“The Stump-Mouthed Mule”
My Daddy, before he died, had a pair of mules named Red and Burl. I barely
remember them. I’m not sure of the sequence of events, but sometimes in
the mid-1930’s they were traded or sold and we wound up with a horse named John and a nameless mule. I remember another horse or two before we settled for these, but I don’t think we kept them long.
The mule was shorter than the horse, but long-bodied and probably weighed about the same. She was a light brown color, very quick, long stepping, and temperamental.
She worked surprisingly well, teamed with the horse, but was also an excellent single plow mule. I heard her referred to as a “Spanish Mule”. I
have no idea where that came from, but it must refer to her size and/or appearance.
I’m not sure about the phrase, “Stump-Mouthed”. I do
know that it referred to either an over-bite or an under-bite, I don’t remember which she had, but hers was severe. The front teeth failed to match by an inch or more. Consequently she had a difficult
time eating grass unless it was long enough for her to get it between her molars.
Brother Ray was born on May 2, 1921. When he was a tad, he was kicked
in the head by a mule. Wonder is, it didn’t kill him, but it didn’t.
He not only lived, but grew up to be a successful farmer, carpenter, horseman, or most anything else he set his mind
to. He was always a wonderful brother, sometimes a father and always a friend
In spite of the early encounter with the mule; he never shied away from mules or horses. He handled them with authority. There was never any doubt
in his mind or, seldom in their mind about who was in control!
I was always afraid of our Spanish mule, but worked her many times. She
reflexively kicked at anything that approached her from the rear and startled her in any way. Brother Ray taught me how to
avoid those sharp hooves. The trick was to walk up to her head where she could
Then if you wished to hook up the trace chains behind her, you simply stayed in contact with her at all times as you
moved to her rear and while you were there. Everything you did must be carefully
and quietly done so as not to startle her. You had always to be ready to move
quickly out of the way if anything unusual happened—and never let any daylight between you and her hind leg. I tried to make friends with the mule, but she was totally unresponsive.
Just looked at me with those impassive eyes, and did mostly as she pleased. Once
I recall an incident where something spooked her while she and John were in harness, hooked to our wagon. Never did know what happened, but it was probably a heel fly or horse fly that bit her. She suddenly began kicking with both feet, and once her hoofs came up above the traces and shattered the
end board of the wagon box. That was a graphic display of how dangerous those
feet could be—they were small and the hooves were sharp.
We had a nervous relationship until I finally traded her for a saddle mare with foal when I was about 15 years old. This was probably a bad trade, since we could have used her after Ray came home from
the war and we started farming again. He later traded the mare and the colt.
“An Act of Faith”
About 200 yards west northwest of the house was our old orchard. One of
my earliest remembrances occurred in the orchard. At that time the peach trees
were bearing. I must have been about three.
We were in the orchard picking peaches when Daddy’s car burned, down by Dobbins mailbox.
At one time there was a fence between the orchard and the pasture to the south of it.
The fence was in disrepair. In some places the wires were loose from the posts and there were 3 or 4 strands of barbed
wire running along together a foot or so off the ground.
One day our horse, John, got one of his hind legs, between the hoof and the fetlock, hung between some of the barbed
wires. He stood there kicking, trying to free his foot, until the wire cut deeply
into the leg. When we got to him and got his leg freed, he was bleeding badly. We were afraid he would bleed to death.
This happened during World War II, when I was about 12 years old. At that
time Mama, Nell, Patsy and I were living there alone. I was the “man”
of the house.
Mama told me to go get Mr. Coker Waldrop who lived about a mile away by the road.
Less across the Dobbins place pasture. I took the short cut and ran all
the way. When I got there, I called out and Ma Pearlie came out. She was Mr. Coker’s wife. I told her I needed Mr. Coker
and she got him.
I tried to hurry Mr. Coker, but he was not to be hurried. He made me come
and sit by him on the edge of the front porch and tell him exactly what had happened.
I did, but I can tell you that I wanted him to do something quickly to stop our horse from bleeding to death.
He asked Ma Pearlie to hand him his bible and she did. He opened it up and read a passage aloud. He then got up, went into the house and came back out with a bottle of some kind of livestock ointment. He told me very calmly, “Go on home now.
