SUBDIVISIONS OF DAWSON
Residential areas of Dawson were located north and south of the railroad. The area
south of the railroad was known as "Frog Level." "Frog Level"
extended, perhaps, a mile and was composed of Main Street and two side streets. South Main
street continued south and led to Four Corners and Tehuacana. North Main lasted only four
blocks where it intersected with a cross street and there were five or six other streets
that continued in a northerly direction. The "West Dawson" residential area was
on each side of the railroad tracks and the Waco road and extended to a branch that ran
west of "Uncle Steve" Hill's place.
Most "White Folks" lived on either side of Main street.. North or South, but
Dawson was integrated. Black families were located on the side streets and included
Doc Fenner and his wife who lived in a tiny house a few doors north from the fine house
owned by the McCulloch family. Doc Fenner and his sweet wife fitted in beautifully.
Doc was very old when I first remembered him, but he was still able to do odd jobs
around town. He was often called upon to "break" gardens useing his mule
and a walking plow. Once, when his eyesight had begun to fail, he had weeded E B
Dawson's garden with a sharp hoe. When E B came home the garden was beautiful...and
Doc had carefully tilled around one large weed.
Jim and Maymie Martin lived on the street west of Main in Frog Level. My Dad had
been friends with Jim for many years despite the fact that Jim was much older. I
always thought Jim Martin one of the finest men in town and Maymie was, without doubt, the
best cook. When I was small Jim would take me with him to his farms on Richland
Creek. Lunch was summer sausage and crakers and a Nehi at the country store.
And Maymie had supper waiting at the end of the day.
And, behind the Westmorelands lived Aunt Hannah and a family who had three fine children.
Every Sunday those three children, dressed in their finest, would walk to
Farmersville to attend church. They, probably, became doctors and attorneys and
Several more black families, including Cleve Harris, resided on the south end of the
street East of Main in Frog Level. Cleve Harris was a mild mannered gentleman who
did chores from time to time for Houston Akers. Twice each day he came to coax milk
from the Akers cow, Jezebell. Some of the milk was for the Akers family, some for
Cleve and his family.
Cleve made a game of whatever chore was required. Once he was sawing wood and said
that the saw talked as he moved it back and forth through the log. What did it say?
"Lis'en close! It say "Soup, bread, meat and pie...soup, bread,
meat, and pie!" And, sure enough, as Sambo and I listened...that was what we
THE BLACK COMMUNITY OF
Most Blacks, however, lived in Farmersville, named after John Henry Farmer, a white
citizen of Dawson. Farmersville was located a mile or so East of Main Street, south
of the Railroad and near the cotton gins and cotton oil mill. Streets, surveyed in
an orderly fashion, were lined with modest cottages and well kept gardens. There were
several small stores in Farmersville and two or three churches.
Farmersville was filled with friends.
Bud California and his family lived in the last house on the left on that last street in
Farmersville. His wife did washing. I suppose that Bud must have worked somewhere,
but he was in town most every day and always had a big smile on his round face.
Beulah Hopkins was my favorite. She helped my Mother from time to time and was
present when my sister, Jean LaMerle, was born at our house.. I had been sent to
play with my cousins...Cousin Will's grandchildren, when an old World War One bi-plane
flew low over our house and landed in a field nearby. Airplanes were a rarity
in Dawson and all the children..eight or ten...began to race for the small field where the
plane had landed. Beulah ran to the street and informed me that I had a baby
sister and didn't I want to come in the house and see her. I replied that I
would be back when I saw that airplane. Beulah was with us when Marilyn was born and
wshen I was sent to the store Beulah would whisper, "Junior, be sure to get me a can
of that sweet snuff." And I would.
And there was Fred Cole who worked at Loveless Drug and drove for Dr. Worsham.
One year Fred chaperoned Ralph Akers, Major Davis' twin boys, and one other
boy on a Model T trip from Dawson to California and back.
And who could forget Cotton Cottrell who loved two things....white lightening and
music...and in that order. I never knew the source of any income Cotton may
have had....though I heard stories....but I delighted at sitting on his porch and
listening to him strum his ancient guitar and sing New Orleans blues songs. He was
good! One Saturday Cotton must have been low on "drinkin' money" and came
to town dressed in his wife's bathrobe, strumming that guitar, "singin' them
blues," and rattling a tin cup filled with coins as a "come on" for more
Clark Roberts was a kindly gentleman who lived on the Corsicana Hiway and worked for Dad
and Uncle Fred at the slaughter house located on Battle Creek just below the Old Dawson
house. I liked Clark. He was always patient with little boys and eager to help
them do what they wanted. Mother and I had driven to the slaughter house late one
day just Clark was ready to drive Uncle Fred's Model T Ford truck to the market with fresh
killed beef carcuses. I wanted to ride to the store with Clark. The
truck had no side doors and the floor boards...real wooded boards.... had rotted away and
exposed the exhaust pipe. Clark assured my Mother that he would take good care of me
and cautioned me, "Junior, you keep yo bare foot offen that pipe cause it gonna be
I could not resist the temptation to find out for myself if the pipe was really hot.
It was! When we arrived at the store I was crying and Clark was
explaining that he had told Junior to "lay off that pipe."
And then there was Flookem! I never knew anyone who didn't like..and remember
Flookem Dickson. Flookem was at least six feet..or so it seemed to little boys and
he was always thin as a fence rail. He came to work at Boots Garner's White Front
Grocery at daylite and left at dark...winter and summer. And he was never seen
without his official trademark...a white apron. If Flookem ever worked in the
fields around Dawson I never heard about it. He was born to work...uptown.
Flookem had one of the most infectious laughs and a huge smile..complete with gold
teeth...to go with it. He would hear some funny story, slap his thigh, and his
laugh could be heard all the way to Purden.
Once Flookem ordered some shoes from a mail order house. He informed most everyone
that he had new shoes on the way and one day the prized package arrived at the post
office. He removed the wrappings and, with great pride...lifted the brightest yellow
shoes ever made...from the box. Flookem grinned from ear to ear.
Several weeks passed and my Mother remarked to Flookem that she hadn't seen him wearing
his new shoes. Flookem remaried, "No Mam, Mrs. Matthews, I' savin' the new
shoes for "Juneteenth," Juneteenth....June 19...was the day The
Emancipation Proclamation was announced at Galvestion and Texas blacks always celebrated
on that day.
Doc Fenner, a kind and gentle man, lived in the "Inte\grated" section of Dawson
and was old the first time I remember seeing him. He had cleaned one of
the local banks for many years.He married a grand daughter of Henry Caruthers who had come
to Texas as a slave in 1847 and was a slave when he came with the Joseph Thompson Lawrence
Family when they settled on the headwaters of Richland Creek in the 1850s. Doc
Fenner had a mule and a small plow that he used to plow garden plots for Dawson families.
My first Junteenth Celebration was when I was five. The store had closed, but my Dad
had to deliver some meat to the celebration and it was after dark when we arrived.
Lanters and kerosene lamps had been place on poles and wires strung between the poles that
identified the celebration area. Meat was roasting over open flame pits and the
aroma created hunger juices in little boys. Bar-b-que sandwiches followed, complete
with red Nehi "sodywater"...and freezer made ice cream and corn on the cob and
cakes and pies. I wanted to celebrate Junteenth every day!
All totaled...the Dawson census might have counted one thousand souls, but the trade area
extended for many miles in every direction and included such communities as Spring Hill,
Navarro Mills, Brushie Prairie, Chicken Brissel, Pelham, Liberty Hill, Four Corners, Union
High, Purdon, Patterson, Corbet, Alliance Hall, Eldorado, and Silver City. Most
communities boasted a General Store..but on Saturday...people came to town..and town was
Dawson...and Dawson would come alive.
