I got a train ticket and left on the morning “Slicker.” I had to change trains in Fort Smith and wait about three hours for a train to Stigler. I arrived there late in the afternoon. I had spent a little money in Fort Smith that I hadn’t planned on, so when I counted my money I had exactly $1 for a room and 25 cents for supper. Next morning, I spent 25 cents for breakfast. I had 15 cents left to spend any way I wanted to. Then I started out to try to find work. I asked everyone I met about work. Some would laugh at me and would say there was no work around, but I kept trying. There were four or five men standing on the street, and I asked them about a job. One of the men said he wanted a yard fence built and asked if I could build a straight fence. I told him my trade was fence building and I would guarantee my work. He lived only a few blocks away, so we walked there. He showed me what he wanted done, saying he would give me $8 and furnish everything for the job. I told him I would start to work as soon as he got the material there. I was at work in an hour or two. I went to the hotel manager and he said I could stay there and pay when my job was finished. It lasted two more days. When the man paid me he said I had done such a good job he paid me $10 instead of $8. After spending a day or two with my friend I went back hunting for work. I had never begged for something to eat, but it seemed like I was going to have to.
Next day, I was on the street asking most everyone I met about work. I went into a bank and asked several men in there. One of the bankers said he had a farm several miles out where he needed a hand for about one month. He said he would give me $30 and board if I would work a month for him. He also said the people where I would stay were real fine folks but they wouldn’t have much to eat. “Oh,” he said, “they will have plenty of what they do have but we had a bad drouth the year before and they didn’t have many kinds of food.” I told him that was just what I was looking for. He drove me out to the farm with a horse and buggy late that afternoon. I met the fine young couple with one small boy. The man’s name was Vass Roye. I don’t remember his wife’s name. They were some of the finest people I ever met. We went out to the barn where he showed me a pair of fine large mules. He asked me if I had ever plowed any. I told him I hadn’t but I thought I could. Well, he said, “That is what you will be doing for the next few days, plowing with them mules.” When morning came we went to the barn. He had to show me how to harness the mules and hitch them to the plow. He got me started then he left me with it. The ground was rough with plenty of stumps and roots. I made it through the day but the man laughed at what I had done. Said it was all right but I would get better. I was so tired and sore I could hardly walk. After supper, I went to bed early but I was so tired I could hardly sleep. I was also homesick. I was dreading for morning to come, but when I looked out the window next morning, I saw a beautiful sight – about four inches of snow covered the ground. Well, I worked around the farm, hauled wood and other jobs until the snow melted off. After that I made it fine for the rest of the month. The banker who hired me was right in everything he told me. About all we had to eat was sorghum molasses and cornbread three times a day, but I didn’t miss a meal and the folks were nice. I soon got over being homesick and the time passed real fast. While I was staying there they had a baby boy born and they named him Walter Marion. Two years ago, when we visited Stigler, Vass and his wife were both dead but Walter Marion still lived there. He was out of town and I didn’t get to see him, but did get to see one of his boys.
When I left the Royes’ farm, which was a sad parting, I went to Stigler and collected my $30 from the banker. He thanked me and told me I had gone a good job. I bought a bicycle with part of the money so I would have a way to get around. I soon got a job on another farm right in the edge of town at the same price, board also. The farmer's name was Richardson. He had a wife and two girls and two boys. The oldest boy was 16. We got along fine and ran around together a lot. Their house was about one block from the city water tower, a very tall one. We played on that quite a bit. We got us some strong field glasses and we could see some good shows on Sundays and other times too. I worked for this man for two months then I got a job at a nursery and stayed with them. They were a very fine family and we all had a good time together. He had several kinfolk in Arkansas, at Alma east of Fort Smith, and he planned on visiting them by wagon. We planned on leaving at the same time when I went home (and we did). They had two covered wagons and I rode my bicycle along. Sometimes I would ride several miles ahead then stop and wait for them to catch up. We camped one night on the road between Stigler and Fort Smith. When we got to downtown Fort Smith, we parted. I put my bicycle on the train and went home to Mansfield. I never saw or heard of the Richardsons again. When I got home I was really surprised that all my folks knew me. It seemed like I had been gone most of my life. Things hadn’t changed much in six months. My friend Ben and I had a lot of catching up to do on our talking and being together. My brother-in-law and sister had moved from Oklahoma to Mansfield and bought a house there.
After a few days I began to think about work. I had a brother working for the railroad company as a news agent or “News Butch.” It was really just a little store. My brother got me a job on a train that made a round trip to Little Rock and back each day from Mansfield and I would be home every night. You couldn’t beat that. We carried two large lockers filled with all kinds of things such as peanuts, candy, Cracker Jacks, chewing gum, tobacco of all kinds – Bull Durham, Prince Albert and many others – cigars, cigarettes, books, magazines, and all daily papers, drinking cups, playing cards, all kinds of cold drinks, several baskets of fresh fruit and many other things. Most all trains had one car for colored people next to the engine. The next one was a smoking car, then several day coaches and Pullman cars. The company would furnish us space in one end of the smoking car to display our goods. We would really have a neat little store. We had fancy wicker baskets with handles. We would fill them with fruit and other things then we would go through the cars and contact every passenger on the train. We would usually take the latest paper first then follow with peanuts and candy, then with cold drinks. The trains were usually crowded those days and I have worked for hours before I would get through the train and many passengers would make it to the store on their own and wait on themselves. I loved the work from the first trip. We worked on commission all the way but if you worked hard and were a good talker you could make good money. Everyone rode the trains those days. I learned fast. We wore a blue serge uniform with brass buttons and hard caps; also white shirts with hard collar just like the conductors. You had to be neat. It was much different from the work I had been doing. It was like being in a new world each day. I made friends with the entire train crew, even the cooks, when I was on a train that had a dining car. One of the best friends I ever had was a Negro porter. He was a big, 225-pound fellow who was always polite. He would never go through the white folk’s car without removing his cap but he wasn’t afraid of any man. His name was Arthur Warren. All kinds of people rode the trains those days – outlaws, drunks and all. Arthur told me not to take anything off anyone, black or white. If they tried to give trouble, just get word to him. I did have to call on him a few times and he was always right there. He hardly ever had to touch anyone.
Some salesmen and others rode the train daily but there were also many strangers, which made each day interesting and different. The longer I worked the better I liked it. There were so many different kinds of people to deal with, but I got along well with most of them. However, one day I thought I might be in real trouble. We were on our return trip from Little Rock to Mansfield. The train stopped at Perryville and when it started to pull out, a young man rushed up the steps with a small handbag. I was standing on the platform. The fellow pushed that bag right into my stomach and said, “What are you doing on here?” Before I had time to think I grabbed the bag with my left hand and hit him under the chin with my right. He lost his balance and fell backward off the train. I was afraid I had killed him but he fell into some weeds and got up and tried to catch the train. When I saw he wasn’t hurt I was afraid he would kill me when he saw me again. His name and address were on the bag. He lived at Adona, the next stop. I left the bag with the depot agent there but I was afraid he would be waiting for me the next morning. Arthur told me not to worry. He told me not to get off the train until he let all the passengers off and he would be there (and he was). When I saw the man, he was all smiles. We had a good laugh, shook hands and were friends from then on.
At that time it was against the law to sell cigarette papers in Arkansas. Then people began to ask me for cigarette papers. I didn’t have any. They said the man before me sold them. The train conductor was my boss so I asked him about it. He told me it was all right with him but if I got caught I would have to pay a fine. His name was Blondy Moore. A tall, handsome blond. A real nice man. Well, I had cigarette papers from then on. Anyone didn’t mind paying 10 cents per book. They cost me 85 cents per 100 books. Well, I made pretty good on that deal and never got caught.
imagine some of the people I know wonder why the Wisdom family ever moved to McRae and White County, Arkansas. I will try to tell you. When a man named Gulie moved his family from McRae to Mansfield, they moved in near us and we became good friends. When my brother-in-law Hiram Brewer learned that Mr. Gulie still owned an 80-acre farm in the Lebanon neighborhood south of McRae, he traded his house in Mansfield for that farm sight unseen, and soon moved his family there. They began to write back, telling what a wonderful place it was and the people were all wonderful, too. My father hadn’t moved for some time so he soon followed the Brewers and found the place he had been looking for most of his life. At one time later my entire family lived in White County. My father lived here the rest of his life, about 30 years, and never wanted to live anywhere else. It is still the best place in the world to live. But I didn’t move to McRae until two years after the others. I kept my job on the train after my folks moved away. I slept on the train at night as some of the other crew did. You could turn two seats facing one another and make a very comfortable bed with a pillow and a couple of blankets. At one time I was very superstitious but not any more. On January 13, 1913, we left Mansfield on time. The engine that pulled the train was 1313. Everyone who knew him called the engineer Devil and he called everyone “Devil” that he spoke to. If it was a man, he called him Devil or Mr. Devil. If it was a woman she was called Mrs. Devil. He called me Young Devil. Kids were called Little Devils. Otherwise he was a nice fellow and well liked by most everyone. Sometimes I would ride in the cab with him from one station to another. The track was so rough and the engine rocked so I couldn’t see how it could stay on the track but it was a great thrill to me. Sometimes he would let me pull the throttle a little and that was a greater thrill. On this day everything went well until we came near Natural Steps, a small station on the bank of the Arkansas River. It had been raining a lot. A bridge fell while a freight train was crossing it. The engine and several cars made it across before the train broke. But that was before air brakes and several boxcars went into the water. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident but it was a long delay.
We had to stay there 24 hours from the time we left Mansfield then the train was annulled. They sent an engine from Booneville the next morning and pulled the train backward to Mansfield. There were several passengers on the train with no place to get anything to eat. Needless to say, I had nothing left in my store that anyone could eat. The weather was cold and the fireman barely had enough coal and water to keep steam for heat but most everyone made it pretty good. We were all tired, sleepy and hungry when we got back.
As I have said before, every day was different. New people and new friends. Often now I think of some person or something that happened when I was working. I remember one passenger who rode the train several times against his will. He was a prisoner and was always handcuffed and led by an armed officer. He was accused of murdering his sweetheart and throwing her body into an old well. They rode from Perryville to Little Rock. He was placed in jail in Little Rock for safekeeping but taken to Perry County for trial. They made several trips over a few months. I talked to him quite a bit. He wanted to talk but he was always crying and always denied killing the girl. Once, when they were taking him back to Little Rock, he asked to go to the toilet. The sheriff unlocked one hand and stood outside the door. The prisoner opened the window and let himself out feet first, as the train was moving and briefly escaped. It didn’t hurt him very bad and they soon caught him and had him on the train the next day. I talked to him as much as I could until they took him away. I never saw him again. He told me he wished the fall from the train had killed him. The court convicted him of first degree murder. He was sentenced to die and became the last man to be hanged legally in Arkansas. His name was Arthur Tillman. He was 21 and a real nice-looking man. I think it was 1914. A few years later Arthur’s father, who was dying, confessed to killing the girl to keep Arthur from marrying her.
Oh yes, I did have some girl friends at some of the towns. There was a real pretty girl who lived at Danville and rode the train often. I began to like her very much. We were not supposed to sit by any passenger and talk but I began to look forward to seeing her and would sit by her and talk. One day the conductor caught me and called me up on the carpet but I convinced him she was my cousin, so everything was all right until he caught me talking to another pretty girl. I told him she was another cousin. He said I had too many cousins and would have to quit sitting by anyone. He was nice about it but I didn’t let him catch me again. There was another real pretty blonde who lived at Berta, a little town near Ola. Her name was Ethel Frost. She didn’t ride the train very often but I met her at the depot. She would meet the train every day as most everyone else did. We didn’t have much time to talk so we got to exchanging notes each day. This went on for some time and the notes got a little sweeter all along. One morning, her father met the train and gave me her note written in his own hand. I was glad the train pulled out real soon. When I read the note, I didn’t like it at all. He didn’t write near as sweet a note as she did and I never did like Ethel as well as I did before. And you know what? I never did answer his note. Not long after that my company boss told me that I had made a very good salesman and if I would move to Little Rock he would put me on a better train where I could make more money. Not long after that I moved from Mansfield and never saw any of my girl friends again. I also had to tell my good friend Ben Bethel goodbye. He went to eastern Oklahoma, married and raised a family. I never heard any more about him for more than 50 years. When I did, I learned he had been dead for 30 years and his wife was dead, also. Two years ago Peggy and I hunted their children up in the Kiamichi Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma. There are three boys and two girls living near one another. They are in the mill and timber business. They are all fine Christian folks and we really enjoyed meeting and visiting them.
After I moved to Little Rock I didn’t have a regular train to work on for some time. I might go to Oklahoma City or Memphis, New Orleans, El Dorado, Lake City or some other place; it didn’t make much difference. Most trains were crowded. I got to know most of the train crews and they were all real nice to me. However, there was one conductor who wasn’t honest. His name was Smokey Dunn. He was a big, dark-complected man who looked like an Indian. He was nice to me but he also used me. At that time you didn’t have to have a ticket to get on a train; you could pay cash fare. I was supposed to do anything the conductor told me to do. Sometimes when the train was crowded he would have me stand in the door and watch for special agents that might come from another car while he was taking cash fares and putting a large part of it into his pocket. Well, he got by with that but I guess he thought he could get by with anything. He and the express agent in the express car made a deal to fake a robbery of a large sum of cash that was being sent from El Dorado to Little Rock. Each express car had at least one large locker with a heavy lock for money and valuable packages. The conductor’s part was to take the cash from the locker and lock the agent in the locker. This was the agent’s story: When the train left Bauxite as it was getting dark late that afternoon, a man hung on the express car door, broke out the glass with a pistol and ordered the agent to open the door. The man locked the agent in the box, got the money and supposedly got off at Bryant, the next-to-last stop before Little Rock. When we got to Little Rock the express car door was closed. The conductor went in through another door and found the agent locked up, beating on the box and yelling to get out. When he got out, he seemed all shook up. Then he told his story, which sounded like a perfect robbery but it wasn’t.
Everything seemed normal for the next two or three weeks, then one evening when we arrived in Little Rock from El Dorado there were several railroad detectives and local law officers waiting to meet the train. They got the conductor and the express agent together and asked the agent to repeat his story, how the robber got into the express car. After he told them how the robber hung on the door and broke the glass out with a pistol, they asked him how come all the glass fell on the outside. Then they displayed the almost-perfect pane of glass from the door, glued on a board. They had taken any glass that remained in the door then hired a crew of men to hunt and pick up glass until they got the pane almost complete. After they saw the glass and were asked a few more questions, they both confessed to the crime and told the true story. They were arrested and taken to jail and later sentenced to prison. When I saw Smokey a few years later, he was a raggedy hobo. I never did see the agent again. Crime didn’t pay then and it doesn’t pay now.
I continued to enjoy my work and get to go places I had never been before. I visited my family at McRae often as I had a pass to ride any train when I had a chance to go. My brother-in-law was teaching school at Lebanon and when I visited there I met the girl that I would later marry, a beautiful brunette named Clara Hale. After that, I visited my family more often, of course. I had more reasons to go back and each time I went I wanted to stay longer.
From that time on, my work never seemed the same. Of course, I still loved my work and had the opportunity to see things that I still think about often. There was a little train that went to Russellville each evening and back the next morning. I made one trip on which we got to Russellville about 8 o’clock at night. I walked up on Main Street and found a mob of men gathered there. They had just hanged a Negro man and left his body hanging from a pole there on the street. They said he had killed a white girl. I never want to see anything like that again.
Every day was different. That was before automobiles and airplanes and most everyone had to ride trains. Booker T. Washington rode the train that I was on at different times. He was very important at that time. At times, I was on the train that pulled the U.S. Presidential special car.
Almost every day, our train would kill a cow or horse. Sometimes the engineer would stop if he could see them in time. Wrecks were frequent but we never turned over. When a person was killed on the track, I never saw an engineer fail to cry.
Well, by this time I knew I was in love. Every time I went home to see my folks and girlfriend, I didn’t want to go back to work. Finally, I quit my job and moved to McRae. It was a hard decision but they say that love always wins.
t home with my family in the Lebanon community there was very little public work. There was some work like cutting timber and making crossties with a broad axe. I hadn’t saved much money while working in Little Rock and I spent most of that on a pretty horse with a fancy new rubber-tired buggy with a reversible top.
