yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

I Remember

H. J. Bolen

Handling the Dead

Henderson County Times
June 3, 1981

In remembering the passing scenes of life, I can think of none that contrast more strikingly than those that have to do with the handling of the dead. I remember when men "laid out" the bodies of the males, and women did the same for the females. The men also dug the graves. I remember Andy Greener, who was a farmer and carpenter, and whose ancestors came from North Carolina to Henderson County. Tenn., overseeing and digging graves with the sweat pouring off him. He was given credit for a workable grave digging process which included a ledge and crypt at the bottom of the grave, in which the casket was placed and over which boards were placed to keep dirt off the casket box. Digging graves was serious business, and when the invitation went out for "grave diggers" one was reluctant to refuse. Driving lines were employed to let the casket and box into the grave, requiring strong men for this chore. Luther and Homer Jowers were usually deputized for such Herculean tasks. Actually, what it amounted to was neighbors burying a neighbor, and there was a closeness among: neighbors in those days that made them feel deeply about the things they did for each other. Sometimes they called upon a neighbor to say a eulogy that expressed the thoughts of all at such a time. I remember the task fell the lot of my father at the funeral of Dr. M. P. Boyd, who had brought nine of his children into the world and whose father called Dr. Boyd as his first patient when he began the practice of medicine in Henderson County, Tenn. You see these was no government relief, no organized charities, churches were impoverished for funds, so the people had to go directly for help and it always came in various ways. Neighbors put roofs on houses and barns, plowed their fields and planted them, helped them clear new fields and took part in "log rollings." Always with a feeling that "if I ever need help" my neighbors will come through. I remember no ugly and hurting remarks, but with an apparent love and understanding that seemed to transcend all human frailties.

We have already said something of the disposition of life at the end, and how neighbors helped and inspired each other when death invaded a home. Yet, there were even sadder spectacles when new life appeared in the form of a baby boy or girl, and there were no doctors near, no nurses, and the closest neighbor was way over on the other side of the valley. Statistics show that a doctor was present in less than half of the births, and that infant and mother mortality rates were alarming up until a halt century ago. If you see only a few infant tombs in the cemeteries in Henderson County, it is because they were buried in unmarked graves. And like the poet said: "Many a flower has bloomed and left its scent on the desert air and seen no more."

So whether it is the beginning or the end, we can recite the following from the pen of William Cullen Bryant: "And the sweet babe, and the gray-headed man Shall one by one be gathered to thy side, By those who in their turn shall follow them." I wish that I could envision the long train of human history, and witness the joy and the sorrow that were its cargo.


Henderson County Times
June 10, 1981

Wildersville was known for many years as the drummer town. The drummers who went out from the town every Monday morning, as I remember then were: Arthur Fronabarger, Dudley Tilson, George Bolen, and there could have been others. John Moore, of Westport, traveled the area for the H. &W. B. Drew Company, of Memphis, and came down one summer with typhoid fever, and I. took his job and became the "order-taker" for his customer. So, I too, became a drummer until school began in the fall. Now and then I would join other salesmen and have to stay at a hotel overnight. As we gathered around and listened to the old-timers tell stories of their experiences, it was a custom to either smoke a pipe or a cigar. One generous comrade gave me one of his cigars, which I lighted and puffed on just like one was supposed to do. Soon I felt myself getting sick and excused myself and went to my room where I suffered no end of nausea and other discomfort. I never did tell anyone my experience with the cigar for the other salesmen were so kind to me and knew I was hardly "dry" behind my ears and was going through a terrible experience anyway.

I remember my weekly trip to Luray, calling on the local merchants, and going there by train from Lexington. When I would walk down the railroad track to Huron, call on the merchants there, and then down the tracks to Life, where I called on W. R. Britt who, with his son-in-law, ran a large store. Mr. Brirt was a fine, jocular type gentleman who, when he saw me corning down the tracks wagging my briefcase, told his son-in-law to give me a big order. He joked about my walking all the way from Memphis to get his order. I well remember there was a big saw mill in the area, which employed a large number of employees. I took an order for ten thousand sardines, 5000 canned oysters, and 2000 salmon. I also took an order for two barrels of sitck candy. 1 then took an order for Mr. Drew's specialty, "Puck Brand" flour, which was a favorite in many housholds of the day. I never "wrote off" Life after this trip there and it was not the last time I walked down the tracks from Huron to Life.

