A FEW MEMORIES IN MY EARLY LIFE AND INCIDENTS AND FACTS THAT ARE HARD TO FORGET
BY: Thornberry Alvin Coker Sr. 1886-
I was born July 14, 1886, near San Antonio, Texas. My mother died when I was just 11 months old (June 14, 1887). A few months later my father took me to his sisters, Mrs. Frances Elledge, at Murchison, Henderson County, Texas. I lived on the old farm until I was 31 years old. I was married to Miss Dora Lovegrove on August 13, 1905, at Filmore, Illinois, at the age of 19 years. I obtained my little schooling at what was then known as Old Unity, the site of the first established Baptist Church in Henderson County.
Due to the fact that the schoolteacher (a Miss Ann Johnson) boarded with us, and living only about a half mile from the schoolhouse, I started to school just after I was 4 years old. Our school terms then were for a period of 6 months or less: and the teachers monthly salary was $20.00. When I was about 12 years old they grudgingly raised their salary to the magnificent sum of $30.00 per month. As all children lived on farms, they actually attended an average of less than 4 months intermittently per year. When I was 16 years old I had become too far advanced to attend our local school, so my uncle, T. B. Elledge, talked to the principal of the Murchison High School in regard to sending me to his school, but he refused me on the grounds that I was too far advanced in mathematics, my favorite subject, for him to teach me. He suggested that I enroll in some college. For awhile I thought I was going to do so, but my uncle, who was absolutely illiterate, thought I had sufficient education: and he wanted me to stay home and take over the most of his business, which I eventually did. I have gone through life thinking that was the greatest wrong my uncle ever did to me. I never could entirely forgive him. Even after I was married he wanted to dominate my actions. He wanted me to get his consent before making any business deals. I tried to stay and look after them in their old age, but in 1917 I moved away for good. My uncle passed away in 1920 and my aunt in 1932. I have been back to my old home but a few times since their deaths. I am sure that as a child they both loved me very dearly, they both lavished luxuries on me that made me the envy of my friends. But I resented many of their well meant tokens of love for the simple reason that they were ill chosen and out of reason. They tried to make me stand out over my friends, but in a ludicrous way.
In my childhood days the country around us was very thinly settled, with miles and miles of open country and free range. Therefore, my uncle became quite a stock man. He not only raised quite a few hogs and cattle, but he dealt in them to some extent. His occupation kept him in the saddle quite a lot of the time and by the time I was big enough to hold on to the saddle behind him, I went with him sometimes for the full day. When I was 6 years old he bought me a new saddle, my size, of course, and I began taking a regular hand in his work. Being so small, I had several escapades. On one occasion I was run over and knocked out by a young horse. I was out for some time. On another occasion after roping a cow, my feet became entangled in the rope and I was dragged for about 100 yards. I was rescued that time by two young ladies.
One of the two times that my uncle struck me was because I did not stand in a runway and let a mule run over me. He told me then that any time he told me to grab a hog, cow, or a mule, he expected me to do just that, and from that day on I never let him down.
My uncle and aunt were very devout Christians, and naturally I grew up a very pious lad. My grandfather, Harvey Hodges, Lived near and attended the same church. I always made it a point to meet him as he drove up in his buggy, tie up his horse, help him out of his buggy and escort him the steps of the church house, and if the building was crowded, would lead him to a favorable seat, all this in spite of the fact that he usually had some two or three sons standing around in front of the building I always enjoyed the companionship of my boyhood friends by my greatest pleasure came when I could engage some old man in a serious conversation or discussion. I say without boasting that I stood very high in social standing by all that knew me and that was all who lived within a radius of 10 to 15 miles of us, including the County Seat, Athens. I was on handshaking terms with the fathers of the two Murchison boys who are making a big splash in financial circles today. In my teenage days I made it a point to visit the offices of all of the district and county officers when I went to Athens, which was most every week. I attended the trial of the 12 men who took the Humphries (the father and two sons) from their homes and lynched them in the Trans-Cedar community. I was a good friend to both participants in the Grady French / Will Day feud that resulted in French killing Day on the streets of Athens. John A. Mobly was a very close personal friend of mine. He often came to our home and spent the weekends with us when he was attending college. After his college days were over he was elected County Attorney, then State Representative, State Senator, and later appointed Assistant States Attorney. when his term expired he moved to Houston and joined a law firm. I corresponded with him regularly through his life; his family still live in Houston.