I hadn’t done any real hard work for some time, so what I found was a little rough but I had to do it. I lived with my family that winter. I helped Father clear land and cut and sell some logs. I made 100 cross ties for myself that winter. Those days, when you sold ties to the railroad company you had to haul and stack them on the right-of-way through the winter and they would inspect them some time through the summer and pay you 25 cents each for the ones they accepted. The next spring I decided to do a little farming. I rented four acres of good land for cotton. I worked at that some and worked out some. Later in the spring, Clara and I were engaged to be married September 1. I got my ties inspected late in July. I got a check for $18 some time later for the 100 ties. They culled 28 of the 100. I spent $2 for a marriage license and we did get married September 1, 1915. I made three bales of cotton that fall. Clara helped me pick it. I don’t remember the price of cotton but when I sold it and paid a note of $25 I had made enough to buy horse feed. We bought some furniture and moved to Beebe. We had to pay $5 per month rent for a good four-room house. I got a job with my brother-in-law Baxter Hale loading cottonseed from the seed house by the railroad sidetrack into boxcars. We worked for so much per ton and made very good money, but I had a dust chill every night. The work was very hard. Using a large seed fork, one of us had to shovel the seed from the seed house into the boxcar several feet away. The other had to shovel the seed to both ends of the car. The job lasted until cotton picking was over, which was about Christmas.
After that job was over we moved into a small house in McRae and I went to timberwork. My brother-in-law had a contract with the U.S. Government to furnish hickory timber, which was made into spokes for truck and artillery wheels. When he had to go into the armed service, he turned the contract over to me and it lasted until the end of the war. I was one of the lucky ones. The war ended five days before I was to go into service.
n 1918 there were many more people living in the country around McRae than there are now, especially south to Vinity. They had begun to raise strawberries all around and there was lots of timber work. It was very thickly settled everywhere. The only way we had to travel was by horse-drawn wagons or horse and buggies.
Not long after we moved to McRae, the man who owned our house wanted to tear it down and build a new one. The only house we could find was in very bad condition. The roof wasn’t too bad, although snow would blow in on the ceiling and melt and leak later. It did snow a lot that winter and stayed on the ground about eight weeks. Some of the time it was three feet deep.
The way I remember this big snow, I think it must have come four or five big snows within two or three weeks times, one on top of the other, without melting. But the way it fell, it gave the people a chance to start using the road before the snow got deep. There was so much traffic, we kept the main roads beat down all the way through. Some places, the roads wore through the ice to the dirt and got real dusty before March.
People had to go to town for supplies. Some hauled wood along and some went because they didn’t have anything else to do. Some of us learned to do things we didn’t know we could do. I had a contract with the U.S. government for hickory smoke timber and there was a time limit, but there was little I could do but I kept trying. I built a large wooden sled to use for a team to pull. It worked all right, but when we started to cut timber, the snow as too deep and left too much timber in the stumps, so I had to give up on that until the ice melted.
There was lots of sickness and deaths in 1918 and that caused a big problem with funerals and burials. Some didn’t even have funerals and when all of the ice and snow finally melted, we didn’t have any roads left, just an endless mudhole. Some of the roadway was so bad they were almost impassable for several days. During this time many wild birds and small animals either froze or starved to death. All in all, it was a bad time for man and beast.
he house did have some modern conveniences. When Clara swept the floors, she didn’t need a dustpan. She could sweep the dirt through the cracks in the floor. We also fed our chickens through the cracks. They had to stay under the house while the ground was covered with snow. I had brought a team of mules to use in the woods. I kept them in a barn about a block away. They had to stay there several weeks. I had to shovel a path through the snow from the house to the barn so I could go to feed and water them. I had to do the same thing in another direction to the woods about the same distance, but I had to have my path wide enough for a large wheelbarrow so I could haul wood to the house. I had to cut enough each day to heat and cook with. Our first baby, Aubry Dean, was born while we lived there and she soon learned to feed the chickens through the cracks in the floor. After we moved into our new house later, she thought we should have left some cracks in the floor.
After the snow and ice all melted off in the spring of 1918 I went back to timberwork. A veneer mill had moved to McRae and that made the timber business real good. I built a nice four-room house in the Chumley addition of McRae that year. I also bought the first truck in White County. It was a Maxwell 1 ½ - ton truck. It didn’t have a cab, just a seat and windshield, and of course it was “air conditioned.” It had solid tires, which made it very easy to get stuck. It cost me a little more than $800. I had to order a two-wheel neighbors trailer from Mansfield, La., and I had to wait until they made it. It was number 22. They have made thousands since then. It was just a straight axle with two wooden spoke wheels with wooden bunk. A long metal coupling pole, no springs. The truck did have a bed on it, which could be taken off by removing four bolts. Our roads were so bad, the truck didn’t prove too successful for hauling logs. After my contract was over with the government, I soon began to use it for other things such as moving people, fishing trips and many other things.
There was a flour mill at Lonoke at that time. I had a neighbor, W.T. Potter, who had several bushels of wheat that he wanted me to haul there to be made into flour. We got everything ready and left early one morning expecting to return that afternoon. The roads were all dirt, no gravel. We were going pretty good about six miles from Lonoke, after we had got on the prairie we came to a large mudhole. No way around. Well, I tried to make it, but I didn’t. We were really stuck. We worked all afternoon trying to get out. There was a house not far away where we got some poles and blocks of wood to try to pry the truck up, but no good. There was no one who came by that evening. The man that lived nearby was working away from home, but when he came home late, he let us eat and sleep there. The next morning, we got out early and worked all day with the same results. By the third day, I contacted a man a few miles away who had a large team and he got us out in time to get home that night.
I had several different experiences while I owned the truck. Someone or a bunch always wanted to go somewhere. I made one trip to Camp Pike with relatives who had servicemen camped there. We had to go by Lonoke to get to Little Rock then. I made several trips to White River bottoms with weekend hunting parties and fishing parties. We would go on camping trips or just go. I could drive downtown late any evening and get a load to go somewhere. If we didn’t have something planned we would just drive around and talk and sing and have a good time… I had a friend Bill Booth who bought a truck just like mine only it had a detachable cab with top. Bill didn’t use his truck much and I got to borrowing the cab as it fit my truck and was very easily exchanged. I liked it very much; it was a great improvement. I finally bought the cab from Bill. One day I forgot the cab was on my truck and drove into a garage downtown with a low door and left all the pieces outside. Not long after that the fun ended. When I was going home one night the truck stalled on the tracks in front of a fast train. I went out over the windshield seconds before the train struck and demolished the whole thing. It was scattered over a wide area. People all around but no one was hurt, except I got a sprained ankle.
he old truck is gone but there was one more trip I made while I had the truck that I want to tell you about. There were several men living in McRae who loved to hunt ducks and squirrels. They were all good sportsmen. Seven of these men made plans to spend at least one week early in November on White River with their wives. The party was made up as named – Joe Tom Lyons, Ted Lyons, Manley Birdsong, W.A. Birdsong, Bill Drake Sr., Bill Drake Jr. and Raymond Bond and all their wives along with myself and my wife Clara. The weather was perfect, there were plenty of squirrels, ducks and other game and there was no bag limit on anything (that was living). Most of us men would leave camp before daylight and return as we got ready. There were several team lumber mills and cotton gins all around. One morning all of the men were in the woods. It was a beautiful cool, clear morning and by good daylight there were gunshots in all directions. There were three steam mills at Georgetown, a few miles away. A few minutes before sunup all three mills began to blow their whistles almost at the same time and soon you could hear whistles at Gregory, West Point, Augusta, Judsonia, Searcy and other places and didn’t stop. There was just one answer – World War I was over!
The woods were full of hunters and by sunup I think everyone knew what was going on. There were thousands and thousands of gunshots in all directions. I guess every hunter shot every shell he had. We did and that was more than one thousand. I guess that was the greatest thrill of my life. After we had shot all our bullets we were all hollering or trying to make some kind of noise. We were all back in camp soon. The women soon had a good breakfast ready. After breakfast we loaded up and started home. The log was so rough I couldn’t drive fast. Most of the men walked along with the truck. On the way out of the woods a squirrel ran across the road. No one had a bullet left to shoot it so the men were all making so much noise and running after it. The poor squirrel was scared so bad it couldn’t climb a tree and stopped on a tree just above the ground. Someone caught it with his hands. On our way home every person we met seemed to be happy. After we got to McRae I had three large farm bells. I mounted them on the back of the truck and got three men to ring them and drove to Beebe and all around. Everyone was happy.
want to back up a little … When we lived in Tennessee in the late 1800s there was only one black family in that part of the country and they lived several miles from us. They were well known and loved by most everyone.
They were a humble old couple of ex-slaves. He was called Uncle Jake and she was called Aunt Liza.
My father met up with Uncle Jake one day after they hadn’t seen one another for some time. After a happy greeting by both, Father asked him what he was doing now (at that time he was about 75 years old). “Well,” he said, “Uncle Lee, I’m not doing anything much. Preachin’ a little when I can get over to Pinkney” (a small mining town).
Father asked, “Do they pay you pretty good?” He said, “No, sir, Uncle Lee, they feed me while I’m there, they give me a little chewing tobacco and things like that.” Father said, “That’s mighty poor pay for preaching, isn’t it?” Uncle Jake said, “Yes, Uncle Lee, but they hear some mighty poor preaching too.”
Father asked, “How has your health been?” “Well, sir,” he said, “my health hasn’t been too bad but there is one thing I want to tell you. I have noticed all my life, if I have good health and live ‘til March 1 I am almost sure to live another year.” Father would always have a hearty laugh after telling that.
I have thought about that many times and have decided it has worked that way for me, only I’m talking about July 4. It didn’t work long for Uncle Jake after he talked to Father. We heard he died not too long after that. And I know it can’t work out much longer for me but I don’t know the Lord’s will and I will just have to wait and see. Well, here it is, July 4, and I am 91 today so it did work one more time. I want to thank God for such men as Dr. Blount and the wisdom God gave him to study and experiment and anything it takes to come up with a cure for the worst crippling disease ever known to man. If it hadn’t been for him, I certainly would not be writing this. A little more than two years ago I had arthritis so bad I almost gave up. I couldn’t raise my arms above my head. My fingers were so stiff I couldn’t hold a pen at all. I read in the Beebe News about Dr. Blount’s treatment for arthritis. I lost no time in getting started on the six-week treatment. I finished my treatment while my second wife Peggy and I were on an eight-day cruise around the Hawaiian Islands. I walked many miles and we had a wonderful time. We spent eight days in Israel last year and you can’t go where we did if you have much arthritis. I can scratch the back of my neck now. I work every day and sleep like a healthy baby. I do have stiff knees and fingers but the pain is gone. I call it a miracle. I didn’t mean to say so much about this but I would like to say more. I wish I could tell everyone. This is not a paid advertisement. It is all from my heart.
arly in the fall of 1919 a man came along and wanted to buy our home in McRae. He offered us $1,600 cash for our new house and four lots with a good barn. We talked it over and decided that it was too good to miss, so we sold out. (The house is still standing in good repair.) We couldn’t find a house to live in so we decided to buy a camping outfit and spend the rest of the fall and winter on White River. We found a place to store our household and I bought a large army surplus tent and everything else we needed for camping. Clara loved to camp as much as I did. Our little Aubrey Dean was just beginning to walk and talk good. We hired Clara’s brother, Luther Hale, to haul us to White River in a wagon pulled by four large mules. It was a rainy fall and there were no gravel roads, so that gumbo mud was really bad. We unloaded and pitched our tent on the highest ground we could find at the mouth of Cullunes Slough. There were several houseboats along the river. The river traffic was heavy. Log barges and other boats were plentiful. Moonshiners were no secret; they were all hunting customers. We had plenty of squirrels, rabbits, ducks and fish to eat and we gathered several hundred pounds of nuts, which were plentiful if you could beat the wild hogs to them. (Now I call that living at the very best.) We stayed there three weeks. It continued to rain and the river continued to rise until the water was within a few feet of our tent. We were to write Clara’s brother when we wanted to go home, but we waited too long. We didn’t realize the road around Barbers Lake was covered with several feet of water. I got a man to haul us to Georgetown in a wagon and the depot agent at the M&A Railroad station let us load all our junk in the baggage car and go to Kensett by train. There were several miles of track under water and we didn’t know whether we would make it or not. But we did and I think it was all fun.
After our interrupted camping trip, we still couldn’t find a house to live in back in McRae, but there was a small café for sale, so we bought that and moved in. About this time the strawberry business began to thrive in White County. The market was good and the growers began to make money and the farmers began to clear more land and set larger acreage. I thought this was my chance to get rich with the rest of the growers, so I began to look for a small farm that I could buy. I soon found the perfect place: 40 acres with a good house and barn and 4 acres of berries already growing. It was in the Lebanon community right where we wanted to be. I bought it for $4,000, paying the $1,600 from our house sale down on it and making a note for the balance. We sold the café and soon moved into the house. We were really glad to be back in Lebanon. It was one of the finest places in the world to live. It was thickly settled with dozens of the finest families that could be. I can’t think of one person still living that was married when we moved there – except my sister May Brewer. The Lebanon school was considered one of the best rural schools in White County. The large one-room house was located a mile south of Lebanon Church. A few years later, the district bought two acres of land from Lewis Gammill, one mile west of the old house near the center of the district, and built a new house, much larger than the old one. The school had two teachers until it was consolidated with McRae.
I was secretary of the School Board for two terms in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. Othar Hale and Luther McDonald were also on the board. Teachers I remember were Hiram Brewer and Marion Dickey, who taught at the old house, and Macil Ervin, Pinter Price and his wife Valerie, who taught at the new one. There were others that I can’t remember. We paid the teachers $25 per month. It was during the Depression days.
After we got settled down in our new home I bought a team of mules and a wagon and some farming tools, getting ready for a big year ahead. Our second child, Demeague, was born soon after we moved in. When spring came I set three or four acres of strawberries, planted five acres of cotton and a few acres of corn. When berry season came on we had a very good crop and the prices were good. Everyone made money. We were well on our way to being rich. When cotton-picking time came, my cotton was beautiful but the selling price was about 5 cents per pound. Not worth picking. At this time crossties were about one dollar each delivered in McRae. They had a buyer there who would pay you on delivery. I knew I could earn much more making ties than I could picking cotton, so I bought a small tract of timber on Bull Creek about two miles away and started to market ties. I would leave home early in the morning and drive to the woods. I would work as long as I could and load the ties and drive to McRae, about four miles away. I had to chop my trees down with an axe and saw my own timber. I would make from 12 to 15 ties each day, so you can see I was making very good money. I worked all the fall and most of the winter. Early in the spring I plowed the cotton under so I could get the ground ready to set berry plants. I set enough plants to make 20 acres in all. No more cotton.
By the time we got all the berry plants set it was almost time to start picking. We had a very good crop that spring and the price was very good. Everyone was making money. When the picking was over I began to hire help to work the berries. It takes lots of help and money to work 20 acres of berries. I didn’t pay anything on my land note that spring, just the interest. I was going to pay it all next spring. I built some camp houses and one four-room house that fall to help house berry pickers the following spring. When growing season was over that fall I had 20 acres of strawberries as fine as you could find. I worked in the timber some that winter, making ties, but when spring began to show I began to prepare for pickers. I had to get ready for about 100 pickers. We had bought some army tents to help out and when the time came we hired a cook. We intended to board about 20 people. I bought 5,000 berry crates and stored them in the barn to be ready when we needed them. Just before time to start picking, Mr. Tom Leggett from Bald Knob, the man that I owed on the farm, came down to see my berries. After we looked them over he told me he would give me my note (which was about $2,500) and $3,000 in cash for my berries. I just laughed. About the time the berries began to ripen it began to rain. It rained every day and night for several days. We picked a few crates between the showers and shipped them. They brought a very good price but the berries had begun to rot in the field, green ones and all. The next picking we got about 75 crates. When we got the returns for them we 22 cents per 24-quart crates. Well, that was just about the end of everything. But I couldn’t quit. I had a wife and three children. Frieda had been born into the family by then.
After we got the returns on the berries Clara and I didn’t get much sleep that night. We decided the best thing I could do was go to Little Rock and try to get work on trains again. It was such a shock to feel almost rich one week and have less than nothing next week. Next morning I went to McRae and caught a freight train to Bald Knob to see Mr. Leggett. I told him I wanted to make a deed back to him for the farm. He wanted me to stay on and he would help me in any way he could but I was through and had him make a deed. I signed it and he gave me a dollar to ride the passenger train home. When Clara signed the deed, we mailed it back to him and that was the end of a perfect day.
Next day, I went to Little Rock. I learned that my boss on the Rock Island was working now for the Missouri Pacific at the Union Station. I went to see him at once. He seemed glad to see me and said I could go to work next day on the Sunshine Special. It ran from New Orleans to Kansas City but he said I could turn back at Coffeyville, Kansas. I would catch the next train back then I would be away from home only one night at a time. My boss asked if I had a uniform. I didn’t, and didn’t have any money either. He gave me $5 and told me to go to Pfeifer's and buy a blue suit on payments, which I did. I had to pay $10 for a good suit. I went back to the office to get ready to go out next day. The company furnished our caps. When I got fitted with a cap, I was ready to go. I could hardly wait.
