William E Smith


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William E. Smith
Corsicana, Texas
Navarro County
Writers Project
Dist. #8
Nov. 22, 1936

 

Life of J. F. Smith.

To begin with my name is John Franklin Smith, Known to old settlers as Frank Smith. I was born September 19, 1852 in Bates County, Missouri at the town of Pleasant Gap. My father was Joe Smith, he moved from Kentucky to Northeastern Missouri along with his father and other relatives, but did not like this part of the country so after years of residence here he moved to Southwestern Missouri where I was born. There was thirteen children in our family, seven boys and six girls, there was three younger than I, two boys which were twins were the youngest and a girl which was between them and myself.

The first I can remember of my Missouri home, was the hauling of lumber and brick from Sedalia, Missouri to build our house and barn. At that time we lived in a log house with stick and dirt chimney and board shingles. The two front rooms had a large hallway between them with a dirt chimney at each end of the room. My father was like all other Southern farmers, having a number of slaves, counting children and all they numbered over a hundred, some of them cost him $1500. He never sold a mother from her children, nor sold any children from their parents. He once bought a family for $3000. He sent some of the negro men to Sedalia with wagons and teams of [unreadable] mules to haul the finish lumber and brick back to Pleasant Gap to build our house and barn. The chimneys and the foundation of the barn and house were of brick, the frame work of the house and barn was of native lumber coming from my father's saw mill located on his plantation on the Merrizene River. My father built a large twelve room house, southern colonial style home, about a quarter of a mile from the town of Pleasant Gap, facing the town at the end of Main street. The front yard was large covering about two or three acres with large post oak trees scattered about for shade. He also had a plank fence in front with a platform next to the road and steps on the side to the house. Hitch post were on the side to the road. Plat form at one side was low enough for visitors to drive up in coach or buggy and step out on plat form, still at another place ladies could ride up on horse back to this part and step off and come down the steps into the yard. All ladies in those days rode in sidesaddles when riding a horse, and they could ride as fast as and as far as the men.

The house we lived in up to the war, was a two story house with a large front porch, with large round columns that reached to the roof of the second story. There were two bedrooms down stairs, the other being up stairs. Our living room was a large room covering about one fourth of the first floor. At one end of it was a large brick fireplace large enough to burn cord wood in it. It would take two slaves to put a backlog in it, and sure did throw out the heat. The dining room and kitchen was in back of this. We had a large long table in the dining room, I have seen as many as thirty people eat at this table at one time. My father never turned any traveler away from his home, he would always give them lodging and feed for their stock at no charge.

Behind the house was the cook and servant house and the smokehouse where we kept all the meat. This meat and lard was issued to the slaves once a week. I have seen the slaves kill as many as fifty hogs at one time, all the killing, cleaning and dressing was done all in one day, the next day lard was made and the packing of the meat. The meat box was built in the meat house and it was large enough for a man to get in and walk around. Behind this was the barn, which was off quite apiece. It was large enough to hold over a thousand bushels of corn and plenty of hay to feed over two hundred head of stock, with stalls for twenty two teams of mules and sheds for the balance and plenty of sheds for the milk cows. Behind the barn was a plank lot where these hogs were called up and fed. We always fed them a little to keep them coming up so we could mark the young pigs, as the hogs ran out the year round. While my father had his entire twenty seven hundred acres fenced off with plank, which came from the sawmill. All the post were sawed square at both ends and the same length and were put in the ground at the same depth and all the boards were spaced alike around the fields and pasture. To the west of the barn about a hundred yards were the slave quarters, with two rows of houses facing each other with a wide street between them. All these houses were built from native lumber, with stick and dirt chimneys. A woodpile was behind each house for them. Our wood was stacked in the North east corner of our back yard. A pile was kept there in the winter larger than an ordinary house for our use. Our lay North, East and West from our house with most of the farming land to the North and East, running back down in the bottom. This land was planted in corn, cotton, hay, watermelons, garden vegetables and a large field of beans, peas and potatoes. The corn was check rowed and planted by hand, by doing this it could be plowed in each direction, this would down hoeing. Cotton was planted like it always is, to be chopped and hoed and hoed again. The garden was a large garden worked by the slaves, also for the use of us all but not to be wasted. Any slave caught wasting anything had to do without his next issue of the particular thing he was caught wasting.

All slaves were allowed to carry watermelons from the patch to the house anytime but were not allowed to burst one in the patch as the birds would take to them and ruin the patch. I have seen little negroes with melon juice all over their face and the front of their clothes many times and still eating melons.

The peas and beans were planted in large patches or in a sufficient amount so as to be picked when ripe and piled in a large room in the barn on a plank floor and then thrashed them out of the hulls with a brushy limb from a small tree or let the slaves tramp them out. Then they were taken outside and poured from a tub or bucked to another, holding the basket high while pouring, letting the wind blow the chaff and broken hulls out of the beans and peas, then they were ready to be cooked. This was done each month or week as they were needed. However the entire field was picked and stored away, peas and beans being separated. The potatoes, cabbage and turnips were harvested and put in long ricks or piles and logs split and laid against a ridge pole at the top like a house top and corn stalks placed over the cracks and then dirt piled over this fairly deep, just deep enough to shed water and to keep the vegetables from freezing in the winter, this dirt had to built up after each rain so the vegetables would not get wet, this would keep them all winter. We had to raise what we eat and eat what we raised, as we could not get fresh vegetables from south Texas and other places the year round like we can now, especially when one man had to look out for over one hundred people. We always had fresh meat of some kind, wild turkeys were plentiful. We had lots of deer meat and plenty of small game. Fish was plentiful, we didn't eat small fish like we do now and call them nice fish.

