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Memories of Ulyssia M. LaBauve


Contributed by Mary Hurr

Would 80 years ago be considered “Olden times?” Not to me; I would say that my great grandmother lived in “olden times” for to me it seems but a few short years since I was a child—and I’m now 80.

To young people a person 60 years of age is old enough to die of old age. I remember even after I was married (I was married at the age of 19) I heard a man, age 45, speak of his mother. I asked astonished, “Is your mother still living—she must be mighty old.” He said, “She is in her sixties.”

The first twenty years of my life seemed the longest; from that time on the years came and went uncounted.

At the time my mother, Marcellite Hebert, married my father Dominique LaBauve (who was born in 1800) he owned a sugar mill with her brother Raphael Hebert and a widow. This sugar mill was located at West Baton Rouge, and I judge it was at West Baton Rouge that my parents were married. At that time the sugar mill was run by horse power; the mill burned, however, and was rebuilt and run by steam. My father sold his interest in the mill before moving to Texas to make his home.

My daughters Mesdames Jessie Harwas and Elina Johnston have asked that I write these “memoirs.” As I write the past memories crowd themselves into my mind with such speed, each crowding the other happening out before I have had time to put them down into writing; therefore I find it most difficult not to get “the horse before the cart” as the saying goes.

At one time the family resided on Spanish Lake, La. It was formerly called Lake Tosh (meaning “cup).

I was born April 27, 1855 in the State of Louisiana at the trading post of the Attakapas Indians, in St. Martin’s Parish. I was christened in St. Martinville in 1856. My parents moved from there to Texas when I was four years old (1859). Travelled from Morgan City, Louisiana to Galveston by steamer, thence on a sailboat to Old Indianola up the Navidad River to Old Texana, Texas, at which place my father rented a five roomed cottage where we made our home until he could arrange the purchase of a permanent home. There were always living quarters for slaves, even in rented places, as everyone had slaves. My father had brought his slaves with him from Louisiana: Sophie, Andy, Chadrack, Edmond, Ashille, Rose and Caroline.

Victor LaBauve built an adobe house with slave labor; one large room in the center, two smaller rooms on either side, and a separate kitchen and dining room at the back, as all houses were built that way during that time.

Victor LaBauve hired a school teacher, for the children to come to his house. Miss Texas Davis was the teacher. The O’Neil family sent their children there. Sally Yeamans also attended there and perhaps Bob Logan. At the time the O’Neils attended, Minnie Ward was teaching. Of course, I attended.

My father arranged with his brother, Victor, for the purchase of several hundred acres of land on the East Carancahua, which stream at that time was navigable. On this land my father began building our home, however before completing it my father died and the land went back to Victor LaBauve, his brother.

We moved to West Carancahua awaiting the completion of the new house and we lived in a three roomed log cabin in the meantime. My father worked diligently to transplant my mother’s fruit trees (one a crab apple) and her flowers which she loved with the passion of her French blood.

Their plans never materialized as my mother died the first year of the war and my father passed away two years later.

Two years after my father died (which left the family in a helpless condition as my eldest brother Gilbert was in the Confederate Army). We were five girls and two small boys at home. Our Uncle Victor took charge of our Negroes and the small rented farm we lived on at the time. I, the youngest of the family, did not realize the awful conditions existing.

While the Negro women did the house cleaning, cooking, washing, ironing and household tasks requiring physical effort (some working in the fields with the Negro men), our Negroes were not trained as seamstresses and it was necessary for the lady of the house to know how to sew.

I remember my mother telling us children that when she was first married and attempted to cook her first breakfast she tossed the batter into a pan of hot lard (standing at what she considered a “safe” distance) and the hot lard spattered on her, burning her painfully. With indignation she went to her new husband and informed him she would have to have a cook, so he bought a slave for her for which he paid “1,000.00 (Although having been married twice before he had never owned a slave.)