Few streets in Dawson were graveled and none were paved. The dirt streets churned up
dust when the weather was dry and became impassable lanes of deep mud when it rained.
The nearest paved road in the area was not constructed for many years and began
half the distance to Corsicana. It was known as "The Slab." Funds
became available to construct a two lane road one fourth the distance out of Corsicana,
but someone suggested that by paving only one lane the road could go twice as far.
So "The Slab" was built ten feet wide for a single lane rather than double lane.
Early motor vehicles were often pulled from Dawson to "The Slab" by horses or
mules when the roads were muddy...driven to Corsicana, and..when they returned..the
animals pulled them home. When cars or wagons met, someone had to pull off the slab.
But people came to Dawson despite the mud or dust, and on Saturday, the town filled to
capacity. Towns people and country folks would gather in the business area.
Wagon yards located behind the stores and south of the Depot would be filled with wagons
and buggies and saddled horses. Straight chairs were placed aboard the wagons for
women folks and heavy quilts were placed on the wagon floor for sleeping
Men wore their new overalls and women wore print dresses that hung to their ankles.
Sun bonnets made from matching material sewn around stiff cardboard staves covered female
heads as the wagons creaked toward town. Dresses and bonnets were often made from
materials first used as flour and feed sacks. Wagons also carried butter and eggs that the
farm wife had carefully prepared. They would be traded to the shop keepers for
molasses and salt pork and sugar and beans and coffee and forty-eight pound brightly
printed cloth sacks of flour.
Farm families, sometimes, spent Saturday night in Dawson, staying with family or friends.
Of course, they always went to church while they were "in town" and
mention was always made in The Dawson Herald the following Thursday concerning who spent
Saturday night with whom.
Some men from the farm areas...and some men from the town..often engaged in other pursuits
on Saturday. There were pool halls, .."dens of iniquity" according to some
preachers....where some men gambled over where the balls would roll after a given shot.
"Pitchin the Line" was a favorite pastime as well....where older boys and
men would "pitch" coins on the floor. Whoever owned the coin that came
closest to a line grooved into the concrete floor won all the money. Such activity
was called " gamblin."
Some said that people who frequented the pool halls often drank "corn licker"
that was from time immemorial available from well known local "bootleggers."
Some said that Baptist and Bootleggers united in Dawson at every election to keep
the place dry. Some said that the "Law" had been "paid off" to
warn Dawson bootleggers when a raid was to be made. Regardless...bootleggers were
seldom..if ever... arrested.
And...some people got drunk. Sometimes, they got drunk early in the day.
One man had ridden into town on a beautiful red horse to ride in the Parade one
Fourth of July. He had not adjusted the saddle securely and when he leaned too far
to one side in his inebriated condition, the saddle slipped and the drunkened rider was
under the belly of the horse....hanging on for dear life. The horse must have been
accustomed to such happenings as he never moved throughout the experience.
Two brothers, it appeared, always took turns getting drunk. And, about two o'clock
on Saturday afternoon, the one whose turn it was to get drunk...was drunk...and began to
challenge the sober brother to a fight. And they would fight...with bare knuckles.
The fight would begin in the pool hall or the domino hall, but, eventually, it
would move to the street. By that time, shirts were torn, noses were bloodied, eyes
were puffed....and there were breathless utterances that gave direction as to where the
other should go, some indication as to what the female parent was, accusations of having
had intimacies with farm animals...expressions that suggested that the parents were not
married when the other was born..and only Heaven knows what else.
And there were times when some men would begin to fight when they were not even drunk.
Differences were not often settled at the Courthouse in Corsicana. More often
than not, differences would be settled in the "Wagon Yard" or on the sidewalks
of Dawson. Conflicts were generated by all manner of happenings. The Honor of
one man's wife or daughter would often launch a fight when the two males involved happened
to meet in Dawson. Squabbles over soured business deals would seethe for months in
the minds of the participants. When they met on the streets of Dawson one word led to
another..."Nose to Nose...anything goes"..."Bang!" and one man had
"whopped" the other on the head with a clenched fist.
Two men once argued for the better part of an hour as they sat on the cast iron
"settee" in front of one of the stores that faced The Dawson Lumber Company and
the Cotton Belt Depot. They leaped from where they had sat as if an electrical
charge had surged through the cast iron "settee." The smaller of the two
men had his knife out by the time they were erect and would have plunged it into the
larger man except for the fact that the larger man had a vice-like grip on his opponent's
wrist. The two wrestled for several minutes, but the smaller man was no match for the
larger. The larger man never relinquished his grip on the smaller man's wrist.
The larger man told his opponent that he would let him go if he would permit the
storekeeper to remove the knife from his hand. Finally, the smaller man permitted
the storekeeper to take the knife and the fight was over. The smaller man left the
scene embarrassed and angry.
And...some conflicts had no apparent cause. One man had sat on another cast iron
"Settee" for some time one Saturday afternoon. He was minding his own
business, speaking kindly to passersby, enjoying the activity of Dawson. It was near
dusk when the shopkeeper peered out the screened door of his small store. The
shopkeeper had been drinking most of the day...not an unusual thing for him...and he was
drunk. The shopkeeper drew his "six shooter" from its hiding place, walked
through the screened doors, pointed the weapon at the man seated on the cast iron
"settee" and fired point blank. The man fell to the sidewalk crying,
"I'm shot!. I'm Shot!" When the shopkeeper was questioned as to why he
shot the man, he replied, "I didn't like the way he looked."
W W Wolf quickly drove the black hearse from the hardware store to the shooting site and
the wounded man placed inside. He was taken to Providence Hospital in Waco and
survived. Apparently, the shopkeeper was never tried for the shooting.
A tiny "Calaboose" was located behind businesses on the west side of Main
Street. "The Calaboose" was Dawson's jailhouse and was a small metal clad
structure with a room on the east for whites and one on the west for blacks. Heavy steel
doors with many small holes were secured with huge Master locks. The small
cubicles had no running water, but did contain a wooden seat that, when lifted, revealed a
round hole which served as a toilet. Excrement simply fell to the ground below.
Men who became drunk...and belligerent...were, sometimes, placed in the
"Calaboose" to "sleep it off." Men who became
"peacefully" drunk were, usually, carried home by friends or by the City
Marshall. It was, probably, a good idea to be very drunk if there was any
probability of being placed in the "Calaboose." That place smelled to
"High Heaven" with odors from "pit sewage" and from the leftovers of
sick drunks. And in summer...that place must have been an oven.
People came to town to buy what they needed to survive, but they came mostly...to
socialize. Farm life was hard...and it was lonely. The farm wife, during bad weather
might not get to town for several weeks at the time. Husbands would, sometimes, in
muddy weather, hitch the team to the front two wheels of the wagon and attempt to get to
town for provisions. The two wheels would become so filled with the black gumbo mud
that the wheels would lock and begin to slide.
MATTHEWS BROS. MARKET
My center of Dawson in the later 1920's was MATTHEWS BROTHERS MARKET,
located north of the Depot and across the street from The Dawson Lumber
Company managed by Mr. Edwards.
Matthews Market appeared so very large to a four or five year old boy, but, after viewing
the place in adulthood, its width could not have been more than forty feet. Screened
openings were located at the front and rear of the building to permit ventilation during
the warm weather. Screen doors were locked at night, but entry could have easily
been accomplished through the screen wire. There was never a break-in. The
market was "winterized" when cold weather came by closing heavy wooden doors
over the screened areas.
Customers waited on a concrete floor in front of the "New" refrigerated meat
case that was the repository of bacon, ham, sausage, cheese, ground meat, and all cuts of
fresh cuts of beef and pork. Matthews Market never carried chickens, lamb, or goat.
White scales were centered on top of the "New" refrigerated meat case, and, at
its side, was the "New" tape dispenser that carried sticky paper through water
when the machine was pressed and into the hands of whoever was wrapping meat packages.
The "New" tape machine was the latest and most "up-to-date"
equipment that "modern" markets employed. The "New" tape
dispenser was, also. a stubborn instrument that became jammed from time to time and
created great concern on the part of individuals attempting to use it...and, at
times...several unusual expressions.
String had been used for years to tie meat packages and remained as a "back up"
when the "New" Tape dispenser decided to become obstinate. Two huge cones
of white string were hidden from view of the customers and the string threaded through
eyelet screws that ran up the west wall of the market and across the ceiling with a drop
on each side of the scales.
Wrapping meat purchases with butcher paper and tying the package with string was "
real art" that only the few were able to accomplish. The trick was to position the
string around the thumb in such manner as to have the string cut the string..and not one's
thumb or fingers. Customers were always impressed when they were waited on by someone who
had really mastered the technique.
Just west of the "New"" refrigerated meat case was a large glass case the
same height as the "New" refrigerated meat case. This glass case was not
refrigerated and was used exclusively for "Light Bread." No resident
of Dawson ever asked for a loaf of bread. Bread was..always.."Light Bread."
Dawson had a bakery from time to time, but at Matthews Market the bread case held nothing
but "Buddies Bread" which came from Buddy Tomek's bakery in Hubbard. Buddy
Tomek was a huge man with a heart and smile that matched his size. It was always a
special time when Buddy came with bread in the morning..and..sometimes, on Saturdays, he
had to return with more bread in the afternoons..."Light Bread."
Two large round wooden blocks were positioned immediately behind the "New"
refrigerated meat case. They may have been obtained from large trees that had been
cut on Richland Creek and cut into proper lengths with a cross-cut saw. Someone had
planed the sides round and smooth and painted the sides a dark reddish color...probably to
hide any blood that was splattered from time to time.
Ceiling fans that served a dual purpose whirled above each meat block. One...the fans were
some help in keeping workers cool in the summer as they performed their duties at the meat
block..as cool as that place could get in summer and without even a thought of air
conditioning. Second...the movement of the air created by the fans helped to keep
flies off the meat as it was being cut.
Just west of the meat blocks was a rolled top desk where ledgers, check books, pen staffs
and ink, etc. were kept. A javelina head and hide...completely with ugly, long
teeth..rested on top. I never fooled with that javelina.
Between the rolled top desk and the bread case..on the wall..was the telephone...a crank
telephone..and it WAS..cranky. Few refrigerators existed in Dawson and most people
did not purchase ice for "ice boxes" until really warm weather "set
in" and there was a need for iced tea. This situation made the telephone a most
important instrument at Matthews Market. Housewives would call and my Daddy
would answer with a matter of fact response that was used no place else and one, as I
remember, had a touch of a nasal twang. "Yes, Mam..we have some round steak.
Yes, Mam, it is tender. 'bout two pounds? Yes, Mam, we'll have it there
before eleven. Thank you, Mam."
Orders were processed, wrapped with butcher paper, tied with string unless the
"New" tape dispenser was working, the customer's name written clearly on the
package, and placed in the "New" refrigerated meat case until delivery time.
When all orders had been processed, the McGowan boy..or whoever was making
deliveries, placed all packages in a large box located over the wheels of the delivery
cart. The delivery cart, pulled by a single horse, was a two wheeled vehicle with a
step at the rear about eighteen inches above the ground. The step permitted the
delivery boy to drive the horse and to have quick access to the box that held the meat
The telephone...mentioned above as being "cranky...did, indeed, have its own
idiosyncracies. There was a crank on the left side that drove a small generator
which was located inside the telephone box. The unit was mounted to the west wall
the market, perhaps, five feet from the concrete floor. The generator..."The
Shocking Machine"....was prized by little boys who obtained one from "The
Telephone Man" when some units were junked. The units produced a very low voltage of
The telephone at the market, apparently, had a short in the system and in damp weather...a
caller...standing in just the right position on the concrete floor, would receive an
unexpected jolt of electricity. The shocks were never life threatening, but would frighten
the "very dickens" out of the unsuspecting.
Floyd Smith, a local banker and friend of the family all his life, stopped by one day and
requested permission to make a call on the telephone. Mother was seated at the roll
topped desk and I was seated on the writing level of the desk...well away from the ugly
javelina. Mother..full of mischief..waited for Mr. Smith to crank the telephone.
The day must have been really damp and Floyd Smith was standing in just the right
spot as he turned the crank with vigor. Floyd Smith...vice-president of the bank,
respected community leader and family man, Steward of the Methodist Church, came forth
with all the bad words I had ever heard around the Market...plus a few new ones. He then
began apologizing profusely to "Mrs. Matthews" and Mother was laughing her head
A long...probably ten to twelve feet...marble topped table was positioned on the east wall
of Matthews Market. Daddy's special knife box always sat on that table, protected by
a small "Master" lock with one key in Daddy's pocket. A carborundum
"sharpening stone" rested on top of the knife box where steak, skinning, and
boning knives were "honed" to razor sharpness. It was on the marble topped
table that "Uncle John Ponder" would sit as he rolled hamburger meat...and corn
meal...into little round balls that would be made into hamburgers at "The Green
Hut" up the street. "Uncle John" never appeared in a hurry and talked
constantly as he rolled each ball carefully.
A large walk in cooler stood to the rear of the meat blocks and on the west side of the
market. The walk in cooler must have been quite old, but it was a thing of beauty.
It stood, perhaps, twelve feet tall and the exterior was made of fine wood put in
place by a Master Craftsman and finished like fine furniture. Horns that had once
adorned a "Long Horn" steer now adorned the walk-in cooler. The horns,
more than six feet tip to tip, hung majestically at a place of prominence on the front of
the cooler. Three waist high glass doors opened toward the meat blocks and the
handles were of brass. A large, man sized door, opened on the end, permitting heavy
quarters of beef to be carried inside the cooler and hung on hooks.
The door had a broken latch on the inside and once, when my cousin, Raymond Davidson, who
worked at the market and lived with us, went into the cooler I locked him inside. He
was saying all sorts of threatening words and I could hear him mumbling. I opened
one of the small doors on the front..knowing that he could not get through it, and
extorted a quarter from him as the "fee" for letting him out.
The walk-in cooler was, originally, cooled by ice. The upper portion of the cooler
had been designed to have huge blocks of ice placed inside and cold air would fall to the
lower portion. Each morning the ice wagon would pull up to the back door of the market and
the icemen..usually two...would pull the huge three hundred pound blocks of ice off the
ice wagon...down a heavy board, and across the concrete floor to the cooler. A block
and tackle..ropes and large wooden pulleys...had been secured to the ceiling of the market
to lift the heavy ice. Heavy hooks bit into the ice and attached to the block and
tackle. Pull...Pull..Pull..and up into the air went the huge block of ice.
When the ice reached the upper door which had been opened someone on a ladder would shove
the ice into the upper portion of the cooler and the process repeated until the cooler was
filled with ice.
The cooling by ice was supposed to have ended with the installation of a refrigeration
unit c. 1928-1929. The refrigeration unit was positioned to the rear of the walk in
cooler, near the rear door. The unit operated with ammonia rather than freon and was
constantly leaking and the smell of ammonia would fill the market. Daddy would call
"Central" on the crank telephone and summons the refrigeration man who lived in
Corsicana. He would arrive as quickly as possible and work for hours..late into the
night, sometimes. And..there were times when he was unable to make the repair without
ordering some part from Dallas. Daddy would call the ice house and have ice
Near the back door which led to the alley or wagon yard, was a heavy table that held
another important piece of market equipment...the grinder. The grinder was large and
made of heavy metal and with a huge electric motor that powered an auger that ground
various types of meat. Meat was cut into fist size pieces which were fed into a
large bell like section and pushed into the auger with a heavy piece of wood.
Different sized cutting plates were installed for whatever was to be ground...sausage,
ground meet, or chili meat.
Many people, today, are not aware that a difference exists between hamburger and chili
meat. Hamburger is a fine grind of beef. Chili meat is beef ground through a
plate with round holes about the size of the little finger and produces small chunks of
meat the same size.
Nearby was a contraption that, somewhat, resembled a bicycle. It was used to sharpen
knives, cleavers and axes. The unit had a seat, similar to a bicycle seat, mounted
to a steel frame and about thirty inches from the floor. Pedals on each side were attached
to a mandrel that ran through a large round sharpening stone. When the pedals were
activated the large stone would turn..at a high rate of speed. Someone skilled at
using the unit would put an extremely fine keen edge on a sharp instrument. "Uncle
Tom" Fread, who spent much time at the market, usually operated the unit.
There was a closet located to the rear and on the east side of the market, under the
stairs that led to the Lodge Hall located on the second floor of the building. The
closet contained all manner of "junk." It was, as well, the bathroom that
served the market. A small can rested on an exposed two by four on the unfinished
inside of the closet. Men would disappear into the closet, emerge with the can...and
an expression of relief...and throw the contents of the can out the back door. I never saw
women go in there.
The closet played a role in one happening. Jim Caskey was a jolly, red faced man who
came regularity to the market..always wearing bib overalls..laughing..telling jokes.
He, also, had the largest nose of any man I ever saw. One cold winter day he
was warming at the open flamed gas heater located near the rear of the market when he
spied Uncle Fred Matthews driving up in back in his Model T Ford truck. Mr. Caskey
told my Daddy that he would hide in the closet and for my Daddy to tell Uncle Fred that
Jim Caskey wanted him to come..that day..to look at some cattle that Mr. Caskey wanted to
Mr. Caskey secreted himself in the closet and,presently, Uncle Fred came in, bundled in a
heavy coat and complaining about the cold. Daddy gave him the message from Mr.
Caskey and Uncle Fred went into a tirade. "It was too "xyzbykz" cold
to look at cattle. Besides, that old red nosed.."so-in-so"..didn't have
any cattle worth looking at and "XyzkByk..and so forth." Uncle Fred was
still going strong when Jim Caskey emerged from the closet...laughing..at the joke he had
pulled on Uncle Fred.
No sewage system existed in Dawson until the late thirties, but the town was adequately
served with "Out Houses." Each home had it's own "Outhouse" and
there was one for each business...located in the alley behind the establishment.
Most "Business Outhouses" were equipped with padlocks and were accessable only
with a key. Brent Williamson, grandson of Dr. Williamson, was some years older than
I and took pleasure in "tormenting" me each time he came to visit in
Dawson. I watched one day...one very hot day...as he walked..key in hand...to the
"Outhouse" serving Uncle Green Williamson's grocery store. Brent carefully
placed the key in the lock, returned the open lock to the clasp on the outside, entered
the "Outhouse." I gave him time to "get settled," ran to the
"Outhouse" door, lifted the lock from the hasp and closed the hasp securely and
snapped the lock. Brent was imprisoned in the heated "Outhouse" and
I...running fast from the scene..had my revenge. I stayed clear of Brent for several
Matthews Market was, evidently, a gathering place for people who had nothing to
do..there..or elsewhere. But..it was a restaurant of sorts. People would come
in and ask for...and receive..a dimes worth of cheese and crackers. Or...a dimes
worth of summer sausage and crackers. And..in winter...customers would purchase two
or three wieners and roast them on wire coathangers held over the open flames of the gas
heater. And...there were hiding places in the "New" meat counter where
bottles of "home brew" were kept for special occasions.
Matthews Market was strictly a "Meat" Market. There was a grocery store on
either side of the market, but...in those days...grocery stores did not sell fresh meat of
THE WALKUPS OF DAWSON, TEXAS
Mary Linnie Steely, an orphan from Carthage, MS, was living with relatives who operated a
boarding house at Bruceville-Eddy, south of Waco, Texas and it was there she met and
married Charles Wesley Walkup, a "Tinner" who had invented a milk cooler, a
forerunner of modern refrigeration.
The Family moved to from Mt Calm to Dawson in 1925 where Mr. Walkup opened a "Tin
Shop" across the alley from "The Old Gymn." Dawson had no water
supply and he did a brisk business making "Tin Cisterns" to hold rain water
caught from home roofs.
Mr. Walkup died in 1927 and the business was continued by his oldest son, William, now
Paul, a deaf mute, worked in the 1930's at Hearns Tailor Shop and was remembered as having
made himself a pair of slacks from small patches of suit samples. When Mr. Hearne
needed Paul he pressed a bell which Paul could not hear but could feel the vibrations.
Paul (1999) is in his eighties and lives with his brother, Oliver, in Houston,
Charles Jr. graduated from Dawson High School in 1933, had a career with the VA, and lives
in Dunwoody, Georgia
Mary Emma graduated in 1937 and moved with her Mother to Tulsa, OK in 1942. Both are
Oliver graduated in 1940 and is associated with a nephew in the "Tin Business"
in Houston and cares for his brother, Paul.
Carl W. "Tubby" Matthews Jr
POB 454 Roswell GA 30077 770 587 4350
HUBBARD, TEXAS - J. R. PENN, BLACKSMITH
Our Family's move to Hubbard in the summer of 1939 was a move "Uptown."
Hubbard had a wide main street paved with concrete. There were two theaters, two dry
goods stores, two banks, and an elementary school...and..a high school, Buddy Tomek's
Bakery, two gins, a compress, and an oil mill. There was an ice house and a Ford
Dealership. The town had a sewer system and fresh water from three Hubbard Lakes.
And there was my favorite place to be when I had nothing else to do. It was a
long wooden building in the middle of the block facing the first street East of main
street and across the alley from a two story building where Ray Jarvis operated a grain
business. The building was, probably, constructed near the time when the railroad
came through in 1882 and Hubbard City was organized into a town. Double wood
swing doors permitted entry into the shop and were sufficiently wide to acommodate a large
wagon. A large shed roof extended out to the edge of the street from the swing doors
and above its roof was a fading sign that announced to all that passed.......
"J. R. PENN, BLACKSMITH"
J R Penn, son of William and Mary Green Penn, was born in Georgia April 23, 1865 and died
at Hubbard, Texas October 26, 1939 at the age of seventy four. His funeral
expenses, including casket, were $147.50. Wolfe & Dobson Funeral home were in charge
of arrangements. His wife, at the time of his death, was Lottie.
J R Penn was a kind and gentle and very orderly man who wore gold
rimmed spectacles. He walked to work each day dressed in an immaculate a dress shirt.
His trousers were a special heavy duck and his shoes were laced high tops of heavy
leather. An old felt hat always covered his balding head. His weekday
walks began at his home which was located several houses east of Main street and on the
northern most side street of Hubbard. His route went from his home to Main Street
and south to the business district. He was a large, but very gentle man who
always tipped his old hat to ladies and exchanged pleasantries with men whom he happend to
When he arrived at the Blacksmith Shop his hat was hung on his small office wall and his
fresh dress shirt placed on a hanger and hung nearby. The removal of the
dress shirt revealed an immaculate off white heavy long sleeved undershirt that was his
work shirt for the day. That accomplished, he donned a heavy leather apron and
placed a small work cap on his near bald head. A fresh blue or red bandana was tied
about his neck. J R Penn was, then, ready for his work day.