We raised lots of cotton that was planted, plowed, picked and ginned on the same plantation. The cotton was picked in small baskets and emptied into the larger baskets and weighed. The slaves could pick as much cotton in those baskets as they can in sacks now.

We had an old slave named Remus that always led the slaves to work. His job was to ring the bell every morning at four o'clock for all the slaves to get up, the men to feed, while the women got breakfast. We all got up at the same time, the men would go on to work after breakfast and the women that did not have nursing babies were to come in as soon as their house was cleaned and dinner cooked. The slave women that had nursing babies were to spin, weave and make the cloth for their clothes and were to make most of their clothes, or if they had plenty of clothes or clothes made, they would go to the field still later then the other women, but my father mostly found plenty of work at the house or close by for them so they could be near their babies. My father always had plenty of food for the slaves as a well fed negro could do plenty of work and one that could do lots of work would always bring a good price when sold. It was also Remus's job to issue rations each Saturday evening, to every family, enough to run them a week, this was done according to the size of the family, and size of children in the family. Father wanted them to have plenty to eat but nothing to waste.

We never worked on Saturday evenings, or Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fourth of July, but always done a good days work on New Years Day, and I have followed my Father's ruling up to the present time, do something on New Years day and you will be busy all the year. For all this extra work Father gave Remus shoes from the store and factory made tobacco, a hat for dress wear, and pants and shirts from the store. The others wore clothes made on the plantation, except servants that waited on us and special visitors. Then they wore clothes that came from the store or made from cloth that came from the store. The store was up in town on the main street and my father hired three clerks in it besides himself and the other older boys who worked in there with him. He handled groceries, clothes, medicines and what farm tools that was bought in those days, also buggies, surreys and wagons. He bought us a fine stage while he was in business there. We had a span of fine mares that he brought from Kentucky with him that we worked to it when he first bought it and he finally hooked a span of young mares from the old mares to it, and they sure could carry you down the road holding their heads high like they had plenty of pride, and they did, for they were thorough bred. We had a young negro slave named Charley that cared for the whole stock and he knew his business about training these thoroughbreds. We had about thirty head of these Kentucky thoroughbreds when the war broke out.

About 2:30 o'clock one evening in 1861, my father saw the Jayhawkers coming down the road on horses and he could tell by the number and the way they were riding that they were the Yankees, so he told the three clerks to hurry out and go home and he also told my older brothers to go home and tell my mother that he would come on, so he locked the store and brought all his money home in a little sack. There was a little over three thousand dollars in that sack that he kept hid around in the store and about the time he got home, the Jayhawkers rode in the Main street and went to stealing and plundering at once. They robbed all the stores and loaded up what they wanted in those big Government wagons and they set fire to the buildings. Then they started to plundering into everything. About this time two of my cousins, Ben and Tommie Dyer, who were twins and about sixteen years old had heard about the Jayhawkers coming in and had started home. Both were horseback and had been to see one of their cousins and when they got to where they could see them, they split up and made a run for home as their mother was a widow. Ben run his horse in the back way, put his horse in a stall and run in the back door of the house but Tommie tried to go around our burning store and in from the other side but some of the Jayhawkers started chasing him on horses and when he got behind our store his horse stumbled and fell, falling on one of his legs, he got his leg from under the horse and got up and was bending over when they rode up and shot fourteen balls into his body. His mother saw him running from the Jayhawkers, but she never had seen Ben and she thought the Jayhawkers had already killed Ben and was chasing Tommie to kill him, she ran out of the house screaming but she was too late, they would have killed him anyway if she had gotten there first, they were just that dirty. When she got to where he lay she fell down over him crying and telling them they had killed her boys and they laughed in her face. The Captain come up and she asked him to have some of the men carry her boy about one block to her house, and he told them to carry him home, so two of them grabbed a hold of his pants legs and started to dragging him off like a hog, and aunt Mollie begged the Captain to make them stop dragging him so he made more men get around him and pick him up and carry him home, so four of them got hold of him and when they got to the house they dumped him in the front door on the floor, and if that house still stands that boy's blood is still on the floor, it couldn't be washed up. After the Jayhawkers left the house, Ben run up to the gunrack to get his father's gun, intending to shoot into the Jayhawkers, when aunt Mollie heard Ben cross the room she looked up expecting to see some of them sneak up on her back to kill her and she said she was so overjoyed to see him alive and run to him and persuaded him not to shoot any of them. He later joined the Southern army and went through the war without a scratch. He said before he went into the army that he was going to kill a dozen Yankees for every ball shot into his brother's body, when the war was over he said he got part of them. These Jayhawkers called themselves Homegaurds, but they didn't know what Homegaurds were, we called them Jayhawkers. They came on down to the house, rode up in front and called out. My father went out, my mother followed him, then all of us children followed her and crowded around them. I can remember as well as if it happened yesterday, one of the men spread his arms out and said stand back men, I'll kill the rascal and raised his gun to shoot when we heard a shout and looked up the road to see what it was and saw Judge Myers coming as fast as his horse could run, shouting as loud as he could. The man dropped his gun to side, when Judge Myers rode up he was shaking his head and his eyes were blazing fire. He turned around in his saddle and pointed back towards town and said you men get out of here and do it damn quick. (Judge Myers was a Northern man but he was of my father's best friends.) All of the Jayhawkers turned around a sulked off like a whipped dog.

