yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee
History of Henderson Co.

From Auburn Powers, History of Henderson County, Tennessee, 1930. Reproduced with permission for personal use only. No further reproduction can be made without written consent of Andy E. Powers and Sherode B. Powers.


Chapter VII

When the soldiers, both Union and Confederate, returned home, they did not find conditions as they had left them. The homes that had once been happy and lit by the fire of prosperity now stood in desolation. The walls and roofs had not been repaired in four years. The old and worn out furniture had not been replaced by new. The blankets and serviceable clothes had gone to the soldiers in the war. The linens from the beds had been given as bandages for the wounded. Provisions had been consumed by the armies or carried away by guerilla bands. And horses, cattle, and hogs had gone in like manner. About the only thing left was life, and the beauty of it had been trampled out.

The people who had enjoyed prosperity and plenty four years before were now forced to start life over anew, and at a disadvantage. The spinning wheel again hummed far into the night when wool or cotton could be obtained to spin. The old and musty looms were taken from their corners and tuned for service. Scraps of leather and other strong material were nailed to pieces of wood hewn in the shape of shoe soles and used for shoes. Sometimes the entire shoes were made of wood. Again were the sluggish oxen put under the yoke and plowed, for the good horses and mules had been taken away during the war, and the oxen that had been left behind were only the culls. But they could be used and were. Fields had grown into thickets and axes with which to clear them were scarce and could not be bought. Money had no value. Sixty dollars of Confederate money was worth only one dollar in United States currency, and Confederate money was the dominant money in Henderson County. In Confederate money, a barrel of flour cost $250.00; a bushel of corn $40.00; and a pound of brown sugar, $10.00 or a pound of coffee, $12.00. You can readily see that a pocket full of such money would buy very little.

Some things could not be bought at all. Flour was so scarce that it was used only as a very rare dainty. When a portion of it was secured in a community, it was kept for a case of emergency. Coffee was another very scarce commodity. People would sometimes go miles to borrow a small quantity of it for a special occasion. Rye, corn, and cotton seed were used as substitutes for it. Salt was perhaps the less plentiful and most essential of all these products. Without salt meats could not be preserved or foods cooked decently. Wood ashes were sometimes used for curing meats, but to no great advantage. Dirt from smokehouses was dug up and boiled in water to separate the salt from it. All-in-all, the people of Henderson County were in a worse condition than were the early settlers, for the early settlers could make their living from the bounteous game supply and were looking forward to new homes; whereas the people of Henderson County just after the war had little game and were heart-broken over the destruction of their homes and property. There were many widows and orphans and totally deserted homes.

The question of managing the negroes was of no little significance. In Henderson County perhaps conditions along that line were not as bad as in many places, but not a few of these newly freed slaves had fallen in with the Loyal League, which encouraged idleness and crime. The negroes believed that freedom meant freedom from work and all other cares of life. So they took to loafing, stealing, and everything else that they dared, except work.

In opposition to the Loyal League and the misconduct of the negroes, there grew up another secret order known as the "Ku Klux Klan". This "Klan" is said to have originated at Pulaski, Tennessee in the fall of 1866 by some young people whose object was amusement.

The young people, seeing that they could scare the wits out of the Loyal League meetings and also the misbehaving negroes, turned their or into a band of regulators for the protection of society.

The "Klan" in Henderson County and elsewhere adopted grotesque and outlandish disguise and went about frightening superstitious negroes. It is said that one of the members would conceal a rubber bag under his robe, with a tube extending from the bag up under his disguise to about the position of his mouth. The "Klan", in its hideous disguise, would then go to some negros house and ask for a drink of water.. When the water was brought, that member of the party with the rubber bag would take the bucket, apparently drink all that was in it, and call for more. After seeming to drink two or three bucketfuls, he would thank the amazed negro and tell him that it was the first drink he had had since the Battle of Shiloh. The negro usually dropped the bucket and ran for dear life, believing the man to be the ghost of some soldier who had been killed in battle.

The "Klan" played other tricks on the negroes, usually accomplishing their purpose. But occasionally a stubborn negro paid little heed to the joke and was actually punished by the "Klan."

Whether we approve of the Ku Klux Klan or not, it served its purpose and helped to restore order after the Civil War. But soon bad men crept into it. Other dirty work was done in its name by people who had never been a member. Thus the "Klan" gained enmity of the good people and lost its power.

But despite all this, as months and years rolled by, the brave, hardy, and patient race of the Henderson Countians set about to reconstruct the County and to bring back comfortable living conditions. It was many years, however, before some of them laid aside the prejudices formed during the Civil War and became neighbors as before. But finally they did so and laid the foundation for another era of progress and development.

The negroes had learned that freedom did not mean pleasure alone and settled down to work and made great strides of progress in wealth, civilization, education, and culture. They became sincere in their desires to imitate white people and neared equality with them each year. Beyond a doubt, in the future they will hold a much higher station in life than they hold even now.

Churches were rebuilt as the people began to recover. Roads were repaired and schools were opened. People began to neighbor with each other as of old. In general, Henderson County was gradually climbing to her feet again. But it must be understood that conditions were backward even then. What we call modernism did not exist. Markets were poor and prices out of proportion, but the people could raise what they ate and make what they used except a few luxuries, the like of which we would call very common necessities. There were no railroads and very few dirt roads that could be traveled to any great advantage. During the winter and early spring, roads were impassable. Stores carried only the barest necessities for the community. Cooking stoves were uncommon, indeed. Almost all the cooking was done on the fireplace. Steel plows were unknown, farming being done largely with the eye-hoe and the wooden shovel-plow, which sometimes had a metal point and cutter. Clothes were still largely made by hand. Such a life would seem hard to us, but to them it was a good life. It was peace and a comfortable though rough, living. The people again had homes and provisions to last until more could be grown. They had their parties and dances, their worship and their sports, though they knew little of the luxury that we now possess. But do we, with our cars, radios, and other means of amusement, enjoy life any more than did the people a little more than a half century ago who traveled in wagons and carts or on foot and danced to the music of the fiddle and banjo? It is not what one has in life that counts, but the station he holds. It is not what one possesses but the appreciation he has of it that counts.

  1. What conditions did the soldiers find things in when they returned home?
  2. What did a barrel of flour, a bushel of corn, and a pound of brown sugar cost in Confederate money?
  3. What were used as substitutes for coffee and salt?
  4. Why were people in worse conditions than early settlers?
  5. What did the negroes believe that "freedom" meant?
  6. Tell some things the Ku Klux Klan would do. Was it good in its place?
  7. Discuss the last paragraph in this chapter.

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