Hopkins County Folk Lore
A Day in Madisonville
By Contributing Editor, Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Isn't it wonderful to jump in your modern day vehicle and drive a hundred miles in a little over an hour? Let that automobile warm up for just a few minutes, and we can travel in comfort and warmth even on the coldest of days. No freezing winds, rain, or snow can stop us and off we go with a turn of the key.
Unfortunately, this was not the case for our early ancestors who had to brave the fiercest weather when duty called. Although backbreaking efforts were made to ensure winter stores were on hand, sometimes just plain old living necessitated braving the elements without the benefit of dry cars with heaters.
The usual mode of travel for hauling supplies and food was the farm wagon. It usually featured a long wooden bed, although the length could vary, shallow side boards, a wooden seat from which to guide the horses, and sometimes an enclosed box behind the driver's seat for storage of gear. The wagon was made entirely by hand in those days, from the sawing and planing of the wood, the use of square nuts and bolts and the wooden wheels and spikes; even the metal was hand forged. It was a lengthy operation to say the least. This conveyance had to be made of cured, strong, slabs of wood in order to hold up under the weight of harvested grains and foodstuffs from the field. The wagon had to be strong enough, matter of fact, to be loaded down with logs for the building of homes and barns; not to mention the hauling of such heavy tools as that of the blacksmith's forge.
It was a most crude and uncomfortable way to travel, that's for sure, but in those days of the seventeen, eighteen, and early nineteen hundreds, the wagon was indispensable to farmers and planters alike. Even well off city folk couldn't do without it and a wagon was to be found in nearly every home, country, and city alike.
In nineteen thirty four, my parents Glenna Carner and Jewell Buntin were newly weds living in the deep country woods of the Kirkwood Springs area in rural Hopkins County, Kentucky. After their elopement at the young ages of nearly fifteen for my mother, and nineteen for my father, my dad found work on the Logan family farm in the areas of Dalton and Kirkwood Springs.
My father worked on the Logan farm for fifty cents a day and considered himself lucky to have a job while the entire United States was still reeling from the depression of nineteen twenty nine. He and my mother also raised hogs on their little rented acreage with a two-room house. The house set deep into the woods with "not a neighbor in sight or hollerin' distance" says my mother. There was no electricity; the house was lit with coal-oil lamps, had no running water, or bathrooms for their comfort. Winters were very hard and cold with not much work to be done on the farm; money and goods were scarce. My mother broke the ice on the creek behind the house and hauled buckets of water with freezing hands to the house for drinking, cooking, and bathing. She washed their clothes by hand too, sometimes hanging them in the house to dry because of rain or snow. Sometimes the garments froze hanging right there in the kitchen during long, cold nights when the only fire in the house was banked down for the night. My dad roamed far and wide through the woods, bringing home dead limbs and sawed up logs for firewood. At times, the young couple so craved the company of others they would set out walking hand in hand, sometimes covering four or five miles, one way. Then in the late afternoon, the long trek home began again.
In the fall of the year, my parents killed the adult hogs and began the long procedure of smoking and curing the pork hams. In the winter, when conditions were the worst as far as money goes, they removed the large hams from the salt boxes were they had been curing. It was time to take the trip to Madisonville to sell the hams at the grocery stores there. The hams were wrapped in cloth or sacking and covered with quilts, then loaded into the back of the wagon for the long trek into town. My mom and dad undertook only two or three trips to Madisonville a year by wagon. Spring and summer trips could be quite enjoyable if time away from the crops could be found.
The wagon was an upgraded model, having been borrowed from the Logan family. It was considered "a notch up" from the ordinary farm wagons, says my mom. Although nothing fancy, the wagon did have a spring seat which helped quite a bit when the trip took up to three hours just to get there. The roads were ungraveled in those days and traveling on frozen, rutted roads posed very bumpy riding conditions, thus the unpadded spring seat was considered a great help. The horses too had to be monitored closely both going and coming from town. The sharp, icy, ground, frozen in jagged ruts, often caused injury to the feet and hooves of the beasts of burden. A lame horse could strand you in the icy elements for long periods of time, posing a very dangerous situation for both humans and horses.
Patrons of wagon travel during the winter months expected a long, torturous trip. Several layers of clothing were worn, along with as many pairs of socks that your shoes could fit over. Even old newspapers were known to be stuffed, then flattened, inside the shoe in hopes of keeping rain and snow from reaching the feet. Once the horses were hitched, the passengers in their heaviest coats and seated in the wagon, several quilts and blankets were wrapped around them. Scarves and hats were never left behind and gloves were necessary to keep the hands from freezing to the reigns.
The trip was underway. The road that leads from Dalton to Madisonville still virtually continues along the same route as it did in the 1930s. From Kirkwood Springs, they traveled past the little crossroads community of Beulah. At Beulah, one could turn right and head towards the community of Charleston and the town of Dawson Springs. If you turned left, in a couple of miles you would pass through a smattering of homes and a couple of country stores. This area is still called Rabbit Ridge today. Situated just outside Beulah, the road passes through there leading straight to Providence, Kentucky, which is located just over the line into the edge of Webster County.
Traveling straight through the crossroads brought you to Madisonville and that's the route they took. First however, several miles up the road, one finds yet another gathering of homes known as Richland. Just past where the now drained Colonial Lake sparkled in the sun, the previous road cut off to the right. Colonial Lake wasn't located there in the 1930's either. I'm using it here as a landmark so you folks will know approximately, where the old road left the present highway. The lake was created several decades later by Colonial Mines, which were strip-mining the land for coal. Quite a few years ago, it was drained, destroying what had become a local recreation area for swimming and fishing.
