D.D. Cusenbary Memoirs

Early Days in Murray Community

© Used with permission by Pat Gracey

Original article was written 1972.

The Murray Community, first called Fish Creek, is near the southwest corner of Young County and was among the early settlements of the county. Its earliest enterprises were the churches, school, post office, stores, gin, blacksmith shop, barber shop, and syrup mill. All these are gone except the churches, the little store and the post office. A rural fire truck is located at Murray, and the attractive school building is used as a community center.

The Murray are is rich in history, and many of its citizens are children and grandchildren of the early settlers. Those early settlers knew what hardships were, but they were men and women of courage. With that old-time pioneer spirit, they stayed, labored, and endured, leaving a path and a heritage for future generations to enjoy. They knew each other’s sorrows and knew each other’s happiness. They cried together and laughed together.

The first pioneers came to the Murray community in covered wagons, some of which were drawn by oxen. They were seeking new lands and a place to build new homes. They found the land cheap and plenty of wood and grass. All of the first homes were log houses. When a man was ready to build his home, the neighbors would gather to help cut and hew the logs and help build the house. The women would prepare meals for the men. They was the time when longhorn cattle and buffalo roamed the prairie, and the day of the ox and the horse and wagon. Those first settlers found many acres of open range and built their first fences of rock and rails.

One of the first roads through Young county was known as the “Wire Road,” which ran from Fort Richardson to Fort Griffin. It ran through the south part of Murray and by the home of the J.V. Tyra family. The Tyra family was among the first settlers in the community. They could sit on their front porch and see the travelers pass by. Sometimes the travelers would be Indians. It would be well for a marker to be placed somewhere on this long-ago traveled road. If not, after another generation, it may be lost to all generations to come.

During the early days, the Commissioners Court would appoint a Road Overseer for certain roads. He would have a list of the names of the hands who would have to work on the road. In a way, the men of the county were “drafted” to work several days a year on the roads. When the overseer “warned out hands” to work on the road, they would come or be subjected to a fine. On the day they were expected, the men would show up with an ax, or a grubbing hoe, or anything to clear the bushes, fill in holes, or level the road. Some would bring a team of horses to use. If a man could not work on the roads, he could pay the overseer three dollars and be exempt from the work for that year.

We did not have voting restrictions we have now. On one occasion my father took me with him when he went over to the Oneal store to vote. The Oneal store was about three miles south of Murray on the J.W. Cloud land and was the Murray and Huffstuttle Community voting box. The men who gathered there to vote were given ballots by Mr. Oneal and then went out and sat on the ground under a large oak tree. They would discuss each candidate and then mark their ballots.

Post Office

The Murray post office was named for J.J. Murray, an early settler. Before the post office was established, Mr. Murray would travel to Graham and bring back mail belonging to the citizens of Murray. The post office was established on January 12, 1880. The various postmasters and the dates of their appointments were: Mary C. Cusenbary, January 12, 1880; James H. Meggison, October 4, 1912; Alexander H. Taylor, April 5, 1927; Maggie J. Brockman, October 24, 1934; Eula H. Brockman, October 5, 1948; Eula Brockman Hamilton, May 18, 1956.

The office was converted to a rural station on January 10, 1958, and Mrs. Hamilton served from that date to July 14, 1959. Mrs. Margaret Price was appointed clerk-in-charge beginning on July 15, 1959. Mrs. Mamie Wright, Mrs. James Buckley, and Mrs. Ray Stewart have served as substitute clerk-in-charge, and Mrs. Margaret Price is now clerk-in-charge.

Years ago it was a custom that when one received a death notice, the envelope had a black border around it. In those day, most of the correspondence was started with these words, “I seat myself with pen in hand to drop you a few lines.”

I can remember that when people from several miles away would come to get their mail, they would stay a few days to visit and catch up on all the news.

School

Information handed down from father to son tells us that the first school was held in a little log cabin on the land filed on by Mr. Thomas Price and that he was the first teacher. The first Murray school house was built on land given by Mr. F.C. Kramer. This building burned and the next building, which also burned, was erected on land given by Mr. R.D. Tyra. The next and last building was an attractive rock structure located about three-hundred yards west of Murray on the Murray and Woodson highway. The school was first known as the Fish Creek School and later the name was changed to the Murray School. The first school teacher were paid from $25.00 to $35.00 per month. For a while the teacher “took up books” by banging on the corner of the school building with a plank. Later on, our little school progressed so fast that the trustees purchased a little bell to call the children in. Some of the children walked several miles to school. Those were the days when we used the McGuffey Readers and when we had one water dipper for all of us to use.

We played many games at school such as town ball, jumping the rope, stealing brick, marbles, mumbly-peg, roley holey, and many other running and jumping games.

