Interviewed by Logan Wilson
August 29, 2013
WILSON: My name is Logan Wilson. Today is the twenty-ninth of August, 2013. I’m interviewing Mr. Louis York at his home. This is sponsored by the Limestone County Historical Commission and is a part of the Footprints of Time Past project. I want to thank Mr. York for his time and contributing to the project. The next voice you hear will be Mr. York. (recording equipment adjusted)
YORK: Yes. I moved to Cedar Island when I was a kid of about six years old, and I started to school there at Cedar Island. I was going to school in the first grade. I went to school there until the school discontinued up in the forties. The school building was also used for the church building—they had church there—and it was used for a community get-together place for any kind of an activity during that time. Was for the—they used the school building.
WILSON: What kind of crops were grown in those days?
YORK: Back then it was just regular farming, which was cotton, corn, and any kind of a grain product for feed. People had their milk cows, their meat hogs, and their chickens on the yard to lay eggs and to raise fryers for meat.
The traveling back in those days was done a whole lot by wagon and team or horseback. A few cars, but not too many. It wasn’t—no paved roads or even rock gravel roads. It was mud when it rained—it was just purely mud—and that’s one reason the horses and mules was very handy.
WILSON: Well, a horse or a mule could get through mud where an automobile couldn’t.
YORK: Very much, yes. Yeah, a horse or a mule could go through most anything.
WILSON: Better than a horse?
YORK: Well, both of them together about equally.
WILSON: When did the roads improve so people could depend on their automobiles?
YORK: The roads started improving—the way I remember it as a kid—right along about the time that President Roosevelt was elected the second time, while he started some programs that was called the WPA [Works Progress Administration], and that included roadwork. They started setting up rock crushers crushing this lime rock, like we’re still using, and fixing, repairing roads. The men that done the work at the crushers and also driving the trucks and driving the road machinery, they was paid a small salary, which was pretty big for them at that time. But it was what they called the WPA.
WILSON: Works Progress Administration.
YORK: Yeah. That’s when the roads started improving.
WILSON: That was also during the time of the Depression, was it not?
YORK: Right. It was during the Depression that those programs were started in order to try to improve things, and believe me it did.
WILSON: Yeah, you could have an automobile that you could depend on to get to town and back.
YORK: You know, it was very much improved.
WILSON: What about electricity? When did electricity come? And before electricity, how did you keep your food preserved and—
YORK: Well, our food—Mama would take our milk, and she would strain it in the morning. She’d put it in some containers and set it in whatever room it was that there might be a little breeze. And she would spread a wet cloth over the top of those containers of milk. Sometimes she’d set them in a pan of water, a dishpan full of water that would be, oh, two or three inches deep, a little bit(??), in cool well water, whatever— coolest water we had.
WILSON: And that would keep it good for how long? Of course, you probably used it pretty quick.
YORK: Oh, it would keep not over ten or twelve hours. Of course, we was milking cows—we’d be milking again that night, so it wasn’t like trying to keep it three or four days.
WILSON: You consumed it about as quick as you produced it.
YORK: Yes, most of the time they did.
WILSON: And your mother relied on evaporation to keep it somewhat cool.
WILSON: How about that. What kind of livestock did y’all have?
YORK: We had mules and horses and cows and hogs, chickens is what we had.
WILSON: And probably had a garden, too, didn’t you?
YORK: Oh yeah, we had a big garden. Yeah. Mama was pretty well the king of the garden.
WILSON: Was she?
YORK: Yeah, yeah. She taught me to garden—started teaching me to garden before I was old enough to go to school. She was showing me how to do things.
WILSON: Well, I’ve seen pictures of your garden here where you live now. I thought I had a good garden till I saw yours.
YORK: Well, sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t.
WILSON: Well, you had a fine garden here. What are some of the families that you can remember that lived at Cedar Island?
YORK: Well, I remember the Stevens family. And there was a Smyth/Smith(??) family. There was a Bayless family. There was a Wofford(??) family and a Montgomery family and a Hancock family. There was a lot of Hancocks over there, now. In fact, they used to say that Hancocks and johnsongrass had took over the country.
WILSON: (laughs) What kind of stores or businesses was in Cedar Island?
YORK: As far as I know, there never was any stores in Cedar Island. There might have been in earlier years, but from time I knew it, there wasn’t. No sir, there wasn’t any.
WILSON: Well, you mentioned a bunch of names, but from what I understand, Cedar Island just about doesn’t exist anymore. Is that right?
YORK: It don’t, as far as anything to see when you go through there. It just—where it used to be—now, there’s one boy that still lives over there, and he was born there. He still lives on the old family farm. But he was a little—he was younger, and, in fact, he never did ever go to school at Cedar Island. Now, his older brother did, and he had a bunch of cousins that did. But he never did go to school there. But he still lives there. And his name is John Stevens.
WILSON: Were there any churches at Cedar Island?
YORK: They had church in the schoolhouse whenever I was there.
WILSON: That’s right.
YORK: But now, I was told later—and even I was showed where there used to be a church and the church ground at Cedar Island at one time. How come it to come up, there was a man that had recently purchased that land. In the old original deeds and abstract, it showed this plot that used to be the church ground. He didn’t know anything about it, so he talked to another boy over there—in fact, he talked to the Stevens boy, and he didn’t ever remember it. He told him that I might because I was a little older, so they talked to me about it. I told him no, that it was before my time, even. But I still know where they said it was.
WILSON: That school that they had the church in, did you go to that school?
YORK: Oh yeah, yeah.
WILSON: How many grades were there?
YORK: We would start at the first grade, and we’d go up to about the eighth grade, something like that—when I was going there. They may have went higher maybe at one time, but when I was going there about the eighth or ninth was how high they went.
WILSON: Where did the kids go after that?
YORK: Well, if they went anywhere, they either went to Mexia or Coolidge. A big bunch of them didn’t go nowhere.
WILSON: Yeah, the eighth grade was it.
YORK: That was it. Then they went to work. Well, they was already working. They just worked a little more.
WILSON: You mentioned the 1930s and Roosevelt. What do you remember about the Depression and how people—how’d people get along?
YORK: It was terrible. I was a kid, but I can remember enough about it, that it was bad. It was bad. I could tell you some things that people really wouldn’t want to believe, but, you know, it’s—
WILSON: Well, try me on one. (laughs)
YORK: I seen—in fact, I went to school over there at Cedar Island with one family. There was two boys and two girls that was going to school there. The youngest boy—I don’t know—he was about a year or two years older than me. But they all had ragged clothes and ragged shoes, but this boy didn’t have no shoes at all. He never did get no shoes all winter, and he walked about a mile and a half to school every day and back. Sometimes it was mud, sometimes the ground was froze. But he never did have no shoes. That may sound hard to believe, but, now, it’s a fact.
WILSON: You’re right. That’s pretty bad, isn’t it?
YORK: It is. I’ll tell you what his name was—and I don’t know whether he’s still living or not—but his name was James Smith(??). When they left over there, they moved down in the Box Church area. I hadn’t seen or heard much about them people since. That’s been many years ago.
WILSON: You were born there at Cedar Island?
YORK: No. I was born at Honest Ridge.
WILSON: Honest Ridge, okay. And then your family moved to Cedar
YORK: Yeah, uh-huh.
WILSON: And your dad was a farmer there?
YORK: Yeah. He didn’t own any land. He rented land and paid so much in the crop for rent. He paid a third of the corn—feed stuff, one third. And the cotton, he paid one fourth. Every fourth dollar went to the landowner. So a hundred dollars’ worth of cotton, he got seventy-five and the landowner got twenty-five.
WILSON: That was pretty hard in itself, wasn’t it?
YORK: Yes, it was. It sure was.
WILSON: The man lost a quarter of his efforts before—that was hard.
YORK: Sure it was. You know, a man could pay for a piece of land with the rent, or less than the rent, if he could ever get it in his possession. But it always took a little bit more than my daddy had to get it in his possession. That’s one of the reasons that poor people—they didn’t own any land, and they went for many years and maybe never owned any land.
WILSON: If you could get the possession of some land, you were in a lot better shape.
YORK: Oh yeah. The third of the grain and the fourth of the cotton would make the payment, or maybe make more than the payment.
WILSON: What’s the biggest thing that ever happened in Cedar Island? What do you remember that—
YORK: (laughs) Well, I don’t know. I know they used to have—different times of the year, they’d have big dinners and big get-togethers over there at the schoolhouse. That was kind of the big thing for us. There was always plenty of banana pudding and chocolate cake.
WILSON: Well, that was a good thing.
WILSON: I guess back then, people helped each other.
YORK: Yes, they did. They sure did. There was some good people. There was a lot of good people over there.
WILSON: Well, Mr. York, I sure appreciate your contributing to the history of Cedar Island. I don’t know another person that knows anything about it.
YORK: I wish I could—it was just a few years ago that I could have pointed you to a few people that was older, that knowed more. But now they done passed on.
WILSON: You offered for us to drive over there one day and you show me where it was. We’re going to do that, aren’t we?
YORK: I hope to.
WILSON: Yeah, we’re going to do that.
YORK: I hope to.
WILSON: I’d like for you to show me where Cedar Island was because you’ve told me where it was, but I don’t imagine many people know where it is.
YORK: I was going to ask you, did you know that there’s an old cemetery over there?
WILSON: I did not know that.
YORK: Yeah, there’s an old cemetery. A lot of people don’t know that. It’s now located out in a pasture. I don’t know whether it’s even fenced or not, but it’s out in a pasture. There’s even one Civil War veteran that’s buried there. How come me to know that, my daughter was in this here history tracing business, and she’s the one that came across where all of the Civil War veterans was buried. There’s one buried at Cedar Island, and she asked me did I ever know that there was a cemetery over there. And I told her yes, I knew there was. She asked me if I knew that there was a Civil War veteran buried there. I said no, I didn’t know that, and she would tell me what the book said. That’s all that I know. Now, as far as me actually knowing it, I don’t, except what the book said.
WILSON: Well, I look forward to that. Someday you and I will ride over there, and you show me where it used to be. I don’t guess there’s any buildings left at all.
YORK: Any what?
WILSON: Any buildings left?
YORK: No, I don’t think so. There’s an old log cabin that was still there about two or three years ago, and it’s right around the corner from where the schoolhouse was. Of course, right the other side the old cabin, well, the road ends, dead-ends. I was told that the road used to go all the way on through. Since I’ve known it, the road has never went all the way through, but it did go past the old cabin. Now, as far as I know, in my time, there’s nobody ever lived in it. But I was told that the Stevens boys that I mentioned while ago, that’s where their mother was raised. And I think their maiden names was Williams, I think. I’m not real positive all that, but that’s what I was told. It’s not a real big cabin, but that’s what—it was a log cabin. The thing I remember most about it, it being a log cabin, there was a world of them old wood bumblebees that used to swarm around up there. Me and a bunch or more of the schoolkids [would] go up there. We thought it was a big thing, batting them old bumblebees around.
WILSON: That was a little dangerous, wasn’t it?
YORK: Well, you know, the white-headed bumblebees don’t sting. It’s the black-headed ones. Most all of the ones that we ever seen up there was the white-headed ones. And they won’t attack you like the other bees do. The only time they’ll sting you is if you catch them.
WILSON: But it’s the black-faced ones that’ll get you, huh?
YORK: Yeah. There is another bumblebee—and I don’t know what the difference is, now—they look alike—but they’re not the same bee. There’s another bumblebee, they stay in the ground, what they call a ground bumblebee. Now, them rascals will eat you up. You don’t have to do nothing to them except just get close to them.
WILSON: They just got a bad attitude.
YORK: They’ll come out and attack you. I’ll guarantee you, when they hit you, you’ll know it. But these was the kind that sting—in fact, I got some of the wood bumblebees down in under my shed now.
WILSON: They’re not as bad as the kind that live in the ground, though.
YORK: No, unh-uh.
WILSON: You know, again, I sure appreciate you taking your time to tell us about Cedar Island. I am looking forward to that field trip that you and I are going to take someday. I like to end these interviews with a question. You’ve heard this question before on another tape, but I’m going to ask you again for the purposes of this tape. And that is, Mr. York, from your experiences, if you could tell the young people today—give them one piece of advice, what would you tell them?
YORK: I’d tell them to get them a job and go to work. And if you can’t make a dollar, make fifty cents until you can do better.
YORK: That’s right.
WILSON: Depend on yourself.
YORK: That’s right. Learn to stand on your own two feet.
WILSON: Boy, that’s good advice.
YORK: I certainly do believe in it.
WILSON: I believe it, too. Well, again, I thank you very much. I appreciate your contribution. We’ll get this typed up and we’ll get it back to you. You can review it, and when you’re satisfied with it, you let us know, and we’ll come get it. I thank you again, sir.
end of interview