Transcribed by Pat Stubbs
May 27, 1954 - Reprinted September 30, 1976
* CALíS COLUMN *
†††† Recently while we were in Carthage prowling through the old Smith County records, we came across the account of the sale of the personal property of Nathaniel Brittain, who died about the year 1805 or early in 1806.† He was a resident of Goose Creek, as we mentioned in last week's paper.† He lived either at the present Jim Tom Cunningham place or up the creek a half mile further at the present George Burnley place.† We are still undecided as to which farm was owned by Nathaniel Brittain.
†††† The record of the sale of the personal property of the late Mr. Brittain was as follows:
†††† "Widow Brittain, different articles, one trunk and looking glass $13.00."† We suppose that this woman was the widow of Nathaniel Brittain.
†††† "William Smith, one plow, $2.60."† We have no idea as to who William Smith was, but would suppose that he was most probably an early ancestor of Houston and Oscar Smith, citizens at this time of Lafayette.† We suppose the plow he bought for $2.60 was the "bull-tongue" variety.† We have plowed with such a plow many times.† In stumpy, rooty ground there never was a worse plow.† Then it was also a poor plow in hard ground, having a disposition to "run around every hard place" in the field.† This was long before the day of the modern turning plow, with its steel beam and mould board that will "scour" or shed off the dirt in almost any kind of soil.† The first turning plow with which we became "acquainted" was an old Bissell, with a wooden beam or pulling piece.† This was the old hillside plow of 50 years ago.† It would scour only in land that was clayey, and would hardly ever "shed" any trash or corn stalks that caught under the plow.† One had to stop the team and use his foot to remove such trash and stalks as had clogged the plow.† We recall that there were two or three other kinds of plows in our community in our early boyhood.† One of them was the "Wizard," which was a rather large "team killer."† The "Syracuse" was another plow of a long time ago.† Some in referring to this plow called it the "Scorrycuse," although it was one of the best early plows and still is.
†††† The land 146 years ago was good and it produced a good crop with but little plowing.† We suppose we should pass from this item to another.
†††† The items, with their purchaser and the price thereof are listed in quotation marks.† "Brice Martin, stretchers, $1.60."† We would suppose that Brice Martin was most probably a son of William Martin and that he probably lived at the present Cato or rather across the creek therefrom.† Quite a number of Paynes and Martins, we understand, are buried in a family cemetery there.† Just what kind of stretches were meant, we have no way of knowing.† This was long before the advent of wire fence that require stretchers for pulling it taut.† We would suppose that most probably something of the order of a double tree and single trees is meant.† These were used to hitch a team to a wagon or a sled or to something that was dragged on the ground.
†††† "James Hibbetts, a cutting knife, $2.12 1/2."† This doubtless referred to a large knife that had a lever stretched to it and was used for cutting oats and other forms of food.† We saw many of these when the writer was a boy.† His father's sister, Latitia, commonly called "Tishie," lost part of her fingers in an old cutting knife about 85 year ago.† She was the mother of Howard, Billie, Albert,† Donoho and Wirt Wilburn, our first cousins.† We used to look at the stubs of her fingers and as we were exceeding bad to ask question, we learned nearly 60 years ago what had befallen our Aunt "Tishie."† The price of the cutting knife 148 years ago was $2.12 1/2.† What a headache for one who had to keep fractions of cents in that distant day and time.† This James Hibbitts lived at the time of the sale of the present Carter Branch where he is buried.† He was an early member of the County Court of his county.†
†††† "Jeremiah Taylor, two clevises, $1.25."† This is the same party whose place of residence was given in last week's paper as the present Taylor Branch just above the present Hillsdale School.† He was an ancestor of Charlie Merryman and many others of the present day.† The "clevis" was a very useful devise and usually consisted of a piece of iron bent in the middle and with a hole in either end through which the "clevis pin" passed.† They were specially useful on the front end of wooden-beamed plows, being fastened in what was called the "buckhead" of the plow.† Also in other wood "pulling pieces," they were very useful.† "Larprings" took the place of "clevises" in some places.
