The following was a four part series written by Albert F. Parker, starting March 9, 1978 in the Lauderdale County Enterprise.
Tank Low, Had To Back Up Hills
I guess the first big surprise in my life came Sunday morning, July 7, 1918, after I was eight years old in January. One of my fathers old friends, Mr. Claiborne (J.C.) Waits, knocked on our door and told my dad he had come to eat dinner with him-he said he was fish-hungry. The surprise came after dinner when my Father, Mr. Waits, my brother, Edward and I went down to the barn and saddled up three horses and a mule; I rode the little mule.
We spent the afternoon riding over the old Fort Pillow battle-grounds. I remember seeing the long trench, just after passing Oak Grove Baptist Church.
We hitched the horses and my mule under a big old shed where the road now tilts over the bluff at Sullivan’s Camp, and then we walked down the bluff to the creek on a long swinging bridge.
Mr. Waits and my father talked to some of their old friends about by-gone days, while my brother and I played up and down the creek bank. On our way home, we made several stops, and the adults pointed out things they remembered from the days when they were boys.
We stopped by an old cotton gin and saw-mill on the west side of the farm of Col. J.E. Walker, grandfather of Judge Mark Anthony Walker, Jr., of Covington.
The men told us about ginning cotton there and working at this old saw-mill when they ere young men.
The old tread-wheel was still there, almost worn out form the walking of the horses that pulled it. The wheel measured about 30 feet in diameter, and it was three planks thick.
It was rigged up to pull both the cotton gin and the saw-mill, too.
ICE house of the 1840’s
About half way between the cotton gin and saw-mill and the old log ferry-house in which we lived, we stopped to take a peep down into the old ice house Judge Green dug back in the 1840s.
The spoke of how they used to help Col. Walker fill it with layers of ice and saw-dust during the winter, to keep the ice for the summer.
This old ice house it still visible as of this date.
When we got back to the barn and unsaddled the horses and my little mule, our dad hitched up another horse to the buggy and took Mr. Waits home, while by brother and I told our mother all about the trip and everything we saw.
Later that summer, our mother, my brother and I drove back to Fort Pillow in the buggy to visit Mr. And Mrs. Tom Simpson, who lived in a houseboat on Cold Creek. Mother wanted to see their new baby, Tverne.
In Pursuit of the Fox
Yes, I have ridden the hills of Fort Pillow many time, both day and night, all by myself just for the fun of it-but mostly fox-hunting with an old ex-sheriff, from Tipton County, by the name of Mr. Esters White.
I was born on the north end of the old Walker farm, about 200 yards from the top of the Mississippi River bluff, Jan. 18, 1910, where the bobcats and rattlesnakes played ring around the roses, squirrels and raccoons slept on the back porch, and the hoot owls would sing us to sleep at night.
There’s where I learned the code of the backwoods, riding rabbits and lassoing groundhogs.
The next year, my father bought this old ferry boat and moved to the old ferry house on the south end of this farm, about 200 yards from the bank of the Hatchie River.
As well as I remember, my first job was bringing in stove wood and water for my mother; next was feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs. As I grew up, I started washing dishes and milking the cows.
At the age of six, I started to school. It was two mile up the road to where the little one room school-house stood, just across the old county road, up on a hill southwest of Green’s Chapel Methodist Church.
By that time, I was helping my mother cook and sew on her sewing machine; fishing and riding horse-back; helping my dad ploy the fields; and hiding from the girls (but at the age of ten, I had learned to like them-they were fun).
Haled Apples and Fish
There was an apple orchard on this farm. My dad and we boys would thrash the apples and sometimes make cider with part of them, then we would haul them all over the country by wagon loads-down to Fulton, Fort Pillow, Crutcher’s Lake, Goldust and Ashport.
Sometime we would take a load over into Tipton County, through Rough Edge, Garland, Burlison, Gilt Edge, Randolph, Detroit and Richardson’s Landing, for one half the profit.
There were always a few commercial fishermen on Hatchie River. We would haul their fish to the market-Covington, Henning, and Ripley-for the same profit, one half.
