Turning High Plains to Farm Ground

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Absalom Terrell Collier was born December 14, 1876 in Upson County, Georgia.  His parents were Robert Terrell and Francis Ann (Shattles) Collier.  Sometime after 1880, his family loaded their belongings in a wagon and headed west.  They settled in East Texas.

Ab (as he was called) grew up in the rolling pine and hardwood hills of East Texas.  He was lanky and probably over 6’4” tall.  Oral family history tells us as a young man he broke wild horses to ride.  In 1895, he married Eudora Belle Stewart in Melrose, Texas.   They made their home in the Melrose area of Nacogdoches County.  Ab and Dora had six children who survived past infancy:  Alton Terrell, Lula Bell, Christine Sybil, Pauline, Lora Pearl, and Douglas Woodrow.  As were most of the men in rural East Texas, Ab was a farmer.

Eudora was born in Mississippi in 1877.  Her father, Eli Stewart, was a Primitive Baptist minister whose travels to deliver the Message led his family from Georgia to Alabama to Mississippi to Louisiana, finally putting down roots in the East Texas county of San Augustine, just east of Melrose.  Dora’s mother passed away when Dora was only six or seven.   Eli was married three times; researchers should note his first and third wife were both named “Jane”.

Eli Stewart and his third wife, Jane Pate Stewart. Eli is holding Sallie, Jane is holding John. Eudora Belle Stewart is standing. Photo was taken 1893.

Eli and his third wife are buried in the Shiloh Cemetery near the Denning community of San Augustine County, Texas.

 

Dora’s sister and the oldest sibling, Mary Elizabeth, was 25 when their mother died.  Mary helped Eli raise her brothers and sisters and was no doubt was an important person in young Dora’s life.  Mary Elizabeth Stewart, married William (Billy) Barton O’Neal in 1879.  They made their home in San Augustine County, where they stayed at least through the 1920 census.

William (Billy) Barton O’Neal as a young man.

Billy and Mary O’Neal left San Augustine County sometime after 1920.  The early 1920’s found them farming near Lubbock, Texas.

This is a low resolution photo of William (Billy) O’Neal on a mule. The setting appears to be in Lubbock County, Texas.

The 1920s were a time of change for American farmers.  During the years of World War I farmers prospered due to high prices resulting from war-torn Europe’s diminished agricultural capacity.   To address the high demand for agricultural products, the United States government encouraged an expansion of farms and farming assistance programs.  However, as Europeans recovered from the devastation of the war, U. S. agricultural exports fell and prices began to slide.  With the mistaken thought that prices would stabilize, the government continued to promote farming expansion.

As the 1920s progressed, it became more and more difficult to make farming pay in the small fields cleared between the forested East Texas hills.  The close-knit Collier family was hard hit as farming prices continued to plummet.  Cheap land was available elsewhere, including the Texas Panhandle.  And it was being discovered that the grass-covered High Plains of the Panhandle, once known as part of the Great American Desert, could be extremely productive farmland under the right conditions.

Dora began experiencing some medical issues, and her doctor suggested she consider moving to a drier climate.  Meanwhile, the farming economy in East Texas seemed to be getting worse.  Ab and Dora decided to take their family to the Lubbock, Texas area where sister Mary and her husband, Billy O’Neal were raising cotton.  They most likely made the move in the late fall of 1925 or early winter of 1926, after the cotton harvest.

Ab, with sons Alton and Douglas, loaded equipment, livestock, and other belongings on a train and went ahead by rail.  The rest of the family followed by automobile.  In the group traveling by car were Dora and her children, Lula Bell (with toddler Helen and her husband, Burette Doss), Pauline, and Lora Pearl.  Daughter Christine Sybil was married, had left Nacogdoches, and was building her new life with her husband.  Also included in the car were Alton’s wife, Tommie Inez, and the couple’s three sons:  Cecil Ensley, Homer Raiford, and Lenox Ravonne.  It was no doubt a tiresome trip, covering some 450-500 miles in a 1920’s automobile, with 6 adults and 4 children, and over roads that, compared to today’s, were probably poorly paved and not well-maintained.

