Volume VIII, No. 4, Summer 1981
Edited by Dwayne Sherrer, Photography by Gina Jennings and Allen Gage
"Our father was four years old when the rebels came through here." Lon and Norman Wright sat close to the black stove, Lon smoking his pipe and Norman chewing tobacco. Jule, quietly sitting in a split oak chair in the corner of the room occasionally added a few words. The chill of the late December afternoon, only feebly dispelled by the small wood-burning stove, did not seem to bother the three bachelor brothers as they chatted about their family° Nor did the growing dusk dampen their enthusiasm. "Our father, John Wright, was born in 1860 about a mile east of here. He said he remembered the rebels eat his breakfast for him one morning. They set him down at the table and took what he had and helped him eat it. He remembered that. Dad said he often wondered, when he was a little boy, how come that strange man knowed what his name was. The rebel grabbed hold of his arm and lifted him out of his chair and said, 'Get away, Johnnie. This is my plate.' Dad said, 'I wonder how he knowed my name.' Come to find out they called them all Johnnie Rebels. He didn't know it at that time."
Alonzo, Norman and Julius Wright live much as their grandparents lived over a hundred years ago in a three room clapboard house their father built in 1887. They have no electricity, running water or telephone. They have never owned a car or tractor, they use oil burning lamps, heat the house with a stove in the kitchen and cook on a wood cookstove.
They each have an interesting story to tell, starting with their family history and then to their own personal experiences. They ended the visit by singing and playing on the fiddle and banjo some old-time folk music handed down in their family.
Our mother was thoroughbred French. She was born and raised back about a mile from here, but Great-grandma and Great-grandpa Malan come from France--come from Paris.
The first thing they done, they went to Italy. They was there awhile. My grandpa was born over in Italy. Then they got on one of these old sail boats and crossed the ocean. Grandpa was six weeks old when they started--a pretty young sailor. He said they was three months on the water, and landed down there in New Orleans. They stayed there a year and come up the Mississippi River to St. Louis on an old sweepboat. They stayed there, I believe Grandpa said, three years. They was only three little log cabins, and then the fur house where they bought furs and shipped them over across. From there they come on up the Missouri River on a sweepboat.
A sweepboat has big oars. It's a pretty good-sized boat, but instead of having a motor on it to pull it, why they used sweeps to pull it with. There was six men on a side. Twelve men pulled them big sweepboats. The smaller ones they called flatboats. They didn't have no houses on them. They was just like these railroad flat cars. The freight boats is what a lot of them was. They didn't have no sides on them.
Anyway, my great-grandpa and great-grandma landed down here at Bonnots Mill and stayed there, I don't know how many years, but not too many years, and then come up the creek there, and they went over here about a mile north of us. They landed there and bought that farm. I don't know whether they bought it or just homesteaded, but anyhow they took up that ground there. That's where our grandpa on my mother's side was raised.
Grandpa said they didn't do a whole lot of farming. There was no ground for it. It was about all in the woods. There was some awful good timber at that time. They cut a lot of that up for ties, for lumber. They cut lots of it and rolled it up in big log heaps and set it a-fire and burned it up for there wasn't no sale for it. If they was going to build a house, they built a log house. They didn't have the tools to make them a frame house. They just sawed by hand with what they called a whip saw--like a long crosscut saw about as wide as my hand. They rolled a log up on a scaffold and one man would get on top of the log and the other one would get under the log and they would saw it by hand. My great-grandfather was a whip sawyer.
Our regular grandpa, as soon as he got old enough so he could start black-smithing, he went to a blacksmith's shop and learned how to blacksmith before he got married. He was a little Frenchman about Lon's size, Grandpa was, one of the best blacksmiths there was in the country. He sure was a good blacksmith, and he sure hated to use that old stove coal for blacksmithing. He wanted charcoal. Yes, you burn the wood and make charcoal out of it.
He'd take these old charcoals like we get out of our stove that-a-way, and that's what he used to heat his iron with, and he could weld anything that could be welded that wasn't too big for his little furnace. He blacksmithed on the farm. People would come to him. You know this place right down here where this old house burnt? Right there is where he was blacksmithing the first I could remember. That was his old farm. He blacksmithed at Ott awhile and out there close to the Meent Hill Church. He lived out there awhile and blacksmithed there.
He went to Kansas. I don't know how long he stayed, but he drove a little team of mules. A few children he had, and Grandma, and he went through with a wagon and stayed awhile. It rained all the time. They lived in a sod house while they was there, and it was so damp.
There wasn't nothing to do out there. Blacksmithing was about all he could do, and there wasn't nobody farming to amount to anything. He come back. He drove the little mules back. He said they was getting awful old, little mules, too.
