Nathaniel Holmes-1; Robert-2; Albert Garner-3; Leatha-4
William Dorris-1; John-2; William-3; Davis David-4; James W.-5;
LEATHA HOLMES-4 most likely grew up living with her sisters, in laws, and grandparents, in Sumner and Macon Counties after her parents died when she was only three. We suspect that she was probably very close to her older sisters and they to her, especially Marjory Holmes-4 Trout. It can't have been an easy or care-free adolescence with the Civil War and all its privations, fears, and anxieties that must have affected her and the family, directly and indirectly.
On March 25, 1868, when she was 17 years old, LEATHA HOLMES-4 married a young farmer named JAMES W. DORRIS-5 in Sumner County. JIM had been born in Sumner County, but had lived in Illinois when he was a small child, before the family returned to Tennessee. His cousin, John Dorris, lived near LEATHA’s sister’s house, so they may have met at the home of a relative.
During the Civil War, JIM DORRIS had joined Company E of the 30th Tennessee Infantry, but had been "sent home sick from Ft. Donelson" he was 15 years old! Apparently that was his only service during the war. After the war, JIM farmed in Sumner County. His older brother, William Asa, had served in the CSA and had been taken prisoner.
JAMES and LEATHA DORRIS had a daughter, Elizabeth “Ellie” [Eliza Nellie?] Dorris-6, who was born in 1870, and then LEATHA gave birth to SARAH ALICE DORRIS-6, March 6, 1872. The following June, she died of “child bed fever. “The death of a mother shortly after the birth of her child in the days before antibiotics or the knowledge of "germ theory of disease causation" was very common, generally, because people didn't wash their hands before attending to a mother giving birth. Between the ages of 15 and 45, when most women had their children, many more women than men in that age group died. Until they were 45, men outnumbered women in the population several times, but from ages 45 60, men died at a faster rate than women. The women, who had usually passed their child bearing years by age 45, stopped dying at such a high rate and the men started succumbing to heart attacks. By the time the survivors of both sexes reached 60 years old, the males and females were about equal again in numbers. [Facts Not Commonly Known, published 1857.]
The 1870 census in Sumner county, Tennessee, showed “DAVE DORRIS,” age 50, with MELINDA, age 51, William Asa, age 26, and his wife, Sarah, and their children, Alice, Charles, and Thomas, all living in the household next to JAMES DORRIS, age 24, and “LETHA,” age 19, with “Elizora,” age 1. Elija Hodges, age 9, was also living in the household with DAVE. Elija Hodges was probably a nephew or great nephew of MELINDA.
LEATHA was buried in 1872 in the Mount Vernon Methodist Church Cemetery in the southeast corner. She was only 21 years old when she died, leaving her own two infant daughters orphans, just as she had been left orphaned at an early age.
LEATHA's widowed older sister, Marjory ["Margie"] Holmes-4 Troutt, took the two little girls to raise and thought of them as her own, since she had no daughters. They loved her as dearly as she did them. SARAH ALICE DORRIS JOHNSON spoke of "Aunt Margie" with great affection her whole life, and thought of Margie as her mother. Today, more than a 100 years after Margie's death, I still feel like I "knew" her from the stories of her kindness told by ALICE and repeated by her daughter to me. Ellie and ALICE lived most of the time with Margie and her family when they were very young, but did go home at times to stay with their father and stepmother. ALICE recalled in later years that her stepmother, Laura, would make her and Ellie sit and knit by the hour, which as a five-year-old, she found boring and didn't like to do. However, as an adult, she spent many hundreds of hours doing handwork and enjoyed it very much.
ALICE tatted [a kind of lace making with a shuttle] and made piano scarves, pillowcase edging, and other items for her home. Her granddaughter, GLADYS, still has many of these items.
LEATHA HOLMES’ sister, Margie Holmes Troutt, was a slim, attractive, woman with dark hair who wore her long hair parted in the middle, as was the custom of the times. All pictures of her make her appear sad, but the photographic technique at the time required that the person who sat for a portrait must sit absolutely still for almost a minute. From the stories about her, she was probably a very happy person.
The author has in her possession a broach which belonged to Aunt Margie, about the size of a quarter, probably made of brass, with a small square black stone, called a "jet," in the middle.
At the time Margery took the two little girls to raise, she was a widow. Her husband, Bird Troutt, died after the battle of Shiloh June 16, 1862, at Corinth, Mississippi.. He died July 3, 1862. She never remarried. Margery had two sons, "Bud," Robert Calvin Troutt, born July 22, 1861, and James Albert Troutt, born January 1, 1856. LEATHA’s daughter, SARAH ALICE, would name one of her sons Calvin, after “Bud” Troutt. They also had an uncle Calvin Holmes. Possibly Margery’s son had been named for him.
