Submitted by: Richard A. Rainey
The following letter was transcribed by the subject's daughter. I understand it was originally dictated sometime in the 1950's. The subject nor the daughter are with us any more. Those familiar with people from the Cusseta will recognize many of the family names mentioned and maybe some idea of life in North East Texas. I might suggest that there is some embellishment in the account, especially in reference to the Rainey family history, but all it is is a good story teller's exaggeration of verifiable facts. I have not been able to run down the daughter, she would be the same generation as me, but I am almost two generations behind most in the family and I am almost 60 at this time. I am sure that the purpose of the letter was to pass on heritage and the letter does have some in it. There is a lot of personnel information about Ella in this that I am sure at one time or another she would never expose. The exposure in this letter I believe shows an admission of having some faults and that one must realize those problems and work the best way they can around them. I feel very confident that was a strong feeling of hers when she finally wrote the letter and passed it on to the clan. There are a lot of areas in the letter that show some prevalent feelings of the time and I would hope no one would take offense to them being expressed - they were there and our own recognition of them is a responsibility of our generations. For those of you reading this letter who have not been able to get much out of the older folks in your family it might be a spark that would get them talking - let them read the letter or read it to them - you might find out a lot more information than you were prepared for. Some of the letter was hand written and hard to read I will attempt to transcribe it as it is so pardon my typing or maybe some miss-spellings.
Ella Faye Riddle Spurger, Stringer, born two mile East of Cussetta, Cass County, Texas, which is situated in the north east part of Texas, known as Piney Woods, a hilly, wooded section of the State, settled by people from Georgia and Alabama just after the Civil War. My maternal grandmother's name was Mannie Saunders, born in Virginia, and the daughter of the founder of the first cotton mill in Richmond, Virginia. She was educated in a girl's finishing school there. Her mother having died when she was young, she was cared for by her aunts and cousins. Before Mannie married, her father died, and she came to Georgia to live with relatives, being there when the battle for Atlanta was fought. It was there, also, that she met and married my grandfather, S. Ridgley Rainey, son of a plantation owner who owned about 125 slaves. The Rainey's had also come south from Virginia before the Civil War.
It was during the war that my grandmother, dressed in a suit of clothes belonging to her brother, went to a cousin's home to frighten her, pretending to be a Rebel. On the way, she was seized by a band of Yankees and held until proof was established that she was a girl. Such things at a time like that could have been very serious as the Yankees were shooting or taking as prisoners any man that they happened to find and capture.
After the war, my grandparents were married and lived at Ellaville, Schley Co, GA, and it was there that my mother was born. The house where she was born still stands and is in good shape, although unpainted, and is near the "Big House" where my great-grandfather, Tom Rainey, lived. It was in this same house that my Mothers's sister, Lizzie, was born, and with these two children, my grandparents came to Texas after the Civil War, settling in the north east part of the state at Simms, Bowie County. This was a swampy and wooded section at that time, near Sulphur River. The mosquitoes were bad, and the family soon had malaria. They left Bowie County and came to Cass County, living near Bryans Mill, later buying a home and farm near Cussetta which was then the center of activity for that farming region. The first State Fair and 50th anniversary of Texas was celebrated there, featuring horse racing, giving prizes to the lady and gentleman who rode their mount with the most grace. The prize for the ladies went to Miss Irene ______ Curtwright. There were ball games, speech making, gambling, prizes for the best farm products, bands playing, and evidence everywhere of refreshments kept in little brown jugs, hidden in the clumps of brush near the old log school house. Dinner was served picnic style. The revelry lasted for three days. There was plenty of excitement for everyone, for in those days this community was the hiding place for desperadoes from other parts of the country, hiding here in this new settled place to evade the law, and it was here that my mother grew up and married my father.
Tom Riddle Spurger, my grandfather, is German-Dutch by birth, and I have been told Riddle Spurger is a common name in Germany today. My great-great-grandfather who came to Holland from Germany had in some way acquired the title of "Von", a title, I understand, may be bought or bestowed upon one for an act of valor. How my great-great-grandfather acquired this title is not known to me, but it was dropped from the family name after his death. My great-great-grandfather's name was Erasmus (Ris), and my great-grandfather's name was Milliam Harrest (?) Riddle Spurger. My grandfather's name was Tom. I don't know the year they came to America & settled in South Carolina, all spoke Dutch and _______ like Dutch. My grandmother _________________________.