Our great-great-grandpa on our dad's side came from France. He come in from New Jersey first, ran down the New Jersey coast and ran a fishery, and that's why there's these little spotted catfish in the country. Grandpa ordered them from France, and the game commissioner says them's young channel catfish and they'll lose them spots. But Grandpa Wright says they wasn't. They're native of France. He bought them and put them in a little lake over there in New Jersey for the little children to fish where there wouldn't be no danger. They're still there. They kept moving them out this way and they're in the Gasconade River. They won't let a feller keep them if he catches them, but Grandpa Wright said that them was natural fish. The darned conservation outfit stole them from us. They're a small fish, there like these little old goggle-eye and the sun perch. They're just a pan fish, you know.
We've eat lots of them. The law didn't say we could eat them, but we did. What the law didn't know ain't going to hurt them. An Indian ought to have the right to kill any of that wild game any time he wants to. That's the way I look at it.
My great-great-grandfather Wright that come from France to start with, married a thoroughbred Cherokee Indian squaw. They came into West Virginia before Virginia was divided up. Then, of course, my great-grandfather, John Wright, he was half Indian and half French and he married a half Indian and half French out east in Virginia. And then my grandfather Wright also called John, he married a half Indian. Of course Dad, John Francis Wright, he married a French woman, a thoroughbred French, so that makes us one quarter Cherokee and three quarters French.
During the Civil War, Grandpa Wright enlisted in the home guard and went to Jefferson City. Stead of the rebels going there, why they turned and went south and come right by our place. Grandpa said, "One way or another I ain't doing no fighting!" He said there was one feller he'd like to run onto, though--one of the rebels. He didn't know who it was, but he'd like to run into the rebel when he had some buckskin britches on that he'd cut off to the knees. Grandpa said, the rebel must of been an awful short man. He was a pretty tall man, Grandpa was. Grandpa had cut corn in the dew and got the legs of his buckskin britches wet and they got stiff. He just hung them up in the smokehouse. And he had to leave out, you know, to keep the rebels from getting him, and so when he got back home, one of them had took the buckskin britches and cut them off and left the stiff part laying. Grandpa said he'd sure like to run onto that one. He said he would of sure killed him. And I think Grandpa would of done it. I guess he was Indian enough he would of done it.
Dad had a great uncle that grew tobacco during this time and he wanted a half a bushel of tobacco seed to sow. He did set out sixteen acres. 'Course he had to have a lot of help to take care of that. He had a whole bunch of slaves, but they freed the slaves, and he never cut a stalk of tobacco. He never even topped his tobacco. I believe they said one of his slaves cut three stacks, and that is all that was cut out of the sixteen acres. It made him mad and he never done another day's work in his life when they freed the slaves. Why, you go to giving sixteen hundred dollars for a slave and buy about ten or fifteen slaves at that, why, that cost him a whole lot of money. It'd pert'neer make anybody mad to lose that much.
Mother was born in 1870. She was ten years younger than Dad was. Grandpa Malan, her daddy, was only ten years older than Dad. Her name was Mary Malan. My father's name was John Francis Wright. My grandfather's name was John Wright and my great-grandfather's name was John Wright. My mother's name was Mary Lou and my grandmother's name was Mary Lou.
There were ten kids in our family. Two passed away as infants. The first one was Mary Lou and the last one was Edna May. Alice is still living and there was two other girls, Marthie and Annie that was living--makes five girls. The five boys are Norman Albert, Julius Edward, Rudolph, Alonzo Everet and Charlie Franklin.
Dad owned eighty acres when they first moved here. Dad built this house in the eighteen eighties somewhere. He was twenty-seven years old when he built the house. He was twenty-eight when he got married. He bought the eighty acres, and he kept adding to it until he had 210 acres. All of us kids were born right here in this same house. My father built it pert'neer a hundred years ago.
We've only moved one time away from here and went to Steelville in Crawford County. We drove up there in a covered wagon--sixty-five miles--in August. Jule was six weeks old, and the sun was so hot it blistered his head and took all his hair off. And he never did have very much hair anymore! We lived there a year-and-a-half, I believe it was. Dad went up there, and he farmed for his brother for one year and then came back.
First time I ever seen any oxen work, too, while I was up there. They was oxens yet at that time because I seen them hauling ties on a wagon. They came by the door every day.
But then we moved back to this place and have lived here ever since. We still get our water from a cistern--get what the Master sends down.
