LeRoy R. McAfee
Navarro County Texas


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Leroy R. McAfee

 

 

A RURAL MAIL CARRIER
Story by Ben Mead/Editing by Milt McAfee
 

About February 1, 1954, Ben Mead, a former Texas Folklore Society member, rode with rural mailman Leroy McAfee on his last round of Route 5 in Navarro County, attempting to capture the essence of Leroy's 48 years of postal service. This is Ben's story:

On May 1, 1907, the postmaster at Corsicana, Texas hoped that one of his problems had been solved. He needed a reliable mail carrier for Route 5, a rough-and-rugged 24-mile route that sprawled around, between and through the blackland, creek-bottom farms east of town.

During the year past, a young substitute carrier named Leroy McAfee had occasionally delivered the mail on Route 5 when the regular man had been unable to make the trip. Now the 22-year-old McAfee had received the appointment as the Route 5 regular carrier. The postmaster hoped the young man would be able to handle the route well--and Leroy hoped that at last he had found a permanent position.

Just how "permanent" the position would be was shown nearly half a century later. Six different postmasters in turn had administered the affairs of the Corsicana Post Office before it became necessary to replace Leroy McAfee on Route 5. In January 1954, Leroy reached the age of 70, and postal regulations required his retirement. For 48 years he delivered the mail along Route 5 to the friends he made there--and to their children--and their children's children. Other men have spent such a span in the postal service, of course. But so far as is known, no other man has ever retired after such a period of serving the same route with which he started.

The postman's identity was one of the very few things that did not change during the 48 years along Route 5. Children grew up, married and built new homes along the route; farms were split up and sold and new people moved in. The great oil discovery was made-Leroy watched the first gusher from his buggy on one of the roads of his route. Then the first refinery west of the Mississippi was built and with it came more people to live in the area.

In 1905, Leroy had married Johnnie Inmon, an attractive girl who lived near the McAfee home. They started a family that grew until there were ten children in the household.

World War I came and Leroy delivered draft notices and letters and news. Parcel Post delivery on rural routes began, and now the postman brought packages as well as word from loved ones. Prosperous times were followed by Depression times, and then World War II. Again he carried draft notices, now to the children of the previous recipients, along with mail-order catalogs, papers and magazines. He got to know all his patrons very well.

The route itself changed somewhat from time to time. Roads occasionally were moved to provide a more favorable location for a bridge across a creek; roads were graded, straightened, widened, and graveled. Finally roads began to be paved. The postman kept pace with the changing times. Eventually, horses were exchanged for a Model T; the Model T gave way to something better. As delivery became faster and easier, more miles were added to Route 5. By 1940 it had grown from 24 to 62 miles. As the population increased and the mail sacks bulged and became too heavy, miles were lopped off and Route 5 shrunk to 45 miles. But in the main, it served the same area for the 48 years that Leroy McAfee traveled it.

When appointed regular carrier in 1907, Leroy delivered the mail in a horse-drawn two-wheel gig and Route 5 was about a normal day's work when the weather was good. He always kept an extra horse or two, and by alternating, a fresh "spare" was always ready. The route--and the postman--seemed to have an effect on horses. Maybe it was the long hours in the harness and the frequent commands to start and stop. Maybe it was the companionship between a man and his animal. Whatever the reason, a nervous horse would become wonderfully gentle after a few weeks on the mail route.

Leroy sold one of his gentled horses for a much higher price than he had originally paid. After that he kept a sharp eye open for good horses that could be bought cheaply because they were not gentle enough for ordinary use. Route 5 tamed and taught good manners to horses that might otherwise have become outlaws; and Leroy had plenty of uses for his horse-trading profits.

