James Daniel Green

 

 

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INTERVIEW WITH J. D.GREEN

Conducted by C. M. Sprowls, Date Unknown

“Mr. Green, where and when were you born?”

“I was born August 6,1887, at Omaha, Texas in Morris County, not far from Texarkana. We lived there about two years, then moved farther west to New Boston. In 1893 or 1894 we moved on out to Deport, and then in 1895 we moved to Montague County, south of the Red River and east of what is now Wichita Falls.”

“What can you tell me of your parents and their ancestors and their early homes?”

“My father was born February 21, 1855 at Roanoake, Alabama. My mother was born in 1859. They migrated to Texas in the early 80’s My father has eight sisters and two brothers, all of whom were long-lifed. My grandfather Green was a farmer back in Alabama. On my mother’s side of the family (the Blackburn side), her father and nine of his brothers served in the Confederate army. All but two of the brothers who were old enough for service when war broke out were conscripted, or drafted, and all of these gave up their lives in the cause of the confederacy. The two younger brothers joined as they became old enough, and were the only two of the brothers to survive the war. My Grandmother Blackburn was left with five daughters and one son, all small, to care for. Times were very hard for them. They raised their own cotton, picked the seed out, carded the cotton, spun thread, and used the loom to make clothes for the family. My mother remembered mostly the hardships. She told us of how they used to beat the corn cobs up and soak them in salt water to feed their milk cow. She recalled that many of the negro slaves who were freed at the end of the war were reluctant to leave their masters. Some said they wished that things were like they used to be. They thought that some of the young men would have been better men to have gone through the experience of slavery as their parents had. My mother died in 1950, at the age of ninety­-one. My Grandfather and Grandmother Green had eleven children, and my own parents had thirteen children, eleven of which lived to adulthood. Two died as babies. We ourselves had twelve children, of which eight survive today.”

“Mr. Green, when did you first come to Oklahoma?”

“In 1898, we heard of free land in Oklahoma, and my father and brothers came out to western Oklahoma that fall. This proved to be the worst winter of my memory. Father and my brothers built a dugout near the Sentinel community, fourteen miles south of Elk City, then returned home for the rest of the family. We moved into the dugout on April 11, 1899. On the way out, we passed through Indian territory and saw a lot of Indians. We spent one night at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. During the course of our journey, we passed through the Comanche, Chickasaw and Caddo Nations. We were much impressed with their appearance and customs, but found them to be very civil and easy to get along with.”

“Mr. Green, what were your first impressions of western Oklahoma?”

“The country looked pretty desolate to us on arising the next day after we arrived. We had been accustomed to the heavy timber of central and east Texas, and the “bald prairie”, as we  referred to this new home, looked pretty desolate to us. There was not a house in sight of our dugout.”

“What did you do to become established in your new home and provide a living for yourselves until your first crop was harvested?”

“Some of my older brothers worked for large ranchers at $15 a month, while my older sister and myself found jobs hoeing corn at forty cents a day. My father was a carpenter, and he found work at his trade building houses for settlers and later building schoolhouses. He had brought quite a few supplies, such as canned vegetables and cured meat, with us from Texas and we managed to get along very well.”

“Were there any Indians in this part of Oklahoma at that time?”

“There were no Indians around Sentinel at that time, but there were quite a few around Hobart to the east of us and Hammon to the north and east of us. We did see them occasionally, but had no close contact with them. They lived in camps on their reservations, and didn’t work much. I remember that in the summer of 1901 we had a community picnic, where people came from all around. The Indians set up their tents among the trees along Elk Creek, and one of the cowboys gave them a beef to butcher. We watched them butcher and prepare it that day. A neighbor used to tell how the Indians around Mangum would come to the farmer’s houses and ask for anything dead or for the entrails of butchered hogs or cattle. These they consumed for food.”

“Were there any section line roads in those days as we know them today?”

“No, there were no section line roads then. Such roads as we had usually followed the divides. Creek crossings were made by grading down the banks on both sides and fording them. The banks were often very steep, and it was necessary to use the brakes on the wagon to slide the wheels going down, then double-team them to pull out on the other side. Elk Creek was a deep creek at that time.”

“What did you find there in the way of wild animals when you first came?”

“There were no wild buffalo by that time, but there were a few deer and antelope and some wild turkeys. There were plenty of fish in the streams. I particularly remember that Elk Creek, Sandstone Creek, and the Washita River were very good fishing streams. Fish were caught that weighed as much as sixty pounds. These large fish were taken with pitchforks. There were, of course, many smaller animals that abounded in the area as well.”

“Mr. Green, what did you use as draft animals in those days?”

“We used horses and mules as draft animals. All our implements were horse-drawn, of course. There were a great many of these animals in the country, as well as many cattle.”

“Can you tell us something of your farming methods?”

