Ed (W.A.) Lewis of the Etowah Historical Society recently brought a booklet to the Vagabond about someone from the Dwight Cotton Mill Village. Called “A USA Mill Town Saga of the 1900’s,” the book was written by Eugene Livingston, who wrote what he remembered about the times, hardships, laughter and love shared between two families, Jim and Ester Livingston and Roy and Betty Emery as they lived in the early 1900’s.
Mr. Livingston’s recollection of the times and events that happened in the mill villages of Alabama City and Lupton City, Tenn., as well as the other places mentioned, will captivate your imagination, make you laugh and cry. It will also take you back in history to the good times and the hard times and perhaps stir the memories you may have of your own families of years gone by.
The continuation of Mr. Livingston’s story:
“Shortly after Jim and Mama married, they would go to all the places of entertainment. They never saved any money. Why should they? They didn’t need to buy a house. They could rent one from the mill company for 25 cents per room per week. Water was free. So was the sewer. A man came by once every other week and emptied the toilet cans. No one had any electric lights, so they had no electric bills to pay. They had no doctor bills to pay with the company deducting one penny for each dollar they made to pay the doctor bills. This was done whether or not you were sick and required a doctor.
Very few people had cars. There were only three cars in all of Alabama City.
There was only one service station, and it was in Gadsden. The “T” Model Ford was the most popular car at this time. You could buy one for three hundred dollars. A new Harley Davidson Motorcycle cost $300. The larger cars such as Buick, Cadillac, Packard, etc. cost more. At this time, cars had kerosene bead lights, and most had cloth tops like the buggies.
Jim had an uncle (Grandma Livingston’s brother) who owned a minstrel show. He came to Alabama City a few times. Everyone in town would go see it. There were several men dressed …. They would tell jokes and dance and sing. Jim’s uncle had a dummy that sat on his knee. He could throw his voice and it would sound just like the dummy was talking. He would tell jokes about Mama and Jim and other members of the family.
Grandma and Grandpa Wooten left Tennessee and were living in the woods about 12 miles south of Birmingham. After all, he had been farming two years and that was a long time for Grandpa to work. He just simply had to get some rest. The house was located in the woods, and I mean way out in the woods. There was not another house within one mile. There was plenty of wild game, wild hogs, wild goats, turkeys, bears, wild cats, etc. Now, he could get a little rest. Just hunt, fish, make a little whisky and just take it easy.
One day Jim came home from work and said, ‘Ess, I am off next week, we are going down and spend a week with Miss Wooten and Russell (Grandpa).’ This suited Mama just fine. Next morning, we walked down to the square. This was where the post office and street car stop was located. We rode the street car to Attalla where we boarded the train for Birmingham which was about 60 miles away. Grandpa met us there with horse and buggy, as usual. It took us nearly all day to get to Grandma’s house from Alabama City. It was only about 75 miles total. After we had been there a couple of days. Grandpa said, ‘Jim, I have to make a delivery of whisky to a friend in Birmingham.’ ‘It will take nearly all day to make the trip, do you want to go with me?’ Jim said he would go.
So, next morning Grandpa hitched up the mule to the buggy, put the merchandise under the seat and they went to Birmingham. About 9:00 they reached Red Mountain, that was where the rich people lived. They lived up here to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
They had big wide paved, tree-lined streets and big beautiful homes. On the way, Grandpa mentioned to Jim that he had just traded for the mule. He said he just knew something was wrong with the mule, but for the life of him, he couldn’t find a thing wrong. He had good teeth, he was young and strong, well fed and fat, and he worked good, too. Grandpa got him for almost nothing, so the mule had to have something wrong with him. But, he said he would not worry about it.
Just as they reached the top of the mountain, the mule just stopped, stood still and then just lay down in the middle of the street. That is when a big old mess hit the fan.
Grandpa jumped out of the buggy and said, ‘Now, I know what is wrong with him, he is a sleeper.’ Now a sleeper is a mule that lies down unexpectedly and sleeps awhile. I have heard of this kind but I have never seen one.
Grandpa said, ‘I will fix him.’ He grabbed his whip and started whipping him, but to no avail. The mule just continued to lie there, not even moving a little.
Grandpa said, ‘I will make a fire under you and I bet you will move then.’
Jim said, ‘Russell, I would not do that if I were you.’ Grandpa said, ‘why not?’ Jim said, ‘He will just move up a little and the buggy will burn up, and you know about the stuff in the buggy, it burns like kerosene.’
Grandpa agreed with Jim but he did not give up. He thought a little about it and then decided he would wrap his coat around the mule’s head and smother the sorry thing. So, he took off his coat and wrapped it around the mule’s head. The mule just lay there. Every little while, he would nod his head a little. The mule was very still for a few minutes.
By now Grandpa was getting cold as it was freezing weather that morning. Grandpa said, ‘Jim, I believe the sorry thing is dead.’ Jim agreed with him. So Grandpa removed his coat to see if he was dead. He was not dead, but very much alive… but before he went to ‘sleep,’ he ate one sleeve out of Grandpa’s coat. Grandpa cussed and raved, but he still had a coat with only one sleeve.
Grandpa declared that he would still have to deliver the stuff to his friend, the doctor. The doctor would probably have an office full of patients and they would think he was crazy, wearing a coat with only one sleeve.
Jim told Grandpa that he was sorry, but he could not help him, Jim’s coat was too little for Grandpa. Jim began to worry that the police would come by and look in the buggy and see what they had under the seat.
He knew they would then be put in jail – both of them on the chain gang for one year and a day – that is what happened to Cleve McKibbens. The police caught him running whisky. They took his car and put him on the chain gang for one year and one day.
While Jim and Grandpa were debating what to do, the mule got up, shook himself and started walking off. He was finished with his nap and was ready to go. Grandpa hollered, ‘whoa, whoa,’ but the mule kept on going. Jim and Grandpa had to jump into the buggy while it was in motion. They went on downtown to the doctor’s office. Grandpa delivered the whiskey to the doctor and they returned home without any more trouble.
The week was over all too quickly. Tomorrow, we would have to go back home. Grandma started working on me to stay with her and Grandpa all summer. They said they would take me home so I could start to school in September. I didn’t want to stay, but I didn’t want to hurt Grandma’s and Grandpa’s feelings either, so I decided I would stay.
The next morning, Grandpa hitched his other mule to the buggy. They all got in the buggy and left. That was the saddest time of my life – to see Mama and Jim and Maggie leave without me. This was the first time I had ever been away from home.
Within a few days, I forgot about them because I was busy with other things. The next day, Grandpa said, ‘Eugene, there are two things in this house that you must not touch, and I mean not touch. One is my fiddle which I keep in its case on the floor under my bed. The other is my rifle; I keep it leaning against the wall by the side of my bed.’ He also told me he kept his whiskey jug under the foot of his bed and that if I wanted a drink I could have it, but I was to take just a small amount as it was very strong. Grandma let Grandpa know that no grandson of hers was to touch that stuff; it was not good for little boys. I believed Grandma and so I never touched it
Grandpa bought me a big long-haired shepherd dog to play with. We sure had a good time that summer. The only thing I didn’t like was that I had to study my ABC’s for one hour each day. Grandma taught me to read and write that summer. She also taught me to tell time. I had such a great time that summer playing with Grandpa’s big sheep and my dog. We would go down to the salt lick.
This was a place where Grandpa would put out salt and the goats would come to lick it up. I liked playing with the baby goats. Sometimes I would slip up to the hog pen and reach through the hog pea, when the mama pig was not looking, and I would grab a baby pig and run into the house and play with him until I got caught. Then I would take him back and put him back in the pen with his mother.
One day, I saw Grandpa grab his rifle and ran out the back door. I was right behind him to see what was going on. A big hawk was circling around over the chicken yard.
He was getting ready to swoop down and grab a chicken for lunch. But today, this would not happen. Grandpa quickly raised his rifle and with one shot, the hawk plummeted straight to the ground. I ran and picked up the dead hawk. Grandpa had shot him through the head. I thought my Grandpa was the bravest man in the world. There was nothing alive or dead that he was afraid of – or so I thought.
A few nights later, I found out differently. Grandma lived in a big house. It had a big hall and porch, two bedrooms on one side of the hall and one bedroom and kitchen on the other. I slept on one side of the hall and Grand-ma and Grandpa on the other side. It was awfully hot that summer, and we slept with all doors and windows open. One night, I was awakened in the middle of the night by a blood curdling scream! I bolted upright in bed and by the light of a full moon, I could see Grandpa running to the front door with his rifle in his hands. I could hear him and Grandma talking softly. Grandpa said, ‘Lillie, it is a panther.’
If you have ever heard the scream of a wild panther, you will never forget it as long as you live. It sounds like a woman screaming in agony. It actually makes cold chills run up and down your spine and the hair on your head stands straight up. Then it screamed again. Grandpa said it was coming our way. He could tell by the sound getting closer and closer. I could hear Grandpa’s horse in the corral snorting and running back and forth. I could tell by the tremor in Grandpa’s voice that he was afraid. He never went out of the house, just stood in the doorway. If he could see that cat, he would kill it.
Grandpa was an expert with a rifle. He never missed anything he shot at. The panther screamed again and Grandpa sort of relaxed and said that it was going away now. The sound was becoming fainter. A panther is a cat – not of the “little pussy cat house variety”, but a huge cat. Some weigh as much as 100 pounds or more. They can kill a horse by jumping out of a tree onto the back of a horse and sink their razor-sharp claws into the horse and nothing in this world can shake them loose. With one quick bite of their razor sharp teeth, they can break the horse’s neck. If they can do this to a horse, just think what they could do to a person. Grandpa knew this, and so did his horse. Grandpa had a horse and a mule when he went into the woods hunting or to work at his still. He rode his horse.
I learned early in life that all good things must come to an end. Grandpa said one morning, ‘Lillie, guess we better take Eugene home tomorrow, he will have to start school next week.’ So early next morning, we left for Birmingham.
From Birmingham, we rode the train to Attalla and then the street car on to Alabama City. The next week, I started to school. Grandpa and Grandma stayed with us a couple of days, and then went to Aunt Bern’s and Uncle Roy’s house.”
NOTE: Check again next week as we continue the story of Eugene Livingston and the Mill Village.