The young postman had always been a hunter, and many of his friends along the route were hunters too. Horse trading enabled him to acquire a pack of dogs of which a hunter could be proud. When you say "hunter" in this part of Texas, you don't necessarily mean one who goes out with a gun to shoot ducks or squirrels, although this type of hunting is well known here. A hunter--as the term is used by Leroy and his friends--is a man who hunts or "runs'' wolves with highly trained dogs at night over the hills and through the creek bottoms, when the moon and the dew are right for trailing. Strangers may call this type of hunting a hobby. Actually, it is more like an incurable malady--the victim who once gets the fever never seems to get over it. The advent of fences, roads, and settlements hampered the activities of the wolf hunters to a great extent, but Leroy and many of his friends still hunted regularly. The worth of a good hunting dog and the hunter's pride is shown in this old story: "There goes so-and-so; when he first came here 20 years ago he didn't have a thing, and now he owns nine dogs!"

Besides the two-wheel gig, Leroy also used a buggy on Route 5, especially in good weather. For bad weather the most important and necessary part of the postman's equipment was his saddle and saddlebags.

In the early days of Route 5, some of the roads were simply trails beaten into the ground by years of iron-rimmed wagon wheels rolling behind countless hooves. Ungraded, undrained, the rutted paths wound around the black-land cotton fields and meandered through the creek bottoms. Here and there a lesser-used lane joined the main track, and at these junctions could usually be seen the weather-beaten mail box on a post; or several boxes might be fastened to an old wagon wheel whose broken axle was set into the ground. The postman could turn the wheel and reach all the boxes without leaving his seat.

In good weather the dry earth was ground into dust which arose in clouds to trail each vehicle on its journey, or sometimes travel slightly ahead if there was a good tail-wind. Rain changed these black roads into a weird, unbelievable morass of gumbo that could make any attempt to travel a nightmare. Even a two-wheel cart like Leroy had would collect enough mud on the wheels so that finally they would refuse to turn at all, and he would have to leave the cart mired to the axle and slog back to the post office astride his tired mud-caked horse. If he got back early enough, he would saddle a fresh mount and set out again to finish the route, hoping to make his way back across Chambers Creek before the water became too deep.

"That mud was hard on man and horse," Leroy said. "Why, it would wear all the hair off a horse's legs. On each step he would go down in the mud to his knees. He would have to pull each leg up, one at a time, then put it down in the mud to the knees again. Sometimes a man could not walk in it at all--his boots would just come off and stay in the mud,"

One rainy season Leroy delivered the mail from his saddlebags for 40 successive days--each day an ordeal for man and horse.

"The mail just had to be delivered to those folks," he said. "That was the carrier s job. It didn't make any difference what the weather was like, We just didn't let anything stop us."

In winter the postman might have to drive through sleet or freezing drizzle, Frozen ruts make rough riding for a cart or buggy. Sometimes there would be some snow, but it was not a problem. On the whole, winters were not too severe in the Corsicana area. Mud was the real enemy of the postman!

"Not all the weather was bad," Leroy said. "We've been talking about the worst of the times. Most of the time it was a mighty pleasant job! You got to where you knew every foot of the road. It's a nice way to spend the day, driving a buggy--or a car--on a sunshiny spring day when the fields are turning green. The bottoms are tree-shaded and there are plenty of squirrels and birds. And there's always a chance of spotting a wolf along the way."

Leroy pulled up to a rusty mail box, tossed in a couple of letters, and tightened the strap on the remainder, He flipped the mail-box lid shut with one hand as he shifted gears with the other, then ground through the gravel back to the solid footing of the pavement.

"Now you take that big pecan tree over there, he waved. "Spotted a big timber wolf one time in a thicket that used to be just the other side before they cleared it out and plowed there. I just got a glimpse of him, but that night I came back here with the dogs. We had a whale of a race down that creek bottom. Dogs caught him about a mile and a half down; see where that big bluff is, right where the creek turns back west? He put up quite a fight, too, but I had a big Walker dog that was too much for him."

"If you want to tell the story of Route 5 and me," Leroy said, you just tell the folks that I delivered the mail and hunted wolves for 48 years along Route 5 and enjoyed all 48 of them."

