Interviewed by William F. Reagan
August 13, 2013
Groesbeck LTC Nursing & Rehabilitation Center - Groesbeck, Texas
REAGAN: This is William Reagan. Today is [August] 13, 2013. I’m interviewing for the first time Mrs. Faye Dunn. This interview is taking place at her home in Groesbeck, Texas. This interview is sponsored by the Limestone County Historical Commission and is part of the Footprints of Times Past oral history project. Mrs. Dunn will be speaking with me today about the Limestone County community of Oletha. Mrs. Dunn, we appreciate you letting us do this today. We’ll let you introduce yourself and then let you tell us something about Oletha.
DUNN: I’m Faye Hughes Sadler Dunn. I’m a graduate of Baylor University, 1960. I was born in Limestone County in the little village of Oletha. I lived in the same house where I was born for twenty-four years before I married, during the war. My earliest memories of the community are the schools because my sister was eight years older than I, and in those days, she could take me with her to spend a day at school and sit with the first- grade children. So some of my earliest remembrances are the schools. Of course, there were five different schools that consolidated to make the school at Oletha.
But before that time, I guess my earliest memories is going with my father on a bale of cotton from our house to the cotton gin in Oletha. My daddy farmed his land and much leased land in the community and made numerous trips, more than one a day, to the cotton gin at Oletha. I must have been three, four, five, and my mother would dress me and put me up on the wagon by my daddy, and we’d take off for the cotton gin. I have never felt more secure, nor more important, than I felt as I was riding with him through the countryside to Oletha.
There was Barnett Grocery there, huge store in a large warehouse-type building. And it was just like a Richland Mall. You could find anything at Barnett’s Grocery: muzzles for calves, ropes, well buckets, kitchen utensils, beautiful fabric. Everything you needed could be found at Barnett’s. The clerk there was Miss Cad Sadler, and she would take me in from the wagon from my daddy and set me up on the counter by her as she checked off the merchandise that was bought or measured off fabric for a dress. I loved her dearly, and I’m sure at that point I thought what I’d like to be in my future years was a clerk like Miss Cad.
The community, of course, since then has changed considerably. In Oletha at that time, there was a doctor and his office, general store. There were three general mercantile stores: Sadler’s, Sherrod’s, and Barnett’s. There was a woman’s club. From my earliest memories, I realized there was culture in the community of Oletha. The folk exchanged reading material. Many meetings were held in that woman’s club. Cooking, canning, quilting, sewing. Many, many books were available there. They may have been old textbooks, but it was good reading for us then. We said at one time there was a public library in Oletha. I remember going to brush arbor revivals at a very early age, and how tired I was before the sermon was over. We were able to play for a while as the adults visited. The community, of course, has changed. The Great Depression was severe. We had no money, [but] much love. The community rallied together, helped each other, met the needs of those who were in need. It was a wonderful community but, oh, no money. Everybody was in the same boat.
The gas wells in that community restored some of the needed finances as they started drilling there. It was a great asset to that little community. The men could buy tractors, and the women could buy new clothes. That was the way the community changed from time to time.
REAGAN: When did the gas drilling begin in that area?
DUNN: Probably in the fifties. Now, I’m not sure. Maybe—I remember that my mother had had a very hard time after my father died in 1933, right in the Depression. She’d had a very hard time, and we watched her work, work, and keep us together and point us to better things. So when the gas wells came in, she was able to buy new clothes and hats and gloves to match and go to singing conventions all over the country. She and Mrs. Bessie Vinzant from Groesbeck attended every singing convention in the country. She was able to dress up for the first time, and we were all very proud of that. Things did change. I am the daughter of Willie and Etta Hughes. As I said, I lived in the same house for twenty-four years. Someone has said that when you live in a place that long, it’s like a light that never goes out. I can vouch for that.
Daddy and Mother were very civic-minded. They were involved in all of the activities of the community. My daddy was a cattle inspector, along with farming. Livestock had not taken a gain in this county in those days. Very few had livestock herds, but much, much farming: cotton, corn, maize. I remember the activities in the community. Many socials. Not only, as I said, could you go to a revival all summer long, of some faith, but they had just meetings where they’d take covered dish and all have just a time of visiting at the old Independence Woodmen of the World building. I remember one time, as a young child, that they had a spelling bee, community spelling bee. My mother and daddy were on opposite sides, and they were the last standing on each of their sides of the spelling bee. My dad missed the spelling of the word initial. I can remember how Mother teased him during the days after that. She’d be serving lunch, and she’d spell, “It’s i-n-i-t-i-a-l,” just to rib him.
Mother was just a happy homemaker. But they were really involved in the community. My daddy and I—I was rather [a] tomboy. I followed him every step; very, very close to him. I was thirteen when he died. But I can remember that he would go—in the winter when the weather was bad, he would tell me, “Come on, let’s go visit.” He’d check all the old folks’ homes and see if they had wood on the porch or if the milk cow had hay. We’d just go from one house to the other walking in the community; much fun for a child like me.
As I said, the Depression was horrible. Of course, after I grew up, the gas wells were such an asset. Then, of course, later, and few years ago, the power plant and all that changed the economy of Limestone County. The first break after the Depression was the men going away to find work in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and so forth. Then there was a burst of—of course, the twenties were the gay twenties. Everything was good. I remember that my daddy bought a new car. We went to Galveston on vacation and lived it up until the Great Depression.
The schools I remember, of course, was Independence, where I started: a two-room school. Some of my teachers were Mrs. Johnell Martin, who taught every first-grader for years and years and years out there, and she started at Independence. There was a Mrs. Baker from Kosse who taught at Oletha after the consolidation. I taught there. Presley Sadler, father of my boys, my husband, taught there. Troy Thomason taught there. Mr. Louis Sadler was the principal of the consolidated school, and he ran a tight ship. I had gone to school to him just four years before when I went back there to teach. He had a little bit of trouble calling me Miss Hughes.
REAGAN: (laughs) What year was that when you started teaching at Oletha?
DUNN: I started teaching in 1941. I could teach then with a two-year certificate, and I taught four years there. Then I married in ’44 and went to California as everybody did, just follow soldier husbands around. So when my husband died in 1956, I had to go back and get my degree to teach then; had to have a degree by then. So I went back to Baylor and graduated in 1960. I was forty years old in that spring semester in a class with all young kids. I remember a geology class: I was the only girl, only lady, female, and they elected me their den mother. And I traipsed around at all the old faults and cliffs and everything in Waco. But it was a good experience also.
I mentioned that there was much culture in the community of Oletha. When the consolidation happened, it was Independence, Barnett Prairie, Center Point, Mount Joy, and Old Union. So it made a very nice school. We had a beautiful building with a huge auditorium, and that auditorium was the center of social life there. We had Stamps-Baxter quartets, religious quartets, come and spend the day and sing all day and have lunch. We had meetings there. The ladies would meet in the—there was kind of a vacant room. They’d meet there and the county extension agent would come and demonstrate all kinds of recipes and clothing and sewing. The women at Oletha were always striving to be better. Good community. I’m biased, but it was a wonderful community. People helped people. My family, when my father was ill, was the recipient of a lot of that good help as they gathered the crop for us and helped in many, many ways.
I can remember us getting electricity for the first time and how much easier life was. Washing machines, refrigeration, and just a higher level of living. It was just wonderful to have electricity.
REAGAN: About what time did that occur?
DUNN: I would say ’39, ’40 maybe. The electric line came within, I guess, a mile of our house and cornered and went toward Oletha, but my mother was not financially able to build that line on to our house. So a lot of the community had it—and Oletha community school—before we had it at our home. That was great, great joy and an easier life.
I remember the transportation of the day. First, I remember is horseback. My daddy, as a cattle inspector, rode his horse all over the community—across the river to Fairoaks area, Farrar and all over in there. But every morning he would take me to school at Independence when I started—behind that saddle and take me to school on horseback. That was our first transportation. Then the Model T. We got telephone service.
The question was asked, (looking at notes) someone who contributed greatly to the community. I would hesitate to name names. It was a very clannish community. I would hesitate to start naming names. But Mr. and Mrs. Tom Richardson were great citizens in our area. He was the JP [justice of the peace]. He married everybody that got married in those days: sometimes in the house, in a nice little setting; sometimes sitting in the wagon with a flashlight. They were all married; (laughs) it was just the same. But Mr. Tom was a great figure in the community as he served as JP. Also, he and Mrs. Hattie [Richardson] had the telephone system where you called and asked them to get you a number in Thornton or somewhere else. It was Central, Central Telephone Company. But every call outside of that community had to go through them. She had the big equipment in her front living room where she plugged in the little plugs to connect you wherever you wanted to call. We didn’t make a lot of long-distance calls, but she’s the one that handled them all.
I started teaching there in 1941; had four years, good years, at Oletha. The buses had long routes. Some of the children got on the school bus before daylight. I can remember way down toward where the Sadler Lake lots are now, a family of children got on that bus early, early, early, and I taught one of them in the first grade. The little fellow would have to lie down after lunch and get a nap because he’d been up so early to catch that bus. Long bus routes. But we had a good school. I attended there, and then I went back to teach there. Very good school. I was the volleyball coach. We were the Oletha Owls and we traveled to Ben Hur, to Fairoaks, to play competition—volleyball. We had blue and yellow uniforms that my mother made—just volunteered for the team. We still didn’t have a lot of extra money and Mr. Louis Sadler ran a very tight ship. I remember that he got us a new volleyball. We had had an old one. He got us a new, nice volleyball and we were so proud of it. One [ball]. I attended some practices over at the high school here recently—had a niece that played—and everybody on that court out there was bouncing a ball. They were all over the place. I couldn’t help but remember the time I had one, and Mr. Louis told me to guard it with my life because they weren’t cheap. One time I left it at Fairoaks, and how I dreaded to face him and tell him I had forgotten that ball.
I could go on and on about the community, though. Wonderful place. Our little old family doctor out there birthed all the babies in the community. And my grandmother, who had been a nurse with her dad in Bastrop, Texas, before she married, rode with him—Dr. [R. W.] Jones—to go to all of the birthings—she was the nurse, volunteer. But he’d pick her up and she’d go along with him at the baby’s birthing. He was quite a character. He had all kind[s] of potions. I remember that he had a white salve that was supposed to cure any kind of abrasion. So as kids, we were always swathed in white salve for some reason or other. He wore a felt hat year-round, and he didn’t wear it straight. The crease went from ear to ear. He was quite a character in the Oletha community, well respected. He didn’t really have anesthetics. He had a front porch where he did most of the pulling teeth and cutting out black thorns and swabbing ears—just on the front porch. Didn’t worry about his tools. They didn’t have to be so clean and all. Maybe swipe it on his pants leg. But he eased the suffering of the community and was greatly respected.
REAGAN: If I remember correctly, his house is still standing, isn’t it?
DUNN: His house is still standing, and his granddaughter from Dallas owns the house now and comes there to stay regularly. We had party lines where you could listen in to anybody you wanted to. There were no secrets in the community, but folk laughed about him every day. He called Mrs. Cora [Jones], his wife, at lunchtime when he’d leave his office. He’d say, “Cora, I’m coming,” and hang up. That was all. That was to let her know he’d be there for lunch, and of course everybody listening.
REAGAN: Just to clarify for the younger people, could you tell us what a party line is?
DUNN: A party line. It is kind of a wooden box that hangs on the wall with a mouthpiece right in the middle and a crank on the right-hand side. You turn that crank to call your neighbor, so forth. Each of us had a certain ring. My mother and dad’s ring was two longs and a short. Okay. You ring that crank two long times and then a little short time. My auntie’s ring was a short, a long, and a short. You knew to pick up if you heard that. Every ring that went on the line you heard, but that was yours—your signal. You picked that up. Of course, when you were talking, you could hear clicks all over the line of folk listening in. But that was our party line.