As I grew to maturity I became a radical in my views, and for that I lost some of my friends and prestige. However, I was still popular enough to become County Presided of two radical labor movements and District Secretary of another. During this time I was chosen as a delegate to a convention in Ft. Worth and one in Cisco, Texas. I was also Chairman of the Board of Directors of three Annual Encampments of three day duration at Murchison. During this time I was Field Correspondent for three papers - one at Texarkana, one at Halletsville, and one at St. Louis Missouri. At first I was a great admirer of U. S. Senator Joseph Weldon Bailey, who in his time was considered the greatest Constitutional Lawyer in the U. S. A. Later I disagreed with his views on a current subject and debated with him through the Dallas Morning News. My extreme radical utterances lost me many of my old friends by gained me many more over the state. About this time I became involved in a personal social event that destroyed my popularity. I dropped out of public life and resigned my self to oblivion. I still had the courage to stand up for the underdog and help him fight his battles. This also made me no less popular with the upper class, but I did keep a clear conscience.
Just before the start of the first world war, I started reading law and passed exams on four subjects. But when the war broke and the financial bottom fell out of everything, I could not meet my obligations so had to drop my studies. Having given up semi-public live, I turned to cotton farming, and as a grower I was very successful. With a family of 9 children I cultivated and gathered my own crop without outside help. Growing and gathering from 20 to 30 bales per year - that was considered very good for an East Texas farmer. One year with my own family we gathered 42 bales. At that time I thought my family would starve if we did not grow cotton. Now I dont see he we lived trying to grow it.
As I grew up, my uncle made most of the caskets that were needed in our community because factory made ones were hard to get. It fell my lot to help him on those occasions, so having had some experience in the use of carpenter tools, I did my first contract carpenter job in December of 1905. After I gave up cotton farming in the early 30s, I began doing more carpenter work. As a result, each of my five boys and my four sons-in-law did their first carpenter work with me. Each of my boys became professional carpenters as did two of my sons-in-law. One became a very successful plumber.
I remember very vividly the turmoil and internal strife of World War I, and limited necessities of life, especially flour and sugar. Also the wild irrational roaring 20s, the sudden rise in major crimes. Those were the time when human life was considered of little value. I was in Hog Town and Ranger Oil Fields during their boom days. Highjackers were very prevalent. They developed the habit of killing anyone who had no money at all when they held them up. If you had a few dollars they would let you go. Commodities were very high in the oil fields( I remember paying 90 cents for one pound of bacon for a special occasion). It cost a teamster $21.00 to shoe a horse; everything else in proportion. During that time I say cotton sell for 42 cents per pound one year and 9 cents the next. In September of 1914, I saw my brother, Jim Coker, dump a bale of cotton out on the street in Marquez because he could not get a bid on it. The times from 1914 to 1933 were very bad. During the first world war I saw every gold trinket all watches and rings) called in by the government. Any person caught with a gold trinket after the call was penalized. During those times one could not trust their closest friend. Morals fell to a very low ebb, and have never returned to their one-time high standards.
In my early days the country was very thinly settled. From my home to Athens, a distance of about 10 miles, there were only five residences; and to Murchison, 1 1/2 miles, there was one home. There was lots of game - deer, turkey, and smaller game. Fish were abundant. My uncle stood in his back yard and killed his last deer.