Estate # 2178 of the Sumner County records contains the plat and description of the dower of Margie Troutt, dated January 11, 1866. Her lands cornered to JAMES ESCUE-2, and she had 49 ½ acres. John and Thomas Rippy laid out the lands’ boundaries.
Margie and Bird Troutt's sons were small children when their dad died, but Bird's father, George Troutt, Sr., lived nearby with many of his several sets of children. George Troutt, Sr., was the son of Michael Troutt, and had been born in Virginia in 1799. Michael, and several of his many children, including George, and his brother, Byrd, Sr., moved to Sumner County by at least 1816, when a deed is found for Michael. What Margie did to support herself and her sons after the war is unknown.
George Troutt, Sr., had married and had a house full of children, including Bird [the younger.] There was also an older man whose name was Bird [Byrd] Troutt. George Troutt, Sr., married a second wife, but apparently had no children by her. In 1865, he married his third wife, a 26-year-old girl, and had three more children, including one born when he was about 73 years old!
The 1850 Sumner County census showed that George Troutt, age 52, lived in district 15 [page 195, family 964] and was shown with wife, Nancy, age 45, Bird, age 20; Pallon, age 17; Sylvesta, age 15; Marvin V., age 14; John, age 12; Jeremiah, age 10; Lydia, age 8; Nancy, age 6; George, age 4; and Alfred, age 2. Nancy had a “bastard” child born prior to her marriage to George.
Marjory Holmes Troutt's son, "Bud" Troutt, first married Lizzie Bradley, January 2, 1889, and had three children: James Walter Troutt, born October 5, 1888, married Myrtle “Toy” Graves January 30, 1907; Clara Bernice Troutt, born March 28, 1890, married Thomas Young Coates, June 12, 1906; and Bessie Lee Troutt, born August 19, 1893, married Elliot Thomas Bell, January 21, 1913.
Bud and Jim Troutt were livestock buyers in the Liberty community in Sumner County, Tennessee. Bud also “kept” a store.
Bud Troutt’s first wife died and he needed a mother for his three motherless children. He married a 38-year-old spinster, Anna West Dorris, the stepdaughter of John Dorris. “Cousin Anna," as she was known to our side of the family, was a short, chubby, little lady who was universally loved.
Due to the nature of the story and the way people felt about it during the Victorian era, the details aren't all straight but, supposedly, at the end of the Civil War, Anna's mother, Louisa West, was raped by a soldier, with Anna Guy West being the result. Anna was born May 12, 1865. Later, Louisa married one of the men named John Dorris, who reportedly "wasn't very good to her." This was the man who lived close to the home where LEATHA HOLMES DORRIS lived as a girl. Cousin Anna was somehow "kin" to us, as was her husband. We are not sure if it was because her stepfather, John Dorris, was a cousin or if her mother was somehow blood kin. Louisa's mother had been surnamed Dorris before marriage.
Bud Troutt and Anna Guy West had three children, Robert Brodie Troutt, born January 21, 1899. He died January 28, 1899. Their daughter, Annie Neal Troutt was born October 8, 1900, in Bethpage, Sumner County. She married Roy White Johnson, Sr., on February 8, 1918. Their last child was George Leon Troutt, born September 28, 1902. He married Cora Lucille Cox on February 15, 1930, in Benton, Saline County, Arkansas. George died September 7, 1959, in Saline County, Arkansas.
VIRGIE probably did not know about the rape story. It was apparently a very well-guarded secret in the Troutt and West families, and it wouldn’t have been something they would share with a child. Although some people in the community didn't know about the rape, but only knew there was a "woods colt" [a child born out-of-wed-lock.] In Tennessee at this time, a woman who was raped in a situation like this would keep it a secret if she could. She didn’t want her neighbors “talking about” her, and she didn’t want the “taint” of being a “used woman.” If the woman lost the gamble and became pregnant by the rape, and later told of being raped, she might not be believed by many of her neighbors, and would then be branded a “loose woman,” which was worse than being raped. The stigma of “woods colt” would be tagged onto the child, and the mother would be “tainted” for life. It was a lose-lose situation for a woman at that time.
This was an era in which a “lady” would not even refer to a bull or a stallion, but would call them a “male cow” or a “male horse.” If a woman was pregnant, she was referred to as “being in a family way.” Sex was not openly spoken of, even within the family. It may be difficult for the person today to realize just how “up tight” their attitudes were about such things.
Margie's other son, James Albert Troutt, never married. He was a politician and called everyone he met, "Jack," supposedly because he could never remember names. James was very good looking, and somewhat of a dandy. He wore a mustache which he kept well oiled and twisted into a handlebar.
