We lived nine miles from Searcy, Arkansas, in the beautiful Searcy Valley at the little town of Center Hill. I vaguely remember my grandfather James Carlton, fondly called Uncle Jimmy by all who knew him. He was typical Irishman, short of stature, round red face, with a heart of gold. In early life he lived in Coweta County, Georgia, where Father was born and later moved to Mississippi where Grandmother died in the prime of young womanhood. My Grandfather Williams also died early in life, and Mother being an only child, Grandmother Williams made her home with us. Grandfather Williams had been tall and stately and as all seven of my brothers and sister and I were over six feet tall, we must have inherited our height from him. Father and Mother were of medium height.
It is common knowledge that the older a person becomes the more he can remember the joys and sorrows that impressed him in childhood days. A man is once a man and twice a child, so I shall relate my childhood impressions first and last. The first near-tragedy happened when I was but three years old while living in Arkansas. I had followed my older brothers George and James to a sawmill where they were accustomed to playing on a large mound of sawdust. They were busy playing and soon forgot that little brother was in their care. Becoming tired, I decided to go back home but instead went in the wrong direction into the woods. I was such a small lad that I was still wearing a dress and sunbonnet, and the woods being full of brambles, my clothing was torn at every turn. I wandered among the huge trees, becoming more frightened and hungry every minute. My Fairy Godmother must have been lurking near for suddenly there appeared before me the most luscious blackberries that I had ever seen. My hunger was soon appeased and the fact that I had been eating them was very evident from the stains on my dress and face. To add to my terror and that which impressed the incident more vividly on my mind was the approach of
MY FIRST CURSE WORD
The most vivid impression of my childhood was in 1865 just before the end of the Civil War. Father was a doctor and had been fairly successful and had built us a comfortable dwelling overlooking beautiful Searcy Valley. The house was a story-and-a-half white frame building and consisted of four rooms on the lower floor and two large bedrooms upstairs. The house was surrounded by a neat picket fence and the gate was about 100 yards from the house. A deep wood commenced at the back of the lot and extended for miles. How proud we were of our nice home and what happy times we had together. Father had a large sorrel horse with a white face of which he was very proud for it was considered to be one of the best in the country. Della was his means of travel in ministering to his patients scattered near and far. How happy and contented we were, but with the war growing closer and closer each day and the "Cause" the main topic of conversation, our bubble of happiness was soon shattered. There was hardly a home in the countryside that had not sent a son, brother, father or lover or a husband into battle for the Confederacy. I was too small to realize the meaning of war, but I can remember seeing Father ride away to war on his favorite mount. Not all of the soldiers were on horseback for most horses had been turned over to the Confederacy at the beginning. Father had been permitted to keep his, as he needed it in calling on his patients.
I do not remember, but heard
my parents tell of the hardships and conflicts our gallant soldiers went
through. Towards the close of
the war, the very old and the very young men fought shoulder to shoulder. They seemed to spring up overnight to
take the place of the dead and wounded.
They were lucky if by chance they had a full uniform of gray. Most likely the coat would be a patched,
faded gray and the trousers a butternut shade of homespun. Many of them were barefoot in the dead
of winter and were forced to wrap their frozen feet in rags and sacks. Many a Confederate wore boots taken from
dead Yankee soldiers.
Mother and Grandmother were left with us small children, Mother expecting a new arrival in the near future. They managed to keep us in warm clothing and the table supplied with food, though very, very plain. Confederate money had dropped alarmingly and the cost of food and clothing had advanced to such prohibitive prices that only the very rich could afford. Tea, coffee, soda, spices and silks were considered a luxury, and as cotton was 72 cents a pound even the cheapest cotton goods had risen until women were mending and turning their dresses and making them do. Old looms that had been discarded were brought back into use, and men, women, and children began to wear homespun.
I can picture Mother and Grandmother as they sat before that huge fireplace knitting our stockings, mittens and caps with that faraway look in their eyes. I can remember the day Father returned home from the war, sick and nearly blind, and how Mother cried for joy on his return although he was terribly broken and sick with fever. He wore a full beard and it was matted and dirty, his eyes glassy and bloodshot and his face flushed scarlet.
