THEY MADE THE LITTLE RED, WHITE AND
MISSISSIPPI RIVERS THEIR HOME 1913 - 1917
Article by Sara Howerton
HOW THEY BECAME ORPHANS.
The time was early in 1910. In Arkansas at this time one of every three deaths were caused from TB. in ages 16 to 45 but one in seven deaths of all ages during this time was caused from TB. It seemed that this disease got the attention of the Arkansas State Government to a point that they supported building a Tuberculosis Sanitarium located at Booneville during the term of Governor George W. Donaghey. This left the boys without a home. They went from one farm to another trying to make a little money and just to survive. They finally went to work for Jim Reeves in the Steprock community in White County, Arkansas. His farm was on Stevens creek close to where it runs into Ten Mile creek. Marys mother Emelia "Molly" Reden (who was 1/4 Cherokee) had married Jims father E. Kirkwood Reeves about 1867 so was an Uncle to the boys by marriage
Because Mr. Reeves farm was located near Four Mile Creek and Stevens Creek
and not far from the Little Red River it provided the boys an opportunity to sharpen their
skills on hunting and fishing. Beside working in the fields they hunted and fished a lot
on Ten-Mile creek and in the Little Red River bottoms In the time they trapped Raccoon,
Mink, Skunk and Opossum. They also had a hound dog and a little dog named Fido which was a
Feist. Both boys learned to pick cotton early and were good at it. Later this would be a
means of survival especially in the fall.
The brothers learned to adjust with the seasons. They would work for their Uncle when the crops were being planted and cultivated. Then they would help with the harvesting. But they learned to set traps and trot-lines in the creeks and Little Red River. They didnt have a boat so they had to use throw lines they would bait these lines with crawfish or small perch and throw them into the river. One end would be tied to a bush. Many times they would catch a large catfish.
They spent about three years working for their uncle who paid them a little bit and furnished them with a place to sleep and something to eat. Then one day some thing happened that changed their life completely.
THE DEATH OF A HORSE, 1913
Harry had just begun to use the single stock plows. Mr. Reeves liked to plow the middle of the cotton rows and corn rows with a single stock and one horse. So it was one of Harry's jobs to plow the middles out. He was using a horse that he didn't like. The horse was unruly. He would stop and try to graze on the tops of the corn that was easy for him to reach, Harry finally had to put a muzzle on the horse to stop him from ruining the corn.
Harry had plowed several days with every thing going well when the event occurred that changed the boys lives. It was a hot day and both horse and boy was sweating. They had stopped several times to rest and take on water but each time Jim Reeves would get them going again. He wanted the crops to be plowed. In fact he became a bit annoyed at Harry. They had a few words as Harry began to take up for himself even though he was only thirteen years old.
This day Harry was plowing cotton rows. As Harry plowed through the field and got near the far end away from Jim, the horse just raised his head and his front feet and lunged forward and fell to the ground. Harry didn't know what to do. He went to the horse and tried to get him to his feet but the horse would not move. Even a young boy could tell something terrible had happened. Harry finally decided that the horse was dead. He went to the other end of the field and got his uncle to look at the horse. Jims first reaction was that Harry had somehow killed the horse. He began to accuse him to a point it really hurt the boy. In fact as Harry tells the story 35 years later, he cries. It was one of those things that has bothered him all of his life. He did not know what happened to the horse but it was to become a point of friction between Jim and Harry
Jim told Harry to go to the house and he would deal with him later. He had to take the harness off the horse and find a way to dispose of the carcass. When Harry went back through the field he told his brother about it. They discussed what might happen as Harry thought he was going to be punished severely. Jim Reeves had not whipped the boys even though he had threatened them at times. This was one time Harry though he would whip him as Jim was very mad.
The boys decided on what action to take. They had discussed living in a shallow cave under a bluff, a few hundred feet above and on the south-west side of Ten Mile Creek where it runs into north side of Little Red River. This is in Township 9N, Range 7W and Section 13 of the County Real Estate Map. The Bluff was called Cockrans Bluff and the Cave was called Cockrans Cave. It must have been that a Cockran family at some time had made their home under the bluff in the cave. Mr. Cockran was still living in the area but had built a cabin on top of the bluff. They decided to make the move to Cockrans Cave. They gathered up their things put them in their cotton sacks. They took their dogs ,guns and steel traps and headed down to the creek. The Reeves farm was on Stevens creek not far from where it ran into Ten Mile creek. Even though Mrs. Reeves tried to stop them their mind was made up. Jim Reeves owed them a little money but they didn't wait for that.
It took them the rest of the day to get to the cave and clean it up and store their
belongings. They had matches and plenty of wood was available but they had to find
something to eat. Flemon had gone in the smoke house and taken a piece of pork and some
hog grease and hid it in his cotton sack. This provided the first meal. Sometime previous
to their stay with Jim Reeves that had collected a cooking pot and a skillet. These items
along with a pan or two had been stored when they started staying with the Reeves. They
brought these items with them to Cockrans Bluff.
Now they were going to have to start hunting and fishing for food. The boys knew how to do this but some of their needs would take money and they would have to go to town to get them. It so happened that Mr. Cockran came down to the cave and found them. He was living close by on the top of the bluff in the fork of Ten Mile Creek on the Little Red River. They told him their problem so he made a deal with them to do some work for him and he would pick up what they wanted when he went to town. This worked out fine.
LIVING IN A CAVE UNDER COCKRANS BLUFF
They adjusted to the new life. They worked some for the Mr. Cockran. He furnished them with some groceries and paid them a lithe. They accumulated about fifty dollars between them. They had their guns and their dog Fido, and the hound dog they called Browny. Jim Reeves had found them and given them what money he owed them. This seemed to improve their relationship with their uncle but they did not go back to the farm. Being free was a great relief for them and they wanted to try it on their own.
They used a spare cotton sack that was worn (they used the others for bedding) to make
a seine to catch small fish. They used the small fish to bait the lines that were put in
the river at night. This improved their catch of cat fish. They usually had more than they
needed. Mr. Cockran brought them some old netting wire to be used for a place to hold
their fish. They could keep The fish several days in the wire pin. Usually They had fish
to sell when someone came down the river.
People that lived up Ten Mile creek found out about them and came down and bought Catfish. Their camp was about thirty feet above the water so they didn't have to worry about getting washed away. With no means of knowing what the river would do at times didn't seem to be a concern. If a rain caused the river to rise they had enough food to go for several days. Sometimes the river would back up Ten Mile creek and they could catch fish that came out of the river to get a way from the current. They would get in the water and catch the fish by hand at times.
The few months they lived in the cave were very good for them. This would help them in the years ahead, especially those years they lived on the river. Not being dependent on others for survival seemed to be a blessing to these young boys.
At night they usually kept a fire going for two reasons. It was a little damp and cold in the cave and they wanted to keep animals and snakes away. It was not unusual for them to have a visitor that wanted to share the cave with them. This visitor could be a Bob Cat or a Panther or even a Bear but the fire was the thing that kept them from having to fight for their spot in the cave. The dogs helped out in keeping strangers away. One of their chores was to gather plenty of wood. They tried to get the wood while it was dry. They had traded fish for a small ax to cut the wood into usable pieces.
They made enough money to send to town for new clothes. This made them feel better. They had over fifty dollars between them at this time. They had made a pact with each other some time previous that whatever they wanted, it had to be a decision of both of them. This would be good later on as they would purchase larger items that would require both of them to pay for it.
It was their intentions to just live here under the bluff but something happened that changed all those plans.
A NEW DECISION--A BOATMany times they would swim out into the river to retrieve something. Many times they wished for a small boat to run a trot line all the way across the river. They even envisioned going down the river in a small boat.
One day Mr. Cockran begin to build a boat. He worked on it at the edge of the bluff where the bluff came down to the river. Not far from where the boys had their camp. They would visit with him and help him some as he built the boat. Hoping that they might be able to use the boat when it was finished. Little did they know that Mr. Cockran was planning on trading them the boat.
Mr. Cockran had been watching them and their hound dog and wishing he had the dog. He wanted more than the dog but the dog was the thing he wanted most. When the boat was finished the boys asked him if they could use it. They knew he was not going to carry the boat up around the bluff and bring it back to the river every time he needed it. Mr. Cockran just said "how would you like to own the boat." They looked at each other and Flemon said "How can we afford it?" The man told them it they wanted it he would take one of their guns their hound dog Brownie and $20.00 for the boat. They didn't think to much of the hound dog so they thought this would not be a bad trade. The boys bought the boat. Now came the decision on what to do with it.
If it was setting a steel trap for a Raccoon, fishing for Catfish, or picking cotton they would know what to do. But they didn't know how to handle a boat. They made a decision to use the boat on the river for a few days and then decide if they wanted to use it to travel down the river.
They begin by setting trot-lines across the river. These were lines that hooks could be tied on to catch fish. This helped them to learn how to handle the boat. Mr. Cockran had made two paddles and one oar and he allowed these to go with the boat. They used the paddles to row the boat across the river and back just to get the feel of the boat. The next thing they did was to set a line across the river and tie some hooks to short pieces of line that was tied to the line. Then they put weights on the line in two places to allow the hooks to sink near the bottom. Then they got their cotton sack seine and caught some bait to put on the hooks. They caught small fish and some Crawfish and baited up the line. They had about twenty hooks on the line. In fact they found out by morning they had them too close to each other.