By the time you get there, the bleeding will be stopped. Tie a rag around
the cut and put some of this on the rag. Do that once every day and your horse’s
leg will heal as good as new”.
I must say, his faith was greater than mine. I was filled with doubt,
but when I got home, sure enough, the bleeding had stopped. We doctored the leg
as he directed and it healed, apparently as good as new, but sometimes you could hear a pop in the leg. I suppose it was a tendon, but it didn’t seem to bother the horse.
What passage did Mr. Coker read from the bible? I have no idea. I was so agitated that I doubt I listened, but if I did, I don’t remember. I do know that I was deeply impressed by his calm faith and knowledge that everything would be all right.
Mr. Coker’s full name was William Coker Waldrop. He had a brother
named Julius Caesar (called Julius) one named Napoleon Bonaparte (called Bony) and another named Oliver Cromwell (called Crum). Maybe there were other brothers, I don’t know.
These are the ones I knew about. Apparently his Mother and/or his Father
were well read. Mr. Coker was an exceptional man!
In the fall of 1939, my brother James was in the army and was transferred to Fort Ruger on the Island of Oahu in the Territory of Hawaii. He was there when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941. I was nine years old in 1939 and Hawaii seemed such a long way from home. James was to be gone two or three years (it turned out to be more than four years)
and that seemed like forever to me. I couldn’t imagine it.
He sent a box of gifts to us for Christmas. My gift was a Boy Scout flashlight. It was olive drab, a two-cell with the lens at a 90° angle to the barrel, and with
a belt clip. The clip was made like a pencil clip and was designed to slide down behind the belt with the beam shining straight
In my case, not being into belts, I simply clipped the light onto the top of the bib on my overalls. I was so proud of the flashlight. It was the best one I had
ever seen, and was something to treasure. The fact it came from James just made
it extra special.
The next summer, my Uncle Willis Brown came and got me to go fishing with him.
This was something we did a lot of. I guess he was trying to make up for the fact that my daddy was dead and I really
needed a father figure.
He had heard about a place on Martin’s Creek called the “Round Hole”. This hole was in a 90° bend in the creek and when the flow was high, it created a vortex which, over time,
had widened and deepened the creek. In effect it was a large round hole, and
compared to the rest of the creek it was very wide and deep. This was the place
he wanted to go.
We got there to the place where you turned off the road to go to the Round Hole, and the dirt road was so muddy from
recent rains that it was impassable. We went on down the highway to where it
crossed the creek and set up camp there.
When I say set up camp, I use the term lightly. We didn’t have any
camping gear. We each had an old quilt for a bed.
We had a kerosene lantern, a skillet, and a coffeepot. In our kit, we
had matches, a piece of bacon or some lard, maybe both, some eggs, maybe some cold biscuits and if we were lucky a pound cake,
some coffee and sugar, flour, meal, salt, a jar of jelly or syrup and maybe some butter.
For an extended trip we took potatoes and onions and in season, tomatoes and watermelons. We never took water. What for?
The creek was full of it.
We always took some flapjack mix (sometimes referred to as “bannock”. The recipe is; 1 cup of flour, 1tsp.
baking powder and ¼ tsp. salt per man, per meal. Mix with cold water to form
a batter). You didn’t get this at the store. Mama made it. She simply measured the flour, salt and baking powder, mixed it together and put it into a paper sack. We removed as much as we needed at a time and added water to make a batter and fried
it in some lard or bacon grease, or baked it.
Anyway, Uncle Willis found us a spot to camp, near the highway by the creek.
He left me to content myself fishing in the creek while he went to the Round Hole to scout it out.
That afternoon while I fished, he cut poles. The poles were one and one-half
to two inches in diameter at the base. They were as long as he could manage to set out.
I would guess they were eighteen to twenty feet long. He made long lines
and put on them and set several of them around the Round Hole. He also set out
a number of regular poles.
I remember wading in a small slough nearby and catching crawfish hiding under the leaves in the water. We used them for bait. Don’t know if he had anything
else for bait or not.
His plan was to let me sleep the first part of the night while he checked our hooks.
