Volume VI, No. 2, Winter 1978
by Warren Cook as told to Kathy Long and Tracy Waterman
When we managed to squeeze in visiting time among Warren Cook's conservationist activities, including his New Testament acre of walnut trees, we discovered a man with childhood memories of a time when his forebearers relied on the land and its trees for food and fuel--a man with an anxious concern for future generations, and an admirable outlook on life.
His late wife, Daisy, was featured earlier in the fourth issue of BITTERSWEET (Summer, 1974), sharing with staff members memories of her childhood farm life, as expressed through her paintings. We are equally happy now to know Warren's philosophies and share his interest and involvement in early farming history and techniques.
Following, Warren tells some tales and events of past generations as well as some of his own lifetime. Directly succeeding this article, on page 53, he tells us of his early experiences in farming and ways the early settlers cleared the land.
Warren Cook's lightheartedness, healthy sense of humor, and sincere concern for both today's
people and future generations, help to make him a truly enjoyable Person.
Now, did I tell you when I was born? Oh, you'll find out anyhow. I was born in 1904. So last September, the seventeenth, a seventy-fourth birthday was in order. We celebrated it by going out to my farm, which I call Motley Manor, and picked up rocks, and picked off the ticks, chiggers and things of that sort. As one of my teachers used to say, I discovered America in 1904 and got to see all the changes that have come about.
Well, now, I don't know whether you girls have ever been around where they're buying and selling cattle or not, but a motley cow is not a registered or a pure bred cow. In fact, the business is, she is of uncertain heritage and doubtful production. In other words, she's not a very good cow, so that's why I call my farm Motley Manor. It didn't inherit some of the things that you'd like to see in a farm.
I work many times with the Conservation Commission's foresty people, preaching this sermon about multiple land use--dual land use, growing walnut trees for future harvest and grass for immediate use like I'm trying to do on my farm. That's something I believe in, and I would say that is one of my principal activities. I also belong to the Civil War Round Table, a historical club. I don't contribute anything to it. i go to absorb.
My great-grandfather and grandmother had several experiences in the war that have come down to me. People generations before me--I called them string savers--saved everything in the world. The attic of my great-grandmother's old house was just chuck full of old trunks and boxes that held all sorts of letters--letters written in the early eighteen hundreds, old magazine clippings and even some of the love letters of my grandfather and grandmother exchanged before they were married. The ones I remember particularly were when he was conscripted into the Confederate Army. He became ill and was in a sick hospital in southern Arkansas. My grandmother got worried about it, so she and a cousin rode horseback from Neosho, Missouri, to Montecello, Arkansas, to see about Grandpa-to-be. They were on the road and she'd write letters back, as she came home telling about some of the problems they'd had.
One such Civil War story was the country was full of Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers, which were the renegade bands that ran all through this country. Grandmother was riding a heavy horse that could work as a farm animal. Well, she traded horses before she got back without benefit of bargaining. The Bushwhackers came along, saw she had a good horse, took it and went on.
Many people had fled much of the territory between here and Montecello because of Bushwhackers, Jayhawkers and other problems of war. So when Grandmother went to visit Grandfather, they couldn't always find a place to stay all night with someone, but the people of the neighboring territories were nice to them. Nobody ever heard of a tourist court, and there wasn't even marked roads. So people usually fixed them up a lunch. Grandmother and her cousin tried to find a place to sleep one night and all they could find was an old vacant, tumbled-down cabin. They got in there and found rats, so they got to worrying about what to do with the gingerbread--all the food they had. Women then wore high-topped, laced shoes. Grandmother's cousin had the biggest foot, so she wrapped this gingerbread up in some paper, stuffed it into her shoe, laced it up tight and tied it to a rafter so the rats couldn't eat their gingerbread.
That's just some of the Civil War stories about my family. But those old letters from the attic tell other stories, too. There's one about a Dutchman that lived down there west of Stella. He was a moonshiner and was taking liquor down into Indian Territory to trade with the Indians. Evidently, if he didn't trade it all off, he would drink up the surplus on the way back. One day he got back in the neighborhood after such a trip and spread the word that the Indians were on the warpath and coming this way. The old Dutchman just scared everybody to death. Apparently, the people congregated at my great-grandfather's house, trying to decide what to do. The Dutchman had said that the Indians had already burned the neighbor's buildings down on Little Indian Creek. There wasn't any visible smoke, but somebody was sure they could see the smoke coming from over there. Finally they saw a man just coming along easy up the road on horseback. It turned out that it was the neighbor, and he came over to give them the word that the old Dutchman was drunk. Some men had caught up with him and sent him back home.