They woke up early the next morning as they were anxious to find out what was on the line. They learned first that the boat had to be paddled below the line to best check it to see if they had caught any fish. They had tied the ends of the lines to bushes on either side of the river. The bushes were shaking which indicated they had fish on the line. Since Flemon was the oldest he sat in front to lift the line and place the line over the boat with the fish on it. This way it the fish came off it would fall in the boat. It was Harrys job to keep the boat moving down the line and hold it against the current. They caught more fish than they ever dreamed . They caught two ten or twelve pound Catfish and several smaller ones. But they also caught some large scale fish. Nearly every hook had a fish on it. Mr. Cockran who sold them the boat knew they would need help with the fish so he showed up the next morning and bought the fish from them. This made them very happy and helped them to start a new way of making money.
The boat was used for other purposes while they were still living in Cockrans Cave.
They first borrowed a Carbide light from Mr. Cockran so they could see "where they
were going" and to help see down into the water. The Carbide light was designed for
Coon hunting and would throw a light with a great deal of intensity for several feet. It
worked perfectly when shinning down into the water. Mr. Cockran had made a gig so that
they could spear fish that was in shoal or shallow water in the day time, But now they
decided to use the spear on fish at night. Most all fresh water fish go to shallow water
to feed at night. Sometime during the season to lay their eggs, they went up stream. This
meant that the shallow water would be active with fish at night. The boat, light and the
spear helped them to catch lots of fish. Several neighbors of Mr. Cockrans found out they
could get plenty of fish. They would visit the boys to buy fish. People all the way up Ten
Mile Creek to the Steprock community knew about the boys.
DECISION TO TRAVEL THE RIVERSOne of the reasons to live on Lithe Red River was the challenge and the wonderful feeling of being free and on their own. Flemon was about sixteen years old and Harry was thirteen. For three years they had gone from one family to another hoping to be able to find a home. Two boys of that age without Father or Mother was bad to start with but to be treated like Orphans was not good. After their problem with Jim Reeves their Uncle they decided to never trust relatives again. They wanted to be on their own and make their own decisions. They had made a pact with each other to share
in the decisions and things that they would buy. This was not always kept and caused
friction between them later.
They begin to talk about exploring the Rivers. They knew about Lithe Red and a small part of the White but nothing beyond that. They had never been to the mouth of Little Red where it runs into the White. They thought it was only a few miles from Cockrans Bluff.
In their short time at Cockrans Bluff and the Cave they had made some money and they had plenty to eat. Also so they had adapted to the surroundings and knew how to handle themselves. They had made fiends with Mr. Cockran and others who bought fish from them. So it was going to be major decision to move from the bluff and cave and go down river.
Finally the challenge of the rivers and knowing this would probably the only time in their life they would ever be able to do it was the major influence on their decision. They decided to just float down the river. They did not plan on rowing fast. They just wanted to float and see the country. Also to stop when they wanted to fish, hunt, trap and just loaf.
They made a list of things they thought they would need and went with Mr. Cockran to Judsonia.
They found out that this would be one of the places they would spend the night. They decided how they were going to pack things to keep rain from getting everything wet if they were on the river when a storm came up. Also camping gear had to be purchased. They decided to use canvas for a cover at night. They would sleep in their cotton sacks. They had been sleeping in their cotton sacks for several months and making use of what they had, they felt they could adjust under any kind of circumstance.
They discussed letting people know what they were going to do and decided since Mr. Cockran knew he could tell anyone who might be interested. They also felt that if several people found out about it they might try to discourage them.
They were glad they had Fido as he would let them know if they were in danger and help them in their hunting. They knew that they would stop and hunt at times and even set traps to catch fur bearing animals. This was their plan to hunt and trap in the winter and fish during the summer. Later they found another way to make money in the summer and that was catching shell fish or Shells.
FROM COCKRANS BLUFF TO OLD PROSPECT BLUFF
WHICH WAS NOW KNOWN AS JUDSONIA
NEXT STOP NEAR GEORGETOWN
They had a good night sleeping in a real houseboat. They could get lost in the boat it was so big. It was eight feet wide and twenty four foot long. It had bunks for beds and the boys had private bunks. Even Fido had more room.
The boys were very anxious to look the boat over the next morning. They
didn't know anything about boats so they had to ask people that were tied up near them.
They wanted to determine just how much repair it needed. Their neighbors offered to
help them to repair it if they decided to buy it. Flemon wanted the boat. He liked the
comfort of the boat and could see how it would be great to travel the river. After looking
the boat over it was decide to find out how much they wanted for the boat. Word was sent
to the owner and he came and visited with them. On April 24th 1913 they purchased the boat
. The owner had some property near by and needed some work that the boys could help him
with. They made a deal for the boat by trading work for it. They had some money but they
wanted to hang on to it as they didn't know just what their needs would be on down the
Working for the boat and having to repair it at the same time was going to take awhile. They discovered several pecan trees near by and found out they could have the pecans. Between working for the boat, repairing it and picking up pecans and selling them several weeks passed.
They had their steel traps with them. One of the things they could do well and make some money was to catch fur bearing animals and sell the skins. They had been doing this for the past three winters. In the Georgetown area they couldn't find good places to trap. Fur bearing animals could only be trapped in the winter time as that was when the hides were useable. To look for a favorable place to spend the winter they needed to move on down the river.
As soon as they got their debt paid for and the boat repaired it was time to move on. They had made some money by gathering the Pecans so their stay near the mouth of Little River was good for them. They had one problem and that was they did not have a motor to push the houseboat down river. They were going to have to rely on the current. They kept the small boat as they planned on using it to make short trips once they got settled for the winter.
In a few weeks they came from living in a cave on Little Red River at Cockrans bluff to that of owning a house boat and ready to make their way down the White River. What a change for the brothers in a short period of time
They did decide to pull in and park on White river for a few days at Georgetown. Georgetown was a booming village at the time. It was a major crossing from the East to the West. It had a Railroad that originated at Helena Arkansas and made connections with a railroad that came from Rosedale Mississippi and went all the way through the Ozark Mountains. It had a repair shop at Leslie. The people around White County called the Train "May Never Arrive". It would come through with many flat cars to haul logs and one passenger car. The passenger car was back near the caboose and the train would stop anywhere along its route and pick up a passenger. The train moved so slow anyone could wave it down and get aboard to go to their destination. It was called the Missouri and North Arkansas. They had a great sawmill at Rosedale Mississippi and the railroad brought logs to the mill from many parts of Arkansas. Later Flemon would help cut logs for the mill.
The boys learned from others that were tied up at Georgetown about the White River and what they could expect. They wanted to know how to earn some money and live on the river. Also they needed some supplies. They could usually get supplies from the boats that handled groceries but they needed a few things that would help them with their traps. They needed something to bait them. It was their intention to stop where it looked promising and set traps for a few days.
While at Georgetown they begin to see boats with a long rod extending out from the boat on each side. There would be rope wrapped around the rod and the rope would have rods running from one side of the winch to the other. They begin to ask questions. It turned out that these ropes and rods were used to collect Muscle Shells from the bottom of the river. Wire fingers were attached to the rods and when the rods were drug on the bottom of the river the s would cling to the wire fingers. The rods would be drug along the bottom of the river until enough Shell Fish or s were caught so that it would require the ropes to be rolled in by the windless. They discovered that with a little help from people who knew how to rig their boat they would be able to start dragging the river for Shells. The only problem was they needed one more item and that was a motor to pull the boat. It was decided to buy an old used motor that would be used on the small boat they had purchased from Mr. Cockran. As it turned out they did not do much shelling until they got further down the river. But they had their boat rigged for shelling and had a small boat with a motor that would allow them to move a little faster down the river.
DES ARC AND THE NAKED BOY
THE NEXT STOP DE VALLS BLUFF
FROM DE VALLS BLUFF TO SMOKEHOUSE HILL AND BIG ISLAND
Populated areas along the river was not as evident after they left De Valls Bluff. They saw many houseboats. Most of them were doing the same thing they were doing, trying to find a place they could make a few dollars and to tie up for the winter. All of the attention was on Big Island near the mouth of the White River and where the Arkansas River and the Mississippi Rive came together. Also La Grue Bayou and where it joined the White River seemed to be important to people looking for a place to spend the winter. The brothers had a very special interest in the waters they were traveling through as this would be the only time in their live they would ever do this. When they set out from Cockrans Bluff in White County, Arkansas it was their determination to see what they could see while no one was telling them what to do. The only pressure on the two young men was to survive and to see as much of the world as they could from their houseboat. They were told that Clarendon would be the last major town where they could pick up supplies until they reached Big Island. They were also told that boats carrying supplies would be available all along the way. There would be boats buying furs and dressed wild game in addition to having groceries. There was some comfort in knowing if they just continued down rivers they would evidently run into someone who would sell them what they needed.
They bought enough groceries to last them for several days. After selling their hides
they had a enough money to do them through the winter if they were careful and didn't have
any bad luck.
Their boats were doing just fine. The old houseboat that they repaired with help of neighbors near Georgetown had not sprung a leak. The small wooden boat that they traded a dog, little money and a gun for from Mr. Cockran was still doing just fine. The little motor they traded for had not give them any trouble. They were using the little motor when they needed to push the houseboat a little faster down the river. Sometime they would find the current slow and then would use the motor and small boat to push the large houseboat a little faster down stream
THEIR PROBLEM OF FINDING THIS FAMOUS SMOKE HOUSE HILL
When they reached and area about four days down river from St. Charles they became confused. It just seemed that rivers was going in every direction. They had reached an area That would be completely covered with water when the rivers would be at flood stage. Finally they decided to park out of the current and wait until someone came along that could tell them how to handle all the different bodies of water. It was necessary to select the right leg of the river to get to Smoke House Hill. They had heard of Smoke House Hill which was place that a lot of people spent the winter. This seemed be a hill on higher ground close to the river. In an area that seemed to be all swamp, this would be a blessing.