My grandfather, Tom, was too old to fight in the Civil War, but was conscripted by the confederate Government to make salt by evaporation from the ocean water at Mobile, Alabama, for the army. Not long after the war, and while estimating timber in a forest, my grandfather died of a heart attack, leaving my grandmother, Anne, with six children - three boys, Willie R., Judge I., and my father, Ben Franklin, better known as Dock or D.C.; and three girls, Elizabeth Fay (Betty), Lulu (Lou), and Mandy. My grandmother's old maid sister, Lucindy Pickett, lived with them. Grandmother Spurger had two brothers, Luke and Tom Pickett who came to Texas and settled in Bowie County. Remnants of their families live there today. Lucindy Pickett married after coming to Texas, she was an old maid and her husband had been married before, his name was _____ Willis, he had a son named ______ and a daughter named Laurine (?) who married Tom _draper and moved to Loain(?), Texas. Grandmother Riddle Spurger, this old maid sister, Lucindy, and these six children came to Texas after the Civil War and settled in Robinson County. They started out on this trip in a covered wagon. Finally, tiring of the journey, and on doubt, the children were making the trip a trying one, my grandmother sold the team and wagon and came the rest of the way by train. I am not sure where they boarded the train, but I think it must have been Atlanta, Georgia, for the trains were slow and took days to make any kind of trip. It was at this railroad station that my grandmother saw her first real Looking Glass as they were known in those days. After the wagon and team was sold, the family had to pack their clothes and what other things they were bringing to Texas, in sacks and boxes. Naturally, when the family went into the railroad station, each one was carrying some piece of baggage, and all were staying together as this was a new experience for all of them. Seeing in the Looking Glass on the wall in the railroad station, the reflection of the family, my grandmother decided that there was another family just like them there and called my aunt's attention to the fact that "There was another bunch that looked just like them." At this time, my father, Dock, was small, and he carried the bread tray and large sifter in a sack, it was striking his heels as he walked barefoot into the station. How long the family had to wait before a train came to take them on the remainder of the journey to Texas is not known, but, while they were waiting, the children went to sleep on the benches, to be awakened later by grandmother telling them that a storm was coming. Being a hard-shelled Baptist with a faith that sustained her through many an ordeal, she gathered the family around her knees, and there in that station asked the God in whom she had faith, to protect and guide her in all undertakings, to keep His watch and care over her and her family in this hour of peril. The "peril" turned out to be the train that they were waiting for. Naturally, it made quite a lot of noise coming through the forest and, too, they had never seen or heard one at the time, so to be mistaken about the noise was only natural. Arrival in Texas, and settlement in Robinson County, to undertake farming new ground with only a family of children, took the real spirit of a pioneer. After a year in Robinson County, the family came to Cass County, and it was here that my father met my mother, Ella Faye Rainey.
Ella Fay Rainey was born March 6, 1868, at Ellaville, Georgia. She was the oldest child of Ridgely and Mannie Rainey. She was of slight build, soft spoken and refined, with that quiet and compelling disposition that enabled her to be master of her emotions in all situations, and commanded the respect, confidence, and admiration of all who knew her. It was her steady hand and level head that my father needed to off-set his nervous and high-strung, but genial disposition.
To this union was born eleven children. William, the first born, died as an infant, Henry Grady, Stephen Herbert, Nellie Virginia, Rainey, Minnie Lizzie, Annie Mannie, Ella Faye, Jonnie Berry, who died of diptheria when about one year old, Emma Kate, and Ben Franklin.
I, being fourth from the youngest, recall my earliest memories of my father and mother. She had silver gray hair, a quiet manner, and went about her duties of managing a large household in a way that only a master could do; her voice was never raised in correcting we children; she never argued; but, she was always firm in her decision, and they were made in such a way there was never a question in our mind of her not being right. Papa always let Mother make the decisions when we asked to go places. Our home was always a gathering place for our friends and all the kin folk.