Many of the men wanted to find the old Dutchman and give him a whipping. "Well," the neighbor said, "That won't do any good. Those two old women that live over on the north end are the maddest ones. When I got around and told them the Dutchman was lying to them, they was mad because I found them when they thought they were hidden. You know, they're pretty chunky and kind of big women. They'd run out into the middle of the oat field and laid down, but they stuck up above the oats. If they get the Dutchman, they'll whip him, so you won't have to do it."
After it was all over and the men finally went home, this old Dutchman was still sitting out there against the tree in the yard and was practically exhausted. He motioned to great-grandmother and said, "Lady, you got any whiskey in the house? I'm all tired out from running and I need a little stimulant. I got so hot I think I melted my leaf lard."
My great-grandfather homesteaded the place where I grew up. He came there in 1835 when he and his brother-in-law rode horseback from Kentucky. They built two white oak log cabins, went back to Kentucky and in 1836 brought their families back to start clearing up the land for farming. Then my grandmother was reared on the place, and, of course, my mother was born there.
I remember my great-grandfather's old house. The one room we called the big room was made of logs that were square and had no ax marks on them. They had been sawed in a pit sawmill. It made a much smoother and more durable wall. He built his house out of the white oak logs that were readily available.
As soon as they got settled and got some farming started, every settler's dream was to go down in the Arkansas territory or part of McDonald County on the state line. There was a large growth of trees called Arkansas yellow pine. Now I'm not an expert on the species of pine trees, but it was a high grade of pine. And the settlers back this way would go down there and cut some pine logs to build onto their first cabin, because they were of a much better quality. They would then take them where they had a pit sawmill and saw them up. The people in Arkansas didn't like it, and there were a few shots fired. They got pretty serious, so some of the people down there notified the U. S. marshall because it was United States territory at that time in Arkansas.
The marshall came down and the people involved had to hide out. My great-grandmother fed them for a while because her family was going to get some of the logs, too. Everybody in Newton and McDonald counties was branded as timber thieves. A Baptist minister from Pineville had to go to St. Louis to get supplies for his store. When he went through Jefferson City, the marshall got after him because they got the word he was from that area. So he ran and jumped on a freight train and got away from him, but that didn't help any.
Because the men were getting tired of living in the woods and hiding out from the marshall, their friends hired a lawyer to try to get it straightened out. Instead, the marshall just arrested the lawyer and put him in jail. Finally they got it adjusted and settled. I don't know if there was any monetary settlement or not, but anyway there was never any lives lost over it. They called it the Pine Log War. There was still hard feelings between the so-called timber thieves and the Arkansans when the Civil War broke out, so they lined up on opposite side. I don't know if I blame them.
I come from a long line of farmers. It's hard work. I guess that's the reason everybody had big families back then. Parents could work the boys and the girls, too. Before my dad built a new house and drilled a well, we carried water from the spring and kept the milk there. If a thunder shower came in the middle of the night, somebody had to get up and go to the spring and take the milk out. Otherwise, you had chocolate milk the next morning because of the muddy water.
There was sometimes excitement when we opened the old milk crate. It was just a slatted crate about six or eight feet long with a lid on top of it that discouraged the dogs and hogs that might get into the milk. We got shook when we started to reach down to get the bucket of milk, and there was a big old water moccasin lying down in there.
Mother kept the crocks of cream in there, too, although we never thought about selling cream. It was all churned into butter that we sold. There was no market for cream, in the earlier days, but by the time I came along, they were buying cream. We saved it for a week, set the cream can usually in the front of the buggy and took it to town on the weekend. The merchant always tested it then and paid for the amount of butterfat that was in it. If there was enough money left after the groceries were bought, we might buy a little sack of striped candy.
We had to walk a mile and a half to a one-room school and we had cows to milk and horses to feed, besides shucking corn for the hogs. So we didn't lie in bed and there wasn't any school bus that rolled by the door.
