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Memories Of Growing Up On The Ouachita River

By Annie Laura (McDonald) White

I was born March the 11th 1934 on a place called the Old Peter Reider Place on the Ouachita River above Harrisonburg, La. next to the Old Robertson Place which my Mother’s Parents John and Molly Robertson homestead in 1911. Years before they had left Missouri and Arkansas traveling by houseboat down the Mississippi River. They stopped at Natchez, Mississippi where my grandfather worked at a sawmill for a time but mostly they lived on the river fishing and selling fish along their route. Later they traveled on down the Mississippi to Simmesport to the Atchafalaya River stopping along the way at Morganza, Melville, Krotz Spring, Plaquemine and Morgan City.

My Grandfather was called Preacher man and Doctor. He was not a licensed Doctor or Preacher, but he had a collection of Medical Books and was well learned in the old ways of doctoring minor diseases with herbs and ways common to the people who lived along the rivers and bayous. He taught my Grandmother Molly to midwife and together they brought many babies into the world. My Grandfather was a good Methodist who knew enough about the Bible and God to tell people how to be saved. He loved to travel up and down the rivers and bayous helping people and telling them about God.

My Mother Annie Robertson was born February 3rd 1898 in Melville the oldest of 7 children 5 born before they left the lower country. Grandfather had heard there was land that could be homestead above Harrisonburg, and since the children were getting older he wanted to go were they could go to school. Most of their friends were French people and they didn’t hear much English.

Leaving the Atchafalaya river country they traveled to and up the Ouachita River by houseboat. I do not know how long they were on the route traveling but the following story is handed down in my family on how they choose the place that they stop and later homesteaded. It was late in the evening and they were about 5 or 6 miles up the Ouachita River from Harrisonburg when to the right of them was a high white limestone rock hill. When the children caught sight of the glittering rays of the setting sun from the cliff they began to beg their father to stop saying, “There might be diamonds in them rock.”

Since Grandfather was ready to stop for the night he landed the houseboat on the edge of Mr. Peter Reider’s home place. Mr. Reider came out to greet them and told Grandfather Robertson the land joining his where the rock hill was could be homesteaded. It was a 98-acre tract of land with rolling hills and a small flat area with creeks on each side of the land. Little Creek as it was known run beside the rock hill and on the other side of the front of the ½ mile long river front of the land was another creek known as Big Creek.

I’m sure the hills must to have reminded Grandfather of the Ozark Mountains which they had left, and with the river and the creeks on each side, surely the fishing and trapping would be ideal for his lifestyle. With Mr. Reider encouraging him to stay, saying that he could use his help getting his fall crop out that year. Grandfather went to Harrisonburg and registered his claim and it became know as the Old Robertson Place. I have many memories of growing up in sight of that high rock sandstone cliff we called “The Rock Hill” was a landmark on the Ouachita River.

On the other side beginning at Big Creek the land was joined by the Anthony Culbert McDonald homestead where my Father grew up. Both my Grandfather Anthony Culbert McDonald and his wife Minerva (Waldron) were born in La. My Father was born January 20th 1878 and was about 4 years old when his family moved to this home place on the river. My Grandfather later sold it to his son-in-law, Albert Hawthorne Ivey and it became known in later years as the Old Ivy Place.

Many years later after I became interested in family genealogy, I found a member of my Father’s brother family who my family had lost contact with.
My Grandfather's brother was David S. McDonald who was a young Doctor in Catahoula Parish in the 1870th. Both He and his wife Julia McDonald had died early, Julia in July 1874, David the 6th of June 1875 leaving 3 small children Eliza T., Mary Emma, and William Arthur. When I found David’s succession and probate record recorded in Catahoula Parish, I began a search to find members of this family, whom my family had lost contact with.

I found Mary Emma’s daughter a Mrs. McMurry living in Winnsboro La. She was 80 years at the time and had her Mother’s (Mary Emma) Bible. As I visited with her she told me that she knew that David McDonald was her Grandfather and remembered stories handed down about him and his death. Then she told me that she remembered visiting the McDonalds when she was a little girl describing where they lived in a very unique way that took me a while to figure out. She kept telling me “The McDonalds lived at White Rock”. It took me a while to figure out her child hood memory was from looking down the bend of the river from my Grandfather Anthony McDonald home to that glittering White Sandstone Rock Hill.

It was in 1911 that my grandfather homesteaded the old home place and begin building a home. My Mother was 13 years old and started going to school at a place across the river, which she and other children walked about 3 or 4 miles to a school called the Dry Lake Schoolhouse. Even though this was her first school to attend she already knew how to read and write. My Mother spoke often with much love about a Mrs. Miller who they had known when they lived down on the Atchafalaya River, who had taught her to read and write and to crochet.