When the men all left Judge Myers came up to my father and put his hand on his shoulder and said "Joe you have got to get out of here before you get killed. Now I will escort you to Clinton and you and your family can take the train and go further South where you will be safe. My father told him [a missing word or two here] ______ man, a slave owner and that he had already sent all but a very few of his slaves South so they could be taken care of, that he could not desert the people who had confidence in him at a time like that, he would have to shoulder his gun and do his bit to win the war. That it was lawful to buy slaves and use them and when he first began business and in fact he had bought some of his slaves from Northern speculators, that the Government tolerated that, and now since the southern farmers had their money invested in slaves they wanted them freed. He also thanked Judge Myers for saving his life but under the existing circumstances he would be forced to stay and fight for his rights. Judge Myers begged him further to leave but he still refused. My father's parting words to the Judge was that he was glad to have such a man as he for a friend and although they were separated in opinion and would probably fight in battles against each other if the war went that far, but he would always consider him as his friend and would have a friendly feeling for him.

After this my father, brothers Will, Clem and Joe, two cousins and three brother-in-laws and three uncles went to war leaving us there with the few slaves to take care of the plantation. That was the last time I ever saw my father, brother Will, one of my cousins and one of my brother-in-laws and one uncle. My brother Will, brother-in-law and cousin was killed in the battle at Lone Jack, Missouri. They were buried some time before we knew they were killed. My father, brother Joe and Clem, one brother-in-law and uncle got separated from the others and did not know of the tragedy for some time. Later that year my father was wounded and and an uncle killed at Mansfield, Missouri. That was the last raid General Price made through there. A lady living there by the name of Lindsay that knew our family had him taken to her house. Her husband was also fighting for the south and was in another part of the state at that time. She left father with her grown daughters and a good doctor and rode sixty eight miles horseback to Pleasant Gap to notify us of father being wounded. Mother left us smaller children to the care of the older children and what few slave was left and she and Mrs. Lindsay taken the train back to Mansfield, leaving her horse with us. A few days after Mother got there two of fathers sisters and nephews came and stayed until after he died. My father got better after mother came and the doctor told her he thought he was out of danger, so father sent her back home to get the children and return to Mansfield to stay until he got well enough to travel, then we would go to Texas until the war was over, but he died and was buried before mother could come back and get us children and get back to him, some complications set up that the doctor could not control after mother left. All of we children were very eager to get to our father to see him again but when we got there and was greeted with the sad news there wasn't anything there for us so we returned to Pleasant Gap.

The town of Pleasant Gap Missouri lay in a small neck of timber or a gap between two large strips of timber and was named so.

After we returned home, mother searched for all the valuable papers and several thousand dollars that my father had buried soon after the store was burned. She thought she knew about where he buried them but we never found them. She intended to ask him when she went to him when he was wounded but he got better and was getting so much better she thought she better let him get them himself, if she began digging around and never found them and was seen, someone else might get them before we returned. One of my older sisters also buried $500. that was never found.

In 1862 my brother-in-law who was a druggist at Pleasant Gap and also a Northern sympathizer but not a helper, persuaded my mother to let him take all her yearling mules to the county seat and sell them before there was another raid through there and they were taken. Well he taken them up there and brought mother back only $400. Said that he had that in his shoes and the balance in his coat and pants pockets and when coming back home he was robbed by some bushwhackers and all taken off of him except what he had in his shoes but we never had any confidence in what he told us.

Some of our work stock was stole from time to time but in the winter of 1862 the Jayhawkers came through again looking for anything they could steal and anything dirty they could do. During this time an old man about 60 years old had gotten sick and mother and us children had moved him to our home as his house was cold and they were afraid he might take pneumonia and his wife was old and could not get around very well to take care of him and it was lots of trouble for us to go back and forth so we moved him to our place.

One day the Jayhawkers made another raid through there. About sixty came to our house and ordered diner for them all and told us to be sure there was plenty of ham. Mother, the girls and the old slaves began getting their dinner. While they were getting their dinner those men were plundering about the house stealing quilts and tying them up behind their horses. They were called in for dinner and sat down and eat all they could hold, got up from the table and began plundering again and spitting all over the house and started to leave when my mother complained to the Captain that his men had stole all her quilts. He asked her if she could identify any of them and she pointed out about thirty of them. He looked at her and then turned to an old negro slave woman and asked her if my mother was telling the truth. She said "Yes suh." He then told her to identify all the quilts and she said "Ah sho can, ah been here too long and ah has help to make every one of dem," and she pointed out thirty eight of them and the Captain made them take them all off their saddles and pile them on the front porch. This bunch drove off all our cattle, horses and mules. One of our old Kentucky mares and some milk cows got away and come back home.

Not long after this another raid was made, one of the men in this bunch was named Sissin who had helped build our house. They came in and ordered a meal cooked for them, after they had eaten all the wanted they began plundering. One of the men, a young man walked up to the head of the old sick man's bed and said "I believe I will kill the old devil, done lived too long now." He raised his gun and shot him in the head, his brains were scattered all over the head of the bed and wall. I witnessed that with my own eyes. When he walked away he reloaded his gun and made the remark, "I better reload it, I might get to kill another dog before sundown." And when they got ready to leave this man was on a young horse, one I guess he had stole, and he had the stock of the gun on the toe of his shoe when his horse shied to one side, the gun slipped of his foot, discharged and blew his whole face away. I said I guess that is the other dog he is going to kill. A man barked out at me that he would do me the same way if it didn't look so bad for a man to kill a brat. I didn't say anything back.

