Printed in Matagorda County
Genealogical Society Quarterly,
James C. Sisk Family Robert J. Sisk Family
(One of the most interesting stories that it has fallen to the Firing Line's lot to secure is that of the ups and downs of a business man--the experiences of C. L. J. Sisk of the Sisk Grocery Co., Bay City, Texas, as written by himself. For more that thirty years Mr. Sisk has been a patron of Nashville's jobbing interests, particularly J. S. Reeves & Co. The Firing Line asked for Mr. Sisk's photo and a little of his history, thinking to give him a two or three inch mention. We were shocked when we received a ten-page letter in reply, but once started on reading the letter we couldn't let up until every line had been devoured. It was of interest to us, and we believe it will be to others. For this reason it is printed below, practically in full. The cause of this story was the voluntary payment to J. S. Reeves & Co., two weeks ago, by Mrs. Sisk, of an account of sixteen years' standing, and which had been charged to profit and loss.--Editor Nashville Tennessean.
Dear Sirs: I will give you some of my history. I was born on the headwaters of Paint Rock River in Jackson County, Alabama, Jan. 8, 1852. My mother died when I was only five years old. My father's eyesight was very bad from the time I can remember. I had gone to school about one month when the war between the states came up, and during the four years of the war there was no school in our community. All of my older brothers enlisted in the Confederate army. I was in my fourteenth year at the close of the war and was the only one left at home to do the plowing in making our little crops. We were very poor and had to rent land so I had no chance for an education. I only got to attend school about seven months all together, in 1871. At this time my father was practically blind and the older children persuaded him to break up housekeeping.
While we were having a hard struggle to live, yet I disapproved of the breaking up of the family; I considered a poor home better than no home at all. But he decided to break up and I had to submit. It put me thinking what I would do with myself. I was not long deciding. I made up my mind to get married, so went to see the girl I selected and told her about my decision. She consented to it. The next burden on my mind was where would I get the money to get married, and set about to find some friend who would lend me as much as ten dollars. I finally found the friend and with that ten dollars bought my license and a coat to get married in, and on July 20, 1871, I took for my wife Miss Mary T. Trice. She was like myself in that she did not have a dollar to her name; she had a good feather bed and plenty of cover for it, and as much vim as any girl ever lived.
We went to work to make a living. We had a large family of children born to us. We made a living and a little over each year, but it was, it seemed to us, pretty slow progress. We decided to sell our little accumulation and go west. After we had sold everything we had, [there] was $600 cash after we had purchased our railroad fare to Rockwall County, Texas.
We landed in Rockwall County on the night of Jan. 13, 1880, and I farmed there two years. The year of 1880 was a wet one. I made a good corn crop on ten acres and sold what corn I could spare, after hauling sixteen miles to Terrell, Texas, for twenty-five cents per bushel. I had twenty acres in cotton and it promised well. My neighbors told me I was going to make a bale to the acre, but at the right time the boll weevil struck it and I gathered only seven and a half bales. I felt very much disappointed, but I knew it would not do to give up, so I went ahead preparing for a crop in 1881. I put in oats, corn and cotton that year--about sixty acres. The year 1881 was a very dry year so I did not make but a very little corn and made one-half bale of cotton to the acre. In the fall my wife and I decided to go back to old Alabama, and landed at Gray's Chapel, Ala., on Nov. 26, 1881, having in our possession about $620.
After looking around and figuring up I decided I had made a big mistake in going back to Alabama. I saw it was going to be the same old struggle, only increased, that we had had before. I just about decided not to unpack my trunks, but ship back to Texas, when our kinspeople persuaded us to stay one year before we returned to Texas. They helped us to put up a log cabin to live on my brother's land. He rented me ten acres of land to put in corn. I bought me an old chunk of a team and an old cheap wagon, one hundred bushels of corn and some pork and bacon.
After I had done all of this I began to figure out what I could expect to get out of the little ten acres of corn. I would have to pay one-third of the crop for rent, and it would only leave me six and two-thirds acres for my part. I decided that kind of showing would not do, and that I must do something more, so I decided to put me up a little log storehouse. So I went to the woods and picked out the straightest small logs I could find, snaked them down off the mountain on the spot where I had selected to build the front end, out near the edge of the public road, and the back end reached back within about twelve feet of my dwelling house. The size of my storehouse was 14 X 16 feet, but it was plenty large to hold all the goods I had money enough to pay for.