When I was about 7 years old I began going with my uncle to drive a herd of cattle to the Central Texas prairies. We did that twice a year. For several years, he and I would go out in the spring of the year and buy young calves at $2.50 to $5.00 per head. We would leave them with their mother until fall weaning time, then gather them up and bring them home for winter care. During that time I would ride out with one or two hundred dollars and pay for small bunches of cattle that he had formerly bargained for. Those were the days when one could trust their neighbors. Alas, this is not so now.
When I was only 7 years old an older friend of mine came by our house. He had taken a sudden notion to go to Waco on the train, so he left his horse in our lot and gave me $450.00 that he did not want to take with him. When he came back and I was not in sight, he asked my aunt where I was. When he left, she asked me what he wanted of me. When she found that I had been caring all of that money for two or three days she liked to have passed out.
My Uncle did not for a long time trust banks. He kept most of his money in gold and wore it in a belt; he was so close that he would wrap each piece in paper separately to keep it from wearing off in contact. When he did get to where he would trust the bane, he would deposit it and d require gold deposit slip. In a few months he would get suspicious of that bank, withdraw his deposit, and place it in another bank.
I remember one remark that he made that impressed me very much. He had taken 6 1/2 dozen eggs to Murchison to trade for one 48 lb. sack of flour (eggs were 10 cents per dozen) but flour had gone up to 75 cents. When he came home he told his wife that he guessed we would just have to quit eating biscuits as flour had gone up to 75 cents per sack. In those days we bought our coffee green, parched and ground it as needed. I can remember when there was not one concrete road in the State of Texas. The cotton cards, spinning wheel, and the knitting needles were a necessity in all homes, and weaving looms were found in many. Matches were so scarce that I have on occasion gone to a neighbors a mile away to borrow fire.
Our fastest or maximum speed was about 30 miles per hour and that could not be maintained for long. As late as 1905, I spent 56 hours on one continuous train ride, from St. Louis to Athens, Texas, a distance that could be covered now in a little more than an hour. The above was our maximum average. Our maximum speed by privately owned conveyance was from 2 to 5 miles per hour, depending on whether it was ox or horse drawn. Our personal needs in the way of manufactured articles were amply supplied an to my great amazement now we knew just where to go to get our needs without having to pay someone to tell us every few minutes 24 hours a day where to find them. I guess we had a deeper instinct, or in plain words, more sense about where we would probably find our needs than people now have. Some seem to think we would miss many more meals than we now do if we did not pay the radio and TV stations and, I started to say newspapers, but I think it would be more appropriate to say advertising sheets, to tell us where to go to get them. I am surprised that we do not have to pay a 1/2 cent extra for someone to tell us here to go to get postage stamps.
I can remember when Bull Durham and Dukes Mixture were the only smoking tobaccos available; ready-rolls were unknown. And how the children of today would suffer with only lemon sticks and peppermint candy available. No cream of any kind. In fact, no ice to be had, except when nature froze it. It was then too cold to use it. Gas was unknown and not needed. Electricity was unknown, so naturally no fans, except, I might say, the old palmetto fans that were trimmed and bordered with a calico strip. I remember the first barbed wire fence built in our par of the country. I also remember the first graded road built in Henderson County. It was surfaced with red clay, which was as bad in wet weather as sand was in dry weather. I remember the first airplane to ever pass over our par. No, that was not 1000 years ago, but in my lifetime. What changes may come in your lifetime only time can tell.
So in your leisure moments take time out to sit by the side of the road, so to speak, and watch the world go by; I am sure you will find it interesting. One may graduate from the high schools and colleges, but there are two courses from which one never graduates. They are Human Nature and The Changing of the Times. Take time out and give them some thought. You will find them very interesting.
All through most o my life I have found great pleasure in slipping off to myself once each week or oftener if possible and spending a few hours with God and nature. This is a wonderful experience. In fact on two occasions I have taken off with a camping outfit and my dog and spent two weeks in the forest of the Trinity Bottoms, some 40 miles from home, during 3which time I would see no more than one or two persons.