Father was a doctor, he served in a medical capacity and had witnessed the most
horrible suffering of the wounded and dying. As a result, many terrible stories
were related about those "Damn Yankees." How they would plunder and burn everything in their path,
turning old people, women and children out of their homes. I was only four and my parents probably did not realize the
terrible fear they were planting in my small mind. I clung to Mother's skirts and was afraid to let her out of
my sight. We had heard that the
Yankees were camped across the creek about two miles away. I was constantly on the watch, and never shall forget the
horror that came over me as I looked up and saw those Yankees coming down the
lane and through the gate. I ran
screaming, "THOSE DAMN YANKEES ARE COMING! THOSE DAMN YANKEES ARE COMING!"
By this time Father was terribly ill and had broken out with smallpox and was not expected to live. Mother was powerless in keeping those Blue Coats from surging into the house. There were about a dozen dirty, ragged, unshaven and hungry men in the group. Thinking they could find bedding upstairs they tramped up the stairs and were surprised in finding Father there. Not knowing he had smallpox, they all stood around his bed and one of them roughly yanked Father's pistol from under his pillow. He had a new pair of boots sitting by the bed and asked the soldiers to leave them but only lost strength in asking. Realizing the soldiers were desperate and would take anything, he pleaded with them with nearly his last breath to leave him his horse; but this only caused them to roar with laughter. They went through every room in the house, taking everything of value and then made for the smokehouse. We had no beef but did have plenty of hog meat, which would have lasted us throughout the winter. After realizing that they had all been exposed to smallpox and thinking they might need Father to doctor them, they consented to leave our house standing, for which we were thankful. Tying those big hams and sides across their saddles, the leader mounted Father's fine horse and finally led the soldiers away, leaving us paralyzed with fear. Our only consolation was that they might all take smallpox and die.
Shortly after the soldiers had gone an old doctor that mother had sent for arrived and told Mother that the excitement had caused Father's temperature to rise and couldn't possibly recover. In those days doctors believed that to give water to a person with temperature would certainly kill them. Mother had sent a colored boy who we called "Clabber" to the creek for water, and when he returned he was cold and mumbling. " I done had a turrible time gittin dat watta ma'm. De ice is friz hard dis mornin. God hep us po niggers durin dis cold wedder if Massa docta dies and goes to hebben." Father must have heard Clabber for he motioned for Mother to come to the bed. She could hear him faintly whisper, "ice... ice." Thinking that he was about to die and wishing to grant him his last request, she gave him a small piece. After several small pieces he was able to speak and began to improve rapidly. It was not long before he was fully recovered. From then on he gave his feverish patients all the water they wanted, never forgetting how near death he was, all for the want of water.
My first day of school still remains in my fond recollections. My brothers and I had to walk three miles to that little log schoolhouse. I can picture it yet, with the schoolmaster, L. E. Sheridan, trying to drill into us the fundamentals of readin', ritin', and 'rithmatic, and how we would be sitting on those hard seats made from split logs. The older boys, wishing to initiate me, invited me to play whip-cracker with them. I was delighted to be asked to play with the older boys, and, of course, was eager to be included. They told me that as I didn't know very much about the game I had better get on the end. The end was nearly the end of me. After landing 40 feet away, I was so humiliated that the incident has always remained in my memory.
When I was nine I helped my father in the horse-powered cotton gin, which he owned. It was my duty to ride on the little box seat attached to the lever right behind the mules and to whip them when they went too slow. Eight mules were used and about three bales were ginned a day by this method. I would become very tired trying to make those mules go faster so one day I decided to try a different method. I slipped an old cap-and-ball pistol out of the house, loaded it with paper wad instead of a bullet. When the lead mule got too slow, I fired the pistol at his rump. Instead of increasing their gate, all eight mules stopped right on the spot. The wadding had burned a place on the mule's rear. My cousin, who had been tending the gin, rushed down to see what had happened. I expected to be bawled out as I explained about my experiment to cure the mule of his laziness, but Cousin only laughed heartily and warned me not to do such a thing again. After this a platform was constructed in the center on which one boy with a long whip would stand. It was just as effective as four boys were, one behind each team. My first promotion in life was from the seat to the platform. The next step was to carry the cotton upstairs in a basket and unload it onto a platform. I was next advanced to one of the feeders, it being an 80-saw gin. The cotton had to be stamped with our feet, and three fingers on my left hand still carry scars from being cut to the bone by that old cotton gin, often reminding me of my first position in life and the day I shot the mule. In 1872 this gin burned and Father replaced it with a steam gin, which he operated for two years, until we left Arkansas.