Later he would wake me and I would “run” them. At supper he
drew a map in the dirt with a stick, showing me how to go through the woods (about a quarter mile) to the Round Hole. I had not yet been there, but he said there was a trail that I could follow. When he woke me it was pitch dark.
He told me that I should go and check the hooks, then check them again about every hour until daylight when I should
I found the trail and took off through the woods. I might tell you here
that after a few minutes I could see pretty well from the glow of the stars. The
moon had already set. I did not use my flashlight for walking. It was too precious to be wasted. Batteries were expensive
(not nearly as good as they are today) and must be made to last as long as possible.
It was a little scary, but I wasn’t afraid of much of anything. I
found the Round Hole and began checking the hooks. The large poles that he had
set out were much to large for me to handle. I was to get him if it was obvious
we had a fish on one of them. The other ones I checked with no problem. That is, until at one place where the bank was steep, when I bent over to raise the
pole up and my Boy Scout flashlight fell off the bib of my overalls. It hit the
water and sank to the bottom. It was still shining and I could see the glow in
the water several feet down.
I quickly removed my clothes, jumped into the creek and sank down to the bottom and got my flashlight. I climbed back out and put my clothes on and continued my rounds.
We did not catch any fish that night.
By the third day the road had dried out enough that he could drive in to the Round Hole, which he did. We camped there for the rest of our stay that was about a week. I
spent my days catching perch from the creek and a nearby slough, crawfish from the small slough, and at night I shot some
bullfrogs with our .22 rifle. We continued our shifts of checking the hooks.
I need to tell you a little about Uncle Willis. He was a moody, very private
person. During our week of camping we probably spent less than 30 minutes in
conversation. He just didn’t have much to say and I left him to his thoughts. I was pretty much a loner myself and had learned to enjoy fishing and exploring by
myself. He was an incessant whistler. I
would hear him whistling off and on during all his wakeful hours.
Uncle also had stomach problems and couldn’t eat a lot of things that I enjoyed.
He fried fish and frog legs for me, but he cooked his own by wrapping them in leaves and cooking them in the hot ashes
and coals of our campfire. For me he fried flapjacks for breakfast but made himself
what we called “hoe cakes”. He used the flapjack batter, but mixed
it drier and then baked it in a dry hot skillet until brown. These cakes were
tough and chewy, but had a pleasant taste and were very filling. I liked them,
but preferred the fried flapjacks.
I presented zero problems for Uncle Willis. I loved him as he did me,
but there was never any expression of affection between us. I knew however, that
he cared for me. Although I looked after myself, I knew he was always looking
to make sure that I was all right. I didn’t have to be told when to eat. I was always ready and never refused anything we had. We had enough, but never too
much. Nothing was wasted or thrown away.
We weren’t there just for the fish. If we had been, we would have
gone home pretty quickly. I don’t believe we caught a fish on our “set
hooks”, as we called them, until our last night. I kept us in perch to
eat, though, by fishing the creek and slough during the day.
On our last night I woke Uncle Willis at daylight and I lay down for a nap. This
was our usual schedule. He would then go and check all the hooks, including the
large poles that I couldn’t handle, then come back and fix breakfast and wake me.
On this morning when he woke me I knew something was up. He had a grin from ear-to-ear.
I can just see him now,
About fifty feet from our camp there was a stump-hole about six feet across and two feet deep that was still full of
rain water. Uncle told me to go look in the hole.
I did, and there was the biggest fish that I had ever seen.
The fish was an Opelousas catfish and I guess it was probably thirty inches long. It was tied with a string, but just lying there quietly. I
could see it’s gills working. Uncle Willis was as pleased as I had ever
seen him and I knew he was thrilled at catching this huge fish.
We got our stuff together and into the car. He put the fish in the car
trunk. When I say trunk, that is exactly what it was, a trunk mounted on the
back of the car. This was Grandpa Brown’s car. It was a 1932 Chevrolet Sedan, was ten years old, but in real good condition. Uncle Willis was a very accomplished mechanic. I never knew
how he came to be one, but he was.
On the way home we stopped at Mr. Harris’s store at Fairplay and weighed the fish on his scales and it weighed
15½ pounds. That was the biggest fish that I had ever heard of anybody catching.
This was a memorable occasion, but only one of many that I experienced with my Uncle Willis.