Our dad hauled those rocks for that cistern up from the holler, he said. He could haul up enough with his team to build three foot. There's only nine feet there. Yes, he said it took him three trips to get enough rock to build it, plus what was on top and we tore it off. We've used it all our life. Never did run dry with just the family drinking out of it, but it did one time. Our sister back over there where she lives, there was a crowd of them and they come over and carried a lot of water out of there to wash. It got dry, and I believe it was thirty-four or thirty-six, those dry years, but this year we had plenty of water. Our brother Charlie, down in the holler ain't got no water, and he gets his drinking water here, too.
We never used it to wash. We had that big pond up on the road and that was just so clear--that was before they done any black-topping or anything and that ground under there was just white clay, just almost white. The wind would blow and throw some dust in there, but it would settle down, and it dug in that white ground, and it just absolutely wouldn't get muddy. Just what fell is all the water it attracted. Twelve foot deep and about forty feet long and about a third that wide. I've seen people drink it. We went up there and hauled the water down, or sometimes us kids went up there with a couple of three gallon buckets. We would carry them down and mother would wash down here. Once in a great while she would take a notion to wash some quilts, why, she would make us help her carry the old wash kettle up there to the pond, and she would build up a fire up there, and she would dry all them quilts out all right° She would start in the early morning and by night they would be dry. Otherwise we brought water down here most of the time. We carried it, though.
This old house has been a good one but we had trouble three different times with it catching on fire. Charlie had built us a fire, and Lon was off back down there in the holler working and building fence. Jule, he got it put out. He clumb up on the porch and got a-hold of a wire so he could get hisself up on top of the house. And he had Marthie to hand him up a bucket of water. He poured that on there and put the fire out that was on the outside. He come back down and by that time, why, he discovered there was some fire had fell down that was upstairs on the inside. He had to get some water and go upstairs and put out the fire on the inside. And when he come back down, why then the fire was going back on top of the outside again, and the wire he clumb up on broke down, and he didn't have no way in God's world of getting on there from the outside. He had a little pole there upstairs with a little short handle, so he went up there and chopped a hole through the top of the house from the inside. He went up through that hole and tore off boards and throwed them out down on the ground. And that got the fire scattered around on the ground there quite a bit in the grass. Marthie went out there and poured water on that and put it out. Jule tore all the hide and meat off one of his fingers and burnt his hand pulling them old boards off and throwing them off. The girls got the fire down to where he could come down then and get him another bucket of water and carry it upstairs and pour it on the fire. And finally he got it all put out.
One time the flue, the old stove pipe, burnt out. And that one got a-fire right around the stove pipe, in the old sheeting. We had to throw water on that and put it out.
Yes, this old house has been a good one. It has lots of memories. All us kids was born here and lived here in the same old house. We still use the same old oil lamp, too.
We don't do much anymore. I always used to make a garden but we got to where we can't eat any of the stuff. So I just grow a little corn is all I do and eat a few roasting ears. I can swallow them. Chop them off of the old cob and swallow them. Just have a lot of good butter and pepper to put on them--put a lot of pepper on them and eat them while it's still hot enough to melt that butter.
Before continuing on with their own individual experiences, the brothers paused. Lon refilled his pipe, Norman went outside to check the temperature while Jule moved from his corner closer to the fire. The pause was long enough to notice the increasing chill. Lon jumped up and went to the stove.
Talking about fire, I got to see how my fire is getting along here. I don't want it to go out. It's hard to start.
I WAS A LITTLE FELLER BUT I WAS A MAN FOR MY SIZE"
I seen two pair of oxens work in my time." Lon said as the aroma of Lon's pipe filled the room and a look of remembrance filled his eyes. "They come through here about a half a mile just this side of where 50 Highway is now. They was heading toward St. Louis. I was up there and talked to them awhile about the old oxens. The driver, the bull-whacker was what they called him, he said,
'You can't start them.' I said, 'Yes, I can, if you'll give me that whip. I know how to start them.' He handed me the whip and I give it a crack. 'Hey, Buck, Bride, get in there,' And they started! He stopped them and said, 'Where did you learn that?' I said, "Just from hearing my father talk and my grandfather talk. My father was a driver. He was what they call a bullwhacker. Why, I can handle them!"
Alonzo Wright, the fourth son of John and Mary Wright was born in 1903. He leaned back in his chair and told his story with a fond enthusiasm..
I went to school over about three miles from here. I walked a-foot. I didn't go to school very much though. Sometimes there was snow about three foot deep. One time right out on top of this hill, why, there was a snow drift thirty foot deep, in 1917. They put off the school. I was just a little feller yet, wasn't near grown, and they called pert'neer all the men out to the army, you know, World War I. They detailed us little kids to cut that snow drift out. It took us little kids a day and a half to cut that snow drift out with scoop shovels. Me and one other little feller just about my age, why we had snow shovels but the other three fellers why they just had grain scoops. They were a little bigger and stouter, but we was all just boys.