It was almost two years after LEATHA’s death before JIM DORRIS remarried. In the days when a man might outlive two or three wives, and be left with a house full of children to care for, it was usual for a man to remarry very shortly after the death of his wife. With Margie Troutt to care for his two little girls, though, JIM was apparently not in any rush to remarry, so it wasn't until the 26th of March 1874, in Sumner County that JIM married Laura Ann Dorris. JAMES and Laura’s first daughter, Minnie, was born in 1876. The youngest daughter, Katie Emily, was born sometime after 1880. The 1880 Sumner County census showed the family of JIM and Laura living with DAVE, listed as “D. D” Dorris on the census, and his second wife, Harriett, age 45. JIM was listed as age 32, Laura as 26, Eliza as age 10, and ALICE [SARAH ALICE] as age 8, and Minnie was age 4.
A tintype picture of SARAH ALICE, made when she was about three years old, shows a small delicate child with huge eyes and a stony expression from having to sit stock-still so the long exposure could be accomplished.
Children of James W. Dorris and his first wife, Melinda L. Hodges
Elizabeth “Ellie” Dorris-6 was born in 1869 and married James A. “Jim” Roark on January 9, 1888, in Sumner County, Tennessee.
SARAH “ALICE” DORRIS-6, was born March 6, 1872, and married FELIX HILL JOHNSON January 4, 1897, in Sumner County, Tennessee. She moved to Arkansas with her family in 1911.
Minnie Dorris-6, born July 17, 1876, in Sumner County, Tennessee, married Steve S. Martin April 19, 1899. She died January 20, 1927. She is buried at Mt. Vernon Methodist Church in Sumner county.
Katie Emily Dorris-6, was born November 8, 1880, in Sumner County, while the family was living with her grandparents. She married James P. Gilliam June 20, 1904. She died December 8, 1960, and is buried at Pleasant Grove in Westmoreland, Tennessee.
Pictures of "ALICE" and her sister, Elizabeth “Ellie,” made about 1905, when they were both young matrons, show a striking resemblance between the two. Both had soft brown hair worn back from the face and "classic" good looks with slim oval faces, high cheekbones, straight noses, and large bright eyes. Both ALICE and Ellie were slim, small boned women, with long tapered fingers. Neither of them appear to resemble their father, though much of his face is obscured by his beard in his picture, so it is hard to tell what his mouth looked like.
Their tendency to small bones has led to a propensity for osteoporosis in their descendants, who also tend to be small-boned.
Both Katie and ALICE DORRIS received some education. ALICE was very bright and wrote a nice handwriting. We still have some letters that she wrote her daughter. She also kept a "five year diary" for many years and made a short entry almost every day.
Katie Emily Dorris may have attended the Tullatuskee Normal College in Bethpage. She was a well-educated young woman and knew Latin. The College housed elementary, high school, and college in the same building. It was established in 1899 and disbanded in 1905. Katie later taught Sunday School at the little country church Mt. Vernon Methodist. [Theda Womack] attended the church there and had her as a teacher in the 1920s. [Theda Womack's] father used to tell stories about the school and the dances held there. He and his brother attended the school also. [From a letter to the author from Theda Womack, dated November 5, 1990.]
DAVIS D. DORRIS, JAMES's father, was listed on the census as a "house carpenter,” age 60, in 1880. The Census states he had been born in Tennessee and his father's birthplace was Tennessee. His mother's birthplace was unknown. DAVIS's second wife was Harriet, age 45 in 1880. MELINDA HODGES DORRIS had died in 1875 and he married a widow, Harriet Wallace Gray. JAMES, Laura, and the girls were listed in the household with them in Sumner County in 1880.
VIRGIE knew the birth and death dates of both DAVIS D. DORRIS and his first wife, MELINDA HODGES. She told this author that DAVIS's father's name was "WILL." The oral history, along with the county, state, and Federal Census records, coupled with the estate records for MELINDA’s relatives, finally put all the pieces together for the DORRIS family. The Dorris~Net Newsletter, published by C. Eugene Dorris, the editor, was also a great help in sorting out all the confusion in the Dorris family. Gene Dorris, who currently lives in China, devotes a great deal of his time and resources to publishing this newsletter, and compiling and coordinating the research of many other Dorris family researchers.
ALICE's half sister, Minnie Dorris, married Steve S. Martin and had a daughter, Annie Laurie Martin, who married a man named "Shirley" Brown. Their children were Wanda Brown and another daughter. Katie Dorris married Jim Gilliam, and had a son named Haskall Gilliam. The author has a photograph of the three of them when the little boy was apparently about five. Ellie Dorris married Jim Roark and had Mary Roark and Luther Roark.
In the only picture the author has of JIM DORRIS, he is seated, wearing a long suit coat with a watch chain in the vest button hole. He had a receding hairline and the remaining hair was closely cropped. He appeared to be rather young in the picture, maybe 35 or 40, but had a long untrimmed light-colored beard. Laura is standing beside him with her hand draped across his shoulder. Her hair is pulled tightly back, broken only by a few tight curls on the top. She is wearing a dark, heavy appearing dress with a painted broach, with what appears to be a portrait of someone on it, pinned at the throat. Laura Dorris died at age 42 in 1896. The picture was probably taken shortly before her death. JAMES didn't remarry after her death.
