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Chapter 3 - The Homestead

This is Wednesday, Jan 6, 1971, Bolivar, Missouri.

Grandpa Combs talking to his only great-grandson at Boulder, Colorado, by taped message. It has been some time since I talked to you. In the meantime, I heard from you in a round about way. I have heard that your Uncle Jay[14] got married, Dec 5, 1970. And that you got to go to the wedding. That in the last several months you have just about mastered the English language. That’s quite an accomplishment for a man your age. I hear that you have an excellent job of it. And I would like to say congratulations, and wish I could be with you so I could converse directly with you.

The last time I sent you a tape, if I remember right, I was talking about the time I lived in West Texas, long about 1905. I think the year of 1905 was the year I growed up. I changed from being a boy to being a man. That was the year I became 18 years of age. And the year a lot of things happened to me. My Father had been an invalid for a long time and died that year in October I believe, of a malignancy. And I was left the sole support of my family. My sister, Martha, which was 4 years older than I, was a big help and was married to one of the neighboring boys, and went to make her own home. We had had a big cotton crop that year, had got it harvested before my sister got married, and she helped me a lot. While it wasn’t worth much money, money went a long ways in those days. We had enough to pay off debts, and had some surplus left.

Before my father’s severe illness, why, he had went to No Man’s Land in Oklahoma or Oklahoma Strip, which was under litigation between the states and they called it No Man’s Land. None of States had jurisdiction there and it was a pretty wild country. People fled there from the law, to live and act about like they pleased. Along about 1903 or 04 they, opened it up to homestead. The United States government opened it to homestead. Father went up from Texas to that country and took 160 acres to homestead. The law was you had to live on it a certain length of time which was 5 years, not all the time, but part of the time. You had to do certain improvements to it, during the 5 years like so much cultivated land, and they would give you a deed to it. Meantime he took this malignancy and couldn’t complete contract with government because of malignancy. And they had given him leave of absence and meanwhile he died. So it was up to Mother to move on this homestead and complete the agreement or requirements for the government in order to own it. So my folks, uncle and brother, and advisors advised us to do that. We had had a lease on ranch in Texas for 5 years, and it had run out. Instead of renewing it, we decided to move to homestead, and prove it up, as the saying went. And get the title to it. We began in December to get things together, and settle up what little estate my father had, and get things together to go to Oklahoma. It was a pretty wild country, something over 400 miles north of where we lived in Texas to travel to this homestead.

My brother, Gallio, had been ahead of us, and homesteaded there and built a little house, within about 4 miles from where Father homesteaded. In the meantime he had gotten married and moved on the place. He came down to Texas to help us get things ready to move. I had a cousin, Nelly Tickle[15],and he wanted to come homestead also, and he came with us. Gallio was with us, my Mother, and my baby sister, May. She was 14 years old at that time. We just had one covered wagon, and we put on this wagon, what we called an over bed, about 3-foot 6-inch wide, I don’t remember exactly, which was right over the wheels. We put an extension of about another foot that would take a double bed and mattress. We put a wagon over wheels, and a wagon sheet over that (treated canvas). And loaded all of our possessions we could on this wagon. We had two horses that we worked to pull the wagon, and one saddle horse, and two cows. My Mother and sister rode in the wagon, drove wagon, and slept in the wagon. The rest of us, Gallio, Nelly, and me, slept on the ground. Sometimes under the wagon, sometimes under a tree, and sometimes out in the open. I remember this was December 1905, about the middle, that we started out, if I remember right. That was all the protection we had. We took the saddle horse and drove cows ahead of the wagon , and let them grazed along. If we found someone farming we bought a little feed or grain for the cows and also for the horses. We drove the cows along with the horses, and they weren’t much trouble, they were gentle.

We’d go along until mealtime, then we would stop and eat a little lunch, rest the horses, and let them graze. Then we’d go until getting along late in the afternoon, then we would camp. Along the road we would pick up sticks and suitable firewood to cook a little. We would make camp, and we would build a fire with whatever sticks we could find, milk the cows, get supper. And sometimes we killed game, some rabbit, or quail, and have some fresh meat, otherwise we had salt bacon, we called it. It would keep that time of year, and some of the staple foods like beans. We didn’t have breakfast food in them days, so we just took staple foodsand camped out. We could make about 20 miles a day. We tried to go from county seat to the other county seat. There were no roads in those days in that country. Generally a pretty plain trail was available from one county seat to the other county seat. And they were approximately about 30 miles apart. So we couldn’t hardly make it to the next town, so sometimes we could get pretty close to town to camp, and we could pick up a few get necessary groceries and feed for our horses and cattle.

And we kept on going north.

We started off the first day an’ got to Hanson, Texas, first county seat north of us. So we camped out at Hanson. That night it snowed. We woke up in the morning with about 4 inches of snow on the ground. We had some blankets, and some canvas that we covered up with. That far south it wasn’t very cold. We got up and shook the snow off. An’ brushed off the place, cooked breakfast, got along all right and the sunshine turned bright, and melted the snow off, so we was all right as far as the weather was concerned. That, by the way was the only bad weather we had on the whole trip. Though some of the country was subject to below zero weather and smoky blizzards. I guess The Lord was looking after us, we didn’t meet up with any severe weather or any blizzards and we arrived at Gallio’s folks at Mangum, Oklahoma. That is in southwest corner of Oklahoma, for Christmas. And maybe we got there a day or two before Christmas. We stayed and let our cattle and horses rest up. We stayed there a week, or nearly a week. We let the cattle’s hoofs grow out a little bit. When they travel like that without shoes on, they wear their hoofs out.

We left after Christmas to go on to Oklahoma. Then we started out and got to Gallio’s house on New Year’s Day or maybe the day before.

I am getting ahead of my story, before we got there we crossed the Pease River. I wanted to mention that because they had signs up that said not to drink it, because it was spoiled or poisoned. The way it was poisoned, it was a very high solution of gypsum or alkali. Alkaline water could make you sick, and it could kill the cattle. The cattlemen had signs for good water where it was and it helped us out.

I’d like to mention that all these movies and things we see how Old time cattlemen are mean to homesteaders, I wish to say the biggest lie that ever was. The old time cattlemen are the most generous and most helpful, and the most Christian-like people that I ever knew. They would go way out of their way to help you or to do anything they could for you, even to giving you groceries, or loaning you money, anything it took to get you along. They were very excellent neighbors and very helpful. They knew and realized that the country was big enough and wide enough to furnish everyone a home and was very willing to share with us. I don’t mean they wanted us to come in and take over their own home, or root them in, or fence in their water holes, but they would go with you and help you locate a homestead and do most anything they could to help.

Anyhow we got through the Pease River country all right,We took an extra barrel of water, we was warned ahead of time. People told us ahead of time, to take water along, where to get wood, where we couldn’t, how we could find feed, and where we couldn’t. And how to cross the river, there were no bridges in them days, and no roads. So we had to look out for quick sand, and where we drove.

We proceeded on north until we got to Mangum, Oklahoma, southwest corner county of Oklahoma, where Gallio’s wife’s folks[16] lived. Gallio had left his wife there when he came down to help us get that far. We stopped over there for about a week, and let our horses and cattle rest up and grow more hoofs. That put us out over Christmas Day.

Anyway it was the first Christmas I had ever spent away from home, and it was the first Christmas my sister ever spent away from home, and the first Christmas my Mother had ever spent away from home. So we didn’t have no Santa Claus, or receive any presents, and it was a first for us. It was the first time mother had been unable to prepare any presents for us and some special things for Christmas. So it was a lonesome job. They had some children[17] there my age and some May’s age.

So we played around and didn’t have too rough a time. They had plenty of good eats. They were kinda old settlers in Oklahoma and had been there several years. So they took good care of us. And we took out for Oklahoma the day after Christmas and arrived at Gallio’s on New Year’s Day, or day before. Anyway we arrived safe and sound. We didn’t run into any blizzards, and coming up from Mangum, we run into the plains country up before we got to Canadian, Texas. And from there on we had mostly a bald prairie, no woods, no water, nothin’ but the north pole and the wind blowin’. But the weather held good, and we made pretty good time.