When the snow first started, there was a pretty good snow drift there. Me and my sister had to go down across that old field and circle around to get to school. Several kids had to go around. We got over there to the school house and built up a fire 'cause we were the janitors. The next day, why was Friday, the teacher said well, they told her not to come back to teach school next Monday, but wait till the snow goes off. We didn't care. I got a bunch of money for shoveling snow. I shoveled snow about a week.
I seen the Missouri River up over Chamois one time. Me and one of my old pals went horseback down there. It was the snow water coming from way back up there in the mountains. Dry as if was when we got down there we knew the river was coming out, and we thought we would get down there and see the river when it was up. We never had seen the river when it was out of its banks down there.
We tied our horses up, went in at a little old place there and thought we would get us a little lunch. Somebody come through the door and says, "Who is the feller whose ponies are tied up back down there by the grain elevator?" So I says, "My pony's tied there, and that's Roy's pony, the tallest one." They said, "You better get to them 'cause the water's coming right around them, and you better get to them unless you're a good swimmer."
So we went down and the water got up to those ponies by the time we got there. We just jerked the halter ring loose of each one of them and made a dive for the saddle. We got our feet wet all right. Yes, I seen that water when it come around that ole grain elevator. We stayed there till it got up there pretty high and we courted out to home.
In the pond where mother used to wash, we had catfish in there, fourteen pounders. Mien I was a little kid, we had an old work mule named Jack. I was big enough to plow corn with him, and he would kind of get excited once in awhile. If anything bobbed up in his face, he would jerk loose from a feller if he wasn't careful, but he wouldn't run off. I had been plowing corn with him over there about a half a mile from the house. I'd come in at noon and then go water him down there at that pond and then put him in the barn and feed him. One day I walked up there, wasn't paying much attention, and just had one rein. I led him on up to the pond there, and about the time he put his nose down, why, a big ole catfish came out of that shallow water there and like to scared him to death. He jerked loose from me and I just stood there and looked at that fish.
I come home and got ready to eat dinner and so I told Dad, "There sure was a fine fish up there in the pond." "Naw," he said, "You never seen no fish." I said, "I did." I said, "There's a big ole fish up there jumped up and like to of scared Jack to death." "Well," he said, "There couldn't be no fish in there. I did put fish in there several years ago, but I never did see a fish. Nobody ever fished there." So I said, "That was a fish." He said, "It was just an old mud turtle that slid off of there." "No," I said, "I'm pretty sure that was a fish, looked to me like a fish."
Anyway, the next Sunday I took a fish line and went up there to catch me a fish. About the time my brother Rudolph got up there with a line, why I caught a fish. I was trying to get it out, and it was pulling me closer to the water all the time. He came over and got an old pole and helped me get him out. I brought the fish on back to the house and throwed him in a tub of water and let him soak out. Then I weighed him on these hand scales I had, and he weighed fourteen pounds. Dad came in and he said my brother bought the fish somewhere. He knowed Rudolph didn't catch the fish nowhere cause he wouldn't fish, that's one thing he wouldn't do. And Dad said, "Where did you buy that fish at?" Rudolph told him that I caught the fish up there at the pond. "Well," Dad said, "How in the world did that boy ever get that fish out." Rudolph said, "I had to help him." Then Dad said, "I was intending to go fishing in the river when I got that plowing done, but if I've got fish like that in that pond, why we'll just fish up there."
He dug him a lot of these old red worms and he got him an old cane pole and he went up there and he fished till noon on Monday. Well, he didn't get no fish at all--didn't get a bite. I went on up there and I said, "Are you catching any fish, Dad?" He said, "I ain't a-getting a bite. That was the only fish in here." I said, "There's a bunch a small ones 'cause I seen them stick their whiskers out when I was fishing for that big fish. This evening we'll get us some grasshoppers and we'll catch us some fish."
We come in and eat dinner and went back. I fished right along beside the bank with them grasshoppers, and I was catching them little cats. "Well," Dad said, "I guess I can't fish. I ain't got a bite." So he throwed his line in next to mine and he caught 'bout as many fish as I did. But we didn't get any more big fish till the pond got down low, then we went to catch them big fish out of there with what you called a throw line--put a weight on the end of it and throw it out so the wind won't blow it to the top and put four or five hooks on that and you call it a throw line. We used grasshoppers for bait and got some big ones.
I never did trap any animals and didn't do very much hunting. Oh, I used to do a little night hunting for possums and skunks. I didn't have anything but a shepherd dog. 'Course there wasn't no hounds here and hardly a coon around here at that time. They killed the coons all out. I never seen a coon till I was almost a grown man.