A FRIEND IS A FRIEND.They had finally arrived at the place so many people had told them about. This was near where the La Grue Bayou would split up and part of it would go to the north and run into White River and part of it would go south and run into White River. This left a large swamp area called Big Island. Some of this would be high enough to allow them to be near high ground in case of a severe flood. Also if the Bayou flooded it would run into the Arkansas River. If The White River became the flooded river it would run into the Arkansas River. The Arkansas River could even cover the swamps in this area. The White River National Wildlife Refuge located here is the largest refuge in Arkansas. The Arkansas Post which was moved upriver several times in later years was founded on the mouth of the Arkansas River by Henri de Tonti in 1686, is a short distance from here. They had to leave White River and take The Northern loop of La Grue Bayou to find the place most of the houseboats were tied up during the winter. It was not hard to find. They saw several boats along the banks as they came into the area. As they pulled into a space to tie up parallel to the bank a man stepped out on the deck of the boat nearby and said "welcome to The La Grue Bayou Winter Headquarters." This was Tom Brown who became good friends to the boys along with his wife Ethel.
When Tom discovered that the boys were so young he begin to ask questions. The boys told him of their travels down the Little Red and the White River to this point, and how several people told them of the place to spend the winter.
Tom Brown and his wife Ethel always made it to Big Island for the winter. Tom usually set traps on one of the many lakes about two miles from where he left his houseboat. He always had someone to go with him to help with the traps. Also There was always someone near by to keep Ethel company as she did not like to go with him into the swamps and she didnt like to be alone.
This winter things were different. Tom did not have someone to go with him into the lake areas to trap and there was not a boat near by with someone to keep his wife company. She was so afraid of winter storms. They had just about given up on trapping for the winter when the two young boys tied up near them. These boys were so young the oldest, Flemon was now seventeen and the youngest Harry fourteen. When Tom Brown discovered this he was a little bit concerned. When he found out that the youngest boy knew a lot about setting traps he changed his mind. He challenged the boy to go with him into the swamps and set trap for the winter. This was just what Harry needed. Someone who knew the area and was willing to work with him. They made a deal. Each would furnish his own traps and both would set the traps and they would share equally in the profits. This would mean they would be in the swamps for at least two weeks at a time. Then they would come out and sell their hides and buy more supplies and go back for two more weeks. Tom Brown had a tent and cooking pots and a small boat with a motor they could get to the trapping area in a short time.
There was the problem of having someone close to check on Ethel and give her comfort in case of a storm. Flemon volunteered for the job. The two boats were tied up end to end along the bank of the Bayou so all Flemon would have to do was walk from one boat to the other in case he needed to. Ethel was comfortable with this and so was Flemon. Flemon did not like to set traps or skin animals so when he found out he could stay back and look after the boats and Ethel this suited him fine.
Tom Brown loaded the small boat up with traps along with the tent and cooking supplies and headed up the North side of Big Island. They carried enough supplies to last two weeks. Tom knew that it they had good luck they would have to come back and bring the animal skins and they could get more supplies. Also he did not want to leave Ethel any longer than two weeks at a time.
At the end of two weeks they had a boat load of furs. Not only had they caught more than they expected, some of the furs came from prize animals which meant they could get more money for them. Tom was extremely happy with his new partner. Harry knew more than Tom expected and was also a good person to be around. Not only were they good for each other they became good friends.
They arrived back at their houseboats and sold their furs They discovered that each had earned about fifty dollars. This was more money than some trappers would make in a winter. The older brother met them with some news that disturbed Tom. Flemon had been offered a lob cutting logs for a lumber company. The logs would be cut in the swamps and floated down the rivers to a sawmill at Rosedale, Mississippi. He was going to take the lob and would be in the woods at a camp for several days at a time. This would mean that Ethel would be by herself with no one to help in case of an emergency. There were more boats tied up in the area now for the winter but she didnt know the people on the boats. Most of the boats just had men as their occupants
Ethel encouraged Tom and Henry to go back to their traps at least for two more weeks. Their traps were left set and baited so they could only be gone for a day or two. Tom first thought he would send his young friend back to handle the traps but his wife talked him into going back for at least two weeks. She had grown fond of the young boy and didn't want anything to happen to him.
They reached their camp in time to run their traps that day. They found many traps with animals in them. This meant they would working into the night skinning the animals and stretching their skins.
They spent the next day baiting their traps and resetting some that were not catching anything. They also had brought a few more traps with them from the houseboats. While they were doing this clouds begin to gather in the West. There was no means of deterring the extent of a storm during this time except for the experience of the people. Tom Brown had seen many storms during his many years living on the Rivers. He kept watching the clouds and wondering just what his wife was thinking back at the houseboat. By the time they got through with their traps and got back to camp it was night. They could see the lightening and the storm coming closer and closer. It appeared as if this was going to be a bad one.
Tom told Harry that one of them had to go back and see about Ethel. He knew that someone had to stay with the traps, but he also knew that someone needed to be with Ethel.. He really did not know what to do. He hated to leave Harry in the woods by himself but he was also concerned about his wife. Finally Harry made up his mind for him, he said "I will go" Tom Brown decided to let him go. He couldnt take the boat, this meant he would have to follow the lake back to the houseboat landing. Besides they had no light of any kind. Anyone who went back would have to pick his way for at least two miles through the brush and avoid getting lost People during this time were much more direction conscious than they are today because they had to deal with directions and the elements all the time.
Harry decided to try to follow the shore line back to where the houseboats were tied up. Every so often lighting would flash and he would discover where he was in relation to the lake. He would sometimes get into the water trying to find the shoreline. Other times he would think he was getting to far from the lake. He knew that if he lost his bearings and wandered into the interior of the island he would never find his way out. The vegetation around the lake did not help as it was very thick at times. There were times when he could imagine that something was following him. He knew there were Bears and Panthers on the Island. This did not help matters.
Finally sometime after midnight with the storm blowing and heavy rain falling he saw a light in the cabin window of a houseboat. It was the Browns boat. He had to swim to the boat and crawl upon the deck. When he knocked at the door, and Ethel opened it, there came the biggest hug he would ever get in his life. Ethel Brown was so scared of the storm she was shaking all over. She was so grateful that a young boy would travel miles through tile swamps to be at her side. This was something she would never forget. Harry would never forget his trip through the night and would tell this story to his friends many times through out his life. A Friend is a Friend.
FLEMON AND HIS DISCOVERY
Flemons work cutting logs in the swamps worked out real good. He could stay in the woods at the camp at night. His meals were furnished and he got $2.00 each day. This was more than he ever got paid working for his Uncle or anyone else up till this time. Most of the time it was about fifty cents per day. The people he worked for liked the young man and would encourage him to save his money.
The logs were cut and drug by mules to the waters edge. Several logs were tied together and floated down the White River to the Mississippi. A lot of the time they had to be pulled with a small boat with a motor. It didn't take a large boat or much power to pull the logs as the water was moving down stream helped. Flemon was promised by the Lumber Company that sometime he would get to go all the way to the Mill which was at Rosedale, Mississippi. He was looking forward to the trip down the Mississippi river.
One day Flemon while cutting a tree with his partner had to pull the saw from the tree as it fell. He slipped and fell into the saw and cut his hand pretty bad. The Foreman of their crew suggested that he go back to his houseboat and get Ethel Brown to take care of it. Flemon had their small boat with him so he went back to their houseboat which was several miles up the South part of La Grue Bayou. The South leg of the Bayou helped make the Southern boundary of Big Island.
Flemon arrived where the house boats were tied up and went to the Browns boat. He noticed that several boats had tied up since he had been in the woods. One of these boats had a man and his wife in it. The man had gone into the swamps to set traps and left his wife by herself. She was a very attractive lady and was known by others who were tied up in the area. Flemon got his hand taken care of and Ethel Brown asked him to stay the night. She was very fond off both the orphan boys. This suited Flemon as he could use a good home cooked meal. She promised him that she would get him out early the next morning and send him back to the Lumber Camp.
When Flemon started to leave the next morning he noticed a young man leaving the boat where the attractive woman was. He never thought much about it. He just thought that it could be some of her relatives or someone like a friend to her. Maybe it was someone staying there to keep her company while her husband was in the swamp. He would have been right in this part of his thinking but he wasnt thinking of a woman having a relationship with the young man.
A few days later on one of the trips back by Tom Brown and Harry they found a note on Flemon and Harrys boat. It read "You are not welcome here and you must move your boat to another location". Harry showed the note to Ed Brown and he knew what it was all about. His wife had told him about the relationship that was going on while the man was in the swamps. His wife was having an affair with this young men. Since Flemon saw him coming out of the cabin of the houseboat that morning someone wanted them out of the way. Someone was afraid that Flemon would tell the husband of the woman.
Mr. Brown knew just what to do. He took the note along with his gun and hunted the boy up that was visiting the lady. He not only told the boy but let everyone else know that he would not put up with their trying to run the boys off. In fact he told them that if there was any more threats he would personally tell the man of his wifes affair. This seemed to queiten things down. Flemon didn't have any more trouble from anyone. It seemed that Tom Brown who had been parking his boat in that area for years had a great deal of influence on the others who tied their boats up there.
