Conducted by Logan Wilson
I’m Logan Wilson and we’re in the home of Mr. John Smith. He’s going to give us an oral history of the early days in Freestone and Limestone county. And at this point, I’m going to turn it over to Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith: Well, to start this interview I’ll have to tell you about my family, my parents. My daddy was just a small man in size but a very strong man in his beliefs. I never have heard my daddy and I’m sure that he did at different times, I never heard him even cuss or say a curse word. And he strictly believed in the family and taking care of the family and doing what was right, and I’ve tried to follow that, but they’ve been a few times when I start something or maybe had done some things maybe and I would recall ‘what would daddy done’. And I’ll have to credit him with any good virtues that I might have, which are very few. Now my mother was a good lady, a very good lady, a strong Christian. But she had some King blood in her, and I’ll explain the Kings a little bit later on that you might know what I am referring to. But growing up as a child, mother and I would sometimes get on somebody in the community or something and we would just be givin’ em the “go you know where”. And daddy would hear us and wouldn’t be very far into our conversation that he would say ‘Stell’; my mother’s name was Estell. And he called her Estell until this time something like this happened. And he’d say ‘Stell’. Well, mother and I both knew what daddy meant. The conversation was over; we didn’t talk about people like that and he just didn’t …he just wouldn’t do it, now that’s all. And like I say, any good thing I have in my life and I would have to say it came from him and couse, the Lord has helped me a lot with a lot of my problems too. He has--I don’t know what I’d done too or where I’d been if it hadn’t been for him and the Lord.
My own life was very enjoyable although it was tough times. I came up during the time that kids or children of family in most cases, they learned how to work at an early age. I have two sisters, both of which are dead. One of ‘em—my mother’s birth child died when it was born due it not being in a hospital, the doctor said. And her name was Beatrice. And sometime after Beatrice died my daddy went to Kirven which was three miles away where we did most of our shopping back in those days. And in Kirven one time they tell me had two thousand people living in it. It had a bank, a post office, had a drug store, and he went to Kirven one day in a wagon because of the road condition and most people now can’t realize how bad the roads got at different times. Because you couldn’t get out; we had a Model T to start with which was high off the ground, but you couldn’t even get out in a Model T; you had to come out in a wagon if you went anywhere. When he got to Kirven, he was told of a Mr. Johnson that his wife had just had a baby and the baby lived but the wife died. Well, he already had I think they said about five children, and he didn’t know how in the world he was going to manage taking care of the baby and daddy went to see him and talked to him about this baby. And he give daddy this baby to adopt. And to show you how things change, Kirvin did have a phone at that time; this was back probably in 1927. And they called a lawyer in Teague by the name of Vickers, and she was a lady lawyer, and they explained the situation to her and she told daddy to go ahead and bring the baby home with him. And they signed the papers later. Now that’s changed; you wouldn’t do this day and time. But he did. And mother did not know this baby was going to come home until daddy got home with this baby wrapped up in the wagon and later on, course, they filled out the papers and got the adoption ready. She wasn’t a strong baby and probably was sick at that time. And she lived just about a year before she passed away. And my mother had been advised not to have any more children. Well, I was an accident that come along. But I was born in Davidson hospital in Teague because daddy made sure that we got there, they got there in plenty of time and everything because of the situation that had happened with my mother earlier. But that’s how I come into existence of our family.
Christmas time came and course was very special. But most of the time I got things that were useful. Course they generally tried to have one toy or something. But we got a red wagon one year. But that red wagon helped me move wood from the wood pile up to the house for the fireplace and the stove. And one particular Christmas I remember I got up Christmas morning and I looked at everything and I looked around and I told daddy I said, “Daddy, Santa Claus didn’t bring me firecracker one this year.” Well, unbeknownst to me, he got out and went to Kirvin in the wagon to a store and bought me some firecrackers and when he come home, I had firecrackers to pop on Christmas. So this was a time that it was really family and very enjoyable; we all had a good time. Daddy always cooked a big ham outside and everything and people came in and just a good time to fellowship and everything.
