Hopkins County Folk Lore
The Making of a ManBy Contributing Editor, Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Recently I was fortunate enough to enjoy a visit with my cousin, Junior Howton, and his wife, Laura Atkins Howton. Laura is known in our family as "the sweetest thing" and she truly is. Junior consented to tell me a little bit about himself during our visit and I would like to thank him now for indulging me, his nosy cousin, with this interview.
I met with Junior at the Hopkins County home of my Mother, Glenna Buntin Dunbar when my sister Shirley Buntin Coventry, visited from Marysville, OH. As usual, Junior and Laura came loaded down with fresh vegetables from their garden for my mother. For years now, Junior has provided her with the fruits of his labor all through the summer, delivering them about twice a week. There are so many fresh, plump Tomatoes, Green Beans, Okra, Squash, Cucumbers and more, that my children and families, my aunt and cousin and I have feasted on Junior's produce as well.
My cousin was born William Floyd Howton, Jr. on September 13, 1928 in the community of Purdy Town. That little community, known locally as "the country" was just a gathering of scattered homes located several miles "outside" of the Charleston Community north of Dawson Springs. His parents were Floyd William Howton and Delphia Carner Howton, my mother's sister. Junior grew up within a large family of four boys and two girls, all of whom still live in Hopkins County. He and Laura have resided for many years in the Rabbit Ridge area of the county.
I remember well visiting the Howtons as a child. There were all these tall, handsome dark-haired cousins, Junior, James, Joy and Russell, who were shy to a fault, and their pretty sisters, Anna Jane and Imogene. Junior, at seventy years old, is still handsome, with salt and pepper black hair, walks as a young man, with a back that is ramrod straight.
Junior led a typical child's life and started school at age "6 years and 11 months". He attended school both at Kirkwood Springs and Howton School in Purdy Town.
In 1934, Junior's father bought the Kirkwood Springs General store from Mr. Bill Winstead. The store carried just about everything a body might need for hearth and home. Food for humans and livestock, farming tools, animal gear, seeds and much more.
In 1941 at the age of 13, Junior's boyhood days ended with the disablement of his father. Junior went to work in a sawmill at that young tender age, helping to provide for his family. The sawmill was owned by Mr. Bonnie (that's right folks, Bonnie was a man) Wright and was located directly behind McNeely's Cemetery. Our mutual grandfather, Will Carner also worked at Wright's Mill at that time. Junior and Grandpa worked a cross-cut saw together sawing logs into different lengths which had been cut from the forest nearby and were eventually pulled by mules back to the mill.
There the logs were then cut into lumber with most of the product having been purchased by Blood Lumber Company in Evansville, IN.
Junior's work there lasted for two years. He traveled six miles to work and six miles home on the back of his horse, Dan. At thirteen years old, Junior worked nine hours a day for three dollars a day. That is almost inconceivable to the teenage boys and girls of today's generation. I dare say three dollars an hour is unacceptable, much less three dollars a day. Never the less, Junior stepped up to the plate and did what he could to help the family.
At the ripe old age of fifteen years old, Junior began working in a Hopkins County coalmine. He worked in the mines during the winter months and farmed in the summertime growing fields of vegetables and tobacco, turning the soil with a mule and plow. Junior tells of the long hours of working on the farms where he was employed. "From daylight to dark, for fifty cents a day". He arose before dawn, walking to the owner's barn where he milked the cows before the day broke. After that, he made his way by foot to the fields, working all day there. At dark he trudged back to the barn and milked again before he could begin the long walk home.
The first mines he worked at was Deep Water Coal CO located on Highway 70, just outside the crossroads community of Beulah between Dawson Springs and Providence, KY. One of the grown men he worked with was to be my future stepfather Clint Dunbar after the death of my father in 1943. Junior "drove a mule" down in the mine. Veins of coal would be dynamited from the tunnel walls, then "hand shoveled" onto a waiting empty coal car. The mule was hitched onto the car and Junior drove the mule to the near surface where the coal was emptied into the "pardon" which was still underground and below the tipple. Soon an empty coal car was sent and the descent to the bottom of the mine began again. Fellow mule drivers in those days were Hershel Dockery and Coy Menser. It takes some work to imagine this youthful 15 year old boy, face and hands blackened by the ever present coal dust, wearing a carbide lamp on his head while working side by side with adult family men. In Junior's case, this is what it took and he did it without complaint or question.