Next day, when that Special pulled in from New Orleans, I was there waiting as the train came around the curve into the station. It looked like it was a mile long. It was such a thrill. I counted the cars as they rolled by – 18 in all, several baggage and mail cars, five or six day coaches, one combination – one half for smoking and the other half for blacks, one dining car and the rest Pullmans. Sometimes they would pull a special car on the rear for railroad officials, U.S. Presidents or other dignitaries. I never worked on a train that long before. I boarded the train, introduced myself to the conductor and the rest of the train crew, and then displayed my goods in one end of the smoking car. It was a nice little store. By the time the train pulled out, between 2 and 3 p.m., it was loaded with at least 300 passengers on board. I knew I was going to have to work hard. The weather was warm and people were buying cold drinks already. I filled my baskets with different items. After I had made a trip through the entire train with the Arkansas Democrat, I could not carry enough goods with me to last through the train and would have to make one trip after another. I worked hard until most passengers were asleep or trying to go to sleep. We got to Coffeyville soon after midnight and had to wait two hours and 40 minutes for the train back to Little Rock. The trip back was about the same as the other way, very busy. My commission on my first trip was more than enough to rent a good house for $25 per month. The next trip I made enough to put up deposits on all utilities. The next trip I made enough to hire a truck to haul our household to Little Rock. I was really getting along. I had a pass and I could stay at home every other night. You couldn’t beat that.
Well, we got moved to Little Rock and that made things even better. It seemed like everyone was riding the trains. Everything was going so good for me, it was almost like heaven. It was on this train that I first met the famous late Will Rogers and later became good friends. He and two other cowboys boarded the train at Oolagah, Oklahoma, on their way to Kansas City, Kansas. He called his home Claremore but he was born on a ranch near Oologah, a little depot and two or three houses about 20 miles west of Claremore. I didn’t learn who he was until we were near Coffeyville when he came to me and wanted to buy all the cigarettes I had. At that time it was against the laws to sell cigarettes in Kansas and the three of them wanted enough to last until they returned to Oklahoma. I had to lock my cigarettes up before I got to the Kansas line if I had any left. Will rode the train often to Kansas City and other places and always bought cigarettes. I never saw him travel alone. There were always two or more with him. He was a good talker and kept everyone laughing most of the time. I got to looking forward to seeing him. It was late at night when he got on the train. Most all passengers were asleep by then and I had time to listen to him talk and sometimes I would get a word in. He always had some jokes to tell, not vulgar but something really funny. This train also pulled Joe T. Robinson’s private car to Little Rock when he finished his work in Washington, D.C. I went back into his car and gave him a morning paper somewhere along the line.
his was written August 5, 1984… and within the previous few days I was asked this question by several people who know my age: “Do you remember a July as cold as the one that has just passed?” I will have to say “No,” but I do remember one night, July 21, 1915, I think, that was much colder than any this last July. It warmed up the next day. I really believe I got as cold that night as I have ever been in my life. It wasn’t long after I had moved from Little Rock to Lebanon. I had found what turned out to be a life-long friend. His name was Arthur Hale. There wasn’t much to do around there so we decided to take a little hobo trip to Memphis on the Rock Island Railroad. At that time a little passenger train ran from Mesa on the main line to Searcy each morning and back in the evening. We left home early one morning to walk through the country to Des Arc to catch the train there. We came to the railroad between Griffithville and Des Arc. As we walked along the railroad about noon we were getting thirsty and hungry. We spied a big watermelon patch near the railroad. There wasn’t a house in sight. We decided at once to get a melon. We got over the fence, walked a short distance, looking out for a good one. I looked across the field into some woods and caught the reflection of something bright. When I looked again I could see a man with a gun. I told Arthur not to pull any melon but to follow me. I told him what I had seen. We walked right up to the man as though we knew he was there all the time. We spoke to him and after a few words I asked him if he would give a couple of hungry boys a melon. He said, “I sure will. I will give anyone a melon if they will come and ask for it like you boys did. But I would shoot anyone if I caught them stealing.” Then he pulled a nice one and gave it to us. That was close, wasn’t it? It was a very hot day but before we got to Des Arc a cool wind began to blow and it got colder and colder. We got on the train at Des Arc but we got on the blinds. Some of you may not know what this is. It is a place between the engine and the first car of the train. By the time we got to Mesa on the main line we were cold. We were dressed for real hot weather.
There was a water tank at Mesa and most all trains stopped for water and coal. We soon caught a freight train to Binkley about 20 miles away. We rode in a coal car and when we got there we thought we were about frozen. We went to the depot, where they had a good fire, but before we got warm the night police came in. When he asked us several questions, we told him what we had in mind (and had no tickets). He said we would have to get out, and advised us to go back home. We promised we would but when we got out of sight we ran all the way back to the water tank, about half a mile away. The running warmed us up but the wind was cold and we soon began to get cold again. The train that we wanted to ride to Memphis was the Rocket, one of the best and fastest on the Rock Island road. It was due there about 5 o’clock in the morning. We had a long wait. We were afraid to build a fire. The moon was shining and we were walking around trying to get warm. Someone had cut some grass hay along the track and put it up in small piles. The hay felt warm, so we worked our way back under a pile and it was warm. I got to laughing at Arthur’s teeth chattering and soon got warm and went to sleep. The train whistle woke us up at 5. I knew the engineer and he let us ride the engine right into the Union depot and we went right into the waiting room with the rest of the passengers. I had ridden that train many times when I was working. There we were in Memphis with just a few dollars to eat on. We decided to beg some to make our money last longer. I don’t know how many back doors we hit but several. No, we never got one bite to eat, so we checked our money. We had one dollar bill and 30 cents and we hadn’t had any supper. You could buy a lot of food for 50 cents but we decided to start back home next morning. I went into a little store to buy our supper. An elderly Jew woman ran the store. The place was very dark. I bought 40 cents worth of food. I gave her my last dollar and she gave me $4.60 change. I have always felt bad about that. Yes, I am sorry I kept it, but I felt I had to. Next morning we caught a freight back to Arkansas. When we stopped at the Round Pond water tank a brakeman put us off and we couldn’t get back on when it started. So we walked to Forrest City. We stopped at every house, black or white, and asked for something to eat. But we didn’t get one bite. We did roast some corn. That is the only time in my life I ever begged for something to eat. We finally got home the next day, tired, hungry and satisfied.
y experiences on the railroad will just have to wait until I tell you about our Labor Day weekend trip to Tennessee. There were 11 of us who left here early Friday morning, visited the Shiloh battlefield on the way then arrived on the Natchez Trace awhile after noon. The group consisted of myself, my wife Peggy, grandsons Jimmy Wilson, Dennis and Duane Handley and Duane’s wife Becky, all from Searcy; my sisters May Brewer of Beebe and Rose Thornton of Bryant, brother-in-law Perry Well also from Bryant, nephew Kenneth Brewer and great nephew Kim Brewer, both from Hot Springs. We visited with some cousins for awhile then we drove around visiting old homesites and beautiful places where some of our group had never been. We decided to make our camp on the site of the old school ground where I went to my first school in 1902. It was a beautiful little park with several of the old trees still there, some oak, beech, poplar and others. There is a small well-kept graveyard nearby. We were right on the bank of a beautiful clear creek and near a spring of pure water. Some of the group complained about the bath water being cold; well, you can’t please everyone. The name of this creek is Double Branches. It flows through a beautiful narrow valley for several miles, until the last few years it was double, two branches flowing side by side most all the way. Odd. That’s why it is called Double Branches but now it runs in one channel most all the way. We spent a big part of our time just driving around and wading, swimming and playing in the clear, cold water. We did spend several hours working in my mother’s family’s old graveyard. This is where my grandfather Jason Woodard was buried. Well, Monday morning came and we had to break camp, which was sad as we had such a good time. The weather was perfect and everything else, too. No mosquitoes. It was so peaceful. The loudest noise we would hear at night was from the slight waterfalls nearby or maybe a hoot owl in the distance. No cars, no ambulances, no noise and our campfire was like a dream. By the time we got to the Natchez Trace it was raining.
ell, our vacation is over, now back to my work on the railroad. I worked steady all the rest of the year and through the winter. Business was good most of the time. It began to slow down after Christmas and through the New Year.
I made several trips on the same train south to New Orleans and worked several weeks on the Rainbow Special to St. Louis.
It was about the same type train as the Sunshine Special.
I did make one trip on the White River branch of the Missouri Pacific, from Newport to Joplin. It is right along the White River most all the way. It is a beautiful scenic route. There was so much to see I didn’t work much and naturally I didn’t make much money for the company. I think I did almost get fired.
At that time Batesville had horse-drawn streetcars and there were many more interesting things to see besides the beautiful mountains and White River below. I’ll never forget that trip.
By early spring you could tell a big difference in the amount of passengers riding the trains. They began to carry fewer coaches; by summer they began to discontinue some trains. I guess the automobiles were the main reason. People were buying Model T Fords and other cars by the thousands. People were not buying my goods like they had been. Each one of us had to lay off some trips.
I knew I would soon have to look for something else to do. I worked on all I could until I found something else. I hated to quit in the worst way, but it was a must.
got a job as clerk for the Cox Grocery Company in Little Rock. It was a chain of small grocery stores in Arkansas that later sold all its stores to Kroger. I worked first in a store at 7th and Main. They were self-service stores and my main job was to study prices and check out customers but the most important was to study prices.
After I had worked a few days, several times a day I would get a call from the Main Office asking the price for a certain item as if it was a customer. We did take orders over the phone and each store had a delivery boy. It was quite a job to learn all the prices of several thousand items but that was what it was all about. I never was perfect but I guess I got to be pretty good. Our boss taught us never to say, “I don’t know” to any customer.
My boss laughed many times about the answer I gave a woman. I was working in a store on West 5th Street. We had just gotten a shipment of beautiful apples. A lady came by the fruit counter and asked what kind of apples and how beautiful and looked right at me. Well, I didn’t know and I knew my boss heard her ask me. Well, I looked across the street and said, “Lady, that’s a Spitzinberg” (a name I saw on a building across the street). She bought some and came back after more later. They turned out to be York apples but she never knew the difference. My manager laughed and told me he thought I would make it.
I had never worked in a grocery store before but I think my work on the train was a big help to me. I had begun to like the work very much. I worked hard and they made me manager of a store in six weeks. The pay was $25 per week, pretty good then.
They made me manager of a store at 24th and High Street in Little Rock. It was almost out in the country. As most of the business was done by phone, it was kind of lonesome. Of course, I had a delivery boy to help me.
We moved to 1718 Wolf Street, where Aubry Dean would be near school and I didn’t have far to walk to work. I kept very busy taking orders, putting up stock and studying prices. As prices changed often, there was no end to it.
I loved being my own boss and everything moved along fine. I worked 10 hours a day, six days a week. After about six months’ work without any relief the days began to seem longer and longer and I asked the company for someone to relieve me for a few days. They promised they would but kept putting it off. We didn’t have a car so it was really confining. No way to go anywhere or anything to do.
I did have several customers who would come in the store and buy. I was supposed to open at 7 a.m. and close at 5:30 p.m.
One morning, though, I was a few minutes late. When I got there, a large black woman was beating on the door with her fist. She was cussing and talking in a loud voice. When she saw me she began to curse me.
When I asked her what the trouble was, she said, “Well I just been down the street and had that priest pray my sins away for what I did last night and now I will have to go back tomorrow and have him pray them away again and you are to blame for it and I will be late for work.” She wanted some cigarettes and I didn’t feel too bad about that.
I kept trying to get a few days off so I could go to McRae. They would promise but never did anything about it. After I had worked one year I gave them my resignation effective in 30 days. Then they told me if I would work on they would give me some time off now but I had already made some plans to quit.
We moved back to McRae and I went back to work in the woods. There was good demand for most all kinds of timber but the price wasn’t so good.
The veneer mill was still in McRae and I got Bob Balman, their timber buyer, to help me buy the best tract of timber I ever owned. It was northwest of Ward on Little Cypress Creek. There were 350 acres of virgin timber. I paid Robbins-Sanford of Searcy $3,500 for it. A tract of timber like it now would sell for $1 million. It took me two years to cut it off. The veneer mill got all the gum timber and I got George Bailey of Ward to move a sawmill nearby to cut the hardwood and cypress for me. I usually had six crosscut saws going every day and about the same number of log teams. I had a crew of three or four men making ties with axes following the loggers. They made more than 3,000 ties and they kept me busy. I had to make many trips to town for one thing or another and many other things to do. I made very good on the deal even though I sold some good cypress lumber for $80 per thousand feet. (I didn’t make any money on that.) I got the job done just in time. Soon, you could hardly give timber away.
Some time that last year I read in the Arkansas Democrat about a man at Gillette, Arkansas, being badly burned in a gasoline explosion and the Baptist Hospital was asking for volunteers to give skin for grafting. I went down there the next day to set a time. There were seven of us, six men and a woman. After seeing the man and hearing his cries I felt I would give him my life if I could. They accepted all of us and we each gave 21 square inches of skin. I visited the man several times while he was in the hospital. After a long stay he got well enough to go home. I never saw him again but did hear from him a few times. He lived about seven more years. I suffered quite a bit from my operation but never did regret what I did. The man’s name was Murphy.
ob Gallman was manager of the McRae veneer mill for several years and I had quite a lot of timber business deals with him. He would help locate and buy good tracts of timber for me then later buy the logs. He was an easy-going fellow and liked by most everyone. He was witty and would say and do some comical things but he did have a bad drinking habit which was no secret to anyone. He drove an old Model T coupe and was very reckless at times. When someone was with him he would do a little stunt driving. I was afraid to ride with him and he knew it but sometimes I would almost have to. I was working a timber job three miles west of Ward one day when Bob drove out to the mill. They told him I was out in the woods but would be back soon. He waited and when I got back to the mill he called for me to come get in the car. He started driving at once back toward Ward. I didn’t ask him where we were going and he didn’t tell me. I thought maybe we were going to look at some timber. He had never done that way before and he didn’t talk much. We got to Ward and at that time the old road across Cypress Bottom to Beebe was very very narrow and the dump was several feet high. When we got to where the dump was highest, he stopped the car, put it in reverse gear, backed up like a flash to within inches of the edge, then cut it around back toward Ward. He looked around at me and said, “Now who said I couldn’t turn this thing around at one backing up?” Then he never said another word but drove me back to the mill and let me out. I couldn’t have talked if he had asked me.
guess I have been lucky most of my life. I have made some good trades in my time, too. I remember one time in my sawmill days I had bought 60 acres of land in Cheek Lake Bottoms. I had cut most of the timber off the land so I decided I would sell it. Land like that, without good timber on it, was almost worthless in those days. I had a good friend, G.H. Scott, who owned a good farm that joined this 60 acres. I went to see him about selling it to him. He didn’t want to invest any money in more land but I did trade it to him for 100 bales of hay worth about 15 cents per bale. That land is now part of a good bean farm and is very valuable. I owned 80 acres of land on Highway 31 just east of Floyd. I had bought it from R.K. Perry. Wess Taylor lived near Floyd and had an old car I wanted. So I offered him $65 cash or the 80 acres for it. He took the land. But when you get right down to it, the Lord has been awful good to me and I have made some real good trades in my time.
have been looking at the calendar put out by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, showing some of the beautiful historic buildings around the state. I have seen most of the buildings shown but the picture of the Lion service station at Crawfordsville brought back many memories to me. I was one of the first customers to buy gas there. I was going to Memphis regularly those years, hauling produce, and gas stations were far between. We eagerly watched it being built. That made three stations on Highway 64 between Wynne and Memphis. For years, one service station and one fruit stand was the main business district of West Memphis and an old two-lane wooden bridge all the way to the river bridge at Memphis. It is hard to imagine the difference, roads and everything else. One thing that helped motorists those days was that if you had any kind of trouble anywhere, most everyone would try to help you.
eggy and I were driving through McRae a few days ago and I was trying to tell her how McRae looked when it had a veneer mill, two sawmills, two cotton gins, a handle blank mill, two hotels, six grocery stores, two hardware stores, three drygoods stores, two garages, three barber shops, a bakery, a butcher shop, a newspaper, an undertaker, a lumber yard, two or three cafes, electric light plant, a theater and probably some other businesses.
A man by the name of Goodrich came to McRae and built a two-story brick building and a nice brick home which are both standing now in good condition. In later years, the home belonged to H.E. Herring. The other building’s upper floor was used for lodge meetings, the lower for many things. Mr. Goodrich used a part of it to make cement caskets. I don’t know whether he ever sold any or not but he did make his own casket and kept it there in the building. When he died several years later I helped place his body in it.
was made very sad when I read of the death of Dewitt Morgan. He was a good friend and worked for me in the woods before he went into the service for Uncle Sam during WWII. It brought back many memories of our times together.
I thought of a time when I caused Dewitt to laugh until he cried.
We were in Cypress Creek bottoms with a load of timber, stuck in the mud. We were trying to get unstuck without unloading. There were five or six men helping. We had cut a long pole, about all we could handle, to pry the truck out. While we were working, a strange man walked out of the woods with a gun and sat down by a tree. I guess he was a squirrel hunter. We had our pole placed under the wheel hub ready to pry. We all gathered around to pull the pole down. We put all our weight on it, but it still wasn’t enough.