We were farmers of the middle class, never rich, but blessed with a bountiful plenty, obtained by hard work, good management, with faith and trust in the same God that sustained our forefathers in the earlier days. Mother and Papa were always lending a hand to the needy, the sick, or those that needed spiritual help. My father was superintendent of the little Sunday School, and my mother was a teacher of a class. They were affectionately called "Uncle Dock and Aunt Ella" by all who knew them.
I was born at Cussetta, near a community and church called Floyd Hill, and it was at this house that I stood on the porch when the snow was on the ground, watching the birds eat crumbs from the table, and yelling "Lucindy Rainwater" to the top of my voice, listening to the echo from down by the barn come back to me. This went on unnoticed by my busy mother until I almost froze. Lucindy Rainwater was a writer for the Semi-Weekly Farm News, the only paper that our limited mail service and limited publications had at the time. She made quite a sir in the day by daring to express a woman's view-point. The name was unusual to me, a three-year old, and that is why it fascinated me so much that I would call it out, and then listen for the echo. I can remember Nellie who was ironing, wrapping my hands in the warm ironing cloths. My hands hurt so badly it made that episode a vivid memory.
Then, too, it was here that Jonnie Berry died to diptheria. I remember the little white casket, the still form inside, and crying, no doubt because the others did, and being taken out of the house before his body was carried away to be placed beside that of William at Floyd Hill.
Floyd Hill was a hard-shell Baptist Church with a cemetery beside it where most of the early settlers were buried in those days. My Grandmother Spurger was one of the first to be buried there, and her tomb was place just inside the cemetery, next to the church, as she had requested, so she might hear the songs sung and the preaching service throughout the time to come. The charter members of this church included some of the slaves who had clung to the old master and had come to Texas to live.
At the time of Johnnie Berry's death, I was about three years old, and some time after Christmas, (as I remember getting a doll in a swing), my father was hired by Munz and Heimer to supervise the building of a railroad from Redwater in Bowie County to Flat Creek in Cass County, for the purpose of hauling logs to a big sawmill at Redwater; therefore, the family moved from the farm near Floyd Hill to Cussetta and rented a house from Mr. Clay Fulcher who had a big store, grist mill, and a barber shop in the back of the store. At this place of business, one could outfit the family and farm without too much trouble with everything from castor oil, big head liniment, not to mention Grove's Chill Tonic, a necessity, as well as all the dry goods, plow stocks, harness, etc., that a farmer needed in those days to survive.
Living at Cussetta made it handier for my father to come home on the weekends, and, on these trips, we always looked forward to hoar hound candy, a hoop of cheese or mackerel and money to supply the family needs until the next trip home. On one particular weekend, Papa left Mother fifty dollars, which, at that time, was quite a lot to keep around the house. That night it was cold and raining - my mother's bed was beside a window that opened on the front porch, and, in the night she was awakened by the excited barking of our fice dog named Tobe (so named for Tobe Perryman who had give him to me) who slept in the rocking chair by the fire. Wondering what had disturbed Tobe, she lay listening without moving. Finally, she felt a hand being pushed between the mattresses on the bed and heard the windown panes creak from the pressure on them, the bed quivering from the strain on the railing; her first thought was of me, as I was the baby and sleeping with her and next to this window. She formulated a plan of action in less time than it takes to tell and suited the thoughts to action; viz: throw the bed clothes over the intruder, and, at the same time, lift me and jump out of bed, calling Grady, the oldest boy who was sleeping in the next room. This she did, causing the person wedged in the window to break the whole window to break the whole window frame in the effort to get away quickly. Grady came running immediately with a slat from his bed as he had also been awakened, but was afraid to move until he heard Mother. It was always presumed that the would-be burglar was a Negro, because Papa always had some colored woman to help Mother with her work, and felt sure this Negro had told some one of the money that Mother had put between the mattresses on her bed. Naturally, there was no more sleep for Mother that night. We had a telephone, the old box type, high on the wall, so Mother called Mr. Griffin, a neighbor, and he asked her to leave the receiver off the hook so he might listen to see if everything was quiet the rest of the night. I can remember the window having a quilt put in the opening and a chair placed across-wise, then a big trunk braced against it. It would have awakened the heaviest sleeper to have penetrated that barricade. Mother was looking for another baby at this time (Emma Kate), and after this incident, Papa left her a gun. I have stood by her side many times while she shot at hawks that molested the chickens or o'pssums that came to catch them on the roost.