After I had my storehouse all completed I had just even $400 left to invest in merchandise. My idea was to do a general merchandise business, to I took my $400 over to Bean's Creek, Tenn., to my good friend, John Lipscomb, told him what I wanted and that I wanted him to divide my money up for me so I would have a general stock, which he did. We invested $390 in merchandise and kept $10 to pay the freight on the stock.
In a few days my stock of goods arrived and I commenced trying to get them in shape. Oh, I almost sweated blood trying to read the invoices of my stock of goods, but the articles I could not make out I just put aside, and after I marked the articles I could make out on the invoices I would come back to those I had put aside. At this point I saw that I had to get some education, so I went at it in earnest. I would sell goods in the daytime and study my lessons at night. I soon got to where I could read my invoices and figure out my per cent.
I had not been in business but a few months when J. S. Reeves & Co., Hollins' Sons & Co., Stratton, Seay & Stratton, Dudley Bros. & Lipscomb were willing to extend me a little line of credit, so within twelve months I saw I would have to enlarge my store building. I bought some lumber and put on a side room ten feet wide and sawed out the log wall. This added greatly to room. I hauled my own freight. Bean's Creek, where I got my freight, was twenty miles from my store and it took me two days to make the trip. I always tried to carry out a load of something when I went to the station so that I could make it pay both ways. My wife would attend to the store when I was away and helped me a great deal when I was at home. She was a splendid saleslady and never seemed to get tired. She would stay in the store with me at night when I would be packing and casing eggs, getting ready to start to the station the next morning. She surely was a great partner in the little business. At the end of three years I had made a living and was ahead $2,200, so I felt like I had made quite a stride, and by this time I believe I had the best credit of any poor fellow that ever lived. I could buy all I wanted to buy.
I stayed at Gray's Chapel four years and then moved down the valley to Estill Fork, about five miles distant from Gray's Chapel. I carried on a mercantile business there for nine years, but from 1890 to 1895, I had quite a struggle again. The people had gone into the timber business and it got to where the merchant had to depend almost entirely on the timber for any business. So at one time I found myself tied up in poplar logs to the amount of about $3,500 and had to wait on the rain to give us a tide in the stream so we could float our logs to point where we had contracted to deliver them before we could get our money. It looked like it would never rain. I owed about $2,300 in the market and it was coming due on me, but as luck would have it I owed J. S. Reeves & Co. about $1,100 and wrote them the truth and stated to them the facts. They believed me and waited on me until I got a tide in the waters, delivered my logs and paid them their money.
I got out of that scrape, but I got into another a year or two later. I bought about $9,000 worth of pencil cedar in February and March of 1894. This was measured, branded and put in the creeks and river ready for floating. The people sold this cedar to me on time, taking my note for the balance, as all of them agreed to take part of the amount in the store--so I felt like I was making the best money I had ever made in my life. I was buying the stuff for a great deal less that it had been selling for, but the deal turned on me the other way, or the wrong way. I had never before known us to fail to have from two to four tides so we could float timber in the streams, but luck was against me in this spring of 1894. We did not get a tide at all; there was one small swell in the waters, just enough to scatter my stuff promiscuously on the sand and ground bars and drifts, and there it lay in the sun and water all through the spring, summer and fall. When I finally did get it down to the railroad the next spring, 1895, it was so water-soaked and sun-cracked that it sold as third-class instead of first-class, as I had bought it.
Some of the people I owed for cedar and some of the wholesale merchants began to get uneasy, and I began to get scared. I owned a little home farm. It was a good little home and I would have liked to kept it, but I made up my mind I would sell it and divide the proceeds among my creditors. I sold the farm for $2,500 and divided it up the best I could. I thought this would revive the faith of my creditors, but I do not know whether it did or not. I had to ask J. S. Reeves & Co. to help me to hold off some of my creditors--to tell them to hold up; that I would pay them just as soon as I could make the turn. Finally, about the first of August, 1895, I wound up the cedar and figured up. I found that I had lost one and a half years' time and $2,400, but I paid every dollar I owed in the world. I did not have much left, but about $2,000 more than I had to start into business April 2, 1882, and I thought with just as good will power as ever.