I kept looking at this man, thinking he might help, but he didn’t.
In those days people just naturally helped out when someone needed it without being asked usually. We finally let the pole up, and I walked over to this stranger and said in not too nice a tone of voice, “Mister, will you pick up your gun and walk on back in the woods out of sight? I’m tired of looking at you.”
I thought Dewitt never would stop laughing. He told me later after he got back from the service that he had laughed about that many times while he was overseas.
have written a lot about timber in White County in the past but did you know that the largest white oak tree in the world, according to the record, grew in White County? I saw this tree but don’t remember the exact location. It was near White River between Georgetown and Red River. I have been told that a group of people cut this tree several years ago and cut a log off it and tried to get it to the river bank to load on a boat to send to the World’s Fair but they failed. It was a beautiful tree and unbelievably large. There were other large trees around there, too.
A group of us fellows was camped down there one time and one of the men, Hayse McDonald, got lost in the woods for about three hours. When he did show up he said he hadn’t been lost but was trying to walk around a large sycamore tree. Ha. I didn’t see that one but Pete Alford and I did get lost one day and met a man in the woods. He had heavy beard and long hair. You didn’t see many men those days like that. I told him we were lost. He said, “Follow me and I will show you the way out.” Pete said, “Oh no, mister, you have been lost a lot longer than we have.”
n the fall of 1926 there was an air show in Little Rock. One of the first in this part of the country. We had just brought a new Model T Ford car, so we decided to go. They had all kinds of airplanes and balloons of that day to see. There was a large crowd and we enjoyed it very much, especially the kids. After the show was over, I thought we would never get out of the field. I had never been in a traffic jam before. My oldest brother, Bill, and his wife lived in Little Rock and we went by to visit them while the traffic thinned out. After a short visit we started home. They tried to get us to wait ‘til morning to go, but we thought we had to be home next morning. Before we got downtown, we decided we would make a full day of it and go to a movie. We did and after the movie was over (late) we went to the place where we had parked the car. It wasn’t there. Someone had stolen it with several belongings in it. I found a phone and called my brother. Told him if he would come get us, we would spend the night with them. We had put in a full day. Next morning, I went downtown early to try to buy some kind of car to drive home. There weren’t many used cars for sale then. I finally found one that I thought would do for $350. I told the man I would have to give him a check. Since I was a stranger to him, I suggested he call the McRae State Bank. Gaither Johnson was the banker and he answered the phone. I asked if he would honor my check for $350, and told him what had happened. He said he would honor it, but “You are already $1,700 in the red.” We got home that afternoon. I was back in the black again soon, no trouble at all. The insurance company bought us a new Model T in about 10 days and sometime later they found the chassis of my stolen car in some woods near Little Rock. It had been completely stripped. So that was that.
don’t remember much about the first part of 1927 but it seemed like I had about run out of anything to do. I had a friend named Tedford who was a fruit inspector in Florida. Some time in the fall he was visiting in McRae and I was talking to him. He told me if I would go to Florida he would get me a job as an inspector. It sounded real good and the price was good, too. After he went back we exchanged a few letters. I decided we would go see. I traded for a 1926 Dodge touring car with side curtains that could be removed. About December 15, 1927, we loaded up with a camping outfit and started out. Not much money but a lot of determination. There was a family of friends named Griffith who lived at Ocola in central Florida. We were going to Homestead, about 30 miles south of Miami, which was as far as you could drive a car then. We stopped at the Griffiths and stayed with them and camped around there until after Christmas. Southern Florida had its worst hurricane in history in 1927. They never knew how many people lost their lives and the damage couldn’t be estimated.
On January 1, we started out for Homestead. The man who was to hire me was a big farmer. I had been in touch with him and he was expecting me on this date. We hadn’t driven far before we began to see damage from the storm. The further we went the worse the damage. Not one acre of timber that didn’t have metal roofing in some of the trees. Not one tree that wasn’t leaning from the ocean, not one house that wasn’t badly damaged or destroyed. At Hollywood, Florida, there was an eight-story hotel standing on a high bank of the Indian River. It was left standing, but everything up to the fourth floor was washed out by the high waves – windows, doors, fixtures, people and everything. Many who couldn’t crowd into the upper floors were washed away and drowned.
I began to feel a little homesick by this time. It was bad. We got to Homestead a while before sundown. We drove out to the farm as directed. There was a crew setting tomato plants in one field and a crew picking tomatoes in another. I met the man (I don’t remember his name) who was expecting me and he seemed glad to see me. He seemed like a real nice man. He said the job was waiting for me and we would go to Miami in the morning and get fixed up and I could go to work at once. He told me how to get to his place in Homestead and not to eat anything anywhere but to go direct to his home and tell his wife who we were and he would be home as soon as he could drive some of his workers home. The farm was right by the ocean and just four feet above sea level. There was a real dark cloud over the ocean in the west and you could see lightning flashing. When it got darker you could see a continuous flash. Just before we got to the man’s house, I looked at Clara and said, “Clara, don’t you think this would be a good night to drive?” She said, “I sure do!” I thought she felt the same way I did. I drove straight to the highway and headed east. I drove most of the night until we couldn’t see any lightning. We stopped at a roadside park and spent the rest of the night sleeping in the car. It didn’t storm anywhere but turned real cold before morning. I always felt a little guilty about that and wondered what the man thought but I think most anyone would have done the same thing under the circumstances. I never saw or heard from the man again.
We slept late next morning. It was too cold to get out. After it had warmed up some we drove on east on old Highway 1 to St. Augustine. It was right along the Indian River all the way. St. Augustine is a beautiful old city, one of the oldest in the country. My visiting license was about to run out so I had to go there and buy Florida licenses for the car. When we got there it was almost night. They had a large free tourist park there with many large beautiful palm trees and small buildings to sleep in. There were several campfires scattered around and every one was frying fish. We found a spot, parked and got a fire going to cook something. Fishermen began to bring us fish to cook and we soon had plenty to eat. Fishing was good in the river and many people were fishing. We went to bed early that night, just to get warm. Next morning, the car motor was frozen and I thought we were going to freeze also. I finally got the motor thawed out. After buying the license and a tire for the car, we started back to Ocola almost broke. On our way back we stopped at Silver Springs. It’s a beautiful spring, so clear you can see small fish 80 feet below. We drove the car within a few feet of the spring. I guess there were 25 or 30 people there. Two years ago, Peggy and I visited the same place. We had to walk at least half a mile and there were thousands of people there. It is a beautiful park with lush tropical forest all around and all kinds of wild animals running loose.
We made it back to the Griffiths that afternoon. Next morning, I went to a small village a few miles away, Spar, Florida, to try to find work and an old house to camp in. Several men were sitting in front of an old store and I told them what I was looking for. One man said he had a small house in his orange grove with everything in it that we would need for camping and we could stay there free as long as we wanted to and if we didn’t get all the oranges we wanted, that was our fault. You couldn’t beat that. We moved in that evening. Another man said that he had cleared some land and had some live oak logs he wanted made into fence posts and would pay me 20 cents apiece to make them. I went to see them. I did know how to make posts and it looked like some fast money. Next day, I borrowed a crosscut saw and some other tools and got my small son Demeague to help me saw three nice clean logs. Well, I don’t know how long I worked, but as far as I know those logs are still there. I never could get a wedge started to drive. It was fast all right, but no money. My son still laughs about it.
I borrowed a little money from Mr. Griffith to live on and kept looking for work. In a few days I found a man who had several acres of small pine that he wanted to make into a park. He wanted enough trees cut out that you could drive almost anywhere. The rest of the trees would be trimmed up. I got the job. There was an old 25-room, three-story house on a small hill in the woods. The man said we could stay there while I worked. We moved from the orange grove into this old house. No one had lived in it for years. There was a creaky old windmill that ran most of the time. This was like a ghost house. No one lived near us and it was really lonesome. We had plenty of room, tough, and we lived there until I made enough money to come home.
e left for Arkansas about February 20, 1928. We stayed in Alabama that night and though we would get home next evening. We knew it had been raining a lot in Arkansas but we had no idea the water was everywhere. We got to Brinkley about 5 p.m. and decided we would eat supper there then drive on home. When we got through with our meal, I asked a man the best way to go home – by Des Arc or Lonoke. He laughed and said there was only one way. We would have to go to Clarendon then next morning ferry 22 miles downriver on a barge to Crockett’s Bluff then to Stuttgart to Lonoke then on home. We drove to Clarendon that night. There wasn’t any place to stay, only in the car. We drove down as near to the river as possible so we could get on the first barge. Next morning, it was about 9 before the first barge got on its way. There were 11 other cars and trucks on the barge. It was afternoon before we got unloaded and on our way. There was water everywhere. I remember a large billboard at an intersection with a message on it that read, “Into Each State Some Rain Must Fall But Why Did Arkansas Get It All?”
Well, we got home before nightfall. We were tired, dirty and hungry, but also glad to be back home. It had been quite an experience for us, but we enjoyed every day of it very much, even though everything didn’t turn out just like we had planned. Who knows, I might not have made a good fruit inspector anyway.
ell, we were back in good old Arkansas again, just as broke as anyone could be. No job and so far behind with my rent to Mr. C.B. Tucker, who owned our house. It took more than two years to pay the back rent, a little at a time. He never did ask me for any money but was surprised when I finally paid it off.
I hardly knew which way to turn. Clara owned 80 acres of woodland that her father had left her in Bull Creek bottom south of Lebanon. No house on it. Mr. H.F. Hammock owned Clara’s old homeplace, 40 acres not far away with a very good old house that needed lots of repair, a new roof and other things. Mr. Hammock offered to sell us the place without a down payment if we would give him a mortgage on both places. We traded with him and soon moved in. There was good timber on both places. I began to make cross ties again and I was selling some logs. Mr. Rube Barnett at Beebe sold me a team of young mules and a wagon without a down payment. I had done business with him before and that was a big help. I made plans to do a little farming and timberwork, too. I would try to make five bales of cotton each year for my land payments. I was gaining some when the government came along with a program to help little farmers out of business. It got me out, all right. I was allowed to raise 134 pounds of cotton. I still have the papers to show that. Well, I knew I couldn’t make land payments with that so I decided to rent the place out and move to McRae.
In this time I had made cypress boards by hand and covered the house, built a new barn and made fences and other improvements. I really thought I was getting along.
This same year, Demeague had a bad sickness and was in the hospital 38 days in all. After several days of treatment for pneumonia at home by Dr. Sloan we carried him to Wakenight’s Hospital in Searcy where Dr. Porter Rodgers Sr. planned to operate on him. When he made the incision, that was as far as he could go. Dr. Rodgers said he didn’t see how the boy could live, but with God’s help he would do all he could. No one thought he could live long. The neighbors had made arrangements for the funeral but the doctor worked day and night on him. After a few days, Dr. Rodgers saw some improvement and after that he got better fast. In about two weeks the doctor said we could take Demeague home and if he could gain some strength in about two months he could finish the operation. He improved, got real fat and could ride his bicycle anywhere and could sell the Grit paper. When the two months were up, we carried him back to the hospital. Dr. Rodgers said Demeague was in fine shape for the work and asked if he had his rabbit’s foot and was ready. Demeague said he did (and he did actually have a rabbit’s foot in his pocket).
It was a very serious operation that lasted about six hours. He went through it fine. The doctor removed several inches of his intestines and did a lot of patching. Everything went fine and in about two weeks he was dismissed. I had worked enough to keep the hospital bills paid but I hadn’t paid Dr. Rodgers anything. When I asked him what my bill would be, he took my hand and said, “Water, I know this has been a trying time for you and Clara and you don’t owe me one dime.” He said, “I was there all the time that that had to be God’s work.” Think about that.
We didn’t move to McRae until after Demeague was dismissed from the hospital. I rented the farm to a Mr. Spurlock to raise corn. He said he liked to raise corn. I was to get a third of it.
I bought a mill to cut handle blanks and furniture squares and moved it to McRae and later added a sawmill. We did good business for two or three years. I shipped many carloads of material. That fall I heard that Mr. Spurlock had moved from the farm. I went out to see about my third of the corn. He had planted, in all, about half an acre but he hadn’t worked it very good. While I was there I thought I might as well get what he had left for me. I found one sack almost full. Not bad, huh? Soon after that a cyclone came along and tore everything down – house, barn, fences, orchard, everything. I went to see Glen Bennett, the banker, who had been taking care of my insurance for years. He had forgotten to renew my policy so here went everything again. The Red Cross didn’t offer me help in any way, although they did help by neighbors rebuild. The only thing I knew to do was see Mr. Hammock and deed the place back to him. I hated to lose Clara’s place but it seemed like it was the only thing to do. It could have been worse. We could have been in the house when it blew away.
We did deed the farm to Mr. Hammock but I didn’t get a dollar back for this one, which was the last try at farming for me.
Everything at the mill seemed to be going fine. I had 15 or 20 men working at the mill and in the woods. I was borrowing money from the McRae bank to help keep things going. Then the bank closed its doors and I had just a few days to pay off my loan. I sold what lumber I could and paid my loan off but didn’t have enough money to operate on and couldn’t find anyone who would furnish me so I sold the mill. I bought a new ton and a half Chevrolet truck and cut and hauled what timber I had left in the woods and sold it wherever I could. I had loved the mill business and hated to quit. Some time later I was talking to a friend, Eugene Blount, who lived at Garner and hadn’t been in operation for some time. He wanted to lease it to me. It was a hard decision to make. By this time World War II had started and most of the able-bodied men were either going into service or working in plants. All the help I could get was either old men or young boys but I decided I would try. I finally got enough together to start the mill – some good workers, some not so good. My sawyer had a bad drinking habit and some days he wouldn’t show up and we never knew when this was going to happen. But with all of this it was surprising the amount of lumber we made. I had orders for all kinds of lumber and timber was plentiful. I never had a full crew and I never knew when some of them wouldn’t show up without notice. To give you an idea how it was, one of my older workers told me one evening that he had to stay home and dig his sweet potatoes. That evening he came back and said he didn’t get through and wouldn’t be back next day. Next evening, he came back and said he still didn’t get through. I asked him how many potatoes he had. He said, “three rows across the garden.” Well, I didn’t miss him much but he did work some.
One of the best workers I ever had was named Hass Collins. He drove a truck most of the time but could and would do anything I asked him to do. I couldn’t have made it without him. He was the strongest man I ever knew and didn’t mind using his strength. I built a new home in McRae while I was running this mill and cut all the cypress framing for the house. It is still standing, in good repair, just west of the Methodist Church parking lot. Later, I sold the house and bought a home in Searcy. We moved there soon and I built a large commercial building in the same block on East Race Street. I was still running the mill and we cut all the frame lumber. It was a concrete block building. Labor and material was hard to get and I thought I was never going to get it finished. Texarkana, Texas, was the closest place I could buy concrete blocks; I bought the windows and doors in St. Louis, and other material where I could. When I finally got it finished I rented it to Ford Motor Company while they built their new building farther east on Race Street which is W&W Ford Company now.
We were running the mill all we could but never got enough help. I had gall bladder surgery in this time and that didn’t help any. Finally, one Monday morning the crew was all there ready to work. The fireman had a full head of steam in the boiler and everything was ready to go. I had been real busy all morning and hadn’t talked much to any of the hands. I usually went around and had a word with everyone. That morning I didn’t or I would have noticed something was wrong. With everyone in place the fireman turned the steam on after blowing the whistle. The machinery started, they rolled the log on the carriage and dogged it down, the sawyer backed the carriage as far back as he could then pulled it forward at full speed. It should have been eased in carefully. When the log hit the saw it stopped everything dead still. No one was hurt but they could have been. The saw was bent and everything was much out of line. The sawyer staggered a few feet and sat down; he was drunk. I didn’t say anything to him but I felt like killing him. I was so disgusted I could hardly talk but I called the rest of the men together and thanked them for their work and that was the last of that.
I was lost without a sawmill. I really liked that kind of work but I still had work to do around the place that kept me busy for awhile.
A man named Holliman owned a five-room house and lot next door and had a small grocery store in part of the house. He decided he wanted to move to south Arkansas and I bought the place from him for $4,000. In about three months he got real homesick to come back to Searcy. He offered me $5,000 for the place. I sold it back to him. In a few weeks he wanted to move back to the hills where he was raised and wanted to sell me the place back for $4,000. I bought it back. I know this sounds like a broken record but it is the truth. Yes, I sold it back to him again for $5,000. I am not through yet. He decided to build a new house on East Moore, which he did, and I bought the old house back for $4,000. That new house sure ruined my business. This all happened within about two years. After that, a Mr. R.G. Dickerson from Beebe, a real estate man, wanted to sell me 120 acres of hill land near Floyd that belonged to R.K. Perry. It had several acres of good pine timber on it so I bought it and that called for another sawmill. I bought a small mill and moved it back on the place and operated a mill almost all the time for the next 20 years at many locations: Floyd, Red Bluff, Antioch, Opal, Ward, Beebe, Cypress Lake, Welch’s Place, McRae, Lebanon, Cheek Lake, Garner, Weir Cemetery, Crosby, Morning Sun, Sixteenth Section, and several other places, including White River.
first met my long-time friend J.W. Garvin when he ran a saloon near the Rock Island Depot in Little Rock. He had a free lunch room back of the bar for his customers. I didn’t drink beer at that time but I would buy a nickel mug of beer, go out back and pour it out and eat lunch anyway. Just like a country boy? Mr. Garvin lived at Jacksonville but I got to know him very well over the next few years. He seemed to like me.