This band of robbers tore up every feather bed on the place and scattered the feathers over the room and then poured several barrels of sorghum molasses over them and then set it ablaze. They burned the house but did not burn the slave houses or the barn. They then loaded up about fifty of those large government wagons with corn and hauled that away and also taken every chicken they could catch and all the meat we had. This band of robbers also burned the courthouse at the county seat.

We lived a few days in some of the slave houses, then we hooked up this old Kentucky mare, old Julia by name and two milk cows to two sleds, put our few belongings on them and left Southeast Missouri for Northeast Missouri to my grandfather's in Henry county. This was a long hard journey for a woman and children through territory where there was lots of bushwhackers. There were plenty of them in this part of the country and it had been raided and raided. There wasn't much left to eat and we couldn't take much with us. We traveled quite a bit by moonlight and grazed the stock in the daytime, and gathered what we could to eat for ourselves. We finally made the trip to my grandfather's but we were scared all the time we would get our stock taken away from us. Mother taken over $3000. in money through with her, it was in a little square tin box painted green,. I will never forget what that little box looked like for we guarded it close.

We lived for a time with my grandfather in Henry county then moved to mexico Missouri. Here another one of my brothers, Perry joined the Southern forces. He was just sixteen years old then and was the only boy left older than I, and I was too young to go, so it left all the shifting for the family on my shoulders, the other two being very small and were very little help to me. I was only about ten or eleven years old then but I had to get all the wood, do what farming and hunting I could but mother would not let me get very far from the house and only for a short time as there were bushwhackers around there who would kill small boys just to have something to shoot at. From the time our house was burned until after the war we had very little flour to make biscuits. We ate mostly cornbread and if our barn was raided we didn't know where the next cornbread was coming from and we used parched okra and corn to make coffee, and we could not get sugar we had to use syrup or honey to sweeten things but with it was very few cakes we or anyone else got. Our clothes were made at home from cloth made of cotton we raised at home, everything we used we either had to raise it or make it, years from then on was hard for us too.

My brothers came at different times and stayed a few days with us each time, but they would slip in at night and stay in the house in the daytime and slip out at night when they went back to their forces as the Northern army had bushwhackers watching all the time for Southern men coming in.

My brothers, uncles and cousins came to see us as often as they could and one night one of my father's brothers and brother Joe came home, it was a moonlight night and uncle Cave told mother they should not have come but they were going to be moved farther away in a few days and would not get to see them for some time and maybe never, so he wanted to bring Joe home to see us all before they were moved. The Union men had some spies around and they saw them come in, so after they had eaten their supper, which was as much as five ordinary men eats as they had traveled only at night and hid in the thickets in the daytime and was almost starved to death when they got home. We had covered up all the openings and cracks so no one could slip up and shoot them from ambush, and had all gathered around the fireplace and had not talked thirty minutes, and we all talked hard and fast for we wanted to know all about the war , the battles and other relatives they could tell us about and they wanted to know the same. Then we heard a man cry "Hello", a man's voice from the outside. Uncle Cave called to me and Joe to grab our guns and he got his and blew out the candle, and told mother to go to the other room door that opened out on the same porch where this voice came from and he told her we would be behind her , but we would stay inside in the dark and if they were bushwhackers they had seen us come in and if they wanted to search the house for her to get out of the door and out of the way and we would take care of them, if she couldn't convince them that they were not there. They got impatient and said if we did not come to the door we will burst it down, and mother told them they better wait until we could get dressed, to kill time. She wanted Uncle Cave and Joe to hide but uncle Cave said no, that they would find them and shoot them down like dogs without a chance, so she went to the door and opened it wide open and asked them who they were and what they wanted. There was five of them and and one of them spoke up and said, "We are Union men and we have come to find the two men that come here tonight." Mother said, "If you can find two men that come here tonight, I would like to see them myself." The speaker said, "Now lady, two men were seen here tonight," and he turned around and said to a man "Joe, what time did you see them come in?" and he said, "About ten thirty o'clock, a slender set one and a heavy set one." The slender one was our brother Joe and the other one was uncle Cave. He said, "Now we are going to search this house first," and made a move towards the door, and mother said, "You are not coming in the house, and tear up my house anymore, I have told you they are not here, I fed those two men and they are gone, they were strangers and were Union men. The speaker stepped up to the door and said, "Come on men", and flung mother to one side and said, "We are going to have those rebels." When he said that, uncle Cave said, "Shoot boys and hit a man, don't miss." He had already told us to let him kill the one doing the talking and us to get the two others if they started in. He said we won't talk anymore and we didn't. We all shot at the same time, I don't know if I hit anyone or not but three men fell and two men ran off and left their horses. Uncle Cave got the candle and lit it and we looked at them. We recognized one, Joe Hughes, who lived down near Pleasant Gap and knew all of us. He must have been the one watching and saw Uncle Cave and Joe come in. He was a little older than brother Joe but they hunted many times together, but they were all Northerns. Uncle Cave told mother to wrap them up what she could for them to eat that they would have to clear out that night and pretty quick. So she bundled up quite a bit of cornbread and meat in a rag, while Uncle Cave took my gun and ammunition out to the barn and hid it. He told mother to hide everything she could for when they come back and search the place, they would probably burn the house, but they wouldn't burn the barn. Uncle Cave and Joe taken their guns and food and left in the dark, while we began hiding feather beds and everything we could in gullies, weeds and any safe place we could find and as far away from the house as we could get. After all this was done which was almost ever thing we could do without, we covered those men with sheets and went to bed but not to sleep for we knew that some Jayhawkers would be there anytime and we did not know what they would do. It would not have been too hard hearted for them to set fire to the house and burn us alive or shoot us as we run from the building, even women and little children. They did come awhile before daylight and began pounding on the door, and mother went to the door and opened it and when she did they bolted in to the house and went in all three rooms and began pulling the cover off of us children and jerking us out of bed, there wasn't a place large enough to put a sack of flour that they didn't look, then they all scattered out about the place except one who guarded us. They searched the barn and everywhere and then they come back to the house and began on mother and us children trying to make us tell them that uncle Cave and Joe were hid around there and where they were hid. They slapped our jaws, pulled our hair and ears and scuffed us about until daybreak. Then they set out to search again, they found one of our feather beds and burned it, then come back and se fire to the house and mother begging not to all the time. The three dead bushwhackers were hauled away when they first come up, where they were taken to I do not know.