†††† "Edward Hatchet, one handsaw, $2.30."† This is a family name that has disappeared from this part of the world.† In 1820 Elisha Hatchet was between 26 and 45 years of age.† We find also the name of the above purchaser of the handsaw in the census of 1820.† He is listed as having four males under ten, one from ten to 16 and himself as being 45 years old and upward.† Parish Hatchet was another head of a family 134 years ago in Smith County.† Reference to James Hibetts has been made in the first part of this article.† It should be stated that he was the owner of eight slaves and was rated as a very substantial planter.† We did not know that handsaws were in use 148 years ago until we read of the sale.† We have heard of a man wearing a tie "as wide as a handsaw," but we had no idea that handsaws were in common use 150 years ago.
†††† "Adam Sanderson, iron wedge, 80c."† We have no idea as to who Adam Sanderson was, although a number of Sandersons lived in the early part of the past century near Pleasant Shade.† An iron wedge was used to split wood, rails and many other things.† It was also used with a crosscut saw to hold the sawing gash open so that the log or tree would not "pinch."† Our father had iron wedges as far back as we can remember.† He used then a wooden maul to drive the wedge.† Nothing ever hurt a boy's cold hands any worse than the jar or roll of the old wood maul.† Some boys of a half century ago, before they learned what would happen, were persuaded to put their tongues against a very cold iron wedge, the result being that the tongue "caught" on the wedge and the skin on the tongue would be pulled off in the effort made by such boys to rid themselves of a burden that would almost "pull their tongues out by the roots."† It is enough to say that one lesson was sufficient for any country boy 50 years ago.
†††† "Abraham Brittain, one curry comb, 40c."† We had believed the curry comb was of a date much later than 1806, but we were mistaken again.† This family dearly loved horses and the old man himself was "churched" for lending his mare to run in a course race, about five years before his death.† He was a deacon in Dixon's Creek Baptist church, if our memory serves us aright.† We know that he was "reined up" in the church for lending his racing mare.† We recall the glow that used to be made in certain kinds of weather by the currycomb that we used on our father's horses more than 50 years ago.† It was a sort of peculiar glow that gave off something of a crackling sound.† It was really electricity, but we knew only the electricity of lightning and the glow of the curry comb, usually in the hours just before dawn.† Boys of today would not want to get up to curry horses and mules on a cold morning before daylight.† Abraham Brittain is supposed to have been one of the sons of the men whose property was being sold in the year 1806.
†††† There was one other kind of peculiar light seen now and then by country boys of a half century ago.† That was the glow of wood at a certain stage of its decomposition or time of rotting.† It was called by country people "foxfire."† We have seen this kind of glow a number of times, particularly about the places where our father, a great lover of bees, cleared away the rotten wood inside hollow, linden logs, to use the hollowed-our log for an oldfashioned bee gum.† We recall one time, nearly 50† years ago, when our brother, Thomas M. Gregory, then about 15, rode our old bay mare, "Old Nell," to Dixon Springs, three and a half miles away.† He was not particular about home then very early and frequently returned a short time after dark.† The writer found some of this glowing, rotten wood before the brother returned home; and, obtaining a fairly large chunk of same, we took it to the stable or little barn and laid it in a crack by the side of the door through which the old mare was turned to get into her stall.† We heard our brother go by "in a long trot" and waited patiently for him to make the discovery of the "foxfire" we had placed where we were sure he would find it.† Soon we heard a call that could have been heard a half mile, calling out "O Cal?"† We took our time and reached the old stable in a leisurely way.† He said, "What is this in the crack by the door?"† Knowing full well what it was, we walked boldly up within a few inches of the glowing object.† Our brother, almost frantic with fear, tried to pull his older brother back, saying.† "It may be a rattlesnake."† When we removed a piece of dry, rotten wood from between the logs of the old stable, our brother felt that he had been "let down."† We came near getting a whipping from our dear brother on that occasion, and perhaps we needed one.