Of course this large family of children had to be kept busy, and the boys' job was to cultivate the truck patches of corn, peas, tomatoes, watermelons, and the garden. This they did between fights, playing, or the swims in the old wash hole down back of the house on the branch, and swinging on the grape vine swing that would take us on a ride out over the old wash hole and back. I can remember one trip that I made with Hubert, Holding my hands in his, and I was holding the vine. This is a very vivid memory because my hands hurt so bad before we got back to the ground. Those were very happy days for all of us. Every thing would be fine until the corn was to be carried to the mill on Saturday. No one wanted that job, and usually the one who was supposed to go on that day would pretend to be sick. Then, Mother would get the castor oil, fever thermometer, and threatening to put them to bed, the corn would get to the mill in a hurry.
The boys had an old pair of buggy wheels that they pushed and rode down the slope in front of the house. One day, during one of the riding sprees, Rainey cut a toe almost off on an old piece of broken bottle. Mother applied the lodlum to the wound, placed the toe as near right as possible, and bandaged his foot, with never a thought of calling a doctor as the nearest one was in Atlanta, and the trip in a buggy or on horse back would have taken a whole day. Mother was very expert at taking care of the sick or minor injuries.
In the fall of the year, we always gathered hickory nuts and walnuts to last all winter. After supper in the evening, we usually had either of the nuts, pop corn, or peanuts to eat while we sat by the fire and listened to the older children ell us stories. It was on one of these nutting trips that I fell, cutting my lip through to my teeth on the lid of my three-pound lard bucket in which I gathered nuts. I must have had quite a hard fall, for, when I next remember anything, Nellie was running down the road with me in her arms. On seeing my eyes open, she remarked to the other wide eyed children that "She is not dead." I probably blacked out again; because, when I next remember anything, I was at Mrs. Fulcher's and she was applying the lodlum to the wound. I was yelling to the top of my voice, none the worse for the experience. Needless to say, that ended the nutting trip for that day.
In November of 1905, Emma Kate was born. We children were sent to spend the night with Mrs. Clarence Fulcher. I remember the next morning, Minnie awakened me to tell me I "had wet the bed." Small as I was, I was very embarrassed. Evidently, the new baby did not arrive as had been expected, because I was sent to the school house with a note during that day, telling the older children of the new arrival.
In the spring of the following year, 1906, my father bought a piece of land from Jim Barker and built a new home for this growing family. This land was located near White Sulphur Springs, on a public road, between Naples and Atlanta, near Marietta, and at a little stop on the railroad that my father was building (nearing completion), called Munz, so named for the men who were having the railroad built. Munz consisted of two stores (general merchandise), a boarding house, telephone office, barber shop, and commissary. The real show place was the railroad station.
Munz was a thickly settled community. Children came from miles to the school, called White Sulphur Springs High School, named for the springs, near the buildings, which was the source of water supply for the students. There were about 150 pupils enrolled, and classes were held six months of each year. The faculty consisted of two teachers. One, called the assistant teacher, was needed for only about four months of the school term. It was here that I learned the three "R's", played wolf over the river, town ball, marbles, and hop scotch. In the fall of the year, we would hunt muscadines, blackhaus, and the nuts that were plentiful. In the spring, there were huckleberries and blackberries to hunt for at recess time. There were two large wood heaters for the building, and, if we had not worn long underwear, long stockings, and high top shoes, we probably would have been very uncomfortable. We had long benches around these heaters, and it was there that we gathered to talk in whispers, chew paper wads, sweet gum, or anything that came to our minds. It was here that I claimed my first by friend, but guarded by secret always. I was claimed by James Bohannnon and Merrill King as their girl, and chased each recess or noon time until I would fall from physical exhaustion to be seized by both and kissed before all the other students who stood by laughing at my rage and embarrassment. To this day, I do not care for those two men because of these episodes, even though I dated both after I was older. They were of good families and have done well for themselves in financial matters, but I never quite forgave them this childish hurt.