After they set fire to the house they stayed long enough to see that we couldn't put it out, then they taken all the meat we had and left. They didn't burn the barn like uncle cave said, they left the feed with the expectation of coming back and taking it later. [The first 2 or 3 words of the next few lines are damaged and unreadable. I will attempt to fill in with what seems likely in relation to the context of the story.] This is the second home of ours the Jayhawkers had burned during the war and after this one was burned we removed most of the corn out of the barn and chinked the cracks in the walls and moved in there. We hid what what corn we could by digging a hole not very far from the house and put about [Some portion] of our corn in there and covered it up good with the dirt and and piled brush on top of this that come from the logs that we built our crib with and we cut some more brush and piled up this and burned it and we cut or cleared some timber close to it and burned more brush piles close to it. All the dirt we put back on our corn was tramped down good and hard by mother and us children before we burned the brush so it all looked about alike after the brush was burned. [End of the damaged portion] About a week had passed when a wagon pulled up to our crib and loaded all our corn in it except about ten bushels, like we knew they would but we did not dig up our corn for some time. Of course we were asked why we cleared up that little strip of ground and mother told them she wanted it for a bean patch because it was close to the house and that seemed to satisfy them as the other land was all on the other side of the house. We lived there until after the war was over and there wasn't any of the men folks that visited us again, they visited grandpa and we got word from them but they never came back there.

Along near the end of the war the Yankees came through and taken all our feed and stock and drove them off but the old Kentucky mare, Old Julia, we called her, got away and came home for the second time since the war started and three of the milk cows got away before they could kill them, and came home. We were still living in the old barn that we had moved into after they had burned our house the second time.

In the spring of 1865 we started a little crop but we were almost afraid to do anything as we had bought and raised stock and feed and the Northern forces would come through and take it away from us. We were in an easy location for these raiders to satisfy themselves as we were joined by Northern states almost on every side but to the South and most of the fighting was to the East. Most everything that happened in here was raiding and plundering and the destroying of property, and killing when met with the lest resistance and sometimes no resistance at all. We had to raise most everything we eat as railroads were paralyzed, every road watched. People were financially ruined and all the people left at home were women and girls and old men too old to fight and boys too young to travel. Men folk from fifteen to sixty were in the Southern forces to help save what they had spent most of their lives to accumulate.

By this time the older folks said the South could not hold out much longer, unless they could get help. The South was out of money, going hungry and cold and ragged, the soldiers and the others at home were the same. I was only a small boy but I can remember it well as if it were yesterday, the hard times that we had, the stealing of the Yankees, the cold blood killings that I saw with my own eyes and of others over the country that we heard of.

We started our crop half heartedly, expecting it would be destroyed before we could get any of it, or be taken about harvest time. But never the less as it grew we worked harder, and then the war was over and men and boys began drifting back home. Some had gotten a good piece from home and other were closer. Some were Fall getting home and had been thought to have died from cold or hungry or to have been killed in action. People who did not know that their relatives had been killed expected them home at any time and maybe somebody would come in and tell of them being killed at a certain place. I believe there was more sorrow, crying and worry after the war than during the war for they all hoped that their relatives would return if they did not already know that they were dead. I heard of some coming home as late as two years after the war. My brother and others came in about three months after the close of the war, but we had a father and two brothers that we would never see again, also other relatives just because the North did not want the South to prosper.

When Fall come we gathered our crop and began making preparation to return to our home that our father had labored so hard for that he might leave it to us children at his death, never thinking he would die as he did.

We only had the old Kentucky mare and some milk cows to move with. So about Christmas in 1865 we loaded our few belongings in a wagon and two sleds and started back across the state of Missouri to Pleasant Gap to our old home. The cows had never been worked and did not know what to do, but we made the trip back this way to Pleasant Gap. It taken us about two or three months to make the trip. I laugh now when I think of how we must have looked on that trip, especially when I see a traveler in an old hack working two old poor horses or burros to it going west to pick cotton in the Fall and I remark to myself that we must have looked something like that.

It was cold during this trip and several snows fell and creeks were frozen over and people had little to sell or nothing at all and we had to depend mostly on game to eat, that is for fresh meat. We killed hogs before we left and we taken that with us and we bought some whole wheat flour and had plenty of meal ground before we left and this is about all we had to eat outside of what we killed. We fared very well in the daytime but were handicapped when night come as we could not sleep in the wagon and too there was danger of ill feelings between the North and South yet, and we hoped we wouldn't meet any of these Northern men for Joe was strong headed.

Two of the smaller children's toes and heels froze and mother had to stop for the day, she got busy on the frozen feet while Perry and I hunted some feed for the stock which we found in about two hours. We paid for the feed and returned to the camp. By this time mother had their feet thawed out, but they bothered them ever winter after that.