Now our house that we lived in—Daddy had bought this farm and the house was box plank house. Didn’t have any other side to it, just box and planks with strips over the outside. We had a fireplace and a cook stove. And I remember mother was always worried about her house; when she wasn’t in the fields, she’d be busy at the house. And she’d scrub the floors. And she had to do this with an old bloom that was wore out and just very stubble on the end of it. And she didn’t have to worry about mopping the water up because the cracks in the floor. The water would run through. Now literally I’m telling you the truth, there was cracks and I also remember in the winter time, we let out hogs out to go eat acorns in the woods. But we always fed them a little bit of something every evening where they’d come back to the house. Well, those hogs soon discovered that fireplace was a warm place in the wintertime. And they’d get up under the house. And all during the night you’d hear one of them grunting, and then they bump and daddy got to where he said I’m not going to sleep with them hogs underneath there and he’d take a kettle of hot water, put it on the fireplace, get it hot and he go around the hearth which was the brick in front of the fireplace to get from popping out, get the floors on fire and there was a crack between the fireplace hearth and the wood, and he’d really go around and pour that hot water down there and you could hear those old hogs grunting and they get out from under the house.
But our house was, the room I slept in didn’t have a ceiling in it. The other rooms did, but this bedroom or room, I don’t know whether they were called bedrooms back then or not, but it didn’t have a ceiling. And course in the wintertime it was very cold to go in those rooms. And mother would take a smoothing iron which she ironed with; I don’t know where most people know what a smoothing iron is now but you iron your clothes with it. But she would heat that iron by the fireplace and go in and wrap it in a cloth and stick it under my sheet there in the covers to where that bed would be a little bit warm where I could sleep and everything. And course generally you had so much cover on you, you couldn’t hardly turn over, you just had to do the best you could, but anyway, that house, it was home. It was a lot of love in that house. And we lived in that house for several years, I don’t know I think I was about 15 years old when daddy retired from the farm and we moved into Teague, but up until that we lived there. And I tell you, he was a provider. We raised cotton and corn but we did a lot of other things to make a living and pay for that farm. He raised a lot of English peas and we took ‘em to Teague to McSpadden’s Grocery and Mr. McSpadden would take all these peas that we had for his store and what he didn’t need he would take and sell to Eddie Phelps who worked for Ben & Keith. Eddie Phelps would then peddle these English peas out to the other stores that he called on selling produce. We did this and then in the summer time we would raise cantaloupes, watermelons, tomatoes, different things like that and go to Wortham twice a week in the mornings and peddle because Wortham still had some oil industries there and they had the pump station out the edge of town and those people had some money to spend that worked at the oil company and had this oil stuff and course they didn’t have any gardens or get any fresh things like that so we had just a steady route that we would make selling this to the people. And we had an old model A Ford by then; we got rid of the T-model and we had a model A Ford and we’d take the back seat out of that model A and put all this stuff back there to sell. And we’d come home get home by dinner time and then we’d hit the field in the evening and work in the field.
We did this; we acquired quite a few chickens and we got to where we would carry it to Kirvin Mr. Adams up there said to send a crate of eggs every other day. And at that time a crate of eggs was thirty dozen instead of the fifteen dozen like they use now—there was thirty dozen. And course we had to buy quite a bit of egg mash for the laying hens and Vance Mill put their laying mash in printed sacks—hundred pound sacks. But they were printed with different colored material—well, that was mother’s chance to make us some shirts. She’d make me shirts; she’d make daddy shirts; made my shorts out of those; she’d make daddy’s shorts out of that. But the pattern was pretty and we’d try to get two or three sacks of the same pattern to where she’d make her dresses out of it. And you’d starch those things and iron ‘em and they’d just look real nice. Well, people got to asking her where she got the material at and she would sell a sack that that hundred pound feed came in for 10 cents. And the people got to where they were waiting on them sacks because they liked the design and pattern of it. So we did a lot of things, but we paid for that farm just working like that. Course the man that carried the note on it was Mr. Clay McKinney and once a year we’d go over to pay the payment on the farm. Well, if we hadn’t done very well that year, been bad weather, dry, different things, daddy would tell Mr. McKinney, “Mr. McKinney, all I’m going to do is pay the interest.” Which was all Mr. McKinney was really interested in, he was making that interest. And then in another year if we had a good crop, everything worked out real well, and we’d go over and he’d tell “Mr. McKinney, I’m going to pay you two or three years on my place at that time. And we paid for that farm just like that. By working.