When JIM DORRIS died, February 8, 1905, reportedly of "Bright's Disease" [kidney failure], he was buried between his two wives in the Mt. Vernon Methodist Church Cemetery. He was 59 years old at the date of his death. In some unmarked graves near his, DAVIS DORRIS and his family and wives rest. VIRGIE was a young child when her grandfather, JIM, died but she must have remembered him, and was probably at the funeral.
Two things which belonged to JIM, a hexagonal clear-glass salt cellar, and a pale blue gray water pitcher, are still in the family and belong to the author’s mother, GLADYS GRAY SAMS.
FELIX HILL JOHNSON-6 [James Johnson-1; Richard-2; Austin-3; Richard E.-4; Robert Foster-5; Felix Hill-6] married SARAH ALICE DORRIS-6 [William Dorris-1; John-2; William-3; Davis D-4; James W.-5; Sarah Alice-6] in Sumner County, Tennessee ,January 6, 1897, and they set up housekeeping near their extended families. FELIX taught school in the 1890s, “kept” a country store, and farmed a little tobacco.
FELIX had taken his teacher’s examination in June, 1895. He received a certificate that said:
It is hereby certified that Mr. F. H. Johnson known as a person of good moral character and having passed a satisfactory examination entitling him to this secondary certificate second grade is recommended and authorized to teach the branches specified below ….in any public school in Tennessee.
The subjects he was allowed to teach, with a score of 9 ½ [out of 10?] were orthography, reading, writing, mental arithmetic, written arithmetic, English grammar, geography, history of Tennessee, history of the United States. He had a score of 8 [out of 10?] for these subjects; geology of Tennessee, algebra, plane geometry, natural philosophy, bookkeeping physiology, civil government and rhetoric.
His contract with the State of Tennessee, Sumner County, “Contract with the Directors of School District number 8, dated August 3, 1895, between the School Directors of the eighth district of said County of Sumner and F. H. JOHNSON,” said that the directors had engaged him “as a teacher for school number 4, from the fifth of August, 1895, and to pay him $20 per month for his services.” He agreed to “give instruction in the studies required to be taught…to keep a register of school accurately, give a monthly report,” and said he couldn’t get paid for any month he didn’t turn in his report. It was signed by FELIX and by R. M. Reddick, F. G. Durham, and E. H. Parker, the directors of the district schools. [Copy in possession of the author, original in possession of the author’s mother.]
Children of Felix Hill Johnson and Sarah Alice Dorris Johnson
LEATHA VIRGIE JOHNSON, February 1, 1898, married WILLIAM ARBY GRAY, December 27, 1914, in Conway County, Arkansas.
Reba Calvin Johnson, born March, 1900, married Eula Sibert____xxx
David Kermit Johnson, born October 18, 1901, died without issue.
Lee Perkins Johnson, born June 18, 1906, died without issue.
In the early 1900s, when VIRGIE was a little girl in Tennessee, she played with her younger cousin, Annie Neal Troutt, who was one of her favorite cousins, and with her Aunt Minnie's daughter, Annie Laurie Martin, another of her favorite friends. Annie Neal recalled that they used to play along the creek by the Liberty school where they attended. The school was a large, two-story white wood structure with a bell tower. A small creek ran in front of the school between it and the road. The school wasn't too far from the Troutt store and home. VIRGIE is shown in a class picture of the school. The picture was apparently made about 1908 or 1909. VIRGIE looks straight ahead with a stony look for the photographer's benefit, but even that does not disguise her classic beauty.
The Troutt home was a large frame structure with lattice around the porch. The store stood across the road. Cousin Anna wore long skirts and rode sidesaddle. It would have been a scandal for a woman to ride astride the horse, so the women wore special riding skirts, or habits, and mounted the horse sidesaddle. Even little girls that were "ladies" were expected to ride this way. The Troutt house burned sometime in the early 1900s and the family moved for a time across the road into the store building. There is a picture of Cousin Anna Troutt sidesaddle on her horse and behind her is one of her stepdaughters also mounted sidesaddle on her pony. VIRGIE rode sidesaddle on horses a few times as a little girl, but she was not an expert horsewoman and was more or less afraid of horses. She may have done her riding at her Troutt cousin's house.
Since the roads passed through farms, up and down the creek banks, and back and forth across the creeks, primarily following the natural "path" created by the many little streams in the crotches of the valleys, travel meant that the gates between farms had to be opened and closed as you passed from farm to farm. Theda Womack recalled that as late as the 1920s a buggy trip meant that someone had to frequently get out and open gates. Her father was glad when the road rights of way were put into practice and the cattle fenced off the roads.