1921 Road Map of Texas, stars mark the locations of Lubbock (left) and Nacogdoches (right) counties.  The two areas are 450-500 miles apart.

The family moved into the Wollforth area, southwest of Lubbock, where they worked a place known as the Napper Farm.

The group had not been in the area long before the shine began to wear off their move.   The monotonous landscape with unending horizon and constant sun and wind was in sharp contrast to the green hills of East Texas.

 

 

Ab found farming conditions in the High Plains were different and with a set of unique challenges. The wide-open expanses made farming large tracts possible, but the single-row farming implements Ab brought from East Texas were out of place.

Farmer with one-row, horse-drawn plow.

Even horse-drawn multi-row equipment was giving way to mechanization with the introduction in 1918 of Ford’s mass-produced tractor, the Fordson.

Multi-row horse-drawn farm equipment contrasted with mechanized farming equipment of the 1920s.

Rain was scarce, averaging less than 20 inches of rainfall per year, as opposed to the 40-50 inches they were accustomed to in East Texas.  Winter snow was common, and a wind-driven 3- or 4-inch snow could result in 2-foot drifts if an obstacle was there to stop it.

Panhandle farmers had yet to realize the fine, fertile soil was delicately held in place by shallow, tenacious grass roots.   Turning the soil with a plow opened the ground up to erosion by the never-ending wind, generating immense, suffocating dust storms.  During periods of extreme drought these conditions combined to ultimately result in the infamous Dust Bowl days of the early 1930s.

Dust Storm

Then on April 20, 1926, William (Uncle Billy) Barton O’Neal died.  He was buried in the City of Lubbock Cemetery.

 

Ab managed to purchase multi-row farming equipment.  The Collier family left the Napper Farm and moved to an area northeast of Lubbock where they worked the Duncan Farm.  Meanwhile, the Napper Farm was purchased by Riley Micajah (“Wig”) O’Neal, son of Billy and Mary O’Neal.

Dora and Ab Collier in the Lubbock Area

 

Alton and Inez Collier with sons Cecil (on left), Homer (in back), and Lenox (right front). Photograph made in the Lubbock area circa 1926.

 

Burette Doss holding daughter, Helen, Lula Bell (Collier) Doss and Homer Collier.  In front of windmill in Lubbock, Texas area.

 

Left to right: Lula Bell (Collier) Doss, Homer Collier (boy in front), Helen Doss (in bonnet), Lora Pearl Collier, and Cecil Collier. Lubbock, Texas area.

In 1927, Henry (Bud) Turner drove from Nacogodches to Lubbock with the intention of taking Pauline Collier for his bride.  The two were married in the Lubbock area on July 22, 1927.   In October of 1927, the newlyweds, along with Burette and Lula Bell Doss and daughter Helen, returned to Nacogdoches.  Lula would give birth to her second child the following month.

Sometime in 1928, Mary O’Neal moved to Midland, Texas to be with her son, Bascom Ely “Slim” O’Neal.  She may have been ill when she relocated.

On October 23, 1928, Ab wrote to Burette Doss in Nacogdoches and asked him to find him a farm – they were coming home.  Sometime between the time of cotton harvest in December 1928 and January 1929, the Colliers returned to Nacogdoches.  Family history tells that a crowd gathered at the train depot when the equipment and livestock were unloaded.  Locals had never seen such massive farming equipment.  Ab parked the equipment at his farm where the curious came from miles around to ask if they could look at these High Plains implements.

Mary O’Neal died in Midland, Texas on February 13, 1929.  She was buried in the City of Lubbock Cemetery.  Here sister, Eudora, was back in East Texas and was not able to attend the funeral.

 

The move to Lubbock left lasting impressions.  Homer Collier, son of Alton and Inez, started first grade in Lubbock.  Homer remembered his hands were always chapped by the wind so he tried to keep his hands closed so the redness wasn’t obvious.

