Sketches of Boyhood
in the Post-Reconstruction South
Henry Carl Hickman
Edited by: Gerald J. Hickman
INTRODUCTION by Gerald J. Hickman
Henry Carl Hickman (August 15, 1887 - October 9, 1982) was my uncle. Born and raised in Bradley County, Arkansas, he was a farmboy who went to college, became a schoolteacher, and, after moving to Boulder, Colorado, was a highly successful businessman. Married to Mary Laurena Oliver (1894-1984) in 1916, he was the father of Mary Kathleen Hickman McKenna (1917), James Oliver Hickman (1920), and Lou Alice Hickman Hutchinson (1926). My family called him Carl, although numerous Colorado papers refer to him as H.C.
When he was born, the Civil War had been over for more than 22 years. Throughout most of that time, the land into which he was delivered had suffered incredible hardships. His forefathers had been among the first settlers of Bradley County, where they had developed farms and operated both overland and waterborne freight lines. Like many other of his American ancestors, who date from the earliest days of the Virginia Colony, my uncle's Arkansas forerunners were slave owners. With the end of the Civil War, the economic structure they had known simply vanished.
With the end of slavery, farming large tracts of land became impossible. Prior to the conflict, the boy's grandfather William J. Hickman and great-grandfather John L. Hickman had possessed substantial wealth. Converted to Confederate dollars during the war, their cash reserves became worthless when the South lost. The grandfather had returned from combat to find himself, like his neighbors, reduced to subsistence agriculture. Large acreages were sold to pay high Reconstruction taxes and raise minimum cash, which was then invested in crops and other means of simply staying alive.
And survival was not easy. As Henry Carl Hickman's sketches reveal, it was a time when children often died young, yet the offspring of his grandfather and great-grandfather Hickman, born before the Civil War, had all lived full lives. During Reconstruction, there were no government programs to help the defeated Southerners, and there is reason to believe the United States Govermnent wanted the South to remain destitute -- certainly unable to again go to war. As my uncle wrote, it was a time when everyone had to "root hog, or die". But within the boy's family, a strong, even indomitable spirit prevailed -- a determination to keep on going. Brutally hard work, poverty, and disease were the lot not only of his family, but those of all his neighbors. Yet the sketches written here clearly reveal that nothing could suppress those who survived. Lacking other amusements, boys created their own.
In his brilliantly recalled accounts of boyish endeavors, pranks, and amusements, Henry Carl Hickman vividly brings to life not only his own experiences, but also the life of a defeated but unconquered people. Without doubt, much of his success in life stemmed from the experiences of his post-reconstruction childhood.
Editor's Note: My uncle's handwritten narrative needed little editing, mostly clarifying some difficult-to-read words. The editor, in the hope that readers would like to know a bit more about people and places mentioned, added all endnotes.
webmaster's note: Henry Carl Hickman's writings have been broken up into paragraphs to make online reading easier.