Another mailbox lid was banged shut, then Leroy turned. "Say, up at this next house here, on the left, there's an old man I want you to meet. He's lived on this route over thirty years. I'll get him to tell you the story of the big hunt!"

We met W.H. Mitchell and his son Pleas. They came out to see Leroy and talk awhile, knowing that the next mail delivery would be brought by a stranger, and that never again would they see their friend under the same circumstances. This meeting could have been sad, but Leroy wouldn't have it that way.

"Pleas," said Leroy after the introductions. "We've been talking about hunting on the way up here. I want you to tell this fellow all about the Big Hunt for the Varmint of Tupelo. Every time I think about how bad the folks were scared around here, I get to laughing all over again!"

"You don't need to laugh," Pleas said. "There wasn't anybody here as worked up as you were when you saw those tracks? Why, Leroy couldn't wait to get home and get his dogs. Excited? He brought every dog he had and some he borrowed."

"Me excited?" Leroy returned. "Why I was just aiming to help you folks out by tracking down the varmint? You didn't see me with a hog-leg pistol three feet long hanging on my hip like Pleas had! But I can't blame them for being scared around here. Mr. Mitchell told me himself the darn thing was killing his chickens every night. 'Leroy,' he said, 'something's just got to be done! It killed two chickens last night and three the night before. You should have heard the mules taking on while the thing was in the barn gettin' the chickens -- why it's liable to kill one of my mules tonight!"

Mr. Mitchell laughed. "Well, I guess everybody was a little worked up', all right. A lot of the neighbors did get out their pistols and rifles. Work just about stopped. Everybody gathered at the Tupelo store to look at the tracks of the varmint and try to figure out what it was. The tracks looked bad too. About the size of the palm of your hand, and plain as day in places where the dirt was soft and damp."

"Some thought it was a big panther, but the print of his toes was not plain. Some said the toes must have been cut off in a trap. The prints were close together, as if it had been slinking around, step-by-step. But the puzzling thing was that the prints just led up to the wall of the store and then stopped."

"Leroy's dogs just couldn't seem to pick up the scent. In fact, they never did get very interested--just milled around curious-like, watching all the folks talking!"

"Were you out here the first day Leroy?" asked Pleas, "Or, was that the second day when you brought your dogs?"

"I came out the second day," Leroy told him. "Remember, after the first day, you fellows stayed up all night on guard--or maybe you slept all night on guard. The next morning when you found the fresh tracks right up to your car was when you really got excited."

"Honest, we didn't sleep a wink," Pleas said. "We drank too much coffee for that. We talked all night long there in the car, real low so it wouldn't scare the varmint. That's why we couldn't understand those fresh tracks the next morning!"

"You ought to have seen this bunch," Leroy said. "They covered up the tracks with buckets and tubs and pig troughs, and folks came from all over the neighborhood. They would uncover the tracks and study them, and the mystery got bigger and the excitement worse!"

"By sundown word had spread all over the county and people began to drive in from everywhere--why, we had an army that could have whipped anything that would stand and fight!"

"Yeah, and just about sundown," Mr. Mitchell said, "that little kid found the varmint! It was just dark enough to turn on the store lights, and it was cool and damp outside. The men were all drinking coffee in the store when this little fellow came running in with a bucket in his hands, yelling, 'I've caught the varmint!'

Sure enough he had! It was a big toad that had been staying under the store all day and hopping around after dark to catch bugs attracted by the light from the store windows! Every time he hopped, he left a print as big as your hand!'

The old man was laughing hard now. "You should have seen Leroy and his dogs when they looked at that toad!"

"Oh, yeah! What about those chickens that were killed, and your mules?"

"Aw, you just made that up, Leroy!"

After a round of back-slapping and handshakes, we said goodbye and set out for the next mailbox down the road.

"Don't have any 'box-holders' today," Leroy said, "so we'll make good time since we don't have to stop at every box."

"What's a 'box-holder'?"