It was at this time I began to realize I was an ugly duckling. My sister Anne, just older than I by eighteen months, was chubby, brown eyed, had slightly curly brown hair, and wherever we went, everyone was always saying to Mother, "My what a beautiful child," then giving me a glance, as if to say, "by what excuse did this come along?" My heart would sink inside me and seem to draw up from this remark, making me feel I was not wanted, ugly, useless, and that no one lived me. I wished to run away, and would wonder if I were really my father and mother's child. Of course, all of this last was imagination, but I grew up resenting this attention showered on Anne. People were always saying of her "this is my little girl." NO one seemed to want me. One day, the two of us had slipped some new Irish potatoes from a pan where Mother was preparing them for dinner and got it behind a bed to eat them unseen. Anne was telling me how many people wanted her for their little girl, when, in peeking out from our hide-out, I saw an old couple coming along the road barefoot. The old lady had on a mother hubbard, and both were dirty and of very low class; but, at the same time, it meant nothing to me; I only wished desperately to be wanted by somebody --- anybody -- so I said, ' I wished I were Mr. and Mrs. Hauk's little girl." Now the thought of that childish remark amuses me.
I had very blonde hair, strait and stringy, gray eyes, not an extra ounce of flesh on my body. My eyes and teeth were far too large for my face; my body so slim and straight, I could not keep my home-made drawers or bloomers up as we had no elastic in the waist band and the buttons were constantly popping off. We wore long underwear, stuffed in our long black stockings. Quite a few of my clothes were made over from Anne's as she grew by leaps and bounds while I stayed frail. All this did not make me happy. Then, in the summer, before I started to school in 1908, I had what was then called slow fever. I am sure it is what is now known as rheumatic fever. I remember that I would get chicken broth with rice to eat, and would lie, begging for chicken, but of course, I was not allowed to have that. But my mother finally broke down one day and brought a wing of chicken to me, and I would not eat that. I could always hear the children in the yard playing hide and seek or jumping the rope. One day, the urge to play was so strong, and I begged so hard to go out to play, Mother dressed me, and I went out to jump the rope. I walked slowly into the rope but was too weak to lift my feet off the ground. I had to be carried back into the house and to bed.
When I was finally able to sit up, it was fall of the year, and we had a fire in the fireplace. I recall Tom Finley, a neighbor boy, visiting my brothers, coming in to see me. Taking my had in his he folded it together, thumb to forefinger and said how pitiful to be so poor, and was sure I must have been just skin and bones as the saying goes.
Grandmother Riddlespurger had died before I was born, and Aunt Lucindy made her home with us after Mr. Willis' death. She had become so crippled with rheumatism or arthritis she could not walk. I was her constant companion, even to sleeping with her which caused Mother much worry as she did not think it good for me. I may be that was one reason I was so frail and had rheumatic fever; but, my mother tried to always avoid friction in the home; therefore, she would let Aunt Cindy have her way about me sleeping with her. But, she was about eighty years old and did not live long after that, she was ill for about six months before she died. That was one of the coldest winters one could imagine for that part of the country. Snow stayed on the ground for two weeks at one time. From exposure while washing and doing the outside chores, while Aunt Cindy was unconscious, Grady had pneumonia, and Nell had a boil in her ear, Mother took what was called logripe as was unconscious for twenty-one days. That made a total of four in bed at one time. We smaller children were sent away from home to my mother's brother's home (Uncle Henry and Aunt Carrie Rainey). We were there at Christmas time, and it was Aunt Carrie who told us there was no Santa Claus. I am sure it was because there was such a little for our stockings.
I remember getting a little blue vase that I treasured for years. Aunt Cindy died the next summer, but our family's health was never the same, because of so much broken rest, washing and pulling water from a seventy-five foot well during the six month siege of sickness.