And there was quite a few people in the community that wasn’t blessed like our family was blessed--due to one of them or the other one, I call it being lazy or what. And we would raise butter beans, pinto beans, peas such as that and more than we ever could use before the next crop come on. And I didn’t know for a long time what daddy was doing, but he was raising extras like that that when the people came around or he knew of somebody that was having a hard time, and maybe kids were going hungry, he’d make sure back then you got your groceries in a paper sack and I’ve seen him many a time go out to where the dry beans and peas were kept in these flower sacks—10, 25, 50 pounds—and you’d put your dry beans or peas in them and punch a hole in the top of a little jar with high-life in it, keep the weevils out of it. And then we could move ‘em on down into a storm cellar that we had which was really better than the house we lived in because my daddy was scared of clouds and he gathered up enough rock and could put the mortar in there till the inside of that storm house was rocked and he put shelves in it for mother to put her canned stuff and she canned and canned and canned, course it was all done in fruit jars; she didn’t have a pressure cooker or cans but she put down there all this stuff in the storm house for storage, and he was constantly going out and getting stuff out of there and out of those sacks and go out to where the meat was hanging or put down in salt like we used the middlings and such as that to put ‘em salt, take a butcher knife and whack off a big hunk of meat and hand it to people where they could eat because he knew they were hungry. We had a family that lived there that the woman would work—she just worked all the time but her husband, he didn’t even hit a lick at a snake, I don’t think. And they had nine girls and three or four of those girls got to coming down to the house quite a bit and one day I asked daddy, “Why they come down here? We’re busy; we don’t play, you know, like kids do. Why they coming?” He said, son those kids are hungry. And I know that they coming down knowing that I will provide ‘em with everything and food.” And I don’t know how many people in our surrounding area up there that if it hadn’t been for him with his generosity and his love of people that would have gone hungry. But he would always feed people like that that came; he made sure that they went home with something to eat. And the Lord just blessed us or blessed him and our family and he was just that kind of a man. That he would just work with ‘em.
I remember we used to...mother’s brother years, I don’t know, sometime in the ‘20s went to Baytown and went to work and he worked for Humble in the refinery. Course, he didn’t marry until he was nearly 40 years old; so he had my mother’s mother and daddy come and live down there and he took care of them and everything for them taking care of him, more or less. Well, granddaddy Beaman finally got him a filling station and now when you hear that you think about a service station here now. He didn’t change any oil because most of the cars you drove back then changed his own oil as they used so much oil you didn’t have to put new oil in, it automatically took care of everything. And he didn’t fix any flats; he strictly sold oil and gas and so I always liked going to the service station with him when we’d go down there for a visit, about once a year. And I was, I think, about four years old and I went down to the station with granddaddy and there was an ice house across the highway or street there, and I saw a kid on a tricycle and I told granddaddy, “Granddaddy, I want a nickel”, cause to me a nickel would buy half the world, you know. And he said what you want a nickel for and I said I want one of them things right yonder. Well it was a tricycle. I didn’t even know what it was called. And he said well, wait till somebody comes along I can leave the station with and back then if a friend of yours come along, you could go off and leave your business with ‘em and they would take care of it just like you did. Well, it wasn’t long till somebody come along and he told he needed to be gone down town for a minute and asked them to stay there and watch the station. And then we went to a variety store down there and the variety store man’s name was Eddie Cox, I’ll never forget it. Later on, now at that time it didn’t mean anything, but I made sure after I got larger. And he said which one of those do you like; he had ‘em up on a shelf in the store and I picked out this tricycle and he bought me a tricycle and I still have that tricycle today. It’s in good shape; I dare anybody to get on it to ride it cause I don’t allow that. But everything on that tricycle is still original except the front tire on it where I spun it in the sand out there on the farm so much till I wore it out. And when I redone the tricycle—restored it—I had to get something to go in there for a tire and I got to looking at that rubber, it’s a real hard rubber, and it was just the size of a windshield washer hose and I went and got a windshield washer hose and put it together on that tire to where it looks like its original, but it isn’t and it’s a windshield washer hose that looks like the rubber does. But we was in Baytown most of the time once a year to visit my granddaddy and grandmother.