We most always managed to have a couple of so-so shoats to kill for meat when the weather turned off cold enough that
the meat wouldn’t spoil. We would rub the meat down with salt and sugar-cure
and hang it with haywire from the joists in the smokehouse. The smoke in the
smokehouse was mainly to keep the flies away from the meat until it was cured (dry and hard), and not to flavor the meat.
Most years though, the first fresh pork we had came from the Jimmerson’s.
They were usually the first to kill hogs in the fall and almost never failed to bring us a little of the fresh meat. It was very welcome at our house.
The first “blue norther” of the winter was the day we killed hogs.
The way most everyone did it was; dig a barrel into the ground at about a 45 degree angle with the lower edge of the
open top just at ground level. On the ground by the barrel we would lay boards
for a floor.
Nearby, the wash pot (a cast iron pot about 30” in diameter and about 2’ deep standing on short legs) was
set up and filled with water. A fire was laid under and around the pot with a
ready supply of wood, nearby, to keep the fire going.
When the water was boiling a hog was killed (usually shot) and bled by cutting the jugular vein. The hog was moved from the pigpen on a mule drawn sled and unloaded at the barrel. The barrel was filled with boiling water from the pot. The hog was slid into the barrel and rotated, then
removed, swapped ends and put back into the barrel. This scalding was to make
the hair come loose from the skin.
When the scalding was completed, all the hair was removed from the hog by scraping.
If a patch of hair was found that was not loose, a tow sack (burlap bag) was placed over the spot and boiling water
poured over it to make it come loose. Once the hog was scraped and clean, the
First the entrails were removed. All edible parts (nearly everything)
were saved and used. The liver was usually one of the first parts cooked and eaten.
Sometimes for lunch that day. The intestines were cleaned out, washed
thoroughly, inverted and scraped, then used as sausage casings, or cooked as “chitlins” (chitterlings). We would
have a table set up, usually on sawhorses. We transferred the carcass to this
table to be cut up. The normal procedure was to remove the loin from the backbone
for slicing and frying (this is the round piece of meat in porkchops and when cured is called Canadian Bacon). The ribs were cut from the backbone, separated into two or three rib sections, depending on size, and chopped
with a hatchet into about three inch lengths. The ribs were fried and were a
favorite of mine. The backbone was then cut into sections for boiling for stews
or greens, or sometimes broiled in the oven.
The brains were removed from the head and usually eaten for supper that same day.
Many people scrambled them with eggs. A real tasty dish! The remainder of the head was boiled. The meat was removed
from the bones. The liquid was reduced to an amount about equal to the meat. They were mixed together and allowed to jell (from the natural gelatin) and then it
was sliced and eaten. We called that “souse meat”. Also, sometimes called “head-cheese”.
The hams, shoulders and sides of bacon were removed and fat was trimmed wherever possible. The skin from the hog and all the fat that was removed was placed into the wash pot and cooked until all
the skin and meat pieces (cracklings) were brown and crusty and floating in the clear fat. The cracklings were removed from
the boiling fat, drained and then usually placed in cloth bags to be later added to cornbread.
The fat (lard) was then usually strained through a cloth as it was put into gallon cans and stored for later use.
I’ve heard it said that we “Used everything except the squeal” from our hogs. But that’s not true…we threw the hair away. We
couldn’t afford to let much of anything, if it was of any use, get away from us.
My first watermelon story is about my Grandpa, James Alonzo Woods, who was a very salty individual. He was tough, strict and hard working. He loved to grow big
watermelons. The larger the better. I’m told, (by Lloyd I think) that he
used a technique as follows: He would dig a posthole about two feet deep at the location of each hill of melons. He would fill this hole with cow manure. He would then make
an early planting of watermelon seeds by the manure filled hole.
Heat from the decomposing manure would help the young melon plants get off to a quick start. Then later the manure would be a source of nutrients and water for the growing plants. He would cover the young melons with brush or hay to protect them from the sun (and birds) and prolong
their growth before ripening. As a result his melons were generally larger than
those of most people and he always had some that were truly huge.
My brother Lloyd told me of the time Grandpa took a wagonload of melons to town to sell them. He took one of the melons with him into a store to show the proprietor.