A few years passed and I had moved to McRae when he moved there and put in a good-size general store. He sold almost everything and became very well known. He put in a chain of rolling stores, with routes all over White County and in several adjoining counties. He built large bodies on several trucks and would stock them with a full line of groceries, drygoods, pots, pans, hardware and many other things. He would make all the routes each week and had these stores in operation through the Depression days. He would buy or trade for anything of value – chickens, eggs or whatever. He bought thousands of fresh-killed wild rabbits from the rural families on the routes. Many of them were very poor and Mr. Garvin did a great service for them during those times. I have bought as many as 700 rabbits at one time along with other produce from Mr. Garvin to take to Memphis.
He was a good businessman but he had a certain way of doing some things that no one else could do. His wife and son Barney worked with him all the way. His truck drivers had many funny and unusual experiences. The roads were bad much of the time. Mr. Garvin and his wife have been gone for several years now, along with many more of my friends, but I still think of them often.
Being long-time friends didn’t mean Mr. Garvin and I never disagreed on things. We did. I would tell him he had crazy ideas about some business deal or the way he did things at times. He would tell me that I was the same way but we never got serious and would always laugh it off.
One time I was hauling freight for him from Memphis. I had a full load of galvanized metal roofing for barns, etc. It was about closing time when I got back to his store. I went in to find out where to unload next morning. It was misting rain a little. Mr. Garvin said, “My lord, you didn’t let that get wet, did you?” I said, “Not much.” I didn’t think it would hurt it. He said, “My lord, we will have to unload that tonight.” He had five or six people working for him in the store. He told them all, men and women, to go eat supper and come back. We had to unload that full load, each sheet separate. We had to wipe both sides with large pieces of new cloth taken from his shelves. It was quite a job and always seemed funny to me.
When I had log teams and wagons in the woods, most every day one of my drivers would need something to repair a wagon or harness or something else and would send by me to bring it out next morning. A driver told me to bring a pair of trace chains. Next morning, I went through the back of the store and got a pair, carried them in to where Mr. J.W. wa, told him I wanted them. He went back, came out and said, “That’s the last pair of chains I have. I can’t sell them to you.” I asked, “Why?” He said he couldn’t afford to be without. I had to drive to Beebe to get the chains. Help me figure that one out, please.
I guess I shouldn’t write so much about Mr. Garvin when he can’t get back at me but I know he would if he was living. About 5 o’clock one evening, Mr. Garvin called me and told me that one of his store trucks was stuck in the mud near Griffithville and asked me if I would take my truck and pull him out. I told him I would go right away before it got dark but he said, “No, wait until after supper then drive down to the store. I want to go with you.” When I got to the store he had three men and his wife to go along. He had chains, jacks, pry poles to take along. Also, he had a pile of scrap lumber to build a fire for light. It was about 9 when we got to where the truck was. I think I could have pulled it out without any trouble but we had to do it his way. We had to pry it up and get it on level before he would let me try to pull it out. Of course, when I did it was easy. Mr. Garvin said, “Now, Walter, you see how easy it is to do a thing when you do it right.” Mrs. Garvin had driven their car along. It was 11 o’clock when we got back to McRae.
Bob Gallman, who lived at McRae, was a good carpenter and worked a lot for Mr. Garvin. At one time I had a few hundred feet of beautiful dry oak lumber. One day Bob asked me if I would sell J.W. one of the best wide boards of that lumber. I told him I would but it would be expensive. He said that wouldn’t make any difference. We picked one of the best boards. I didn’t ask any questions but I went by where Bob was working later. He had hand-planed that board and made one of the most beautiful best type boxes I ever saw. I asked Bob what he was making. He had a funny way of throwing his head back and laughing. He said it was an underground waste box for that outdoor toilet in the back alley.
The people in McRae have changed a lot in the last few years. There are a lot of people I don’t know, but I still think often of the Model T days around there. A friend of mine, Grover Burrows, told me this little store many years ago:
Grover had a neighbor who bought a Model T Ford but he didn’t know how to drive. He wanted Grover to drive him up in the mountains north of Heber Springs. Grover knew that the way some models were built , if you wee going up a long hill the carburetor would run out of gas and you would have to blow in the tank to force gas to the carburetor. Somewhere on the way they had a chance to buy some moonshine. They had been drinking pretty good when they came to a long hill and on their way up, the car stopped. His neighbor said, “Now what will we do?” Grover got out, blew in the tank awhile and they went on. He didn’t explain to his neighbor what was going on. They soon came to a gas station. Grover said, “Fill it up.” His neighbor said, “Oh, don’t do that. I will blow in the tank awhile and save the money to buy more whiskey.”
n the 40-plus years of my timberwork, I have hired several hundred men to work with me, not for me. I never asked any man to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself or help do. Most of them, both young and old, were hard working, honest, agreeable men – neighbors and friends. Of course, I always expected an honest day’s work from everyone and they expected to give that, with a few exceptions. It was hard work and we spent long hours in all kinds of weather. Many times, parts of our clothing would be frozen when we were working in the icy water in the woods. Most of the time the pay was low. In all those years, no one was seriously hurt. I did carry insurance on the men. One of my men did spend a few days in the hospital with an injured leg. One day, when I had my mill on Red Bluff, I got a big scare. Some men were cutting timber on a hillside about half a mile from the mill. One of the loggers had taken a horse loose from the wagon and rode it to the mill where I was, to tell me that one of the men had been cut real bad with a saw. They brought him out of the woods across the back of a horse like they carried dead men in the Wild West. One man holding him on each side. He was almost lifeless but with plenty of help we got him into the car. They had wrapped his leg with a shirt. It had been bleeding some and looked pretty bad. I drove as fast as I thought I could safely to Wakenight Hospital in Searcy. I drove to the back entrance, got some nurses to get him out and into the operating room. They called Dr. Rodgers in there at once. He couldn’t tell anything about it. He told the nurses, three of them, to let him know as soon as they got it washed. I was standing near, looking on. After they had his leg pretty well washed they began to look at one another. Then they turned his leg over and began to laugh. They laughed until they cried. They got the doctor back in there, and he laughed too. One sawtooth had cut a place less than half an inch. The doctor said it didn’t need it but he put one stitch in it. Dr. Rodgers told the worker he could go home any time but the man claimed he couldn’t walk. He wanted to sue the insurance company for permanent disability but Dr. Rodgers wouldn’t go along with that. He was finally persuaded to go home in about 10 days.
In all those years there was very little misunderstanding or fussing among the men or with me. Almost every day was a pleasure to work together. Hayze McDonald worked with me most of the time for more than 20 years. Several men were farmers and worked with me part time for many years. Of course, in that time there were many things said and done. Some of these happenings come to my mind often these days, some things funny, some odd, some near tragic. I will try to mention some of these things. I can remember firing only four men in all. I had my mill on the Ralph Underhill farm just south of Antioch. I was running only two saws in the woods, four men and two loggers with teams, one truck driver and eight men at the mill. One day, I had just hired a new man to help cut timber. He was a healthy, stout young man and said he had helped cut timber before. I was very busy that day and didn’t go to the woods. At quitting time that day the man who worked with him told me that he couldn’t work with that new man, said he wasn’t a good hand. I told him to come back next day and I would do something about it. Next morning, I told the man who had complained to go on to work and I would check soon. When I got close, I stopped and watched for a short time. They had cut a tree down and were trying to cut logs off. The new man was sitting flat on the ground with his feet toward the log, one hand on the saw handle and moving very slow. The other man was working himself to death. When I walked up, the new man looked at me. I asked him what he was doing sitting down there. He said he was tired. I said, “Do you know what I am going to do? I am going to help this man saw and you can rest as long as you want to, but you can rest better at home than you can here, and the nearest way to Beebe is right through those woods.” I paid him for the time he had spent out there and he started home. We passed him on the road near Beebe late that afternoon. We never knew whether he had been lost in the woods or resting all that day.
I want to take time to talk about time. Did you ever think about how many kinds of time there are? I know most of us think of time as standard time – 60 seconds, one minute, one hour, 24 hours, one day. Then you hear about daylight savings time, night time, early time, late time, good time, bad time, sad time, happy time, equal time, your time, my time, last time, first time… Then you hear someone say they don’t have time for anything but everyone living has some time but no one knows how much time they have. That’s one reason why we should be careful how we use our time. We should never waste time and we should be careful not to lose time. Most of us use the same time except doctors. They seem to use a different time. I call it doctors time. You can make an appointment for 9 a.m. any day with any doctor at any clinic. You will arrive at the reception desk and register on time (standard time). Here is where the doctors time starts. The nurse will tell you to have a seat, you will be called in a minute (doctors time). In about 30 minutes, standard time, a nurse will call you and take you to the other end of the building, put you in a small room, either too hot or too cold, slam the door shut and say she will be back in a minute. In about 30 minutes standard time she will return and ask you a few questions, take your blood pressure, leave again and tell you the doctor will see you in a minute, doctors time. Just a short time before noon the doctor will come in, look at your chart, ask you a few questions, and tell you to come back in two weeks. This is where you go back to standard time or you might not see the doctor for six months.
I know according to nature that I don’t have much time in this world but in what time I do have, I hope that I can say something or do something that will make this a better place to spend time.
id you know that there have been more changes in the lifestyle of man in the 90 years that I have lived than there has been in any other 90 years in the history of the world? And I can’t take credit for any part of it. This includes almost every category of life, like travel, news, labor, farming and many other things. Talking about travel, according to Bible history, for several hundred years the only mode of travel for man was sailboat, rowboat, animal-drawn carriage, riding animals or walking. When I was born there hadn’t been much change in this country. When I was very young I can remember riding in wagons drawn with oxen, also in horse-drawn wagons. Since that time I have ridden bicycles, electric cars, steamboats from paddle wheel to luxury ocean liners, steam-powered passenger trains of all classes, automobiles from Motel Ts on up, single-engine airplanes, and 747s that have crossed oceans. I missed a trip to the moon but I’m not through yet. I can remember when it would take weeks to anywhere overseas. Now it takes only hours. Not long ago, our fastest mail service was by Pony Express. It would take several days for a letter or message to get to California or other places that far away. Then we had telegraph and railroad trains, then telephone, radio, television, and now you can send a message most anywhere in moments. When I was 16 years old I went to work on the Rock Island Railroad (track work, hard work). I worked 10 hours per day, six days per week at 11 cents per hour or a dollar and a dime per day. There are many people who get more money per hour than I got for 250 hours work. (I didn’t say they earned it.) Think about that! I guess things have changed as much in this part of the world as they have anywhere else. Beebe has changed. The first time I remember being in Beebe was 71 years ago this summer. I drove into Beebe with a horse and buggy. My girlfriend Clara Hale was with me. She became my wife for more than 50 years. We drove down Main Street, stopped in front of a drugstore (I think it was Dawson’s) by a big open well. I watered my horse from the well and we had a Coke from the drugstore fountain.
failed to tell you about the very first time I passed through Beebe on a railroad train in the year 1900 but I didn’t remember anything about Beebe. The railroad was the St. Louis & Iron Mountain. I was seven years old. Clara and I were married at Lebanon September 1, 1915. We went to housekeeping in Beebe. I rented the little four-room parsonage from the Christian Church in south Beebe. I think it is still there. I worked through the winter then moved to McRae. I bought my first motor vehicle in Beebe from W.W. Thompson Company in 1918. It was a Maxwell truck. From that time to now I don’t have much idea how many cars and trucks I have owned but I am sure it would average more than two each year. After I got my Maxwell wrecked by a train I bought several Model T cars and trucks for the next few years. In 1927 I went to Little Rock and bought a ’17 Model Dodge touring car with detachable side curtains (real pretty). On my way home I stopped at the Ford Motor Company in Beebe, near where the post office is now and was on the 67 highway there. I was having trouble learning the difference in Model T shifts and Dodge shift. When I started to leave I put the gear in reverse. I started backward slowly and forgot what to do. I looked to the left; there was a man in a small coupe car coming right in behind me but I still couldn’t think what to do. Just as I pushed him over in the road I remembered how to stop. I jumped out of the car and ran around to help him. He was already standing up. Not a scratch. I don’t know how he felt but I was very much embarrassed. He said, “Young man, you are going to fix my car!” I told him I would, gladly, and as we had plenty of help there we turned it upright and put it in the garage. His name was Otis Latture, a prominent Beebe man, and we were good friends the rest of his life. Since then I have been driving in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida. In this time I have paid one $10 traffic fine. I have had a few accidents but as far as I know I have never caused anyone to lose a drop of blood.
o get back to the Ralph Underhill place, I got a few more logs to cut. The timber on Ralph’s place was in spots – some timberland, some farmland. One day as we were finishing a certain spot, I told the men to get all the tools together – water kegs and everything – and we would move about one-fourth mile down on Bull Creek, all work together and cut some big trees that were hard to cut. We got to the spot, I picked a large gum tree leaning slightly over the creek, but told them we could side throw it on the bank with plenty of wedges. I was a rough bank to stand on but they all got ready and all on one saw, soon had it ready for wedges. They drove three wedges completely up and the tree wouldn’t fall. They began to look for the big four-pound wedge. After a while we decided we had left it at the other place and we knew we had to have at least one more wedge, so we all went back to the other woods and searched for some time with no luck. We got a piece of good hardwood; thought we might make a wood wedge that would work. When we got back to the tree, Ben Morris started down the bank, stopped, reached back and said, “Oh, h---! Here’s that wedge in my pocket.” Well, we did get that big tree on the ground as planned but Ben never did live that down. We soon moved the mill to a location on Cypress Creek about four miles north of Ward. I made some unusual timber deals in the next few months. Mr. Ed Brown of Ward had several acres of good timber along the creek but would sell me only 40 acres. Said he might sell me more later. I gave him $100 for the 40 acres. I tried to give him $200 but he wouldn’t have it. I told him I would pay him a good price for 20 acres that was right by the mill. He said he would talk to me later. In just a few days we got through. I talked to Mr. Brown again about the 20 acres. He said if I would let him keep the cypress timber he would let me have the rest. The price was $15. I tried to give him $100 but he wouldn’t think about that. I told him that it was worth more but he said, “I used to run a sawmill and I never could make anything.”
There was a lot of timber on that 20 acres and believe it or not the tallest tree that I ever cut was not in Washington but on this 20 acres in Arkansas. It was a sweetgum and we cut four 16-foot logs, three 12-foot logs and one 10-foot log. A total of 110 linear feet from the body of the tree. We also cut one of the largest trees that I ever cut on this 20 acres. One man promised if I would cut it down he would get it out for me, but he didn’t. It was a large blackgum tree.
There was another 20 acres of good timberland that joined the Brown land on the west but I couldn’t find out who owned it from any of the neighbors, not even Mr. Brown. It was on the White and Prairie county line (Cypress Creek), some on both sides. I went to the tax office in Searcy . The clerk searched his books and maps. He found it on a map but thee had never been any taxes paid on it in White County. He told me to go to the county clerk. Maybe he could help me. After a long search the clerk found a book that listed it as lost land in 1884 and I would have to go to the State Land Office and get a deed. There had never been any taxes paid in Prairie County either. Well, I went to the State Land Office, told them my business, showed them the location on the map. They said they could make a deed for it but if I would give the state a check for $21 they would send me the deed soon. I did and went home rejoicing. The weather was beautiful and everything was just fine. We were just about through with the lose 20 acres when I got my check back from the state and a letter notifying me that the land didn’t belong to the state and they couldn’t make a deed for it. I went to the White County Assessor’s Office, had it assessed in my name, paid taxes on it for three years. As far as I know it is lost again.
One day a man named Crabb came to the mill from Benton. He said he had 400 acres of good timber along Cypress Creek east of Ward. He wanted to sell it to me. When he told me what he wanted for it, I almost lost all interest in it. I knew that if 400 acres of timber weren’t worth more than $400 they weren’t worth looking at. I didn’t tell him that, but I wanted to. I did promise to go look at it.
In the meantime we finished cutting the timber off the lost land. I may be the only man in Arkansas that really found 20 acres of land. I don’t know how long it had been lost. Well, Mr. Crabb came back to see me about the 400 acres near Ward. I came near losing the best timber deal of my life. It was worth much more than $400.
I asked him why he was willing to sell so cheap. He told me that he bought that land with money that he had made running a beer joint and wanted to get rid of it because he had always felt guilty. We moved onto the place and stayed about two years. Of course, we lost some time from overflows while we were there.
About that time I could see a change in times. Labor was cheap and lumber was cheap. It was hard to make any money even with your timber given to you. Many young families and others went north to work in the factories and it was a great thing to do. I lost some of my help, too.
Many of them have retired and moved back here and bought nice homes and farms. Very often some of these people come by and visit me.
Cypress Creek had a big overflow and I decided to move to George’s place north of McRae until the woods dried up, then move back. Sid Guyot had a sawmill not far from mine at that time. Sid came to see me and asked me how much I would take for what timber I had left on the 400 acres. I asked him what he would give me for it. He said he would give me $600. I sold it to him. It was well worth that much but I guess that it wasn’t such a bad deal for me all the way around. I stayed at George’s place for about two years then I made my last move to a place I owned near Morning Sun.
Labor seemed to get worse. I remember I hired a man one day who was a stranger to me. He said he needed a job real bad and I sure needed him. He came next day, was a good worker but next day he didn’t show up. Next, I got a letter from the unemployment office asking me to come to their office. I went and they told me that he had signed up for unemployment. When he came for his pay for the day he worked I asked him why he quit working for me. He said he wanted to draw his unemployment. He didn’t.
I had such a short crew we had to stop the mill to load the trucks with lumber. We were loading a truck one morning, one man on the truck stacking the lumber while the others handed it to him. He wasn’t doing a very good job and I asked him in a nice way to do it different. He told me if I didn’t like the way he was doing it to get up there and do it myself. I told him to come down. By the time he got down I had his pay ready for him and I finished the job.
But I think I decided that day it was time for me to quit sawmilling and I did.
t one time the southern and eastern part of White County, Arkansas, was covered with a dense growth of virgin mixed hardwood timber such as red oak, white oak, sweet gum, black gum, hickory, maple and other species. It remained that way until the late 1880s except for the thousands of cords of wood used to fire the steam boilers on the St. Louis Iron Mountain Railroad and a few small sawmills around. After that, larger mills began to move in. About 1890, two men from a northern state moved a large mill in and set it up near the south side of the railroad track near Boamer Crossing, one mile south of McRae. They bought several hundred acres of fine timber south and east of the mill. A narrow gauge or tram railroad was built through the timber for about two miles southeast to the Mat Robison place. The track was built with wooden ties and steel rails. The equipment consisted of two steam engines and several wooden flat cars with cast iron wheels. They used oxen to load logs on the cars. I don’t know how long it took them to cut and remove all of that timber but when my family moved to White County about 1910, the only evidence you could see was part of the dirt railroad dump where the track was. As it was wet land, the dump was a few feet high in some places and by then it was a good place for small animals and snakes to den up through the winter. A few years later Jim Kirk and his boys were hunting along this dump one cold day when the dogs ran a small animal into a hole in the ground. They went to get some tools to dig it out. They also dug out 80 snakes of most all kinds.
About the same time this mill was in operation a man named Cris Essig moved a large mill to a place near Defiance, a post office three miles south of Garner. This land is a part of Harding University’s farm now. He also built a tram road for about six miles southeast through dense timber to a spot east of where Vinity is now. This entire operation was built of wood except nails, bolts and cast iron wheels for the lag cars. The rails for the track were wood, four by four inches. The ties were small logs. The cars were pulled by horses or mules. The logs were handled mostly by oxen. This was quite an operation for that day. Then they changed the name from Defiance to Essig.
By this time larger lumber companies were coming in and buying thousands of acres of fine timber land in White and Red river bottoms. The Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, the Fisher Body Company, the Singer Sewing Machine Company, cooperage companies and others operated all around. The block-on-end flooring mill operated for several years at Doniphan. Then the Wrape Stave Company of Searcy, the E.A. Stewart Lumber Company of Beebe, the McRae Veneer Mill, the Enterprise Box Company of Judsonia, the Shafer Lumber Company of Enright, and other mills. Then the Bell Lumber Company of Oak Grove, the Beaman Moore Lumber Company of Kensett and the Searcy Flooring Mill, which are still in operation. The lumber industry has brought billions of dollars to White County in the past.
n Old Time Saw-millers and Loggers Reunion and Festival has become an annual event hosted by the historic Reader Railroad at Reader, Arkansas. Peggy and I attended the first two reunions, in 1986 and ’87. We enjoyed both very much. They have a long way to go to get it organized but they have several things, such as an old “ground hog” steam mill, a museum with various old tools from broad-axe to snaking tongs, and a large display of pictures from the turn of the century on down – of lumber mills, large and small, from all over the state. Of course, the ride on the little Possum Trot steam train is great – very rough but lots of fun.
I was honored by the Arkansas Forest History Preservation with a certificate of recognition for being the oldest saw-miller in attendance. The timber business has been and still is a big thing in Arkansas.
The history of the timber industry has been very tragic at times. Many lives have been lost over the years in different kinds of accidents. I will mention a few that happened in White County. In the early 1900s, a small sawmill boiler blew up along Bull Creek near Beebe, killing one young man. About 1908 [October 11, 1906] there was a small sawmill at Dogwood, Arkansas, in southeast White County. It was powered by a steam boiler and had a crew of eight men.
Mr. Tom Harris, who is about 100 years old and is still living in Higginson, told me that he narrowly escaped being a victim of this accident by a few minutes. He was hauling logs to the mill with a team and wagon. He had just left the mill and drove into the woods a few yards away when the boiler exploded, knocking him to the ground and shaking him up. He got to his feet and rushed to the mill site where he saw the most terrible sight any man could see. All eight men were dead. Some bodies were badly mangled. One man who was scalded over his entire body was a few yards on the road to his home, like he might have lived a few seconds. Another body was in the limbs of a tall tree nearby. I don’t remember the names of the men. Peggy and I went to the Dogwood Cemetery. She made pictures of this monument where four victims were buried in one grave. There was another boiler explosion at Garner. I think it was in 1912. This boiler furnished power for a sawmill and cotton gin combined. Two men were killed. One man was Sloan, the other was a Mr. Wade. I heard this explosion. It was very loud at four miles away.
ack to the time I quit sawmilling: As soon as we could saw what logs I had on the yard I did sell the mill and that was a sad day for me, although I did continue to work in the timber for a year or two, just cutting and selling logs. After that I drove a truck most of the time for the next few years for myself. I hauled most everything you can think of. I hauled anything that was in season. I hauled strawberries to Memphis, St. Louis, Dallas, one load to Houston, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Kansas City and other places. I hauled potatoes from the fields in Louisiana to St. Louis, Houston and other places. I have hauled watermelons from as far as Houston to the Ohio line in Indiana. I hauled many loads of ear corn from Mississippi County to White County. I hauled apples, many loads from near Benton Harbor, Michigan. I would haul about 400 bushels just loose in the truck. I remember one time I was on my way home with a full load. I was coming up a steep grade street in Pocahontas when the back endgate came out and I lost the entire 400 bushels. Traffic was blocked for some time. There were hundreds of people there before it was over. Many tried to help but there was nothing they could do. I told all that I could to help themselves. They were ruined for me anyway. I also lost part of a load of corn when a bridge over a dredge ditch broke through with my truck near Marked Tree, Arkansas. Many things happened that I think of often.
One time I was hauling a load of produce to Memphis. I had a mixed load. Mr. A.W. Garvin was running his rolling stores around the country at that time and I was buying all his produce – rabbits, chickens, possums or anything. One trip I had 700 rabbits. On this night I was loaded and ready to go. Mr. Garvin told me that he had found a box of possums that he had overlooked in the back of the store for two or three weeks and they smelled awful. He asked if he could put them on the fender of the truck and I could throw them off along the way. Well, I forgot all about them. I had to drive in an alley and unload in a side door. As soon as I went into the store a policeman followed me in and asked what was in the box on the truck. I told him it was full of rotten possums that I forgot to throw out on the way to Memphis. He laughed and said, “A Negro man just stole them and is running up the street. I won’t try to stop him.”
For several years I would take a load of strawberry pickers to Michigan about the first of June then go after them when the season was over. I would do the same thing with cotton pickers. I would take loads of them to northeast Arkansas or southeast Missouri. Sometimes I would take families. One time I was moving a family to Marked Tree. They were going to stay and I had a big load, including a cow.
The family went on ahead in a car. Somewhere between Newport and Harrisburg I was driving pretty fast when the steering rod came loose. Of course, I had no control of the truck. It went down a steep embankment but was going so fast it didn’t turn over. Then it traveled up a wide bar pit about 200 feet, hit a side road culvert so hard it threw the cow and most everything else over the cab in front of us, then turned over on my side. There were three boys with me and all of them were piled on top of me. I thought they would never get off me but when we all got out none of us had a scratch. The cow wasn’t hurt either. Then the cab caught fire from shorts in the wiring but we soon put that out with little damage. It was a mess. Chickens and household items scattered everywhere. Roscoe Wisdom, Lonnie House and another boy (I can’t remember his name now) were with me. Roscoe happened to be where most of the acid from the truck battery poured on him. It didn’t seem to burn his flesh very much but when he got out and began to walk around his clothes began to fall off and soon he didn’t have enough clothes on him to be in public. We had to wrap anything around him that we could find.
Several years ago, Doyal Cook, Munro McKown and I formed a truck line to haul freight anywhere in Arkansas. We had a state permit and it was known as the Cook-Wisdom-McKown Truck Line. I hauled feed and other things to and from Memphis, Little Rock and other places. I moved lots of households – to Louisiana, Texas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Indiana and Kentucky. I didn’t have a permit for any of those states. I got caught as I was moving a family through Tennessee on my way to Kentucky. When the officers first stopped me and asked several questions it seemed I was in big trouble but I told them the truth in response to every question they asked me. They had a little private talk then told me that I seemed so honest and was trying to make an honest living they were going to let me go free if I would slow down a little. They tore up the tickets that they had already written, one for driving too fast through the city of Covington without a permit and one for public hauling through Tennessee without a permit. They were real nice. I felt very relieved. The people I was moving had gone on ahead of me and when I didn’t show up on time I met them coming back looking for me. But I finally got to the place where we were going and everything turned out all right.
The largest load I ever hauled on a two-ton truck or anyone ever hauled on a two-ton truck: Ike Mote of McRae wanted me to move him and his family to southeast Missouri. We set a date to load. I went to his place and checked everything he had including a large wagon with bed, a team of mules and one cow. I told him I didn’t think we could get it all on the truck. He told me to leave the loading to him. He had three big stout boys. I told him to get going. They started with the wagon, which they had taken apart, then the mules and the cow, then several farming tools, cultivator and everything, then the household things including a large cook stove, a big coop of chickens, several sacks of potatoes, canned fruit, tables, beds, dresser, chairs and everything. In less time than you would think he had it all loaded. I thought we were ready to go. He said, “Now we will go to Casey’s and get his things.” I didn’t know how we would get anything else on but he did. He had a three-room house full. When he got loaded, he said, “Now we will go get my daughter’s next.” They had about the same amount. Cornelius’ was the last place. I know you won’t believe this; I can’t, either, but it’s the truth. Mr. Mote would use iron beds for sideboards then use chains and ropes to keep them from spreading too much. When we got loaded, we had at least four wood cook stoves, four wood heating stoves, four dining tables, four dressers, four beds, at least 20 chairs, one icebox and many, many, many other things. I didn’t think there was a chance to get there with that load but we did. I had to go around all the towns and then someone had to ride on top to hold wires up and then I broke some phone wires. There was not much traffic those days but when we met anyone most of them would pull off the road and let us pass. We got lots of attention along the way.
A Dr. Lynn at McRae hired me to haul some oil equipment to a place in Iowa, not far from Kirksville, Missouri. We left McRae early one morning. It was cold when we left, I thought. A.D. Donaho went with me. We stayed in St. Louis that night. Next morning, it was snowing when we left and the further we went the more it snowed. We got to Kirksville late in the afternoon. It was cold! I was dressed about like I dressed all winter – medium underwear, khaki suit, heavy jacket, low-quarter shoes, no hat. Next morning, it was 20 below zero. My truck was in a garage but it froze anyway but we soon got it going. They were trying to get the snow off the streets and roads so we could get going. When I would walk down the street, people with their fur coats would look at me like they thought I was crazy. I didn’t get very cold but found out later that my ears were frozen. We got unloaded and were on our way home before noon. My truck didn’t have a heater but we had a quilt to help keep us warm. We drove the rest of the day and most of that night. We were near Rollo, Missouri, when the truck went dead just after we got on the top of a long mountain. We were trying to build a fire in about 12 inches of snow when I heard a big truck coming up the mountain. I got out in the road and stopped the truck and got him to pull me to Rollo. There was a large all-night garage open and they found my gas line frozen. It was still 10 below. Well, we got to McRae the next day and both lived over the trip even if I did have frozen ears.
I know I have taken too many chances driving without enough rest. It wouldn’t work now with traffic like it is. I made many trips by myself but I would try to get some boy to go with me. I would pay his expenses and he would learn to drive. I taught several boys to drive. Some would learn to be good drivers real quick and some would stay with me for weeks. Many times when we were hauling berries and other fruit we would go six or seven days and nights without sleeping in a bed. One would sleep while the other would drive, but you just didn’t get enough sleep that way. We would make a round trip to Dallas, Tulsa and other places every 24 hours. In those days you could get a bath at most any barbershop. We would stop and get a bath and change clothes once in awhile and that would help but we were sleepy most of the time. I would always try to get home for the weekend but I wouldn’t always make it. I remember one Saturday night I was by myself. I was returning from Tulsa, real sleepy and just trying to make it home. I remember coming through Russellville. On this side of Russellville I had to cross a railroad. I heard a train whistle but I was so sleepy I didn’t know where I was so I stopped. Next thing I knew, it was about 10 o’clock Sunday morning. A man stopped by the truck, blew his horn and woke me up. I was about 20 feet from the railroad in the middle of the road. People were driving by on either side of me. I never knew whether I had a near accident or not but I always felt like I did. I made it home that day around noon.
I remember hauling a load of strawberries to Springfield, Missouri, by myself. I left McRae late in the afternoon, traveling highway 65 through Harrison. When I got to Conway there was a sign saying 65 was closed to Clinton and I would have to detour by way of Morrilton. I made it to Springfield before daylight next morning. I had some delay in selling my berries and it was night when I got back to Harrison that evening. I ate supper there and started home. I was real sleepy but thought I had to go. Some time later I woke up from a deep sleep. I was in a small town but I didn’t know where I was. I started walking around and found the name Bee Branch. I had driven over several miles of real dangerous road that was supposed to be closed. I know that it is possible to drive while asleep. God had to be with me or I would never have made it. I have gone to sleep many times while driving but never drove that far before or since. At times I have been 400 miles or more from my destination and be so sleepy I could not stay awake. I would stop and run up and down the road, wash my face in cold water, slap my face so hard I would get mad at myself, pull my hair ‘til tears came in my eyes, drink coffee, chew on cigars until they would make me sick, but nothing would work very long. One of the worst feelings in the world.
In the many years that I have been driving trucks and cars many things have happened, some I remember well and many I I’m sure I don’t remember. I have had more flat tires and been stuck in the mud more times in more different ways than anyone else in the world. In the first several years of my driving you couldn’t buy a tire that was any good. Then companies began to guarantee tires to last 4,000 or 5,000 miles but they seldom lasted that long. Then in later years they rationed tires and you couldn’t buy any kind. I seldom went anywhere without having at least one flat. Almost every morning I would have at least one flat and, of course, had to fix the tires and pump air by hand. One time I was on my way to the North Little Rock Curb Market with a load of produce. I had a flat at McAlmont near a streetlight (that was good luck). I was by myself and it was after midnight before I got away from there. I had to fix all four tires. I finally got to the market a little late but that wasn’t unusual.
Another time, in the ‘30s, I was hauling produce to Memphis, mostly sweet potatoes. I had bought a new Chevy 1½-ton truck shortly before that and hadn’t had much tire trouble. I was making two or three trips a week, about 100 bushels a load. I was buying all over the country as far away as Drasco. I would go to Memphis early at night and be on the market early the next morning, then come home. One day, I had only about 50 bushels so I decided I would get up early the next morning and make the round trip that day. My son-in-law Mervin Wilson said if I was going to do that he would go with me. We left early next morning and began having flats early and often and they lasted all the way. We got to Earle late that evening. I had to ride a bus to Memphis to get tires. We got to Memphis some time the next day and I think we got home that night. But I did have four new tires on my truck.
This Fourth of July made me think of a time when I was hauling watermelons from east Texas to northeast Indiana. I had a customer in Greenville, Indiana, who wanted 500 melons delivered on July 4, early. He wanted 20-pound average, not over 21 pounds or under 19. I told him I would have them there. I found a man not far from Texarkana with a big patch that seemed to be just what I wanted. He hadn’t sold any but we went into the field and cut three or four. They were perfect. I made a deal and loaded the truck and took off. I was proud of that load. I drove back to McRae that night and left early the next morning, my son-in-law Mervin Wilson with me. We got to Greenville that night, July 3, and were at Mr. Cobb’s business place when he came to open the next morning. He was well pleased with the way they looked and was preparing to unload them when I asked him if he wasn’t going to cut one. He got one, cut it, and it was green. He cut two more and they were green. I will never understand it but that’s the way it was. Several hundred miles away from home with a load of green melons, the weather almost freezing on July 4. I was sick and didn’t know what to do. Mr. Cobb was a real nice man. He did a lot of phoning and finally sold the load to someone for about half the price he was to have paid me. That was not the only load of produce that I have lost on, but that is part of the game and you never know what you can do until you try. If you don’t try you will never do anything.
ell, I had that 92nd birthday right on time. We celebrated my birthday at my daughter and son-in-law’s, the A.B. Handleys in Searcy, with my other daughter Aubrey Dean Wilson, her husband Mervin, my son Demeaque and his wife Ethel, my two sisters Rose Thornton of Bryant, May Brewer of Beebe (May will be celebrating her 95th birthday July 13), my brother Noble Wisdom and his wife Jewel of McRae, Janette Coulson, her husband Ed, Christene Sharp, Jonnie Lou Loury and her husband Larry, three nephews, Roscoe Wisdom, Robert Wisdom and his wife Inelda, Bunny Wisdom and wife Kathleen, six of my seven grandchildren, Mona Sexon and husband Grover, Sue McFadden and husband Larry, Jimmy Wilson and wife Debbie, Anita Wallace and husband Kay, Jan Johnson and husband Kelly, Duwane Handley and wife Becky, my brother-in-law Perry Wall of Bryant. Nine of the great grandchildren were there, the oldest 11 and the youngest six weeks. There were several in-laws (no outlaws), some friends, about 70 in all. We had a wonderful time. We had plenty to eat – no firecrackers or noise, but we didn’t need any.
will tell you about another load of watermelons I hauled. I knew a man in Houston who wanted me to take him a load of red potatoes. I got my brother Noble to go with me. I was going to get a load of melons on the way back. We got to Houston that afternoon and didn’t know where the market was. There was a black man selling melons from a small truck on the street. I stopped and he told me how to get there. He asked me if I wanted a load of melons to take back. He said he would sell me a load at the patch at my own price. He said he had 125 acres of fine melons about 65 miles down the highway through Sugarland, and told me how to get there. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not. After we got to the market I told Noble if he would help me unload the potatoes I would go down there and see. The man was to pick up the potatoes the next morning. I got to the melon patch a while before sundown. It looked more like 1,000 acres to me. I have never seen that many melons in one place before or since. He asked me what I would give him for a load. I told him $20. He said, “Let’s get loaded.” I told him I didn’t want to load ‘til morning. I asked him what he wanted for 100 of the larger ones, 50 pounds and over. He said 5 cents each. He had a bunch of stout young boys to load. All I had to do was point them out. I went back to the market. Some time later two men came by and one of them said, “Oh, you are from Arkansas. Them must be Hope melons, they sure are fine ones. I will give you 50 cents each for them.” He was doing all the talking so I sold them to him. Next morning we went back to the patch and loaded the truck with the biggest melons I ever hauled. We sold melons in every town from Houston to the weight station this side of Texarkana. I drove onto the scales and the man said, “You are overloaded. What have you got on there?” He got on the truck where he could see. I asked him how much overload. He said, “Oh, about two of those melons.” I finally got to Little Rock and sold the rest of them there.
I have been thinking of the time when White County didn’t have any paved roads anywhere and very few graveled roads. There were times most every year when our public roads were almost impassable, even for horse-drawn wagons or buggies as well as trucks or cars, so you can understand why we got stuck so often. We would take chances, and sometimes we made it to where we were going, sometimes we didn’t. One Christmas Eve I was taking my girlfriend to town in my buggy for some Christmas shopping. The road was real bad. We were near McRae when we came to a place where the mud was so deep the horse couldn’t pull the buggy with us in it. We both got out and gave a lift on the wheel and got going again. We walked along in the mud for a short distance then got back into the buggy and made it to McRae. We went home a different way and made it back that day. It was four miles.
In those days, people were wonderful about helping you. If you were in trouble along the way and anyone came by or lived close, you were almost certain to get the best help they could give you.
I’m thinking of a time about 1920. I was returning from Little Rock in a truck. My brother Amos was with me. There wasn’t any 67 highway then. The main road went north from Ward about where the Ward exit sign is now on the freeway. There was an old wooden bridge over Cypress Creek. The road went through the Abington farm to about half a mile west of Barrentine’s Station. Sure, we got stuck just before night. We built a fire and worked ‘til late but we couldn’t get out. We walked out, thinking we might get to sleep in someone’s hay barn. There was a Mr. Rodgers living on the way out. I woke him and told him our trouble and asked about sleeping in his barn. He said, “No! You might set it on fire!” and slammed the door. We went on to the Barrentine’s. I asked him the same question. He said, “No, but we have a good warm bed you can sleep in. I told him we were too dirty for that. He said, “You’ll have to have a better reason than that. Come on in.” We slept well the rest of the night. We were called in next morning to a real good hot breakfast of ham, eggs and everything. After breakfast Mr. Barrentine carried us to the truck in his wagon and pulled the truck out of the mud with his team and refused pay in any way. I never knew Mr. Barrentine before this time but after this he was a very special person to me as long as he lived.
As I have said before, I have been stuck in every way you can imagine – in mud, on ice, in snow, in water, even in dust. The dust was so deep for a short distance just east of the old Garner schoolhouse, I tried to go through in a pickup truck but didn’t make it. Log trucks could make it but it was too deep for my pickup. The dust was so deep my motor drowned out like it was in water. Before the motor died it pulled enough dust in to completely ruin the motor. I had to have it replaced. When I stepped out of my pickup the dust was above my knees. It was like water. I couldn’t believe it.
I have worked at night at different times to get unstuck but I will tell you about the worst I was ever stuck. It was in the ‘40s, I think. I had my mill at Opal at that time. A man at Vinity wanted a load of lumber to build a berry shed so I know it was early spring. One evening when we stopped the mill at 5 o’clock, I was to deliver the lumber. There was a dark cloud coming up from the west but I thought I could stay ahead of it. I went by Lebanon through the Cane Creek bottoms. It was dark by the time I got to the bottom. The road was very good but what I didn’t know was that the White County road crew had built a bridge across a low place and had built a high dump with thick mud. I was driving pretty fast to stay ahead of the rain and when I went across the bridge I almost lost my truck. I didn’t realize it until later but it sank down ‘til the headlights were covered. I didn’t lose any time. I knew I was in bad trouble. I ran most of the way to a man’s house not far away. I told him what had happened and had him phone three or four neighbors who had tractors or teams. I knew I would need all the help I could get. It was raining before we got started and it rained hard for about an hour. It was the worst mess I ever saw. Everyone worked like they had to. We got the truck out about 11. There were three small tractors, two teams and 12 of the dirtiest men I have ever seen. You couldn’t see a piece of lumber anywhere. We had used all the lumber on the truck to lay on top of the mud so we could walk on it and to help pry the truck out. It was all buried in the mud. I had to take another load. And would you believe after all that work none of the men would take any pay.
hen we lived at Lebanon several years ago there were several families who loved to fish. My father was a hard worker but he would take a day for fishing ever so often. Through the spring and summer, several families would get together every few weeks for a fishing trip and picnic. We had several favorite places to go: Cheek Lake, Fuller Ford, Wait’s Place on Cypress Creek and other places. Five or six men would usually go to the spot the night before and fish all night with trotlines and other ways. Some would go squirrel hunting next morning, then the rest of the folks would gather early and start fishing any way they wanted to, some with line and pole, some seining, some hogging. It would take a lot of fish for 40 or 50 hungry people. The women who weren’t fishing would start cleaning fish and preparing other food for a real picnic dinner. Usually, about 1 o’clock we would eat. The youngest would play in the water and everyone would have a good time.
One beautiful morning a large crowd of us had gathered at the Wait’s Place on Cypress Creek. We had all scattered out fishing in different ways. Father and I loved to hog fish but he was getting a little old and had just about quit hogging. He would go along with me with a sack for me to put my fish in. He also carried a turtle hook he had made from an iron rod. He had been bitten a few times by them. I was working around a large cypress tree that had some roots with holes in them and was catching some good fish. There was a large hole in the tree about waist high. I found out there was an opening under water that went into the hollow tree so I decided I would get inside. The hole was plenty large enough for me to get in. I was catching fish about as fast as I could sack them when all of a sudden my head began to swim, or so I thought. But on investigation, I was moving. I was on the back of the largest turtle I had ever encountered. I didn’t know if I made the hole in the tree any larger or not but if anything got in my way, I did.
Well, after I discovered that it was a huge turtle I had been standing on, I had to call on some of the fishermen who were nearby for help. We had to figure a way to get it out. Someone using the hook located the head and, after some time, got the hook in the turtle’s mouth. With a lot of help they pulled the head into the hole in the tree far enough to chop it off with an axe. The head was as large as an average man’s head. Then we had a lot of work getting the rest of the turtle out of the tree and to camp. Cutting a turtle’s head off won’t kill it. This turtle lived several hours without a head and would walk around the camp with as many as three kids standing on its back. The shell was about 24 x 28 inches long. I don’t remember how they finally killed it but some of the men who loved turtle meat dressed it out and divided it. It looked like hog killing time. I know this sounds fishy but I still have several witnesses to this.
Us country folk sure did know how to live and enjoy ourselves in those days. One time we had planned for a picnic at Cheek Lake on a certain day. The night before, it came a big rain and the water got high and almost ruined the fishing. The men who went ahead hadn’t done any good so they didn’t know what to do. There was a neighbor, Amil Diew, who had some fat goats so they decided to buy a goat and barbecue it and that’s what they did. We still had a real picnic. Some fish, some squirrels and plenty of real good cooked goat, besides all the good food the women had brought from home.
I know that you are tired of me talking about timber work so much but there is never a day that I didn’t think of something someone has said or done in the past or someone will come by who has worked for me so I have to write about what I am thinking about. I have been thinking about a man who was a lifelong friend and worked for me as many days as any man ever worked for me, I think. His name was Olas (Pete) Alford. He was a logger and always drove his own team and hauled logs for so much per thousand feet. He was quiet, low-talking kind of fellow and had a real good sense of humor, always saying something that would make you laugh. He was a good horseman and one of the best loggers I ever knew. He would do some other kinds of work but logging was his life. He always owned a well-fed, well-groomed, matched team of horses with good harness. There were always some logs in rough or almost impossible places and some loggers would refuse to try to get them. Not Pete – they all looked alike to him. He trained his team to mind him like kids (used to). He talked to his horses like he would talk to you. He never yelled. Many times they would load logs on the wagon without using the lines.
I have laughed many times about him mixing with a rattlesnake. I had my mill between Beebe and Ward, about where the freeway is now, and rattlesnakes were about as plentiful as logs. Pete was hauling not far from the mill when a sizeable rattler went up a leg of his overalls. I didn’t see him but someone who did thought he had gone crazy. When asked if he killed the snake, he said, “I think I drowned it!”
fter I had practically quit trucking for the public, Clara and I spent two or three months camping on the White River most every fall. When I had my sawmill down there I had bought some land, Demeaque also owned some land there, and had built a modern cabin on it. He had lots of pecans. The woods were full of hogs, some wild ones because at that time there was free range. Many people would go in there and gather pecans for part of them. We would pick up pecans, fish and I would hunt enough to keep us in fresh meat and we would live the life of Riley. We would come out home every Saturday night, go to church Sunday then go back late Sunday evening. Demeaque always kept a good hog dog and we would keep it and I would try to keep the hogs run out of our part of the woods. One fall the roads got so bad we couldn’t drive in with a truck and I had to use a tractor. After Christmas there was lots of pecans still there but the weather was too bad for Clara so I decided I would go by myself. So I spent two months there, just me and the dog. Early one foggy morning I heard the dog barking down in the pecan orchard and I knew he had some hogs bayed. Sometimes they would bunch up and fight back at the dog. Usually, all I had to do was throw a stick in the bunch and they would all run together and he would run them a mile or so but this time it was different. I had driven the tractor and left it about 100 feet away with my shotgun on it. I could see there was a bunch of them in some brush. I had a stick in my hand, and when I got close to them I threw it in the bunch. This big wild boar came up on his hind legs like a bear, so quick I didn’t have time to move. He hit me right in the chest with his head. I went down backwards like a beanstalk. He was going so fast he went about 20 feet before he could stop, the dog right behind him trying to get a bite. I wasn’t hurt at all and before he could turn around I was at the tractor with my gun in my hand. Then he was coming toward the tractor. I was on the other side. I shot him in the face at about 20 feet with squirrel shot. It didn’t seem to slow him down at all. I shot him in the head from about five feet away. That brought him down, then another shot finished the job. He was a fierce-looking animal and I was glad he was dead.
The next fall we had another encounter with a large wild boar. Clara and I were returning to the cabin one Sunday evening after dark. The cabin was built high enough to drive under. The stairway is up through the floor. We had let the dog out of the truck a short distance back. We were unloading the truck with the lights still on. We had turned on the electric lights when we heard the dog barking and something running toward the cabin. It sounded like a horse but it was a large old boar about 500 pounds. It went straight to the truck lights where we could see it good. I told Clara to go up into the cabin. I got a high-powered rifle from the truck and ended that real quick. He was really mad, slobbering and biting at everything, even tried to bite the lights on the truck.
Camping there was exciting at times. Moonshining was a common thing then. When the roads were under water and boats were the only way in, it would get lonesome at times, although there was quite a bit of river traffic then. Many motor boats, pecan pickers, moonshiners and others would travel the river daily. There were also larger boats pulling barges loaded with logs, soybeans and cotton.
Demeaque’s place is right on the bend of the river, land on the north and west with water on the south and east. The cabin is right in the bend. It was always a thrill to be awakened at night by the boats whistling for the bend and they would always flash a light on the cabin and I would always be on the porch to wave to them.
When I was a teenager, I went fox hunting with my cousin three times – the first, last and only time. If you’ve never been in those steep, rough hills in Tennessee, you wouldn’t understand how hard it was to keep up when they were running a fox up one hill and down another, all night. I don’t think I ever got over it. Of course, I have made many successful hunts in my life that weren’t at all like my fox and turkey hunting.
After we moved to White County I did some duck hunting. This was when Clara and I were camped on White River one winter. One cold morning, I was hunting ducks on Newman Lake. Sitting in a blind waiting for ducks, I was so cold I don’t think I could have shot one. I got to thinking, “I haven’t lost any ducks,” so that ended my duck hunting.
Cold snowy weather makes me think of times when I would go hunting when it snowed. I would like to track small animals in the snow. I did quite a bit of small game hunting with my father and older brothers when I was growing up and some in later years. It consisted mostly of rabbits, squirrels, possum, coon, quail and ducks. I remember the first possum hunt with my father. It was a cool, frosty night in late fall. We got the old family dog, Old Thumb, fed and ready to go. He was a good dog and never lied when he treed. But he would tree any kind of animal. We hadn’t gone very far in the woods when we heard Old Thumb bark. For light, we had a green stick about two feet long with a rag wrapped tight around one end and soaked in coal oil. We went as fast as we could to where the dog was. He had treed something in a hole in a tree near the ground.
Of course, I beat my father there. So, I pulled the dog away from the hole in the tree and reached my arm in to get the possum. He was in there all right. But it was the worst-smelling possum I ever smelled and I soon smelled the same way. We never did see it. But we were sure it had to be a skunk that ended the hunt for us that night. We were lucky that old Factory Creek was nearby. It was a cold bath but that was the only way I could get in the house when I got home. So, while my father went after some more clothes, I got cooled off real good.
abor Day is already in the past and Peggy and I made our annual trip to Lawrence and Wayne counties in Tennessee. We had about 15 members of the family lined up to make the trip. We were going to camp on the bank of a beautiful clear creek, near a cold spring of water and have a good time but when the time to go got near some began to drop out. Some got sick, some couldn’t get off from their work, others had reasons beyond their control. They were all disappointed but that’s the way it was and when the time came to go we couldn’t go either. We couldn’t get anyone to run our store but we went anyway. We closed the doors and left early Saturday morning and returned Monday night. We had a wonderful time. We didn’t camp any. I still have a few cousins there and they were glad to have us stay with them. The only trouble was they had too much to eat. We stayed one night with cousin Lessie Walker and her husband J.W. He is a good farmer; she is a teacher. J.W. and their son Jim have 550 acres of row crop on the Buffalo River. Corn, soybeans and milo, beautiful. Their home is at the end of the road. The drive from the highway is like a lover’s lane. The road is narrow and crooked, over one hill and another. Part of the road is completely arched over with beech, poplar and many other trees from both sides of the road. You cross the Buffalo River, then come in sight of the house, which is surrounded by hill pasture with more than 100 fat whiteface cattle grazing all around. Then you cross Mill Creek, which runs about 40 feet from the front porch. The old water mill is gone that gave the creek its name but the spot is still beautiful, with its slight waterfalls which you can hear from your bedroom at night. The house is a beautiful modern home. Their water supply is by gravity from a cold spring a short distance on the hill above the house. Plenty of water for everything, garden and all. It’s one of the most peaceful places I have ever seen.