DUCKS BY THE MILLIONS AND A GOOSE NOW AND THEN
When Tom Brown made his last trip to check on Harry and his wife he discovered that the ducks were beginning to come into the swamps He told Harry about this and they planned at least two more weeks of setting traps and killing some ducks. This would be determined by how bad the weather was going to be. They were now way into the month of December and they could expect some very bad weather.
They dressed about fifty ducks and a few geese. This would mean they could make about
twenty five dollar a piece if they could get the ducks back the next day. They also
planned on killing some more on the way back
Ethel Brown was very pleasantly surprised when her husband and Harry showed up back at the Houseboat that day. She helped them clean the ducks that they killed on their way back and checked those that they had cleaned the night before. She suggested that Harry and Tom go from Houseboat to Houseboat and find out who wanted ducks. It was not hard to sell all the ducks they had killed. Some families wanted several ducks to cook. During This time wild game could be sold as there were no restrictions. Also wild game was a treat for people to have to eat.
Tom and Harry stayed the night and headed back to their traps. It was decided that they
would check their traps for the next few days and then bring their hides for the market.
The weather was beginning to get bad which was not good for them to be away from the
Houseboats. They also thought they could kill a few more ducks on the way back. As it
turned out they sold enough hides and ducks to giving them the spending money they needed
to make it through the winter.
Because of the things Flemon and Harry could do and not do they were separated by their jobs. Harry was to small to work in the log woods cutting timber but Flemon was old enough and very good at it. Since the water was getting higher and higher in the bottoms where most of the log cutting was on, the timber people decided to stop until the weather got better. Flemon and Harry were both at the Houseboat for the first time in several weeks. Several more Houseboats had pulled into the area to tie up for the winter. The boys began to make friends with the children of people living in those boats. Many families spent all their time on the rivers. What ever income they had came from fishing, trapping, shelling or killing wild game. When the rivers got to a point it was dangerous to be on them they would pull into the area around Smoke House Hill on Big Island.
FLEMON AND HARRY BACK TOGETHER FOR THE WINTER.
One family had tied up just below Flemon and Harry's boat. This was a man and woman and two children. Harry liked the idea because one of the boys was about his age. They seemed to be nice people and wanted to be neighborly. The Browns had run into them before and highly recommended then. Harry felt that if Tom Brown recommended someone they were as good as Gold. Harry really liked Tom Brown.
The boys got along fine with the new family and their children. The new family had bought some of their ducks for food. They also worked out a plan to do some trot line fishing. This would give them some fish for food. Harry and Flemon was very good at setting trot lines. They started learning what depth to set the lines and what to bait them with back on Little Red River several months earlier. All three of the families got together and set lines. Harry and Flemon was to catch the bait to put on the hooks. Any kind of ruff fish such as Drum, Carp or Buffalo could be cut in pieces and put on the hooks. Also the muscle from shells could be used as bait. One way of getting bait was to make a trap out of wire and bait it with scraps from the table. Large minnows would swarm around the trap and they could catch enough to bait the trot lines
One morning it was Flemon and Harrys turn to run the trot lines. The way they
would run the lines was to get on the down stream side and pull, in the line to direct the
boat along the line. When they got to a fish they took it off and went to the next hook
all the time holding to the trot line.
Flemon was the one holding the line. He began to feel the line jerk and told Harry that something big was on the line. They worked their way down the line and discovered they had a large Gar on the line. They really didn't know what to do. If The fish would just tear a way from the line it would have been all right with Them. Finally Harry suggested they go get Tom Brown. The dropped the line and went to Toms boat and asked him to come with them. He got a rifle and piled into the boat.
When they got to the line the fish was still on it. Tom worked his way down the line until he could see the fish. It was an eight or nine foot Alligator Gar. When he could pull the line up enough to get a shot at The head of the fish he shot it and then hoped it did not break loose while it was dying. When they got the Gar into the boat it was the largest Gar any of them had ever seen. He was big enough to kill a person.
Ethel Brown knew just what to do with the fish. She had the men folks to clean and skinning it and selected the best parts of the meat. Then made up a batter and rolled the selected meat in the batter. She fried the meat in a deep skillet and served everyone who wanted to eat. This was the first time many of them had ever eaten Deep Fried Gar Balls.
This helped to get acquainted with some of the new people that had tied up for the
winter. It also helped the Browns to be good neighbors. Flemon and Harry would never
forget the large fish and sharing it in an unusual way with the neighbors. This type of
fish was not eaten but the Browns who had lived on the rivers so long and had seen many
times when they had to do things to survive, knew just how to fix the meat so that it was
A HOLE IN THE NEIGHBORS BOAT.The family that had just moved in next to Flemon and Harry had an old type boat. It really didn't look like it would hold together. Also it was built a little different than most boats. It did not have heavy timber for a bottom.
GETTING WOOD FOR THE WINTER OF 1914
You could always tell when the weather began to get cold as smoke would be coming from stove pipes that protruded through the top of the roofs.
Some times these pipes would be protruding through the side of the boat. There had to be careful as the pipes would get hot. There had to be something to hold the pipe away from the wood as it might catch on fire. A lot of the people who lived in houseboats knew about the hazards of fire
in the winter and made certain precautions. Flemon and Harry had to learn these things. This was the first real cold weather since they left Cockrans Bluff. One of the thing they had to learn was gathering wood. Mr. Brown again came to their rescue. He told them to go into the swamps and pull down the small dead limbs and bring them to the boat and then cut them into pieces that would fit their cook stove and heating stove.
They decided to make a deal with the new family as they needed to gather wood. Flemon and Harry would go into the Swamps which had several feet of water on them. They would bring back a boat load of wood and their neighbors would cut it up and divide it between the families.
By the water being over some of the lower limbs they could select limbs a little higher on the trees. They selected mostly Cyress limbs. These limbs were dead and easy to cut with a small ax. They had gathered several boat loads of Cypress limbs and had decided they had about enough wood to do the winter.
Flemon suggest that they go after one more load. They had spotted a Cypress tree that had some larger limbs just above the water level. These limbs were hollow and would be easy to cut up. Also this would make some good wood for the cook stove. Flemon directed the boat to the tree and Harry was to start cutting the limbs from the tree. There was several limbs about the size of their leg that was dead and easy to work up into cook stove wood. Harry had cut three limbs off and they had placed them in the boat. The last limb was the largest and it was hollow. By this time the temperature had risen a little bit. When Harry started to cut into the limb something happened that they would never forget The limb was full of Bumblebees. The bees came out and swarmed all over them. Harry got stung the most as he was closest to them and he was the one doing the cutting on the limb. Harry jumped into the water and Flemon right after him. They each hung onto the boat and tried to ease it away from the bees. The bees kept fo11owing them for several yards. When they finally went back to the tree Flemon and Harry climbed back in the boat and headed for home. They were drenched and very cold.
When they reached their boat about thirty minutes later all they wanted was a fire and dry clothes. Their neighbors helped in drying them out by providing a fire and some dry clothes. One of their neighbors chewed tobacco. He told them that if they would take some chewing tobacco and wet it and place it on the stings they would quit hurting and would heal faster. This seemed to work. Before long they begin to feel normal again.
They learned from this experience that larger limbs that was hollow was sometimes filled with visitors such as honeybees or bumblebees. Even Wasps made their home in these hollow limbs during the winter.
As Harry would tell this story many times in his life he would just shake from remembering the many times he got stung and the trip back to their Houseboat. He always said "I Thought I was going to freeze to death or die from the stings.
There was one other time Harry got stung by Bumblebees. He and Tom Brown took Toms boat into the swamps to gather wood and Tom bumped a stump that stuck out of the water. Bees had built in the top of that stump. The bees swarmed and they had to turn The boat around and leave the location. In was not in time to keep from getting stung. Harry though he was jinxed from all the times he got stung.
THEY LEARNED TO PLAY POKER
During the winter months when the weather was bad they couldn't set traps or fish, time was used to get all the men folks together for a poker game. Harry was to young to get involved but he observed. Flemon did some gambling but had to be careful because of limited funds.
Poker playing or gambling was a pass-time for men folks on the rivers. There was always someone who liked to make their living taking money from those who didn't know how to play or played very poorly. Harry didnt like for Flemon to get in the games because he would loose. Harry didn't think that they could afford to loose. Flemon was determined to play so Harry decided to learn all that he could about the game to help his brother to win. Finally they worked up a set of signals so they could communicate without others knowing about it. As it turned out Flemon held his own with the gamblers and broke even or gained a little.
Harry would position himself behind the one player that seemed to win the most. He would signal Flemon not to bid against him when he had a good hand. Or he would signal Flemon what the man held in his hand. They had to be very careful at this as they could get hurt. Ed Brown was not a gambler and encouraged the boys not to play.
Harry became obsessed with the game. He studied the game and watched peoples faces. He could determine how they reacted to a hand also to what cards they might hold. Harry also watched certain players he thought were the best. He watched how they bet raised or held back.. He tried to read the expression on their faces. The older poker players were the hardest to understand as they tried to remain the same all the time. Harry noticed that even they had some action that would give them away. There would be some movement of the eyes or arms that indicated certain signals of their reaction to their hand.
As time went on Flemon gave way to Harry's playing of the game. At first he did not want Harry to play at all. Now Harry begin to take the lead in the poker playing. They would determine how much money they could loose and still survive and this was all they would allow themselves to bet. It was very unusual for a fourteen year old boy to be involved in a porker game but he became good at it.
Several boats would be tied up close together and on down around Smoke House Hill would be another cluster of boats. There was small communities of boats in the area. The people in each group knew each other as many of them came to that area every winter. The boys would move from one Poker game to another as each cluster of boats usually had a Poker game going, it didn't take long for the boys to get a reputation. They always were together when they played. One would be in the game and one would be watching. It was not unusual for them to win a few dollars each time they played. Since Harry was the one who learned to read faces and had more Poker knowledge he was usually the one to get into the games and Flemon would back him up. This was unusual as Flemon was three years older than Harry. Harry was a little skinny boy. When they started down the rivers Harry was just thirteen and Flemon was sixteen. They had each had a birthday by now but they were still just boys.
They built up a reputation for being able to hold their own in a Poker Game and just about anything they decided to do. People in the camps along Smoke House Hill all learned about Flemon and Harry the brothers. One night they went to a boat that was at the end of the area that boats tied up around Smoke House Hill. The boat belonged to someone they did not know. In fact there was only one other person in the Poker game that they knew. Also the people being new to them did not know of their reputation. Sometime during the game someone suspected that they were cheating but couldnt prove it. This drew attention to the boys. They had won over one hundred dollars and this was disturbing to some of the men.
Flemon and Harry had a prearranged signal if anything went wrong. This meant that they would withdraw from the game and leave. They tried this and found that the men would not let them. Harry signaled to Flemon to get ready to leave the boat. They picked up their winnings and ran. They got off the boat but had to hide for several hours while the men looked for them. They would not have gotten away except for the other person that was in the game knowing them. He took them to his houseboat and hid them for the night and told Tom Brown to look out for them the next day. Tom went to them and told them that the only way he was going to protect them would be for them to quit playing Poker. The boys agreed to this. They had won several hundred dollars and felt like they were rich. They did not gamble for several months after this incident.
Several checker games were going on in different boats while there was nothing else to do. Most people were just waiting out the winter. The checker game was for those that like the competition but did not want to gamble. Although some of the men would bet on the games. Harry especially became interest in the checker games. Harry loved details and a challenge so it took to the checker games. Since he was only fourteen at the time and small for his age the men did not want to play him. So he got Tom Brown to teach him about the game. Harry and Tom were very close and Tom would teach Harry about many things included some of the facts of life. It wasn't long until Harry was beating Tom at checkers.
Harry decided to challenge some of the better checkers player on some of the boats where the games were going on almost every day. The men would laugh at him. They just didn't want to play a little boy. Finally when he did get someone to play him he beat the man two games out of three. This caused some of the men to take notice and they begin to challenge Harry to a game. As time went on Harry became better and better with his checker playing. In later years Harry would join some of the Checker tournaments in St. Louis and was noted for his playing.
FLEMONS PROMISE WAS FULFILLED, HE GOT TO GO TO ROSEDALE.
of 1915 had come and the timber cutters begin to get their crews together. Flemon wanted
Harry to go with him into the woods but Harry chose to work with Tom Brown. They would
fish together during the hot months and would trap when the weather would get cold enough.
After a few days in the log woods Flemon came back to the Houseboat for clothes and to give Harry a message. The timber company had promised Flemon if he would stay with them he could go down river to Rosedale, Mississippi and deliver a large raft of logs. The Timber company would sometime load barges with logs and push them with boats. Other times they would tie a large group of logs together and push them down the river to Rosedale. The logs were being cut in the swamps on Big Island and were placed in White River and floated to the Mississippi and then down to Rosedale.
Flemon was excited that he was going to help deliver the logs to Rosedale. Rosedale was across the Mississippi River and a few miles down the river from where the White River ran into the Mississippi. Rosedale was also just above where the Arkansas River ran into the Mississippi. This made the town of Rosedale very important during this time. One of the biggest industries was for the timber that was being harvested in the swamps of Arkansas and the Ozark Mountains. Not only were logs barged or floated down the rivers but they were put on flat railroad cars in many places in Arkansas. and hauled to Rosedale. One Railroad came through the heart of Arkansas The Missouri and North Arkansas railroad ran from Helena to the Ozarks of Missouri.
There was a crew of three men on the boat that pushed the logs. Flemon was one of those men. He thought that now he was beginning to be accepted as a grown man. He was doing a mans job.
After the logs were collected and tied together they were ready to move down the river. They were on the White River four or five miles from the Mississippi. It was going to take them about a week to make the round trip. The moving of logs in a group was slow. They had to be very careful to stay away from other boats and Houseboats that was tied up along the way. They moved so slow that it was about as fast as the current. About all the boat was doing was just keeping The logs in a safe position on the river.
When they reached the Mississippi Flemon thought he was seeing the Gulf of Mexico. The river was so big it was hard to see the other side. He could not imagine a river that was over a mile across. At the point where the White ran into the Mississippi the river would naturally be wider but the Mississippi was so much larger than the White. Flemon would always cherish seeing the Mississippi for the first time. The unusual way in which he saw it was from a boat going down it rather than from a bridge somewhere.
The current of the Mississippi was strong and they were able to reach Rosedale ahead of schedule. They had to push the logs across the river to a holding place near the mill at Rosedale. The logs were then hoisted to a conveyer which carried the logs to a holding place. From there the logs would be cut up into lumber or staves. The Cypress was used for special building material and the White Oak was used for Whiskey Barrel Staves.
Flemon would work in the timber industry and with other mills in his life time but he would never see another mill as large as the one at Rosedale. It was reported that this was the largest lumber mill ever built. The lumber was being shipped by boat down the Mississippi through the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic to New York and other places up the East Coast. Also the lumber was shipped by flat railroad cars to the Memphis area and then on to the Northern part of the country. Also to the lumber was shipped by train to the East coast.
The Lumber Company managers at Rosedale liked Flemon. One of the Foremen asked him if he wanted to come and work for them at the mill full time. Flemon told them he had a little brother back in Arkansas and would have to talk to him about it. They offered him a lot more money than he was making cutting timber.
When Flemon got back all he wanted to talk about was the Big Mississippi River and the job they offered him at Rosedale. He talked to Harry about the job and suggested that they move the houseboat down to Rosedale and live there. Harry didnt want to do this as he had a deal going with Ed Brown that he didn't want to give up. One thing in favor of leaving was that Tom Brown did not like to drag the river for Shells. He liked to fish and trap but dragging the river was not his thing.
Finally Harry and Flemon made a decision about what to do. Flemon would help Harry drag for shells for a while and then they would head for Rosedale. They could make more money dragging for shells than they cold fishing or cutting logs. They could make about $10.00 each day. The thing they had to learn was where the shells were located. Their boat had been equipped shortly after they purchased the boat at Georgetown. The only trouble being the boat was old and not very trustworthy. The winch that they used to draw in the lines was old and hard to use. But they decided to go with what they had.
They would talk to others that drug for shells to find out where to go. They were told to look for areas where there was a drop off near a bank in the river. They were told to drop their lines in the water with the rod at the end. Ropes running from the rod with crows feet made of wire tied to these were drug along the bottom. The shells would attach themselves to the wire of the crows feet and they would drag them to the boat. They found shell banks that ran several hundred feet long. This would mean they could drag through this area several times and get all the shells they could work on that day.
After the shells were placed on the boat they had to be taken back to camp and the part
removed. This was a nasty job. They had to heat water to a boiling point and drop the
shell in the hot water. This would cause the shells to stay open so the could be removed.
Tom Brown made a deal with them for the s to be used to bait fish traps. He would furnish
them with fish to eat.
They collected shells for most of that summer. They had made enough money to be comfortable with their spending.
THEY BOUGHT A NEW HOUSEBOAT
This was a transition period for people living on the rivers. There was more people leaving their boats and setting in the small towns along the rivers. When they decided to do this their Houseboats would be for sale. Some of these boats were real nice and the people hated to give them up as they had been home for a long period of time. But usually they had to sacrifice the price to find someone that would buy them.
One family that had moved in over the winter decided to sell their boat and move to a small town. Flemon wanted the boat. He looked the boat over and decided to buy the boat. He and Harry had more money than they ever had before and it was burning their pockets. Flemon had done well on his trip to Rosedale and Harry had been selling fish. Also they had a good bit of money they had made gambling. Their dragging for Shells had paid good. Harry didnt want to buy the boat at first. He reminded Flemon of the deal they made when they first started downs the rivers. That their decisions would be agreed upon by both of them.
The next day Harry and Tom Brown were running Trot lines and checking a few fish traps.
While they were gone Flemon decided to deal for the boat. The people wanted $150.00 cash
for the boat. The boat was worth more than this but they were willing to sacrifice to get
rid of the boat. When Harry got back he found Flemon moving their belongings to the new
This was the first time they really had a falling out. The problem now was to get rid of their boat and of course pay for the one they were moving into. The $150.00 was more than Flemon thought he could spare so he had to rely on Harry for some of the money. Harry finally decided to come up with half of the money. They had always been partners and he wanted to keep it that way. Beside Harry felt that the boat would handle the larger river if they decided to go on down the Mississippi.
This boat was much larger and much nicer. It was twelve feet wide and 20 feet long. Also there was a small motor that could be used when they were catching Shells. Harry did one thing that Flemon agreed with and that was the two of them should drag for Shells and pay for the boat. The idea was to get some more money as the boat about broke them. Tom Brown would help Harry drag for Shells but this was not what he liked to do. He would rather fish with trot lines and nets. So this gave Harry an opportunity to get Flemon involved in the dragging for Shells. Dragging for shell was not easy as it took someone with a good bit of strength to roll the lines in after they had caught several shells. Flemon could fill this role.
This was the last Houseboat they would ever buy. It would last them until they finished their traveling on the Rivers.
FLEMON ,HARRY AND THE SHELL BANKS.
They moved their new Houseboat near the spot where the North leg of the La Grue Bayou ran into the White River. This was a place where several boats had tied up that were dragging for Shells. Their new boat was not rigged for dragging for Shells so this had to be done. They had removed the winch and lines from their old boat and put the boat up for sale. They had brought it to their new location. It wasn't long until someone wanted to buy tile boat lust to have an extra boat for people to use for sleeping. The family that bought the boat had several children so some of them could move into the old boat to sleep at night. The money was not a factor as they only asked $20.00 for the boat. After using the boat over two years and just trading labor for it seemed to be a good deal. Now they could focus on the new boat and making enough money to further their travels. Flemon had not forgotten the offer at Rosedale to come and work on the yards for the lumber company.
After they got their equipment on the new boat and was ready to hunt for shell beds they decided to go with some of the other boats for a time or two. They split up and Harry went with one boat and Flemon went with another. They had drug for shells before but they had not tried for Shells in this part of the river. Also they felt like they could learn from others about how to use the lines and where the beds were. At this time there was so many beds along the banks of the river no one felt like they had a corner on things.
Then they got back together and started using their boat it was discovered that some adjustment was to be mad on the equipment that handled the lines that drug the rods and fingers that caught the shells. They noticed that the ropes were not as strong as they needed to be, and they were slightly rotten. As they were making the repairs and trying to cut the old ropes from the frame Harry climbed out on the rigging to cut the ropes. He slipped and had to hang on the ropes. One of the ropes was rotten enough to break. Harry fell in the river and was tangled in the rope. He screamed to Flemon who was working with the new ropes to get them ready. Flemon ran to that side of the boat and discovered that Harry was so tangled up in the ropes that he couldnt swim. There was a long pole on the deck of the boat with a metal hock on end that was used to help with pulling The shell rod into the boat. Flemon grabbed the pole and hooked The rope that Harry was tangled up in. He pulled Harry to the boat and helped him get back on the deck.
This scared both of them and made them realized just how dangerous living on the river could become. It also taught them to work closer together when the job could be dangerous.
The gathering off Shells paid them well. They recovered from the buying of the new boat. They were also able to be comfortable with their spending. They made more money per day at gathering Shells than any other thing they worked at during their stay on the rivers.
THEY DISCOVERED A NEW WAY OF MAKING MONEY
Everywhere they went in and around Big Island they saw cane growing. This was a plant that most people used to make fishing poles. They remember that one farmer on Little Red he begin to cut the small Cane to make Pipe stems. They would cut the sections between the joints and ship them to a Pipe maker. They were hollow but strong enough to be pushed into a hole in a section of a corncob cob to make a corn cob pipe. Many people smoked Corn Cob Pipes during this time.
Flemon got the idea that they could cut the cane and ship the sections to a pipe Maker. They decided to talk to different people about the idea. They found that some people had been cutting the Cane and that a market had already been established. The Stems would be bundled and shipped to Virginia where they would be made into pipes. All the boys had to do was to cut the Cane into pieces of equal length so that they could be bundled. The section of the cane would be cut between the joints. They would bundle the stems in one hundred count.
This helped the boys to diversify their income. They would drag for Shells for a few days and then sell them. Then they would cut Cane for a few days. They made about as much cutting cane as they did gathering shells. The only trouble they would soon run out of Cane to cut so they would have to find a new patch. Usually the Cane patches would cover several acres but with others cutting the cane and them having to be selective as to the size it would not take long for them to take all the good growth and have to find another patch.
ONE MORE RIVER TO GO, THE MISSISSIPPI
Flemon still remembered the promises that was made him he was on his trip to Rosedale, Mississippi. He kept thinking that it would be great to work in the yards handling the logs coming in by train and down the river. The Foreman had offered him a job because he liked the way he worked. It seemed that boys that grew up on the farm didnt know any thing but work. When they were told to do a job they did it the best they could. There was not a lazy bone in their bodies.
Flemon had these characteristics. He wanted to go to work in the log yards of the largest Sawmill in the world. It seemed as if they had explored all there was to explore on Big Island and it was time to challenge new horizons.
They decided to take the Houseboat to Rosedale. Flemon had seen the Mississippi River
and told Harry how big it was and how he felt when he first saw it but this was not like
seeing it for yourself. So Harry was ready to see one of the largest rivers in the world.
They were still pulling the Houseboat with the small boat and motor. Most of the time the
current would carry them about as fast as the small boat would pull them.
The trip from Big Island to the Mississippi would not take but about one day. It was decided to float to near at the mouth of the White River and camp for the night and then approach the Mississippi River early in the morning. Several boats were tied up about one half mile from the Mississippi out of the main current of the White. They were invited to join these boats and stay for the night. It was always necessary to tie the boats up parallel to the banks. They would tie both ends off the Houseboat. This would keep the boat from wondering out into the river.
The people that were tied up on the White River just a little ways from the Mississippi were fishermen. They made their living winter and summer trapping or netting fish. They sold their fish to people who came bay every day or so These people transported the fish to Rosedale and other places along the river. There was always a market for the fish.. Most of the people tied up at this point just wanted to catch the fish and dress them. They did not want to take the responsibility of going from town to town selling the fish. So the boats that came by about every other day and bought the fish rendered a real service for these fishermen.
One of the things that was noticeable with the river people was that they were friendly. They loved to see new people come by and stop for a night or two. Anyone new tying up would usually get invited to eat. The boat next to the Flemon and Harry was a nice big boat. The people had a boy and a girl. The boy was about Flemons age and the girl was near Harrys age. Harry almost wished that he had not committed to the trip all the way to Rosedale. Harry liked the little girl. They became friends quickly. Harry had not been around young people for three years and this was a real treat. Young people living on the Rivers also did not have opportunity to see people their own age. The parents of the newly made friends had invited Flemon and Harry to eat so they got to visit longer. The meal was great as it had been a while since they had eaten food cooked by a woman. After the meal the family invited Flemon and Harry to engage in reading the Bible. It seemed that these people were very religious. The brothers had not talked to anyone about religion during the time they were on the rivers. It was a little strange and a little bit odd. They were just not prepared for this type of discussion. The discussion went well and after it was over they thanked the people and went to their boat. Harry had some sweet dreams about the little girl he had just met.
The next morning they untied their boat and got ready to challenge the Mississippi. As they moved away from the bank and out into the current there came a sound from their neighbors boat. The little girl was hollering goodbye to Harry and waving her arms. She was hollering "Im Jocie, Im Jocie, Im Jocie." "Remember me Mr. Harry". He had made a friend and she did not want to be forgotten. This made him feel good and a little better about leaving the area. He thought maybe I will see her again sometime.
It did not take but about thirty minutes to reach a point where they could see the Mississippi River. The mouth of the White River widened at this point and made this area seem much larger. Flemon was in the small boat with the motor. This boat was tied to the Houseboat and Flemon had the motor running. He wanted to make sure he could move the houseboat to the other side. Rosedale was down the Mississippi a few miles and the boys wanted to get across to the East side of the river. This meant crossing the current of the Mississippi and watching out for other boats on the river.
The thing that impressed Harry was how big the Mississippi River was. This sight would always stick in his mind. Years later he would come back to the Mississippi side and look across toward the Arkansas side and try to see where the White River ran into the Mississippi.
That very day they arrived at the town off Rosedale, Mississippi and tied their boat near several other boats. Many of the people working in the Rosedale Lumber Mill, lived on Houseboats. They would again as they had so many times in the past three years make friends with people living on the rivers in Houseboats.
PROMISES--PROMISES --THINGS DIDN'T WORK OUT AT ROSEDALE
When they reached Rosedale in the spring of 1917, Flemon was to go to work in the yards helping handle the logs coming from the river and ones being unloaded from the flat cars from the trains. The Foreman that had promised him a job had been moved to a different part of the Sawmill and a new person was in care of the unloading operation. Flemon didnt know this man but told him he had been promised a job. The Foreman allowed him to go to work but didnt like the idea. In fact he and the previous foreman didnt get along. This made for a bad situation.
Harry didnt not know what to do with himself. He was too small and to young to work in the Sawmill. The company had a rule on hiring young boys. Harry was about a year too young. So Harry just found work where ever he could. He would run errands for people who worked in the mill. Finally he got acquainted with one of the owners. This man liked the way Harry worked. Since Harry and Flemon learned to work hard in the cotton fields of White County Arkansas, they never forgot what it was to work hard all day. The man decided to use Harry to deliver messages to the different Foremans all over the Mill. A lot of things were going on at Rosedale. The mill was a holding area for logs coming from the Delta of Arkansas, the mountains of Arkansas and Missouri. This timber was used in many ways. To make staves for Whiskey Barrels, to ship to the East Coast to build houses and to ship to cities like Memphis for building purposes. Many times the logs would have to be stored in different sections because of the nature of the logs. Some of these logs were White Oak, Cyprus, Red Oak and Pine. They had to separated and pile in different holding areas. Then they were used as needed. This meant different crews under Foremans were working all over the area. Harry's job was to carry messages from the Mill Manager to the different Foremans as the need arose. This was not a job he really liked but he was willing to do it so they could have money and Flemon could keep his job.