It was lots of fun when the teacher would give one person to leave the schoolroom to cut wood for the stove; but when we reached home and our parents would have us cut the night wood, the fun had disappeared.

“In the good old days” when we returned home from school, the first thing we would do was to go to the “safe” where was usually a plate of biscuits and sometimes cooked sausage. My, how good they would taste to a hungry boy! If there was no meal, then you would take a biscuit, punch a hole in it with your finger, and fill it with syrup from the pitcher. It tasted fit for a king.

Once an ex-convict visited the school and said he would come to the schoolhouse that night and tell us all about the penitentiary. Another boy and I were the only ones that came. When we reached the schoolhouse, we lighted the lamps and waited for the man to come; but soon we realized it was dark and we would be the only ones there with an ex-convict. We left the school running, falling over a barbed-wire gate which we knocked down. When we were about a quarter of a mile from the school, we stopped. Remembering we lighted the lamps, we waited to see what would happen. In about half an hour the lights went out, and two brave boys went home without hearing anything about the penitentiary.

At the end of the school term, we had our “Exhibition Exercises.” Someone would recite a poem. Another would give a speech. Then we would give a play and maybe sing some songs.

The names of as many of the school teachers as could be found are: John Orday, W.H. Peachman, P.A. Ludwig, Jas. R. McConnell, Docia Harty, Mary C. Cusenbary, H. Buckley, Alex Stover, Addie Ricketts, Buren Holmes, Lee Blakney, Norman Gay, Henrietta Carr, Mellie Thornton, Mary Fields, Annie Beaty, Buna Sullivan, A.N. Lewis, Etna Wilkinson, Zephyr Cusenbary, Gertrude Robertson, Wright Duckworth, Berdie Hogue, L.L. Hawthorn, W.E. Braddock, W.E. Simpson, Albert Harrison, Mary McCan, Leslie Franklin, Lillie Permington, Annie Mae Routon, Susie Guinn, Hattie Martin, Lizzie Mayes, Vivian Gardner, Ethel Cornish, Ella Mae Foster, Georgia Carmack, Lucille Wilkinson, Viola Jones, Irene Mobley, Bessie Mobley, Annie Price, C.W. Howard, J.B. Merrell, Mrs. J.B. Merrell, Violet Ewing, Eulelia Ragland, Alma Heard, Eileen Slater, Alice Mobley, Margie Easterling, C.B. Ramsey, Thelma Ramsey, Ruby Wilson, Buford Wilson, Kathleen Smith, W.F. Fain, Mrs. W.F. Fain, Bessie Fay Donnell, Edith Atcheson, Ida Mae Lively, A.S. James, Ethel Fain, Ernest M. Marrs, Fanny Floy Marrs, Jean Hanyon, Lorea Reynolds, Pauline Sprawls, Mary Mayes, and Dahlia D. Steele.

Sometimes we pause in memory of the teachers and the many schoolmates we knew, loved, and played with long years ago.

Churches

Doubtless the most outstanding influence in the community has been that of the churches. The Baptist and Methodist churches were organized in the 1870’s, have continued, and exist today. It would take a large volume to give a full history and the influence of these two churches.

At first both churches met in the schoolhouse, and almost everyone in the community attended the services. The women sat on one side of the house and the men sat on the other. Babies were brought to church. Yes, they cried, but this did not seem to bother the preacher or the congregation. We were used to it and expected it.

Most of the preachers wore frock coats-the longer the coat, the longer the preaching. Many women wore bonnets to church, and some of the families would come to the services in an ox-drawn wagon.

At the conclusion of the church services, the congregation would meet outside to visit, sometimes for half an hour or more, and to ask others to go home with them for the noon meal.

When time came for the revivals under the old brush arbor, all would cooperate, and it was impossible to tell who was Baptist and who was Methodist.

On July 9, 1901, Mr. G.W. Carmack gave two acres of land on which the Fish Creek Baptist Church was built. In 1928, the name was changed to Murray Baptist Church. This building is located on the highway one mile west of Murray.

The Red Fork Baptist Association was organized on the Saturday before the third Sunday in October, 1877, by delegates from Fish Creek (now Murray), South Bend, Macedonia (now Bunger), and the Tonk Valley churches. Only two ministers were present: I.H. Cunningham and G.W. Black. The first annual session of the Association was held with the Fish Creek Church in 1878. since the organization of the Red Fork Baptist Association in 1877, the name and the boundary has been changed as follows: 1888 - changed to Macedonia Baptist Association; 1912 - changed to Young County Baptist Association; 1927 - changed to Throckmorton-Young Baptist Association; 1964 - changed to Southern Association to include Young, Throckmorton, Baylor and Knox counties.