The first coon I ever seen was one me and Julius treed, in an old stub. We cut the old stub down and there was a coon in it, and he ran out. Dad stepped up there about that time--he'd came over where we was at. He says, "Head him off, don't let him get under that big rock there. Take after him!" We had a little pup at the house and his father was a great coon dog, and Dad said, "We'll have a coon fight. Go and get that pup!" So I said, "He'll get away." "No," he says, "he won't get away from us. We'll have a good coon fight. We'll see what the pup does, either make him or break him one." I said, "He won't do nothing. He can't handle that big coon." Dad said, "I won't let that coon hurt the pup."
So I went and got him and he started barking at the old coon. Dad say, "Well, get up there and knock the coon out." It was pretty cold, and I got me a club with a little hook on it and hung it on the back of my coat so I could go on up the tree. I went up there going to knock him out and Dad said, "Wait a minute, don't knock him out yet." My uncle had two other pups so Jule said, "Let's go up there and get his pups and we'll have a coon fight just a sight." So I got his pups and we had those three pups bunched up there, but they couldn't do very much with the coon. Every time my pup would get a-hold of the coon why the others would run in and grab at the old coon, and he would grab at them, and it just split the others' ears all up, but he never did get a-hold of that dog of mine. I don't know why. Finally my pup got a-hold of the coon's throat and turned him over, and he soon put him to hollering. Never got a scratch on him, and it's a wonder he didn't get tore all to pieces. He was the same age as one of the other pups. They got scratched up pretty bad. They never made nothing, either. Mine never did make a coon dog, but he did make one fox dog.
I never did have to go to the war. I was too young for World War I and too old for World War II. I just farmed all my life and now I've got 126 acres here.
Thirty years ago I'd pick up two bushels of shelled corn, that's sixty pounds to the bushel, and twenty-five pounds of salt in a sack--just set it on my shoulders and walk right on down the road here. That is right at a half a mile. Never even took it off my shoulder and it never bothered me a bit. I was a little feller but I was a man for my size.
When Dad was a boy, they used to plow with oxen around here. They had two oxen and Dad said sometimes when he went to get them they would be about three or four miles away. But they had oxen bells around their necks so he could find them. He'd get on one of them and put the lead rope through the ring in the other one's nose, and he'd lead one and ride the other one for about three or four miles.
When they plowed with oxen they just had one chain running in between them and that chain was fastened to what they call the yoke with a ring in the middle of it and that went across both of their necks and that chain come back to the plow. They didn't have no single tree or double tree or anything like that. They made them mind by the whip. There was a homemade square long enough to reach over both of them old oxens' necks, and it had a notch cut in it and went right over the top of their necks. Then they had what they called the bow. They put the bow up through some holes and stuck big wooden pins in there. That is what they pull with. That is all the harness they had on. They said it wasn't a slow way to plow. You could break three acres a day and that is about as good as anybody's team ever did around here.
I raised thirteen head of mules in my time, some of them to work and rode everything but one bareback. I never put a saddle on one of them mules. It wasn't old enough to ride when I got rid of it. But I've been over everyone of the rest of them's backs. One of them you couldn't lead at all. I led it around with just a bailer twine and I let her run around here a while and never did break her to work. A neighbor was going to break her to work. He put a halter on her and got a bridle on her, and she broke both bridle reins and the halter rein--got away from them before they ever got her out of the corral. When she come out of the stable, she come out as far as she could jump and just snapped those reins. The neighbor said, "I'll get something that will hold her." He went and got a lariat. I said, "I'm afraid it won't hold her." He got him some new reins through his bridle and new reins for his halter and put that new lariat rope around her neck. I had put her back in the barn and took all that stuff off her that night when she come in for her feed. And gosh dang, if she didn't clean house again--jumped the fence. And I said, "Well, if that was the way she was going to pan out to be, why, I just wouldn't try to break her or try to ride her." I sold her to a fellow out here at Linn.
I had a pair of western ponies and I raised mules out of them all the time. Mules come down to nothing but if I had them now I could get close to five hundred dollars apiece for them. They was small, but they was heavy built. 'Course the little mares they weren't but fourteen hands. I had one mule a little over sixteen hands.
Dad had a little old mule here. He would jump a fence if he took a notion to. We turned him out in the pasture and sometimes the water would play out in the pasture. There was a pond up here at the road. When he took a notion he wanted a drink of water, he'd just clear the fence, go on up there and get him a drink of water and come on back and get back in the pasture. Never bothered a thing. He'd go right through a cornfield and never stop and take a bite of corn or anything. He just wanted a drink. He'd just go up there to the pond. He knowed where it was at, grab him a drink and come on back just like a man would have done. He was the best mule to plow corn with. Never put a muzzle on him. You turned him loose in the corn field and he'd eat his three ears of corn and that is all the corn he'd eat. Just three ears. Long about noon, he'd get him three more ears and eat it. At night he'd get three more and eat it. That's all he'd eat at a mess. There was no danger of him getting foundered at eating corn. Fill his whole feed box plumb full of ears of corn and he'd eat three ears. The rest of it would be there till the next meal.