“We turned the native sod with sod (or rod) ploughs that sliced up a strip of turf eight or nine inches wide. The sod turned over like a strip of leather, and in every third furrow we dropped our seed. We planted corn and kaffir corn, and both did very well. We also raised some cotton, which we picked. We first flat broke the land, after which we listed it. We then drug down the bed and planted our seed on top of the bed with a walking planter after first laying it off with a “Georgia­stock”. There was a cotton gin built at Port, on Elk Creek, some five miles away, where we took our cotton to be ginned, beginning in 1902. We had, of course, never heard of a gin that could gin “bur” cotton at that time, so all cotton had to be picked out of the burs.”

“What did you do for water in those early days?”

“1899 was a rainy year, and all the wet-weather streams and branches were running clear water. We hauled our water from springs until we were able to dig wells. These wells were “dug wells,” dug with a shovel and spade. They were usually from eighteen to twenty-four feet deep, and were not walled up or cased. We had two wells on our place, and drew the water out hand-over-hand for both ourselves and our live-stock.”

“How did you determine the locations for the wells in order to be assured of finding water?”

“We had a neighbor who “witched” for water with a forked switch. He located the underground streams and their crossings with his switch, and there we dug our wells. The procedure is to take a forked switch, (many people regard a peach or willow switch as being good for the purpose) and hold one of the branches in each hand with the fork pointing straight upward and the two ends parallel with the extended thumbs. When a vein of water is crossed by the one holding the switch, the switch will turn in the holder’s hand until the fork will point down­ward.  When the vein is passed, the switch will return to its former position. This happens independently of actions of the “witcher”, and is regarded by many as being a “gift”.

“Mr. Green, I believe that you spent some time in New Mexico. Would you tell us something of your years there?”

“My wife and I went to New Mexico in the fall of 1910, intending to homestead there. We settled close to the town of Vaughn, but could see little inducement to take up land there. It was all open country, and we did not see any crops that were at all worthwhile. We did rent (or borrow) some land, where we dropped our seeds, but the land was so dry that they never came up. There had been a lot of people in the Encino valley earlier, but most of the houses were vacant by 1910, as the early comers had soon discovered that the land was too dry for farm­ing. Occasionally there was a house that was occupied by some one who grazed sheep and cattle on the open range that extended for miles around. I went to work for the Santa Fe Railroad as section foreman, working around Pedronell, Carnaro, and Encino. We left New Mexico in March, 1912. Our oldest daughter, Madge, was born during our stay there.”

“I believe that you also spent some time in east Texas during these years. Can you tell me anything about that?”

“My first wife’s father, Mr. Slack, lived at Lufkin, Texas. We moved there where I helped Mr. Slack for a time with his truck garden business and also worked a part of two years in a sawmill.”

“What was your mode of travel in those days?”

“All of our travel was by wagon and team. Some few people brought their hacks, and after the country began to settle up, the Spaulding Company came into the country, selling buggies and hacks. We bought one of the hacks in 1904 for $145.00.”

“Where did your building materials come from?”

“We hauled the lumber used in our first dugout from Sugden, Oklahoma, a town near Rush Springs and south of Chickasha. This was about a one hundred and thirty-five mile haul. After the railroad came to Weatherford in 1901, people started hauling lumber from there. Later on, lumber was available at Granite, only about thirty miles away. The lumber to build the school house came from Granite. Elk City began to build up in 1901 and 1902, and most anything you wanted was soon available there. Sayre got started soon. Old Man Long built a store on Long Creek, Sayre’s first business. I was there during the building of the first railroad trestle over the north fork of the Red River. I took watermelons there and peddled them to the construction workers building the trestle during 1901. The earliest town of the area was at Port, where there was constructed in 1900 a post office, a drugstore, and two grocery stores. This was about five miles from where we lived at the time.”

“Were there any lakes in the country when you first went there?”

“There were no lakes as such. There were some stock ponds built by the farmers and ranchers, using slips or scrapers, and sometimes Fresnos. The fishing was all out of streams, and the fish were plentiful.”

“Tell us the story about “Hog guts, Cow guts.”

“My younger sisters had been much impressed by the stories the neighbors had told of the Indians coming to the houses and asking for the entrails of butchered animals. The Indians could not speak much English, and they would say “hog-guts, cow-guts, gimme” when making their requests. One day my older sister, Rina, was entertaining a young suitor in the shade on the east side of the dugout. The younger children would go running by calling out “hog-guts, cow-guts, hog-guts, cow-guts” to the great embarrassment of Rina and her suitor.”

“Mr. Green, do you remember when you bought your first automobile?”

“Yes sir, I bought my first car in 1925, in the fall of the year. It was a 1924 Model T Ford, and I drove it until I wore it out, after which I bought another. Later on I bought one or two Model A Fords.”

“When did you make your move to the Needmore community?”

“We moved to the Needmore community, five miles south and two east of Cheyenne, on January 1, 1929. There was a two story, four-room house on the place we bought, with the bottom two rooms being built out of rock and dug out of the side of the hill. The two top rooms were of frame construction, and served as bedrooms. We lived here on this farm until we retired from farming after the end of World War II.”