The double doors were swung open and carefully secured lest the
wind blow them. An ancient brass electrical connector implanted in white porcelain
was closed and activated a huge electric motor some distance to the rear. The huge
motor was connected to a long axle by a long cloth belt. Other belts were
connected from the axle to the forge blower, to a large drill, to various size stone
grinders, and to a trip-hammer. He made a small fire in the forge and as the
fire began he would turn on a blower for the forge and ad pieces of coal to create an
Many days a farmer or two would have come by the blacksmith shop long before Mr. Penn
arrived and left plows to be sharpened. Names on the plows were not often
required for Mr. Penn had worked on the plows so often he could recognize them.
Plow points needed to be sharp to cut through the black land of Central Texas
and after several days of hard plowing required sharpening. Plow points
were place in the fiery forge until the steel produced a bright orange glow and it
was time for Mr. Penn to use tongs to lift them from the forge. Mr. Penn would
examine the points and, sometimes, return them to the forge for additional heating.
When the points were sufficiently heated the point was placed on a giant
anvil solidly secured to the top of a portion section of a tree trunk. Several
hammers hung from the tree trunk and Mr. Penn knew exactly which hammer was required for
each job. His strong arms would begin to hammer the edges of the plow where
earth and rocks had dulled it and soon it began to show signs of sharpness.
The process was repeated until Mr. Penn was satisfied.
There were times when Mr. Penn would use the trip hammer to pound the plows to additional
sharpness. Afterwards, the plow was returned to the forge for a last time and when it
produced the required orange glow Mr. Penn would remove it from the forge and plunge it
into a wooden water trough located nearby. The plunge into the water, according to
Mr. Penn, was to temper the steel and make is harder. When the plow cooled it
was given a final sharpening on the large fast turning stone grinding wheel.
Horses to be shod were tied to one of the heavy wood posts that supported the shed roof
and, after greeting the horse's owner, Mr. Penn would introduce himself to the horse with
careful, slow caresses and quiet talk. Mr. Penn never moved quickly while
working with horses and it seemed that the horse to be shod knew exactly what to expect.
Mr. Penn had constructed a horse shoeing box many years earlier that was
showing its age, but it spoke of the planning and organizing that was part of all that Mr.
Penn did. The box was, perhaps, twenty-four inches high and
on the top was a tray with compartments for different sizes of horseshoe of nails and
several sharp and unusual looking knives. There were special pliar like
instruments with sharp blades to trim the hooves of horses and a heavy rasp to form the
hooves into desired shapes. There were special hammers used for no other purpose
than for shoeing horses. And, for the young horses that did not respond to the
gentleness of Mr. Penn, there was a long rope with which Mr. Penn would secure a
horse and protect Mr. Penn from harm. Mr. Penn had a special technique
when using the rope that practically immobilized the horse to be shod. And,
there were tin boxes filled with salves and bottles of liquids to treat cuts and
Mr. Penn would back up to a horses leg and carefully lift the horses foot between his legs
until the foot rested on top of the leather apron. Worn horseshoes, if they
remained, were removed and he would carefully clean small rocks and other debris from the
horses foot....sometimes, even remove a nail. He would, then, begin to trim
the foot with the sharp curved knives and use the large rasp to file the foot into a
desired shape and to flatten the area where the new horseshoe would be placed.
His practiced eye usually caused him to make only one trip to the
special locker located inside the shop where horseshoes were always arranged in sizes and
shapes to permit Mr. Penn to quickly select the proper horseshoe for what ever horse had
been brought to be shod.
When Mr. Penn returned to the horse with the new horseshoe, he would, again, lift the foot
between his legs and on to the heavy leather apron to determine just how the new shoe
would fit. Usually there was some additional trimming required and, always,
there was the need to custom fit the new shoe by heating the shoe in the forge and
reshaping it on the anvil. Mr. Penn would rest while the shoe was
heating in the coals of the forge and on hot days he would used the bandana to wipe sweat
from his face and brow. When the shoe began to glow to a special orange color,
Mr. Penn would take the shoe from the forge with heavy steel tongs, hold it on the
anvil, pick a large hammer from an assortment that hung on the side of the anvil, and
began to hammer the shoe into the desired shape to fit. Mr. Penn would lift the shoe
with the tongs from time to time, return it to the anvil and pound it some more.
Sometimes, the shoe had to be returned to the forge again and again.
When the shoe was formed to the desired shape, the shoe was placed into a
water trough and the water would bubble and sizzle from the heat of the shoe.
The shoe was then carefully placed on the horse's foot and nails driven through the shoe
and into and through the hoof. The nails were clipped off at a point one
half inch above the hoof and the half inch bent back against the hoof to secure the shoe
to the foot. No artist ever created a great picture with more care and
Midway of the building, on the south side, was a tiny restroom with a sink and toilet.
The wooden walls of the restroom were covered with the accumulation of years of
forge dust but they were brushed clean from time to time and the concrete floor was swept
daily. On one wall was a picture in a gilded frame and covered with glass that
had been an advertising medium for a national beer company. The picture was
"Custer's Last Stand" and the details could be given careful consideration as
one occupied the porcelain throne. I spent much time admiring the picture and
often wished that I had such a picture hanging in my room at home.
J R Penn's Blacksmith Shop was an exciting place for any teenage boy, not only for the
machinery, the vast assortment of hand tools, its orderliness and its antiquity, but for
the man who operated the business. When Mr. Penn took a break and sat in his
favorite straight chair under the shade of the shed roof, he would use the time to tell
teenage boys about life, about right and wrong , about the benefits of hard work, and the
importance of respecting parents. I came to love Mr. Penn and all that he
I learned that he had raced bicycles in Hubbard in the 1890s and that Hubbard had its own
Bicycle Race Track. There were pictures and newspaper clippings of old
bicycles and pictures of him sitting on his racing bicycle as a young man, much more
trim that he was in 1939.
One day I stopped by the Blacksmith Shop and several men were standing around Mr. Penn who
was sitting in his chair. His face was bleeding and his gold rimmed
eyeglasses, badly bent and with one lens smashed, in his hand. The work cap
was gone from his balding head and Mr. Penn was crying.
Someone said that one of the local ruffians who had been drinking heavily had come by the
Blacksmith Shop and began to start a fight with another man. Mr.
Penn could see that an altercation was in the making and walked over to intercede.
He put his arm around the local ruffian and began an attempt to
persuade him to go home and leave the man alone. The ruffian responded by
striking Mr. Penn in the face, smashing his glasses into the flesh, and knocking Mr. Penn
to the ground. Some other men subdued the ruffian. Others picked
Mr. Penn from the dirt and helped him into his chair. The Blacksmith Shop was
closed and someone took Mr. Penn home.
I never saw Mr. Penn again. A few days later, printed announcements were
distributed to the businesses of Hubbard concerning funeral arrangements for Mr. Penn.
My friend had died. Wolfe and Dobson Funeral Directors of
Hubbard were in charge of arrangements. The total cost of casket, embalming,
services, hearse, etc.....$147.50.
Hubbard needed a blacksmith and a few weeks later the Blacksmith Shop reopened. The
new owner was a man from Mexia who was a good blacksmith, but he was not Mr. Penn.
I stopped by the Blacksmith Shop several times and became friends with
the new owner, but the shop was never the same. Once, I inquired of the new
owner if he would be interested in selling the picture of "Custer's Last Stand."
He replied that he would take $3.00 for it...and I did not have $3.00.
I joined the Marines in August 1941 and when I came home on leave I went to the
Blacksmith Shop to purchase the picture. The new owner informed me that he had
cleaned the shop several months earlier and had all the trash, including the picture,
hauled to the dump. I was crushed that he would desecrate such a great
work of art.