While talking about Wildersville being a drummer town, it would be inexcusable if I failed to mention the attraction to the town by other traveling salesmen because of the Carnal Hotel, which boasted of clean beds and wholesome meals and was patronized by salesmen from Memphis to Louisville. The hotel was built about the turn of the century, and when new was operated by Luther Bolen and wife. A Mr. Carnal and wife purchased it about 1915, and ran it as a hotel until the early 1940s. Mr. and Mrs. Carnal were assisted by their daughter, a Mrs. Tuten, during the last decade of operation. It ceased to be a hotel when Mr. and Mrs. Walter Rush bought the house with its several rooms and many gables. The old hotel building is empty now and in disrepair, but if it could talk it could tell some stories just as interesting as those told by Hawthorne in his "House of Seven Gablcs." Perhaps there will be someone yet who will catch the spirit of those who long ago gathered there to talk of things that belonged to another era.


Henderson County Times
June 17, 1981

I am often asked how I could remember so many incidents affecting the life of so many people. When I was a boy children were not supposed to be talking too much, so I just listened. My father had a good memory that went back many years, and he impressed me with many facts concerning people who were born and lived before the Civil War. Then there were Rufus Cozart, who migrated from North Carolina to Henderson County, Tennessee, as a young man with his family, and whose mind was keen right up to his death at 88; Jim Fowlkes, whose family migrated from North Carolina to Alabama and later to Henderson County, Tennessee, and I should include Arthur Fronabarger, who could tell many interesting stories of pioneer days. Now as to my contemporaries, I have to give credit to a sister and two brothers who carefully monitor my writings and set me straight if I make a mistake. The two brothers are Benjamin. Harrison, William Ethan, and the sister is Ester. Ben is 90, Ethan is 84, and while not at liberty to tell my sister's age, I can say she is younger than I am. I must admit that all of them have keen memories, and I always listen to them. Ben was born the year Benjamin Harrison was elected President, and my father used to jokingly say that for naming his first son after him he appointed his mother, Hannah Jean Bolen, the first woman postmaster in Henderson County, Tenn. My father and mother had nine children, the last two being twins, and I would suppose when they began to double up on him, it was time to stop. My father was a member of the Henderson County Court for 26 years, and it was my observation of him in this capacity that led me to think of him as always honorable and trustworthy.

It might be most appropriate for me to tell something of my brothers and sisters, I had four brothers, and three of them became retail merchants; namely, Ben, Ethan, and John Graden. George became a wholesale merchant. Ethel, the eldest, suffering severe burns when she was quite young, always remained at home. Eva was a canning demonstrator during the administration of W. R. Wilson. Ester was for many years the Wildersville postmaster, following, in her grandmothers's footsteps, and her twin brother, Lester, died in infancy. We were never rich, but we never were hungry. We never thought of ourselves as being poor, for nearly everybody else was in the same condition we were. I remember my father throwing five silver dollars into the hands of a neighbor who had lost his household things in a fire. I kept thinking about how much I could have enjoyed the purchasing power of those dollars at a candy counter. I know better now the meaning of those dollars to that neighbor of ours.

May it suffice, though, just here to say that when. I write about people and things of long ago, it would be far more stimulating to write of people and things today. The future, of course, beckons us on our way, while the past is only a memory. The present, really, is all we have, and we should make the best of it. We shall cherish the memories of yesterday, and each day they become more golden than the day before.

Wildersville's Most Eligible Bachelors

Henderson County Times
June 14, 1981

I wish to write about three of Wildersville's most eligible bachelors, namely, Carl Orr, Bud White, and Toof Fronabarger. They were all good looking, intelligent, smart dressers, and always attracted the ladies but who seemed to be able to avoid matrimony.

Carl was the son of Faulkner M. Orr, whose first wife and mother of Carl, was a Gordon and came from a distinguished family.

Mr. Orr served as Wildersville's postmaster for some thirty years, operated a general merchandise store there for more than forty years, and ran the only casket store the town ever had.

His son Carl, as a young man, was most likable and made friends readily. A casket salesman from Memphis was impressed with Carl's ability and appearance. He was offered a job with his concern in Memphis, which manufactured and sold caskets over a large territory. Carl continued to work for the firm, became one of its chief executives, retired several years ago, but kept active with his riding stables of fine horses--a hobby he took up long before leaving his old home at Wildersville. He is now past ninety years of age, and still rides his horses.