“What can you tell of your days of sorghum making?”

“I started making sorghum in the 1920’s and continued to make it for twenty-four years. Our first homestead was near the town of Canute, in sandy soil where the sorghum cane did well. The soil of our farm near Cheyenne was also sandy, and the cane did well here, too. The first job was to strip all the leaves off the cane stalks, after which they were cut with a cane knife and piled. Next came the wagon that carried the stalks to the mill, where they were run through the rollers small end first to extract the juice. Me mill itself was powered by a team of two horses, who pulled a sweep-type pole in a circle, similar to early day feed grinding mills and hay balers. The waste stalks, or “pommies,” were used as mulch or sometimes the cows would chew on them in the winter. The juice from the cane would be caught and heated in a long, flat vat. The vat was heated in earlier days with wood fire, and later on with black oil or used crank-case oil burned in an oil burner. As the juice boiled, many impurities came to the top and had to be skimmed off, but eventually the remaining juices became a clear, heavy syrup called sorghum. We made anywhere from thirty to one-hundred gallons of sorghum per year, depending upon how good the cane crop was that particular year. Much of the syrup we used ourselves, and the other we sold as a cash crop.”

“Mr. Green, tell me of some of your memories of dust-bowl days.”

“The story of the dust bowl days in Oklahoma is not a pretty story, and is one that a lot of us had just as soon forget. During the drought days of the nineteen thirties there were many dust storms, but on April 14, 1935, there was a really bad one. For several years there was little in the way of crops, and there were lots of times when there was little or no grain. We shocked our fodder for the livestock. I remember one year when I cut and shocked two-hundred shocks of hygeria - some of it pretty short - using a knife sled and one horse. During these years, the Federal Government purchased and killed the cattle of those who had no pasture or feed for them, but I was never forced to sell them any of mine. I usually kept from twenty to thirty head of cattle, and we sold cream for extra income. We bought our first cream separator in 1915, and sold cream from that time on.”

“How did the experiences of the drought and depression years influence your thinking?”

“These experiences made the farmer of western Oklahoma very conservative. We learned the value of a dollar, and we learned to get by on what we had at hand. We canned our own vegetables, preserved our own meats, and in general got by with little expenditure of money.”

“What do you remember of banking and loan practices during the thirties?”

“I have no memory of loan sharks, but I do remember that there were some royalty companies that persuaded some of the farmers to pool their royalty, for which there was little or no return. Lots of people lost some good royalty as a result of this. There was little expectation of an oil field in the area at that time, and of course there is still no field there, but the royalty was lost just the same.”

“Mr. Green, what do you know of the Indian battles, such as the Battle of the Washita?”

“The Battle of the Washita was fought thirty years before we arrived in western Oklahoma, so I have no personal recollections concerning it. I did, however, hear a legend about the massacre of General Custer and his troops at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, on June 25, 1876. As I recall the legend, General Custer had only one hundred and seven of his troops with him, having detached the rest of them to other places. As the legend goes, there was during the battle a white man and an Indian hid back up a canyon among the rocks watching the battle, and they later gave the details of the battle. Someone wrote a song, or ballad, about the battle, and I heard it sung some sixty years ago. It was entitled “Custer’s Last Stand,” and it went something like this:

It was just before the last great charge, Two soldiers drew their rein,

With a parting hand and a last farewell, That they might meet again.

 

One had blue eyes, with curly hair, Nineteen one month ago,

Down on his cheeks and on his chin, He was only a boy, you know.

 

The other was tall, dark, daring and proud, Whose faith in the world was slim,

And all the more he trusted in those Who were all this world to him.

 

The tall, dark man was the first to speak, Saying “Charlie, my time has come­

We will ride together to yonder’s hill, But you must ride back alone.

 

We have ridden together through many a raid, We’ve marched for many a mile,

And ever before we have met each foe, With a calm and cheerful smile.

 

I have a face upon my breast, I’ll wear it till I die,

A face that’s all this world to me, It shines like morning light.

 

Like morning light her love for me, As she cherished my roving life,

Little did I think of the crown of fate, When she promised to be my wife.

 

Oh, write to her, Charlie, when I am gone, Send her this fair, fond face,

Tell her gently how I died, And where is my resting place.

 

Oh, tell her, Charlie, I’ll meet her there In the border of land between,

Heaven and earth I’ll meet her there, It won’t be long I’ll wait.”

 

Tears filled the eyes of the blue-eyed boy, His proud heart ached with pain,

“I’ll do your bidding, my comrade, friend, If I ride back again.

 

But if I get killed, and you should return, You will do the same for me.

I have a mother, waiting at home, Oh, write to her tenderly.

 

Oh, one by one she has lost us all, She has lost a husband and son,

I was the last when the country called, She kissed me and sent me on.

 

She’s waiting at home like a waiting saint, And her kind heart is filled with woe,

Heaven and earth I’ll meet her there, It won’t be long, I know.”