The next morning we hooked up and started again and so on each night and morning until we reached Pleasant Gap. When we reached there the buds were swelling on the tree. It was a happy day when we got back, we were so glad to get back home, all the way we had planned what we were going to do when we got home, how we would soon be back on our feet and make something again as we once did when father was alive. Little did realize the trouble that was in store for us when we reached Pleasant Gap.

When we reached Pleasant Gap we went straight to my aunts home, the mother of the twins boys, one of them that fell with his horse behind my father's burning store and was shot by the Jayhawkers. She was as glad to see us as we were glad to see her. Ben had come home from the war and was a big raw boned young man.

Aunt Mollie told mother about all that had taken place since we left. The Yankees had moved in on our place, new log cabins had been built on it, it had all been cut up in small farms and they were farming it. Some of the timber had been cleared away and put into cultivating land.

We went to see about our property and found it just as Aunt Mollie had said, then we made a trip to the county seat to see what could be done about it, but the courthouse had been burned and most all the records had been destroyed., we could not find a trace of any records to our property. The deeds to our land was burned when the Jayhawkers burned our home. Father was not home and mother and us children were scared and we didn't think of them. Uncle Cave told mother that the last year before the war father had paid taxes on 2700 or 2800 acres of land. Of course we carried this to court, we had law suit after law suit but people would swear in any way for a little money in those days following the war just as they do now, so we spent what money we had left and lost all our land too. We made our mistake when we moved away and left our home. Everyone that moved away lost theirs, those that remained saved all or part of their land, so we rented a little place from aunt Mollie and moved over on it, it was across town from her place and right at the edge of town.

We had two neighbors that were Southern people and they really tried to help us get another start, one of them was named Hartman and the other Hartley. They had a boy each that was about grown, they were about 19 years old, Ben Hartman and Clem Hartley, and they ran about with my older brothers. They all went to a dance in the late spring of 1866 and this dance wound up in a free for all fight, but the fight started between Clem Hartley and a Jayhawker and when Clem started getting the best of this Northern man another Northerner stepped in and taken a hand in it and then Ben Hartley knocked him down then another man hit Ben and brother Joe hit and so on until most everybody was in it and the Southern boys ran the Northen off, so when they left they asked the Southern boys to meet them in Pleasant Gap the next day. They went back over the Kansas line and got several more Jayhawkers and came back to Pleasant Gap the next day. Some of the Southern boys went but not all of them. My brother Joe and Perry was there. Mrs Hartley had been left a widow after the war and Clem was the only dependent she had, the other children being girls except two small boys. She begged Clem not to go, but Clem told her that all the other boys would be there and if he didn't go they would call him a coward so he saddled his horse and rode away and when he got to Pleasant Gap the Northern boys jumped on the Southern boys having about twice as many on their side, that was the only way they will stand and fight. This all happened in the Main street after the fight started some of them pulled guns and shot and killed Clem Hartley and Ben Hartman and then ran off like they always did. Brother Perry got on Clem's horse and started after Mrs. Hartley as fast as the horse would go, she saw him coming and recognized the horse but did not recognize Perry until he got in about a hundred yards of the house, only she knew it wasn't Clem because it did not ride like him. When Perry rode up she was standing in the front yard wringing her hands and crying, she said, "They did kill Clem didn't they Perry?" Perry told her of the trouble and she got on the horse and came back to town as fast as Perry left town. Perry walked back. In less than an hour every man and boy was in town with pistols and shotguns, intending to catch the man that did the killing, but one of the merchants that was also a doctor talked them out of following them. So the two boys were taken home and were buried the next day and that night the Jayhawkers slipped in and danced all over their graves. These men never were brought to trial for some reason but they never came back in there for several years.

My mother grieved so much over the death of my father and brothers, then the loss of all our land and money and this happening, she still possessed an inner fear for us boys as things wasn't getting along so well for us boys there between the Northern and Southern people as they still nursed a grudge against each other and will as long as we live I suppose. With all this and the failing of health mother died in the Fall of 1866, then all of us children just scattered out going to our relatives. I went to a sister in Millville Missouri in Warren County and lived with her and her husband until 1869 at which time I left and headed for Texas. I got to Corsicana, a very small town, about four o'clock in the evening of December 8th of that year. There was no railroad at Corsicana. Stagecoaches were run. They come into Corsicana from the North down what is now 13th street. The town was built around the courthouse. The coming of the Texas Central Railroad in 1871 is what pulled the business district from the courthouse to where it is now.

When I stepped down from the stagecoach which was stopped on the West side of the courthouse, I walked up on the sidewalk and stood there for awhile and looked the town over. There was a harness shop, some boarding houses, three or four saloons, hardware store, grocery or general merchandise. All the stores were built out of lumber, I don't believe there was a brick store in town. The courthouse was a frame building, and it later burned. I must have stood there for thirty minutes just sizing the town up, then I turned and walked into a saloon and ordered a drink, talked to a few men, then went to a boarding house operated by Bob Malloy on the East side of the courthouse square. That night at supper I met a man by the name of Pete Anderson who lived between the town of Kerns and Rual Shade. He was in town on business and he made a proposition and I taken him up. He gave me a crop on the halves and boarded me allowing me to work my board out when I wasn't working in my own crop. So after he finished his business the next morning we got in his wagon and started home which was about twenty miles from here. The next day he showed me my land, teams and tools. He had about 500 acres of good level land and I started to cutting wood and post for him, we built fence or any kind of work he had to do. Mr. Anderson also had a man working for him by the name of Charlie Bentley, working for him like I was with a crop on the halves. So Charlie and worked together all the time until we started out plowing. I finished before Charlie did and went to plowing for mr. Anderson, and by the time my crop was laid by, I had my board paid up for the rest of the year, but Charlie didn't and he had been complaining all the year about Mr. Anderson giving me the best tools and land, but he had the first choice as he was there first. Mr. Anderson and Charlie got to quarreling and Charlie got to coming in drunk and refusing to work.

