yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


compiled by Brenda Kirk Fiddler

January 14, 1916
The Lexington Republican

Tales of Early Scenes in County;

John Thomas Formerly of this County Talks for Republican Readers

John Thomas of Talala, Okla., who returned to his home Monday, Jan. 3rd, after a delightful visit of two weeks with relatives here and elsewhere in the county after an absence of four years, in an interview with a kinsman, C.E. Azbill, gave the following interesting account of his eventful life:

My father moved from North Carolina to Bedford County, Tennessee, in 1825. I was born Oct. 3, 1826, in that county on the banks of Duck River, thirteen miles from Shelbyville. My age is 89 years and 4 months. I was raised on a bottle. My youngest daughter has the bottle I used as a baby.

Father moved from there to just this side of Flat Creek on what then was called the Decaturville Road. At that time it was in Henderson County but now in Decatur County. Perryville at that time was the county seat of Perry County. The road we lived on then was called the Lexington and Shake-rag road. We call it now the Lexington and Decaturville road.

Shake-rag at that time was the first town I ever visited. I was trampling cotton on a wagon to carry to Shake-rag, fell off and hurt myself. Father said, 'Hush crying; you can go to Shake-rag.' I was a very small child. I don't know how old I was.

Mr. Azbill asked: 'What kind of wagon did farmers use those days?' My father made the first wagon I ever saw. He sawed blocks off a black gum log about two feet through for wheels. The wheels were about 6 inches thick. The axles were made of wood. We used soap for axle grease in those days. Oxen were used mostly for hauling and horses for farm use mostly. The first houses were made of logs and roofs covered with boards about 2 feet long with large poles to hold them down.

'How long did you live with your parents?' I lived with father and mother until I was 28 years old. I married in 1854. 'What was the style of furniture used in those days?' The head and foot boards of bedsteads were turned in lathes with little rings carved in. Rope cords were used instead of slats with wooden spikes thrown across the rope, without springs then. I made my first chairs and have made many shoes in my life.

'Tell us something of the kind of farming tools used.' Well, they didn't have any hardly. The stocks of turning plows were made of wood with a pointed piece of steel bent so as to turn the dirt. Bull tongue plows were used mostly. To scrape cotton they used hoes and scraped the side of the row.

'Did you hunt very much in your young days?' Not a great deal although there was plenty of game. People grumble now at the sparrows and stock destroying their crops. They don't know any thing about trouble. I have seen from 50 to 100 squirrels a day in corn patches and around little fields in timber. We would throw our corn in piles when gathering. Often I have seen large droves of wild turkeys standing at piles of corn. If a man didn't get his crop gathered early the deer would simply eat it up. There was plenty of corn. I have seen father kill many wild hogs. All these were very destructive. In 1854 I was elected magistrate and served until I left Henderson County for Texas. In 1855 I took the old boat called Huntsville at Saltillo, went by way of Paducah and Memphis to New Orleans, came back by Red River up to Shreveport, Louisiana, and on to Wood County, Texas. Texas was very thinly settled at that time. My closest post office was Quitman which was 11 miles. I didn't stay very long. I went into business but became dissatisfied, sold out my stock of goods, bought a spring wagon, two oxen and made for old Tennessee. I went out by way of Little Rock. Arkansas. On our way through Arkansas a deer walked out of the woods. I took my gun out of the wagon and killed it without much trouble. Came by way of Memphis. At that time Memphis didn't have as good streets and pavements as Lexington does now and was a very small town. There were no railroads. We came by way of Somerville and Henderson back to Shady Hill where we moved from.

'Well, uncle, tell us something of Lexington then.' I remember well when Lexington had a very small wooden courthouse. Billy Eaton was Ranger. He lived in a log house near where the Bank of Lexington is now. There were but few buildings here when I came to Lexington. First there was a hotel where the Council block is now. I remember when Mr. Watson ran the hotel. I also remember when Mr. Mills Darden ran it. Mr. Darden was a very large man. He was said to weigh about 500 pounds. He was a first class citizen. I remember when the walnut trees along the Clifton street were nothing but sprouts. Time has changed many things and has removed many faces. George Pool, Clark Harmon, Esq. F.W. Henry, Sam Howard and many of the boys I used to see when I come back to old Tennessee have passed over the River. All my brothers and sisters are gone. My mother was born March 26, 1792, and died Oct. 20, 1895, aged 103 years, 7 months. Well Clarence, I guess I will not come this way any more. I tell them all I think more of them than they do me. I will come to see the ones that are left but they won't come to see me. In spite of all the blessings that are mine in outliving them all, I tell them I am unlucky John. I have lost every presidential vote I have ever cast yet. Well, son, there are lots of things I could tell you that would be of interest.

In the night of Nov. 13, 1832, the stars fell. It was a sight for a boy of my age to see. I was about 6 years old. The whole heaven was alive with stars. They were going in every direction very much like bees when they swarm, some falling to the ground. There was one fell in a large oak in our yard, then on the ground. I thought i would get it next morning but when I went after my star, I couldn't find anything at all.

[For more about the falling stars, see Chapter 21 of Gordon Turner's History of Scotts Hill, Tennessee.]

I remember when matches were first introduced in this country. They were brought on in little wooden boxes. Twelve matches were sold for a nickle. My first trip to Jackson was in early manhood. I went to see the execution ofJohn M. Riley, who was accused of killing a man by the name of Buck Willis who was killed near Spring Creek. Riley was hung for the crime in thick woods where Highland Park now is. I went out to witness the hanging and a terrific storm came up, uprooting trees, upsetting vehicles and greatly demoralizing the crowd. I fled for my life to a field nearby and seized an elm bush to which I clung, but the hail stones nearly beat me to death. When the storm had passed I learned that one of my comrades whose name was Chumney had been struck by a falling limb and his skull fractured. I went to look after him and missed the hanging. Jackson at that time was not so good a town as Lexington is now and had no railroads. About thirty years after the hanging of Riley a man in Arkansas confessed to the crime of killing Willis, so Riley was an innocent man.

This is my last trip to Henderson County. I am old and crippled and cannot risk another trip. So, my son, you can bid all my Henderson County friends farewell for me.

April 27, 1923

Editor, Lexington Progress

It has been a long time since I resided in your county, but I shall never forget my happy association with its good people. My father moved to Henderson County from Perry in 1874 when I was nine years of age. We resided about ten miles west of Lexington on a farm, where I went to many schools and taught two, one at Sand Ridge.

My father died in November 1878, and my mother in December 1885, and both of them burled in a cemetery near our old home.

Henderson County and its people will ever be sacred in my memory and I shall ever be interested in their welfare and happiness.

I married in Perry County in 1890 and came West with my wife's people and have resided in this county since 1892, and reared and educated three sons and two daughters here. I was the first Superintendent of schools in this county and served four years. I served as county judge from January 1907, until January 1913, and I am the present judge of the county court, which is a court of record. it has jurisdiction civil cases up to $1,000 and of criminal misdemeanor cases. The county judge is also judge of the probate court, which has jurisdiction over the estate of deceased persons.

I am stating some things about myself because they may be of interest to some of dear old-time friends. I would be pleased to get a letter from anyone there, if they care to write to me. May God be with you all until we meet again.

Your friend,
E.E. Tracy
Cheyenne, Oklahoma
April 19, 1923

February 1, 1929

From Greenville, Texas

Route 3, Greenville, Texas. January 24, 1929
Lexington Progress, Lexington, Tennessee

On October 23, 1879, I left Sardis for Hunt County, Texas, to stay just one year, but here I am. I was born about 1 1/2 miles southeast of Sardis and lived around Sardis until I was 13 years old. Then my father moved east four miles into the edge of Decatur County. There I got my first lessons in the break-down dance. I danced with all the girls from Scotts Hill to Saltillo, but the prettiest I ever saw was two miles south of Scotts Hill.

Among the large families that I remember around Sardis were the Hannas, McBrides, Bivens, Newmans, Englands, Brooks, Kents, Craigs, Hassells and others. the first school I ever attended was at Spring Hill. Tom Hopkins was my teacher and was a great blueback speller. Some of the old timers will remember him.

Jim, John and Ellen Lewis were my school mates. Bob was too small. My next school was at old Sardis church. Mat Hanna was my teacher. Next year was at the same place. Dock Hanna was my teacher. Next was at Jerusalem School with Dock Hanna the teacher. At the same place I attended the best Sunday school I ever saw. Tom Hanna was the teacher. I understand Tom is still living. Several of the old Sardis citizens live in Greenville: Mat Powell's widow, L.R. McNatt's widow, Louis McNatt's widow, John and Vestor McNatt's widows; Albert and Milton Delaney, Monroe Hassell, Bill Bunch and boys.

I also got my political schooling at Sardis, which has followed me through life. Though living in a county and state five to one Democratic, I am still a Republican, and shall die that. After talking and persuading for 49 years, I finally got Texas right. Hoover carried the state by 26,004 majority. I may do better the next 49 years.

Religiously I am a Methodist. I am the youngest child of C.C. McNatt. All my brothers and sisters are dead but one sister, Mrs. John Smith of Cement, Oklahoma.