It was 1968 and I was living in Connecticut when
my wife, Elaine, mentioned that she had another Christmas Gift that had not arrived by
December 25. I had almost forgotten about the gift when one day in January I came
home from work and was informed that my delayed Christmas gift had arrived.I was presented
with a long mailing tube that indicated the shipment of a fishing rod.
"Why a fishing rod?" I thought to myself. "Elaine knows that I am not real
keen on fishing. Besides, I have one that Ray Boman Sanders had given me when I was
in Washington, DC."
I opened the end of the tube and removed a wad of tissue. The tube
did not contain a fishing rod at all. Instead, there was some paper object rolled
inside. When I removed the paper object, I was speechless and tears came to my
eyes. It was a copy of "Custer's Last Stand." I had told
my wife the story of Mr. Penn. She, without my knowledge, had called Anheuser-Busch
to find the picture only to be told they had sold the rights, but gave her the telephone
number of the purchaser. Elaine had fulfilled another of my dreams.
The picture, framed in some antique trim. hangs in my office.
It was at the same time that I began collecting old hand tools....block planes, squares,
wrenches, saws, chisels, shoe molds, and scales. I remembered all the
tools hanging in Mr. Penn's Blacksmith Shop. I would have a field day with all
those old tools that nobody wanted. The next year we drove to Hubbard. My
excitement ran high as we neared the city limits and I thought of that building filled
with old tools. We drove down Main Street to where the banks had been and turned
east. The Post Office had been moved. Wynofski's Market building
was gone. The two story Jarvis Grain Building was there and we turned
left...and my heart emptied. Mr. Penn's building was gone....just bare ground
I inquired among the townspeople as to what had become of all those tools and was told
that a man that once worked for the new owner may have saved some. I lost no
time in searching for and finding him. Yes, he thought he had a hammer or two that
may have belonged to Mr. Penn. He went to a shed in back of his house and
returned with a strange looking hammer. "This was one Mr. Penn's
horseshoe hammers," he said. Sure enough, it was. The
initials J R P had been stamped on the side of the hammer. Just like Mr. Penn
to stamp all his tools. I bought the hammer and today it hangs with pride on
my office wall over a tool box that was in use more than two hundred years ago.
It was found in an old Connecticut barn and was filled with all the
carpenters tools. It hangs below a brass belt buckle bearing the words
"Hubbard H S" and a Jaguar image. The belt and buckle were
purchased at Swartz Dry Goods Store in 1940 for $1.00.
I always show visitors the hammer and I always tell them the story of J R Penn and point
to the picture of "Custer's Last Stand."
And....I relate how a famous artist was commissioned to pait "Custer's Last
Words." Two years of painting and the day of unveiling arrived. A hush
settled over a shocked crowd who viewed a canvas covered with a cotton field and hundred
of Indians. A large cow's head in the upper left corner sported a
gleaming gold halo. "but what does it say...........?"
HOLY COW, WHERE DID ALL THESE COTTON PICKING INDIANS COME FROM?
Carl W "Tubby" Matthews Jr
Roswell GA 30077 770 587 4350
PERSONALITIES & "CHARACTERS"
The streets of Dawson always seemed to have had more than its share of "Very Colorful
Characters" who made impressions on small boys. There was never a thought of
being afraid on the streets that were always filled with friends. Most
everyone in Dawson was part of the "Extended Family."
E O "BUSTER" ZEANON, a fixture in Dawson for many years, had been a professional
wrestler in his younger days. He had married Mary Louise
Spence, a pretty lady who was a grand daughter of Brit Dawson. The Zeanons had a
beautiful daughter who name was Lucille and who died in her late teens or early twenties.
Mrs. Zeanon grieved terribly after the death of Lucille and I often saw
her at Lucille's gravesite in the Dawson Cemetery.
"Buster" had a blacksmith shop South of the railroad in the row of businesses
that contained the ice house, mule barns, and Frank White's garage. Small boys
watched with amazement as he heated plow points in the glowing coals until the steel
turned orange and then hammered the edges sharp.
"Buster" was always happy and always joking.. generous..and generally well
liked. He ran...and won...the position of Precinct Commissioner and served for
several years. His political placards advertised him as ..."E O Zeanon...The
Farmer's Friend." He made promises to keep bad roads passable to permit farmers
to get to town.
Buster had, apparently, spent much time at the Old Brit Dawson house when he and his wife
first married. He had set up a wrestling righ on the second floor in the early
teens. My father related how he and other local boys would gather in the ring
against "Buster" and "Buster" would pin them all to the mat. I
once visited Miss Nora when I was about eight and she showed me the ring...still in place
as my father had described it. Buster, in time, began spending more time at the Old
Brit Dawson house where Miss Nora had lived alone.
Buster always found time to be on the streets of Dawson and he always brought his little
dog, Tige. Buster had taught Tige to perform tricks...one very naughty.
"Buster" embarrassed Henderson Culbreth one day on the Beasley corner and if
"Buster" had not been so big, Henderson would have fought him.
"Buster" had also served as Constable. Once, when we lived near Steve
Hill, my Father was working nights at the Oil Mill. Times were hard and many people on
welfare would go to Corsicana, the county seat, and receive boxes of food. A man who
lived across several vacant lots had come home with the food and had, also, come home
drunk. Dusk had turned into night when I was staking our cow in the vacant lot next
to our house. I heard screams coming from the house across the vacant lots and
could see shadows made by the light of the kerosene lamps of the man striking
I informed my Mother of what happening and she came outside to see for herself. The
screams had increased and Mother told me to go to town and get the Marshall to come to the
house and help the woman and her children.
Claue Putman was City Marshall, but some desperados were trapped on the blackland South of
Dawson and there was no lawman in Dawson. I spotted "Buster" and informed
him of what I had seen. He told me he would take care of the situation.
"Buster" immediately climbed into his '28 Chevy coupe and drove to the house.
"Buster" knocked on the door. When it opened the man was pointing a
rifle in "Buster's" face. "Buster" knocked the rifle out of the
man's hands, subdued him, and locked the man in the Dawson Calaboose.
The night was dark and I was a Fourth Grader walking back home...alone....when I came near
the house where the drunkened man lived. The house was across the railroad tracks,
but I thought I heard someone coming through the weeds that grew on each side of the
tracks. My mind reacted..."That man is mad at me for turning him into the
law!" The "man" was between me and my house and there was no
alternative but to turn and run.
Drainage ditches along the walk had little wood bridges...I touched not one on my race
back to town. I could see the lights of "Prick" Nelson's "filling
station" and I was running hard for those lights. I was breathless when I
reached Nelson's and..Immediately fainted. Lizzie Bell Kendrick bathed my face with
her handkerchief dipped in water from the tire repair tank. Travis Teakel and Jimmy
Graham teased me about Lizzie Bell all the next week.
SIGMAN "SIG" POWELL owned the barber shop two doors west of Matthews Market and
was one of my favorite people in all of Dawson. Sig was always laughing...always
playing good natured jokes on the unsuspecting...but he was at his best when he could be
persuaded to sit on the iron settee in front of the barber shop (it is still there) and
entertain little boys with his "Dancing Man." Sig had made his
"Dancing Man" from wood apple crates and a long stick which had been attached to
the dancer. The "man" was a loosely jointed wood frame resembling a man
with little feet. His legs and arms dangled and his face bore a painted smile.