One Saturday in late summer I came to town and all of the Andersons had gone to Rual Shade and left Charlie at home. When Mr. Anderson and his folks returned they saw smoke coming out of the house. When he got inside he found the mattress on mine and Charlie's bed afire on the bottom side, there was also fire in some clothes in another room. Charlie was gone and did not return until Sunday night, but Mr. Anderson didn't say much to him but tried to buy him out, but Charlie wouldn't sell. Mr. Anderson thought he set the fire but he couldn't prove it. Things rocked on this way until we started gathering corn. I tried to sell out to Mr. Anderson as I could see trouble was coming and I didn't want to be mixed up in it, but he wouldn't buy me out. I got all my corn and the rent gathered and Mr. Anderson got his gathered while Charlie was fooling around gathering the rent. Later in the Fall Charlie went to a dance one night and about 2 o'clock the big barn burned and Charlie got in about four. Mr Anderson thought he did this so the next morning he rode off to find out where the dance was. He investigated for two or three days and one night about twelve o'clock a bunch of men rode up and asked for Charlie. All these men wore mask and white robes like the Ku Klux. They made Charlie go with them. Mr. Anderson asked them what they were going to do with him and they said hang him. Mr. Anderson and I went with them. They came to a big cottonwood tree by the road and they put Charlie upon a horse, put a rope around his neck, threw the other end over the limb and tied it to the horn of a saddle of another horse. The man started to step the other horse up when Mr. Anderson and I began begging and trying to reason with them. I don't know whether he was earnest or not but I was. I knew Charlie was as contrary as the mischief, but he was just like I was, he had no home to go to and had no folks and he was young and probably would straighten up. Mr. Anderson told them what kind of a crop he had and said he would pay him what these men said it was worth if they would give him a chance to leave. They argued that he was supposed to have gone to a dance that night and there was no dance so where did he go, and Charlie wouldn't tell. So they finally agreed for Anderson to pay for his cotton crop and he was to leave the county. The leader pointed towards the moon that was jus rising and said, "Boy do you see that moon yonder?" I never will forget how it looked, it looked like a big ball of fire. "We are giving you one more chance for your life. You go just as straight to that moon as you can go and don't you stop when you get to it either. You go straight for three days and the rest of this night and don't you come back either, if you do we will burn you just like you did this man's barn. We stood there and watched him leave and one of the men said well we are rid of one more thief. Mr. Anderson bought my crop the next day and I left as I knew there was still more trouble to come, and sure enough there was.

The next Spring I got a contract to furnish the Collins gin and flour mill cord wood. I bought forty acres of timber and began hauling two cords a day. I was doing this when Texas Central Railroad lay it's tracks into town and built the depot. The people gave a big Ball at one of the railroads here to celebrate the coming of the railroads. I guess there was over a thousand people to see the first engine pull into town.

My next job was on a ranch east of town. We herded cattle from Corsicana east to the Trinity river and South over into Freestone county. Most all this was free range, only a farm here and there and two or three settlements, Wadeville, Rual Shade and Bazette. I have drove cattle across where the main street of Powell and Kerns are now when it was just a hog wallow and the cows and horses waded mud up to their bellies. There was mosquitoes and malaria then. I have been in homes then when there would be as many as five in bed with malaria. I would set up all night and ride all day. People would ride ten miles to wait on the sick in them days.

Spencer, was the foreman of this ranch. The next Spring we were making the Spring roundup succeeded in getting 500 head rounded up and were ready to start driving the next. The men took turns watching that night and about nine o'clock it bgan to cloud up and the foreman said he would go back to the ranch house for more hands and horses. The storm broke out about midnight and I was placed between the cattle and the river bottom, the hardest line of all to hold. The rain fell in torrents and the wind nearly blew us out of the saddles. The wind would sting our faces on the side next to the wind. We were upon that bald prairie where we got the benefit of all of it. We were riding in a run and hollering to the tops of our voices when the cattle finally stampeded and broke the south line. We all gave chase firing into the ground and finally succeeded in holding 300 head, the other two hundred scattered and were finally rounded up in the bottom two weeks later, then we headed west with them until we reached the old Chisolm trail, then Spencer turned me and four others back, the balance headed North with them, I don't remember exactly where they taken them, but the boys were gone about six months.

Horse and cattle thieves began working in here and when they were chased they would run for the Tecuacana hills in the south part of Navarro county and the southern part of Freestone county. These hills were covered with rocks and scrubby underbrush which was very thick also there were many caves. This was where all the outlaws hid out and was known as outlaw country for several years. But a horse thief was caught and hung to the limb of an elm tree on Elm Creek where the city lake now is while I was working on the ranch southeast of town. He hung there until the coyotes and buzzards eat the flesh off his bones. A doctor by the name of Croons got the skeleton and kept it in his office for several years.

The first Spring I worked for Walter Blackburn he sent me across the Trinity river to collect a $65. debt a man owed him for a horse. When I crossed over the river was nearly bank full but when I returned home the next day the river was all over the bottom, the bottom being in Navarro county. A high bluff is on the Henderson county side. I crossed over the main channel in a ferry to a knoll, the ferryman told me a trail was marked on the trees that followed the higher ground, and if I would follow it I would come out all right. I started following it, but pretty soon I lost it and began pulling my horse in the direction I thought was the trail. He swam and swam and we came to some higher ground where he could began wading and I stopped to let him rest for he was very tired. I looked around for signs and decided I was totally lost and decided to give my horse his head, he waded off the knoll, turned right angle to the direction we had been going and after swimming about a hundred yards I looked up and saw the signs that marked the trail and the horse followed them until I got out of the bottom and I knew where I was.