They were still living on their Houseboat so that helped in their living expense. They also worked the same hours so they could be together when it came time to cook and eat There begin to be a difference between the boys. Flemon was now near eighteen years old. He begin to notice the girls and was going into town a good bit after work. This left Harry on the boat by himself. He had stayed by himself before but there was always people around that was interested in trapping or fishing to make some money but this was different. The people that were living on houseboats were a little on the rough side. Some of them worked for the Sawmill while others were gamblers or just plain loafers. Harry didn't mind getting into a card game once in a while but he was afraid of these people especially when he didn't have someone around to protect him. He sure did miss Tom Brown.
After being there for a few months Flemon came to the Houseboat one night after spending several hours in town with a girl friend and woke Harry up. He set on the side of the bunk and told Harry he was tired of the lob and he was afraid the Foreman wasnt going to like him. He wanted to sell the boat and get a train home to White County, Arkansas. Flemon had found out they could catch a train all the way to Searcy, Arkansas which was near there they originally started their trip down the rivers. Harry didn't like the idea of selling the boat and they decided to stick it out a while longer. They needed enough money to get home on and some to get stetted after they got back.
They did put some feelers out that they might sell the boat. Several people looked at it but they didn't have any money. This was a nice Houseboat and Harry wasn't sure this was the right thing to do but they kept the boat up for sale.
One day Flemon had a problem with his Foreman that couldn't be settled without Flemon being fired. When Flemon came to the boat that night he told Harry they had to sell the boat and go home. When Harry found out how much money Flemon had it was a big disappointment He thought Flemon had saved his money. He discover that Flemon had been using a lot of his money on the girls in town. He didn't have any money. Now it was up to Harry to finance the trip home. Harry had saved enough money to get them home and then have some to live on for a while but it was going to take a large part of it for train fare home. Now what to do about the boat?
THEY SOLD THEIR BOAT, SUMMER 1916
Since they had made up their mind to go home it was necessary to sell their boats. This was going to be the one of the hardest things they would do in their young life. They had lived in the houseboat for several months and had kept the little wooden boat every since they were at Cockrans Bluff. Each of the boys begin to have feeling about the boat and other boats they had used on the White River and around Big Island. It had been easy to buy a boat when they needed one but to sell one was a different story. Many people had just moved away and left their boats. This was the reason they traded for their first boat. Boats left vacant was harder to sell than ones being lived in.
They decided to try to find work of any kind until they sold the boat. Flemon went back to the mill and tried to get a job anywhere in the mill just so they could make a few dollars until such a time as they could sell the boat. This worked out as the owner of the mill felt he owed him something as one of his foremen was responsible for Flemon being there. He gave him a job working for another Foreman
More and more Flemon became home sick for White County Arkansas. He checked on what it
was going to cost to get home on the train. Each week he would count his money and would
think about being back in Arkansas.
One day he didn't feel like he could take it any longer. He told Harry he had a buyer for the boat and between them they had enough money to get home not realizing they really didn't have a home other than the Houseboat.
Flemon really didn't have a legitimate buyer for the boat. He had someone who wanted the boat but didn't have the money. The boat would have to be paid for later. Finally Harry agreed to let the people have the boat without paying for it. As it turned out the boys never got any money for the boat. They often wondered what happened to the boat. It was their last connection to their trip down the rivers.
Their dog that came with them when they joined the Little Red River at Cockrans Bluff was still with them. He had been a constant companion. Especially at night. He often warned them that someone was near the boat. He stayed with the boat when they were working. He was a dog that they loved and hated to loose. They knew it they sold the boat and went back to White County by Train the dog would have to be given to someone. There was a lady at one of the cafes that was kind to the boys and fed them sometimes when they were short of money who would take the dog. The boys felt that he would have a good home with her. Fido was left with the lady and now became officially a Mississippi dog. Harry often speaks about the dog when telling the story of their life on the rivers. He still has memories and often thinks about the dog. Dogs and boys can be very close and this was the case of Fido, Flemon and Harry.
For the last year or so there was rumors that the United States was going to War to help France and England whip the Germans. Rumors had it that all young men above the age of eighteen was going to be registered. Flemon fit into this age bracket. He wanted to be back in White County, Arkansas before he would have to register. If he had to go to war he wanted to leave from his home area. The boys didnt have many relatives but what they did have were all in Arkansas. They still felt like this was their home. Having to register for the Armed Service and perhaps go to war did not appeal to Flemon. The challenge to get back to White County Arkansas became very important to him.
FROM ROSEDALE TO HELENA BY YAZOO AND MISSISSIPPI VALLEY
After their bad experience with the lumber company at Rosedale they begin to think about going home. They had been away from the area where their father and mother were buried and Flemons sister Cora Harder was living in Judsonia. Even though they did not have a place they could call home to go back to, they felt like the area around Searcy was home. Flemon had spent most of his money and would have to rely on Harry for train fare back to Searcy, Arkansas. Train fare from Rosedale to Searcy was only about $5.00 each but to them that was a lot of money.
The train was very unusual in that the main use was for hauling logs from the Ozark Mountains to Rosedale. The train had an engine a caboose which was the last car and a long string of flat cars for hauling logs. Now if there was several people to ride the train they would put on a special passenger car. If they only had a few to ride the train they would put them in the caboose.
To go up through the Delta of Mississippi they went through little small towns. Harry during the later years of his life would travel this route by car and try to remember the small towns they went through. Some of the small to towns were Gunnison, Perthshire, Roundlake, Hillhouse, Rena, Lara, Sherard, Farrell, Stovall, Friars Point, and Lula. Today these little towns are just out side the levee that has been built to keep the Delta from flooding.
Harry liked to sit near the window and wave at the people working in the fields along the way. The train moved so slow you could even communicate with people working in the fields or walking along the railroad tracks. If someone wanted to get on the train he didn't have to go to the nearest town All he had to do was flag the train down. The train would stop and pick a person up anywhere along the tracks. They were not on a schedule and didn't have to worry about other trains being on the tracks. Besides having a paying customer was just extra cash for the train crew.
When they got to Lula they discovered that they had to cross the Mississippi River. It meant that the railroad they were traveling on the Yazoo and Mississippi Delta would transfer to the Missouri and North Arkansas. The tracks joined up at Lula. From Lula they had to cross the Mississippi river. After they crossed they would be at Helena and in Arkansas. This was going to be something they would never forget. At this time there was no railroad bridge across the Mississippi at Helena. The train had to be put on a barge and pulled across the river. A barge that would handle about three flat cars and the engine would carry them across the river. The barge had tracks on it that would match up with the tracks at Lula.
They found that the train that would carry them across would not be there until the following day. This mint they would have to spend the night in Lula. This was unexpected but they had slept along side of roads before. They decided to sleep under the platform at the Depot This worked out fine until some cats got to fighting and kept them awake all night. Also some Black boys came along and found them. The town of Lula was Black families at the time and they didnt like white people staying around during the night The kids didn't know what to do about that as they were outnumbered and didn't know where to run. They finally told them where they had worked and had good friend that were Black. This seemed to satisfy the Black boys and they went on their way an left them lone.
The morning didn't come to soon for them. This day the river was out of its banks and the barge had to go all the way to about where Lula is today There was no Levee at the time. The barge would be pushed in position to hook up with the rails. The rails on the barge had to match just right with the rails on the railroad. When this was done the train would move about three flat cars and the engine on to the barge and it would be pulled across the Mississippi River. When they got to the other side the engine would pull the flat cars to a siding and unhook from them and go back after more of the train. This would continue until all the train was across and was reassembled ready to go up through Arkansas. Depending on the number of flat cars that the train was pulling would determine how long it would take to get all of the train across the river. Sometimes it would take a full day to do the job.
There is one interesting note about how the rails were matched when the barge got to the Helena side. In talking to a man by the name of C. T. Strenger who was a Master mechanic with the Illinois Central Railroad it was related. He said that the rails on the Helena side and even on the Mississippi side were fixed so they could be raised or lowered to match the rails on the barge. This mint that if the river was up the rails could be raised or if the river was down they could be lowered. Mr. Strenger is retired and living near Tupelo, Mississippi.
Finally it came their turn to be carried across the Mississippi river from just west of Lula to Helena, Arkansas. There was one flat car that was used to hall logs, the passenger car that they were riding in and the Caboose. As The barge moved the engine slowly toward them Flemon and Harry and some others who had never been transported across the river on a barge begin to communicate the idea That they wished they was somewhere besides being in a passenger car.
Just waiting to be taken across the river in this way. The barge was moved right up to the end of the rails. The rails on the barge had to match up with the rails on the tracks where the cars were sitting. When this was done the flat car which was in front was hocked to the engine and it begin to pull the others on to the barge. When all The cars were on The barge The cable that pulled the barge across the river began in to move them toward the West Bank. The barge was pulled almost straight across the river. The Engine and the railroad cars never moved on the rails that they were sitting on. When the barge had the engine and the flat car along with the passenger car and the Caboose to the other side, they were matched up with the rails That came down the river bank. The engine begin to pull the cars from the barge on to the tracks. The engine never was stopped running all this time. It continued to be ready to pull the train.
Flemon and Harry along with some other passengers had to just sit and wait. until all this was accomplished. But it was something that they would never witness again in their life. Harry related that they were scared that the train would never make it across the river on the barge. Out of the many things that would happen to them in the Three or four years of their travels on the Rivers this would be a climax to remember. There was several times when they felt it would have been much safer in their houseboat on the swift White river.