I was the oldest in a family of seven, and that was back in the twenties when the Depression had already set in on the farmers. I had twenty-three dollars the day I enrolled in college, but I had managed to get the tuition paid through a scholarship. If I hadn't earned that, I couldn't have gone. I was in and out of school. I'd drop out and teach. The fact of the business is, I never did qualify for a degree, even though I had 150 some hours. I would get a job teaching, and in order to meet the qualifications, I'd take a class that I didn't particularly want I did part of my work at the University of Missouri, but I never did get enough to qualify for a degree. I think I lacked a foreign language and one or two other, but I didn't worry about it.
I was teaching, and I was interested in agriculture--I minored in agriculture because I grew up on the farm. I taught everything from kindergarten to high school and I was coach and athletic director in nearly all instances. I never coached football because I was never in schools where they had football teams. I taught seven years, two in one-room rural schools and one was a two-room rural school. I haven't taught since 1936 when I went to work for the government.
Today, education has a different definition than it did back then. I notice in my own grandchildren that they have trouble making decisions of what educational course they're going to pursue, or what their future employment is. All we thought about was to get out of the eighth grade. You needed to get a basic education, and I'm old-fashioned enough to think that the three R's need to be revived.
If youngsters are of such a frame of mind that they want to further their education by going to college, they should. Now I'm a pretty strong believer in these technical schools. I don't think everybody should start out thinking they're going to get a degree in a certain field just to have a degree. I think if pure academic work is not compatible with your way of thinking in life, you should turn your attention to a technical school, because I think everybody should learn to work one way or another.
Working is the only way to get things done which is the reason I'm talking to young people. The old codger is not going to change very much, and you young people will have to roll with the punches as our forebearers did, especially when they were settling the land. One problem you youngsters have to face is pollution. We shouldn't be too critical of our forebearers, saying that they came in, sliced the timber off and let the land deterior\-ate. We've also depleted much of our timber which clarified the air--changing the elements in it into oxygen or other usable gases. Land deterioration was probably one of the first known factors causing pollution.
When I was a boy, the creek that ran through our farm was so clear that you could see the bottom of it. Many times I'd go to the lower side of the gravel bar, because I'd heard that if the water ran through gravel, it would purify it. Now I don't guess it was smart, but I'd drink that water. I wouldn't no more drink it now than anything. Although nature does have purifying abilities and the streams will clean themselves, there is a limit to such purifying.
I think the pollution in our environment is a crime, and I don't know what the answer to it is. But my philosophy is that we should have more trees. I'm sure people associate me with Johnny Appleseed. He went up and down the Ohio River planting apple trees. However, I don't wear a tin hat as he did, and I don't let my beard grow and so on, but I do plant trees.
My tree farm covers 160 acres. My goal is to develop this 160 acres into a complete dual tree farm so that I'm producing timber. I'm producing nuts. I'm producing grass. Still, I'm letting quite a bit of it go just as nature wishes. In fact, I have about two acres fenced off on a south slope that I call the New Testament Acres. I thin-cleared part of it so I could grow some grass in the front part. The rest is scattered trees. Then I'm transplanting native trees among them. I'm going to try to get somebody that knows more about the character of the twelve discipes than I do, and I'm going to name a tree after each one. Poor old Judas Iscariot! I've put the redbud tree there for him. That's one legend of the blood and tears. I've planted two dogwood trees. The dogwood is supposed to be the tree that the cross was built out of, and when you look at the flower, you can see the cross.
Trees are one of the best purifiers of the air we have. They take the carbon monoxide out of the air, but too much of it will kill the trees, as you notice along the freeways. A lot of land that isn't already polluted is becoming overpopulated or used for industrial uses.
I think we're almost to the point now where we're going to have to depend on each other for our food source and it's not too bright a picture. I think we've reached the point where we are interdependent on the rest of the world for certain things, so we've got to change our thinking on the way our government functions. We could build a wall around the United States, but we couldn't live in the manner we live now. We depend on foreign countries, right now, for a lot of our food stuff.
