Ripley Co MO

Jerry J Morris

Fort Smith Democrat

Sep. 2, 1933

Submitted by Larry J Henry.


Altus Sept. 2, 1933 ..... (Special) The past three years of depression have been years of comfort and plenty compared to the days of the Civil War, and the era of reconstruction that followed.

No relief to families in distress was forthcoming then. A head of a family had no chance to work on the road one or two days a week for the government. No Red Cross flour was distributed. The necessities one got he obtained through his own resources. Literally it was everyone for himself and God pity the hindmost.

By the majority of the present generation the stories of the tribulations of the poorer families during the bloody conflict were learned from history texts in school, but to J. J. Morris, genial octogenarian who lives two miles east of Altus, these stories are facts of grim reality.

For a ten year old he endured hardships that would have broken the spirit of many persons twice that age. He assumed the responsibilities of an adult and endured hardships in the manner of a youthful Spartan in his efforts to help feed his family while the father fought on the side of the Confederacy for four long years.

Children of his age were deprived of schools, suitable food and clothing; they were robbed of their youth. Their crops were ransacked by soldiers of both sides. Folks were reduced to a state of absolute penury. They became accustomed to bloodshed, grief and misery.

Flour Vanishes

Several small skirmishes were fought in the neighborhood. Troops from both sides occasionally passed through town. The Morris family were never molested other than to have corn taken from the fields and leather from the tanning. Even their neighbors were guilty of such sins.

The longer the conflict waged the harder times became. The mother assumed the responsibility of both parents and supervised the family circle. Bread was hard to get. There was no soda, baking powder or lard to go into the bread. Salt became a luxury, and cornbread was eaten at every meal. Work animals became scarce, and Mr. Morris recalls that he and his brother planted corn by pulling old stocks from the ground and depositing the grain in the holes thus made.

The family lived in a one-room log house 18 feet square. There were no windows. All cooking was done on the fireplace. Lights were improvised tallow candles or pine knots. Trundle beds for the children were removed from under the larger beds, all homemade affairs, when bedtime came. "I don't see what kept folks from starving to death," Mr. Morris said a number of times.

Reeve's Company, composed of Confederates, was nothing more than a band of bushwhackers. They operated over a large territory, and did as much harm to the Southern sympathizers as to Federals. Other bands of night riders roamed over the countryside.

Did a Man's Work

In 1863 young Jerry was called upon to drive five women in an ox wagon to Pilot Knob, 80 miles away, to get a bushel of salt for each member of the sojourners. The round trip required two weeks. The distribution of the salt was in charge of the Federals, and members of the party had to take the oath of allegiance before the salt was sold. Farm produce was bartered for the salt.

During the same year he had a chance to earn a bushel of meal for moving a family to Cherokee, 20 miles away. Very little corn had been raised that year around Doniphan, but there was a good yield at Cherokee Bay, and Jerry was to receive his bushel of mail after he arrived at his destination. The head of the family owned a wagon and Jerry borrowed a yoke of oxen to pull the load. The man he was moving rode ahead on a horse and behind came the 10-year-old boy, all alone, atop the wagon load of household goods. The trip required a full day.

Near Cherokee Bay was a 40 foot bridge over a stream. Coming out from the woods, after lumbering over the many miles of stony, road, the oxen were on the bridge before young Morris was aware there was a chasm to be crossed. Each animal pushed with all his might toward the middle of the trestle. There were no bannisters at the sides of the bridge; not even a one-inch plant had been nailed to the edges to keep animal's hoofs and wagon wheels from slipping off at the sides. Clinging for dear life and expecting to be hurled with wagon and oxen off the structure at every instant, the young driver finally drove the frightened animals across. He hadn't had time to stop the oxen and turn back to reconnoiter and his escort ahead did not even glance around. That was the narrowest escape that he had ever had.

During the night the young fellow hardly slept a wink, wondering how he would make the crossing on the return. The bushel of meal was duly tied across the back of one of the oxen the following morning, and the return journey was started, the boy afoot, leading two oxen 20 miles during a period of open warfare. A bushel of meal had value then too, and numberless people would have unhesitatingly taken the bag from the animal's back had they chanced to meet him.

Arriving at the bridge, the oxen once again started pushing one another. Little Jerry held to an oxbow as the animals fought their way across, heaving from one side to the other as they tried to maintain footholds. Often he was swung over the edge hanging to the bow, as one ox pressed the other near the side.

As he neared home the bark string broke and the ox threw the meal to the ground. In vain he tried to replace the heavy sack, but each time the trick old ox hurled it off. Dragging the bag of meal to a fallen tree trunk, the lad piled shrubbery and brush around to protect it from the hogs that roamed the woods. The next day he returned with a borrowed horse and buggy and brought the precious bag of meal home.

When the war ended William Morris came home and took up his trade of carpenter and cooper. He made boats, wooden churns, firkins and kegs. Hard times continued, but one could protect the produce of his farm. Also the male members of the family soon became old enough to go to the northern part of Missouri to work several days in the hay harvest and thus made a few dollars. In the winter the family had a few pumpkins, hominy and a little meat. Mr. Morris never say any canned fruit till he was grown.

Helped Build Town

In 1867 Mr. Morris came to Lawrence County, Arkansas, to work for Col. Miles Ponder, the owner of a country store three miles west of where Walnut Ridge now stands. The colonel ran the post-office, which was called Walnut Ridge, and he owned some land, a cotton gin and a sawmill. Mr. Morris set in to supervise a group of Negroes who were cleaning up a cotton crop that had been abandoned by a tenant. During the fall and winter he worked at the cotton gin and the sawmill.

When the railroad came a new Walnut Ridge was laid out, and Mr. Morris and a man names Richard Goodman cleared five acres of land where the town is now located. This was in 1872. He and George Montgomery sawed the lumber that went into the first houses built at Walnut Ridge. He helped roof the house in which Col. Harry L. Ponder was born.

For several months Mr. Morris helped to make the fill for the Iron Mountain Railroad, both north and south of town. Wheelbarrows were used. As he recalls it, the fill north of town was three feet and that to the south was five feet two inches high. Mr. Morris regrets that he didn't have a slip scraper to move the dirt with. A man would have made a small fortune there in a short time.

Miles Ponder was a great business man, Mr. Morris recalls. He had a great power of persuasion, and was gifted in the art of conversation. He was respected and well liked.

In 1873 squirrels destroyed the corn crop in Lawrence County. The next year the county was plagued with a drought. Ponder brought in corn and meal and sold it for $1 per bushel.

Mr. Morris cast his first vote in 1874, the year in which Democrats regained control of the state government and the year of the Brooks-Baxter War.

In 1876 Mr. Morris started to Kansas, but a friend told him it required too much outlay to start farming there. He knew a person or two in Altus, and knew how to raise cotton, he settled about three miles south of Altus near the Arkansas River. He was married in 1877 to Georgia Ann Averyhardt and they reared 11 children.

Mr. Morris has been invested in several cotton gins and he has made many a cotton crop during his 66 years' residence in Franklin County. Down through the years he carried a good name.

Until a few years ago, Mr. Morris was an active farmer, but his sight has become poor, necessitating his semi-retirement. Still he can be seen occasionally driving his mules to Altus, cutting wood and repairing fences.

Although the present depression has handed him a severe blow in taking his life savings through defunct banks, he maintains that one could get along easier the last three years than during the Civil War and reconstruction period.








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