yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee
People of Action - 1969

From Lillye Younger, People of Action (Brewer Printing Company, Jackson, Tennessee, n.d.).  Special thanks to Constance Collett and the estate of the late Lillye Younger for permission to make this web page.

Tom Burton

By Lillye Younger, Sun Correspondent

Tom Burton, 94, Remembers River Rafting Days

PARSONS, Tenn. — "I am the oldest man living in Parsons, but I don't feel like it," says Tom Burton. He was born September 27, 1871 in the Bunches Chapel Community, six miles northeast of Parsons, the son of Jerome and Margaret Dickson Burton. He moved to Parsons in 1943.

"I attended my first school at Bunches Chapel, which was a one room building used for a school during the week and church services on Sundays," Tom Burton says.

"We had a subscription school and had to pay a small tuition of $1.50 per month. The school terms were only three months long, starting around August 1 and lasting until crop gathering.

"My teachers were Miss Ida Crowder, Jim Cole, Cabe Hufstedler and Ephriam Arnold. The teachers were very strict and used switches to discipline us students," Burton said.

"My father died when I was eight years old. I had three sisters and one brother. We remained on the farm," he said.

He added that often he got the yen to go in search of the big jobs and would run away from home.

"I will never forget the time I ran away to Missouri, at the age of 15. I got a job at a saw mill, but the work was so hard I didn't last long. My mother never worried about me because she said she knew I could take myself and that I would always come home."

Besides farming, Burton was employed in the timber business, that is river rafting.

"We made a raft of logs and transported them to Paducah, Ky. This was before the dams were built on the Tennessee River."

They used long poles to propel the log raft along. For living quarters on the journey, they stretched a tent over the raft.

"We would take turns sleeping. It took a month to make the trip to Paducah. When we had sold our logs we would come back by steamboat," he said.

He was married to Ara Arnold in 1895 and continued to live in the Bunches Chapel Community. They had two sons and three daughters. Three living children are Mrs. Ariel Towns of Sweetwater, Tex., Mrs. Rena Mays of Parsons, and Mrs. Burl Seizer, also of Parsons. His farm was on the Tennessee River. Ephriam Arnold, one of his former teachers, was his father-in-law. Arnold was a captain on the river rafting boat and Burton worked with him.

Until he fell and broke his hip four years ago at the age of 90, he was as active as a man in his fifties. He enjoyed hunting and fishing, and could outwalk his great son-in-law Henry Greenway, on hunting trips. He walked to town and back twice a day, a distance of 1-1/2 miles every day until his accident.

"I used to catch lots of fish," he said. "Some of the biggest ones I ever caught were at the big eddy at Lady's Bluff. Some of the catfish weighed 80 and 90 pounds, however the biggest ones got away.

"I always used a .22 rifle to kill squirrels and rabbits with I felt like it was a disgrace to kill them with a shotgun. That was too easy."

He always attended the turkey shoots and target practices. He bought a special rifle for this type of shooting. but gave the rifle to his great-grandson, David Greenway, when he broke his hip.

Burton was working on a hoop for a fish basket when a piece of timber knocked him down and broke his hip. He was showing the grandchildren that he could make a fish basket at the age of 90. He was carried to Jackson-Madison County General Hospital and was able to walk out, with the aid of a walker, in 10 days.

Aside from having to use a walker, his health is excellent and be gets around well. His menu includes meats every day with vegetables. He is a moderate eater. "I do not care for sweets much," he said. He retires around 7 p.m. and likes to arise by 4 a.m.

He attended Bunches Chapel Baptist Church until moving to Parsons where he attends the First Baptist Church. His wife died in 1942 and he moved to Parsons in 1943.

In regard to the space program, he has no interest in traveling to the moon and said the money used in the space effort could be used to better advantage by feeding the hungry persons in the world.

His advice to his great grandchildren is to be kind to everyone and to be obedient.

"I attribute my long life to not worrying and taking things calmly," he said.

"Never cross the bridge until you come to it."

Mr. Burton lives with his granddaughter, Mrs. Henry Greenway and family at 313 North Kentucky Avenue.

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