We stayed the second night of our trip to Tennessee with cousin Elbert Cressey and his wife Lucille. He is a retired farmer and long-haul trucker. They live on a beautiful valley farm that is part of the farm that Elbert has lived on all his life. There is a clear creek that runs the entire length of the farm that makes it a wonderful stock farm. Their home is about a mile off the Natchez Trace Parkway. The house is an older comfortable modern home with a large kitchen where Lucille spends most of her time and does she ever know how to cook! Their water supply is a big bubbling spring of cold water about 40 feet from the back door and a shallow water pump puts plenty of cold water at your fingertips at all times. They have four fine children and several grandchildren. So you can see why we look forward to this trip each year. Everyone is so hospitable. We enjoyed both nights very much but to make the trip perfect we met with a vanload of cousins from the Dallas, Cleburne area in Texas. Their names are Woodward. They are all part of my mother’s brother’s family. Most of them I had never met. I think they are retired. We spent most of Monday driving around together and had a wonderful time.
They are such a fine bunch, it makes me wonder what I missed by not meeting them sooner.
here has been much said and written about the village blacksmith. Usually, there was at least one blacksmith in every village who did public work and his was a great service for the people.
R.E. “Bud” Gentry was one of this kind. He was raised on a farm but while he was a young man he put in a blacksmith shop on West Market Street in Searcy. After some years his shop and all contents burned to the ground. He then built a large new building on North Main Street where he worked the rest of his life.
He died in 1987 at the age of 92, 10 years after he closed his doors for retirement. As far as I know, he was the last public blacksmith and this was the last blacksmith shop in White County. He told the Searcy Daily Citizen in 1981 that he wasn’t sure how long he had been in the business but he started the same year the Civilian Conservation Corps camps were begun in this country. “I’ve shod good horses and bad horses, big ones and little ‘uns,” he recalled.
Soon after his death, thieves broke into his shop building and stole most of his tools and equipment that was of much value, leaving tons of rubbish and small items all piled together, covered with black anvil dust and cobwebs.
Mrs. Gentry had no one to see after the place for her, so she worried about what was left in the building and that fire might destroy the building and kill some valuable pecan trees nearby. She wanted to make a deal with someone to remove the building and contents from the grounds.
During the seven years since Peggy and I got married we had done some odd things but I still don’t know how we wound up with that pile of junk. When I came to myself, I had made a deal with Mrs. Gentry to move everything.
The only time we had to move that junk out was after Peggy and I closed our store at 5:30. We worked until dark each evening, in weather that was 100 degrees plus.
It was hot but we made a fun job of it. It was also a sad job – seeing all those thousands of pieces of scrap metal that had been cut by hand from furnace-heated metal. The old furnace was in a corner where many drops of sweat had fallen.
There were several badly worn old chairs and nail kegs where customers and storytellers had spent many hours. It was hard to find a place to start. There were truckloads of junk to be hauled to the city dump. We tried to get most of that out first, then the witch hunt.
There wasn’t anything of much value but there were boxes, cans, kegs and piles of small items. Some not so small, of all descriptions and that’s where the fun began. There were surprises in every box, can, pile and everywhere we looked. I don’t know how many pickup loads we hauled out of there but quite a few. We finally finished after about two weeks.
We weren’t embarrassed to drive back and forth through town because we were so dirty and covered with black dust that no one would know who we were anyway.
have just spent several days in the Central Arkansas General Hospital. Mostly tests but I’m home now with a good report and feeling just about right. I didn’t have surgery so I don’t have much to talk about but I did have several operations a few years ago and if you will come by some time I will tell you all about them. I may not remember just how many hours I was in the operating room each time or whether the doctor said it was the worst case he had ever seen, but I remember enough that you would enjoy it. I think I was in the X-ray room most of the time while there but if I had anything to do with that hospital I would sure make some changes in that X-ray room. The first thing I would do is put a foam rubber cover on that table. It’s cold. But they are real nice to you and furnish you all the cold drinks you don’t want free. But the flavor is terrible and if you don’t drink it all they don’t like it. I would sure change the flavor of the drinks but we are fortunate to have places like these to go to when we need them.
Well, if I had authority to make any changes there wouldn’t be any changes in the service you get. All the doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel are just great.
appy new year out there, 1988. 1987 slipped away at night and I didn’t miss it ‘til next morning. It was a very busy and colorful year for Peggy and me. It seems our little business comes in seasons. It starts early in spring with garden seed then the flower and garden plants. Thousands of flower plants of all kinds and colors. When they all get to blooming it’s very colorful. Next comes strawberries, peaches, cantaloupe, watermelon and all kinds of good fruit and vegetables through the summer. It seems like our early fall business consists mostly of pumpkins, ornamental gourds, Indian corn and other fall decorations.
At one time last fall we had more than 2,000 pumpkins and bushels of gourds and corn piled all around. Now that was colorful. Then it’s pecan season. Although we sell pecans all year, when the new crop comes on we have to buy for a full year. I shelled about 75 bushels, boxes full, last year. We sell mostly shelled pecans. Most usually we sell as many through October, November and December as we do the rest of the year. We send pecans to almost every state, including Alaska, and this year we also sent some to Germany. Many years ago a lady named Heral from Alaska was visiting in Searcy. She was in our place and mentioned that she wished she could buy pecans in Alaska. I told her we would mail them to her. She couldn’t believe that we would send the things to her and let her pay for it after it arrived. She started ordering by phone and usually talked about an hour. We learned a lot about Alaska. She orders 10 or 20 pounds of shelled pecans, 20 pounds of raw peanuts, stone-ground corn meal, sorghum and honey. She called in an order just before Christmas. Said they were having a warm spell there. It was only 20 degrees below. It takes about two weeks for a package to get there and the postage is almost as much as the goods but she says it’s worth it.
e have all heard the old saying that all good things come to an end in this world. Well, that goes for all bad things, too. For the last several months I have been trying to write some of the memories of my past life and the editorial staff of the Beebe News has been nice enough to print each item for me, for which I thank them very much. I know it hasn’t been very good but I hope some of you out there have gotten some laughs or something else good out of it. Of course there are many memories, both good and bad, that I didn’t get to. I have never murdered anyone, never stolen from anyone, have been honest with everyone, have paid my debts, but I have done many things that I am ashamed of. I am one of a large family that has been very close. I had a wonderful loving father and mother. We have had many family gatherings, although now Father, Mother, three brothers and two sisters are gone. We that are left still get together at least once each year. I’m proud of my family. None of us ever gave our parents any trouble. None of us was ever in jail or prison. All of my brothers and sisters were just good. As for me, I just never got caught.
Well, before I finish this, I want to tell you a little story (mostly all true). Since Peggy and I were married we have traveled quite a bit. One of our first trips was to New Orleans with three days and nights cruise on the Delta Queen up the Mississippi River from New Orleans. It was a great trip, the November weather was just perfect and the river was beautiful. We would just cruise along at a slow speed. We spent much time watching the huge paddlewheel and the beautiful waves it made. Everything was just perfect. The captain and crew were just like one big family, the food was good and they had a good Dixieland band. There were only 75 passengers and most of them were very friendly. We visited several beautiful old southern plantation homes.
On Sunday morning we were docked along the levy and just over the levy was a small village. Peggy and I never fail to go to church on Sunday if possible. There hadn’t been anything said about a devotional or anything so Peggy and I went ashore to the village thinking maybe there might be a church there. The only church was Catholic. We would have gone to it if they had asked us. We went back to the boat for lunch and while we were in the dining room the Captain said thee would be a devotional in the Texas Lounge at 2 o’clock. Well, we knew the lounge was the open bar for all kinds of strong drink. We didn’t know just what would happen but just before 2 o’clock we went inside and sat down at a vacant table. There were several people sitting at tables, drinking and talking. The bandleader and some other men were sitting at the bar drinking. Someone handed out songbooks. The bandleader refilled his glass with champagne and got up and went over to the speaker stand and said it was time to start. He led a couple of songs, a few of us sang along with him. He read a few verses from the Bible and made a very interesting talk, taking a drink from his glass often, then he told a story that I have thought of many times.
There was a certain man in a community. He was very old and very wealthy and considered very religious. Of course he had read in the Bible about the mansions in heaven, and as he got older he began to wonder what his mansion would be like. It was on his mind so much he had a dream about it. He dreamed he went to heaven and when he got to the pearly gates the Good Lord asked his name. The man asked, “Don’t you remember me?” and told him what his name was. The Lord said, “I believe I do remember you,” and called an angel to show heaven to him. They started walking the golden streets with beautiful mansions on both sides. After they had walked a long way they came to the end of the golden street. It was just a paved street, beautiful mansions on both sides but not as large as the others. After walking a long way down this street, it came to an end and just a path led to a tumbled-down shack. The old man was shocked and asked, “What does this mean? I have been a member of the church for many years.” The angel asked, “Do you pay for the upkeep of the church?” “Well,” the old man said, “if anything special comes up I always help a little.” The angel said, “The Lord can only build mansions with what you send here to build with.” I have thought of that many times.
Have you ever wondered what your mansion would look like? Think about that. As for me, I have my heart set on one of those right down on the golden street and I would love to have each and every one who reads this to be my neighbor. Think about that, too.
Cover photo and this photo of Walter by Randy Kemp
In his Rotary Club, Walter Wisdom occupies the slot of “Wood-Cutter.” He is, but much more. This many-faceted man will celebrate his 90th birthday July 4, 1983. He has a lean body and keen mind. He has known hard work in his day and now in latter years he does not fear what the future holds. The reason is simple. He has Faith in His God and trust in his fellow man. Life has not always been easy for Wisdom. However, the trials of the Great Depression and hard work have only tempered him into a soft-spoken, grim but determined man who has fought the battles of life and has come out on top. He knows God has been kind to him. In solemn moments when he meditates with His God, he also gives thanks for his health, for his family, for his friends and for the Faith God has let live in his heart.
One will never see Walter pushing into the conversation where others talk. However, if goaded into it, he will tell some amusing anecdotes which will keep both the aged and youth in rapt attention as he unfolds true stories of yesteryear. Who would believe him 90? He can still shoot a pigeon from the top of the church steeple where he worships God. When the messy birds overpopulate he can be seen with his trusted “22” taking careful aim and then the fire from his rifle will result in another casualty among the intruders. Ask him to tell you about the deep winter snows he can remember when only the tops of the fence posts could be seen. Get him to recite the times he has carried loads of rabbits to Memphis, both cottontail and swamp, to sell on the streets of that metropolitan city. Then he will switch subjects and tell interesting stories of how he was a peanut vendor, a conductor of sorts, on the Missouri Pacific line. You have seen the person with black coat, brass buttons and broad top cap with a shiny bill, haven’t you? Well, that was once Walter Wisdom. Goad him into relating stories about his venture into fruit peddling. When he hauled a load of apples from St. Louis to Searcy. Nearing Pocahontas on Federal Highway 67, the end-gate came loose from his truck. Apples were spilled down the hill he was attempting to ascend. “People were real kind in those days,” Wisdom tells. “They stopped on the highway and helped me pick up the apples and reloaded my old truck.”
One is impressed with his familiarity with the woods. He knows timber and has worked in it a great deal in his long and eventful life. His knowledge of the old-time sawmill and its operations is precisely what would would expect of one of Wisdom’s age and knowledge. Appearing on his Rotary classification is the word “Wood-Cutter.” This can be attributed to his prowess as a woodsman and knowledge of the old sawmills we once saw by the side of the road or deep in the forest. When asked what his line of work so his Rotary peers might know what slot to fill, he just said “Wood-Cutter.” A simple and yet profound occupation. One must know the tree and its value. He must know the market and its demand. One must understand the timber and its seasoning. The type of wood that would make two by fours and the kind that would be used for decking. You see, Walter would seemingly know all of this just by mere nature. However, it’s more to it than that. He has lived in the woods so the trees and the forest area have caused him to walk nearer to God. Hard work has never done injury to Walter Wisdom. In fact, even at the advanced age of 90, he still carries on a rather full-time type of work. Staying busy has always kept him young. Faith in God has kept him going when others might have called it quits and sat down. Not Wisdom. He asks for nothing and gives much. One could not feature him asking for a handout or seeking the favor of those more prosperous. He believes the words of the Lord Jesus, “It’s more Blessed to Give than to Receive.” Before he knew the Bible taught this, he practiced it. You see, I know where Walter sits in church. I know the car/truck he drives. The way he dresses, the way he talks and the stubborn way he has faced life and dug a living out of it by the sweat of his brow and the calluses on his hands. His tan face bespeaks of labor and toil. He can relate an anecdote that shows his faith in God and then he can tell some touching scene that shows the compassion he has learned. Like when his Beloved Clara was on a return trip into Texas and other parts of the country. While worshipping at the Lord’s church in Arkadelphia, as the church sang “Lead me Gently Home Father,” she fell into his lap to never speak again. He reflects upon this experience with tenderness and love. Later, Walter married Peggy, with whom he now lives. She is several years his junior and yet she looks at him like he is the apple of her eye.
Walter will be at home when his birthday is celebrated on July 4th of 1983. By home, I mean he will feel quite comfortable to have his daughters Mrs. A.B. Handley, Mrs. Murvin Wilson (Aubrey Dean) and then their children and all the grand children. I have attended one of these gatherings before. When the Wisdoms get together, there is a sense of togetherness that defies description. Laughter, jokes, serious and reflective moments, prayer and meditation all have their place. Then more sober moments when doors begin to slam and automobiles begin to start and different family members begin to leave for home. You can believe when this happens that they will leave with the thought of returning for number 92 in the year of 1986. In the meantime, Walter will put on his work clothes, Big Smith, Tuff-Nut or whatever, and he will begin to dig in the yard, or mow the yard. Or more likely, he will go to his garden and plow the Kentucky Wonders, hoe the melons, or trim the trees. How come? Well, when the Farmers Market opens on Saturday, Walter, if he wants to, will be there with his pickup to make a few dollars. He might not need the money any more. He owns some old houses here and there and some “store-fronts” down at McRae, but he just still likes to work and keep busy. When he gets to town, he will back his pickup to the curb, display his produce and when some stranger comes up he will introduce himself and say, “Pleased to meet ye.” It might sound like some show or courtesy, but more than the show, he means it. He really does. That’s the way I see my old friend, Walter Wisdom, Wood-Cutter par excellence.
When I speak the name of Walter Wisdom
It’s with sincere benediction.
Like a tall tree in the forest,
Or a storybook of fiction.
But he was real, he remains alive
In the hearts of all who hold him dear.
If you listen closely, you can hear him
Speak encouraging words into your ear.
Once in awhile, there comes along a person who,
When you offer accolades you never stutter
And when one thinks of Walter, we think
Of tall timber and an old wood-cutter.
But more than the yarns he could spin
And the tales he told,
We recall his gentle spirit and his faith,
Reminiscent of pure Gold.
We think of great virtues, the name he wore,
That only through prayer is obtained.
It’s Wisdom that we seek, if thoughtful,
And that, of course, was his life and name.
This great soul influenced a host of people,
Of that there is no doubt.
And then the bright light that had shown so brightly
Flickered and went out.
“Walter Wisdom … was a mighty man of goodness.”
Lee remembered it that way
but Denton, Texas, City Councilman Mike Cochran had another version in June
2000: Denton County is named for John B. Denton a pioneer preacher and lawyer
that lived in Clarksville, Texas. In May of 1841 he was on a raiding expedition
looking for some Indians that had supposedly attacked a family in East Texas.
When this group, the Tarrant Expedition, finally found some Indian villages
near the present day City of Arlington, they attacked and Denton was the only
person killed. When, in 1846, they were
dividing up Fannin County in to smaller units, they remembered their fallen
comrade and named the county for John B. Denton. The City of Denton, was
created in 1856 and was also named for Denton. If you want more information
about Denton History please check out
my website at
 Thomas J. Harris died June 1,1991, at age 103 and was laid to rest in Dogwood Cemetery, rejoining his fellow workers who died in 1906.
 This article was written in the fall of 1987. In December 2000, Peggy Wisdom recalled they had found two pair of Bud Gentry’s well-worn overalls hanging on a nail in his shop. “They reminded us of Bud so much, we just didn’t have the heart to throw them away,” she said. Some 13 years later, she located them stored away at her home and said she would place them in the Blacksmith Shop at Pioneer Village Museum on the White County Fair Grounds in Searcy – a visible symbol of our county’s last blacksmith.