William Fenton Tyree

(1872 - 1939)

I do not anticipate that either my children or others will be much interested, at this time, in the reading of these articles, but I rest assured that, when the years have gone and I sleep with my fathers, some of my blood that comes after me, will desire to know something of their forebears; then they will read it.
-- Wm. F. Tyree, 1936


William Fenton Tyree was born in Wapella, Illinois, on October 8, 1872. He moved with his family to Beaumont, Texas in 1876 and on to West Virginia in the Fall of 1881. His young years are best described in his own writing. In addition, his writing gives some insight into his character. -- Elinor F. Tyree


(written by himself circa 1936, when he was 64 years old; excerpted from a larger essay)

My earliest recollection goes no farther back than the time when we were preparing to leave Illinois to take up our residence in Texas. My first definite memory of my father is associated with the sale at public auction at Wapella of his riding horse, Job. This horse was a fine upstanding bay; and I distinctly remember my father as he stood by during the bidding, while I noted the evidences of emotion portrayed on his countenance. He was a lover of good horses; and, up until the time of his death, he always kept one or more of the best type of saddle horses. His horse, at the time of his death, was a shot coupled, dark dun color with a darker stripe down his back and around his front legs and was of the Morgan breed.

I may say in this connection, that the customary mode of travel by doctors was by horse-back. Saddle bags were a necessary part of the equipment. These bags were constructed of heavy leather and provided compartments for many small bottles of medicines, powders, small instrument, etc. The doctor was his own druggist and compounded his own prescriptions, rolled his own pills and relied upon his own resources and adapted himself to every circumstance and condition. The practice of bleeding and cupping patients was just passing out of use at the time my father began to practice. Vaccination for the prevention of smallpox was usually accomplished by taking a part of a scab from one vaccinated person and applying it to the lacerated skin of the other person to be vaccinated. -- But we moved to Beaumont.

Our home life in Beaumont was very happy. My father seemed to do very well in his profession. The home was a cottage, built well up from the ground and supported by cypress posts, as was the practice then in that southern climate. I recall a cypress cistern enclosed with the house. This cistern served two major purposes: to catch water from the roof and as a breeding place for wiggletails and, incidentally, to furnish drinking water. Mosquitoes in unnumbered millions were our constant attendants throughout the greater part of the year. Many fruits grew in the yard; and a very large garden afforded an abundant supply of vegetables. Oyster schooners from Sabine Pass, during the oyster season, were tied up on the River bank just below our home, which gave us our first experience with oysters in the shell. Magnolias and semi-tropical plants and flowers grew in profusion, and altogether my memory of Beaumont is pleasant.

My father was a Presbyterian. He was an Elder in the Church. My mother, however, was the daughter of a Campbellite or Christian Preacher and was raised in that faith. There was no Christian Church in Beaumont at that time; and my mother and father associated themselves with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. My mother continued in that connection until her death.

My first recollection of family prayers attaches itself to Beaumont. When my father was at home, he conducted the worship, which consisted of the reading of a chapter of scripture and a prayer with all kneeling. In my fathers absence, my mother conducted the service in the same manner. During this period, I do not recall that our father was ever harsh with us, or at any time for that matter. Some way we always knew that his word was law. His authority and edicts were perfectly supported by our mother. He gave few commands and issued few decrees; but, when he did, there was no right of appeal therefrom.

After five years of life in Beaumont came the move back to my fathers native mountains of West Virginia. In those days, when people moved, they move lock, stock and barrel, bag and baggage. No selling out to the used furniture dealer or the second hand man and a repurchase in the new place of residence. I still recall the labor and excitement of packing; and I remember that we took with us a quantity of figs preserved in glass cans; these figs proved to be of great interest to our kin in West Virginia, as none of them had seen or tasted figs before that time. I cannot recall just what roads we traveled on the journey to our new home, but I do remember that we went through New Orleans and to Cincinnati by rail and from Cincinnati to Huntington, West Virginia by steamer and on from Huntington to Hawks Nest over the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, which had not been completed very long.

The time must have been the month of November, 1881. We arrived at Hawks Nest after dark and were met at the station by Uncle Joe and Uncle Charley, with a big four-seated hack drawn by two tremendous horses and were thus conveyed up the mountain over a road full of rocks and ruts. I am sure we children were terrorized, for it was our first experience with mountains; which, taken together with the darkness and the jolting and lurching of the vehicle, was quite enough to disturb anyone not accustomed to such experiences. My grandfather was still living, residing in the old home. Uncle Charlie and his wife, Aunt Mamie, lived with him and cared for him. We finally arrived at the old stove style in the front yard by the fence and alighted into the arms of our grandfather, uncles, Aunt Molly, cousins and kinfolk, together with numerous friends of my fathers out of the years long gone.