My Grandfather died in September 1926. He had long wanted to revisit the Atchafalaya country. He had prepared his houseboat and in early spring or summer of that year the family once again set out to travel the river camping and fishing along the way to visit family and friends they had left behind.

My Mother was already married and had a family and did not make the trip, but her younger sister my Aunt Augustine Kennon remembers the trip well.She remembered they visited family and friends and held church services and many people they had known came to see them and to hear him speak. Shortly after they returned my Grandfather suffered a fall that led to his death. My Grandmother continued to live on the old home place farming and raising her family.

I lived on the Reider Place until I was eight years old. I have many memories of living there. It was a place where the riverbank was high with a steep drop down the hill to the river. I remember my father had to dig steps in the riverbank for us to go up and down the hill. I remember watching steamboats going up and down the river with their big wheel turning the water behind. I remember one year watching my Father and Brother roll big sacks of cotton that they had packed in large grass Crocker sacks down the hill as some one would catch them and load them on a big river barge.

The children who lived along the river rode a Schoolboat to School. The boat was a long narrow boat with a pointed bow in front, built in bench seats and windows running down each side of the boat. About ¾ of the way to the back of the boat was a build-in engine. The Schoolboat Driver sat in front on a stool guiding and steering the boat, while one of the high school boys would set at the engine controlling the speed.
At each landing another high school boy would stand on the bow of the boat with a big long paddle. He would help the younger children on and off the boat, then push the boat back with his long paddle. The Schoolboat pick up all the children on both sides of the river that went to Harrisonburg from somewhere below Enterprise to Bayou Louie on the left and to very close to Harrisonburg on the right side of the river. The boat would land at the old Harrisonburg Ferry Landing down the hill from Mrs. Radford store at the end of Main Street, and very close to the Harrisonburg Bridge. After leaving the boat you walked up the hill down the street about 3 or 4 blocks, around a corner and down the street to the Schoolhouse.

I vividly remember my first day of school. I remember standing with my Father who I always called Papa waiting for the boat to come. My older brothers and sisters had ridden the Schoolboat, but they were all grown and had left home. My only sister left at home was 3 ½ years younger then myself and it would be another 4 years before she would ride the boat with me. I remember Papa standing on that river bank with me, kissing me goodbye and telling me to just follow the other children when I got off the boat and I would be at school. I remember doing just that, until I got to the schoolhouse, and standing in the hall of the high school part of the building, crying, until a high school girl stopped, asking me why I was crying, and then carried me down to the other part of the building, to the first grade class.

I have many memories of riding the Schoolboat, some of them good some of them not so good. When the water level would be low the Schoolboat would have to land above the lock and dam about ½ mile from the bridge and other landing. My older brother Robert remembers he started riding the Schoolboat in 1931. He remembers lots of times if the water level was low, the boat would land on the Harrisonburg side of the river above the locks where you had to walk a narrow plank over a deep banked narrow bayou slew.

In my memory I only have a memory of walking that plank one time and it was a scary experience. I do not know if the boat only landed on that side of the river that one time, before changing to the other side of the river and I don’t remember the other times. But I do remembering many times when the boat landed on the other side and walking along a river trail that came up at the end of the bridge, where we would have to walk across the River Bridge on the highway until we got to the Schoolhouse. I especially remember that river trail, because there was some “mean boys” that loved to pick on us young girls. The riverbanks were famous for a little a prickly plant called cockleburs that had a little prickly seedpod that the boys gather up by the handful rubbing them in our hair as they run by.

My sister Rosie Lee started to school when I was in the fourth grade, she does not remember walking the river trail, because by then we had a school bus to bus us back and forth from the lock and dam area to the schoolhouse. But we both have many memories of older boys on the boat that delighted in forming a hand-to-hand chain from the spark plug of the boat engine, where the person at the end of the chain, always got shocked. I’m afraid they loved to pick on me pulling my long hair plaited in pigtails or touching me last to see me cry. Rosie Lee my younger sister would fight them like a tiger cub, I cried. Most of the times the Schoolboat Driver would stop them. I only had two drivers during the time that I rode the boat. I believe a Mr. Hackney for my 1st and 2nd year, then Mr. Emmett Haygood. I lived on the Reider Field until January 1943 when my parents moved up to my grandmother Robertson Place where I continued to ride the Schoolboat until the end of my 7th grade in 1947 when we moved from the river.

I also have lot of good memories of those early days and long boat rides.Most of the times the boat would be able to travel all the way to the end of the main street to the old ferry landing down the hill from Mrs. Radford store.