I had some kinfolks, my mother’s folks, as I said my mother had some King blood in her. My great granddaddy was named John King. He was I guess if you had the land he had now, they’d call it a plantation, I don’t know, because he had acres and acres and acres of land. He had as many as five families living on his place at one time, farming, helping him farm. And he was a big man, very kind, he was very generous, but don’t cross him or try to do something wrong because he would get you. His daughter was married to a fellow that left her and she had a baby born called, and they named her Euella. Well, when this baby was born, it’s mother died—granddaddy’s daughter. And he took the girl and raised her and she went to school and was graduating from high school the day that she was killed by a group of people. They think they know who it was or they thought they did, and they got ‘em and I’m not proud of what they did. I can understand part of it but they took ‘em and tied ‘em to wagon wheels, plows and such as that and set ‘em on fire. And burnt ‘em up on the streets of Kirvin. A lot of people said that was Kirvin’s downfall and they started to losing its population after that. I don’t know. Some of ‘em said that granddaddy was mean to some colored people. I don’t know. I can’t say either way. He was not that kind of man. He had some boys or men that would give you the shirt off their back in a snow storm if you needed it. But they would kill just the same if you tried to steal that shirt off their back. And I do not know any of the deals what happened other than what I was told. It’s possible that my granddaddy was mean to them, I don’t know that. But anyway, that was the way it was handled. And it took for years for that to sort of die down and get out of that situation.
Now Granddaddy, I told you he was a good man, kind man, and later years he sold his farm off and he bought one of the few 1941 Chevrolets that was made because the war started in December. And course back then, they didn’t bring the cars out all year long; the new cars didn’t come out until around October or something. They’d even hide em, cover ‘em up on the trailers that they’d bring em in on where people couldn’t see em. And they had to show em on a certain day. Well, he bought this car and told some people since he sold his farm they was going to have to move. “I will pay the rent on the place; take care of the groceries; do everything, if you’ll fix my meals, keep my clothes clean and carry me anywhere. Well, that worked out for basically a year, and it got to where the people were gone in his car more than he was and they wasn’t fixing his meals. Well, he walked three miles to my daddy’s house—my daddy and mother’s house—and granddaddy King asked daddy said could he come live with us, if he did so-in-so. And my daddy told him, Mr. King, you can come live with us if you don’t do anything. We’ll take care of you. And, so he came to live with us for about three years before he passed away. And when he passed away, the boys and my grandmother, my mother’s mother, when they went to the bank and took care of everything, they counted my mother as a child and took care of her; she got the same amount of everything as they did besides they give her the new car, was fairly new. She said she didn’t want it and the boys said this, “You took care of our daddy and we wouldn’t and for that reason, we’re going to do this for you” and that’s what they did. And we kept the car for awhile and my uncle that lived at Baytown by then the war came on in December 7th of ’41 and the world changed again when that happened. You couldn’t buy tires unless you was on a farm or something like that. You couldn’t buy—a lady couldn’t buy nylon hose unless they got em at just a certain time. You couldn’t buy a Coke-a-cola or Dr Pepper. They made an artificial one, but there was a lot of things you couldn’t make. And Uncle Cliff said there was a man there that would pay daddy and them so much if they’d sell him that car. Well, we were out there on the farm still trying to make a living and working and everything and it was a way for us to accumulate some stuff and daddy took and sold the car to a man in Baytown. And then we bought us another Model A.
But we lived on the farm until, I guess, I was roughly 15 or 16 years old. I know the first time I had a bath in a bathtub was after I married. It wasn’t that we couldn’t afford it, or I think we could afford it, but it wasn’t offered where our house was, our farm was. There was no electricity, no water; there was nothing. You still used a coal oil lamp; in fact I’ve got two of them right up there on my shelf in my kitchen that I keep in case the electricity goes off. But we moved into Teague when I was about 15 years old. We still had no bathroom, but we did have running water and we bought a butane tank, by then there was butane. We got butane. And this was in 19… I’ll have to think a minute…well, I was 15 years old, whatever year that was that we moved in. And back there on the farm, it wasn’t that daddy wouldn’t do all these things for us if we could have done it, but there was no electricity; there was no telephone. You was just out there in the woods and well, that was really it. No utilities at all…for several years even after that before they got electricity out there.