"You know, those ads that are addressed to 'Box-holder' or 'Patron' that have to be put into every single box on the route. Didn't have them in the old days, or we'd never have gotten through the mud with the load. Some days there are six or eight different ones, with one of each to go into every box. Always run late on those days because it takes so long to sort out the mail and make up the 'ties'; sometimes there's a lot more 'box-holder' mail than first-class mail,"

"Now we have a package for the next place, so we'll drive up to the house and you can meet Mrs. Louis Szeansy. She has lived on the route for thirty-two years. When she was a little girl she lived on the other side of the road, but when she married Louis they moved to this side of the route,"

The package was delivered to Mrs. Szeansy. She and the postman talked over old times and said their goodbyes.

"The folks in the next house have been on the route for over thirty years, too," Leroy said. "I have to stop in and see how Mrs. Townes is -- she's been sick in bed for several months. Marie, her daughter-in-law, has lived on the route too since she was four years old, That's Marie, coming down the steps to meet us now."

We went in and talked with Mrs. Townes and with Marie and her husband. It was a rather sad occasion. Similar farewell visits were made a good many times along the route. Most of the times, the goodbyes were said with a lot of kidding and laughter, but always with a touch of sadness.

"Now, we 're coming to the Roane Post Office," Leroy said. "I have to leave a bag of mail there. There's no railroad. I've brought the mail here from Corsicana ever since they set up this post office forty-seven years ago."

It was a one-room frame building. A small vestibule in front was separated by a wooden slatted screen from the back part, with a mail delivery in the screen. There was a wood-burning stove in the back, along with sticks of firewood, We met the postmaster and several visitors, went through the good-byes again and left.

"Right here at Post Oak Creek is where I had my worst experience, I guess," Leroy said a few minutes later. "Must have been about 1912 or '13. Old Post Oak was flooded and still rising. Didn't know whether I could get across it or not. I asked the folks at the Harris house where I made my last delivery about it, and they told me John Harris had made it across a few minutes before on horseback. They suggested I follow his tracks in the mud and cross at the same place he did. It was still drizzling, but I found my way to the old bridge across the creek where all I could see was the railing sticking up out of the water. Some of the road had washed out and my horse had to swim part of the way before we got on the bridge. I was afraid to go on across--but when I looked back, I was afraid to go that way too. We got across the bridge and there I found a barbed-wire fence had washed down toward the end of the bridge and was tangled across the road. A negro boy had watched me go out to the bridge, so I turned and shouted back to him to get me an axe, but he didn't hear me, The water was coming up faster now, and I began to wonder if the bridge would go out with me on it."

"Finally, I got off the horse, pushed one of the fence posts down under the water, then stood on it to hold it down. That horse seemed to know just what the situation was; he waded right up to the fence and picked his way across it, stepping carefully between each wire down under the water, and got across without a scratch, making it the rest of the way. I sure was proud of that horse!"

"Once when Chambers Creek was flooded for four or five weeks, I had to take the mail over to Powell on the train and deliver that end of the route with a borrowed horse and buggy; then I'd catch another train back and deliver this end of the route."

"Speaking of the Powell community, they had a cyclone down there, once. I was on the route not very far from where it hit. The wind was awful bad and the rain would beat into your face like gravel. The horse just couldn't face it, so we turned and tried to make it back to a big cottonwood tree to get what shelter we could. Just a little before we reached the tree, lightning struck and tore it all to pieces."

"The new bridge across Chambers is mighty nice,' Leroy said. "I remember once when the old bridge was under water and I couldn't make it across, I rode two miles up the creek to Hogan's Bridge, hoping I could get across there. Then I saw a fellow named Dick Baxter who told me I couldn't make it across Hogan's either. Then two men rode up, one on a bay mare and one on a mule. We talked it over and they decided to ride with me just to keep me company."

"I hung my mail bags around my neck to keep them out of the water. The horse swam part of the way and waded part of it. I got to thinking about my lace boots and the mailbags around my neck and hoping the horse wouldn't stumble. But we crossed without trouble."