The JOHNSON family worshipped at the Liberty Presbyterian Church not far from the Escue Cemetery when VIRGIE was a child. The church was still standing in 1990, but didn't appear to be active. Possibly VIRGIE received some of her information about the family’s being "Scots Irish" from indoctrination at the church as a child, or by overhearing conversations of older members of the family. The ESCUES, JOHNSONS, and their relatives had lived within a mile of the Liberty church for about 90 years by the time VIRGIE was born.
Several members of the extended family were Methodists and worshipped at Mt. Vernon Church, where they were buried in the graveyard. Some were also members of the church of Christ. Aunt Lou [Holmes] Escue, Sandy's widow, was a member of the church of Christ. Aunt Lou read Bible stories to VIRGIE when she was a child. Aunt Lou also told her stories about the Civil War and her own childhood which VIRGIE passed down to the author.
VIRGIE was not only a pretty little girl, she was a beauty by anyone's standards. Her wealth of dark brown hair was worn parted in the middle and softly pulled back with a large bow at the back, in the fashion of the day. She was dressed in the soft feminine fashions of the day by her mother. Though they weren't "rich" by anyone's estimate, they were well off for their time. VIRGIE's eyes were the central feature to her full, oval face and her features were striking. She was also painfully shy as a child and young girl.
FELIX JOHNSON had a country store, farmed some tobacco, and taught school. Exactly what prompted him to move to Arkansas is unknown, but most likely it was tthe opportunity to sell insurance. VIRGIE was 12 or 13 years old when her family moved to Arkansas from Bethpage, in Sumner County, Tennessee, where she had been born February 1, 1898. FELIX was working for the Bankers Reserve insurance company when they moved. SARAH ALICE told her granddaughter, GLADYS, that they traveled from Tennessee to Arkansas on the train when they moved.They first moved to the small Conway County village of Plumerville, Arkansas, where VIRGIE went to school. She remembered [Judge] J. M. Malone, one of her schoolmates there, as "the cutest little boy in the world." He was 4 or 5 years younger than she. [Many years later the author worked for this man's son.]
Her papa was traveling some on business during this time and he bought her a bright red coat on one of his trips. It was the finest coat she had ever seen, and much better than anything anyone else in the school had. VIRGIE was embarrassed to wear it because it was so much better than what anyone else had!
While she was in school in Plumerville she participated in spelling bees that were common practice in school rooms of those days. A line would be formed and the children given words to spell. If you missed a word you were out and the next child in line stepped up.
Though she was very shy, VIRGIE spelled so well that she was taken up to the next highest grade, where she, again "turned them all down." Finally, she had worked her way through the entire school, out spelling every pupil in the school.
She had three younger brothers, Reba Calvin Johnson, born February 3, 1900; David Kermit Johnson, born October 18, 1901, and Lee Perkins Johnson, born June 18, 1905. Another daughter, Katie Belle Johnson was born March 31, 1904, but died July 17 of that same year. Her mother, though appearing frail or delicate in pictures when she was young, had a wiry strength few possess.
Apparently, FELIX JOHNSON was fairly successful as an insurance salesman and they were financially comfortable, because he had some premiums which came in for years afterwards from insurance renewals. This gave them a little cash income when most people had very little actual cash during the Great Depression and for some years afterwards. Sometimes he took a buggy into the outlying rural areas, sometimes he rode a bicycle on his sales rounds.
FELIX JOHNSON was a genial man and he made friends on his sales rounds. One of his friendships was responsible for VIRGIE and her future husband, WILLIAM ARBY GRAY, meeting. One of FELIX's friends invited the family to spend the weekend at their house in the community of Birdtown, Conway County, Arkansas, and the whole family went. One night while they were in Birdtown visiting, a party had been planned at a neighbor’s house for the teenagers in the area. ARB was a close friend of Edgar Gordon and went to the party with Edgar. VIRGIE went with the kids from the family with whom they were visiting and the met her future husband.
ALICE DORRIS JOHNSON was a homemaker, and if she ever had a "job" outside the home no one ever heard about it. When she was living on the farm, she kept ducks and geese and was a thrifty and industrious homemaker. Feathers from her flock of geese are still in use in family pillows.
ALICE and FELIX moved to the 1300 block of Bishop street in Little Rock, Arkansas. We are not sure of the date they first moved to Little Rock, but FELIX was doing very well selling insurance, and was there in 1920. He joined the Masonic Lodge and he was also a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge. In February, 1920, he was initiated into the Shriners. He is shown standing in a large group photo with several hundred other men in front of the old Temple in Little Rock. They moved back to Birdtown sometime in the early 1930s. We are not sure why they moved back out into the country, but it was about the time of the Great Depression and we can imagine that insurance sales were not really good during those years. He still had some residual income from renewals of policies previously sold, but they had probably decreased as well. After moving back to the country, FELIX farmed some.