But at about 15 years old, I went to work in the drugstore. And I worked at the drugstore all the years in school that I was. That was back when they had the soda fountain and you went in and sat down and drank malts and made sundaes and such as that. And then when I graduated, I was out in the world trying to make a living. But basically that’s my childhood days.
Mr. Wilson: That’s very interesting, Mr. Smith. You know I ask everybody when they’re done—one question. And believe it or not almost everybody has the same answer. So I’m going to ask you. You’ve seen a lot; you’ve been through a lot, obviously. If you had one word of advice to the young people nowadays; if there was one thing that you would recommend to the young people now, what would it be?
Mr. Smith: From what I’ve seen being out in the world, one thing is, I would tell, if they would listen to me, I would tell young people to respect their parents. You see so much of kids really abusing their parents and everything, but that’s one of the things that I would say. And the next thing is, get up off of it and get out in that world and go to work and get you a job and quit whining and everybody’s got problems, so you’re not by yourself so just grow up and get up off of it and go to work.
Mr. Wilson: Well, that’s unanimous cause that’s what everybody else said.
Mr. Smith: But one thing really, I would say respect your parents. Cause I’ve seen, I’ve been in stores, you know, working and I’ve seen so much and you really can’t blame the kids so much as you could the parents for putting up with it, because I know what my parents did and I’ll tell you something, I don’t know where you’re still on the deal or not, when I was probably twelve years old my daddy took ten acres of land and he told me this, he said now what this twelve acres makes, it’s yours. I’ll furnish the team and plows and everything for you to take care of my stuff too, but this’ll be yours. Well, back then we had and I guess they still do, had to terrace your property because the water would build. Well, it rained and washed one of my terraces out and due to other things needed to be done on the farm, we didn’t get around to fixing the terrace right quick. And I decided one day I was gonna get the slip what we called the slip that what you’d hook a team to and it picks up dirt and you dump it when it gets full. I told daddy I was going down there and fix my terrace and he said no, don’t do it, the grounds too hard. And I said oh, I can do it, daddy, I can do it. I finally talked him in to it. Before I left, though, he told me, you go down there and start blaming a team for you not being able to fill that slip up and I see you pop ‘em with a leather line, I’m going to come down and give you a whipping. Well, guess what happened! The ground was too hard; I couldn’t fill the slip up with my dirt, and I’d take the end of that plow line and pop it like that back underneath that mule’s belly and the next thing I knew, somebody tapped me on the shoulder and guess who it was? It was my daddy; and he reached up and I don’t know where you know leather plow lines and how they hook up together to form the team but he took one side of the line out and guess what happened? It was the last time he whipped me but he give me a whipping with a pair of leather plow lines. And I’m twelve years old, out supposed to be making money for my own, you know, but he said it and he meant every word that he said. And he give me a whipping with those—and that’s the last time I got a whipping. But he did whip me. Now mother whipped me every day just for, you know….
Mr. Wilson: Keep you in line…
Mr. Smith: Yeah, that was hard to do, you know. And nothing bad. But back then, your chickens run out in the yard and you had to keep your yard swept up to get the feathers and everything out, and our house was down in a field, our farm house was down in a field. The road ended when you’d get to my house and it was on our property. The road was. And we swept one time and mother told us now be sure you clear that far enough off the field down there that the wind won’t blow those feathers and stuff back. Course everything like that you put back in your land trying to build it up. Well, under my breathe I thought I said ‘I’ll take it where I please’. Only evidently I said it out loud and mother heard me. And I learned though, if I cried pretty quick, she’d quit whipping, you know. But that wasn’t daddy. (Laughter) Oh, the things that happened, I tell you.
Mr. Wilson: But, we sure appreciate you taking the time to…
Mr. Smith: Well, like I said, it was nothing exciting, it’s just….
Mr. Wilson: Yeah, well, it’s history, though; we sure appreciate you taking your time to share those things with us. I do appreciate it, sir.