During the war the “Yankees” (we called them “Damn Yankees”) tried to starve us out by cutting off supplies. We were unable to get flour. We ate cornbread, hominy and sweet potatoes. We were unable to get coffee, sugar or syrup until the last year of the war. We used syrup made from sorghum cane.

During the war and long after we had a hard time. Flour was not available until after the war and then it sold for $14.00 a barrel. A good hunter need never have hungered for meat as the country was overrun with deer and wild turkey. We also raised the hogs on the range.

Even after flour was available at $14.00 a barrel we still had no coffee. The people would try first one thing and another as a coffee substitute. They tried slicing Irish potatoes and crisping them brown in a skillet (as all cooking was done on a fireplace then). The best substitute was made of coarsely ground corn, put through the same process as the potatoes, only it had to be almost burnt. It was called “Corn coffee” and it was good. It was black as tar. We drank it without cream or sugar. (There was not sugar then.) I think I would enjoy a cup of it now.

People made their own spinning wheels and looms. We made dyes by boiling barks until it was a brownish red. If we wanted black dye we added corpus to the dye.

As to clothes, the people wove their own cloth, knit their own socks and stockings; made lye soap, moulded candles of beef tallow, and did the sewing by hand. My older sisters plaited and made hats for the boys of palmetto, after it had been bleached in the sun, and made hats for themselves of corn shucks. They trimmed them with flowers, the petals of which were made of white goose feathers. The feathers were curled with the blade of a knife pressed firmly against the spine and sliding to the end. Centers of the flowers were made of yellow thread, waxed with bees wax. These flowers were real pretty and quite decorative. Fans were made of palmetto plants. Everyone used fans.

I remember during the war we all went to Dr. Pilkington’s plantation to attend a Negro wedding. Mary and Ike were to be married. The ceremony took place on the back gallery of the white folks house. The bride wore a white dress (someone said it was her Mistress’ dress) and she had on a veil made of lace window curtain; never-the-less it was a great event to us children, as we had never seen a wedding before. The Master, Dr. Pilkington, performed the ceremony, then all went to the Negro cabins to see them dance but before the dance started a Negro rode up to the fence and said that he had come for us, that our brother had come home (on furlough). We all started running home. They ran off and left me behind. I had such a pain in my side from running I could go no farther. My brother took me by the hand and dragged me along. It was so dark we could not see the path. We got into some prickley pears and got our bare feel full of thorns. We had about a half mile to go. I was so glad to see my brother that I soon forgot the thorns and everything else when he took me in his lap. Our old faithful cook was in the yard jumping up and down shouting “Mar’s Gillie’s come home, Mar’s Gillie’s come home!” She was a shouting old Methodist anyway. She shouted and prayed every time it thundered and lightning she would stand in the yard in the hard rain and jump up and down, calling out “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord!” She was a dear old soul and we all loved her. We children would go and sit with her at night in the yard and listen to her talk. She would tell us about the stars.

On starry nights she would point out the stars—the Milky Way, the Seven Sisters, the Great Bear’s tail, the North Star and the dipper, and many others. She remembered when the stars fell in Alabama, and told how darkness descended to such an extent that the chickens went to roost, and about how frightened the people became as they thought the world was coming to an end.

We lived in a very thinly settled part of the county. It had been many years since the Carancahua Indians had been there, but we found many arrowheads, principally in the gully and washed-out places. I wish now that I had kept some of them.

The people had not lost the habit of building in the timber to be protected from the Indians. (I suppose that was the reason.)

Before my father’s death he grew his own tobacco. My sisters learned to make cigars, and they made some to sell.

When I was about eleven years old we moved away from the rented farm to a piece of land that my eldest sister’s father-in-law (Major Fleury) had deeded to us four younger children. He owned a great deal of land deeded to him by the Government for his services in the Mexican War as Major.