REAGAN: You mentioned the schools consolidating. Do you remember about what year that was?
DUNN: The consolidation? Thirty-four. That’s when the beautiful building was built. It burned and the building that replaced it was—of course, sports was coming into the forefront then. Our beautiful auditorium wasn’t rebuilt, but a huge gymnasium was. Later the school lunchroom was on the stage of that auditorium-gymnasium combination.
(looking over notes) He asked the question, “If you could give our young people of today one piece of advice, what would it be?” Young people now live quite a different life than what I did growing up. I’m not one that thinks they’re all going to the dogs. There are still wonderful teenagers in the world, and they will be our leaders. But growing up is so different now from what I knew. I’m ninety-three years old, so, you see, I was two or three generations back there. But we were taught to love God, live a Christian life, recognize Him in our life. We were taught and heard it over and over and over, how important it was to get an education. We were taught to develop good work ethics. You were supposed to take on a job and complete it and do the best you could and not work just to get that paycheck, which in those days was so small. So I guess it’d be the same advice I’d give to young people: work hard. Above all, live a Christian life, get an education, and, quote, Love your neighbor as yourself, quote. (microphone bumped)
REAGAN: That’s some good advice. You mentioned people helping each other. Was that a community standard? Is that something everyone did?
DUNN: It was just something that—I don’t want to say was expected, but it was routine. As I said, my father had a beautiful cotton crop, and he was paralyzed in the spring, May. Had cancer. Died in September. But the cotton field needed hoeing the grass out and— laying by, people called in those days—getting the last plow through there and let it mature and produce a cotton crop. My sister and I went to that field with our hoes; walked quite a little distance to clean out that cotton patch. Well, it was completely futile. I knew the futility of it, and my sister did too. But she was eight years older than I, and she took it seriously. I didn’t. I sang along the way and talked to my hoe and made jokes when I’d meet her because I knew we’d never clean it out. We’d just be out there till it— and one morning we went to where our hoes were, and people were everywhere with cultivators, hoes, and their lunch in a bucket. They cleaned out that cotton. By the end of the day, beautiful cotton was waving in the breeze—no grass. I remember that my daddy cried that night when we told him. But that was typical of the community. They did it all the time. Good people helping people, meeting needs.
REAGAN: One thing you mentioned earlier was a brush arbor revival. Young people aren’t going to know what that is. So do tell us what that is.
DUNN: You know, really some of my tales—if that’s what you want to call it—my grandchildren can hardly relate to what I’m talking about. But protection: the community met together, put in the four corners. Then they chopped trees and brush and stuff and put over the top to make a protection; kind of an arbor, kind of a tent-like thing to protect the folk. They hauled, from different communities, benches to put under there. Many faiths met under the same brush arbor, and the seats were just sort of left there. We would have two-week revivals. Every night. My mom and dad never missed a night. Oh, how bored I was a lot of the time at the brush arbors. But it was an experience. On Sundays they’d take lunch, all gather together: eating together, praying together, loving each other, and having a good time. That’s where you lose the younger generation. They can’t imagine that that was a good time. (both laugh)
REAGAN: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
DUNN: As I told you, I could talk on and on. I do not live in the past, but I cling to the past. The book of Philippians tells us to think on things. I believe there’s a verse that says, “Whatsoever things are good, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are of good report, think on these things.” That’s what keeps me going. I’m expecting something good to happen tomorrow, but I love my past experience and I have a memory like an elephant. I don’t think I can add any more, William. I could, but you’ve probably heard enough.
REAGAN: I’ve enjoyed listening and would be glad to hear more if you want to share. But we’re very thankful for you for allowing us to come and to interview you. Thank you for giving up your time to do this. It will be a benefit to future generations, I’m sure.
DUNN: It is a pleasure. I enjoyed visiting with you and talking about old times.
REAGAN: Thank you.
end of interview