Homer Collier, First Grade, Fall 1928

Pearl and Douglas were caught outside in one of the characteristic dust storms.  They were able to make their way home by holding on to and following the wire fence.  Lula often told her grandchildren how lightning would strike a barbwire fence and travel along the fence great distances.

Dora said Ab spent all the time they were in Lubbock chasing his hat!

Colliers in Atlanta

Home of George Washington (“Wash”) Collier, Atlanta, Georgia

 

The late Donald Collier was an avid genealogist and family historian.  His papers represent years of research in courthouses and other repositories of historical information.  Much of his work included the Colliers of Atlanta, although the relationship with Donald’s Vines Collier line was never proved.  More DNA testing could perhaps help to clarify if there is a relationship.

One document in the papers of Donald Collier was a history written in 1947 by Rusha Wesley.  Entitled “The Collier Family”, it was presented to the Atlanta Historical Association in conjunction with a founding celebration.  The paper provides a summary of the history of Colliers in Atlanta.

One of the most widely recognized Collier names in Atlanta is George Washington Collier, generally know as “Wash”.  Wash Collier is recognized as the “first merchant of Atlanta” for his combination store-post office, which also made him the first Postmaster.  His home, built sometime around 1868, still stands today in what is known as the Ansley Park residential district of Atlanta.  The house was built on the same site as his father’s house, which was erected in 1822 and destroyed in 1864.

There is much known in local Atlanta history about the Colliers.  Perhaps this post will serve as an introduction for future posts on that subject.  Here is the paper, “The Collier Family”, written by Rusha Wesley.

Rusha Wesley The Collier Family

 

Followup to Greenwood Cemetery Lantern Tour

The cool fall weather was perfect for the second Greenwood Cemetery Lantern Tour in Barnesville, Georgia.  The November 3 tour began in the historic train depot where guests were offered refreshments while viewing a Lamar Arts Historical Art Exhibit, featuring graphics by Dave Rumfeld.  Below is the graphic poster for the J. C. Collier Family, done by Mr. Rumfeld.

Guests were shuttled to the Greenwood Cemetery in three groups for the approximate 60 – 90 minute tours.   The groups grew progressively larger through the afternoon as the twilight tour was the most in demand.

The first stop on the tour was the Collier Lot and Mausoleum.  J. C. Collier was portrayed by Glen Collier and Evelyn Collier Cason (daughter of J. C.) was portrayed Susan Walter (granddaughter of Evelyn Collier Cason).

 

Here is a video of the portayal of J. C. Collier.

 

And the portrayal of Evelyn Collier Cason by her granddaughter, Susan Walter.

 

Following the tour, posters and tour exhibits were donated to the Old Jail Museum in Barnesville.

The well-attended event was the work of Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association, Inc. with the support of other local groups.  The Association’s facebook page is found at

Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association

 

Collier Collection at Georgia Historical Society

This is a followup to The Collier Collection Goes to Savannah, posted July 31, 2016 (click here).  After two years of organizing and cataloguing, Georgia Historical Society announced the Collier Collection open for researchers.  The announcement was issued in a GHS news release of June 21, 2018 from Atlanta.

Georgia Historical Society Announces The Collier Family Papers Open for Research

“Salt My Mules” . . .The Collier Farm at Piedmont, Georgia

Isaac Cuthbert (I. C.) Collier died July 11, 1908.  Upon his death, his son, Jena Cuthbert  (J. C.) Collier inherited the 3,000-acre farm at the village of Piedmont in what was then Pike County, Georgia.  Having made his mark as an extremely enterprising and successful dry goods merchant, J. C. suggests in his letters he felt there was no future in farm life.  He often wrote, although he was born in rural Piedmont, he left the farm in his early teens and grew to maturity in the town of Barnesville.  His advice to young men was to leave the farm, move to the city, and obtain a job with a large company.   This sounds like odd advice from a man who excelled in farming, receiving a check for his cotton in 1918 that, at the time, was the largest ever for Middle Georgia.  The amount is equivalent to more than two million dollars in 2019 money (see September 17, 2016 post: Can You Believe It??  A Check For Over 2 Million Dollars!!).