I have very great respect for the Old-Time Religion, the belief of being born again, the days of the mourners bench and shouting for the following reason: When I was the age of 13, I was pointed out as a criterion by all mothers and fathers in the district in which we lived. Every year the Baptist church would have a camp meeting and people would come from miles around to attend bringing the whole family with them, often going through hardships in getting there. Quite a few of the neighbor boys, my brothers and I attended, and when called upon several of them went to the mourners bench. Among them were my brothers George and Jim, and three other boys, the latter being considered the worst boys in the county. Considering myself, as all the neighbors did, a perfect boy, I naturally expected to be the first to be saved. The first night one of the worst boys was converted and jumped up shouting praises to the Lord. In my conceit, I felt very strange that I had not been first. After several nights had passed and all the boys had gone up to be saved, I was left alone. It came to me that I was the greatest sinner in the world, that I was absolutely lost and there was no chance for me. At that very moment I saw the light and jumped up shouting that I loved everybody and my sins were forgiven. From that day to this, I have not, or can I ever doubt the meaning of being born again. The following true facts I wish to express as a tribute to my mother:
All the goodness in me was
due to my Christian mother.
She would take us by the hand, me and my older brothers,
And lead us out into the woods, where we would kneel while she prayed,
For divine guidance to lead us right, and forgiveness is we had disobeyed.
That is the most beloved picture in my memory down the years,
To see my mother kneeling there, her soul shining through her tears.
Out of nine children, one girl and eight stalwart boys.
Every one was converted and has experienced Christian joys.
I only regret that more mothers, today, are not such a spiritual guide,
Many homes would not be broken but love and peace would abide.*
The above was put into verse by Lillian Carlton, the wife of Harman Carlton, my brother John Rufus' son.
When I was about 14 years old, I saved up my money until I had the sum of 50 cents. I had a lot of boy friends who did not have any money or would spend it as fast as they got it. They found out that I had the 50 cents and all wanted to borrow a dime, so I decided I would loan them a dime for a week at five cents interest. The first week I had it all loaned out, and with my principal and interest I had more to loan the next week. I only loaned to the ones I knew would repay me, and many applications were turned down. This continued until I had built my 50-cent investment up to the whole sum of 13 dollars. During this time I had been watching out for a better investment and finally decided on a goose ranch. Geese were worth 50 cents apiece and feathers 75 cents a pound. I took my paper and pencil and figured how many eggs geese would lay, then to be conservative I cut that sum in half, and when they were ready to set I figured very conservatively and decided the number of goslings they would hatch and then cut that sum in half. With all these deductions I could expect no less than one-half a million dollars in 10 years. I decided to invest my entire capital in 26 geese. Before I bought them I consulted a friend, Ben Smith, who lived out of Restless Creek, a fine place for them to range, and agreed to give him half the profits if he would take care of the geese. I told him to keep our venture a profound secret, because everyone would be going into the goose business. I sent my geese out to him and explained how to make nests for them. Everything was good for about a week, until Ben came in and told me that the wildcats had caught two of our geese. I censured him for his neglect, and we discussed ways and means of preventing future destruction of our geese. One week later the wildcats had killed four more, so I decided right then and there that we would go out of business. I sold the remainder of our flock for 10 dollars, with a loss of 3 dollars. However, it was a means of preventing much greater losses in the future, as every time I would think of going into a new adventure, I invariably thought of my goose ranch and the geese I counted before they hatched.