And then we got to Aunt Mary’s[18], we called her, I think she was a cousin of Mother, and stayed a day with her. She lived just on the edge of Oklahoma, that’s what they called the Oklahoma Strip or No Man’s Land. North of where is now Perryton, Texas, and just one more day’s travel across the Beaver and North Canadian rivers to Gallio’s house.

Gallio had left his wife with her folks. He brought us on up, no use to put her through the hardships of the trip, so he brought us on up. Then Gallio took horse and buggy went back after her. We stayed at Gallio’s house which was quite comfortable, two room house which was quite fashionable in those days. Most people lived underground in those days. Anyhow, when he got back, he and I started digging a dugout on Mother’s homestead,I call it ‘our’ because I helped prove it up. We went over there with a pick, mattock, and shovel and dug a hole, and ifI remember it right it was 12 ft. x 14 ft. . And we dug it about four feet into the ground. And piled the dirt out on the sides. Then we built a box 3-½ ft tall, and put 2 x 4’s around the top and bottom, and then we put 2 x 8 across the middle of the top. We bent 1 x 12’s over this and nailed these to 2 x 4’s then put tar paper on it, and put dirt on top of that, and that’s how we made our house. We made a little cupolo of a thing. We put a door in it and we could walk straight up and down with steps made out of dirt. The floors were dirt, and the walls were dirt.

It was a very dry country, and very solid dirt, so it held pretty good. We lived in it a year or two, before got walls plastered or the wooden steps in it. Anyhow that is how most people lived in that country, until they could build better. Money was scarce. We didn’t have any money to build our house but barely had enough to do this and buy a few groceries. We moved in Feb 12th, 1906. I can remember Gallio taking a carpenter’s pencil and writing the date in there. February 12, 1906.

That is the day we moved in to Daddy’s homestead. And Mother and sister and I lived there and proved up. And May, my sister, she was growing up all the time. and pretty soon she got married to the brother of Martha’s husband’s [6]. So that just left Mother and me to hold down the homestead and we had been there had done all the requirements to get a patent, ordeed to the homestead, the Patent to the land, which is signed by President of USA. Then they have to keep the records all down the ages to that piece of land. Nobody was there but Mother and I.

The first year we had an excellent season and good crops. Father had broke out ½ acre, when he had homesteaded. It had been sod turned over and rotted. Accumulating moisture, because there was nothing growing on top of it. No weed seeds in the country at that time, it was all buffalo grass. Noweeds or pesticating plants of any kind. This rotted-down sod is the richest dirt in the world. Best to garden.

We had one excellent garden, We planted corn and it didn’t dry up until fall, and it made like Iowa corn. Everything we planted was excellent. I remember especially the cucumbers, they growed out in the corn field, and bared real good until frost. No weeds, no drought. We had an excellent garden and we thought we had found Paradise. Now I was the man of the house so I had to get out and do some plowing. I bought me a sodbuster plow. It was made mostly out of steel rods. With one piece of steel on front to cut the sod and another piece of steel, sticking up, to cut it horizontal and vertical. It looked liked weather boarding when you finished. It was such heavy sod that it never broke in two from one end of the field to the other. That’s what people built sod houses out of in early days.

Every time I plowed three rows I planted broom corn. When I plowed three rows, and I stop and plant the seed by hand. Then I would plow three furrows, and plant the seed again, and do it again. The rows of broom corn came up and made a pretty good crop first year. That was the only way we had of making money the first year, and the only kind of crop I could plant with the tools I had. That gave us a little money, and it gave us only about $20 a ton,I think. We had to do a lot of handwork, from the time we planted it, to when we sold it. We earned a little money to stay on the homestead with. The next year was a drought. I planted caficorn and milo (Ed. note: grain sorghum) and it got up to knee high and just turned white. No rain, just dry, dry, dry. We watched for rain, no rain come. I had to take out and work for somebody else for money to eat on. We stuck around until May got married and moved to Colorado to homestead. Gallio went back to stay with Martha awhile in Texas.