And one more item of which I would like to make note, I never in all my life won or lost any money in a game of chance.
In my early days all firearms were of the muzzle loading type. Four items were necessary to load a gun: powder, paper or muslin wadding, shot or bullets, and caps. A charger was necessary for measuring the amount of shot and powder else one might overload, such sometimes would prove calamitous. An overloaded gun would kick you down and stomp you a time or two. In rainy weather if your powder was damp you could snap the cap then have to wait some 5 to 10 seconds for the gun to fire. I remember the first squirrel that I killed. I made the mistake of holding my cheek hard against the stock of the gun when I fired; as a result, I thought that I had shot one side of my face off. Later when the breach-loading guns came out, I became an expert rifle shot. My brother, Ed Coker was an expert with a pistol. We visited a shooting gallery in Tyler, Texas, one night, and at 3 shots for 25 cents and $1.00 for three hits, we closed the gallery and left with a pocket full of money.
In 1915 Ed Coker killed Luther Rainy. We fought his case out in Groesbeck District Court and he was sentenced to three years. After he had served about 10 1/2 months I asked our attorneys to ask for a pardon for him. They refused, so I went before the Board of Pardon Advisors in Austin and pleaded for a pardon. He was freed after 11 months and 5 days.
Just after I was married, I became interested in pure bred poultry. As a result I bought the first incubator in Henderson County. Later I planned and built a 650 egg machine that proved very successful. I later operated a commercial hatchery in England, Texas. In England, I hatched 27,000 baby chicks, in 29 and 30 I brooded and raised 6,000 baby chicks.
On Christmas Day, 1939, we buried my dear wife, the mother of all my children. January 7, 1941, I married my second wife. I was then working in the army camps around Alexandria, Louisiana. After several years of rambling around I settled in Houston. I added to Houstons growth by helping build hundreds of homes. Due to a crippled knee I retired from the carpenter work completely in 1951. Since that time I have sold Watkins Products and other items, I netted approximately $2,000 per annum during that time.
I have gone through a number of financial depressions. The first was in 1897, during Clevelands administration. Cotton sold for 3 cents per pound and everything else in about the same proportions. Cash money was very scarce but very little was needed. In the spring of 1894 my uncle sold 900 lbs. of home cured bacon for 3 cents per lb., or $27.00 but with that money he, his wife, and her sister bought a wagon load of clothing such as calico at 3 cents, large towels such as we get today for 5 cents, jeans for making mens pants were 10 cents, red flannel that was used for everyones underwear was from 5 to 8 cents per yard, and cotton thread (a very popular item) could be bought in assorted sizes and colors for 30 cents per dozen.
In the spring of 1906, I took over my uncles farm, hired 3 farm hands, and planted an entirely feed crop of peas, peanuts and corn. As all of our farm was fenced and hog-proof, I did not gather this but, as the saying goes, I hogged it down. However, I did buy about 400 bushels of corn from neighbors. After my early crops were I put 103 head of fat hogs on the fines acorn crop that I had ever seen in Kickapoo Bottoms. I kept them there until January 1907, shipped a carload of them to Ft. Worth, and barely got enough cash out of them to get back home ($50). They sold for $4.15 per cwt. I did get a draft for the difference but could not cash it at my own bank. A money crisis had hit that part of the country, and the banks that remained open issued script. That was for a time our only medium of exchange; however, that condition did not last but a few months.