While they were living in Birdtown in the 1930s, electricity came to the community. Their son, Lee, wired their house and they acquired the first radio in the community. On Saturday nights, their house was filled to overflowing with neighbors and friends who came to hear "The Grand Ole Opry," a country music show from Nashville, Tennessee, on the radio. On these nights, people would fill the house to overflowing, with people sitting on every chair in the house and on the floors.
A special treat for their granddaughter, GLADYS, on these occasions was that her Grandma ALICE always kept store bought "light" [white] bread and had an ice box. Knowing that GLADYS was forbidden to request the treat, her Grandma would always offer her some white bread and butter. This made a trip to Grandma's a special treat. The breads served at home by VIRGIE were biscuits and cornbread.
ALICE had a big camel back trunk in which she kept her treasures and sometimes she would let GLADYS go through this as children love to do. One of the things in the trunk was a pottery like powder box painted bright orange. She told GLADYS that when she was old enough to take care of it, she would give it to her, and she did. After more than 50 years, GLADYS still treasures that powder box. After ALICE died, the old trunk was sold for one dollar!
ALICE did lovely tatting, and other hand crafts that she had learned as a child from her stepmother, Laura. She taught them to VIRGIE, who taught them in turn to her daughter and granddaughter. She made elaborate piano scarves out of ecru linen with wide borders of tatted lace.
ALICE was 80 years old when she died of heart failure after being bedfast for only three days. Oh her deathbed, she called her husband to her side. In the hearing of her children, she had always referred to him as "Pa," but this time she said, "Oh, Felix, what is going to happen to you after I go?" Her last thoughts were of someone else.
When ALICE was ill, there was a bed set up for her in the "front bedroom” of their house. Shortly after her death, her daughter and friends washed the body to prepare it for the funeral home to pick up.
The wake was held at her house. After she had been to the “funeral home” for embalming, the casket and body were brought back to the home. The living room was full of people and the kitchen full of food. Her coffin, with the lid left open, sat overnight in the living room of the house. People from the community took turns "sitting up" with the body during the night. At the time she died, she had five grandchildren [four living] and only one great grandchild, the author.
Sitting up with the body the night before burial was an old custom that has since died out, along with the wake. The custom of sitting up with the corpse had evolved during the times when there were animals to attack the body if it was left alone. It was also a custom of respect for the deceased. On into the late 1950s, graves were still hand-dug by close friends and family. There was a saying about someone who was disliked, "He was so mean you would have to hire people to dig his grave." Now, graves are dug by machinery and people are hired to dig them.
Wakes, or "sitting up" with the corpse, is usually not done today and the funeral home supplies 'visitation" rooms where the family and/or the body can receive visitors for a few hours the night before the funeral.
SARAH ALICE DORRIS JOHNSON’s obituary is probably from the Arkansas Gazette, but the clipping is undated and without identification,
Deaths: Sarah A. Johnson, Mrs. Sarah Alice Johnson, aged 80, of the Birdtown community near Springfield, died Thursday July 10 at 12:05 a.m at her home following a few days illness.
She was born at Bethpage, Tenn., March 6, 1872, a daughter of the late James and Leatha Holmes Dorris. She had lived in Arkansas since 1912 and was a member of the Church of Christ. She was married to Felix Hill Johnson, January 6, 1897.
She is survived by her husband, three sons, Calvin R. and Lee Perkins Johnson, both of Springfield, and David Kermit Johnson of St. Louis, Mo. One daughter, Mrs. W. A. Gray of Springfield, one sister, Mrs. Kate Gilliam of Gallatin, Tenn, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Funeral services were held at the Birdtown Church of Christ at 2:00 p.m. and burial was in Kilgore Cemetery.
After ALICE died, FELIX, who was very hard of hearing, spent his time with the radio turned up full blast to a baseball game, while he played endless games of solitaire with cards on a Mission style table in his bedroom which was next to the living room of the house he continued to share with his son, Lee. He had Parkinson's disease and walked with the characteristic shuffle and had a trembling hand. When he was no longer able to hunt and fish, his friends would bring him wild game. Possum was a special favorite.
He wore suspenders and loose fitting khaki pants and house "slippers" with a pull on in the back. He dipped snuff and had a large mustache. He loved "Mounds" candy bars and bought them by the box, which he kept on his table.
When FELIX JOHNSON died, his obituary, which was in the local weekly county newspaper Morrilton Democrat. It was also in the state-wide Arkansas Gazette. The author has undated clippings.
Conway, February 28, Felix Hill Johnson, aged 84, a retired insurance agent of Springfield [Conway County] died Friday at his home. He was born in Tennessee and had lived at Springfield since 1913. He was a Presbyterian. Survivors include two sons, C. R. and Lee P. Johnson of Springfield, and a daughter, Mrs. W. A. Gray of Springfield, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Funeral will be at 2 p.m. at Kilgore Cemetery near Springfield by Rev. Henry Alford. Burial will be by McNutt Funeral services.