*********

Other rural carriers have had similar experiences, of course. Even the ancient Persians had a system of mounted postal couriers who carried out their work faithfully. Herodotus described their work so well in one line of his writings that this sentence was chosen to be inscribed on the front of the General Post Office in New York City, as a tribute to the fidelity of today's mail carrier:1

"NEITHER SNOW NOR RAIN NOR HEAT NOR GLOOM OF NIGHT STAYS THESE COURIERS FROM THE SWIFT COMPLETION OF THEIR APPOINTED ROUNDS."

Another inscription in the Post Office Department of Washington, D.C., which, after seeing Leroy McAfee's close friendship and affection for his patrons on Route 5, seems particularly appropriate:2

"The Post Office Department, in its ceaseless labors, pervades every channel of commerce and every theatre of human enterprise, and, while visiting, as it does kindly, every fireside, mingles with the throbbing of almost every heart in the land. In the amplitude of its beneficence, it ministers to all climes, and creeds, and pursuits, with the same eager readiness and with equal fullness of fidelity, It is the delicate ear trump through which alike nations and families and isolated individuals whisper their joys and their sorrows, their convictions and their sympathies, to all who listen for their coming."

*********

1Herodotus, Book 8, par. 98, describes the expedition of the Greeks against the Persians during the reign of Cyrus, 500 B.C.

2Other inscriptions to the left and right of the one above list dates on which various postal services began.

Submitted by Mike McAfee (all rights reserved)


Corsicana Man Sets Long Record As Rural Carrier

LeRoy McAfee, rural mail carrier out of the Corsicana post office, completed 41 years carrying Route 5 Friday. He became Route 5 carrier, May 1, 1907, he recalled. The present route is 44.9 miles and a few years ago was larger. Originally, the mileage was smaller since it was made by horse, buggy and cart travel.
When McAfee started the route, he used three horses, a buggy and cart and said that most of the time, especially during the wet season, he went on horseback.

The roads in 1907 and until the road improvement programs were inaugurated were in much worse condition than now, McAfee said, since there were no roadbeds.

"When it rained, horseback was the only way." the veteran said.

McAfee purchased his first automobile in 1916 and after using it a year on the route, sold it for $5 more than the original price.

The veteran has no idea or intention of retiring any time soon.  He is a sportsman and one of his hobbles is wolf hunting in eastern Navarro county along Trinity river and any other sector where these pests can be found.

Corsicana Daily Sun - April 30, 1948


He Didn't Want To Quit— Nearly Half Century And Over Half Million Miles Chalked By Veteran Rural Route Carrier, Leroy McAfee

By PATI, MOORE

Daily Sun Staff

Leroy R. McAfee has retired as a rural route carrier out of the Corsicana post office after establishing all kinds of records. He declined to say how old he was, but he was retired because of age limit and not because he wanted to quit.

McAfee, born at Emmett, west Navarro county, the son of Mr. and Mrs. A. C. McAfee, pioneer Navarro countians, he came to Corsicana at the age of 10 years and attended the Zion's Rest and Corsicana schools.

Retired Saturday

When he officially retired Saturday, January 30. 1954. he lacked only three months having been a regular carrier 47 years—all of it on Route 5—a record in postal statistics, he said-- -and to add to that, he was a substitute on the route more than a year before ho got the regular appointment, May 1, 1907. His 48 years is a longevity record, too.

"Maybe I can wolf hunt now,"

McAfee quipped, for he has been a famous wolf hunter all of his l i f e - - i n Navarro county and elsewhere.

He confided his dogs and those of his hunting pals had killed several wolves recently.

Long Ride

McAfee has ridden an estimated 575,280 miles by horseback, cart, buggy and automobile—all on Route 5, Corsicana — equaling traveling around the world at the equator 23 times.

"I could have retired 17 years ago and received the full benefits of the 30-year retirement, but I didn't want to--don't want to retire now—age limit is getting me —but I could have gone on a long time more," McAfee declared.