Bud White bought and sold hogs and cattle, marketing them by train to Nashville stockyards. He wore well-fitted, double-breasted suits, sported a handle-bar mustache, and stood very erect. I remember a Miss Gladys Manley would conic to visit her aunt, Mrs. F. M. Orr, and Bud would invariably date her each year. Bud was getting to be an old bachelor, but during Miss Manley's stay he would hasten his step and seem younger. Bud suffered an unfortunate accident in his early 50s, having sought a ride in Lexington with a friend who was driving a truck to Wildersville, and on the way he fell off the truck and broke his back. A long siege in the hospital followed, and to the sorrow of his many friends he never fully recovered, dying a few years later. Bud White was a noble soul who was honest and upright in his many dealings with his fellowman, and he gave the impression of being the right man next door.

Toof Fronabarger was the son of Arthur and Kate Fronabarger. His father was a traveling salesman, and a very successful one. Toof was a model in size, with his clothes fitting him snugly and properly. He worked mostly for M. C. Rosser and his many enterprises, which included an ice cream parlor and the post office. Toof also measured and fitted suit for men, and it was during as instance of measuring me for a suit that I noted his exactness in doing all he attempted to do. My suit was perfect fit. Later observations proved to me that he was a perfectionist.

Girls always seemed to feel he was a good "catch" and were lucky to get a date with him. Yet, he never seemed to take advantage of the popularity with the ladies.

His brother-in-law, Herman Roberts, worked, for .a cooperage firm, and when Toof wanted to take off and leave Wildersville, he took a job with a copperage firm in Memphis, whose office was in the same block of the firm of S. C. Toof and Co., the owner from which he got his name. When Toof was born his father was working for Mr. Toof, and he named his son after him.

I could close by telling of a hair-raising experience suffered by my brother, Graden, and .Toof when he was a guest in our home and attended a debate at the Murphy's Valley School. The boys agreed to ride Bedford Todd's horse, while he walked home with his girlfriend. With both boys on the horse, they began kicking it in the sides to make it run. And run it did until both boys fell off when they were about to cross Big Sandy River. Of course, the horse went on to his master's home a mile away. The boys were not hurt, but just scared to death: Needless to say, they never slept any that night. They, both always talked about that terrible ride on that western pony, and perhaps wondered why their ride could not be as famous as Paul Revere's midnight ride. They certainly did arouse the countryside by yelling at every house for someone to stop "that horse". I had great respect for Toof and all his family. I sat for hours at a time as a boy listening to his father tell about the long past he could remember and tell so good.

Fleetwood Ball

Henderson County Times
July 1, 1981

Rev. Fleetwood Ball, long-time pastor of First Baptist Church in Lexington, probably set the marrying record by any one person in Henderson County. His record for funerals might also set an unusual demand for his service too. The only other person who may have equalled or exceeded Ball's record would have to be his successor, Dr. E. E. Deusner. Dr. Deusner preached my father's funeral, and I was so impressed with his message and wondered how he could get so much information and make it possible for the subject to come alive and relive his life again.

He also preached my brother, George's funeral. Afterwards he asked me to ride with him to Wildersville Cemetery. This gave me an opportunity to ask him how it was possible for him to make his funeral message so pointed and so beautiful. Dr. Deusner gave me his secret, I think, when he said: "I tailor my funeral message to suit the life of the deceased. I simply individualize my funeral message so the family and friends can recognize the departed one and remember him in life."

After this explanation, I told a young preacher friend of mine who was in the habit of preaching funerals of the stereotyped sort, and made them appropriate for all his funerals. As a result, he is now the most popular preacher for funeral services in a wide area. As I recall Rev. Ball used the same personal message and, like Dr. Deusner, he knew so many of his funeral subjects very personally.

Rev. Fleetwood Ball was born and reared in Paris, Tennessee, where his father, Rev. Martin Ball, was a Baptist preacher, and prominently identified with the Masonic fraternity. He was at one time Master of his lodge in Paris and served as a chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee and also as its grand orator. Lodge records show that he was popular as a speaker on numerous occasions at different times in both Henderson and Carroll counties. If the word that has come along to us is correct, then it is no accident that Rev. Ball came to Lexington when he graduated from the seminary. His father kept telling him about the many fine people he had met and knew in Henderson County. I have a picture of a St. John's Day celebration held by the Farmville Lodge, with Rev. Martin Ball as speaker and shown in the picture. My grandfather was in the picture, and always spoke most highly of Rev. Martin Ball. Rev. Fleetwood Ball was not only one of the most noted clergymen in Henderson County, but he was a prolific writer and Felix Creasy once said he could have produced enough copy each week for two publications the size of the Lexington Republican. I remember he once wrote an editorial based on his research on why we have different colored human beings. He contended, it seemed to me, that the color of the skin was produced by climatic factors. Today I suppose, one would say such physical differences are the product of our environment.