The other obituary, probably from the local newspaper, since it was much longer, noted that the Reverend H. Alford of Dardanelle was the speaker [at the funeral] and that the pallbearers were, Tom Chambers, J. L. Stover, Cecil Gray, Robert and Kenneth Johnson, and Glyn Polk. It also included in the list of survivors, Cecil Gray, of Louisiana, and Mrs. Jarrell Sams and daughter, Joyce, of Van Buren. It noted that the family had come home to visit and attend the funeral.
Lee embarrassed VIRGIE once [at least!] as younger brothers are wont to do. At some sort of school or community function where people brought food and ate a communal meal, he announced for all to hear that his sister, VIRGIE, “let every chicken she had roost in her house.” When he was "shushed," he tried to "fix" the story without losing face by adding "Well, she only has ONE chicken."
Lee was reportedly a rather "wild" boy as a young man. Family stories say that he got into one scrape after another as a boy and young man. He was a very handsome young man, though he and both his brothers, like grandpa FELIX, lost their handsome heads of hair to "male pattern baldness" when very young.
Lee spoke some Spanish and traveled to Chile in South America as a young adult to work and "make his fortune." During this time there he was arrested and questioned by police, while being hung over a door by a rope secured to both of his thumbs.
Lee was injured in the Army and by subsequent medical attempts to help him. He also had Parkinson's disease, which altogether made him effectively a quadriplegic.
He had been about 38 years old during World War II, when he was drafted into service. He was drafted specifically because of his prior military service and training in electronics from the years after World War I, and was assigned to a ship as a radio operator. The ship next to him was shelled. He suffered neurological problems and when asked about it later, said, "I think I just got the scared out of me!"
We are not sure how many of his medical problems were caused by that, how much by the Parkinson's disease he later suffered, and how much was caused by the inept medical "treatment" he received, such as cutting the nerves in the back of his neck in an attempt to stop some of his palsy.
In the 1950s, he could still walk a little with help, but was totally disabled. He was very bright and a happy person who made the most of his life in spite of his grave disabilities. He was a part of the community and the family. His speech was a whisper and it required a great deal of effort to hear him. A person had to place your ear right next to his mouth in order to hear him..
He married one of his caretakers, a woman named Mabel. She had assumed that he would hire someone else to care for him after they were married. He assumed she married him because she loved him, not because she was looking for a meal ticket. The marriage didn't last long.
Lee lived with ALICE and FELIX in their old age and ALICE took care of him, cooked for them, and hoisted Uncle Lee around, almost like a baby. Her frail appearance belied a wiry strength of both body and mind.
After Grandma ALICE died when she was 80, VIRGIE and ARB moved up the road to take care of Grandpa FELIX and Uncle Lee, who by that time lived in the house at the junction of Arkansas State Highway 9 and Arkansas State Highway 92, across the road from the Bird Brother's store. ARBY commuted the half-mile to his own farm to work. They stayed there at least a year, so ARBY moved the milk cow and her calf up to the small pasture next to Grandpa FELIX's house and later, in the summer, when I came to visit, they moved my horse. I was probably about seven or eight years old.
Uncle Lee would send me across the street to the country store to buy a few pennies worth of candy. I would bring it back and then place a wooden crate near his bed in the living room for a "counter top" and he and I would play "store." He would teach me to count, and I would, of course, get to eat the candy.
Eventually, Georgia Boone, a practical nurse, came to live with Lee and to take care of him. Georgia was a wonderful caretaker of Uncle Lee and grew to have a great affection for him. After several years, they were married and built a new house next door to the old one. They moved into the new house several years before he died and she lived there until the mid 1990’s. He died on July 8, 1967, at the age of 62. Georgia was a distant cousin of ARB's and had three children by her first husband before she was widowed.
VIRGIE's brother, Reba Calvin, called Cal or Reba, married Eula Sibert, and they lived in St. Louis for a while and then moved to Birdtown. He was a rather independent man and had developed "city" ways during his time in St. Louis. His children had "wicked" things like Old Maid cards. The neighborhood kids in Birdtown had never seen such "wicked" things and they spent a great deal of time at his house playing Old Maid and Rook card games with his sons, Robert and Kenneth. Some of the fathers of the children complained to Cal about his corrupting their children with wicked card games. Uncle Cal told them that he didn't think such things were all that bad, and besides, HE knew where HIS kids were, did they know where theirs were?
Uncle Cal and Aunt Eula had one other son, Edward, who drowned in a small stream of water when he was only a toddler. Many years later, when we were unpacking the attic at my grandparents' house we found a box of the little child's clothes and shoes. Many of the clothes had been lovingly handmade by his mother, an excellent seamstress, out of flour-sacking material. Though it was made out of the cheapest available material, the quality of workmanship was as fine as if it had been the most expensive material in the world. The family stories about the child’s death related that he followed his grandfather Sibert off into a field, unbeknown to the grandfather, and was drowned in the shallow stream into which he fell because he had on very stiff new high-topped shoes.
