Halloween 1939 in
Clay County Arkansas
Paul Marion Fleetwood
Copyright 2016 by Paul Marion Fleetwood
|Photo by Steve Dietrich at Pixabay.
I was born in Southern Missouri but my family moved to Arkansas when I was six years old. We lived in the foothills of the Ozarks in Missouri but when we moved to Northeast Arkansas we lived in the mosquito infested swamps near Big Black river about 9 miles from Corning.
Today a nice paved highway US62 runs from Corning to Piggott Arkansas. Back then it was just a dusty gravel road. Today the landscape is made up of many large rice farms except near Big Black River. Back then when the levy ditches were being built, large areas were covered with sloughs and swamps so the population was pretty sparse and the residents that did live there ranged from civilized to backwoods with a heavy on backwoods. My family was somewhere in between if you give us the benefit of the doubt.
My dad Marion Fleetwood had followed his family of sawmillers to Clay County Arkansas to timber the great cypress trees growing in the swampy bottoms. Before arriving there dad, grandpa Joe, and dad's brothers built us a small two room house with a small front porch. The biggest room was the bedroom and living room which housed two straw tick beds, two little lamp tables, a couple of chairs and a "King" heating stove. The smaller room was the kitchen with rough sawn table and chairs and wood burning kitchen range with a built in oven and water resevoir. I also remember that later on mom had papered the rough sawn lumber walls in the kitchen with pages of the "Grit" newspaper to keep the wind from coming through the cracks between the boards. While we were eating I was able to read the funnies and see news articles and pictures of the day pasted on the wall. I loved that old GRIT weekly newspaper because it was the only news of the outside world except for one upscale neighbor who had a battery operated radio.
Before I got to see the place though we had to get there which was not an easy task. About the only thing I really remember about the trip now was riding on my dads shoulders as we waded through chest high water along the little gravel road where it crossed Ring Slough. This little gravel road took us about a half a mile from the main road where we turned off at a country store. Every one referred to the store and small community around it as"Needmore". Believe me they needed more but "Easterwood's" store had most of the basic daily needs of the community.
This all happened after the old model T we started out in broke down about 10 miles from where we started from 12 miles North of Doniphan Missouri and dad had to walk back to my Uncle Paul's house and ask him to drive us to Arkansas in his old tie truck.
I remember where the old model T broke down was near an old Methodist Church where Mom and I and Billy my little brother waited while dad went back for help. It was a very hot day so we waited in the shade of big oak trees in the church yard and watched a bunch of flying squirrels play in the big oak growing in the churchyard.
When we got to "Needmore" we moved in to the cabin and I started to grade school in a one room schoolhouse that was located right across the little gravel road in front of our house. Believe me kids when I tell you Enough stuff happened while we lived there to provide ammo for a hundred stories. But this story actually happened at Halloween when I was about 9 years old. It may have grown some in my mind in the 78 years since then but I do remember it essentially as I describe it here.
Remember this was 1939. It was way before TV and even before radio for our family and most of our neighbors. Although I do remember hearing the Joe Lewis-Billy Conn fight on a neighbor's battery operated radio. Entertainment was hard to comeby. Mostly " brush arbor" preaching or an occasionaly pie supper at the school house. Otherwise it was hunting, fishing, fighting, playing marbles, slingshots, corncob fights, and things like that. A Kid could get into enough trouble with things like that but Halloween, that was something else, especially for the big kids. And when I say big kids I mean up to and including 35 years old.
Where to start this story? I wish I was better at describing the landscape and giving better descriptions of the characters but I'm not so I just have to stick with what happened.
Along the small road that ran by our house and the school house to "Needmore" community were very few houses. I can only remember four. Just before you got to the wooden bridge across Ring Slough was a shack on the left side of the road where uncle Sam and Aunt Mag Speigle lived. Off to the right from there a ways and right along the slough in the woods, was a small house that looked like a box car but only about half as big that some old man lived in. Then as you made the last turn before getting to the store were two houses. The first one on the left I don't remember what it looked like except it wasn't much to look at. The last house was on the right and it was what they called a "dogrun house". A dogrun or dogtrot house consisted of two rooms separated by a room sized open space. The open space was under the same roof as the rest of the house and that made a nice shady place to sit in the Summertime.
So besides knowing that the landscape was mostly all trees and realizing that was before electricity reached this part of the world it was very dark at night unless the moon and stars were shining brightly. And it was "Halloween".
Mom and Dad had worked hard all Summer growing food in the garden and had canned enough vegetables to get us thought the winter. Dad had killed a hog and salted it down in the smokehouse. Everyone needed to relax and blow off some steam after the hot hot Summer. When Halloween came along it must have been that time.
I can't tell you everything that happed. Just what I saw and heard. And some of the aftermath. Well I first hooked up with some other kids and they gradually started following some bigger teenage boys who were obviously bent on more than mischief. As we followed the boys they got their crosscut saws and started sawing trees down across the road as they made their way toward the store. The road was impassable for days except on foot. Very few people had cars but not even a wagon and team could get through that road.
Then as they gradually moved on down the road they came to this old man's house by the slough. The house reminded me of a boxcar but only about half as big. By then it was dark except for their carbide lights. As a little guy I stood back and watched as the big boys cut down a tree about 6 inches in diameter and about 15 feet long. They took the pole and a log or something and made a big pry bar out of it and turned the old mans' house over with him in it. As I watched in amazement the old man somehow climbed up to his door and got out of the house and it looked like he had an armful of butcher knives. He took off after one of the guys who headed for the slough while the rest of us disappeared into the woods. We didn't know until later if he caught the kid he was after and thank goodness he didn't. Although he probably deserved having his ears cut off.
I made my way back to the gravel, right about where Uncle Sam's shack was, and there was my Dad and his friend Amos Dollings and some others. I stuck with this bunch and watched what they were doing. During the day Dad and Amos had made a "dummy" out of straw and burlap sacks that looked like a person in the dark. They propped old "Dilbeck" they called him up in front of Uncle Sam's front door. Of course it was dark and Uncle Sam had no idea that anyone was out there. Then they tied a string on the corner of the house and covered it with "rosin" and then to a tin can. They stretched the string across the road and lay down in the ditch. Then they would scrape the string sort of like a fiddle bow and it made some loud weird sounds.
Finally Uncle Sam opened his front door and in the pale light from his keroseen lamp he saw old "Dilbeck". He slammed the door shut. Then after a few seconds and a few more squacks on the rosined string the door flew open again and a double barreled shotgun came out. He blew the guts out of old Dilbeck along with a loud string of profanity.
For me it was getting late and I knew it was time to get out of there. But Mom and Dad got an unpleasant surprise when they got home. Someone had got in our house and took all of the jars that mom had canned and spread them around the farm. It was like an Easter egg hunt to find and retrieve them all. Thankfully the jars weren't broken
What a halloween!!! Several days later people were still having a hard time getting down the road to the store. And I remember hearing one old lady raising Cain because she couldn't get her sick husband to the Doctor in Corning.
Today we would have all gone to jail. But for months it gave us something to laugh about. I did some crazy things back in those days and some things you just don't forget. I know if the old world is still turning when my great great grandkids read this story it may be hard for them to relate to in their time but it happened just that way on Halloween 1939.
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