When he started the route, it was 24 miles long, extending to Roane, Chatfield and Powell. He had three horses, a cart, saddle and buggy to serve the muddy and ungraded and unimproved trails called county roads. Now the route consists of 45 miles, nearly all of which is all-weather roads. At one time his route embraced 62 miles

Picnic Now


It is a picnic now," McAfee mused. "but it was tough when I started. Those roads had never heard of a drag and were level without drainage ditches. I've had to be helped down off my horse with ice on my slicker a lot of times when I got back to the post office." McAfee Recalled.

"Sometimes my hands were so cold I couldn't unbutton the slicker and was too stiff to get down off the horse without help." he said.
Only a few hours are required to make the route now - in cars with heaters.

First Auto in 1916

McAfee began using cars on his route in 1916, but doesnt remember how many he has owned and used. Turning to another portion of his story, McAfee said that throughout his entire career, none of his patrons had over charged him for pulling his vehicles out of mudholes or from ditches.

When asked as to who will succeed him. McAfee said: "There is so much politics In the post office department, it's hard to say who might be my successor." He said the same thing goes for the higher ups in the department.

McAfee said he appreciates the services rendered to him by his patrons on the route, and recalled that no one residing on the route at the present time was living on the route when he began his rocord-breaking tenure of delivering the mail.

Seven, Postmasters

The veteran served under seven postmasters—three Democrats and four Republicans as follows;

A. D. Clark, Republican.

H. E. Kinsloe. Republican.

A. N. Justiss. Democrat.

P. Mayer, Republican.

Hugh Loper, acting postmaster, Republican.

A. A. Allison, Democrat.

G. C. (Jake) Hudson, Democrat.

Mr. and Mrs. McAfee reside at 1920 West Collin street. They have nine grown married children. One child died several years ago.

 

Notes:


See: Fox and Wolf Hunters Select New Champions

 


OBITUARY

Leroy R. McAfee
Jan 10, 1884 - Sep 12, 1958

Sunday Services For Leroy McAfee
Funeral rites for Leroy R. McAfee, 74, retired rural route carrier, who died at the family home 1520 West Collin street late Friday night were held from the McCammon Chapel Sunday at 4 p.m.
The services were conducted by Rev. John Wesley Ford, pastor of the First Methodist church. Burial was in Oakwood Cemetery.
A native of Emmett, Navarro county Texas, McAfee retired four years ago as a rural route carrier from Corsicana post office. His tenure extended from the tome of the horseback and cart days for mail deliveries which frequently was interrupted by high water and impassable muddy roads , to the time when most of the route was a paved highway.
McAfee was a well known sportsman and was one of the best known wolf hunters in Central Texas, holding a number of offices in associations and organizations and owning and training many fine hounds.
Surviving are his wife of Corsicana, five sons, J. I. McAfee, Tyler; H. J. McAfee, Gladewater, Lendon McAfee, Dallas; Bobby McAfee, Houston and Rev. C. J. McAfee Methodist pastor Georgetown; four daughters, Mrs. Haskell Gray, Corsicana; Mrs Ernest Brewer, Snyder, Mrs. A. C. Gray, Emhouse, and Mrs. F. J. Hettig, Houston; two brothers, Dr. A. M. McAfee, Woodville, and Rev. J. U. McAfee, Odessa, four sisters, Mrs. Ross Sutton, Corsicana Mrs. A. A. Bennett, Providence, R.I.; Mrs. Bryan Williams, Galveston and Mrs. L. G. Daniel, Waco; a number of grandchildren and other relatives.
Pallbearers were Judge A. P. Mays, David Walker, Marvin Walker, Scott Harvard, DeWitt Wallace, Ben Meade, A. B. Paschall and Paul Mitchell."
Honorary pallbearers were members of the Navarro County Fox and Wolf Hunters Association.
Corsicana Daily Sun

Notes:


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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox