Interviewed by Logan Wilson
April 12, 2013
Also Present: Virginia York, Mr. York’s wife
WILSON: Hello, this is Logan Wilson. Today is the—twelfth or thirteenth?—
WILSON: —twelfth of April, 2013. I’m interviewing Mr. Louis York at his home. This interview is sponsored by the Limestone County Historical Commission and is a part of the Footprints of Past Times project. I want to thank you, Mr. York, for contributing to this project. The next voice you hear is going to be that of Mr. York. (recording equipment adjusted) Fire away. Your turn.
YORK: This is Louis York.
WILSON: We’re going to be talking about Honest Ridge. Tell us what you remember and what you know about Honest Ridge.
YORK: Well, I was born there June 28, 1928. I lived on—we lived on the old Brodnax farm. We lived there until after I had started to school, which I started to school at Thelma because they had consolidated the schools from Honest Ridge, Thelma, Horn Hill, and Willow Springs all together and built one big school at Thelma. That’s the reason I went to Thelma school. Of course, my daddy was a farmer. Me and my brother that’s two years younger than me, we grew up there in that sand. My grandpa lived with us back then. We used to follow him around, and we would have to walk up to what we called the crossroads to the mailbox. We went with him. Then sometimes we’d go on around the corner to Eady’s store. Sometimes we’d get a soda water, but not all the time. I thought then, though, that that was a long, long journey, but it really wasn’t that far. I lived on the ridge off and on until I was on up—I don’t know—I was somewheres in my—eleven, twelve years old. Then we moved back across on this side of the river, on the—across Navasota [River] over on the north side.
WILSON: When you lived on Honest Ridge, Mr. York, how many people would you estimate lived there?
YORK: Oh Lord, I don’t know. There was a lot of them there. There was houses on every corner. And families, big families, lived in them. There was—I could name some of the people there that—
YORK: Starting up on the north end of the ridge, there was three different Andrews families that lived there, three different houses of Andrewses. Then there was an Isbell family. Then there was Wakefields. And there was Adams. Then, of course, there was the Richardsons. Then on down the other direction was Mr. Eady who run the store. Then there was the Lafoy family. Then there was the Williams family. Then there was the Ramey family and the Taulton family. I don’t know—and I’ll probably miss some of them, I imagine.
WILSON: Well, I didn’t know it was that big. All these people, were they farmers or ranchers or both?
YORK: Most of them was farmers, yes sir. Most of them was farmers. Now, the Oliver Ranch up there on the—that—where the Taultons lived, they were ranchers. The Oliver Ranch started, and it went back toward Kirk and Frosa. There was thirty—I think they said there was 3,600 acres in that Oliver Ranch. And it was only just a few years ago, like—I don’t know—eight—ten years ago—when they divided up that Oliver Ranch to the kids, grandkids, come on down. You know, each one, they got their share of it. That was a big place. Lots of people.
WILSON: Did Honest Ridge have its own gin, or did they—
YORK: Yes, one time it did. Now, that was before my time. I don’t remember the gin, but I know where the gin tank was. They did have a gin once upon a time.
WILSON: What about churches?
YORK: They had church in the schoolhouse. And the schoolhouse was tore down about a year before I started school. I can barely remember, as a very small kid, going to church in the schoolhouse. As far as I know, there was not a church house. Now, there might have been, but I don’t know. They had church in the schoolhouse, which that was very common back then.
WILSON: You lived in Honest Ridge, but you went to school in Thelma. Was there a bus, or how—
YORK: Yes. When they consolidated, they bought two big buses. One bus run the Horn Hill route and the Willow Springs, and the Honest Ridge run the Honest Ridge route. They was two big busloads by the time they got them all gathered up. Old man Sam LeNoir, he run the shop there at Thelma, and he was the one that drove the bus that picked up the Honest Ridge kids. He was just as strict over all those kids on that bus as any schoolteacher you ever had. Whatever he said went.
WILSON: (laughs) There’s not a whole lot left of Honest Ridge now, is there.
YORK: Not much. I left out one family while ago when I was naming those families, and that was the Dawley family. Now, James Dawley don’t live over there, but he’s got property over there. He’s in and out. There’s another—there’s some more houses over there that they’re gradually building up with mobile homes that I don’t even know who they are. But at one time that was a thriving community. But I was going to ask you, do you know the real name of Honest Ridge?
WILSON: You told me that once before. I thought that was a most interesting story about how it got its name.
YORK: I was told—I don’t know it, but I was told, now, that that’s the way it came about.
WILSON: Will you retell it for this recording?
YORK: Yeah, I will. Now, the man that told me, he was an uncle to me by marriage. He married Mama’s older sister. His name was Albert Richardson. His daddy is one of the ones that used to run one of the general stores over there. He said they was all sitting out on the porch of that old store playing dominoes. There was a sheriff and a posse came up from Groesbeck. They stopped there and they said they was looking for some such-and- such riders; they described the horses and everything. Said that they was looking for them. Said they was horse thieves. They had stole some horses somewhere. They said no, they hadn’t seen anything like that. They started to ride off, and one of the men, he says, “You ain’t going to find no horse thieves over here because this is an honest ridge through here.” (Wilson laughs) And they all had a big laugh about it, is what he told me, now. Since then, everybody has just started calling it Honest Ridge.
WILSON: And that’s the way Honest Ridge got its name.
YORK: That’s what he told me, now. Of course, he was a native over there, and I never did ever know him telling things that wasn’t right. He was one of these kind of people that you could depend on what he said.
WILSON: Well, tell us what they called Honest Ridge before it was named Honest Ridge.
YORK: It was Central Institute.
WILSON: Central Institute, yeah. I’ve got a note here says the old store building is still there.
V. YORK: Eady’s.
WILSON: One day whenever we’re out riding around, would you take me by there and show me where it is?
YORK: Sure I will. It’s not that far from here. It’s not that far.
And another thing that was interesting back when I was a kid, there was still several of the old log houses that was still being lived in over there. Now, the Burney house—that’s another one that I left out while ago, was the Burney family that lived over there. That was an old big log house. It had the big wide open hallway through the center of it. Then there was another one almost like it that sat down there where the Dawleys lived. They lived in one like that.
WILSON: I’ve heard them called dogtrot houses.
YORK: Well, I’ve heard that too.
WILSON: Why did they build that kind of house? What was about that architecture?
YORK: Well, I’ll tell you what, my uncle lived in one of those houses over there. It wasn’t his house, but he lived in it. The purpose that they used it for was because there was no air-conditioning back in those days, and you could always get a breeze through that big hallway. They would move their dining table out there in the summertime.
WILSON: I bet they did.
YORK: And they put their beds out there in the summertime. You slept out there in that old—and when they’d be canning and processing vegetables and everything, they done it out there in the old open hall. Yes sir.
WILSON: You said that there was a store out there, but I imagine y’all raised a lot of your own food there, didn’t you?
YORK: We did, yes sir. Of course, we bought a few little old things, you know. My grandpa lived with us till he passed away. One of the things he eat for breakfast was rice. He’d eat a bowl of rice every morning. They bought that down at the old store. He called it moonshine. Now, I don’t know where he come up with a name like that. (Wilson laughs) But I can’t ever remember him sitting down eating breakfast what he didn’t have his bowl of moonshine.
WILSON: (laughs) What were the transportation like in those days? The roads—
YORK: Well, you mean the vehicles or the roads?
WILSON: Well, both. How’d you get around, and how’d you do it?
YORK: Now, when I was borned, my daddy owned a Model T Ford. But it played out on him after the Depression had started. I heard him say—I didn’t know how long it was— but I heard him say that it was two years that he was without a car. He either went afoot, or else he worked his mules to a four-wheel trailer that he had built that had rubber tires on it. And which, it was a real—compared to an iron-wheel wagon, it was real nice traveling. That’s the way we went. [There was] a world of people over there that I never did ever know of owning a car. They went foot, horseback, wagon, hitched a ride.
WILSON: There never was any actual pavement in Honest Ridge, was there?
YORK: No sir, not when I was growing up. No sir, there wasn’t. One of the worst things that Honest Ridge dealt with, it wasn’t so much the mud, but it was the shallow water streams. In the springtime they would become marsh holes that you would bury a pair of horses and a wagon in. It was just—there was just no bottom to it. That was one of the worst things that they dealt with on the ridge.
WILSON: What did you call those things?
YORK: Just marsh holes, and they was caused from shallow surface water streams.
WILSON: Oh, in periods of high rain.
WILSON: There weren’t any of them in the middle of the roads, were there?
YORK: Yes, that was the problem. I was going to ask you: did you know that the road down there from where you leave Comanche Crossing bridge now, that goes right on around toward where starts Honest Ridge? Most people don’t know it, but that’s not even the original road. The original road goes straight up in a cornered square, comes back.