It's just all according to where I'm working to what I'd rather have, horses or mules. Out on the farm I'd rather have mules anytime, but if I had to put them on the road to haul, I'd rather have horses.
My favorite ponies are western ponies. Western ponies are tough and it don't cost too much to feed them. They're little and they do about as much work as a big team would. One time I cut hay and put it up for my uncle with them little western ponies. When I drove up to his barn with a load--I had a pretty good little bank to come up--he was out there. "Well," he says, "I've had some awful good mules in my time, but that's the biggest load of hay I ever seen come out of that bottom." And he said, "Those big mares that I had, I never put that much on that wagon. I didn't think they could pull it, but that's the pullingest little team I ever seen in my life." He was an old horse trader in his time. He had owned all kinds of horses and he said that was the biggest load he ever seen come out of that bottom. Them little fourteen hand ponies pulled it.
Now these western ponies I bought were about all one solid color. Back when the toll bridge was in use, the idea was if you had stocking-legged ponies, you could cross any of the toll bridges. A lot of people would color the horses' legs so they could get across free. I've seen it done many times. You do it with a potato. Bake a potato and use it while it's hot to make the spot. It'll scald and make the hide turn as white as it can be and they stay that way. 'Course, it'll kind of burn the animals, but it won't leave no blister or nothing unless you get it just too hot. I never done it myself, but I seen the old horse traders do it. They used to come here and get potatoes from Dad and bake it in a cookstove there with the jacket on them and just cut it open and put it on there and make your mark.
There was an old feller that lived up here on the hill. He was an old horse trader. I've seen him cut all kinds of things that-a-way. He could trade for almost any kind of horse if they could get together, and they pert'neer always could get together all right. I've seen him trade for an old blind horse one time, one of them old moon-eyed horses. He would get unsalted butter and he would heat that and pour it in their eyes, and it would clear their eyes up to where you couldn't tell they was blind. Their eyes would stay clear for a couple days. He would ride off and come back with a different horse. He would trade them off.
I've done a little blacksmithing. I've sharpened a few plows and picks mattocks or grubbing hoes, as some people calls them, and I used to shoe my ponies. I bought my shoes from Sears and Roebuck. They used to handle shoes. Them ponies I had wore number one shoes, little bitty tricks.
Now I ain't got nothing but one little bay pony. She's getting up there in years and I really got her broke. I've worked her, but I don't work her hardly anymore. It's been so bad this winter--too cold and everything to even put the harness on her. She is just as gentle as she can be, only she don't know nothing about work. When I get to feeling pretty good and it warms up, I'll harness her up and hook her to a log and let her drag the log around over the corral. She can't get away from me.
I always make a little garden. Coons got my little patch of corn this year. There wasn't but three grains to the stalk. If they hadn't got it, it would of burnt up. It was too dry first of the summer, just a hill now and then come up, and the moles got them, and we planted it again, and they got some more. I got me some turpentine and put on my corn, and they left that alone. Just a few drops enough to make it smell, and they'll leave it alone. I don't know that it does the corn any good, but it keeps the moles from getting it.
Corn oil is for peanuts. The moles will leave out if you put a few drops on your peanuts when you plant them. It won't hurt them growing if you don't put too much, just enough so it smells is all. Just drop your peanuts in the hulls and cover them up. Keep the ground over them, and that's about all you have to do for peanuts, till they get to blooming. When they get to blooming, cut the vine off. I used to grow some peanuts. I raised one of these old cracker cans about full. I didn't do no work hardly at all. The main work was getting them out of the ground.
I always grow tobacco if I can get the plants. My favorite is sweet orinoka but I can't find it anymore. You have to burn the ground and get them ashes in there and kill the weeds. Let it get cold enough so it won't cook the tobacco seed. I aim to sow some this week.
I told a neighbor lady last fall it will be about as mild a winter as you've ever seen. She said, "Well, I don't know why you figure that." I said, "Well, its easy to see we ain't going to get no snow that amounts to anything." She said, "Well, why?" I said, "Because the weeds didn't get but about that high, and the snow won't cover the tops of them weeds, as they got to leave them seeds out there for the birds. What little corn I've seen has grown pretty close to the ground. Stalks didn't get very big. They've got to leave that corn there for the deers and squirrels to get. There won't be enough snow on the ground but what an old squirrel can dig a walnut out from under the snow five or six inches deep. Another thing," I said, "we've got walnuts laying there in the yard and the squirrels are not working on them. We won't have no early snow, I know, or they would be carrying them off hiding them. We've got acorns down here and the peckerwoods is not picking them and putting them away this year. It ain't going to be a hard winter. They'll get them off the ground just pert'neer any time."