That left me all footloose and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have enough equipment or enough horses to farm. I decided to I’d learn to be a telegrapher, a railroad telegraph operator. So I got together a few dollars and went Wichita, Kansas, and went into a telegraph school there and studied telegraphy and bookkeeping and stuff like that, that a station agent has to learn. So I went to work at that. It took me about a year before I could get on to that, and get a job. It took three months before I got a job as a station helper. It paid me $35 a month and you could get room and board then for about $2 or $3 a month. It wasn’t bad, I had to wash dishes once in awhile. Then I could send Mother money to eat on. I served my apprenticeship, and pretty soon I got a job as telegrapher or telegraph operator. I worked at that for awhile and then I got to be station agent and telegrapher, and that paid $55 a month, and that was a very excellent job in those days and I could send Mother quite a little money. As time went on I could send her railroad passes, so Mother could go see kinfolks. I sent her a pass so she could see Uncle Lee[19] in Minnesota, and Orliss (Ed. note: Iris)[20] in Virginia. All from Texas to Oklahoma, and all around. I thought I was doing pretty good. Every time I would make a dollar, land would go up a dollar. I never got ahead enough to buy no equipment to farm with or machinery.

Never did get fixed up to go farmin’ again. It was a long time before I got back to farming. I always wanted to be a farmer or rancher and just couldn’t get around to it. Every time I would make a dollar, land would go up a dollar. Couldn’t quite catch up.

I look back to the Homestead days and say they were the happiest days of my life. I was fancy free, didn’t have many cares in the world, and everybody was about as rich as everybody else, everybody had 160 acres of ground, about everybody had a team of horses, and about everybody had a wagon, and about everybody had a buggy. And enough groceries to last a week or two, and that was about all we worried about. No rich people, and nobody was starving to death. Everyone owned their own home. It was a very excellent time. I was young and enjoyed it very much.

In meantime, I took 120 acres to homestead on Sharp’s Creek. I had obtained my 21 years. I had taken 120 acres to homestead on Sharp’s Creek. I couldn’t find 160 acres close enough, so I could stick around close to this place. And homestead, too. It was mostly rough land, 60 acres of good land and the rest of it was cow pasture. It had water on it. I later sold it out to Coetta[21] and Ed Venable. She and her husband later on went to Indiana to live. Anyhow, I had experience of living in homesteading and sleeping in a dugout all by myself. Kinder enjoyed that experience, but it was too lonely for me, so backI went to the railroad and stayed 6 years. My homestead years lasted only five years, 1905-1910. It was in 1910, I went to study telegraphy. So that was another five years of my life.


Endnotes:


[14] Jay Everett Combs, Jr.

[15] Mathilde Jane (Burrus) Combses sister, Cary Ellen Burrus, married Houston Tickle. Nellie may have been James E. Tickle, who was about the same age as Rufus Edgar Combs, his cousin; or he may be the son of one of Houston Tickle’s siblings.

[16] Jester Township in Greer County, Oklahoma.

[17] Wylie Baker Salisbury, Marie Salisbury and Lillie Irene Salisbury.

[18] Probably Mary Tickle, Houston Tickle’s younger sister, and Cary Ellen (Burrus) Tickle’s sister-in-law.

[6] Martha Combs, born 9 September 1884 in North Carolina. Died 4 November 1974. Married Hugh F. Ensminger (The brother of Burnie Ensminger, who married her sister May).

[19] Lee Hammond Burrus, born 11 April 1840 in Surry County, North Carolina. Died 26 October 1925.

[20] Iris Laticia (Combs) Hagy, sister of Rufus Edgar, born 13 September 1873 in Surry County, North Carolina. Died 25 May 1914 in Smyth County, Virginia. Married Vincent Gregory Hagy14 February 1894.

[21] Julius Coetta (Combs) Venable, sister of Rufus Combs, born 10 February 1881 in North Carolina. Died 1 April 1964.

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