At last, I began to grow , run, and play. A few years flew by, and Nell married Samuel Clarence Harris. They came to West Texas where he taught school. A couple of years after that, when I was eleven years old, I spent the winter with them at Winters, Texas, and went to school. I was in the fifth grade. This did much for me in many ways as this school gave e better advantages to learn, and I caught up with Anne in school work. That gave me confidence in myself, and I began to lose my inferiority complex which was caused from being the ugly duckling. I took great pride in trying to improve my few good points, brushed my teeth until they shone, and began to gain weight. I resolved to try to have someone say some day that I was a pretty as Anne. My one obsession, the summer I was ten years old, was to have a pair of black patent leather baby doll slippers, a white umbrella, and a big bow of ribbon for my hair. By brusising down persimmon bushes, Anne and I managed a promise from Papa that the dream would come true; but, in the meantime, we had heard from Nell that they would be home for a summer visit, and we did not have the coveted hair ribbon. One day I over heard my mother say she must kill the old rooster on the yard, so I promptly asked if we, Anne and I, might have him to sell. She laughed, but our power of persuasion over ruled, and we were given the old rooster. Next day, we walked three miles, via the railroad track, to a store that would trade for our chicken. We were very disappointed that he would only bring twenty cents, but that meant ten cents each; and with that, we purchased one yard of one-inch wide ribbon for each. Trudging the three miles home, happy with our purchase, we combed our hair, tied the ribbons, and went back to cutting those persimmon bushes. Finally, on my dad's next trip to Texarkana, the baby doll slippers and umbrella became a reality. The only thing to mar my complete happiness as that it was not the finest umbrella in the community. My pride would not let me be completely happy with anything less than the best. This pride no one suspected of me.
During the passing of time, my dad changed jobs. The saw mill closed down, and he was now foreman at Dave Tilson's gravel pit at Texarkana. There he worked at a glass plant, and finally, as contractor, paving Maple Street in Texarkana. But, with our home free of debt, Dad came home to stay, being a progressive farmer, things that could be provided by work, for family maintenance, was done with plenty to spare for our neighbors and kin. We had a large peach orchard, big water-melon patches, a long row of grapevines, tame berry patch, and Mother always had a big garden of vegetables, both winter and summer, with sweet potato bunk filled to capacity, peas, milk and butter, and chickens for our egg supply. That left very little to be bought in the way of groceries for our large family, and we always had a bountiful table. When coming home from school in the afternoon, the first place we looked for food was the oven. There we would find sweet potatoes, still warm, and in the kitchen safe, a stone jar of molasses, cookies, or fired fruit pies.
One day, an old Negro woman came to beg food for her family. Mother sent me inside the potato bunk for potatoes, and I over-heard her tell this Negro that I had been exposed to the whooping cough; where upon the old Negro told my mother, "Don't you worry one bit; just give her Mare's milk to drink," and I would drink no Mare's milk. Fortunately, I have never had whooping cough, and the fact remains to be proven to me that Mare's milk is good for it.
During a school term, usually the spring of the year, the whole school would make a trip to the Cussetta Mountains. This gave the children an opportunity to select the one they "claimed"" at that particular time, and walk or run along near them. We always went to Jones Mountain first. There on the big rock, we slyly carved initials, with stolen glances at each other which really meant more than words could possibly have. Initials were also cut on the trees, and a heart cut around the initials. I am sure quite a few of the initials are on those big rocks today. We would go on to the Cussetta Mountains where every one was ready to rest. There on a very large boulder, on the side of this mountain, we would sing and have some one give readings which were usually long poems from a school book. Finally, rested but thirsty, we trudged homeward. The whole trip was probably about five miles; but, through those woods, crossing the branches or small streams, clambering over boulders and logs with the gay abandon of youth in the spring time, is one of my most cherished memories.
The next year, after the one I spent at Winters, Texas, with Nell, tragedy came into our home. Minnie married a boy by the name of James Hightower, and about one month later, her appendix ruptured. An operation was performed, but she died. There was very little medicine in those days to fight an infection, and it was only three days from the time she got sick until she died, about 1 year after her death, Jim (James) died & was buried at Dallas, Texas, as he had spinal meningitis & being contagious his body was not allowed to be shipped. He was an adopted boy and lived near Mt. Vernon, Texas when he and Minnie married and an old maid and old bachelor were his foster Parents, their name was Hightower. The old bachelor was an albino. I do not know how or why they adopted James (Jim), they were old at that time.