AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND REMINISCENCES, Wiley M. Crook
YOUTH IN HENDERSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE
At the death of my father, he owned three negroes, and the nice little home of 160 acres given him by his father. Uncle John Crook administered on the estate, and made a public sale of father’s property. My mother chose to take a child’s part instead of widow’s dowry. My half-sister, Mary, having died, father had six living children, two daughters by his first wife, two sons and two daughters by my mother, so the estate was to be divided between the six children and mother, equally. At father’s sale the property was sold to the highest bidder, and I remember well how my mother bid off the negro women and then the homestead—no one bid against her. John P. Thomas, an uncle of my half-sisters, became their guardian, and Uncle John A. Crook was made guardian of myself, brother and two sisters. A cousin of mother’s (John Harvey Hodges) lived with us during the year 1851, and managed the farm work under the advice and counsel of Uncle John. About the end of this year, Cousin John Harvey married Lucinda Arnold, a cousin of my father’s, and Uncle John Crook secured I. J. L. Pearson, another young man of excellent qualities to come and live with us the year 1852. Mother, myself, brother, two little sisters, the two young men mentioned, and Rosa, our negro woman, were the family those two years. I recall many incidents of this time of my young life. One evening, mother went out to milk a cow. I followed her and, after mother had finished milking, leaving the little calf to suck, mother going into the house, I lingered back to play with the pretty calf, and in so doing, decided to see if I could also suck the cow, but in my attempt to push the calf away the cow turned her head and with one horn struck me in the mouth, tearing my under lip wide apart to the chin. There was no one on the place except mother and us four children, so she caught up our faithful mare, Polly, put saddle on and got on, taking little sisters in her lap, brother and myself behind. We started to Uncle John’s. We met Cousin John Harvey, who at the time was living with us. He told mother to go back home, that he would go tell Uncle John and then go after Doctor Tabler. I thought I was nearly ruined. Uncle John came directly, and after looking at my wound, assured me that it would get well. In a short time Cousin John Harvey was there with Doctor Tabler. Uncle John got me in his lap, holding my head and hands while Cousin John Harvey held my feet, and the doctor proceeded to sew up my lascerated lip—an operation I thought awful to bear.
I can not remember when I thought that I was larger than brother. Mother dressed us just alike, made our clothes by the same pattern. She sent us together everywhere and to do all errands and work.
Our first day in school was together. We learned to spell in a class with Matilda and Mary Ellen Rhodes. Matilda was my sweetheart and Elijah claimed Mary Ellen. One day the four of us were guilty of some misbehavior; the teacher called us up to her and made a short investigation of our mischief; then she had the girls to sweep a clean place in the middle of the floor and all of us to sit down, boys facing girls, for the whole school to look at. That punishment cured all of us.
Miss Nancy Chappell was the teacher’s name. I remember how I thought what she did not know was torn out of the book, she had my confidence and reverence. I have known but few brothers that I think were more devoted to each other than brother and I. I was and am to this day, of a quick-spoken and impulsive nature, my brother was and continued to be of a conservative, considerate disposition. I always desired to be more like him and he appeared to believe I could accomplish things better than be could.
My mother was only 18 years older than myself, and I can well recollect that I thought she was by far the prettiest woman in all the country. Oh, how proud I was of her fine, stately, appearance. She weighed about 160 pounds, went gracefully about all her affairs, ruled well her household and made lasting impressions for good on her children—a christian woman, indeed. It is also with pleasure and a grateful heart that I think of the associations with my two sisters. Susan, the elder, was somewhat like myself—of a quick temperament—but when she set her head, she did things, and always tried to do right things. She plowed, hoed and worked like a boy while brother and I were in the Confederate army, and never felt ashamed of it. Sister Nannie, the baby of my father, born only a short time before his death, and not being named when father died, mother named her Nancy James (the James for our father), and we called her Jimmie until she was quite a large girl. Sister Nannie always exhibited the utmost confidence in and respect for her two brothers and her sister. She still lives in Henderson county, Tennessee.
In the year 1853 my mother and Joel F. Hurt were married, at which time I was nine years old. I hardly comprehended the reason for his visits before the marriage, and when it occurred my young heart was almost broken. I did not think there was a man living half good enough to marry my young mother, but they were very kind to me, and let me work it all out slowly. In a short time mother told me I must call him Pa. Mother had taught me that I must always obey her, but I could not get myself in shape to say "Pa," so I evaded for a time, not calling him anything. I suppose he knew my situation and he went on in a smooth, kind manner, not appearing to notice my embarrassment, treating me nicely. One day he did something about the premises that I approved and I ran in the house, telling mother of the occurrence, she asked me, "Who did it?" I answered, "He." Mother broke out in a laugh and looked so good to me that I never again attempted to evade, calling him or addressing him as "Pa." He was a generous-hearted, good man, and kind to us children.