I decided to try Texas again, and I heard through a friend of Matagorda County that it contained fine, rich land, entirely undeveloped, and that the people of the county had voted to remove the county seat from Matagorda, a town on the bank of Matagorda Bay, to the center of the county and call the new county seat Bay City. I made a trip out to see this new county. I came out in September, 1895, and stayed in Matagorda County thirteen or fourteen days, and while there had not seen much done in the way of building up the town, what people were there seemed to be in fine spirits and jolly. The contractors were putting in the foundation for a new brick courthouse, and that looked good to me; the people were talking of getting a railroad right away, as Bay City at this time was thirty miles from the railroad. All this was encouraging to me, and during the thirteen or fourteen days I stayed in this place the cool breeze was blowing right off the Gulf of Mexico, and it made me feel like I was in the next place to Paradise. I was certainly delighted with the country, so pretty soon I made up my mind to move out to Matagorda County, but did not decide what I would follow at that time. But before I left Alabama I had decided to buy a piece of land if I liked the country, and I had been shown some tracts of land, but in some way I did not like the propositions. It seemed every one involved me in debt too much, and as there was not much farming going on and it would be an experiment with me, and I had only $2,400 to do everything with I was afraid to go in debt. Mr. N. H. Rowlett had just finished up a small hotel and had opened it up and at that time seemed to be doing a nice business. Mr. Rowlett's wife had tuberculosis and the doctors advised him to take her north, so he and his friends asked me to take the hotel off his hands at just what it had cost him. After considering the proposition three or four days and watching the business he was doing I decided to take the property. In buying I assumed $1,000, he still owed on the property.
We had only been in this business a few weeks when I could see clearly that I had made the biggest mistake that I had ever made in my life. I began to think matters over in their true light. Instead of people coming in they began to go away. A hotel, with every dollar I had on earth tied up and owing $1,000, and with but few customers, I began to view the situation as one of the darkest things I had ever run up against, so I said to myself: "If I can't get some help from back in Alabama I am sure a goner this time," so I wrote my brother-in-law, M. T. Trice, and told him how I was up against it and told him I wanted $500--that I wanted to start a little store, and in this way felt sure I could pull through. He wrote back encouragingly, telling me he thought he could let me have this amount. Then I wrote J. S. Reeves & Co. and told them what I wanted--that I wanted help to the amount of about $500 worth of goods to start me up. They replied that they would help me to that amount, so pretty good feelings came back to me. I felt sure that with this $500 from Mr. Trice and the $500 stock from Reeves & Co. I could start up a pretty nice little business and pull through, so I just went ahead to prepare to begin business and ordered the $500 stock from Reeves & Co. and wrote to Mr. Trice to send me the $500, as I was ready to open up business. But when I received a reply from Mr. Trice he stated to me that money matters were very tight back there and it would be impossible for him to furnish me.
Oh, my, when I received this word of defeat my heart almost went out of me for I would never have asked J. S. Reeves & Co. for the $500 if I had not felt sure of the $500 from Mr. Trice, because I knew I could not make a success in business here with a little stock of dry goods alone. However, I went along and opened up the little stock of dry goods, but soon saw it was going to be a failure, and by this time my debts on the hotel were falling due and we were not making anything at all in the hotel to meet them with. I did not know what to do. I knew if I was sued and closed out on the lumberman's lien I would lose probably every cent I had in the world, so the only thing to do was to see if I could find some merchant in the county to take the goods I got from J. S. Reeves & Co. and let me have to money to pay on the hotel debt. I was trying to save what I had already put into the property, so I went to the manager of the Townsite Company and asked him to help me to get some one to take the goods and let me have the money. It was a scary time for me, as the lumberman had already told me he would have to foreclose his lien.
Mr. Magill found a man to take most of the stock and I gave the proceeds to the lumberman, and this seemed to satisfy him for a while (and I want to say right here that my wife never failed to be my partner in all of these struggles; she never missed an opportunity to hand out lunches at the back door to the Negroes when they came to town, and it helped out wonderfully). Finally we paid off the $1,000 but after it was paid out I felt just like I had nothing, although I had paid $2,900 for the property I would rather have had $1,000 in cash than to have had the hotel, for I knew I could take $1,000 and make a living, but I did not see any possible chance to make a living out of the hotel, and I do not suppose I could have cashed the hotel for $1,000.
From the first it looked as though everything had gone to the bad in every direction. By 1897 the boll weevil had stuck the country and that put cotton out of commission, so that left nothing going on but cattle business, which is a poor business for a town or town business. It just got to where I was compelled to make a shift, and I did not know how to go about it. One day I said: "Wife, it begins to look like you and I and the children will have to take a bundle on our backs and walk out of this country and go until we can find some work to do, for there is nothing going on here for us to do," but finally I struck a man who owned 700 acres of land down on the bay, eighteen miles below or south of Bay City, and I told him I would give him the hotel property for 300 acres of this land. We traded right away, but I felt that the land would not help me much unless I could sell it or put it up as collateral and get some money, as money was what I most needed. I knew I could make a living anywhere with my wife's help.
Right here the good Lord began to turn the trumps for me. Just about this time one of the merchants of Bay City had given up--he had written his wholesale people to come and take his stock; that he could not pull through. I went to work for this stock. I went to our banker, Henry Rugeley, who is still in the banking business here. It told him I wanted to let him have a deed of trust on the 300 acres of land for the money, and he agreed to let me have it. The stock of general merchandise involved $2,595 and was turned over the Gust-Heye & Co. of Galveston, Texas, to dispose of and divide with the creditors. I was lucky enough to buy the stock for 52 1/2 cents on the dollar, and then I could begin to see daylight and felt like I could step faster and jump higher than I ever did in my life.
This started me in the mercantile business again, beginning on the first day of February, 1899. We had to haul all our goods from Wharton, Texas, a distance of thirty miles, and a good portion of the distance is the black watery land, and through the winter and the wet weather we could not pull much of a load. This continued until July 31, 1901, when we got our first railroad into Bay City. (Today we have three railroads running into Bay City.)
I did a very nice mercantile business and made some money in 1900. I persuaded my son, R. J. Sisk, to come in with me. He at this time had started and was running a little racket store very successfully and was very energetic in his business, so I needed him in with me.
In 1900 we did a fine business and made a large gain financially. During this year the rice industry was launched near Bay City as an experiment. About 600 acres were put into rice and irrigated from the Colorado River, which river is about one and a half miles west of Bay City. The experiment proved a complete success, and it set the whole country wild, everybody wanting to raise rice, ourselves not excepted. My son and I arranged matters and put in 433 acres of rice. We bought up teams and implements and bought a threshing machine so as to save our crop. Everything moved along nicely and 300 acres of our crop was the brag crop of the country and we were carried away with our prospects. We could not see how we could be knocked out of clearing $10,000 on our crop, but luck was against us again.
On Friday evening before we were to begin harvesting our 300-acre tract on the following Monday morning it began to rain and some wind with it. I went up to the field early Saturday morning and, lo and behold, our 300 acres of rice was lying as flat on the ground as if a log had been rolled over it. Oh, my heart almost melted within me. We hardly knew what to do or go at--we had been out so much money, for a rice crop is the most expensive crop on earth. I suggested to my son that we give the crop up and not try to do anything more with it, but he believed that he could still go ahead and take it up and save it and maybe get our money back. But later we both wished we had let it lie in the field just like the rain and wind had put it, for when we got through and figured up all expenses and what we lost, disposing of our teams, implements and threshing machine, we were between $6,000 and $7,000 in the hole, and almost flat broke again!
So, you see, in this way I have been a little up and the most of the time down all the way through, but, I never did get so out of heart that I was willing to quit trying. I have always been able to dismiss my back-sets and "spilt milk" and throw up my head and try again, and today I feel happy and thank the good Lord that he has given me good health and a will power, and I praise his holy name today that I don't owe anyone a dollar and have enough ahead that I am not uneasy about my few remaining years. My wife and I have had thirteen children born to us--ten of them still living, nine of them in Texas and one of them in Alabama.
Bay City, Texas C. L. J. Sisk
Ad from 1902 Rice Carnival Program
C. L. J. SISK
In the death of Mr. C. L. J. Sisk, who died at a Houston hospital last Friday at 2 p.m. after a lingering illness, Bay City loses a pioneer citizen, a man, until his health failed him, prominent in the business affairs of the city, a good Christian gentleman and one well liked by all the people.
Mr. Sisk was born on January 8, 1852, at Gray's Chapel, Alabama. On the 20th of July, 1871, he was married to Mary E. Trice. To this union were born thirteen children, ten of whom survive him. Mr. and Mrs. Sisk moved to Texas, landing in Bay City on November 4, 1894, where they have continuously lived. For 20 years Mr. Sisk has been in business here. He pioneered in the hotel and grocery business here, being succeeded a few years ago by his sons, R. J. and J. C., who are still in business.
Decedent was a member of the Woodmen Lodge, Odd Fellows and the Baptist Church, under the auspices of which he was laid to rest yesterday afternoon in Cedarvale Cemetery. The funeral was largely attended by friends and acquaintances who attested their esteem, friendship and love in many last expressions of kindly words and deeds.
To the one left, who has been with him in all the vicissitudes of
the past forty-nine years, and to the children who are left to mourn
the going of a father The Tribune extends its profoundest
Copyright 2006 -
Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
|This page was created
Jan. 8, 2006
|This page was updated
Dec. 27, 2010