There was no Levee on the Mississippi side during this time and the river was high. Water reached all the way to Lula. So for several miles they were traveling on tracks covered with water. This made the trip more memorable. They could tell just when they got to the Mississippi river as the water was much swifter and there was evidence of banks somewhere under the water. They could also see the Arkansas side as the bank was high at this point.
It is not known if there was another method like this anywhere in the United States during this time. This seemed to work even though it took several hours to at a train across the river. It has to be noted that this was a great engineering feat. These methods have been replaced by railroad bridges. Time and knowledge allowed railroads to span a large river like the Mississippi with a bridge.
Harry tells of his traveling back to these little towns in Mississippi. He went to Rosedale and traveled along the road nearest to the old Railroad tracks and tried to remember just how he felt during his and Flemons trip home. His going back over the route he and Flemon travel some fifty years before helped him to remember many of the thoughts he had during their travels on the Rivers. Even though many things had changed he could still see things that he could identify along the way. Also he could remember things like buying twenty bananas and they ate all of them. Harry ate thirteen and Flemon ate seven. It is unusual to go back to a place and things like buying bananas and eating them would be remembered.
HELENA AND THEIR TRIP HOME
When they got to Helena they were told they had to stay all night so the train crew could change and they would get an early start the next morning. And the people that were going to someplace in Arkansas would be staying at a boarding house in Helena. After they got settled into their room and found something to eat Flemon decided to explore the town. Helena was typical of most river towns. During This time many things were legal. Gambling was allowed. There was girlie shows and many places where men would frequent Harry wanted to go with Flemon but his age kept him from going. Flemon went out for awhile and wonder around. He didnt find anything he liked and came back. Mean while Harry had found that there was a gambling parlor near by. He wanted to go but didnt want to go without Flemon. He told Flemon about it and they decided to go. They had their train ticket paid for and a few dollars to eat on so they decided they could loose a few dollars at the gambling place. It was decided that Harry would do the gambling and Flemon would be the observer. He would help Harry with secret signals and watch for cheating from those across the table. There was one problem. The men didnt want Harry to get into the game. He was about sixteen years old at the time and just a skinny kid. In fact they made fun of him. They thought this was some kid wanting to get his feet wet and lose all his money. Finally after Flemon doing a little bragging in favor of Harry they decided to let him in the game.
Harry had learned to gamble with some of the best at Smoke House Hill on the White River. He had watched the game for several months before trying to gamble. One thing he learned was to read expressions on the faces of the gamblers.
Another plan he had worked out for himself was to watch his losses and set a limit. If he lost two hands in a row he would quit. If he was winning he would keep it up to a certain point and try to quit with a larger amount of money than when he started. The one thing that seemed to work for him was that if the cards were running good for him he was all right and would keep playing but if the cards were denying him he would quit and get out of the game even if he had lost a little. This was hard to do with most people as they usually wanted to try to win their money back. Harry got into a game that seemed to be a favorite of his. It was plain draw poker. As The game went on Harry just held his own. He didn't loose much and he didn't gain anything. Finally he begin to hit a streak of good luck. He had won in about three hands over one hundred dollars. The men begin to grumble. Then came threats that he was cheating. It was going to be hard on a group of much older men getting beat at poker by a kid. Flemon and Harry had a signal to get out of the game but the men decided not to let them until they won their money back. The gambling room was on a second floor. To the back of the room was a window and below that was a shed. This shed slopped down to with a few feet of The ground. This was where the people kept wood for winter. At this time the window was open. Flemon motioned to Harry and walked toward the window. Harry jumped up and followed him holding two hands full of money. They quickly crawled out the window and jumped to the ground from the shed. Then they ran to the boarding house and told the owner what happened. He said I will hide you in my private cellar. "If they come I will tell them you got your clothes and left."
Some of the men did come to the boarding house and tried to find them. They inquired to the owner and he protected the boys by telling the men they had left. The next morning he slipped them aboard the train that would take them across Arkansas.
The Missouri and North Arkansas train would be their home for the next week or two. It would stop at several places and take on water and wood to burn for the steam. The train was very slow. It was made up mostly of flat cars for hauling logs. It had an engine, caboose and one passenger car. As it traveled along the way anyone who wanted to get on the train could flag it down and crawl aboard. This took time but they had no set schedule. All the train wanted to do was reach the Ozarks and load its flat cars and head back toward Helena and make connections with the Yazoo and North Mississippi at Lula. Sometimes the train could be loaded before it reached Searcy. At this point it would wait for another train or head back and its passenger would lust have to get off. The boys were hoping that the train would have to go further into the mountains. As it turned out the train would go all the way to Gilbert before being loaded. Logs would be waiting for them that had been floated out of the mountains down the Buffalo River to Gilbert.
They stopped at Thomasville and took on water and fuel for the engine They also stopped at Cotton Plant. This was a place they could get off the train and get some food. They were there an hour or so. The next stop was Georgetown. As they crossed the White River at Georgetown many memories came to their minds. At Georgetown and up the river where the Little Red joined the White River was their first experience with a Houseboat. They never realized that when they went under the railroad bridge at Georgetown floating downs the White River they would be coming back on a train that would take them across this bridge. This was also the place they began to learn about harvesting Shells and many other ways to make a dollar. All of these thing had kept them alive for the past three years.
Now they were almost home. All of a sudden they realized they had no home. They really did not know where they were going to live. They didnt have any contact with anyone while they were on the rivers. What few distant relatives they had in this area didn't know if they were dead or alive. Some of their relatives like Jim Reeves knew they went down the Little Red River but no one knew what happened to them.
It was going to be a big decision as to know where to go and where to find work to take care of their needs. This decision had to be made quickly. They wanted to come home but now that they were home it didnt seem like home.
One of the things they learned before going on their trip was how to do farm work. It was Cotton Picking time in White county. They decided to go to the Gin in Searcy and find someone who would give them a job picking cotton.
They learned at the Cotton Gin in Searcy that Mickey Lowery at Step Rock needed Cotton pickers. Both Flemon and Harry had picked cotton for Mickey in previous years so they headed for Step Rock. They walked all the way. It just happened that there was no one going that way.
Harry tells that the type of cotton was real easy to pick and he picked the most he ever picked in one day. He picked three hundred fifty six pounds. The Cotton variety was Big Boll Rowden. This was a very popular cotton at the time.
They went from one cotton field to another. Just as soon as one farmer was through with them they found another. When they couldnt find work they stayed with their sister who lived in Judsonia at the time.
Both Flemon and Harry was old enough to be called up for World War I. War was declared on Germany on April 6th 1917. They came back to their home area because of the concern of Flemon first as he was the oldest. He would be the first to be called. When he registered and took his examination they turned him down. He had TB earlier in his life and it showed up in his examination. Later on Harry had to register and was called. He took his examination and passed it. He was asked to report to Camp Robinson. He arrived at Camp Robinson on November 11, 1918. This was the day that Germany surrendered and a peace treaty was signed. Harry was sent home as his services was not needed. He received an honorable discharge and one days pay. Harry hung on to his records and cherished them until he had a accident at his sisters house one day. He picked up a loaded shotgun thinking, it was not loaded, cocked it and pulled the trigger and shot a big hole in his suitcase. It so happened that his Army records and his honorable discharged were blown to pieces.
In 1919 Flemon and Harry was helping in the timber business near Fair Oaks when the great Flu Epidemic came into this country. The soldiers had brought the Flu back from Europe and it finally came to Arkansas. This was a disease that killed many people. No cure was available at that time. All that could be done was just to try to keep the fever down and pray. Harry and Flemon helped take care of several families in the Fair Oaks community. They knew these people because they had befriended them as they worked cutting logs. They helped for several months and did not get the flu. This was unusual as the Flu was so easily transmitted.
When they came back to the White County area Henry Reeves, a brother of Jim Reeves came to them and asked them to go and take care off Jims farm. Jim had taken Appendicitis and it just about killed him. He was in bed for months. The boys buried the hatchet and decided to go help him take care of the farm. In fact they made the crop for him the next year.
Their ability to work and their knowledge of farm life helped them many times. It was not just the fact they worked around the farm early in their lives it was their knowledge of hard work. They did not object to the hard work that was associated with farm life. This determination to make it was the reason they survived those years on the rivers.
In 1925 They were told by a friend that jobs could be had in St. Louis, Missouri. They went to St. Louis but it was not easy to get a job. They had been told wrong. Harry was determined to get a job so he showed up at Wagner Electric Company every day asking for a job. They finally gave him one and he stayed twenty five years. One reason he got a job was it was told that he was raised on a farm. The boss said anyone raised on the farm would not be afraid of work. Many times in the twenty five years he was asked to go the second mile. There would be trouble in getting an order out and his shift would have to work over. He was the first one to volunteer when the company got in a tight. He found his wife Christine Milliken, a friend from his childhood from Denmark, AR, while working there. They had no children. He retired and came back to the Judsonia where he has lived for many years. He soon will be one hundred years old. Flemon came back from St. Louis and settled in White County and married Mary Watkins from Providence. They had one son who died at birth and another Willard Earl Bobbitt, before she died with TB and Flemon was stricken with it several times. He spent quite a bit of time in the Booneville TB Sanitarium. He married a second time to Leila Harbert and they had three children. One of his sons, Chird lives in Searcy today. Flemon lived to be eighty nine years old.
WHAT THEY LEARNED FROM THEIR LIFE ON THE RIVERS
There are many things these young men learned from their trip down the River but probably the greatest was how to develop Character. They did not ask for character they earned it. Every step of the way brought about new experiences and new relationships.
THE REST OF THEIR LIVES
WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM GENERALLY