We left Decatur County, Georgia in the fall before I was ten years old in March. I was born in 1864. There were six or seven ox-wagons covered over to keep out the rain. Some were two-wheeled carts, instead of wagons. The men rode horses, the women and babies rode in the wagons and we children walked. We had our furniture on the wagons, our bedding, dishes, clothes, and cooking vessels.
We were six weeks on the road and got to Manatee County sometime in December. Manatee County was much larger then than it is now. There was a church house close to Fort Meade and Jesse Durrance and Offie Hill gave us permission to shelter in it until we could find homes. By that time several of our company had already stopped somewhere else so there were not as many of us as had started out. We were glad to get to stay in a house again.
When we left Decatur County, our company consisted of my mother, the Widow Stewart and her family, only Evaline and John were married. Brother Joan and his wife Joan came along and had two yoke of oxen. Sister Evaline had married Doc Rich, and they came with his mother and his Aunt Nancy Phillips. Uncle Charlie Bryant came with his family. Ben was the oldest boy. Uncle John Swain had his family. He had three girls; Mattie and Sallie walked with us, but Americus was a baby and got to ride. There was a man along named Josh Proctor who didn't have any family.
The night we stopped in Jefferson County, Florida, at the Aucilla River, Sister Evaline's baby was born. They took an ox-cart off the wheels and set it on the ground for her. She didn't have any doctor, but her mother-in-law was a midwife. A family lived near and when the woman heard that a baby had been born that night in the camp, she came the next day to see it. To everybody's surprise, she and Evaline were old friends. They had known each other in Georgia when Evaline was working out, and that is why the rest of us did not know her. She had married and come to Florida and they had lost track of each other. She wanted to name the baby and she called him Jefferson Oscilla for the county and the river. We waited five days and then started on again. Mother was worried because they say if a baby crosses a stream of running water before it is nine days old it will die. Little Jeff did not live to be grown, but he was twelve years old when he died.
About the middle of the day, we would stop along the road and cook dinner. We made a fire on the ground and cooked in long handled iron vessels with short legs and iron lids. We called them spiders. We never stopped long enough to build a cook scaffold. We cooked supper and breakfast at the place where we camped for the night. We always picked a place where there was plenty of water for ourselves and the oxen too. If they got thirsty and smelled water, they would break and run for it. On day an ox-team of Brother John's ran away with nobody but Aunt Nancy Phillips in the cart. It finally pulled loose and dropped down in the road and the oxen ran on. Aunt Nancy's arm was broken but not a dish or another thing.
Two weeks before we got to our journey's end, my mother's money ran out. She didn't get the money for the things we left in Georgia, nor my father's pension, nor she never did get it. When people on the road found out there was a widow along without anything to go on, most of them were good to give her things. Sometimes it was a half bushel of sweet potatoes, or a big bundle of dried meat; sometimes grits or corn meal, and we managed to make it through.
We children walked all the way, but we didn't mind it. Sometimes we were ahead of the oxen because they went so slow. Mattie and I were usually partners and Lizzie and Sallie. We would break off the tops of little pine saplings and call them our dolls. She would hold on to one side and I would hold on to the other and walk them down the road. Sometimes we would get switches and whip them to make them walk faster. Uncle Charlie was a great hand to tease and would trip us and make us fall down in the sandiest places. All the men liked to play jokes on us.
I had a little half-sister that was never able to wait on herself. I helped Mother take care of her, but I was so mad when she first came that I stayed out in the chimney corner and would not come in to see her. She lived to be thirteen, but never could walk. The day before she died I told my mother I felt like something bad was going to happen to the family and let's go to Sister Lizzie's. She was married at that time. Mother said that she was not able to walk that far. It was three miles. I told her I would walk slow and stop for her to rest. I carried Little Jo and a pallet and a quilt for Mother to lie down on, besides our clothes. No, I don't know how I did it either, but I was always a good hand at carrying things, and I managed to tote them all the way. Every little while Mother would have to stop and rest, and I would make her a pallet to lie down on. We finally got to Lizzie's, and Little Jo died that night, but Mother was too sick to know about it. We stopped at Lizzie's till Ma was able to walk again.
I never saw a banana until we came to Florida and had never been in a town but once. That was Bainbridge. It was a pretty good sized town about twenty miles away.