My three brothers, Gilbert, Telesmar and Aristide built us a house of logs from the timber, as all the land was timbered. (The house had a mud chimney.) The main building was of split logs, the shed or “leanto” rooms were of boards of “shingles.” While they were building I went with them to help, as I could hold the boards while one of the boys nailed them on. We walked to and from work, which was three miles.

We had a pet crow which followed us to work every morning. She would fly from tree to tree over our heads and make her, “Caw Caw” song as she went. She would fly around all day and when we ate our lunch we would feed her. She was especially fond of meat. She later developed a bad habit of taking things out of the house we built. Of course, the house had no screens and she would take knives and spoons and carry them on top of the house, and one day she took two little perfume bottles of mine, which I valued highly. I climbed on the house and discovered that she had broken them to pieces. I caught her and gave her a good switching (which was an awful thing to do I suppose). I didn’t think how bad it was until my eldest brother shamed me. I felt ashamed and went off and cried real tears of repentance. Poor crow; she robbed birds’ nests and she started going off miles to neighbors and eating hen’s eggs, disturbing the setting hens and eating the eggs, so there was nothing to do but give the people permission to kill her.

There were wild animals in this part of the country which we encountered sometimes.

I remember once, when I was about 12 or 13, my sister Ordalie (Dollie) and I went to visit one of our married sisters, Adonia, a distance of about three miles from home. We had to walk through a thick woods with only a path blazed through. On our way back that afternoon (our path led near a pond in which grew spunkweed [skunkweed] about three feet high); as we neared the pond we saw what we thought was a hog across the pond. I said, “There’s Mr. Billup’s big hog” then the thing raised itself up on its hind feet (it must have been five feet high) and it looked at us; it ran in one direction and we rain in the opposite direction.

Another time, later, I was visiting in the “neighborhood” (which we called it, as there were several families living close together). One of the neighbors asked me to go on an errand for her. She said her little boy, Ezekiel, might go with me. The grassburs were bad along the path so she put a pair of socks on his feet. (I don’t remember, but perhaps he had no shoes, as it was not uncommon for children not to have shoes in those days.) We had to cross a small creek in which the water was about three inches deep. I carefully threw some dead limbs across the water so as not to get his socks wet, and held his hand to help him across. We got along all right on the going trip, but on our way back when we got to the creek just as we started down the bank we came face to face with a big bobcat and her two half-grown young ones. I was so frightened I was rooted to the spot. The boy, Ezekiel Arrington, was behind me. The cats went up the side of the bank growling.

Ezekiel hollored, “Let me get afore Lyssia, Let me get afore!” (If I was paralyzed he didn’t want me to detain him.) I grabbed his hand and dragged him through the water (regardless of socks). When we got to the house the old lady asked “What on earth is the matter?” We said we met three “panthers” (which I thought they were) but the menfolk said they were not large enough to be panthers that they were wildcats. Four years ago, this same boy (now an old man) came to see me. I asked him if he remembered the incident. He laughed and said he had never forgotten it.

The land that Major Fleury had deeded to us children became too much of an undertaking for my brothers. After several years of hard work the boys became discouraged. They cleared out a field, cut down the trees, grubbed up the roots as best they could and cultivated it with a grubbing hoe, as it was impossible to plough up the roots. My eldest brother, Gilbert, went back to Louisiana with a drove of cattle and remained there. The two other boys, Telismar and Aristide went to Indianola, one secured work in a restaurant (we all have to eat) and the other on a boat. (Years later, in September 1875 the City of Indianola, Texas was destroyed by a storm, with the loss of many lives.) Indianola was a thriving port prior to the storm.

We two girls, Dollie and I, went to live with our married sisters, she with Adonia and I with Elizama who lived near the settlement. I was much happier there as I was getting to be a “big girl” (perhaps fourteen) and wanted to be with young folks. We had had dances (not often) in our neighborhood but we often went to dances at other places; sometimes twenty miles on horseback. “We danced all night ’till the broad daylight,” as the song goes; and we’d ride home without any breakfast. It was all fun as we rode on, not saying a word, just musing over the events of the preceding evening and the tunes by which we danced still running through my head. I would almost drop off to sleep—but oh, so glorious to live it over in my mind “in the broad daylight.”