Lon paused, glanced around the room at his brothers, at the pictures on the walls and at the dozens of items in the kitchen which reminded him of his family before he continued.
My sister, Marthie that passed away, she was with me pert'neer all her life. There was five or six years her and her husband lived on thirty acres that she inherited out of the farm, but he got killed working in the clay pits.
We paid off the mortgage to buy the house and land in 1938. Also we paid off four years of back taxes and the funeral home for putting my dad away and a tombstone for him. I didn't have to do that, but I had the money and so I done it.
I got everything paid up then. Now I'm a pauper--living on old age. That's all I've got. The land is so rocky you can't hardly plow it. It'll make a little hay, but you can't hardly raise a crop off of it, but it's a home. That's all I look at it, just a home. It will last me as long as I live and that won't be too many years, I don't think.
I STAYED AND HELPED THE OLD MAN ON THE FARM 'TILL I WAS TWENTY-TWO"
As far as work, I've done everything pert'neer. I was supposed to be a farmer, but I done every kind of work that come along," said eighty-nine year old Norman Wright, the oldest of the Wright brothers.
Dressed in overalls unbuttoned at the sides and tucked into his work boots, and protected from the cold by an old coat, cotton work gloves and a cap from which his long white hair covered his neck in the back as his beard did in front, Norman greeted us at the woodpile on our second visit. He was splitting wood as we approached. Handling his mouthful of chewing tobacco skillfully, he began.
I cut a lot of timber in these parts with a two-man hand saw. It would take me about a day to cut my timber and saw it up. Then I would go back after dinner and stack up a cord of wood for fifty cents a cord. It sells for about thirty or forty dollars now, a guy was telling me. They was hauling, in places where they didn't have no wood, for seventy-five dollars a cord, and I started cutting it for fifty cents a cord!
I remember once when I was about twenty years old. Dad had me over there cutting wood on the first day of the year and it was so cold. He had me on top of some old limbs that had been cut down. I was on top trimming them. I just froze my feet and my hands and ears. The old man said he didn't think it was that cold, but he was working right close to the ground cutting sprouts. I didn't do him no good being out there, but he thought we should be out there the first day of the year working. I dropped my ax down and reached down to pick it up and I couldn't get back up. He had a little fire--about like a wash pan. I went over there to try and warm my feet, and it just made it worse. He asked me why I wasn't working, and I couldn't hardly talk anymore. Finally he said, "Well, go to the house." I told him I didn't know if I could make it or not, but I started. When I got here I just let my ax fall. I had little low top shoes and they were all full of holes. I made it to the house, but I couldn't open the door. I couldn't even talk anymore. Finally some of them heard me, and they opened the door and asked me what was the matter. Of course that made it that much worse. I couldn't talk. I was inside the house where the wind wouldn't blow, but I wouldn't get close to the stove.
I went to school but I was kept out of school so much to work that, well, I got through the eighth grade.
I walked to church every Sunday. It was three miles up there. The old man wouldn't let us go much. He used to be a Sunday School teacher, though. I was going to be a preacher one time. I went through Sunday School, then adult stage, then I went through personal evangelism and then I quit. I could have got my papers and been preaching after evangelism.
I stayed and helped the old man on the farm till I was twenty-two years old.
I had a bunch of hogs I sold before I left here. I got five cents a pound for them. I was, I think, twenty years old. There was some hog buyers coming around here. They generally come around and bought hogs, and they were offering me three cents a pound. I saw a feller who used to live around here, and he said, "I'll give you five cents a pound, if you'll drive them up there." That ain't nothing now. So we drove them up there around the road and across the creek. It had ice on it and I couldn't get them across the creek. Directly, the old sow in the bunch spied a rabbit in the bushes on the other side. Directly, she run across there and the others followed. That was a couple years before I left.
I never done much traveling. I was out to Peoria, Kansas, once. I got on a train and went through Kansas City and I saw the Sears and Roebuck building but I didn't get out to look at it. I went out to Peoria, Kansas, and there wasn't no work there. I started out to harvest, but the wind had blown all the wheat out of the ground--wouldn't be no wheat to harvest until way down there by Arkansas. So we come back home. They paid the way back. Had about ten open cattle cars full of men coming back home.