The first minutes printed for the Red Fork Baptist Association were for the year 1880 and show G.W. Black as pastor and Sam Beeman as church clerk.

The following are the names of as many of the pastors as could be found and the order in which they served: G.W. Black, Moss Martin, G.W. Black, Moss Martin, Q. Brown, O.P. Stark, H.W. Higgins, A.B. Milam, J.H. Longan, J.E. Edwards, R. Lindsey, C. Jones, G.W. Chancellor, F.A. Suttle, F.E. Suttle, M.H. Godfrey, J.H. Newsom, J.H. Kittleton, B.A. Roark, O.E. Dickson, G.W. Black, Frank Johnson, M.F. Richardson, W.D. Armstrong, W.S. Green, W.D. Lewis, W.K. Unkart, Royce Shoemate, Don Hammer, Dennis Richardson, and Don Hammer, the present pastor.

When Thomas Price arrived at Murray in 1874, he found a tumbling log cabin on the land on which he filed, so old that the owner could never be traced. We are told that in this cabin with fireplace and with shutters instead of glass windows, the Methodist Church of Murray took life.

Later they worshipped in the Tyra Schoolhouse until August 28, 1907. At this time Mr. and Mrs. W.L. Chandler deeded two acres of land for a church site. On this land a church building was erected; and today children of the families who built the church are worshipping in this same building together with others who later came to Murray.

A highway ran near our home; and late one dark night one of the Murray boys was riding down the road singing with all his might, “I’ll be a Methodist till the day I die.” He would sing these words over and over. Far down the road when I could barely hear his singing, he was still a Methodist.

The Methodists had two pastors by the name of Rogers. One was tall, the other was small in stature. When speaking of them, we referred to them as “Big Rogers” and “Little Rogers.” They were both well liked. I was a young boy at that time, and I’m sure my favorite was the one we called “Big Rogers.” In those days, men wore celluloid cuffs and collars. My favorite used gold cuff links. In his sermons he would make many gestures with both hands; and when he would throw out his arms, the cuff links in the celluloid cuffs would make a clinking and rattling sound which I enjoyed.

Perhaps I have missed many names of the pastors, as it is almost impossible for me to complete a list from the scant records I could find. The names of as many of the pastors as I could find are: G.M. Calhoun, M.W. Rogers, Leo C. Rogers, J.A. Crutchfield, I.L. White, J.S. Huckabee, G.W. Clark, J.M. McCarter, H.P. Shrader, R.A. Stewart, A. Thomas, S.D. Cook, Marcus Chunn, Jerry L. Oliver, P.E. Cantrell, W.T. Veatch, W.B. Gilleland, G.G. Mitchell, A.W. Franklin, Andy Williams, C.E. Wade, B.E. Kimbrough, O.A. Morton, W.B. Morton, R.W. Call, G.C. Childress, J.L. Wright, John E. Brown, G.C. Smith, Olin Tinnell, Jr.; Ernest R. Meitzen, Charles Thomas, W.H. Edmonson, F.O. Garner, Harold Orr, Dan Jobe, Bobby Hempel, Gene Allen, Wesley Van Norden, Joe Fagg, Wayne Reid, Delbert McAmis, Roy T. Bassett, W.A. Cockerell, and B.C. Dugger, the present pastor.

Life in the Home and the Community

Life was hard in those early days; and food, clothing, and amusements were simple and usually produced in the home. Many things we consider necessities now were unheard of then.

Men wore whiskers and mustache. They rolled their own cigarettes; and later, some men smoked cheroots, a small kind of cigar. Many grandmothers wore nightcaps and smoked pipes and dipped snuff. One grandmother, seeing how interested I was in her snuff, was kind enough to let me have a sniff of her little tin snuff bow. In a few days I recovered, but I’m still allergic to snuff.

Among the early settlers, the men and boys wore brogan shoes and usually a jumper instead of a shirt. Little boys wore dresses until the boys were seven or eight years old. Sometimes a baby would be set up in a horse collar while the women were busy, and the child would be secure in this improvised baby tender. When the infant was old enough for solid food, the mother would often chew the food and then place it in her baby’s mouth.

The women wore bonnets, sharp-pointed, buttoned shoes, and dresses coming down to the ankles. The girls used curling irons, warmed over the lamp chimney, to curl their hair; and it is said that some of them pinched their cheeks to make them pink.

In those days, some of the “feather beds” were made of shredded shucks, too. I was too young to know but was told that the fathers of some of the girls who wore them objected quite a lot. It seems that when the girls came home in the evening and began to put the bustles away, the milk cows, hearing the rattling of the shucks, would immediately jump up and start bawling, thinking it was time to feed!

Every farmer felt that he would be tried for treason if he failed to have milk, butter, buttermilk, and homemade cheese. This cheese was made by putting clabber in a cloth bag and hanging it over a vessel to catch the dripping whey. The separation of the whey from the curd would form the cheese, which was similar to our present-day cottage cheese.

We didn’t have iceboxes or refrigerators, but we almost always had firm butter and cool milk. Most of the home would have a two-foot square and three-inch high tin pan to hold water. Into this pan of water, the jars of milk and bowls of butter would be placed with wet cloths wrapped around them. Sometimes we would have clabber at meals; and if we were out of sugar, we would often pour syrup on our clabber. (We learned this from the town folks who poured chocolate on their ice cream).

There were always fresh eggs for breakfast and also homemade biscuits. Sometimes for the evening meal, if there was enough bread left over form dinner, the top and bottom of the biscuits would be separated, sprinkled with a little water, then put in the bread pan and placed on the hearth with the pan tilted up so the bread would face the fire for warming. Unparched coffee was purchased in the bulk. The green coffee was placed in the bread pan and into the oven and was stirred often to get a uniform parch, until it turned brown. then when you needed coffee, the beans were ground in the coffee mill. There were two kinds of coffee mills; one was nailed to the wall and one was held on your lap. Each was turned by a crank. When ground, the coffee was ready for the pot. In those days it was quite all right to cool your coffee in your saucer.

One treat we children really enjoyed was popcorn; and one friend we would never forget was Aunt Serena Trimble. Whenever we visited her home, she would immediately get out the skillet, dishpan, and popcorn; and on the old fireplace, the popping would begin. Just think of a dishpan full of popped corn, seasoned just right, and some hungry kids to eat with! When we didn’t have popcorn, the common field corn, shelled and parched in the oven, was often eaten by us children.

Sometimes popped corn, ground in the coffee mill and used with cream and sugar, was a wonderful cereal; also whole wheat was boiled and eaten in this way. Another treat was a pumpkin broken into small bits and baked in the oven.

Nothing was ever wasted. Chicken feet, pigs feet, and hogs head were cooked and eaten. One ordeal we Murray kids remember: if we helped ourselves to more food than we could eat, it was put away for us to eat at the next meal.

Besides having milk cows, most farmers raised their own livestock for meat. One way of preserving raw beef, especially in the winter months, was to dry it. The fresh beef was cut in long slices and hung up to dry. The outside would harden and turn dark. When being prepared for cooking, the outer part would be cut away and the remainder was ready to use. The dry beef would keep for a long time, and the taste was very good. The winter months were much colder then than they are now, and perhaps that is one reason the meat kept as well as it did.

As we had no running water, we carried water from the well or the tank and took baths in washtubs. When laundry day came, the clothes, washpot, washboards, tubs, buckets, and homemade soap were loading into the wagon and hauled to the creek or tank for the washing. If there were small children, their part would be to gather wood and keep a fire under the pot while the mother did the washing.

In a little ravine north of Murray one could find red keel rocks, which were sometimes used for paint. This was a soft, red rock; and when a fireplace had turned dark from smoke, the rock was rubbed on the fireplace, changing it from black to red.

Bolsters were used on the beds with pillows, and many families used homemade trundle beds. Our lights were from the glass lamp with chimney or the little copper lamp with the round wick. We also used the tallow candle which was usually made in the home.

Then there was the old-time hopper for ashes. As the water would seep through the ashes, it was caught in a receptacle. These drippings would be the lye used in making soap.

Bones of animals were ground up for fertilizer. Men drove over the prairies collecting the bones, sometimes of buffalo, and hauled them to Weatherford for sale. We youngsters believed they were ground into soda.

At that time, there were no screen doors. When company came at meal-time, it was the duty of the children to fan away any flies the best they could, while the grown folks ate.

Everyone always left their house unlocked. Often change was left on the mantle and was always there when you returned home. Sometimes it would appear that someone had eaten a meal during your absence and then gone on his way. This is what you would want a hungry traveler to do if you were not there to invite him in.

Sometimes a prairie fire would break out, and off with wet tow-sacks the men would go to help whip out the fire, regardless of how far away it was. All knew what it would mean if it was not stopped. These tires did not happen often but could burn off many acres of grass before being stopped.

Like many other things, our doctoring was often “home-grown.” When we had to take medicine, it was bitter medicine: the bitterer the better. What a change — we don’t have to take medicine now — just tasteless pills and capsules. The mustard plaster and the peach tree-leaf poultice was among our home remedies. One homemade remedy we children liked was horehound candy, which our mothers would make when we had colds. Sometimes we had colds on purpose. We liked the candy, but not the horehound syrup. Soon we learned, when mother told us to go find some horehound leaves, to first find out if she was going to make candy or the syrup. If it was for syrup, the leaves were very scarce. If it was for candy, we could find more than enough. This plant was usually found around the lot, and the leaves were boiled down with sugar added.

Another home remedy for children was asafetida. This was put in a little bag and tied to a string that went around the child’s neck and under the clothing. It was supposed to ward off colds and almost anything else, except lightning and drownings.

For the sick when the weather was cold, a hand iron or brick was heated and wrapped and placed at the feet. These heated bricks were also used by people traveling in the winter.

In those days, when a horse was sick, he must be “bled.” This was done by prying the mouth open and cutting a gash back of the front teeth in the upper part of the mouth. This was thought to be as good for horses as asafetida was for children.

Although many things we used were grown on the farm and made in the home, there were some objects that had to be bought. It was a great day when the drygoods peddler would come. You could tell who he was when he first came into sight, riding a horse burdened with two large bags, one on either side of the horse, with the horse coming in a slow walk. The peddler would bring the bundles in and set them in the middle of the room, taking out one item at a time to show you. He had a good word for every item. If you weren’t careful, he would sell you more than you meant to buy. I couldn’t understand him very well, but one sentence he would always say I learned by heart: “I have the cheapest goods on this side of Fort Worth.”

When you looked down the road and saw a wagon coming with tree limbs sticking out from the sides, you knew the driver was peddling beef. The limbs were to keep the flies away, and the beef usually sold for about ten cents a pound.

It was real experience to go to Graham on business or to pick up supplies. During the early days, it usually took two days to go to Graham and return home. We would spend the night in the wagonyard where there was always water for the team and troughs where you could feed them. What a thrill it was to meet someone you knew at the wagonyard or just meet someone who knew someone you knew. At suppertime we cooked eggs and home-cured bacon on the large fireplace. The biscuits you brought with you from home, usually in a flour sack. At night, as long as someone would talk with you, you would almost forget to go to bed.

Sometimes we would bring a suit to town to be cleaned and pressed. The tailor would use a hand-iron heated over charcoal to do the pressing. When we visited the barber shops, they also had baths; and the standard price was twenty-five cents for a bath.

As we boys did not get to go to town often, we sometimes used a mail-order house. The most prominent one at that time was J. Lynn and Company, 48 Bond Street, New York, from them you could get a ring for ten cents.

One of our most treasured items was the signature on the Arbukle Bros. one-pound package of coffee which sold for fifteen cents. With thirty-five or forty signatures, you could get a pocket-knife or a French harp. No wonder we kids didn’t know any better than to be happy.

Not all of our toys were store bought. At the R.D. Tyra home, when children would come to visit Jesse and Minnie Tyra, the outstanding amusement was the homemade whistle. This was made from limbs from the willow trees which grew on the South Fork of Fish Creek about two-hundred yards from the Tyra home. From the willow, a smooth piece, about four or five-inches long, would be cut. Working with it carefully you could slip the bark off whole, making a cylinder. The end of the cylinder would be closed and a notch cut, then all one had to do was blow into it and enjoy the sound.

A great sport for us children was crawfishing in the tank. When we could find a string, we would tie it on our bait, and off to the tank we would go. Usually our bait would be fat meat. When our string would begin to shake and wiggle, we would pull it out slowly, and there would be a big, red rough-looking crawfish holding on by its pinchers. We didn’t know what to do with it after we caught it and soon found out that crawfish didn’t make very good pets, but it was great fun.

Another way we boys entertained ourselves was by making a hole through a strawstack on the level of the ground and crawling through it. I have often wondered why we didn’t meet a polecat or a rattlesnake meet us.

Most of us boys were taught not to smoke, but one of our pastimes was to go down to the cotton patch, crush dead cotton leaves into a make-believe tobacco, and roll a cotton-leaf cigarette. It was a great sport, and we supposed we were developing rapidly into “grown manhood.”

The older boys often told us about another great sport. They told us if we could swallow a raw egg whole, right out of the shell, we would be heroes. They would tell us how easy it was and that every boy should be a hero. I knew a boy just my size and age who wanted very much to be a hero. He went down to the henhouse when no one was around and found an egg. He broke the shell at one end, then threw his head back like he was looking up at the stars, and opened his mouth. When he placed the egg over his mouth, out came the egg, and he had it swallowed before he knew it. It went down easy, just like boiled and buttered okra; but he has never been a hero since.

Most children loved the old-time Murray syrup mill. The farmer would bring to the mill matured cane, which was stripped of all leaves and foliage, the heads cut off, leaving the bare stalks. These would be run through rollers which squeezed the juice from the stalk and into a barrel. The juice was poured into a vat with a fire under it, cooked to a certain stage, and then poured into containers. This thick, sweet, dark liquid was called sorghum molasses. When it was finished and the syrup poured into vessels, visiting children were allowed to lick the pan. What a treat!

Another attraction was the Murray Natural Zoo. At most zoos the animals have to be purchased, not so with the Murray Zoo. Up to the 1890’s, almost in the center of the Murray community, was a prairie dog town. The “zoo” was increased by the presence of rattlesnakes, bull snakes, cottontail rabbits, polecats and sometimes a wolf, mice, rats, birds, ants, and grasshoppers. A little branch running throughout the south edge of the zoo was where we boys set out steel traps in the winter. Our catch was mostly polecats, once in a while a wolf. The pelts we would sell, and this was about the only Christmas money we had, mostly spent for firecrackers, a two-bit Barlow knife, or a French harp.

Besides our “zoo”, the Murray community could at one time boast of a polecat farm. At that time, furs sold for a good price. However, this enterprise did not last long. The owner had built a high wall around the area he was to use, sinking the wall into the ground. While the owner slept, no one sowed tares, but the polecats dug under the wall and disappeared.

When reapers came into use, grain was cut around the outside of the field into the center. Rabbits would come from all sides toward the middle of the grain. When the grain was cut down to a small strip, the boys would try catching young rabbits. Sometimes a snake would show up, but the choice was rabbits.

The boys thought they were living in Utopia when the Commissioners Court passed an order to pay fifty centers a dozen for rabbits or prairie dog scalps. Each time we boys scalped a rabbit or prairie dog, we thought of Indians.

Fighting wasps was another entertainment. We would get a board and trim it down at one end for a hand-hold, or use a bunch of broomweeds, and hunt for a wasp nest. We would throw at the wasp nest to disturb them, and they were easily disturbed. The game was to strike the wasp as he came at you. Sometimes we would do like the baseball boys, we would strike out.

Of course, it was not all fun for the Murray farm boy. One errand for the boys in the early morning hours, before daylight, was to go out in the pasture and find the work team, bring them to the barn or lot and feed them before we had our breakfast.

When I was a young boy, my father had cattle on the open range. One day my father, a Mr. Surginer, and I rode out to see about the cattle. When the day was far spent, we had not found the cattle but found ourselves across the river from Fort Belknap. We were hungry and decided to go across the river to the Fort for something to eat. Crossing the river, our horses had to swim part of the way. This was my first time to get seasick.

For the pioneer farmer, cotton was the only money crop. Boys and girls did most of the picking. Sometimes school was discontinued for two or three weeks so the children could finish picking the cotton. Many times the children would be at the cotton patch early, waiting until daylight to see how to commence picking. It was a wonderful day for the children when the farmer discovered he had a market for corn, all kinds of grain, and hay and could plant less cotton.

The old boys and girls, those approaching manhood and womanhood, worked along with the adults of the family, and they had their own amusements. When a boy asked a girl for a date, often she would ask her parents before she would give an answer. During those days, the boy was supposed to fan his girl if it was hot weather. If he had a girl and a fan, he felt lucky-providing he didn’t forget and fan himself too much.

One great ordeal for the young fellow was when he was trying to help his girl on a horse. The girls at that time used side-saddles, and her boyfriend was supposed to assist her onto her horse. The boy would usually place his left hand on the shoulder of the horse. His right hand his girl would use as a stirrup. As she gave a little spring, the boy would give a lift for her to land in the saddle. This was not very easy. When a boy could perform perfectly, it was worth more to him than a diploma from Cambridge University.

Some of the entertainments the young people enjoyed were croquet parties, singings, and candy breakings. These gatherings were at the various homes or at the Carmack Gas Well, an attraction long to be remembered. Mrs. G.W. Carmack had a well drilled for water near his home. Plenty of water was found and also gas. But the water was too salty for home use or for stock. The well was cased with strong casing; and the gas, when lighted, would continue to burn until smothered. This well became a favorite place for the young people to have gatherings at night, the burning gas always giving sufficient light. From an early date the little gas well was looked upon as an indication that oil would be found in the community, and yeas later oil was found on the Carmack lands.

The first telephone system was quite a boon to the community. Sometimes the wire on the fences was used. The phone was attached to the wall, and each box holder’s ring was so many long and short rings. When the phone rang, everyone went to the telephone to listen. (This way you didn’t need to subscribe to a paper to get the news.) The words you often heard were “Shake up your phone, I can’t hear you.” At night the boys and girls took over. When someone wanted to talk business or call for a doctor, he would have to plead with all his heart to get the line cleared so he could talk. Some things never change.

In later years, one attraction for people of all ages was when you could hear one of the early Ford cars coming through the neighborhood. You could hear it coming as far as the east is from the west. How lucky you were if it was coming down the road near you. It was always tempting if you were in the field hoeing cotton or corn to stop and rest yourself on the hoe handle, waiting for the car to come by. If you had good luck, in about thirty minutes or so it would come in sight. It would always be speeding, especially if it was coming down a hill, making sometimes as much as fifteen miles an hour.

At Christmas-time the community would have a Christmas tree at the schoolhouse. It was decorated with stringed popcorn and other homemade decorations. The women would buy mosquito-net cloth and make little bags in the shape of a sock and fill them with candy and nuts. There would be one placed on the tree for each child in the community. This was a great time for the children and the adults seemed to enjoy it. No wonder one of the boys said, “Wish we had Christmas twice a year.”

At home children hung their stockings around the mantle. For boys a little ten-cent cap pistol with caps, some candy, and an apple and an orange was a great Christmas. A china doll or a set of toy dishes and some candy and fruit was plenty to make a little girl happy. This was as much as we expected, and how we did enjoy it.

Farming and Ranching

In the early days, the farming implements were a bull-tongue plow, double-shovel plow, turning plow, scythe, cradle, and pitchfork. At first the farmer planted corn and cotton by hand and sowed his grain by hand. Most of the earliest settlers cut their feed and grain by using a scythe or scythe cradle and tied it into bundles by hand.

Among the early implements the farmer used was the homemade roller. This was made from a large tree, the trunk about two feet or more in diameter. The tree needed to be perfectly round and the same diameter on all the portion used. A section about six or eight feet in length was sawed from the trunk of the felled tree. In the center of each end of the roller or log, a two-inch hole was bored for a depth of about twelve inches. Into these holes, bolts or rods were placed, the ends projecting about four inches, and were inserted in a frame built around the roller. On the frame was attached a tongue, double tree, and two single trees, similar to the front end of a wagon. When the team was hitched over the ground to pack it down. After grain was sown, packing the ground helped hold the moisture in and also left the field smooth, which was a help at harvesting time.

Besides pulling the plow and roller, the farmer’s team of work horses was used to pull the wagon for hauling various things. One chore the farmer knew he must do was to keep plenty of wood on hand, as it was used in the fireplace and cookstove too. Just before winter, the farmer would haul several loads for the winter supply. Most of it would be dead wood, an old tree that had fallen down. Also he would find many old stumps where the trees had been cut down for logs to build houses, corn cribs, and fences. After a few knocks on these stumps with an ax, he could often pull them out of the ground. These old stumps were used in the fireplace as back logs.

At first tanks were built with a scraper and team. The results were small tanks which often went dry during the summer. Then our water source would be Elm Creek on the north or the Clear Fork on the south. Many of the neighbors had cisterns; and when the cisterns were dry, water was hauled to fill them. Sometimes after a snow, it was used to fill the cistern.

The first thresher in the community was a horse-powered one. At this time grain was cut and tied into bundles before threshing. The custom was that when the thresher would come into the community, nearly all of the men would join the crew, going from farm to farm unto all of the threshing was finished. Usually twenty or more men would be working together, some hauling bundles to the thresher, some feeding the bundles to the machine. Some emptied the grain into sacks as it was threshed, while others hauled the threshed grain to the granary. Still others worked on the straw, as in those days it was stacked for feed for the stock. This would be the busiest time of the year for the farmer, men working from daylight until dark, and women cooking for the men. If you have never watched men eating after working the thresher, then you have missed a show, when the thresher crew left a home, you didn’t need an adding machine to count the chickens that were left.

One of the citizens of the Murray community, John T. Brockman, a kinsman of mine, purchased the first horse-powered haybaler in the area. Soon he came to my father’s farm to bale hay. As I was the youngest child and only boy in the family, I was the pet, and my father let me work at baling hay.

It was a very scientific machine with an opening on top where the hay was pushed in by hand. You would gather the hay in your arms and squeeze it tight to place it into the baler. Then you had another instrument which looked just like a churn dasher except that it was a square, solid, plank that was used to tamp the hay in tighter. After several loads of hay had been pushed down into the baler, the horse would be started up; and as he went around, a plunger would cram the hay to the back end of the baler. Then two men, one on either side of the baler, would push two wires under and over the bale of hay, tying them by hand. The trap door at the back of the baler would be lifted; and after the horse was started up again, the plunger would push out the bale.

You can imagine what a pleasure it was feeding the baler by hand. The hay scratched your wrists and arms until they looked like you had measles. The chaff and bits of hay would get down your neck and wouldn’t forget to hurt. While we were baling someone said, “I guess this is the first haybaler ever made.” I hoped it was the last.

Mr. Brockman was a second cousin once removed, but my parents taught us children to call him “Uncle John T.” While I was working in the heat of the day, with my wrists and arms and neck begging me to quit, I kept thinking, “A man who would buy a thing like this, and I have to call him “Uncle.” When it was all over, I discovered two things: first, I wasn’t hurt as much as I thought, and second, I still loved Uncle John t. just as I always had.

A Murray incident that attracted the attention of the state farmers was the Murray man who won an award as the state champion cotton-raiser. Mr. G.W. Robinson read an article in one of the leading newspapers about a company that was introducing a new type of cotton called Georgia Pride. The company offered to furnish three pounds of seed to any farmer and to give an award of two-hundred dollars to the one who raised the most cotton from it. Mr. Robinson wrote for the seed and planted it by hand, dropping them one at a time into well-prepared land. When the cotton was picked and ginned, the yield was over three bales of cotton from the three pounds of seed. Soon after he sent in the necessary papers showing the yield, he received the $200.00. Thus he was champion over all the other farmers of the state.

About seventy years ago on Elm Creek, which is about ten miles north of Murray, there were many pecan trees and almost always a good crop of pecans. No one gathered them for market, but several Murray citizens took hogs and turned them loose on the banks of Elm Creek, as hogs seemed to thrive on pecans. The hogs ran wild; and when it came time to fatten hogs to be slaughtered, the neighbors would go to Elm Creek with dogs and camp until they had caught some of the hogs. The dogs would catch a cornered hog and hold it by the ears.

Hogs also do well on acorns; and at times when the corn crop in Murray was limited, the farmer would drive his hogs to the woods and thrash the acorns like one would pecans. After the first or second drive, there was no trouble in getting the hogs to the woods. Sometimes they would beat the driver there by quite a bit.

When hogs were killed, some of the meat was ground in the sausage mill for sausage. Often wild sage that grew on the prairie was added to the seasoning. Sometimes the sausage was stuffed into long, slim, cloth sacks, and sometimes it was cooked and put down in lard in crocks. When you wished to serve it, you would take the sausage out of the lard and heat it. The farmer made his own lard. This was done by cooking the hog fat in the washpot.

To cure the meat after the hogs were slaughtered, the farmer would pack the meat in salt inside a large box. He would place a layer of salt and then a layer of meat until all of the meat had been covered with salt. After the meat had been salted down for a while, it was hung up and smoked. The smoking of the meat was usually done by setting fire to small chips gathered from the wood pile and put under the hanging meat.

About five miles north of Murray on the old Simpson ranch lived a typical Scotchman, Dugal Black, owner of a herd of sheep. Whenever you visited his ranch, you would find Mr. Black with his sheep. He was one of the old-time sheepherders, and it was interesting to watch him work with his sheep. He seemed to know each other individually. An even greater attraction wash his little dog. When any of the sheep began to stray away from the flock, Mr. Black would place two fingers in his mouth, give a loud, shrill whistle, and the dog was at his side. The herder would point towards the straying sheep and call out “Go round them.” How that little dog could run! He would circle around the sheep, turning them toward the herd. If they didn’t move fast enough, he would come closer to them. Then if they still didn’t travel fast enough, he would snap at them. The dog seemed to be so proud of himself when the sheep were back in the group.

Mr. Black always seemed to enjoy company; but he lived alone with his dog and his sheep until the day he joined the Great Shepherd.

Another sheepman was Mr. E.A. Hamilton. His range and his large herd of sheep was southwest of Murray. He owned sheep for many years, and his interest in them was around the clock. Everything was not always rosy with the sheepman. Disease, wolves, weather, and lack of grass were among the many things the sheepman had to contend with.

During the early days, the sheep would be put in a corral made of mesquite brush for protection at night. This corral was made in a circle with mesquite limbs piled upon one another making a brush fence. Some were six-feet high and six-feet wide, with an opening left until the sheep had entered and then closed with more prickly mesquite branches. It was seldom that a wolf would come through a fence of this type.

It was interesting to watch the sheep being sheared. The sheep were penned, and the shearer would catch a sheep and lay it on the ground. After the sheep made one try at getting up, it would make very little effort while being sheared. I have often wondered when I was near the Hamilton ranch, if I might have worn clothing made form the wool of his herd. One thing that always thrilled me was the bleating of a herd of sheep. Perhaps no other animal needs as much care as sheep, and the sheepman furnishing wool renders a real service to mankind.

Perhaps the most heart-warming part of reminiscing about a small, old-time, rural community like Murray is to recall the neighborliness and helpfulness of its people. All of the men and women of the community were good examples and help to the young people. But one man I would like especially like to mention was Mr. F.C. Kramer, who was such a help to us boys. He was always willing and ready to encourage and advise us at all times. Whenever we had a debating team or any kind of a club or meeting, he was always with us and would be one of us. His clean life, help, and encouragement meant much to all of us.