In 1925, my dad bought a brand new 1-ton Model T Ford truck from Porter & Tucker, in the building in which Fred’s Dollar Store is now located on the southwest corner of the square in Ripley.
That was the truck I first learned to drive.
If you had a full tank of gas, it would pull itself over that old Port Pillow hill an old Thompson hill down near Fulton, but if you had less than one fourth a tank of has, you would have to turn around and back up over both of them-in going forward up a long hill, you would have a gas shortage.
Cattle Drive To Henning
In the early fall of 1920, I had my first experience of cattle driving.
Col. Walker had about 150 head of cows, including two or three bulls, he wanted to sell.
He and my dad decided to drive them up the old crooked dirt road by way of Mack, Cherry and Pleasant hell to a stock-yard in Henning to be shipped to Memphis by rail.
My dad rounded up six other drovers besides himself-Mr. Claiborne Waits, Mr. Cleve McCall, Uncle Marcus Hartsfield, who was the father of Emmett (Slim) Hartsfield, Slim’s half brother, Charlie Scott, my brother, Edward, and me.
We left early on Monday morning and spent the first night between Cherry and Pleasant Hill, all over Cane Creek bottom, keeping the herd together.
We spent the second night in Henning, after we got them all bedded down at the stockyard.
We only lost five or six head in all – two drowned, and the others just disappeared.
Henning had seven wornout drovers, a big head of cattle, six tired horses, and my little mule to feed and sleep that night.
On our way back home next day, we found on the herd that had gotten lost the day before grazing on the road-side.
We sold it to a farmer for enough money to pay our hotel bill in Henning the night before.
It was a wonderful experience for me and my little mule.
Old Gray Mare Took Dip
In 1925, when my brother Edward, was 17 and I was 15, our father bought each of us a horse and a big Texas saddle.
He bought Edward’s horse at Covington. His name was Dan
He bought me an old gray mare from Mr. Carey Rhoads at Fort Pillow. I named her Lightning, as she was fast, eager to go and had no sense.
A boy by the name of Nathan Brown, who lived with us, asked me about riding my horse over into Tipton county to spend the night with his mother; I told him yes.
He had just bought a new suit of clothes.
Both horses were saddled up and hitched out by the back yard gate. I got on my brother’s horse to go and put Nathan across the river on the ferry, so I could bring the boat back to the Lauderdale side.
But when Nathan got on my old gray mare, he ribbed her with both heels, and down the road she went, just as hard as she could go.
Nathan couldn’t stop her, so she hit the ferry boat about three leaps, and overboard they both went, into the river, head and ears, in about 18 feet of water.
Nathan stayed with her, holding onto the saddle, and they both swam out the other side of the river.
I pulled over and picked them both up.
He went back to the house, changed clothes, saddled up a little mule named Hut, and went on over to Atoka and spent the night with his mother.
When he came back home next day, I asked him whether he had enjoyed his trip.
“Not much,” he said; “first, I almost drowned, second that dog-gone mule would take the studs at all the cross-roads, and the third, my old girl friend had got married, so I won’t be going back other there soon.”
Danced Across the Hatchie River
Judge Armistead Green, who owned the farm on which I was born, just west of present Fort Pillow Sate Prison Farm, in the 13the District – who operated his own cotton gin and saw mill an dug a huge ice-house, still to be seen today, on a high hill, to be filled with ice, in layers of saw-dust, for preservation into summer was, no doubt, the man who lit the fuse which led to the battle of Fort Pillow
Early in 1862, when Confederate Gen. Gideon J. Pillow, with his men, left the for, the Federal army slipped in and took over. It soon ran short of money and food, and it was then Union soldiers began stealing a taking from people all over the county.
One night, they caught Judge Green, riding horseback on his way home from Ripley-killed his horse and robbed him of all his money.
That was when he decided to send a messenger to Jackson, where Gen. Forrest was stationed, and let him know what was going on in Lauderdale County.