The present day highway continues in a slightly curvy fashion through Richland. The old road traveled for several miles in an almost semi-circle, coming out in the center of the Richland Community. The road is mostly the same now as it was then and Madisonville was the next stop.
By the time Madisonville came into view, the passengers of the wagon were thoroughly chilled and "cold down to the bone". I asked Mother if they ever stopped to rest the horses or eat on their way there. She answered me in a quizzical tone, saying, as if I should have already understood how it was, "if you were as cold and miserable as we were, you just hunkered down under the quilt and drove them on". My mom did say that at times flat irons were put into the fireplace before leaving home, them wrapped in blankets for placing your feet on during the trip. Others used hot embers in a bucket, sitting it on the floor between the passenger's feet; a quilt was thrown over it and the passengers, garnering the heat for as long as they could.
Upon arriving in Madisonville, the first stop was at a local grocery store known to purchase hams. Soon the proprietor came out to view the hams and make his selection. My parents were only too glad to reach that first store and the warmth of the fire inside. Mother doesn't recall the names of the facilities now, nearly seventy years later, but does remember there was usually someone standing around the stove that my dad knew. In just a few minutes, the dialogue began with humorous bantering and teasing.
Sometimes they were so stiff from the cold; their extremities would barely function as they climbed down from the high wagon seat. The locals used these stores as gathering places in the dead of winter when work and time was slow going. People stood around the stove, milling, and conversing with each other, before going on to the next chore at hand.
Sometimes the hams were bartered for dry goods and sometimes sold for money, depending on which deal offered the best overall gain. The meat could be exchanged for flour, sugar, cornmeal, salt, cloth material if offered and so on. Sometimes there were hams left over, so off to the next grocery was the next step in the process.
After the hams were sold, the rest of the time spent in town was spent milling around in the stores circling the courthouse. Mom recollects that there were two "ten cents stores" located around the square. Amazingly, items could be bought at the Five and Dime that just didn't seem to fit there.
My father's brother, Justin Buntin, was out of work given the grueling financial times most people were experiencing in those years. He had applied at the "commodities office" for part time work. Mother does not remember the official name of the organization that helped unemployed men in those days, but she does know that work for two or three days a week could sometimes be acquired through this agency.
Once, after having gained an extra day of work one week, Uncle Justin bought his wife two "already made" dresses from the dime store. Mom chuckled at my mildly surprised inquiry, "bought them at the dime store"? "Yes, and he only paid forty-nine cents apiece for them too". Mom really laughed this time when I almost shouted; "You've got to be kidding! Forty nine cents"! Nope, she wasn't kidding at all.
My grandfather, William M. Buntin, lived on Brown Road in Madisonville so a visit with him was made most every trip to town. If he wasn't home, he could nearly always be found at the old Jockey Grounds in warmer weather. He was a great trader and was known all over the county as a "tradin' man". I didn't know him that well before he passed away, but the trading habit has carried on down through some of his great grandsons to this day.
The Jockey Grounds was located in close proximity to town and trading days were held on Thursdays of every week. The trading grounds was the large field behind what is now the new post office, running from Center Street to Arch Street. Farmers with fresh vegetables on display in wagon beds could be found crowded together in the field. Some people owned cars back then, and traded knives, guns, shells, (ammunition was always called shells back then and the term is still widely used), and smaller items from the truck of their cars. Others presented their wares on tables loaded down with hand tools, radios, with large farm equipment standing near by. Every thing was for trade or sale, including the horses and cows tethered to hitching posts in the fields.
Mom enjoyed the summer outings at the Jockey Grounds but the early spring temperatures could drop to very cold in no time at all. Mother did not, she emphasizes, enjoy the freezing winds that whipped around them as they walked from one end of the grounds to the other. Mom was a shy, bashful girl, never speaking of how cold she was on those marches around the field. Following along behind those very talkative, outgoing Buntin males could be a misery in motion on cold, windy days.
After that first year of marriage, my parents moved closer to Beulah. Soon my father found work in a coalmines, making good wages. When my sister came along in 1936, a car was purchased. Not long after that, a piece of ground was bought in the Charleston community where my dad built a house for them. They were finally out of the depths of that awful poverty that hovered over them in 1934.
Many times, I have listened to the tales from those hard days told by my mother and others that had lived through it. I have developed an unending admiration for those people who showed such grit and courage in facing those staggering hardships with nothing but a dogged determination and faith in God. They made life a lot easier for us, their children, in every way.
People, we come from good stock! Be proud!
Copyright © 2001 by Carolyn Buntin Eveland
The photo shown above while talking of the "Jockey Grounds" is what the area looks like today. It has been an empty lot for years but last year the new Post Office was built on part of the lot.
My husband, Howard, enjoys telling the story about his grandfather, Will Moore. Everyone called him 'Captain'. Captain lived with his married daughter, Bernice Trice, and her family on the Trice farm in Webster County on Hwy 120. Every Saturday he would ride his mule into Madisonville to the Jockey Grounds. Before leaving home he would feed the mule a box of baking soda and run him hard to Manitou. By the time they got to Manitou the mule would be so thirsty it would drink lots of water, which would make him swell up real big. Captain would then walk or ride him slow into town to the Jockey Grounds. Captain would trade the mule first thing upon arriving in town, before the mule let go of all the gas created by the soda. He would spend the day trading this and that, always getting 'boot', and selling his bootleg whisky, and always rode the same mule, much smaller than when he first arrived, home that night. <g> Captain is on the right. Others are Trice family members. nt
Nancy Trice, © 2001