We had heard many glowing accounts about the wonderful state of Texas, the fat cattle, fertile lands and bountiful harvests. Through a trade for a farm, supposedly at Grapevine in Tarrant County, Texas, Father lost our home and gin at Center Hill. We remained in Arkansas until the winter of 1875 when Father, together with several of our neighbors decided to journey to Texas, the land of plenty. It took weeks to prepare for the long trip, and as we were all filled with the spirit of adventure, it seemed as if the time would never arrive for our departure. Some of the families coming with us were "Rufe" Jones, a cousin, Laze and Doc Smith and their families, a Miss Murphy, a family by the name of Rainey and several others. Father fitted out three covered wagons, which were filled with our household furniture and provisions. By this time the family had increased by five: Ed, Bob, Tom, a sister Dell, and a new arrival, John Rufus. Mother was not able to make the long journey with a small baby, so she, Father and the smaller children were to come on the train. Father turned the family belongings over to George, Tite and me. I had turned 14 years old that September. So in the month of November, together with our neighbors, we set our sights on a new horizon, a land of great opportunity. It took us four weeks to make the journey, the roads being so rough we could not travel far in one day. The mules were slow and the wagons heavily loaded and we encountered many hardships and delays. It was necessary to ford several streams. There was no danger from Indians by this time, so we were not afraid to build huge campfires when we made camp at night. We would all be so tired that as soon as the evening meal was over we would roll up in our blankets, most of the men sleeping on the ground, leaving what little space was left in the wagons to the women and children.
The most trouble we encountered was when we reached Dallas, then a mere village. That black land was the worse mud we had ever come in contact with. We had to get out of the wagons several times and cut the mud from between the spokes of the wagon wheels with an ax. Fort Worth was a frontier village, and the first railroad had reached there just the year before.
We finally wound up in what was then known as Kings Colony in Coryell County. Father had previously rented a farm through Uncle Louie Smith, who was living there at the time. We arrived at our destination on December 22nd, and as we would not have much of a Christmas we rode four or five miles to Coryell City to a school Christmas tree. We spent most of Christmas day running jackrabbits with our greyhounds. We had so much fun the day soon passed, and we had not been too lonely in a strange land on Christmas day. Within a month, Father and Mother arrived, and having accumulated the then great sum of five thousand dollars, Father was determined to give up his practice and become a great farmer.
He was determined to give up
And become a great farmer when he journeyed to Texas.
But folks had heard of his coming, and he had many calls awaiting,
So he continued to administer without even debating.
God must have been with those old doctors of yore,
For a halo seemed to hover above them as they came through the door.
And our fear would seem to disappear in thin air,
As he sat by the bed in that old rope bottomed chair.*
made a good corn and cotton crop that first year in 1876. The closest market was at Waco, 25 miles
away. After having harvested the
crops, Father bought a farm of 180 acres in Hamilton County. There was only a log house on the place, and we moved into it
until we could see how we would prosper in that section. Fifteen acres had been
in cultivation, so we planted corn there and cultivated 20 more acres, which we
planted in cotton. The crops were
again bountiful so Father decided to build us a home. It was also a story-and-a-half white frame building similar
to the one we had left in Arkansas.
After living in a log cabin, it seemed like a mansion to us. With Grandmother Williams the family
numbered 11. As Father increased his land holdings, I can see him standing on
our front gallery, as it was then called, and probably thinking, "I am King of
all I survey."
With good returns from his vast acreage and his medical fees he soon felt the urge of expansion and soon built a general store and a cotton gin. Mr. Hugh R. Armstrong, one of the first pioneers in that section, and Mr. H. L. Johnson had been operating a store and post office at Honey Creek and decided to move their business and all united and started a town. In 1877 the building was moved on an oxcart, and through Mr. Armstrong's influence the town was named Carlton in honor of Father. And so the little town of Carlton, Texas, came into being. [As of 1938] it is still just a little country town but what fond memories it holds for so many scattered over many states. Its homes and churches are kept painted and in good repair, and the cemetery where those hardy pioneers are at rest is a credit to any town no matter how large.
Father continued to practice medicine, and his calls carried him for miles and miles around the countryside. With the farm, store, gin and his practice he was unable to see after it all properly so it was necessary for George, Tite, and me to assist him in every possible way. It was Father's idea that to spare the rod was to spoil the child. Naturally, boys growing up are most all inclined to want to stay in bed as long as possible. Father kept a buggy whip handy, and we knew well enough that he would use it if we tarried longer than necessary. As a result of having to help, my education and that of my older brothers was sadly neglected. Up until this time I had gone as far as the third grade in school. But even at this age, I had gradually built up the idea that you can win any goal you want within reason if you want it bad enough.