Pioneer Life in Hopkins County, Texas


When a few old pioneers with their families came into the territory out of which Hopkins County was created there was no postoffice, no mails, no schools, no newspapers, no store houses nearer than Clarksville or the "pin hook" place known as Paris. What corn was used was hauled from the Red, River District, bread was obtained by the use of mortar and pestle, no mills for grinding had been erected nearer than forty or fifty miles. The mortar was a small basin hollowed, out of a stump or felled tree, mortised so as to have a capacity of half bushel or a peck of corn. The pestle was a smooth piece of hard timber something near the size of the basin in the mortar. This pestle was attached to a lever. This lever was operated by one hand, raising and lowering the pestle upon the corn in the basin. You now have in your mind a clear picture of the meal making machinery in this county fifty-five years ago.

When there was a scarcity of corn or when it could not be had at all, the dry meat from the breast of wild turkeys and venison hams, thoroughly dried, made pretty fair substitutes for bread. Some of the old pioneers say that they have used such substitutes for bread weeks at a time and yet they say that life was more enjoyable then than now, with all of our patent flour and improved cooking. Meal making was a slow process, of course, but there was no demand for any great hurry in the business then. Nobody seemed to have any ambition to get rich or to own the world, and there was nothing to do but pound the meal in the mortar and hunt deer and other game common to the country. Many of these grand old men and women still live in the simple style of the good times of old, and it is their delight to talk about the country and its inhabitants, as they knew them in the day when old hunters flourished in the land.

One of these old pioneers, Uncle Henry Barclay, was particularly interesting to the author in relating his varied experiences when a boy in Hopkins County on Sulphur Creek. He pointed out where he had stood in his yard and killed a deer. He lives in a log cabin on the brow of the hill that overlooks the dense wild wood and forest growth of Sulphur bottom, a grand old man, who fully realizes that his race is about run. He settled where he now lives fifty years ago. He showed the exact spot where a gray eagle had caught a calf, where the catamounts had whipped his favorite dog. The spot where the bear had so frightened his brood sow that she ran away back to Red River County where he had got her from. He lives near Uncle Perry Hargrave, another aged and esteemed old pioneer citizen who has given the author many exciting and interesting incidents of his long life in Hopkins County. He is old now and is suffering from weakness of age. One of the leading characteristics of those old settlers is their preference for old times. In their style of dress and habits of life they adhere closely to the old ways.

One of these old men, Uncle Lodwick Vaden, eighty-three years of age, mounted an old horse and rode, a few days ago, to Sulphur Springs, his county town, and attended to his business and returned to his home none the worse for his ride. The old pioneer hunters often clothed themselves in garments made from the skins of wild beasts. Their fashionable suits consisted of coonskin cap, panther skin vest, buckskin breeches and rawhide foot wear.

Any of the old-time settlers in this county will tell you that the wolves howled and the panthers screamed, the wild cat and the catamount cried and the whippoorwill chanted its lonely, solemn and melancholy solo around their lonely cabins in the woods every night. Sheep had to be put in pens surrounded by high picket fences every night, near by their owner's cabin, to save them from the wolves, and many of the settlers kept young calves under their cabin floors at night to protect them from wolves and panthers. Young people of the year 1902 have no idea, not even the most remote, what hardships their forefathers endured in the early settlement of Hopkins County.

A Mr. Payne moved into the county and settled in a log cabin on South Sulphur Creek in an early day with his wife and two babies. He was a poor man, and he had to seek employment in order to support his wife and two infant children till he could get his own land cleared. There was no one who could give him employment nearer than twenty-five miles from his log cabin on Sulphur creek. He kissed his wife and babies and left home on Monday, he camped where he had employment to split rails by the hundred, and boarded himself and returned to his family on Saturday nights. This poor man would chop fire wood around his cabin all day Sunday, carry it on his shoulder and stack it by his cabin for his wife and children to burn during the week. He would eat supper at his humble home Sunday night and walk twenty-five miles to his camp. By daylight Monday morning he would be at his work, and till late Saturday night he would work unceasingly from early dawn till late at night, do his own cooking in his camp, and sleep by a fire in the woods. And all the time his wife and two little children were in that lonely cabin in Sulphur bottom, twenty-five miles away, with but few neighbors nearer than four miles. Every night wolves would howl and panthers scream around her lonely cabin in the woods. The hooting owl with its strange and peculiar noise, the lonely, solemn cry of the whippoorwill, all these things combined was a sufficient cause to age the wife and turn her hair gray, and frightened the innocent babies out of their senses. But she stood it like a heroine, and lives to-day, while her noble husband is gone to learn the great secret and wait with the angels in heaven for the coming

of his companion. One of these little children has long since grown to womanhood and is the mother of a large and respectable family in Hopkins County. "Every bitter has its sweet." "There are roses among thorns and a silver lining to every cloud."

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