†††† Richard Brittain, one hame, $1.75.† Richard Brittain is supposed to have been a brother of Abraham Brittain.† One hame is a sort of odd way to buy part of the work gear or harness for a horse or mule.† Hames usually are sold in pairs.† They are usually made of wood for the most part, later ones having a strip of iron part of the way about them and the hooks or chain holders were of iron.† The rings through which lines or ropes were placed in the long ago, were generally of iron, although we have seen some old hames with rings of horn.† The top of the hames were tied together with a piece of twisted rope or leather with a buckle.† The hames fitted into the collar and provided the means by which the strength of the horse or mule could be applied to plowing or other forms of pulling.† The hame string, when we were a boy, was generally of rope, although we saw now and then some made of leather.† Later hames chains, of iron or steel, were common.† Some of the earliest horse back riding we ever did was on the back of a plow-horse and we used the tops of the hames to stay on."
†† "William Smith, one chain, 65c."† This is no doubt the same man mentioned in the early part of the sale.† Just what kind of a chain he could buy for 65c we do not know.† We would suppose that is was probably a part of a trace chain, used in the pulling efforts of horses and mules; or part of a large chain, called a log chain.†
†† "George Reece, one axe, $2.70.† We know nothing of this man, although the Reece family was on Defeated Creek many, many years ago.† An axe was one of the most useful of all tools owned by the pioneer.† Readers will recall the loss of the axehead of metal part of the axe in Bible days, and how the man of God made it float so† the man who had borrowed it might regain it and restore it to its owner.
†††† Our father, Thomas Morgan Gregory, born Jan. 4, 1862, was the best "chopper," all things considered, we ever knew.† He cut down the huge poplar trees from which our first home was made, using the axe only.† Although we learned early the use of an axe, we were never an expert as our father was.† He used to cut the big poplar trees down with his axe.† After the tree fell to the earth, the slope made in cutting out a "chip," had to be removed.† So our father would take the heavy axe, usually weighing five or six pounds, and remove what he called the "kerf end."† Only those who have used an axe perhaps will understand the tremendous amount of hard labor required to cut sawlogs using an axe only.† To get rid of the "kerf end," the wood-chopper of a half century ago who was cutting sawlogs, really had to chop the body of the tree in twain twice for each log cut.† Some of those trees were so thick that our father could not reach the bottom of the cut, even with a long-handled axe.† In such cases, he had to chop out a place for his feet in the side of the big log.† The double--bitted axe of this day and time was unknown at the Brittain sale in 1806 and for more than a hundred years afterward.† Using a file to sharpen an axe was virtually unknown 50 years ago.† Our father had a grindstone which we have turned at least a "million rounds."† Or it seemed that way to our tired arms and body.† But he finally got his axe sharp.† And woe to his son that happened to strike that sharp axe against a stone and dull its razor-like edge.† Our father, rather harsh of voice, asked hundreds of time in our boyhood, "Who has had hold of my axe?"† We were in a terrible state of dread, but we answered him truthfully when we had somehow in spite of our very best efforts struck that keen-bladed axe of his against a stone or nail.
†††† Many, many memories linger about the axe of our boyhood.† We felt that we were getting close to manhood when we could take an axe and in a few minutes cut down a fair sized tree.† But wood-chopping is now a virtually lost art, but few young men having any skill with the chopping axe.
†††† Another kind of axe of a long time ago was the board axe, used to hew logs with.† The writer was never much of a hewer of logs, but that father of ours, 'Pappy,' as we called him, could hew to the line and turn out a creditable piece of work with the broad axe.† We had a "meat axe," in the long ago, one that was largely worn out and not fit to chop wood any more, but which would come in handy for cutting meat and chopping the bones of animals we had slain for meat.
†††† Many stories of the part that the axe played in pioneer life have come down to us. Later we may give some of them.
(To be continued)