Another time eight of us boys were sent to the Trinity river bottom to drive the cattle out, as Mr. Blackburn received word that an overflow was coming. when we got there the river was all backed out in the sloughs. We all began riding the low lands and riding hard and driving all the cattle to high ground. We rode all day in the bottom and came to the bridge that was across the river at the north end of our range and met a man by the name of Bradley that told us that some of our cattle had strayed across the river. We went across on the bridge which was an arch bridge then we all bedded down for the night and rounded up our cattle the next day and started back across the river. When we got to the bridge, both ends were under water, we could see just about eight foot of the arch in the bridge. After quite a bit of trouble we got the cattle on the bridge and after crossing the bridge they had to swim and here they scattered. We taken after them so as to keep them together, some of the horses swam low and some swam high. My horse swam high, only my feet and half way up to my knees got wet. One of my cousins, Robert Bryant had come down from Missouri and got a job on this ranch and was with us.
[This is William Robert Bryant, my great grandfather. His father William Abner married John Franklin's oldest sister, Malinda. Abner was killed at the civil war battle of Lone Jack, Mo. Aug 16, 1862. Frank refers to Robert as "his cousin" but in actuality, he is Robert's uncle. I suppose the reason was because they were the same age. - Eddie]
He started after a stray cow and his horse struck high ground and then fell off into a slough, him, horse and all went out of sight. When he came up he was spitting water and cussing the horse, cow, river, ranch, his job and Texas, but he brought the cow back and we got them back to the ranch. When all the cows were counted, the foreman said we had not lost a cow in that overflow.

Another time I was sent across the river to see about some cattle that was reported across, after two days riding across [riding on the other side] I found no cattle and crossed on the ferry at Porters Bluff and started back to the ranch. I had crossed a large piece of grassland and crossed a little creek when I began smelling grass burning and seen smoke. The wind was blowing a gale. I rode up to the top of the ridge and saw that the prairie was on fire. The flames were leaping in the air and burning grass was flying everywhere. I whirled my horse and started to run back but I soon saw that I could not make it to the timber and I knew the little creek would not be any shelter and my horse was tired., for I had been riding him for three or four days. I had heard of riding through these fires so I turned my horse around and began putting the whip and spurs to him and headed him towards the fire. He didn't want to go but I kept whipping and spurring him and when he hit the fire he was in a dead run. I lay over the saddle on his neck and my hand over my nostrils when we hit the blaze. When we got through it he was singed all over and my cloths were afire in several places. I finally got them put out and and stopped and rubbed him down good and went on to the ranch. This was as bad scared as I ever was, for I knew we both would be burned alive.

While working on this ranch I bought the first pair of shop made boots giving $10, for them and I was drawing $25. a month. I could have bought land in the center of the now Powell-Corsicana oil field for twenty five cents an acre, but no one thought it was good for anything but grazing.

In 1874 my cousin [nephew] Robert Bryant and I were deputized to trail a horse thief that had stolen one of the best horses that the ranch owned. We trailed him to Hillsboro and while we were watering our horses at the public water trough, the sheriff saw us wearing guns and arrested us, but after everything was explained he helped us get on his trail out of there and we followed him on into Bell county, and the man at Belton that raised the horse, the trail led west out of there, we trailed him about fifty miles west of Belton and lost him, we never did hear of that horse again. If we had caught this thief Robert wanted to hang him where we caught him and I guess it was best we did not catch him.

About the middle of November 1876 I quit the ranch and November 28, 1878 I married Ruth Duncan. Her father run one of the first stores in Corsicana and before the railroad came he freighted from Shreveport and Houston going every Spring. I rented land from Will VanHook farmed it two years then moved to Rual Shade and was overseer for Dr. Coats of Kerns for seven years. Here I raised cattle for myself and traded cattle for a farm, lived here for a few years then sold out and went to Oklahoma and made the run of 1889, settled in Pottiwatomie county, became dissatisfied after a few years, then Robert Bryant my cousin [nephew] who was also married and made the run with me, sold out to my twin brothers who were younger than I and we headed back to Texas and the prairie. We crossed the Canadian which was almost a mile wide on ice after we had ice shoes made for our teams. When we got back we settled at Blooming Grove in the western part of Navarro county. When I taken my team to a blacksmith to have the ice shoes taken off as we didn't need them here he asked me to give them to him as they were the first he had ever seen and he had them hanging up in his shop when he died. I lived there until I became too old and feeble to farm, then moved to town where I now live. I have only two children, one a farmer living in this county and the other a barber living in Oklahoma in a little town built on the Canadian river where I crossed on the ice. I have eight grandchildren scattered over Texas and Oklahoma and nine great grandchildren.

I have seen towns in this county build and die, how the railroads changed the people, the effects it had on this county and Corsicana, also the change the new highways and automobiles have brought about, have watched Corsicana grow while the smaller towns of Navarro county are slowly dwindling away. I have lived life in the raw, but I would be glad to be able to live it again. THE END.

[This copy of the original transcript was contributed by Lou Norbeck, a direct descendant of John Franklin Smith. Thanks cousin Lou! - Eddie]

Notes:

  • Submitted by Kay Masterson
  • Original Material posted at the Library of Congress Website

This Page Last Updated on 07/08/06
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Copyright 2001 Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox