Chapter II -- Pioneer Country

There were but few people in the western part of Sevier County and at the time about which I am writing and there were but four families living on the road just north of where Grannis now is, south to Ultima Thule, and only ten families living on Rolling Fork River from head to mouth.

Game of all kinds was plentiful and a man could take his gun and go out to a deer lick any morning and kill a deer. Bear was not so plentiful, but bear meat in the fall of the year, was common, after they had become fat on the mast, which at that time was never known to be a complete failure, as it has been since so much timberland has been cleared. I have been ploughing in the field when the deer would be feeding in the same field, and I have sat in my house and seen deer feeding in a twenty acre field that surrounded my home.

In those days the range was fine for all kinds of stock. Fattening a hog on corn in those days was an unheard of thing. Cattle went the year around without feed and would get very fat in the summer and fall. Beef cattle were bought up by cattlemen and driven to Little Rock and Shreveport and shipped by boat to New Orleans, Memphis and other river markets. A good five year old beef steer was considered currency at twenty dollars. Cows with calves usually sold at eight and ten dollars. Beeves were killed the year round; when a beef was killed in the summer, when the weather was hot, the few people in the neighborhood divided it, then the next time some other one of the neighbors would kill, and so on all around. No one ever entertained the thought of weighing out beef to a neighbor, and if a stranger happened to be sojourning in the country he shared the same as the others but if he should forget himself and show the cloven foot he had better move on.

At that time there was more charity, good feelings and accommodations among the people than I have ever seen since. It was nothing uncommon for people to go visiting twenty miles away, usually oxen and the old "tar hub" wagon for conveyance. If a family wanted to leave home for a week or more's visit they could always find someone to go and keep house for them until their return, or if they had nothing that would need attention during their absence they went away not fearing that anything would be molested during their absence, and if any person was from home he was always welcome to stay with any family he came upon when night overtook him, and if he found a house and no one at home, he went in and cooked a meal of anything he found and made himself at home with no fear of giving offense.

Dances and quiltings were the common entertainment during the winter season and I have known young women to ride horseback twenty miles to a quilting and dance.

In the summer after the crops were laid by the barbecue season came in for its share of patronage and consideration. I have known the dance attending the Rolling Fork barbecue to last a good part of the next day. People knew or cared little for style in those days, and but little distinction was made between people if they were honest and respectable. A girl that had a new print dress to wear to any kind of entertainment was supposed to be well enough fixed, but with a new calico dress and a pair of store shoes she was the center of attraction.

It may not be too much of a breach of etiquette to mention here some of the old time ex-slaves that figured prominently in some of the past times I have heretofore mentioned. First I will mention Bill White, formerly owned by William White, one of the first settlers of Rolling Fork. Bill was known far and near for his expert culinary abilities at a barbecue and bore about the same relationship to a barbecue that Napolean Bonaparte bore to a battle. His two trusted lieutenants as helpers were: Lit. McKean and Jake Nelson, both ex-slaves. Lit. was an ex-slave of the McKean family, while Jake had been the trusted slave of the Nelson family, which had first settled the old Dr. Hammond place on Rolling Fork. Lit. and Jake were both fiddlers and no barbecue with the attendant dance, was complete without Jake and Lit. to furnish the music. I once heard a person say that he would not dance to music made by a negro. Had this person lived in southwest Arkansas at that time they would have been left out when it came to dancing, for the most aristocratic people of southwest Arkansas have tripped the light fantastic toe to the lively strains of music furnished by a negro fiddler.

Another faithful slave that deserves mention was Sam Dillahunty. Sam went through the Civil War with his master, as cook in the Confederate army, but in action Sam always stayed with his master's company to take care of anyone that might get wounded, and in performing these voluntary acts he was twice wounded himself.

The Confederate Pension Board of Sevier County once put Sam's name on the pension roll in consequence of his having been wounded in the Confederate army. The pension law did not sustain this act and the State Board of Pensions turned it down. The county board then applied to the state legislature and by recommendation of Hal. L. Norwood who was at that time Attorney General of the state, a special act was passed putting Sam on the Confederate Pension Roll, an act cheered by all ex-Confederates who knew of the circumstances surrounding this event.

All these faithful ex-slaves have passed away with the full knowledge that the had the confidence and friendship of all the white people who knew them.

Prior to the Civil War there arrived in this region a man by the name of Ben Norwood. He came from Tennessee with a large wagon train and company of forty or fifty relatives and friends, together with about fifty negro slaves.

Mr. Norwood was enroute to Texas, having been informed that there was ample fertile soil there suitable for cotton production.

The wagon train chanced to camp at a large free-flowing spring of fine soft water just north of Horatio, Arkansas. Uncle Ben, as he was later to be called, was deeply impressed by the quantity and quality of this fine spring of water. After spending the night in the environs of the spring the wagon train pulled stakes and journeyed on to Texas according to plan, but remaining in "Uncle Ben's" memory was the thought of the overnight camp at the pleasant spring. Arriving in Texas, but finding conditions unpleasing to him, he retraced his steps to Arkansas and the pleasant spring north of Horatio where he settled and established Norwoodville. From this fine family emerged Hal. L. Norwood, first Attorney General of the State of Arkansas,* and at this writing, Dr. Norwood of the DeQueen General Hospital at DeQueen, Arkansas.

At the time of which I am writing there were but two stores in our side of the county, one at Norwoodville, the origin of which I have just explained, and the other at Ultima Thule, and I still remember some of the prices, which I will give you: Calico 25¢ per yd.; low quarter brogan shoes $4.00 per pr.; No. 8 Avery cast plow $10.00. I once paid $2.00 each for four 8 inch shovel plow blades and $10.00 for a sack of salt; $2.50 for an ordinary poll axe; $1.25 for an ordinary old fashioned eye hoe. The young woman or girl who could afford to pay fifty cents for a yard of ribbon to wear around her neck and hair was looked on as putting on the style, and the man who nailed the boards on the roof of his house was lucky if he paid no more than 12½¢ per pound for the old fashioned cut nails.

Those were the palmy days of southwestern Arkansas. We sold our cotton at from 5 to 5½ cents per pound in the seed. For a while there were but two cotton gins in the whole southwest area of the state. One owned by the McKeans and the other by Ben Norwood Sr., of Norwoodville. But later when the country became more advanced the McKeans put up another one at Ultima Thule, the first one being on their farm on the Rolling Fork River.

In the spring of the year our merchants, the McKeans and the Norwoods, and those at Paraclifta, Mineral Springs, Center Point and other inland towns would take what cotton they had already to ship and go to Hood's Landing, and when the river would get high enough (which it sometimes failed to do) for a steam boat to come up, they would take their cotton and go to New Orleans to buy goods for the coming year's sales. Sometimes on account of low water these goods would have to be hauled overland to Shreveport. This afforded a rich harvest for the professional bull-puncher, who made his living hauling for the public. His teams usually consisted of three or four yoke of cattle. His feed for his team cost him nothing, as he fed them on the range, for at that time the grass was good everywhere. The merchant who failed to get his cotton off, and his goods up in the early spring while the rivers were up, had to depend on getting his goods by "long horn" conveyance from Little Rock, the teamsters usually going in gangs of two or three drivers to as high as five or six. They would usually have a pony along to be used in herding their cattle and getting them together when getting ready to break camp. Each puncher knew where the best grazing places were, sometimes going a mile off the main road, and the length of the drive depended on the grass. From our part of the country one of these drives usually took from thirty five to forty days. He would usually take, when the roads were good, about 8 bales of cotton and bring back about four thousand pounds of freight, receiving three dollars per hundred each way. Hunting and fishing was indulged in at the different camping places. Venison and turkey furnished the punchers a good part of their provisions. The man who has never been on one of these trips has missed a chance to enjoy life which will return no more forever.

(Note by the Editor of the DeQueen Bee newspaper - "The next installment of Early Days in Sevier County will give an interesting account of the fishing and shooting matches enjoyed by the pioneers. It tells the history of a spring not far from DeQueen famed for the healing quality of its waters. It contains references to numerous incidents of much interest and gives credit for some splendid deeds of pioneer men and women. If you are interested in the early history in Sevier County you will enjoy the next installment of Early Days in Sevier County. Editor DeQueen Bee.")

(Note by Compiler and Researcher - "I have included some of the footnotes and other relative material to 'Early Days', 'Reminiscences of the Late War', and 'Wandering Willie', the literary products of "Captain" Ray, as I consider every one of them a precious legacy."

David W. Ogden, Compiler & Researcher.)

*Note by compiler

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