I attended many of Rev. Ball's funerals, and it was a custom in those days to open the casket and let the people file by and view the body. I was puzzled by what I saw, noticing a snuff toothbrush sticking up out of the corpse's mouth. I thought that it would be left there when the lid was closed. Of course, it was placed there by the family who wanted her "to look natural" in death.

I have just read a book which tells some interesting accounts experienced by a preacher during his long ministry. I feel sure Rev. Ball and Dr. Deusner could also have written some very interesting observations over their long ministries. We should remember, too, that funerals and weddings are only "side-lines" to their jobs and do not represent the gamut of the great work they do. Perhaps when you see a minister again, regardless of his denominational niche of service, you may take your hat off to him because of the noble work he does for the good of his fellowman.

Hill Moore

Henderson County Times
July 8, 1981

The principal theme of this column will be about Hill Moore who stood about six-feet six inches tall, with a Lincoln beard, who made frequent trips to see my father about matters that disturbed him from time to time. Mr. Moore was married twice, and had two sets of children. His last marriage was to Mrs. Sudie Phelps, who had two children by her former marriage, Gwen and Bomar. I do not remember the names of all of the Moore children by his first marriage, but I know I had some of the grand children who went to school with me when I taught at Farmville.

Mr. Hill Moore was accused of talking to himself, and I could vouch for this kind of behaviour on his part. Of course, at my age then I had no authoritative answer as to why people would talk to themselves. I understand that psychiatrists today do not ascribe any mental problem with the practice. I recall, though, my father hearing a trial over some hog-stealing claims against a defendant in his court. Mr. Moore was only a witness for the plaintiff in the case, but when he was called the defendant yelled out he did not want that crazy man to testify, saying, "He talks to himself." The defendant's attorney proceeded to ask Mr. Moore if he did indeed talk to himself. Mr. Moore replied, "Sometimes I do." The attorney then asked him why he talked to himself, and then Mr. Moore retorted: "I like to talk to a smart man sometimes." And I can testify that Mr. Hill Moore was nobody's fool, and he could hold his own among the intellects of his time. I remember going to hear a physicist speak on the atom bomb, and the next day he was going through a city park talking to himself. He was probably solving some more of the mysteries of the universe and passing them on down to future generations.

Mr. Moore's stepson, Bomar Phelps, alarmed the whole neighborhood when I was a boy of four years, by telling us that he had something at his house that "ran like a train." About a dozen showed up to see the spectacle. When we arrived at Bomar's house, he proceeded to show us "the show" by setting up a set of dominoes, then tilting the first one which made all of them fall smoothly down. The other boys were older than I and seemed to see a moving train as Bomar had described, but I was so disappointed I never thought of it again until I heard politicians calling the response the dominoes theory. So Bomar didn't fail to teach me, after all, for I had learned how easy it is to make a move that will accelerate other moves in its path.

The last time I was in the Farmville Cemetery, I sought out Mrs. Sudie Phelps Moore's grave, with the aid of her son, Clyde, who had a successful career in Memphis and who came back to Lexington and Henderson County to live. I knew my mother would wish me to visit her friend's grave, and I watched how tenderly Clyde laid a bouquet of flowers on her well-kept grave. Near the entrance to the cemetery, we could see Dr. Boyd's monument which friends and relatives donated to honor the man who had done so much for so many. Clyde said he brought him into the world, and I could say the same about myself. And the thousand or more in that cemetery could say the same.

Mr. Hill Moore had a statuese figure, towering above most other men and calling himself "the common man."

Mills Darden

Henderson County Times
July 15, 1981

I have been researching data discovered many years ago on the life of Mills Darden, born near Wilmington, North Carolina, and died near Lexington, Henderson County, Tennessee, at the age of 58. Mr. Darden was probably the largest man who ever lived, weighing by close estimates of in excess of a thousand pounds. I was in school with a granddaughter of his by the name of Mary Darden, and who was quite proud of her grandfather. She has numerous clippings from newspapers carrying various accounts telling of her grandfather. She also had some very interesting mementos her family had preserved and which she proudly displayed. There was a pair of trousers, home sewn, which measured 72 inches in the waist, a pair of homemade shoes, with the leather still good, and a pair of galluses made of leather. She had in her home a chair on which he sat and read books. Some years ago I wrote a story based on my findings on Mills Darden's huge size and other information on his life, which was picked up by the wire services and published throughout the country The fact that Mr. Darden never took advantage of his unusual size and tried his best to live a normal existence, he escaped the usual notoriety that would accompany "The world's largest man."