Nothing in life has ever thrilled me like the sound of the tuning of a violin—the first stroke of the bow across the strings. It thrills me to this day; even as my little grandson, Knox Thomas, tunes his violin my heart beats faster and the blood courses through my veins—my French blood!

With a twinkle in their eye the “old timers” tell my daughters, “Your mother never had a daughter as pretty as she was.” I guess I must have been rather good looking as I always had beaux. I can hardly remember when I did not have them. When I was quite small I remember my first sweetheart. He was a good looking twelve-year-old barefoot boy. His name was Green Franklin. Their family moved away and I never heard from him again. That was my first love—and serious, I suppose!

Please remember that this is written for my children to enjoy hearing about the past incidents in my life and it is written here as I have told it to them—and as you would tell your children of your life, and if I become personal or appear egotistical please realize I am only “talking” to my children.

I had lots of beaux, but when they talked of getting married I lost interest and the subject usually brought our friendship to an end.  I could not understand why a friendship should cease because I refused to marry a boy. I, as all other girls, wanted admirers but I didn’t want to get married. A cousin of mine who had so many beaux who seemed to “hang on,” as the saying goes, seemed to have a secret. I asked her how she managed and she replied, “Oh, I always say “yes” when they ask me to marry them and when I’d tire of them I throw them over.” So I thought I would try her plan. (All’s fair in Love and War I believe) so the next fellow who asked me to marry him  was my victim—I said, “Yes.”

As time went on I realized I did not love him and I had done a foolish thing. My conscience hurt me and I was very unhappy and I felt so guilty that I could not stand it so I wrote him a letter telling him I did not love him and that we must consider our engagement at an end. (I hadn’t done anything smart, and I didn’t feel as though I had.) You have heard it said, with reference to marriage that one goes through the orchard to find a straight stick and finally picks up a broken one…that happens to many. This boy wrote me a long letter. He did not ask me to make up with him, he only told me how unhappy he was and asked me to forgive him for writing. All women have secrets of popularity, and as it has always been and always will be that men are the victims of women’s plans. If men used the ruses securing wives as some girls go about securing men friends I fear they would be branded as “cads.”

Buggies were not too plentiful in those days and horseback was our chief means of “going places.” The “boy friend” always provided a horse and saddle for me. Just as a young man furnishes the transportation for his lady-love today, so my Romeo furnished the saddle horse.

Our style of dress was very simple. We could not afford too many dresses as it required ten yards of material for a dress (and that did not include the ruffles). The skirts were made with four full widths and the skirt came to the ankle. The waists were made “peroda style.” We wore two and sometimes three petticoats, depending upon the thickness of the dress.

I believe in spite of a limited variety of amusements we were carefree, full of fun and mischief. I recall a prank I played on a little Negro hired boy. My sister had sent him to the spring to get a bucket of water. As soon as he left the house I dressed myself in some of my brother-in-law’s clothes and as I went through the corn partch I took some red corn silk and held it to my upper lip, to resemble a moustache and I went and stood on the bank over the spring where the boy went for water and I said,

“Hello, buddy.” The little Negro had just filled the bucket with water. He looked up, startled, and I said,

“Bring me a drink—I’m REBEL JOHNSON!”

When the poor little Negro looked up his face turned the color of ashes, he dropped the bucket of water and climbed up the opposite side of the creek and ran home a half mile away.

It was rumored that Rebel Johnson had once belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, an organization to keep down the Negroes after the Civil War. We did not feel that this was necessary as the ex-slaves were always humble and respectful to the whites, but the Negroes were very much afraid of them.