After reading this letter from Judge Green and listening to his messenger, Gen. Forrest rounded up his troops and headed west to Fort Pillow, and that was when they passed by the old log house in which I was born almost 46 years later.
In 1874, Judge Green sold this 1,250-acre farm to Col. James E. Walker, grandfather of Criminal Court of Appeals Judge Mark Anthony Walker, Jr., of Covington, formerly Circuit Court judge in this county for many years, and also grandfather of Dorothy (Mrs. Jack) Palmer of 135 Lafayette, Ripley.
Col. Walker continued the same farm operation as Judge Greed had, but he sold the old boat of the ferry which Judge Green has established across the Hatchie River in the 1840’s.
The buyer was Charlie McColester, in 1876. He was the eldest son of George McColester, who owned and operated a little commissary at the mouth of Cold Creek in 1852.
Charlie McColester sold the ferry to my uncle, Jim, and aunt, Leona, Purcell in 1895
Ferry Rant Until 1935
The Purcells had one child Jim Tom Purcell (Aug 14, 1897-Oct. 15, 1966), who was the father of Huey Chester Purcell, now residing at Cherry. Jim died Oct 16, 1907, and Aunt Leorna Oct. 12, 1910.
My father, Tom Parker, bought the old ferry boat from his nephew, Jim Tom Percell, and operated it until 1935.
By that time, Highway 87 had been completed from Henning to Fulton for six years, and people could drive to Fulton more quickly and cheaply than via ferry.
The boat was sold to C. H. Sullivan, to be used on Cold Creek, where there is now a bridge at Sullivan’s Camp.
But in the old days, this old ferry was very important to the people of both counties.
It was only ten miles from our house to Covington, while it was 18 miles to Ripley.
The ferry saved a lot of strain on mules and horses.
We charged 40 cents for a horsebacker, buggy, automobile, or wagon, one way, and 75 cents for a round-trip.
One way by skiff, was only a dime, and 20 cents for a round-trip.
Goal: Bingle’s Bluff
My brother, Edward, and I had a lot of fun on the river together, when the back-water was up, and we had to put someone across the river from Lauderdale County.
We would load them on the boat at our home and push out to the river by spike poles, then turn loose down-stream for about three quarters of a mile to a big bend in the river.
There we would take our skiff and swing the ferry boat from the channel of the river out into this old ferry road and push it the rest of way to Bringle’s Bluff in Tipton Country, by spike poles.
We would always leave the ferry boat in Tipton County, hoping our next passenger would be from Tipton, for it was about two mile from bluff to bluff and would take the biggest part of a day to make a round-trip. We charged ten dollar each way.
Heaved Up The River
But when we put someone across from Tipton to Lauderdale, it was all work and no fun. After we would push back out from Brigle’s Bluff to the river, it was up-stream all the way.
First, we would tie the boat to a tree
The one of us would coil a long line up the stern end of the skiff and pull – up-stream 300 or 400 yards, or the length of the line, and tie it to another tree, then go back and start winding the line up by a windlass- and the boat would slowly creep up-stream.
After doing this two or three time, we would be ready to push back out to our house with them old spike poles.
Snow 18 inches deep
Living and working on a river is something else. It’s a good life, if you like it and a bad one, if you don’t. It’s also dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
From December, 1917, to February, 1918, it snowed a lot. The ground was covered with snow all winter long. I would be safe in saying it was around 18 inches deep at Christmas time. Santa Claus was about a month late in coming to our house.
The Hatchie River was frozen over solid as the streets in Ripley – eight to twelve inches thick.
Ice Shoes For Beasts
We dropped the boat aprons down on top of the ice.
We let buggies and wagons cross the river if their mules and horses were shod with ice shoes; if not, we would refuse them; it was too dangerous.
In 1926, my brother and I sand the first old boat ever used at this ferry.
It was small, and built out of gum. Anderson-Tully gave my father enough cypress timber to build another boat.
We could carry two wagons and teams across at the same time; the load didn’t matter-you couldn’t sink this one.
I still have one of the old broad-axes we used in hewing out the two gunnels for this new boat.
Each gunnel measured six inches thick, 22 inches wide, and 52 feet long – plus two 8-foot aprons – a total of 68 feet in length, 12 feet wide.
Square Dance Aboard
Saturday, Dec. 25, 1926, Dad told us boys we could have a square dance down on the new ferry boat that night, if the weather permitted.
My brother and I saddled up our horses and rode all over the county, inviting everyone to a square dance down on Hatchie River, Christmas night.
Late that evening, we rigged up 10 or 12 small bottles filled with kerosene, using short pieces of rope for wicks – stinging them all around on the boat, just in case we needed some lights.
The weather was beautiful, and we had a wonderful crowd.
There were several wagon loads from Tipton County.
Our father invited the high sheriff of Lauderdale County, Mr. Andrew Craig, who had just been re-elected to that office for his third term.
Mr. Richard Brackin and my cousin, Egbert Parker, played the fiddle; W.C. Bragg and I picked the guitar. We would take turns making music and dancing.
If someone came from Tipton County, we would pull over to that side and invite them on the boat, without ever stopping the music or dancing.
We had a wonderful time riding and dancing across Hatchie River that night on the new ferry boat.
Cannon, Fossil Taken From Fort Pillow Soil
In the past several years, I’ve had several people tell me they believe there are still cannon buried at Fort Pillow, but to the best of my knowledge, the last of the old Civil War cannons there were move out many years ago. I remember one evening in the early fall of 1918, standing on the front porch of the old log house in which we lived on Col. James E. Walker’s farm and seeing a bunch of people coming up the road- some walking and some riding horse-back. They stopped in front on our house for a drink of water and to rest their horses and mules.
They were on their way from Fort Pillow to Ripley, moving a big old black Civil War cannon. It was loaded on a log wagon pulled by eight big mules.
Most of my information on the Battle of Fort Pillow came through my father, Tom Parker, who has told me the story many times, as told him by his parents.
My grandfather James Thomas Parker, was born in Surrey County Lowgap, N.C., June 18, 1834. He came to West Tennessee in 1848, at the age of 14, in a covered wagon driven by Mr. And Mrs. C.A. McCraw, grandparents of Mrs. Adean Craig, of Ripley.
The family first settled at Leigh’s Chapel, a little community in Tipton County, about four or five miles north of Covington, near Hatchie River, while the rest of the wagon train rumbled on westward, toward California, to become part of the fortyniners.
You can find Mr. and Mrs. McGraw’s tombs near the south end of Munford Cemetery on Highway 51 in Covington.
In 1852, at age of 18, my Grandfather crossed the Hatchie to Fort Pillow, as a timber cutter and saw filer, about nine years before the name Fort Pillow ever existed.
Today, most people think of this place as a booming little river town in those day, but in 1852, when my Grandfather first settled there, the top of the bluff was thick and heavy timber, with few dwelling houses scattered about.
At the mouth of the creek was a steamboat landing, a saw mill, and a log dump, with a few shacks along the foot of the bluff, and one small commissary, owned and operated by Mr. George McColester.
My grandfather liked this place so well he decided to make it his home. He love the sound of the old steam-boat landing, a saw mill, and a log dump, with a few shacks along the foot of the bluff, an done small commissary, owned and operated by Mr. George McColester.
My grandfather liked this place so well he decided to make it his home. He loved the sound of the old steam-boat whistles as the boats pulled into the mouth of Cold Creek to pick up the logs rafted there, and the lumber from the saw mill, to be towed down the river to Memphis or New Orleans.
He was still working there when Confederated Gen. Gideon J. Pillow, erected the fort in 1861. It was named Fort Pillow, in his honor.
In early 1862, Gen. Pillow left, but in leaving gave my granddad a little partitioned lap chest of solid black walnut with the initials, G.J.P. carved inside the lid. I still have it in my possession, it has been in the family 116 years.
I also have a small flat wooden wedge, beveled on one end which my grandfather, made a piece of hard seasoned hickory timber. He would use it when filing cross-cut saws; in later years, my father used it for the same purpose.
In 1866, my grandfather went back to Leigh’s Chapel and married my grandmother, Harriet Daniels, Aug. 2nd.
She was the daughter of a Cherokee Indian girl, who also came to Leigh’s Chapel in 1848. She was from Sequatchie County, Tennessee, and always called it her Sequatchie Valley Home.
After their wedding, they went back to Fort Pillow and lived in a little 20room log house on the east side of old Fort Pillow Road, about 50 yards beyond the north end of the first old trench you pass by going toward Cold Creek, after leaving Oak Grove Baptist Church.
They were still living there at the time of his death on July 8, 1878. He was buried in Shiloh Cemetery, in Tipton County, just east of Garland.
They had two children. Aunt Lizzie, born Oct. 30, 1870, married James Madison Woodruff Nov. 10, 1890, at Fort Pillow, and died Aug 14, 1940 at Fort Worth, Tx.
Aunt Leorna, born May 15, 1874, married James Purcell Aug. 13. 1893, at Fort Pillow and died Oct. 12, 1910. their third child Tom Parker, my father was born Dec. 3, 1878, five months and five days after the death of his father. My grandmother continued to reside at Fort Pilllow doing housework an dtaking in washing all over the neighborhood. It was hard on her, but she manage to raise her little family up to be grown and married. She died Nov. 10, 1898, and was buried at Green’s Chapel Cemetery at Mack.
My father, Tom Parker, was married three times at Fort Pillow. All three of his wives came from Tipton County.
His first wife was Mattie Williams. They were married March 28, 1897, by Thomas R. B. Lawrence; she died April 12, 1900. His second wife was Fannie Starnes. They were married Dec. 24, 1901, by W.S. Wright, she died Oct. 24, 1902. His third wife was Mamie Ophiia Smith, my mother. They married July 26th, 1903, by Col. Walker. She is now living at Lauderdale County Nursing Home in Ripley, and will be 94 years old May 10th, 1978.
Ancient Object Found
During the spring of 1928, Mike Wallace, an old fisherman, who lived at Fort Pillow, was keeping his eyes on a strange object hanging down form the north wall of an old ravine. It was about the size of a quart fruit jar, and after each heavy rain, more earth would wash out form around it making it a little more visible.
Early one July morning, while Mr. Wallace was driving by, after an all night downpour, he noticed it was tilted downward just a little from what it was the day before, so he parked his old 1922 Model T Ford truck and walked over to take a peep.
It looked to him as if it was almost ready to fall from where it had been embedded so many years. Mr. Wallace couldn’t tell it was a piece of petrified wood or an over-size bone form some large animal.
He lopped a rope over the outer end of it, tied the other end of the rope to a tree, and started digging.
About a fifth of it full 3-foot length was still embedded in solid ground, and about two feet beneath the surface.
After digging it up he stopped by our house on his way to some laboratory in Memphis to have it analyzed. To me, it looked just like any common bone, knuckle-shaped on both ends.
Some time later, Mr. Wallace received a letter from the laboratory telling him it was an upper hind leg bong of an elephant or mammoth that had probably been buried thousands of years. I believe Mr. Wallace sold tit to some museum up north.
During the big snow of 1917 and 1918, while Hatchie River was frozen over, our father bought my brother and I each a pair of rubber boots at the old country store, owned and operated by the Winn brother, Uncle Bill and Mr. Willis, across the old county road in front of the Green’s Chapel Methodist Church.
In 1935, Austin Winn, son of Mr. Willis and Mrs. Fannie Winn, and a brother of Mrs. John Peyton, kept me up a little late, tow or three nights a week, trying to teach him how to pick the guitar.
A few years later, Austin dropped his music and took up flying, but we enjoyed his company each and every night he came to our house.
I bought my first guitar, in 1926, from Mrs. Sam Taylor. I paid her $5 for it.
I have written a good may songs. I wrote “The Battle of Fort Pillow” in 1935 and “The Montana Waltz” in 1951. I have both of them on tape.
