A kind of tree called the tan oak grew in large numbers around Bucksnort. Bark from this
tree was used to tan leather. The bark was put into huge vats with green hides that were
to be tanned, and completely covered with water. The hides remained in the vat until they
were fully changed to leather.
All kinds of leather goods were made out of this leather including harnesses of all
kinds, bridles, and saddlebags. Mail was delivered to Bucksnort in saddlebags made from
this leather. All kinds of shoes, from heavy work shoes to lighter ones to wear to church,
were also made from it.
Grandpa would make a single shoe for one of his boys and have him try it on. If it
didn't fit he wouldn't make the other. But nearly always the first one seemed to fit.
Boots, buggy whips, shoe laces, and goodness only knows how many other things were made
out of this home-tanned leather. Storekeepers bought whole tanned hides and sold them to
customers by the pound. Dry leather doesn't weigh very much, but wet leather is heavy.
I heard this tale. A storekeeper bought a fine buggy. A customer said, "You must
be doing pretty good to be able to buy yourself such a fine buggy." The storekeeper
answered, "Ah, who'd a thought it; wet leather woulda bought it?"
After the bark was taken off the tan oak, the tree was sawed into logs and hauled miles
away to the nearest saw mill. Grandpa and all the other settlers cleared their ground by
first chopping down the timber. The big logs were hauled to the mill; the smaller ones
were used in building houses, stables, and outbuildings.
Timber that could be split was made into fence rails to build what were called
"worm fences." These fences were excellent to mount a horse from. From the top
of the fence one could hop onto the horse's back. I know, because I did it times without
Some timber was cut into poles, and pole fences were made with them. Poles had many
uses for porch supports, fence posts, hog pens, and chicken houses. They made the best
pens for cotton, as the air could circulate between the poles and dry out the cotton
before it rotted.
I had no part in this, but I knew the scamps who got into a cotton pen, made a
wonderful fireplace, chimney and all, with cotton, and then made a fire in it. The owner,
a Mr. Campbell, saw the smoke coming out of the pen and ran toward it as hard as he could.
The scamps saw him coming and scampered away before he got there. He managed to smother
the fire before it could spread and destroy the pen.
Uncle Armp Pamplin had two big black mules. No fence he built was high enough to deter
them from jumping over it. One day he made collars for them and fastened a ten-foot pole
to each collar, under their throats. The poles stuck out in front of them and prevented
them from getting close enough to the fence to jump it. They stayed put then, as did all
humans who didn't want their heads knocked off by the poles when the mules took a notion
to swing them around.
There was timber that was good for nothing but firewood, and this was cut into the
proper length. Brushwood was piled around stumps and burned. Then the newly cleared ground
was ready to be plowed.
What fun! Two big horses were hitched to a turn plow. Whenever the plow point would hit
a rock or a root the obstruction had to be removed. Sometimes it bounced up and hit
whoever was holding the plow handles. Roots were piled around stumps and burned.
Sometimes roots and stumps were burned at night. During the day, men and boys selected
suitable places where the stumps were not too close together and the ground was not too
rough. The limbs and roots were dragged there by horses.
Seats were made by nailing planks from one low stump to another. Rocks were hauled away
and the ground was made as smooth as possible where the dancing was to take place, and
games were to be played.
All day, the women made biscuits, pone corn bread, cakes and pies, fried chicken and
other meats, and boiled eggs. They made coffee over the coals. People came from miles
around in two-horse wagons. Young and old joined in the fun. They danced square dances
like the Virginia Reel while someone played a fiddle. Children played their own games.
Big tablecloths were laid on the ground and the food was taken out of the baskets and
spread out on them. Everyone helped himself.
After the children had eaten all they could hold, and were tired from playing, they
were tucked away in the straw in the bottom of the wagon beds, where they soon fell
asleep. The men formed in groups to talk about farming and swap a few yarns. The ladies
gathered up their dishes and what food was left and talked among themselves.
The young girls with beaux did a little courting under the watchful eyes of their
parents. About eleven thirty, when the fires had died down and the light had nearly gone,
the men hitched the horses to the wagons and everyone said good night to everyone else and
Grandpa divided his new ground into fields and built rail fences around each one. Corn
fields were turned over with a turn plow, then a smaller plow made the rows. It was then
ready to be planted. A tow sack was made double by turning the top half over the bottom
half. Two small rocks were put in the fold just close enough together to fit across the
stomach. Strings long enough to tie around the waist were tied to the rocks. This made a
fine bag to fill with seed corn. Whoever used it walked along the rows and dropped three
or four grains of corn about three and a half feet apart. This was called "dropping
corn." The grains were then covered over by a bull-tongue plow and the planting was
finished. When the corn was eight or ten inches high, it was thinned to two stalks to a
In the fall, before the corn was gathered and the blades were just right for fodder,
Grandpa, after supper, would round up his sons and as many others as he could, and go to
the cornfield to strip fodder in the bright moonlight. The reason fodder was stripped at
night was because the dew on the blades made them pliant and less likely to break in
When they had gathered enough to make a fair-sized bundle, they wrapped a few blades
around it, then twisted the ends together and tucked them under so the bundle wouldn't
come apart. When all the corn had been stripped, the bundles were hauled in a two-horse
wagon to the barn and stored away for the cattle to eat during the winter.