As far as work, I done about every-thing--farming, blacksmithing, basket making and furniture repair. I was a carpenter for awhile. I done everything pert'neer. I was supposed to be a farmer, but I done every kind of work that come along, mechanic or anything. I made many a knife blade for people, butcher knives. I'd take an old saw and make a butcher knife out of it. You could cut anything with it.
But I was mostly a farmer, and I never did use a tractor very much. I worked for a neighbor and drove his tractor some, but I got out of it every chance I could. We always used a team. Come out back and I'll show you some horse-drawn machinery we used.
That is a wheat drill. You sow wheat with it. You fill it up with wheat. The tongue's broke off on it now, but it took two horses. The wheat come out these little things. That had a rubber hose run down here and hooked, and wheat come out the end. Eight rows. It used to have a little box up there called the grass seed box. We just put grass seed in there, and it fell out and you could sow grass, too.
That's the old horse-drawn mower. Two horses pull it. Hook it up just like you would to a wagon. You set up there in that seat and the weight just gives it enough balance to hold that tongue up there to the horse's neck. You push this foot lever here to raise that bar off the ground when you're mowing.
After you mow it, you hook up to that rake up there and rake the hay so far. Then dump it. You have a windrow all the way across the field. I've shaped many a shock out in the field that way with a pitch fork. After you put it up in shocks you haul it in in an old wagon.
Over there is an A-frame to one of the wagons. We hauled the hay in that wagon way up as high as my head, stood up on top and loaded it up there and drove it up to the barn, or sometimes we'd stack it outside. We stacked a lot of it outside.
That is called a Ruth's hook, like back in the old Bible times. That's the kind Ruth used. That's getting back there a pretty good piece. How would you like to walk into a wheat field about a hundred acres of wheat and cut it with that? Pert'neer all the old men, when I was a little boy around this part of the country, had scars on their finger from cutting with a Ruth hook.
This old machinery has had lots of use. My Dad used it all, you know. Yeah, I got a lot of memories of this old farm.
I FARMED, YOU MIGHT CALL IT, ALL MY LIFE
Julius Wright, said by his brothers to be the musician of the family, is the quiet one. He didn't say a lot, but seemed interested at all times, and he was always willing to give a helping hand in the conversations.
Eighty-five years ago when I was just a baby, it was so awful to try and get a-hold of any money, people was going over the land and stealing timber and making ties and selling them to the railroads for whatever they could get. I know. I seen them hauling them right past that door with an old team of oxen. I don't remember anything about it because I was just a baby, but my dad helped make a load of stolen ties to get something to eat, but he didn't know they was stealing them. He said he didn't make any more after he found it out. He made one load. He found out they was stealing them and he wouldn't make anymore.
Back then eggs was three cents a dozen, but I remember when eggs wasn't worth anything at all. You couldn't sell them at all. We had lots of chickens.
When I was six weeks old we moved to Steel-ville in Crawford County. Then we moved back here to this house when I was one and a half. When I got older I walked back up there to the old farm where we lived. Made twc trips a-foot from here up to six miles to the west of Steelville. Took a day and a half to walk it. The way they went all the time, they called it sixty-five miles.
Me and Norman also walked plum down in Dent County, forty miles on the railroad. We had to walk on the railroad to get to the railroad bridge across the river. It's the only way of getting across the country. You go winding around these farms and over the hills and across mountains and everything else to get to the railroad bridge, unless you took the railroad. We walked from Steelville down to Dent County and back on the railroad, forty miles down there.
One train run through there then. Went down one day and came back the next and that was the end of the railroad. That's as far as the railroad went. I've rode a train, but we walked. We wanted to see the country. Walked way up them cuts in the railroad where it cuts through them hills.
I farmed, you might call it, all my life. I worked out a little while in a shoe factory and on the highways a little, but my main job was on the farm.
I made this doll special for my great-grand-niece. That's carved out of mountain ash. I sold the rest of them that I had here. I don't know just how many I did sell. I sold several of them up there about Columbia. And one to a lady from the state of Ohio. That was the first one I sold. I didn't intend to sell it when I made it. I just run on to a piece of wood that looked so natural, I just finished it up. Just set it in there and put some rags on it. I couldn't build clothes anymore. About forty-five or fifty years ago, why I could have sewed with most any lady. I had that one dressed up sitting in the house, and a lady come down from Ohio and seen that one sitting in there. "Oh," she said, "How much for the statue?" I says, "I didn't make that to sell." "Well," she said,
"I want to buy it. What will you take for it? .... Oh," I says, "Five dollars." She said, "Sold." And I didn't even intend to sell it! I just thought I'd ask her five dollars for it, and she would say that was too much and wouldn't take it. She fooled me. And I sold several of them after that.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.
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