In July and August 1914, when the 1st World War broke, our country went into a tail-spin in most all branches of operations, with about 370,000 American boys killed, missing or wounded. Homes were broken; the uncertainties of life had a tendency to lower the spirit of the Roaring Twenties. This designation of that period was very appropriate. Prices of everything sky-rocketed at first. Cotton sold in 1919 as high as 45 cents per lb. A great boom was on. Everyone was money-mad, and a lot of people did not care how they got it. As a result, a great Crime Wave swept over the whole country -- gangsterism and bank-robbing were very prevalent. This condition continued until the Great Stock Market Break in 1928. This issued in a New Era. A great Economic Crisis came over the country. People were alarmed and bewildered. The older ones were stunned. When you met a neighbor you could see a look of consternation on his face. A faraway look was in his eye, seeming to ask the question, What is happening to us? We are losing our economic security; the financial stability of our country is vanishing. It was as if a great dark cloud of despair had engulfed the nation; the financial wizards were in great confusion. This condition existed through the early thirties. In 1933 F. D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as President. With his inauguration the New Era began in earnest. A great Bank Crisis existed and as result ever bank in the country was closed temporarily. The New Deal was really on. People began to realize they were losing their individuality. They were no longer secure under their own Vine and Fig Tree. Every golden trinket, watches, rings, and every item containing gold was called in by the government. The entire population was being regimented. The W. P. A. and the P. W. A. were established. He soon put millions o men to work. While some were digging ditches, other thousands were filling them up. The bread lines were set up all over the country. Millions of pounds of scrap metal were shipped to Japan, and as a result, during war maneuvers around Alexandria, I personally saw soldiers using peeled pine poles and forked sticks to imitate cannons and guns in 1941.
The cause of this great economic upheaval was due to the fact that the competitive system known a democracy had seen the workers of the land fleeced of a just compensation for their labor. They could not buy back the things they had produced. As a result, millions of cattle were shot down by government authority. Production of hogs was curtailed. Thousands of acres of cotton and wheat were plowed up, yet during this time millions of people were hungry because they had not the price to pay for the things they had produced. Billions of dollars were sent to foreign countries by the great manipulators of our economic system to develop them and place them under the same economic yoke that was burdening us. War was inevitable. The real rulers of our country (the great corporations)must defend their foreign markets. We could not buy back the products of our toil, so we had to fight for the markets of the world, that the manipulators might reap their profits. A time came when the world could no longer buy our products due to our stepped up assembly line methods. It was then that it became necessary to adopt the Foreign Aid policy - that of taxing us that we might give to the foreign countries so they could buy the things we produced but could not afford to consume. The vicious circle continues. The world has gone mad. There was time when the Monroe Doctrine was preached and practiced by our country; but that is no longer, so our master want the financial control of the world and are willing to drive us to the brink of world annihilation to obtain it. As a result of the great effort to gain these world markets and retain them, the mothers and housewives of our country were pushed into this great Production Mill. Through economic pressure they were forced to give up their attentions to their homes and children and work not so much for their own benefit but that the great corporations might reap greater profits. This resulted in what is universally known as Juvenile Delinquency; but I consider this not so, for it was the Adult Delinquency that brought about Juvenile Delinquency. remember the old proverb: as the twig is bent so does the tree grow.
The world is confused - we know not what we want or what would be best for us. Revolutions and counter-revolutions are going on all over the world. And instead of trying to calm our own worldly affairs and solve our own problems, our leaders are trying to conquer other worlds and planets. How dumb can a people become? $40 billion for a rocket to the moon, and for what?
This move to curtail states rights, abolish individual liberties, and establish a centralized government is not for the good of the masses. But who of those in power any longer cares for the masses? A great upheaval is in the making and the result will be a universal government, completely centralized or a return of power to the people where it belongs. I do not expect to be here to see the results of this, I can only pray that the Great God in Heaven will protect His Children from the tyrants of the world.
I think I have a GREAT family. To this date I have 95 direct descendants. In the 56 years since my first marriage there have been only 4 deaths among mY descendants and one divorce. None of them has ever been in serious legal trouble. I have had three sons and eight grandsons in the countrys service. I dearly love all of my family and pray to God that they all love and respect me.
Signed this the 29the day of June 1961.
T. A. Coker Sr.
P. S. I hope that those who get a copy of this consider it a part of me and keep it in memory of me, for soon it will be the only part of me that will be left.
Marilyn Coker Baker
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