In the summer of 1857, there was a protracted meeting at old Unity church, near the village of Jacks Creek, in Henderson county, Tennessee. Brother and I were given a horse each to ride to this meeting, the first time we had ever enjoyed this proud privilege. One day, as we were passing Mr. Dick Barham’s, his daughter (Miss Henrietta) called to us to wait, she was going to meeting, too. Miss Puss Arnold of Mississippi was visiting Mr. Barham ‘s family and was also going to meeting. We boys waited for the young girls. Neither of us boys had ever waited on or rode with a girl to church, but we were both willing to ride with Miss Henrietta, as she was always very nice to us and older than either of us. So I planned to lead up Henrietta’s horse to the stile block and she was mounted and we rode off together, leaving Elijah to come with Puss, who was about his age. We all rode along in a bunch, Henrietta and I were talking like grown folks, but Elijah and Puss were not saying a word. So Henrietta proposed to Puss that they swap beaux. Puss and Elijah assented, and I could do nothing but acquiesce; then Henrietta and Elijah could talk, but Puss and I could not find anything to say—you can see that Henrietta was having her fun out of we younger ones. I was at this time nearly 13 years old, and it was at this meeting that I first felt the wooing of God’s Holy Spirit. A speech made at one of the day meetings by Uncle John Hubbard (my maternal grandmother’s brother) led my young mind to want to be a Christian. After this Miss Henrietta taught school at the Rubin Ross school house. Her youngster sister, Nanny, was my sweetheart, and one day I carried a big red apple to give her, but had no chance all day without some one seeing us. The Barham and Crook children went the same road home, so we were all playing and running and I caught a time when Nannie was in the path in the rear of all the rest, so I slowed up until I was just in front of her, when I held the apple in hand behind me and she advanced and got it; she knew I loved her and I knew she loved me, but no one else did.
In the year 1858, the Unity Baptist church built a new house of worship on a beautiful site between the homes of Uncle Willis Arnold and Uncle John A. Crook, and in September of that year the Unity Baptist Association met with Unity church. Old Brother Leven Savage was the moderator of the association. At the close of business of the association the church continued in a series of meetings. Uncle Wm. J. Hodges was pastor of the church. As has been stated already, I had been convicted of my lost sinful condition at a meeting the year before. I had tried to live a better life, hoping to merit salvation, but at this meeting was the deeper convicted of sin. At one of the night services, old Brother Washburn preached from the text John 3:14-15, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." The preacher portrayed how the children of Israel had sinned; how God had directed Moses to put upon a pole the brazen serpent to cure the bite of the fiery serpent and how all that looked were healed; then he showed how Jesus Christ had died for the sins of the world and that all who believed in Him shall be saved. My young heart and mind caught the comparison and the next day on the floor of that church, while the people were bowed with me and others in prayer, I trusted in my Savior. I was then 14 years old and am at this writing 72 years of age. I still cherish the sweet memory of that day, and shall always strive to glorify the name of my Redeemer and the Savior of all who will come unto Him. After going home and telling my mother of my conversion, that night, I, with others joined the Baptist church and was baptized in Jack’s Creek by Uncle Wm. J. Hodges. I believe there are only two others now living who joined the church in that meeting, R. H. Barham, now of Crenshaw, Miss., and Mrs. Matilda Thomas, in Chester county, Tennessee, whose maiden name was Matilda Rhodes. (April, 1917, my sister in Tennessee writes me that Matilda Thomas is dead.)
I recall some of my boyish aspirations at the age of 15 and 16. There were three men in the country whose ways and manners I admired. Cousin Berry Crook, Ervin Grider and Calabe Hendrix. I did not know so much of the two last named, but every one spoke in the highest terms of them all, and I wanted to emulate their example. In fact, early in my life I was influenced to try to be a good boy and never bring sorrow to my mother or reproach on the name of my ancestry, so I tried to make a man like these worthy men just mentioned.
Right at this time Buchanan was our president, and I began to listen to men talk on political issues. The first political speaking I ever listened to was at Jack’s Creek. J. D. C. Atkins, democrat, and Emerson Ethridge, whig, were making the race for Congress. I had espoused the democratic cause, as my step-father, J. F. Hurt, as well as the three men just mentioned, were all democrats, but when Ethridge got through, I thought he could make the best speech, but Atkins was on the right side. Atkins was elected. That was the then Sixth Congressional District of Tennessee.
At these times, brother Elijah and I were sent to mill with a sack of two bushels of corn across our horse’s back—Mr. Stout’s mill on Clark’s Creek. He was a whig, and us boys would argue stoutly with the old gentleman.
Elijah, our two sisters, myself, Bob and Bill Barham, and their two sisters, were permitted to visit each other, and I was still claiming Nannie and she did me. We played "blind-fold," "snap" and "hiding hoop" together. One day I-was cutting briars in our fence corners close to Mr. Barham's orchard, and Nannie came to get some peaches. I looked through the briars at her and thought she was the prettiest girl on earth. Now, she did not know I was cutting that briar path. As I went home that evening, I passed some love vines and whirled one over my head and let it fall, and in those times as I would be out at night and see a star fall, would swish Nannie to some time by my wife. Such were the youthful days of our now old men and old women, all of which were very much enjoyed in innocency and purity of heart and purpose. I sometimes wonder if it is so now with our present boys and girls.
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