The little Negro (Austin Powers) was brought back to my sister that afternoon by his mother. My sister shames me for frightening the little Negro, but at that age I “got a kick out of it.”

As a child my sisters never scolded me. They often shamed me and sometimes it was like “pouring water on a duck’s back.” However, once my eldest sister, Adonia, meted out discipline. I was about six years old at the time and she told me I should not play with the little Negro children of the former slaves as now that they were free they might not have the same respect for me. (Our slaves were still with us.) I loved to go to the cabins and play with Patsy as she was the only child I had to play with. My sister told me if I didn’t stop going to play with Patsy that she would pack my clothes and I could go live with the Negroes. I must have doubted her, or the temptation was too great, for I slipped off and ran over to play with Patsy, and when I returned home Adonia had my clothes packed and she said, “Well, here are your clothes, I think you had better move in with the Negroes.”

The joke had its effect. She laughed and never said another word about my going to the cabins. It wasn’t necessary. It worked all right.

I guess I was like Topsy in the “Birth of a Nation” who said “I wasn’t raised, I just grew up.”

During the war it was such a delight when someone brought me a small gift, such as a marble, an Indian arrowhead or a pretty piece of crockery.

After freedom our Darkies stayed with us a year or so then they went elsewhere to try out their freedom, and thinking that elsewhere they could better their conditions. It was years before my sisters learned to cook.

After the Negroes were set free the white men were then forced to turn their attention to some way of earning to living, so they turned to cattle raising. The price of cattle had gone down to almost nothing, but in a few years the whole country was covered with cattle. They thrived as the country was all open, the cattle could roam from one county to another. When winter came they went to the words for shelter, they broused on the under-brush and moss hanging from the trees. They watered in the natural streams. By these means they were in good enough condition for market by late spring.

The boys and menfolk were all cow drivers, which meant the task of branding the calves in the spring, and later gathering the beeves to drive them to Kansas—known as “Indian Territory.” I asked one of the boys if he had seen any pretty Indian girls as they went through Indian Territory; he said he saw nothing but old squaws who came along with the men to carry home the meat that the Indians demanded; the beef had to be killed, skinned and cut up for them. They carried off everything, even the entrails.

Horse stealing had been going on for several years, then the thieves began stealing the cattle, killing them for their hides. This business went on for several years. They became so bad about it that the stock men soon found out who the thieves were; they caught three of them, two brothers and another and hung them. One was a young doctor and his brother; the other was an accomplice.

This hideous thing occurred on the East Carancahua River. I saw the tree from which they were hung at Burrel’s Bend. This tree made an arch, the limbs extending almost to the ground. The mob drove the men, horseback, under the arch, tied the rope about their necks and drove their horses from under them. The mob drove off, not looking back.

In the midst of the “enraged citizens” were two wealthy men who boasted of their own cattle thieving, and the younger of the two men to be hanged, pointed his finger at one of them saying, “The first calf I ever stole I stole for you.” (Shanghai Pierce) (There’s nothing like a “mob mind.” Only these three paid with their life.) (One young man engaged to be married.) The brothers were from a refined, old and respected family. Others were doubtlessly implicated with them, but the lynching put an end to the cattle stealing.

They had killed the cattle, skinned them, salted the hides and took them by wagon to a distant point where boats from Indianola met them and took on the cargo. The carcasses were thrown in the river and the number became so numerous that the river became clogged with dead cattle. This part of the river was not navigable and the dead cattle passed unnoticed for some time, however many floated downstream and attracted attention. This wholesale slaughter for the hides created a shortage and the prince of cattle began to go up.

Stock men began fencing up their stock. They erected windmills in their pastures but when there was no wind there was a shortage of water, so cattle suffered for water and as a result often did not do well. When winter came they were cut away from the shelter of the woods and in the terrific windstorms and cold northers they often followed the fence and would freeze to death along the fence—they died like flies. They were so close together you could have stepped from one carcass to another. They died by the thousands. Men were sent out to skin them.