It was hard to make a living in Georgia then. My father died in the war just before it was over, and we never got a pension. I began to hire out when I was eight years old and worked out the first pair of shoes I ever had. We never got paid in money for our work. Mother would walk two or three miles and work hard all day, and only get some beef cracklins, or a piece of tallow, or maybe a dried hogshead. We lived mostly on corn bread. Some days we didn't sit down at all. We didn't have anything but cold corn bread, and Ma kept it in the table drawer. Whenever any of us got hungry enough to eat it we would go get us a piece. Sometimes we would have a little milk. We didn't have syrup, because we couldn't get a start of seed for the cane. If we got flour, we saved it to cook when we had blackberries. Our mule died, and we had to farm with hoes until Brother John's mother-in-law gave him a yearling steer. Then we would plow for us after he did his own plowing.
We never had candy for Christmas and didn't even know that people were even supposed to give Christmas presents. A neighbor, Old Man Clark and Aunt Jennie, used to give us a quarter beef once in a while. We dug up dirt in the smoke house, where Father used to hang his meat and smoked it in water to get the salt. Folks might think this is a lie, but we did it. Ma loved coffee and needed it for her headaches. Once in a while somebody she worked for would give her half a cup of green coffee. You know we used to roast it and grind it for ourselves. She tried all kinds of things for substitutes - parched corn, beans and peas, bran out of meal and even sweet potatoes dried out in the oven.
We made our own clothes. We got hold of some cotton seed, and John opened the furrows for us with the yearling. We dropped the seed by hand and covered it with hoes. We did everything ourselves. After we raised the cotton, we picked it, got the seeds out, carded and spun it, then wove it into cloth, and cut the cloths, and sewed them with our fingers. We made our thread to sew with too. Everyone of us could card, spin, and weave. I could do it today if I had card, spinning wheel and loom. Ma would sit up at night and weave after working hard all day. Then she would make a dress or suit for the one that was the nearest naked.
I never had a bought dress until I was thirteen. I worked out a calico dress. It was dark red, almost brown. I had the dress worked out before I thought about not having any thread. Then I had to go to work and make my thread. Ma had some balls of cotton carded, and I spun them and doubled and twisted to make it strong. Then I washed it to shrink it and finished my dress. It had a full skirt and a bias ruffle around the waist. Somebody had given me a piece of ribbon. I tied it around my waist for a sash and wore my new dress to church next Sunday.
That fall I was thirteen. I hired out to make syrup and got paid a gallon of syrup a day. It sold for twenty-five cents a gallon then. I had to get up before daylight and work all day and until nine o'clock at night. I did everything there was to do about making syrup. I cut cane, cleaned the mill, drove the mule, cooked the syrup, washed the strainer rags and everything.
Lizzie and I supported Ma. I used to walk four miles and wash for seventy-five cents a day, then walk two miles further to the grocery store and take it up in groceries. Then I had to walk six miles back home and carry them. Generally it was dark before I got there, and I was scared to go through the woods at the bridge. Sometimes I would see poor old Ma creeping along to meet me, and I sure was glad to see her.
Once after I got married, we were fixing to move and live in a tent. Henry had gone on ahead and left me to wait till he got things ready.
I got rattlesnakes on my mind and went and got Emma Stewart to stay with me. Our tent was close to a pond, and when I made our bed down that night I stuffed all my dirty clothes between the bed and the tent so the snakes wouldn't get in. I was so scared in the night I was afraid to reach out after the baby for fear of touching a snake. They didn't bother us that night but the next morning here came a big rattlesnake crawling out between us and the tent. I got the gun; it was an old Marlin and shot three times, but every time I overshot the snake. The sight was too high for me. Then Emma and I got a heavy tent pole and carried it close enough to him that when we set one end on the ground and gave it a push, it fell over on the snake and pinned him down. Emma stood on the other end of the pole to hold him tighter while I got the light wood ax and killed him.
Our guns were all muzzle loaders, both the rifles and the muskets. To load, you first poured in your powder, then rammed in a wad of paper with the ramrod. Then you wrapped the bullet in a piece of cloth called the patching so it would fit into the barrel, then you rammed in another wad of paper. It got so you could buy wads at the store. They were circles of thick felt that fit the gun barrel exactly, then you put the priming powder in the hold under the trigger, fixed the cap in place and pulled the trigger. When the hammer hit the cap, it exploded and touched off the priming powder and that fired the gun. They used to make their own bullets. The men would buy bars of lead, melt it in a long handled iron spoon called a ladle and run it into bullet molds.
Uncle Jim Corbett once got a joke on himself. He was going to shoot a squirrel and loaded his gun in such a hurry he forgot to take the ramrod out. When the gun went off, it drove the ramrod clear through the squirrel.
April 12, 2001& links = October 17, 2001& midi = "Bound for the Promised Land," arranged by Taylor's Traditional Tunes.