J. C. was widely recognized as an authority on growing and marketing cotton.  He was successful in farming because he practiced proven methodology, introduced structure, and demanded accountability in his huge farming enterprise.  No doubt these things had given him success in other endeavors.

The Collier Farm at Piedmont was actually several adjoining farms situated where Little Potato Creek flowed into Big Potato Creek.  Water and rich bottom land soil were plentiful.

The village of Piedmont was in the center of the sprawling Collier acreage.  The farm completely surrounded Piedmont, with its railroad depot, two schools, two churches, dry goods store, post office, blacksmith shop, clay pottery factory, and cotton gin.  The village derived its life from the Collier Farm and its workers and families.  Southern Railway ran through the village, providing easy access to shipping, travel, and mail.  At least two trains per day passed through Piedmont.  Barnesville, Georgia was located some ten miles away by unimproved dirt road or by rail.

Real Esate Map of Piedmont Farms

The genius of J. C. Collier is seen in the way he used the resources around him to his best advantage.  J. C. hired an overseer to manage his farms while he tended his textile mill and dry goods operations in Barnesville.  The overseer was required to submit both Daily and Weekly Farm Reports.  The reports were on printed forms with required entries.  Note that this was in the early 1900s.  The reports were placed on the train at Piedmont and delivered to J. C. in Barnesville.  He typically worked late hours at the mill and reviewed the reports at that time.

Farm Daily Report

Many farms of the era used sharecroppers who farmed the land for a percentage of the crop.  Groceries and other staple needs of the sharecropper and his family were often charged on the landowner’s accounts at local stores.  The debts were settled at harvest time.  J. C. selectively used sharecroppers, but he preferred to hire his farm workers on a daily basis and pay them every week in cash.  This opportunity for immediate payment attracted eager workers.

Farm Time Report_rev

J. C. Collier died in 1944.  His ancient roll top desk, the contents of which were said to have been unchanged since his death, was inventoried by CHF in 2014.  Items in the drawers and pigeon holes reflect his focus on work and give a glimpse of the things that he considered important.  One of the items he apparently felt significant was a faded copy of a letter he wrote in 1909.  In the letter, he clearly, but diplomatically, laid out the responsibilities of his farm overseer.  Apparently J. C. had earlier verbalized his requirements, but he saw the need to put them in writing.  Added notes indicate the overseer failed, the farm suffered financially, and J. C. terminated him.  Perhaps this letter reminded J. C. to be precise in his expectations, to be firm in making difficult management decisions, and to avoid financial loss.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Barnesville, Ga.  July 16, 1909

Dear Jim:

I have thought carefully over the way things appear to me and in the future, I request that you apply the following in the handling of my business.

1st                Give every minute of your time to the field hands, keep your eyes on them.

2nd:            Personally see that the feeding is properly done and that my feed stuff is better taken care of.

3rd:             Do not allow the hands to become indebted to you as I prefer to pay them cash so as to demand good labor.

4th:             I don’t like for my plows, when not in use, to remain in the fields and in the rain, but see that the plows, axes, hoes, mower, rake, & wagons are put where they belong.

5th:             See that I get value received for money paid to the laborers.

6th:             Salt my mules every Sunday.

7th:             Grease my harness and bridles every two or three months.

8th:            See all croppers and renters once each week and report any short comings on their part to me.

9th:            See that all gates going into the horse lot are locked every night and keys in your possession, back gate as well as on front.

10th:          To make money and succeed, economy and watchfulness of property and time is as necessary as hard work.

I talked these things over with you before, but I now put them on paper as you can keep same as a reference to know how I wish you to carry on my business.

Very truly,

J. C. Collier

Report every Monday night in writing the work done the previous week – farms visited – condition of crops of each tenant.

J. C. added this handwritten note to the typed letter:

This was my first overseer of farms . . . after my Father’s death and he lost me about $4,000.00 and was fired in Aug. 1909.       J C Collier

 

 

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