One incident that relates to fodder gathering I have heard pa and many others tell time
and again. It was just before the Civil War. Pa and a number of others were pulling fodder
when the stars began falling like hail. Both Negroes and whites fell on their knees and
prayed. Some asked, "Is the world coming to an end?" Others said, "Does it
Shortly after that, the whole South was engaged in a deadly war.
A field intended for wheat was broken up, that is, it was turned over with a turn plow,
raked, harrowed, and the rocks, roots, and other rubbish was taken out. Then it was rolled
by a roller made from a big log to each end of which a horse was hitched.
Then Grandpa would take a sack fixed like the one for planting corn, fill it with
wheat, and walk back and forth across the field, broadcast handfuls of wheat that he took
from the bag over the plowed ground until the entire field was sown. Then he harrowed the
earth and rolled it again and left it through the winter. Wheat was sown in the fall.
When the wheat came up, in the spring, and was about five or six inches high, Grandpa
turned his cows into the field to graze it down. This resulted in more stalks at the
roots. Horses bite so close to the ground that the roots are killed, but cows lap their
tongues around the stems leaving the roots unharmed. After the cows were taken off the
wheat, no more was done to it until it was ready to cut, usually in July or August.
Grandpa used something he called a cradle to cut wheat with. It had a long, sharp blade
fastened to a curved handle with two short grips on the handle in order to hold it. The
one near the top was for the left hand, the other, lower down, was for the right. Fastened
to the back of the blade were thick, wooden prongs that curved upward, resembling a
cradle, hence its name.
Beginning at one corner of the field, Grandpa would swing the cradle through the ripe
golden wheat, cutting big half circles of grain that fell onto the curved prongs. He
scooped this up with his hand and dropped it on the ground. When the entire field was cut,
he gathered the swaths and tied them in bundles or sheaves, like the fodder was tied.
He stood on end a few sheaves, ear end up, to make a shock. These were covered by
spreading over them two sheaves like a fan, then bending them over the shock. They kept
the shock dry if it should rain, which it often did, before the wheat was thrashed.
Threshers were few and far away. Wheat had to be hauled to them in big two-horse wagons.
The threshed wheat and straw was then reloaded in the wagon and hauled home. Pay for
threshing was taken out in wheat and straw. The straw was stacked in a pile where stock
used it for food and shelter. Often they ate holes large enough to hide themselves within
These straw piles made excellent places for children to hide in when playing
Hoop n Holler, now called Hide n Seek.
Pa bought a thresher, and during the wheat harvest he went from one wheat field to
another, threshing wheat and rye. After threshing rye, the thresher had to be thoroughly
cleaned before threshing wheat with it again.
He hired Negroes to feed the thresher and stack the straw, two to feed the thresher,
and four to stack the straw. One crew of three could work only two hours at a time, then a
two-hour rest was taken while the other crew of three worked.
The man whose wheat was being threshed always fed the hands and all others who were
attracted to the wheat threshing. It came only once a year and a gala occasion was made
out of it. Pa always sent information ahead on how many white men and how many Negroes he
had. He wanted his Negroes fed along with the white men, and with the same kind of food
and a plenty of it.
At one place, they didn't do this. When one o'clock came, the Negroes had had no
dinner. Ferd, Pa's engineer, started to fire up the engine.
Pa said: Hold on. My best men have had no dinner.
Two o'clock came, and still no dinner. Not a wheel was turning. Three o'clock came.
Still no dinner, and no threshing. Everyone was sitting around in the shade.
At last a man came along. He was as mad as a bull. He bellowed: What on earth is
the matter? Here it's three o'clock and not a grain of wheat threshed.
Pa said: My Negroes have had nothing to eat, and not a wheel will turn till they
The man roared: They are just niggers and all the white folks had to eat
Pa said to Ferd: Throw the belts and get ready to move to the next field.
The man said: Don't do that! I'll see that they are fed.
Pa went with him to the house and saw that chickens were fried, coffee and biscuits
made, vegetables cooked, and plenty of other food was served. Then they started threshing,
but it was five o'clock in the afternoon.
That fall, when Pa came back from threshing, Ferd drove the engine past the schoolhouse
door at Beach Grove. Many of the children had never seen an engine moving before, so the
teacher turned school out early so they could stand along the road and see it pass.
Oda and I ran to the engine and climbed up on the platform where Ferd was standing,
driving it. That gave the others courage, and they came too.
Ferd made Oda and I get down, and let as many of the others as could crowd around him,
and on the water box on one side and the coal and wood box on the other, ride with him.
They all rode as far as their homes in great style, and bragged about it for days
To be continued . . .