Sunday, October 04, 2009

Ross Family Stories from Tataw...

Dictated by Harold Ross Johnston, who is my grandfather. His mother's maiden name was Ross.

I had cousins named Mildred and Faye Ross. We were kids in Dardanelle on a farm and we raised cotton. Cotton was a cash crop then, but it got down to a nickel a pound... They lived down at Conway and their dad had a restaurant. They were more well-off than we were. They would send Grand (my grandmother) a package once and a while. They'd maybe have some school supplies in it and some clothes. I remember one time they sent (back in the '30's during the depression) they sent leather boots that came up nearly to their knees. They were girl's boots. They wouldn't fit any of the girls but they fit me, so I wore them. They laced up on the sides. I don't remember who took us down to Conway, but we went down there in a Model T with an open top. We drove down from Dardanelle. I don't know why, but I was the only kid who got to go. I went with my mother and my grandmother and whoever was driving the car. The Ross cousins had a cafe across from the train stop in Conway. I don't remember, but I think "Martini" was the cook's name. My grandmother would talk about how he could cook. She said he could take any kind of piece of meat, and make it tender. He wouldn't tell his secret on how he did it. We visited at their house there in Conway. I remember there was a street and there were steps up into the yard. It was a very nice house to us, anyhow. We ate lunch down at the cafe and went back home that afternoon. I was about 10 or 12 years old. Both Mildred and Faye were older. Faye was a school teacher. She came and lived at Dardanelle the first year and she taught school. She taught me music and I was in elementary school. She taught me "do, re, me..." and she had us sing in high pitched voices. I remember she stayed with Joe Gault's family. I think he might've been kin to her mother or someone, but he wasn't kin to us and she stayed there... Mildred and Faye were my first cousins. Their dad was my mother's brother. His name was Claude. I don't remember much about him. They would come to visit every great while. I remember my mother telling about how he was a good swimmer. The Arkansas River was high at Dardanelle. Someone bet someone else $5 that he could swim it, so he agreed to swim. They went on the other side of the river across the old pontoon bridge. It was there until 1927. He swam across. There was a row boat following him. He made it across, but it took him downstream a ways. The river was about 1/2 mile across there. They hadn't put in lock & dams yet. He was a young man back then. Uncle Claude and Mama had another brother named, "Clarence". Sister Baby was Clarence Ross' daughter, but he died before she was born.. Ina (Harmon) Ross was his wife. She would've been about my age. Sister Baby's name was Mattie Ross, but we called her, "Sister Baby". I grew up with her and she married Ernest Gray. We called him, "Onions". He drove a truck for a living, I think. He died before she died. They had 4 or 5 kids but I can't remember their names. Sister Baby's older brother's name was James and her older sister was Nellie. Not long after I was married, James had a heart attack and died. He lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There was snow and ice and he was pushing the family car by hand or something. He had a heart attack and died. He married the sister of the man who I bought a 29 chevrolet (the first car I ever had). Some of her kids are still back around Russellville. That was back when they'd take the body of the dead person back home for a wake. Aunt Ina hated to bury him. I think she kept him nearly a week. I remember going up to see him in her living room. They embalmed people there at the house back then. I remember seeing them embalm Joe Taske. He was our neighbor and was a Bohemeon. He'd been spreading fertilizer behind a wagon and had a heart attack and died. Uncle Frank Lee found him. I was down at the funeral home that night and went in there to see him and they'd cut an opening in his stomach and had a gallon jug of embalming fluid. They put a tube in and poured it in him. Then they sewed it up. I was nearly in high school then. Graves were dug by hand then. Usually friends and family would dig the grave by hand, even if the ground was frozen. It got really cold then. I remember the Arkansas River freezing over at Dardanelle back then. I remember my dad telling about how they drove a wagon across it frozen many, many years ago.

One of my mom's brothers was in the Spanish American war. He was young when he went in. I think he lied about his age. His parents saw him on the steamboat when he was leaving. They didn't know he was going, but he was recruited and went. They made him a drummer boy. Gran gave me his hat and his belt buckle. It was brass and it had US on it. I had that hat for a long time. When I got older, it had a wide brim. I cut the brim down around and wore it. The last we saw, it was in a hat box at my mom's house years ago. I don't know what happened to the belt buckle. It was there when I went into the army but haven't seen it since. They had saloons up in Dardanelle, then. A friend of his sold his cotton and was in a saloon drinking and gambling. The boy's dad tried to get him to leave and he wouldn't do it. The father asked my uncle to go in and get him to leave. The saloon owner didn't appreciate that because he was getting so much of his money. The saloon owner got into an argument. He called my uncle an "SOB", so my uncle jumped him and the saloon owner shot and killed him. I think the saloon owner was named, "Burns". He wasn't prosecuted. When I was growing up, saloons were illegal. Liquor was illegal, too until the 30's sometime. There were bootleggers, though. I imagine it slowed down some people's drinking, but I wasn't old enough to drink then.

When my mother was about 13, her family sold their farm in Dardanelle and went to homestead in Oklahoma. Her uncle was Dick Blackwell. My mother's mother was a Blackwell. The town of Blackwell, Oklahoma was named after him. There were lots of outlaws back then. He was well-to-do and he disappeared and was never heard from again. My mama said those Indian boys would ride ponies and come by their wagon, whooping and hollering, but didn't hurt them. They were just scaring them. She talked about how the wind would blow and in the wintertime, the cattle would run out. There were no fences. In the morning, the cows would be up against the house, trying to stay out of the wind. It was pretty rugged out there. They didn't stay and decided to come home to Dardanelle. They were able to buy back their farm in Dardanelle and they lived there until they died. Aunt Mary Johnston owns the old Ross place now.

We called my grandfather on the Ross side, "Pa Ross". My mom never talked about his folks much. He died when I was about 13. He fell and hit his head on the root of a big elm tree. He'd been over to the neighbors and brought back a toe sack of peas that they had given him. He came back in the yard and fell and died. They think he had a heart attack.

They said he'd dug out a spring and when he'd finished working each day, he'd take a bath in that spring. There was another spring, too. They'd dug a well and it wasn't bricked up, but it was about 1 1/2 ft across. It was on the porch and had wood around it down to the ground. We used to put watermelon down in it to keep it cool. Butter and milk, too.

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