Sig would sit on a thin board...hold the little man by the long stick until the
little man's feet barely touched the thin board. Then Sig would strike the board
with rhythmic beats...hum...and the little man would begin dancing to the tune Sig was
Sig died near Christmas 1932. When we came home from our Christmas visit to
Corsicana Sig had been buried and I felt a keen loss of a dear friend. Sig was a
veteran of WW I and his son, James Autrey and I often played with the helmet and gas mask
he had brought home. The Powells left Dawson soon after Sig died and I never saw
WASHINGTON YOUNGER "WASH" CANNON was another of my favorites and worked behind
the "Soda Fountain" at Bennie Matthews' Drug Store. Every ounce of his
body was foolishness and fun and he never met a stranger. His rendition of a
"Bronx Cheer" was something to behold...often imitated by small boys,
never...duplicated. The Yoyo craze hit Dawson one year and Wash rigged up one with
the longest string in town. He would perform at the edge of the high sidewalk in
front of the drug store. When he was finished...and he should have been on the
stage.. .he would look across the street to the telephone office located above the bank
and wave his hand and display a silly grin at "Central."
"Central" was the telephone operator and his cute wife, the former Bess
Smith. Wash and Bess were always at the Baptist Church on Sunday and would
often take me home with them for Sunday dinner at their home in "Frog Level."
The "Younger" in his name came from the Youngers, a family who was prominent in
the history of early Spring Hill. The story was the they were related to the
notorious outlaw, Cole Younger.
Wash, later, worked for many years at the Dawson Post Office.
UNCLE TOM FREAD was part of the older generation. His wife, Aunt Mandy, was one of
"Old" Brit Dawson girls who had first married Mr. Dickson who died. Later
she married Uncle Tom. He spent a lot of time at Matthews Market and knew everybody
in the Western part of Navarro County. He was, also, an avid domino player and there
was always some place in Dawson where older men and unemployed younger men could play the
game. Dominos was a game I had learned to play by age seven and understood it.
Some men played a complicated game called "Shoot the Moon" where money
changed hands and some men said words I could not repeat at home.
Once there was a domino game in progress on the
shady side of the calaboose. Uncle Tom Fread exclaimed, "So I see said
the blind man to his deaf wife." I thought that was very funny.
THE DEPRESSION YEARS
The "Crash of '29" affected the American stock market, but the ripple effect did
not really reach Dawson until some time later. Dawson and Western Navarro County had
an economy centered on cotton and corn and when the prices of those commodities fell,
Dawson was drastically affected.
Farmers had always borrowed money from the two banks located in Dawson to "make the
crops." They borrowed money to purchase seed, plant crops, buy some cattle and
hogs and, sometime, equipment. When harvest time came the crops were sold and the farmers
would "settle up" with the bank. Whatever was left was usually spent by
Christmas and the cycle would begin all over again.
Merchants operated in similar fashion. Credit was extended to just about anyone who
requested it. Credit business was..and had always been..a way of life in Dawson.
Anyone who was responsible, who had a "good name," who came from a
"good family," had always been a good credit risk.
Grocery stores, hardware stores, meat markets, etc....all had heavy ledgers...books with
heavy cloth covers and leather corners and filled with high grade paper with ruled lines
of blue and red and yellow. Customer names were placed alphabetically in the ledger and,
as purchases were made, the sale was recorded. Each line..under the customer
name..bore the date items were purchased and the amount..usually written with a penstaff
dipped in a bottle of ink
I had kept two of the ledgers from Matthews Market for years, but, unfortunately, they
were destroyed when our house burned in Connecticut in 1974. I was always amazed with the
cursive writing that my Daddy had used in recording these transactions. Some early
school teacher had, no doubt, instilled in him the need to write legibly and artistically.
I was aware that Dawson was experiencing "hard times," but that fact was not
truly evident until the day Matthews Market closed. I had planned to stop by the Market
one day after attending Miss Lockwood's second grade class. The screen door was
locked and as I peered through the screen doors...everything..was gone. The
"New" refrigerated meat case, "Buddy" Tomeck's bread case, the meat
blocks, the walk in cooler, "Uncle John" Ponder's marble table, the grinder and
the sharpening wheel...it was all..gone!
Many businesses in Dawson had already closed, not a few of which had burned in the
process. Some families vanished into the night. One day the children would be in
school...would return to the home where they had lived for some time..go to bed. The
next morning the family would be gone. Where? Nobody would know. There
was nothing but an empty house that showed signs of a hasty move. They were families whose
credit at the stores was exhausted and they moved on, hoping that some other place would
be better than Dawson. Some children would remark that "The Owls" had "got
Our family moved from the house next door to Miss Katholine Edwards to one located in
"Frog Level" and owned by Percy Gable. The house was not as nice, but
there was a place for the cow and there was a garden spot on the vacant lot next door. We
lived there when I finally learned to tie my shoes. Mother or Daddy always
tied my shoes in the morning, but they didn't remain tied all day and I often ran around
town with my shoes untied. One day I had stopped by the Guy Davis house on South
Main Street and, as usual, my shoes were untied. Mildred Davis was sitting on the
concrete steps and I asked her to tie my shoes. She admonished me for not knowing
how to perform the task and promptly taught me how to tie my own shoes. It was one
of my proudest moments in life. I was almost seventy years old when I last thanked
Mother and Daddy made a huge garden that was filled with potatoes, onions, carrots, beets,
lettuce....and, ugh...wax beans. We were living there when Rainbow Bread Co. in
Waco..to advertize.. dropped loaves of "Light Bread" from an aeroplane. I
raced to where one of the loaves had landed and proudly carried it home. Mother
covered the slices with fresh butter and wild plumb jelly, and, with a glass of
"sweet milk" ..we had a delicious supper.
The parachutes...small pieces of cloth....created quite a stir in our little town.
Everyone was talking about the event. Wendell and Wayne Davis persuaded Reuben
Travis Conner to tie the small strings to his belt and jump from the Davis's
garage. Reuben Travis was not seriously injured, but he discovered that the
parachute, which served its purpose for Rainbow Bread, was not sufficient for a fifty
Many people were out of work and jobs were not to be had. Daddy had never worked as
a "field hand" in his entire life, but when Buster Zeanon told him he would pay
one dollar a day for chopping cotton, Daddy went to work. The Johnson Grass was as
tall as Daddy. He lasted one day and was sick for two or three days. We somehow,
Some of the farmers who owed money for credit given them at the Market would "Pay on
the Bill" by bringing a hog which Daddy would dress and process. The hog..or
hogs..provided lard and sausage and ham for the long term and pork chops and backbone
which we could eat immediately and share with others.
Mr. Jim Lee had planted a field of "Crowder Peas" just off the road to Spring
Hill. Daddy and I walked there one day and picked two sacks full. The next day
they were cooked and canned in Kerr fruit jars and stored under the bed.
Another farmer brought a wagon load of ear corn which we "shucked" and shelled
by hand. Some people had corn shellers, but we pushed each kernel from the cobs with
fingers that soon blistered. We carried the shelled corn to the blacksmith shop just
north of Percy Gable's shop. There the corn was ground into meal. We had no
money to pay for grinding and the blacksmith took a portion of the meal as payment.
He would trade the meal to someone else for something he needed. We ate tons of
cornbread. Lunch would be "cracklin" bread. Supper would
be cornbread crumbled into a glass of "Sweet Milk." And..to this day...I
love cornbread crumbled into "sweet milk."
Mother was always an enterprising individual and she began to sell Avon. She did not
make much money, but a little money went a long way. When Beasley's Dry Goods Store
closed Mother gathered her few dimes and nickels and pennies and bought clothes. She
brought me a wool cap and blue wool knickers with elastic at the knees. Those had
been purchased for twenty-five cents and were for Sunday. The gray knickers..purchased for
fifteen cents..had buttons at the knees and were for school. I must have looked
ridiculous with those knickers and cowboy boots and cloth cap.
Each morning I faithfully brushed my teeth with Arm & Hammer soda and a little salt.
My face was washed with water that came from a spigot that had been run from
the tin cistern through the wall and into the kitchen. When the temperature dropped
below freezing, the pipe froze solid and we were without running water, but Mother had
always drawn a supply before the pipe froze. I moistened my hair...rubbed some
vaseline between my palms and on to my damp hair and slicked my hair down tight so it
would stay in place all day. I was in the third grade and had to look my best.