I will be 69 the 9th of February.--J.F. (Jim) McNatt

June 19, 1936

Mr. Teague Writes From Oklahoma

1305 Denver St., Tulsa, Oklahoma

Dear Sir: As I am thinking of the old folks around Lexington, will write and ask that you print this for me, as I would very much like to know where all the Threadgills, Fesmires and Teagues are. I would like to thank them again for the nice visit I had last summer. I remember each day all places for it was a pleasure to be in the homes where I received such a welcome. I left there in 1875, on December 10th, with Nat Martin for Texas. Was a month and a day on the road. I stayed in Texas ten years before returning to Lexington for a visit, which I enjoyed very much, but was glad to get back to Texas.

I enjoyed a visit to Corsicana and Deport, Texas, last year. My brothers, Bill and Winfield, live in Corsicana. Winfield will be 87 in September, and Bill is 74 while I am 83. Brother Tom, who lives at Milionia, Arkansas, was 79 last March. My health is fine and eyes pretty good. Winfield and Tom are almost blind.

We got a good rain Saturday afternoon and crops are looking fine. I will be back to my home at Clinton, Oklahoma, about October 1st.--A.M. (Abbie) Taylor

June 9, 1939

A Happy Homecoming

Little Rock, Arkansas, June 3, 1939
Editor Lexington Progress

I am asking space in your good paper to relate a visit which will long be held sacred in our memory. The truthfulness of the old adage, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," could hardly be more impressively verified than it was in the warm reception accorded us in our recent visit to the old home.

My wife was formerly Miss Ludie Copeland, daughter of the late Audrey J. Copeland, and great-granddaughter of Chesley Copeland, one of the pioneer settlers of West Tennessee, who was born and reared near Law in the old Independence community. I was brought up a poor orphan boy near Juno in the Poplar Springs community.

On Sunday, May 14, being the annual decoration day at Independence Cemetery, we went in anticipation of our seeing a host of friends. For hours we enjoyed the warm handshakes and glad voices we had so long wished again to hear, but the sweetness was mingled with sadness as we looked upon the last resting place of loved ones who once enjoyed the blessings we now have. One grave in particular attracted my attention, that of Effie Taylor Walthall, daughter of Aunt Jincy Taylor, by whom I was reared from early childhood. More than forty years have passed since I last looked into her kindly face. The tears came as I stood by her tomb and thought of the loving care she bestowed upon me.

After a sumptuous dinner, many of us gathered in the little church near the cemetery and mingled our voices in the songs of Zion as we did half a century ago.

Later we were whisked away to the hospitable home of our fine old neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Don Williams, where for the next five days we enjoyed a fine fellowship and good eats with them and the Tyler families. I recall that the last time I saw my two former school mates, Mrs. Lonie Anderson Williams and Mrs. Elsa Gill Tyler, they were teenage girls and are now grandmothers.

Saturday morning, the 20th, we caught the bus at Blue Goose station, near the old Daniel Cogdell place, and passing swiftly over magnificent Highway 20, we arrived in Lexington where we were royally received by my wife's two sisters, Mrs. Exie Allen and Mrs. Dorothy Dyer. It was significant that my wife had never seen her younger sister, Mrs. Dyer, the latter having been born after our marriage. On Sunday, we were joined by my wife's only living brother, Lucian Copeland, for a happy family reunion.

Our brother-in-law, Mr. Allen, is a splendid type of our World War veterans, and he left nothing undone to show his appreciation for our coming. We visited the fine CCC camp just outside of town.

While in Lexington I enjoyed a friendly chat with two former school mates, Mrs. W.A. (Berry) Holmes and Mrs. Media Holmes Franklin. As I went about this now beautiful little city, I noted the wonderful transformation that has taken place since the first train over the Tennessee Midland pulled into the town fifty years ago.

On Wednesday, the 24th, cousin Hobart Scott carried us to the home of my former close neighbor, Uncle Joe Corbett, in the Juno community. There in the same house in which he was born nearly four score years ago, this fine type of a son of the Old South, is peacefully passing the evening of life, cheered by the voices of grandchildren and cared for by a dutiful daughter and devoted son-in-law. Though crippled from an affliction incident to advancing age, Uncle Joe walked on crutches half a mile with us to see my old home place where nearly sixty years ago I whiled happy days with Aunt Jincy Taylor and her noble daughter, Effie. The old log walls looked familiar, the old dirt and brick chimney had been replaced with one of brick, but the pretty cedars we had planted in the front yard were all gone.

We finished our visit in the old homeland with two fine old boys, Andy and W.C. (Will) Jackson near Blue Goose.

Bidding all a fond farewell we took our homebound train [boarding at Jackson] at 12:45, Monday, and at 8 p.m., rolled into Little Rock safe and sound, bearing in our hearts a spirit of sweet forget-me-not of the delightful experiences.

Amos and Ludie Taylor

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