I can't help think that there's more of an attitude, I'll take what I can get, and the devil can take the hindmost. I think that's been brought about by the fact that so much of our philosophy of living is based on whether you have plenty of money. We hear the term rip-off, and I have to agree. All you've got to do is read the newspapers and magazines, and you know what I mean by rip-off--try to get something for nothing or maybe that you're not entitled to. We find that in our government and its agencies. I also think that the attitude of getting all you can while the getting's good has grown quite a bit. That's how some people analyze it, I think. I'd have to say that I feel there's room for improvement in our general viewpoint.
We didn't have the pressure of population when I was a boy that we have today, either. Each community had its own problems and they solved them. Now inflation is world-wide and everybody is bothered with the problem of not having enough energy at a reasonable cost.
On top of that, this country has always had the outlook that we had to feed the world, and there's more and more people standing around wanting a biscuit to eat. We are shipping food out, and the population of the world has increased to four or five billion. I'm really serious about this book by a man named Brown who used this French riddle as his opening paragraph. He said, "You've got a lily pond here just so big, and you've got one lily in it. That lily will double itself with every day and in thirty days, that little pond will be full. Upon which day was it half full? You got it! It's the twenty-ninth. His theory is that the world, not just the United States is the lily pond. The lily pond is just at the twenty-ninth day. Using the rule of thumb, the population doubles every generation. After one more generation, the pond's going to be full. I'm just as serious as I can be about approaching the twenty-ninth day. We're feeding one-third of the world right now, besides ourselves, and that will have to stop.
There are more people than there are resources to provide a standard of living that we would all like to enjoy. In such a standard of living, everything is so specialized today. There is the old joke about the guy that went to the doctor, having some trouble with his nose, and it turned out to be in the left nostril. The doctor said, "Well, I just treat the right nostril. Find somebody that can handle the other side. I don't know anything about it."
My dad was a country school teacher and he taught arithmetic where they analyzed. Analyzing the problem was the very first thing that we did before we ever tried to solve it, and he insisted upon that. That is one trait that I am glad I learned from him, and I have tried to guide my family in that direction, also. Too many times, I think, we don't stop to analyze our problems. We try this and that, and maybe it works and maybe it doesn't.
I think over-indulgent parents can create problems for their children later in life by making things too easy for them. In the long run, you've got to pay one way or another for any advantage that you get. Somewhere you'll have to sacrifice something else because of that privilege that you have, unless there is plenty of money. I think everything should be within reason, and just because children's parents happen to be able to provide these things for them, it could become a detriment if they don't learn how to handle their money. You learn to appreciate the value of money when you have to work for it. Now with twenty-five grandchildren, I can't understand why they'll have more money for an outing that I had in a month when I was growing up.
I think luxuries are fine if they're useful, especially around children growing up at home. I don't believe in children being forced to stay at home, but there should be something there to attract them. I think the opportunity that the Lebanon school through this magazine is providing you is quite beneficial. You don't know how fortunate you are to participate. One of the biggest handicaps of anybody, I think, is an inability to converse and relate to people and to understand their moods and reactions.
I love to contact young people. Of course, you always have to do something to keep your own ego up. But I think that I have managed to pretty well stay within speaking distance of the young generation. I think part of getting along is being able to accept people, their wishes and their practices for what they are. They may not agree with yours, but you'll be a lot happier and you'll stay younger if you accept them.
I think probably the first thing you'd look for in a friend is honesty in their responses to you, and to their fellow man, and I think loyalty is very essential. You have to find somebody that will tolerate you, because every one of us has some irritating habits or opinions, and you've got to take your friend for what he is, overlooking some of those.
I definitely believe that we're under the control of a superior being. I think it's foolish for us to try to reason out or justify him. Well, I could put it on a more personal basis. Naturally I couldn't understand in the beginning why my wife was taken. She had an artistic talent that I thought was contributing a lot to the joy and the appreciation of things in our world. Then I got to thinking about it. I recalled she would say, "I don't want to live till I'm an invalid. I don't want to be dependent on somebody to do everything for me," and that's what she wanted. I was selfish enough to want her here to comfort me, which kind of puts me in a bad place. I reached that conclusion. I shouldn't be complaining, because she did suffer a lot and she was handicapped, so it's hard to rationalize.
Daisy was an artist and painted her memories of farm life, but she didn't bring up the seamy side of farm life in her work. In her later years she remembered the happier things. I try to, too.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.