I asked my cousin what he did for fun when he was growing up. When the work was done for the day, Junior participated in typical country activities, which included hunting and fishing. He did a lot of rabbit and bird hunting in the dense woods of those days using a Fox Double Barrel Hammer Shotgun. Nothing was so good as frying that rabbit up and serving it with fresh biscuits and hot gravy. It was a meal fit for a king.
Junior and his father did a tolerable amount of Mink hunting as well. They lived near the Tradewater River then and that is where a man could find himself nice, fat Mink with sleek, shiny fur. A good Mink pelt would sell for a good price bringing about forty dollars apiece. Minks lived mainly in holes on or near the riverbank, feeding on fish. Traps were set around the area using sardines as bait. As bullet holes damaged the pelt, it was preferred to catch the minks with the traps, drowning them in the river, leaving their skins unmarked with holes. The Howtons sold their pelts to the Julian Schwab General Store in Dawson Springs or shipped them to F.C. Fur Company in St. Louis, MO.
These animals were also hunted with dogs. Junior had a black and tan hound named Blackie, who was especially trained for "cornerin' a mink".
Once in the wintertime, father and son decided to hunt Mink although the weather was harsh and forbidding with the river frozen over. Blackie, chasing a mink, ran about a hundred yards out onto the river ice, finally falling through into the freezing water beneath it. The dog could not get out as each new scramble for solid ground just broke more ice, leaving the dog floundering for footing. Floyd, Sr., broke through the ice and retrieved his dog with no qualms about it. A trained dog was not only a friend in those days but a hunting companion to boot. If the dog did his job well, he was valuable to his owners in more ways than one. A good dog was worth saving.
Junior says he didn't attend too many dances when he was young. However, he sometimes made his way to the "Spring Shed" in Kirkwood Springs for get-togethers or parties. There was usually "music makin" going on at the Shed with fellows by the names of R.C. Dockery, Oscar Wilson and Harold Kirkwood often in attendance with Junior. I said to Junior, "Any moonshine?" He said "I 'magine."
Our uncle and both our mothers' brother, O. C. Carner, owned a body shop and garage in Dawson Springs. At about the age of 17 years, in 1945, Junior went to work as a mechanic for O.C. Also working there was another one of our uncles, Truman Carner. It appears that Junior had good tutelage from his uncles, as he was to remain in the mechanic field for a long time. Junior slept in the garage by night and worked on cars during the day.
In 1950, Junior married his sweetheart, Laura Atkins. The couple set up housekeeping in Hopkins County and have remained there ever since.
In 1953, Junior was involved in a car accident near his own home when an oncoming car turned in front of him. His car "stood on end" as he hit the other car. Junior was in "bad shape" for a long time after that. His "leg was broke, chest caved in and eye popped out on his cheek". A three-month stay in the hospital followed with a long recuperation period at home. Junior was a lucky man to be alive. He was driving slowly this time and probably would not be here to tell of it, had he been speeding.
Over the years, Junior worked at several jobs including Madisonville Drilling Company. In this job, he was required to travel to other states where he drilled "the core" testing for Limestone coal. Other employments took him to work in the nearby towns of Madisonville, Princeton, and Providence where he worked mainly as a car mechanic. In 1980 Junior found a job at Huley Hudson's garage in Providence and stayed there until 1995 when he retired. After that, he worked two more years, part time. As Junior says "And then I gave it up!"
Junior used to "love to drive". Long drives were frequently taken to GA or the FL State line where he would sleep four or five hours, then drive the long trek home. He relates with a big smile, that Laura slept most of the time but she always came along.
Once he was driving a '48 Buick at the speed of 110 miles per hour near LaGoody, IN. He "had it wide open" when he passed a state trooper just "sitting there". Junior didn't slow down or stop; it was too late for that. The trooper didn't pursue him for some reason, probably guessing correctly that he didn't want that fast of a chase of his hands.
Junior doesn't drive fast anymore rather taking time now for gardening and fishing. He fishes mostly in Eddy Creek Bay and Barkley Lake near KY Dam. He enjoys the old-fashioned tractor pulls held yearly in Adams, TN just over the KY line. He says viewing the old farm equipment brings back many memories for him. He still maintains his garden and sells produce at the local flea market in Dawson Springs. Junior may be retired but he is never idle.
Today Junior is the oldest surviving member of his family and the patriarch in many ways. Always there to help anyone in time of need, he is a man to be proud of. Not only has Junior had a lifetime of hard work, but through all the hardships and adversities, has managed to enjoy his life and family.
Junior Howton is a good man, an honest man, and one that I am proud to be related to. "They just don't make them like him anymore" says my Mother and I, along with many others, couldn't agree more.
Copyright © 2000 by Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Nancy Trice, © 2000