The following story was sent to me by Peggy Fox. She said
she thought it was interesting and I agree with her. It really gives us a view
of the early days of Texas, as well as the people, and the way they lived. This
family came from Tennessee to Hillsboro, Texas. The spelling and grammar were
left as the story was written.
The story and adventures of Henry W. Harris
This story is of my father, Henry W. Harris, as told to me. He was borned back in 1839 near Nashville, Tennessee, back in Slavery days, and came west to Texas in 1858, when Texas was at its wildest when most every mans law was his own gun. As he was with the Texas Rangers subduing the Comanchie Indians and he served 4 years with the Confedert Armey. And as he was well acquainted with many of Texas worst gunmen thru the roring seventy and eightys. When the frontier was nothing but bufilo and inidans. And as he helped sivlize west Texas and western New Mexico and help make it a decent place for us and our children to live. Probably my children and grandchildren and friends would like to read a sketch of his life. This story I am writing as told to me …to save time and paper I will use the word I as him talking.
I borned March the 25, 1839, on a little farm near Nashville, Tennessee. Father and Mother had no slaves like some of our neighbors.
Some of Fathers people was better fixed financhely than Father, and had big plantations and many slaves. My father was not as successful as some of his people I guess I enhearted that streak of luck from Father, and I never had any luck financhely. There was seven of us children lived to be grown. I had 2 sisters and 4 brothers. I came on about the middle child. I had a cople of brothers and one sister older than me and a cople brothers and one sister younger than myself.
Us children had very little school opportunities when we was children. All school was pay schools at that time and the school term was very short. And far apart and of course no such a thing as transportation.
Our main book was the old blueback speler. If we knew that we thought we was farley well egacated. There was reading, spelling, writing, and erathmatick all in that little book. Farthur advanced children was advanced farther in the book. We children had to learn what we went over at that time. By the time we finished the old blueback speler we could read, write, spell and work erathmatick problem.
My brothers, sisters, and I all learnt to read, write, and knew more than many father advanced scollars years later, after they used so many books. All our school houses was made of logs, and log banches was our only seats. We never had any convinunces them days. They had no cotton gins in that Country. And we would only plant small fields of cotton. We would pick it in backets and bring it in our home at night, and we would have to pick the seed from the cotton by hand. And my mother and oldest sister,Elizabeth, would set up of nights and card this cotton out and then spin it out into thred then they would make cloth of the thread. That was the way Mother and Sister made all our clothes.
There was no wire fences at that time. We boys would help Father cut and split rails and make our fences called stake and rider fences. Some people made rock fences. People never used maches in the community when I was a boy. We started fires by Flint rocks. And every one had big fire places and we had to put on large back logs and keep fire all night. If we had hard luck and had no coles of fire next morning some of us children would have to go to our nearest neighbor and borrow a stick of fire before Mother could cook breakfast. I remember hearing our neighbors talk about a big gold rush in California in 1849. Several of our neighbor boys went to them gold rushes thru the earlie fiftys. It would take them around six months to make the trip. Scarcley any of them ever returned.
We children had grait times playing like all children. I remember when I was a small boy reaching under water in a little brook near our home after fish. One day I thought I had a nice fish, but when I pulled it out it was a water mocken snake. It scared me so bad I threw the snake back in the water and before I thought I jumped in the pool of water where I throde the snake and then I got my worst scare than ever when I hit the water. I felt sure the snake would get me. But I guess the snake was scared as bad as me. I swam out and run home, nothing wrong only wet clothes.
Us boys had big times pranking with blacks. Blacks at that time was very superstitious and all told gost storys and they was all afrade of gost. And some white people as superstitious of gost as blacks. Us boys would often put sheets on and almost scare some of them blacks to death. Wonce I remember some boy friends put sheets on of a dark night to scare blacks. A smaler boy brought a lare pillow slip along thinking he would get in the game. The larger boy was waiting for some blacks to come by and he happened to look around when he saw the smaler boy with big pillow slip on it scared him worse than he scared the blacks. He comence running and hollern with the smaler boy after him. The larger boy run home almost out of breath, and fritned about the little gost until he could not talk.