Sometimes I think it was my guitar-picking, and signing that helped me find the wasy to the heart of my darling Jennie, little country girl who held my hand and said “I do,” on Christmas, Eve, 1928.
I have already told you about the first big surprise in my life but here come the greatest one of all. It was late one Saturday afternoon, April 21, 1928. I was on my way home from Covington pulling two tons of fertilizer on a 2-horse wagon, the river was too high, down at home for making short ferriage, but not high enough to make long ferriage, so I had to come around by way of Henning, Pleasant Hill and Cherry.
Just as I tilted over the big hill at New Hope Baptist Church, just west of Cherry, I met two girls walking up the road. They both spoke as I passed by. I knew the older one, but who was the younger one?
When I looked into her big brown beautiful eyes, the birds all started singing, the tree tops starting swinging, the stun that was sinking deep into the west shoe a little brighter, the moon and stars even came out smiling, the mules I was driving shouted, “Glory,” and I ended up singing “Hallelujah,” for I had seen the angel that the good Lord had promised me.
Her name was Jennie. She lived at Cherry, and for the rest of that year, I almost lived at Cherry, too, but like most all lover, we had a quarrel and broke up for a short while. But a few days after her 13th birthday, Oct. 18, we made up and set the date for our wedding, which was on Monday Dec. 24, 1928, about 200 yards down the road from where we first met back in April. Mr. Sercy Barfield, performed the ceremony.
After the wedding, we loped upon my horse and galloped on down the road. I was still singing “Hallelujah.” I must have been the happiest 18-year-old boy on earth. However I had a good reason for being happy.
I had the cutest little girl in all the world, and when we got home my old dad just come in from Covington with a wagon load of Christmas. How can you beat the combination of receiving a wagon load of Santa Claus and a life-time playmate all in the same day?
There were 12 or 13 families living on this farm. They had taught me to dance by the time I was large enough to hold on to their apron strings. After Jennie and I married, we used up th efirst two weeks going to play parties and dances, working all day and dancing all night. I soon made myself sick.
Dr. Peyton David, the father of Dr. Walter David, of Dyersburg, came to see me and told my folks I had double pneumonia.
After about three weeks I was able to go right back to picking, singing and dancing, card parties, chicken supper, you name it, we played it. We had so much fun we didn’t know what to do with all of it.
Jim Tom Purcell, Junior Bates, Nathan Brown, Bryant Side, Gene Jenkins, Bill Dyson, Horace Kelley, Willie Brag, Brother Edward, and my old Dad, were always there swinging them women form can till cant.
About six months later, one hot Monday evening, July 8, 1929, Jennie and I went down to the river to take a swim, we pulled over to this sand bar on the Tipton side in a skiff.
While we were paddling around in the river, Mr. Joe Baker came along and wanted across. I told him to pull the skiff over and tie it to the ferry boat, I would get it later.
When we got ready to go home, we decided to cross over by holding to the iron cable with our hands, but the further over we went, the higher the cable was elevated above the water. All at once Jennie got scared and turned loose, but it so happened I was close enough to lock my legs around her waist, and we finally made it to the ferry boat; we both got out safely and went home.
Jennie hasn’t been swimming since. She said she had rather start raising a family than take another chance drowning and I sure did agree with he.
Margarett Lucille, was born April 6, 1932
Albert Franklin, was born April 29, 1935
Thomas Eugene, was born October 7, 1943
Hank William, was born, April 20, 1954.
And we also have eight grand children – Dale, Danny, Terry, Bennie, Shannon, Shelly, Jennie and Chris; a total of twelve of whom we are so very proud.
Closing this story, may I have the pleasure of leaving these last few words to my darling wife, Jennie Lucille Parker:
Day by day you have fully filled your promise,
Night by night you have been my guiding star.
Year by year you have kept the home fires burning
And I love you, oh my darling, just for who you are.
As we stand here tonight by the window,
Looking back through the page of time,
I can see brighter day for tomorrow
Oh, how sweet just to know you are mine.
Contributed by Alicia Hopkins-Humiston
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