But there’s one of those marsh holes over there. And in the winter and spring, you could bury a pair of horses and a wagon over there. They just started cutting across the colored people’s ground. And ever since I can remember, it has been a road.
WILSON: And that’s why there’s a new route, to avoid that marsh hole there.
YORK: Uh-huh. Yeah.
WILSON: (laughs) Will you show me that some day?
YORK: Yeah. We’ll drive right by it on the way to the ridge. See, my uncle told me that whenever he was a young man, his daddy, who run one of the general stores over there and he called it the Trading Post, he also had a contract, a haul-and-freight out of Mexia from the railroad, to distribute to all them little rural community stores. Him and his older brother, they drove two freight wagons and worked four head of horses to each wagon, a haul-and-freight, and distribute it to those little rural stores. By the time they got through, it was just about time to go back and get another load. It kept them busy. And he told me that this marsh hole down here right close to the colored people’s ground, he said his brother’s horse bogged down—one of them did—bogged down, he said, and would have drownded—except, he said, he jumped out of his wagon and held the horse’s head up out of the water until his brother could take his team loose—he had four head to his wagon— and he finally got him in there and they got hitched on and pulled the bogged-down horse and the whole works out. He said that was one of the times that—that was about the time they started cutting across the colored people’s ground.
And then later on—now, this ain’t told to me. This is what I actually know. There was a family lived right there close, and he had a cow that bogged down in that same marsh hole. Him and my daddy and they gathered up half a dozen other people around there to help them get that cow out of there. They finally—they just rolled that cow out, just over and over, out of that marsh hole. Because if they tried to get her up, she’d go right back— come up to her sides in that stuff. And they was bogging up over their knees.
WILSON: So that was a problem in the early days.
YORK: It was.
WILSON: No doubt.
YORK: The mud wasn’t so bad, but it was those—had those marsh holes. I was told by my uncle that—I never did see it, now, but he’d tell me that one winter or spring—maybe more than one—but one time in particular—that right on the other side of the cemetery in Honest Ridge, from there—a strip through there, he said it was literally impossible to go through there with anything: horseback, the wagon, or anything. You’d bog a horse plumb out of sight right in the road.
WILSON: That area never has been paved, has it?
YORK: No. Now, there’s strips of it in there that’s been—that’s rock crushers that put a little rock. And I think one strip over there to prevent so much dust blowing from them rock-hauling trucks. I think they put a little blacktop on a little strip in there, but it was to keep from blowing dust.
WILSON: Did the oil boom in Mexia in the twenties affect Honest Ridge much?
YORK: That I don’t really know, but I don’t think it did. Not too much. There was a— when I was a kid they drilled a well down there on the DeLong Ranch, which is right between Honest Ridge and Thelma, right in that area. I don’t know—now, some of them said they actually brought a well in, and some of them said it didn’t. But there was a well drilled on the old Ward place right on this side of the ridge, and they actually brought oil in there. But they said they only pumped it for a few days, and then, what they called it, it sanded over. Now, I don’t know exactly what they mean. Oil people would know, but I don’t know. But there wasn’t too much out there.
WILSON: What was there to do on the weekends and such at Honest Ridge?
YORK: Well, we would have parties at people’s houses, one place or another, and there was always some musicians in the bunch. They’d play music, sing. My grandpa was an outstanding musician. He was a fiddle player. In fact, he played any instrument that there was.
WILSON: That’s where you got your musical talents.
YORK: Well, I got just a little speck of his. I play the harmonica around my neck and pick the guitar. I do that. But that’s just a small speck of his talent. That old man was a real musician.
WILSON: When the Depression came along, I know everybody out there—lives changed, pretty much.
YORK: Well, I guess. I don’t know. I think they was—they was all poor people before they started, and it didn’t make too much difference because they didn’t have nothing anyway. (both laugh) But I know—you know, I heard my daddy say that during the Depression—now, exactly which year I don’t know—my daddy was farming—he said he hired three grown people to hoe cotton for him. He paid all three of them together a dollar and a half a day. That’s what he said he paid them.
WILSON: That was probably a good wage in those days.
YORK: Well, it was all they could get. That was more than some of them would pay.
There was another instance that he told me—I was too small to remember it—but we was living on there on the old Brodnax farm, and Daddy farmed—part of his farming land was up there on the hill in what he called the sand field. But then most of it was down there in Christmas Creek bottom. Well, there was a man that lived across Christmas Creek—I don’t know exactly where—I know he lived across the creek over there. Daddy said he walked across the bottom and come on up there to his house one day and asked him, was that his cornfield down there in the bottom. And Daddy said yes. He said, “Well, are you going to cut them corn tops and save them for feed?” And Daddy said, “No, because I’ve already got all the hay that I need for my cows and mules.” And he kept on. He said, “What I was looking for was a job.” He kept talking, and finally he told Daddy, he said, “I’ll cut them corn tops for you for something or another, if you’d pay me anything.” Daddy said, “I can’t pay you one penny because I don’t even have a penny.” He said, “Well, what I’m trying to do is get something to eat.” So Daddy finally told him, he said, “Well, I’ll tell you what, now. I don’t know exactly how to figure it in wages, but I raised a good garden, I had a good Irish potato crop, and I’ve got meat left in the smokehouse from last winter.” He said, “Now, I can pay you in some produce and some meat that I have in the smokehouse.” He [the man] said, “That would be fine. I’ll start in the morning.”
He said he told Mama, “Well, I want to get up a little extra early in the morning.” It’s in the summertime the crops were laid by. He said, “If he’s going to cut them and put them up, I’ll go down and help him.” Daddy said he got down to the bottom a little bit after sunrise. He said he’d done cut two rows all the way through that bottom. That’s how desperate he was to work. He helped Daddy cut and tie all them corn tops, and I don’t know, maybe some more work. But anyhow, Daddy rounded him up a bunch of Irish potatoes and some meat out of the smokehouse and other vegetables and two or three watermelons and a bunch of cantaloupes. It was so much he couldn’t carry them. Daddy hooked up his mules to his four-wheel trailer, and he carried him home around the road.
WILSON: So the man wasn’t working for wages; he was actually working for something to eat.
YORK: He wanted something to eat for his family. I’m going to tell you what: I don’t have to ask was he in hard shape.
WILSON: He wasn’t alone either, was he?
YORK: No, he wasn’t. No sir, he sure wasn’t. You know, seeing all that then, when I was just a kid—but it registered with me. And it’s still there. Sometime when I see these people with an attitude about getting up and going out working, it does something to me. It really does something to me.
WILSON: I’ve noticed something, Mr. York. Of the people who are old enough to have experienced the Depression, they got a whole different attitude about life than those people who came along later. Have you noticed that?
YORK: I’m telling you they do. I’m telling you. You don’t have to talk to a person very long until you know whether he’s willing to work or not. I realize that I ain’t worth a hoot now because I ain’t able to do very much, but I still do all I’m able to do.
WILSON: You got a fine garden.
YORK: Well, me and her (referring to his wife Virginia) together has. She helps me in it. But I still run that tiller.
WILSON: You know, before we twist this interview off—and I have asked you this before, and you had a really great response. I want to ask you again at the end of this interview: if you had one bit of advice for the young people today, what would it be?
YORK: Get a job and go to work. Just get up and get out there and do whatever there is available to do. If it pays a good salary, good. If it don’t pay quite so much, go ahead and work until you can do better.
WILSON: You’re pretty consistent. That’s what you said last time. (laughs)
YORK: I tell you what, it’s just in me and I can’t help it. And if people don’t like the way I think (laughs)—I’m sorry because that’s just it.
WILSON: Well, I look forward to a field trip someday, when you and I can ride out there and you can show me some of these things.
YORK: I’ll be happy to do it.
WILSON: Also, there’s a couple of other little communities that I’d like to talk to you about someday. That is to say, I’d like to listen to you about it.
YORK: Well, you know, like I told you yesterday, anything I tell you, it’s either that I absolutely know it, or I’ll make it clear that it’s what I heard.
YORK: Because I don’t like to tell things unless I know what I’m talking about.
WILSON: Well, that’s mighty good, and I do appreciate your time. I do appreciate your contribution.
YORK: You know, I enjoy talking about the places like that.
WILSON: Well, you’re going to have an opportunity to do it again because we’re going to talk about at least Munger and Cedar Island. I only know one other person that knows that there was a Cedar Island.
YORK: Who is that?
WILSON: I thought it was Mrs. Freeman. I might be misspeaking, though.
YORK: I don’t think so.
WILSON: Must have been somebody else.
YORK: As far as I know, she never did ever live down in this part of the country until she married, and her husband originally, I think, came from Point Enterprise—I think.
WILSON: Point Enterprise?
YORK: I think so.
WILSON: But you can tell us some later time about Cedar Island.
YORK: Oh yeah, what I know.
WILSON: Okay. Well, I tell you what, I’m going to be looking forward to that. And thank you again, sir. I appreciate it.
YORK: Thank you.
end of interview