Felix Scott, of Lexington, who lived as a younger contemporary of Mr. Darden, told W. V. Barry, founder of the The Lexington Progress, soon after his coming to Lexington, about seeing three normal-sized men walk comfortably wrapped in Mr. Darden's coat across the courthouse square. A Wilmington, North Carolina, newspaper stated :hat Mr. Darden suffered a glandular problem which caused him to grow in size throughout life. It might be noted, though, that no other member of his family experienced the same fate. Mary Darden, mentioned above, was of normal size, and fairly good looking, and she vouched for the normal size of all other members of her family.

I might add, too, that Granddaughter Mary Darden was not only proud of her ancestry that connected her with Mills Darden, but she remembered many interesting anecdotes, that reflected a humorous side concerning his huge size. One was he-had much time to himself, for others seemed to give him wide berth, He would go to Lexington in his own ox-drawn wagon, with him filling the one seat and the oxen straining at their load. It was during one of these trips to Lexington some friends managed to secretly weigh him by depressing the springs with rocks to provide the same position they would be when he was sitting on them. The rocks that displayed him weighed over one thousand pounds.

Mills Darden felt his weight was a personal matter, since he did not ask society to make up any odds because of his huge size. He made a good living, reared a fine family, was never an object of charity, but rather supported the needy about him. His granddaughter, Mary Darden. told me of one cherished memory about her grandfather was his material accomplishments in spite of his handicap, Although his serious handicap of being so large would have qualified him as a circus freak, he gave his family instead, and posterity a noble heritage and his adopted county and state a pride in good citizenship.

Early Settlers

Henderson County Times
July 22, 1981

I noted that Auburn Powers (1930) and Tillman Stewart (1979), two authors of Henderson County histories, wrote of the wonderful human heritage the early settlers of the county brought to their posterity. Politically, they loved liberty, and as to their religion, they were for the most part protestants. Yet, I recall for the most part, the people were charitable and tolerant toward all races and religions. The first Catholic family to come into the county was the W. V. Barrys. Mr, Barry founded and edited The Lexington Progress, and was for many years clerk of the Chancery Court. I edited a full page of "Wildersville News" in the Progress each week, which included some ads from Wildersville merchants. I received many gracious responses to my efforts from both W. V. and his son, Henry. The first Jews to come into the county came in the form of peddlers. They wrapped their goods in a huge canvas, tied the ends together, and thrown over their backs and went from house to house. It was amazing how quickly they could open it up and spread the goods on the floor in a beautiful display. Some years ago I wrote a story for the Commercial Appeal, entitled "Some Merchandising Empires That Were Started by Jewish Peddlers." I based the story on an interview I had with Jacob Goldsmith, of Memphis, who founded the department store, J. Goldsmith & Sons, in that city. Mr. Goldsmith was one of these peddlers and traveled over much of West Tennessee, including Henderson County. He still remembered many of the people visited and sold on his peddling trips. I believe John Wannamaker also got started in this manner.

The fathers of the early settlers of Henderson County probably fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain, who brought a decisive victory for the Revolutionary forces in the south during the war for independence. It was during this brave encounter with superior forces, the British saw the glory and honor of the Anglo-Saxon race as they had never witnessed it before. The early settlers in Henderson County were the sons of these heroes, and now they had made their way across the mountains and were pioneering as their forefathers had done before them.

I just must not speak only of the men as the settling pioneers of old Henderson County. The women were by their side, along with the children, too. Some women came along with the men, and those who didn't waited back home and filled their days and nights with many anxious moments until their men came for them. Joseph Reed's two sons stayed with an Indian tribe white their father went back for his wife and belongings to travel the six hundred miles to adapt themselves to primitive Indian life during the long interval of separation. After all, too, this was their land, and the Indians could have been revengeful, and they knew of no basis for ethical standards which might have caused them to be honorable and humane. Socially, their trustworthiness and honor as a people goes beyond anything ever witnessed in the history of the human race. Politically, the Indians lived by the treaties they made with the white man. It has been said that no treaty was ever revoked without the treachery of the white man. So we can understand why the Reed boys were safe with their Indian brothers during their father's absence.

Return to I Remember

top · home · yesterday's · families · schools · links · what's new · memorial · about

This site was created by David Donahue and Brenda Kirk Fiddler.
This site is currently maintained by Jerry L. Butler
Copyright © 2004 - 2010, All rights reserved