From the time I started to school, Papa would send notes to the Radford store for grocery idems and etc, and I would pack them down the hill to the boat to bring home. Times were hard for my parents back then and the row boat being my fathers only way to town he did not get to town very often. As a young child I can remember carrying many gal bucket of syrup, two at a time down the hill and putting them on the boat. I think Papa thought it would be easier for me carry two at a time, instead of one to balance the load he would say. Anyway I can well remember how those two syrup bucket bails felt in my hands. Also Papa loved his syrup. I remember all my life Papa would always finish off his meals with a little dab of syrup.

Papa also taught me to stop by the Post Office every evening after school, and pick up the mail. I remember my Father as a kind and loving man who did his best to be honest to all who knew him. I remember one time when picking up post cards the Postmaster gave me a penny postcard to many and my father had me to take the extra card back and give it to the Postmaster.

I will always remember his reaction to a (typed) Post Card I brought home one evening (stamped) dated:

Canton Ill- March 20th 4: p.m. 1942
It was addressed:

Ace or any of the McDonald Family
(Or any of the Jones Family of Stafford Ldg)
Harrisonburg, La.

The other side of the post card read:

Dear friend, I am anxious to get in touch with some one of the Anthony McDonald family that lived at the river bend: or some of the Jones family that lived near the Stafford Point Landing, Or the Ivey family. If you that read this knew any of them or their children still living, please give me their address. The McDonalds were, Steve, Marshall, Acy, Ernestine (Tina Gunn), Preacher Ivey, his son Willy, or some of their children. They may all be dead: that is why I write this on an open card-that you who read it may let me know. W.T.Carley
553 N. 10th Ave, Canton Ill.

Papa answered his card and He received the following letter back dated;
Good Friday 1942

Dear friend Asa:
My very good friend Asa: If my card was a surprise to you to you, what do you reckon your letter was to me? A thrill; A joy beyond words,
It was March the 24th, 1889; at 2.15 pm that I boarded the old Corona and left you all there on the banks of the river at brother Steve’s over 53 years ago. You maybe did not think so then, but it tore my heart: for I loved you all ever since and I STILL DO. I am that kind of man.
As you might expect I have followed the MASTER all these years. As best I could. Not good: No our best is not good: But love is immortal and never dies nor can die.
That all the loved ones have gone on before is as I expected; but though they are gone they are not forgotten, as you can see.
“Voices of loved ones, songs of the past still linger round me while life shall last;” I learned that son from Tena.
I reasoned that if any still remain it would be Asa. Boy the youth you knew 53 years ago is now an old man (76) and is going over life’s memories to prepare as best I can to go hence. I hope it will not be long.
I knew about Tena family; all but she herself. Letters past between us at long intervals.
Your account of your family, and others is good to read. No use to tell you to remember me to any of them for none could – unless it was Steve girl, if she still lives, the one who fell in the fire was so badly burned) Maybe Willie Ivey.
My wife lived with me 49 years, until last year when she died and left me all along. I am all along as I write this. I of course married and have 5 children; 4 boys, 1 girl and 13 grandchildren and 7 great grand, all still living. They all have homes and families. My boys and grandsons and G-son in law, all work for The International Harvester Company except one is in the U.S. arsenal at Rock Island; one in Chicago, and two in college. One works for church as a secretary and one preached his first sermon lately. Two of my Grandsons are receiving officers training. One is a corporal and one a lutenent. My boys are all registered and four of my grandsons but none has been called up yet.
Well Asa I imagine you are the spiting image of your father; and I cannot see you living any place but at the old home on the bend, Do I guess right?
If you would write again please let me know about the Jones. Of course I know Laura died long ago, but what about Ella; what can you tell me about her?
You expressed the hope that we might meet again soon. I expect Asa, if we do it must Be: Where The Wicked cease to trouble and the weary are at rest.”
If I was financially and physically able, it would surely be; on the banks of Ouachita, but I am not able, I never made much money and could saved but very little; and now I have Hyper Trophy heart trouble and must keep close and rather quiet.
But let us have such fellowship as we can by mail while we can. Beloved friends going fast and it is and will be getting more and more lonely here for each of us: So, brother dear I call good cheer to you across space and will thank of you as one loved one that still remains.
Now the tears are blinding me so I cannot see, So I must bid you ado for this time. Yours with undying love.
W.T. Carley Trum
553 North 10th Canton Ill.

Many more letters past between them of which I have copy of most of his, which were all typed, very lengthy and interesting.

Until once again Papa received another post card stamped dated:
Feb. 1943 written by hand it read;

Canton Ill-2-2-1943
Dear friend Asa:
This is to say good Bye I am quite ill and like the Ground Hog, I see my shadow and must retire. Until I hear that voice. So if you hear no more from me meet me there Trum

I have always treasured the memories I have of this bundle of old letters tied with a ribbon and found in my Fathers old trunk. Truly Love never dies and I feel you can feel the love that they had for each other.

Annie Laura (McDonald) White
Daughter of Asa and Annie (Robertson) McDonald

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