The man looked at the melon and then at Grandpa and told him he couldn’t use them.
Grandpa said, “Why not”? The man said, “They are not
Grandpa asked, “How large did you want?”, whereupon the man replied, “At least 40 pounds”.
Grandpa said, “This melon here will weigh 40 pounds”. The man said, “I don’t think so”.
Grandpa said, “I’ll tell you what. Let’s weigh this
melon. If it weighs 40 pounds, you buy all my melons, if it doesn’t, I’ll
give them to you”. The man agreed.
They put the melon on the scales and it weighed 42 pounds. Grandpa had
sold his load of melons.
My second story is about my Uncle Jim (James Lonnie Woods). Uncle Jim
was my Daddy’s fraternal twin brother. He was a jolly, easy-going man. I spent a lot of time with him in my early years.
He and his wife, Aunt Gladys Jones lived about a mile, over the hill and through the woods, south of us. By road it was about three miles to his house, of course we never went by road in those days. (There was a wagon road/trail through the woods).
This incident actually happened after World War II. Uncle Jim had an acquaintance that grew fields of melons, in the
sand hills near Tatum, for market. Late in the season after the man had sold
all the melons from his fields that he could, he told Uncle Jim that he could go over and get all the melons that he wanted.
Uncle Jim enlisted his friend and neighbor Mr. Ray Waldrop to go with him to get a pickup load of melons. They drove over there and found a field of melons and began to load the truck.
Before they got through, here came a man that demanded to know what they thought they were doing stealing his melons? Seems Uncle Jim got his directions wrong and went to the wrong field. No problem though, once the owner found out what had happened, he told them to help themselves.
My third story involves both my Uncle Jim and my brother James Riley. Just
after World War II, while James was home, he and I went to Uncle Jim’s to get some watermelons.
Uncle had a large patch that I had helped him with on several occasions and he had offered me all the melons I wanted. James and I filled the back seat and floor in the car full of melons.
When we got through we went home and ate lunch then went as planned to the Sabine River to spend the afternoon fishing. We did not unload the melons before we went. We got to the
river and the fish were biting really well. One thing James almost never did
was quit fishing when the fish were biting.
James decided we should spend the night, so we did. We had watermelon
for an afternoon snack, again for supper and yet again for breakfast. The fishing
continued to be good, so we had melon for lunch, again for supper and again for breakfast.
By then we were just about past going and headed for home. I learned then;
a steady diet of watermelon is not adequate to maintain your strength. You just can’t eat enough, besides, they aren’t
very good, meal after meal. The watermelon diet just about made us sick.
James was always ready to go fishing or hunting and we spent a lot of good times together. Whereas Lloyd and Ray were father figures to me, James was always that big brother that all boys love and
enjoy if they have them and wish for if they don’t have them. That is not
to say that I didn’t love Ray and Lloyd, for I did and just as much, but somehow we were not on the same boy-to-boy
level as James and I were. Now, I understand the reason was his boyish approach
“Hard Work and Faith”
Our closest neighbors to the east were Mr. Coker Waldrop and his wife Ma Pearlie.
He was a great big raw-boned man with a gruff voice and a fearsome appearance.
Ma Pearlie was a small, tough, friendly woman. She dipped snuff and had
a glass eye.
Their house was on the main road about three-fourths of a mile from ours. Their
well water was so bad the stock would not even drink it. I don’t recall
just what was wrong with it, but it had a bad odor and taste. They called it
“Iron water” and couldn’t use it.
Mr. Coker had a well “punch” that he used to poke holes all over his farm.
I would guess he probably had about 75 or 80 acres of land. This well
punch was made from a round, flared metal tube about 4” in diameter at one end and about 3” at the other end. It was about 8” long and split along one side.
The small end was fastened to a 3” pole about 8’ long. In
the end of the pole was an eyebolt to which a rope could be fastened.
To punch a well, you began by punching the metal tube into the ground. Each
time, a small amount of soil would pack inside the flared tube. You knocked the
soil out and repeated. When the end of the pole got down to ground level, you
tied a rope into the eyebolt and then dropped the punch into the hole. Theoretically,
you could punch a hole all the way to China with this thing if you had enough rope, and time.