I never realized in those days that we were poor. We always had electric lights and
the Reznor heater burned brightly with natural gas and we were warm in winter. Food was
sufficient despite being monotonous. We had "Sunday" clothes and there
always seemed to be a nickel for a Sunday newspaper.
There were poor people. They warmed by wood stoves or fireplaces, had kerosene lamps
for lighting, wore ragged clothes, and lived in run down houses. One family dug into
a clay hill in a pasture just south of town, stretched a wagon sheet over the top and
lived there through, at least, one winter.
Migrant families would camp under the trees across the street from Miss Addie Fullerton
where the Corsicana road went over the railroad. Some of those families would remain
for long periods of time, sometimes making crude settees and chairs and tables from willow
limbs, apple boxes, and shingle nails. They would offer them for sale or trade them
for food. Once a baby was born there in a tent...a little boy. The family
Many automobiles were replaced with wagons and carts and with riders on horseback.
Our Blue cloth topped Cadillac had gone early and the Model T Ford delivery car finally
sold for $5.00. Our family walked wherever we went unless someone was kind enough to
provide us with some means of transportation. The walk to church on Sunday morning
was always a pleasant experience. Mother would dress in her best, with Bible in
hand. Daddy would be dressed in dark trousers, white shirt, and tie. My two
sisters usually wore matching dresses that mother had made on her pedal Singer sewing
machine. I had a pair of white duck trousers from Sears catalogue and shirts that Mother
School seemed a long way from Frog Level and in winter the walk there was, sometimes,
unbearably cold. I was still wearing the raincoat I had worn in first grade and
now..in the third grade..it was outgrown. It was, however, a windbreak for part of
When President Roosevelt closed the banks throughout the nation Dawson had two banks, but
the First State Bank of Dawson never reopened. Mr. Connor closed the "picture
show." Barbers began cutting hair for ten cents...fifteen cents if the customer
wanted his neck shaved. Daddy and I always had our hair cut by Cousin Doyle Barber
and he didn't charge us anything.
Cousin Doyle and Daddy were First Cousins and had been fishing buddies for many years.
I always prayed that they would come home with some fish to interrupt the diet of
red beans, fat back, and, "ugh"...wax beans. Now and then Daddy would
squirrel hunt and it was a real treat to have fried squirrel or squirrel dumplings.
Cousin Doyle and Daddy were avid bass fishermen and often did their fishing at night.
They had some fluorescent plugs that after being exposed to a flashlight in a
coffee can would glow in the dark. They had very good luck with those lures. I went
with them one night when the went to fish at a stock tank near the road several miles
south of Dawson. They had, apparently, been there before and parked in a field
across the road from the stock tank. The lights on the car had been turned off
before we left the road.
Cousin Doyle and Daddy fished for several hours and caught some nice bass. They were
in a good mood as we made our way back to the car...bragging about the size of the catch
and how they had enjoyed the experience. The fish were placed in a
wet"towsack" and we got in the car and as the car began to move Cousin Doyle
stopped. He commented that we had a flat tire. Sure enough, it was flat.
He and Daddy put on the spare, we climbed in the car, started to move, and Cousin
Doyle said we had another flat. Sure enough, the second tire was as flat at the
first. That repair required considerable effort...removing the tire, locating the
hole, putting on a "Cold Patch," and pumping the tire full of air.
Those two fishermen who had been a good mood earlier in the night were now "fit to be
tied." They checked the area for something that could have caused the
punctures..walking down the path with the flashlight There it was...carefully
covered with the sandy soil. The farmer had driven many nails in a large board and
place it..nails up..across the road. We were gone quickly..and the board with the
nails went with us..for several miles.
Family recreation was visiting at night on the porch of some neighbor. My favorite
place was the porch of "Uncle Henry" Dawson who lived two doors south.
"Uncle Henry" played the fiddle and his son, Ned, played guitar. Nobody
on our street had a radio, but we enjoyed the musicals..and..they were free. The duet
would render "Over the Waves," "Under the Double Eagle," "My Wild
Irish Rose" and such. Between numbers they would tune their instruments and
comment upon the "keys" in which they were to play...similar to the interlude of
station breaks and commercials on television,
The house north of us was next to Buster Zeanon's blacksmith shop and families moved in
and out of there without our ever knowing who they were. We never had anything to do
with them. One of those neighbor children hooked with a long wire one of Mother's
Rhode Island Red hens that had strayed in their backyard The mother came out, pulled
the head off and took it into the house. Mother didn't do anything about it and said
they were probably hungry and needed the hen worse than we did.
Mrs. John Lee lived across the street from us. She had married "Uncle
John" Lee after his first wife had died and, soon after we moved there, "Uncle
John" died. Mrs. Lee had her nephew to come stay with her and help with the
chores and I was glad to have him to play with. He was several years older than
I...and he knew how to cuss. He was, also, adept at making what he called
"Niggershooters." I was grown before I realized that the term had a racial
connotation. They were made of a forked limb of a tree, two pieces of rubber inner tube,
some string, and the leather tongue from an old shoe. There was a bend in the branch
behind Mrs. B, W. D. Hill's house that was filled with pebbles. It was there we
played "war." Never lost an eye...but we did accumulate some serious bumps
on the head.
Several boys from the Frog Level neighborhood played in the group and included the Gardner
boys, Duward Burns, etc. One day we were "fishing" at Dr. Hill's
stock when a sudden thunder shower came upon us. The closest shelter was the
gin and all boys ran for the see house. I was barefoot and the "goathead"
vines covered the pathway. The other boys made it to the see house, but I was
stalled in the goathead stickers and was drenched by the rain. And..when I arrived
at the see house I was cold. Mrs. Lee's nephew had me strip naked and the boys
buried me in the dry seed. When my clothes were dry we returned to our
A Mr. Biffle and a Mr. Grape set up a skating rink in a building across from the Dawson
Lumber Co. The building had been used as an automobile dealership, but the business
had closed. Livey Berry was hired to keep order. He was a good skater. I
couldn't skate at all. Besides that, I didn't have money. Mr. & Mrs.
Biffle and their little boy took rooms with Mrs. Lee who lived across the street from us
and I began to take care of the little boy when Mrs. Biffle ran errands. My pay was
free skating at the rink. My cousins, Buck and Fred Jr. Matthews were skating when I
first entered the rink...clutching the wood rail that surrounded the rink. Suddenly,
they each caught one of my arms and around the rink we went.
They released me when we completed the turn I skated...in amazement...until I abruptly ran
into the rail at the far end of the rink. I didn't know how to turn or stop. My
cousins, laughing, repeated the process several times and by the end of the night I was
skating on my own.
The skating rink did well for several months and when business declined Mr. Biffle
organized several dances on weekends. Dancing..in any form in Dawson was a church
"NO NO". The rink closed after one or two dances that ended in near
One or two "Medicine Shows" would come to Dawson each year and that was a real
break from the usual entertainment. Most times they would set up behind the fire
station, but one year a real "Oklahoma Indian" Medicine Man set up south of the
railroad across from the Magnolia oil tanks. That was "real" excitement!
They had a "Talent Show" with different performers each night.
Freddie Dawson, "Uncle Henry's" grandson, was one of the first..and he was
good In fact, when the Medicine Show left he went with them to play in their band.
One of the other "talents" was a tall red haired girl with crossed eyes who sang
acapella. She belted out a song I had never heard before..nor have I heard it since.
Some words were,
"I'm gonna hitch my ladder to a silver star..and climb with you..
and my old guitar...yo-de-laaaay-dee...a-laaaay-de...a-lay-de!" She was awful!
Submitted by Carl W