Aunt Eula was a tall and sturdy woman, with white hair from the time I could remember. She and Uncle Cal lived about a mile down the road from VIRGIE and ARB in a neat white house on a small farm. She was a talented seamstress and did "public" sewing for the community. She and Uncle Cal farmed and raised Angus cattle. They also milked and sold "C Grade" [Cheese grade] milk to the local dairy. They were hard working, kind, and industrious people. Uncle Cal died several years before Aunt Eula, who had taken wonderful care of him as he declined over a lengthy period of time. She was a devoted wife.
Aunt Eula lived until 1997, and died after a short illness. She was very independent up until a few months before her death and lived alone. Not long before she died, she moved into the home of her son, Kenneth, and his wife, Maria.
VIRGIE related that her brother, Kermit, worked as a hired hand on the farm for ARBY and VIRGIE at least one year, and later worked for the Missouri Pacific railroad in their St. Louis office as a bookkeeper. He never married and we saw him seldom. It was always an occasion to us when he came to visit. He was a very quiet and studious man.
He was in the hospital for a routine physical exam prior to going out of the country on vacation. While he was in the hospital, he had a heart attack and died on February 27, 1959.
One of the things he left was a book of Davy Crocket's Journals in an early edition. Cal's son now has it. Two other books that he left were both biographies -- one is Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt and the other is a first edition of A Civil War Belle, Mrs. Clay of Alabama.
VIRGIE, FELIX, and Uncles Lee and Cal gave Kermit the best funeral they could, with lots of flowers and a bronze casket. It was held at the Kilgore cemetery.. Though Kermit had been gone from the community for many years, many people attended the funeral. He left a small estate and they decided, before they knew to whom he had left it in his will, that it would be evenly divided between them. The author, as a small child, attended this funeral.
VIRGIE and ARB used her portion to install an inside bathroom in their house. Cecil came up on the weekends and walled off part of the middle bedroom and formed a closet, a hallway, and the small bathroom.
LEATHA VIRGIE JOHNSON, the oldest child and only daughter, of FELIX HILL JOHNSON and SARAH ALICE DORRIS JOHNSON, married WILLIAM ARBY GRAY in Conway County, Arkansas, December 27, 1914. She had met ARB at a neighborhood party. They had a baby daughter stillborn in 1917. Their two surviving children were a son, Cecil Aubrey Gray, born April 23, 1922, in Carrizo Springs, Texas, and a daughter, GLADYS LAVERNE GRAY, born near Springfield, Arkansas, April 18, 1929.
In the early 1920s, VIRGIE and ARB lived for a short time in Texas, and in Arizona for a few months, but except for those times, resided in his native area of Conway County, Arkansas. VIRGIE and ARB farmed in the community where he was raised until their deaths. They were both known throughout the community as progressive minded and diligent workers and good managers. They raised cattle, cotton, and always had a big home garden. They owned 240 acres of well-improved farm lands in two parcels, about three miles apart. They were both quick to embrace innovations in agriculture and in improved living. He was one of the first in the area to install electricity in his home, and “terraced” his land to conserve the soil. VIRGIE gladly accepted improvements in home economy, and was a member of her local “home demonstration club” where she learned the most modern and up-to-date methods of home economics.
VIRGIE and ARB both became Christians of strong faith, and were members of the Church of Christ. ARB sang a lovely low bass and loved to sing hymns. He may have inherited his lovely voice from his grandfather, John Gray, Jr., who oral history had recorded as singing. Both of ARB’s brothers also had lovely voices and loved to sing.
ARBY was an amazing man, maintaining his physical and mental strengths well into old age. At 80 years of age, he was still actively working his farm. In clearing lands that his grandfather had settled on in the 1860’s, he fell on his chain saw and cut off his left arm. Not wanting someone to steal his saw while he was gone to the hospital, he turned it off, picked it up, and put it into his stick-shift vehicle, along with his arm, and drove a couple of miles to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor then drove him another 12 miles to the nearest hospital, where the doctor sent him to Little Rock, Arkansas. His physician re-attached the arm, in one of the first, if not the first, limb re-transplantation in the State of Arkansas. He recovered about 80% of the use of the arm. He continued to garden about an acre over the next several years, and when he died in 1975, at age 83, had a bumper crop in full bloom. ARB died August 15, 1975, in an automobile accident.
After ARB’s death, VIRGIE, who never learned to drive a car, moved to Lonoke, Arkansas, to be near her daughter, GLADYS. She lived independently for another couple of years until her health, but not her bright mind, failed. For the last year of her life, she lived with GLADYS. VIRGIE died one-day-short of three-years after ARB. They are both buried in Kilgore Cemetery in Conway County, Arkansas, near her parents and brothers.