Well, Mr. Coker punched holes all over his farm looking for a source of good water.
This went on for years, with him using time he could spare from his farming chores to punch the holes. Meantime he hauled water from Mr. Robert Dobbins spring in barrels in his wagon.
Mr. Dobbin’s spring was about a half-mile from Mr. Coker’s house.
The spring was inside a low log springhouse. To get the water, Mr. Coker had to bend over to go into the house and
dip water from the spring in buckets, carry it to the wagon and empty it into the barrels.
I think he had two barrels, maybe three. This was a laborious chore. Mr. Coker was too tall to stand erect in the springhouse.
Over the years, Mr. Coker tried all over his farm for good water except the far north-west corner which was up on the
rocky slope of what we called the “mountain”. The mountain was a
naturally occurring mesa formed of extruded, igneous rock. It was a local landmark. I estimate its irregular, but mostly level, top was about 5-7 acres in size, maybe
more. The sides were fairly steep on the west, north and east, but with a gradual
slope to the south and southeast.
There was a road that ran due north off the main county road along the property line between the Dobbins and Waldrop
farms. This road ran directly at the mountain and then curved west and then back
north around it. This road went to the Jack Adams and “Benny Boy”
Waits farms. It dead-ended at Benny Boy’s place. (At one time it went on through to the next road)
As a last resort Mr. Coker tried for water up on the rocky slope of the mountain.
The last place any sane man would choose for a well. Lo and behold he
found good water. He enlarged his hole to a 36” well, put in a well curb
and then tore his house down and rebuilt it with the new well on his back porch. His
new house had a front porch all the way across the front that faced the Adams-Waits lane.
Can’t you imagine his and Ma Pearlie’s enjoyment of all that good water available right there on their
back porch just by dropping a bucket into the well and drawing it up?
You have to admire his faith, hard work and steadfastness to make his dream of good well water come true.
“The Flaming Toe”
It was my custom to go barefoot from the earliest spring day to the freezing weather in the late fall. That meant that I wore shoes only about three months in the winter, and then only when absolutely necessary.
To our west was a large hill that peaked at Mr. Joe Williams’ house. The
slope was gentle for about two-tenths mile and then dropped sharply for about a hundred yards then leveled out and/or dropped
gradually to the small creek that originated at the Dobbins spring and crossed the road a half- mile east of us.
The two hundred yard steep slope just west of us was all red clay and up until about 1934 or 35 was just about impassable
by car. The WPA hauled rock from the “mountain” and put on the road
and solved the problem once and for all time. They used pretty large rock and
it was imbedded in the clay. In places large pieces of rock projected from the
roadbed and made for a rough surface. I might say here, that the men did all
the work with shovels and bare hands. They had no cranes, loaders, or tractors. All work was accomplished by brute effort.
One day in the late fall, I don’t remember where I had been, but
it was just dark and I was late getting home. The weather was cold, but I was
barefoot. I seldom walked when I was a kid, but rather trotted or ran. On this occasion, since I was late, I was running down the old hill, full out. In the darkness, I failed
to see the large rock sticking out of the ground in my path and kicked it solidly with my big toe.
Since my feet were cold, the pain was not too bad and I didn’t know how badly my toe was mangled until I got
home in the light. The toenail was just about torn off, the toe was split open,
dirty and bloody. Mama washed it off, wrapped a rag around it, and tied it with
a piece of the rag and then poured turpentine (or maybe kerosene) on it. Turpentine was our usual antiseptic.
All would have been well except that my feet were still cold from being outside.
There was a fire in the fireplace and I went over, sat down on the hearth and stuck my feet up near the fire to warm
them. About that time, a piece of wood burned through and broke into two pieces.
One piece fell down onto the hearth near my feet.
Before I could move, the turpentine flashed and my big toe was engulfed in flames.
Where I did have only a mangled toe, I then had a mangled toe with huge blisters all over it. I remember, we went up to Mr. Joe Williams’ house that night for a visit. Someone carried me. I think it was James, but I can’t
remember. Mr. Odie Williams, who then was probably about 25 years old, took a
needle and punctured the blisters on my toe. I don’t recall any more about
the toe bothering me, so I guess that it soon healed up.