Some of the poor black slaves had afful hard times. But as they was used to it, it did not worry them as bad as you would think. They did not know anything else. One thing that always seem sad to me was some of the land lords would brake up families and sell children from there mothers for slaves. They would likely never see or hear of their children anymore. As none of them blacks could read or write.
Selling them slave blacks became a big business, like marketing cattle. One of Fathers brothers, Uncle Lewis Harris, was a fine talker. He made a profession auctioning off blacks, in them big towns like Memphis, Tennessee. That was quite a business at that time. Most of the people thought no more about it than auctioning off cattle. Other land lords never would brake their families of selling blacks. In fact it was against the Methodist disciplen to brake the black homes by selling part of the families off. While there was not many legally marrying among the black at that time. Nor there was not many blacks at that time really knew who their fathers was. There was more molato blacks all the time. The fathers of lots of the malatos was owners of the planations. Many of there molato children was raised along with there white children and slave of there white children. I could tell many, many storys of that kind of people that I was well aquantred with. As some say probably such wickedness was the cause of that afful civil war had to come on later that was so destructive and cause so many lives of innocent people, which I will try to tell more about later in my story.
My oldest sister, Elizabeth, married a good nice fellow by the name of Bowling. When I was only about ten years old. She was 10 years older than myself. My oldest brother, John, went to live with fathers sister and family, there name was Douglas, they was a wealthy family. They helped give brother John a good egacation. He later got his degree in law after he was grown. Brother John was considered a very highly egecated man of his day. You will see more of him in my story.
My mother died before I was grown. My little sister, Sussie, and Brother Jimmy was very small when Mother died. Mother was a very religious woman. I never will forget how our dear mother called us children to her bedside before she passed away. Made us all promise to meet her in heaven. I have drifted deeply in sin in someways since that time, but I never could forget that good Christian mothers request. I guess Mother knew I was a little wilder than the rest of the children. She held to my hand longer than any of rest. She said Henry I can no longer see you, but I want you to quit your wild ways and become a Christian and meet me in heaven.
We was living in Memphis, Tennessee, at that time. We had better school advantages there, but I never took advantage of my schooling as my brother, Richard which we called Dick was 3 years younger than myself, and Brother Charlie. Dick as 2 years older than me and Charlie Sussie, and our Baby Brother Jimmy was very small at Mothers death. They had ver started to school. They was both such better boys than myself. I suppose I indulged in the wrong company in Memphis, and got started in fighting and playing hookey.
Us boys learned to be excellent swimmers on the Mississippi River at Memphis. I have swam that river many times. Of course, some of the other boys would be along with a small boat. I worked at different things around Memphis as I was growing into manhood. I worked awhile as oversear on them big plantations in the Mississippi River valley. Some may not know what an oversear job is, it is like a job guard to penitures nowadays. They was raising cotton in large farms buy that time as they had cottong gins. They had a good market for everything on the Mississippi River which as a outlet for shipping by steamboats. Us oversears would ride from one field to the other and keep them blacks slaves working. We would have a cow whip and a pistol buckeled on. If them blacks did not do his duty of work, we put the lash on him. They worked many slave blacks on them plantations on the Mississippi. The older black women not able to go to the field took care of the smaler black children not large enough to work. Most all the black women raised quite a lot of children, married or single. Most of those black children was turned loose and raised like little animals. It may seem strange but they grew and was much healthier than rich whitepeople that gave their children every advantage. Probably because they got more sunshine, or probably Providence just took care of them.
Father had went in pardners with a fellow in the bucher business after Mothers death in Memphis. After a few years the pardner would up with the money and Father with the experience.
When I was about 10 in 1858, Father got big ideas to move to Texas. Several of his friends had moved to Texas, and had been writing back what a wonderful country it was and free land, and the wonderful opportunity. Texas was a new country them days. We heard many wild storys of our neighbors wild adventures.
I was like most of the young men of that age, I had a girlfriend, I dislike to leave. But the wild advdentures and the grait opportunities of the west looked good to us boys. I figured I could soon gain a fortune and probably come back later if my girl stood true. As it was so far to Hill County, Texas, where we was heading for and so many rivers to cross.
( To be continued in the next quarterly)
Henry W. Harris Page 2