Oh, what a home-coming! God give us home-comings! When the day is done, when the journey is ended, when life is over! God give us home-comings! Home! This is my hearthstone; this is my haven; this is my home. Smiles and tears, joys and sorrows; memories of loved ones and friends who have gone on; but back of it all and underneath it all a great surging tide of tenderness and love sweeping over the hearts and revealed in the eyes and the smiles and the hand-clasps and the embraces of the re-united comrades of other years. So it was on that memorable night.

Every old friend and acquaintance was duly inquired about. Have you heard from Uncle Sam lately? How are Mollie Boling and all the other members of that family? Does John Woodson still live across the River? How are the Warners and the Willses and the Dickersons and so on until the changes wrought by years had been recounted, punctuated with expressions of joy or sorrow.

Woodson had returned, bringing with him his Yankee wife and half- breed children; but Woodson was home again. Those dear ones could not have then known that my Yankee mother, through the magnificence of her woman-hood, the tenderness of her heart, her responsiveness to every heart-wail of humanity, her faith in God, the gentleness and constancy of her love and devotion, would steal away their hearts and become entwined in their affections until they would forget that she was from the north and would accept her whole heartedly and without reserve.

That night it snowed. We children had seen snow in Illinois but were too young to remember it. The mountains back of the house were great, marvelous billows of white and all the landscape bedecked in this, to us, unaccustomed robe of spotlessness, stirred our young hearts with wondering awe. In fact, such a scene still stirs my heart with an indescribable emotion.

Our household goods, shipped by freight from Beaumont, were slow in arriving. In the meantime, we visited around among the kinfolk. Finally the shipment came and the task of setting up housekeeping on the farm confronted us. Horses, cows, hogs, chickens, turkeys, sheep, farm implements and other adjuncts to life on the farm had to be selected and purchased. A hired man had to be secured, as we children were too young and inexperienced to be of any value under the new conditions of life; and our father was away from the house every day and every other night. But the day came at last. The hack was again called into service and down the same mountain we went that we had ascended on our arrival. We crossed the River on a hand-propelled, flat bottomed ferry-boat and then went up the mountain on the other side of the River to the farm which was located a couple of miles away from Hawks Nest and the railroad and in a cove or hollow of the mountains. The farm was comprised of 300 acres of land, about half of which had been cleared. The dwelling house was of frame construction, weather boarded without and plastered within. It was the first plastered farm home built in that section of the country. The main building consisted of four rooms, two upstairs and two down; a central hall and stairway. The kitchen was a log building located about twenty feet from the dwelling. The entrance to the kitchen was at the end of the building most distant from the dwelling, so that it was necessary to pass entirely by the side of the kitchen when entering it from the dwelling. The kitchen had been built long before the dwelling and was used at an earlier period to house an entire family. The barn was of what is known as double log bin construction with a threshing floor between the two bins and was shedded entirely around. It was located one hundred and fifty yards from the dwelling. Coal was used for fuel in the grates in the dwelling, but wood formed the fuel for the kitchen stove and fireplace.

In this mountain home were to be spent the really formative years of the children. The home of Doctor Dickerson was also in the country, and, under the partnership agreement, each of the partners was to spend alternate nights in Hawks Nest where their offices were located, this rendering it obvious that my father would not be at home oftener than every other night. It fell to my lot, through the years, to take a horse down the mountain every other evening for my father to ride home and the next morning to accompany him as he went back to his office and bring the horse home. One horse was used for this purpose. When he rode, I walked; so that each day I could depend upon a constitution of at least two mile of walking, half of which would be climbing the mountain.

Christmas of 1881 found us pretty well settled in the new environment; the chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep, cows and horses were receiving their due mede of attention. A couple of Beagle fox hounds had been acquired as a necessary adjunct to life in the mountains, and, when thrown together with a half dozen kept by Walker Dickerson and a like number by Morris Harvey, they constituted a right respectable pack and furnished music on many an otherwise silent night. It is a poor type of mountaineer who does not recognize the voice of each of his dogs and who cannot tell by such voice whether the dog is on a cold trail, a hot trail or has jumped the fox or is treed or holed. The country was too rough to permit riding after the hounds. We took stand and tried to shoot on the run.

That Christmas the children saw for the first time their stocking hanging upon the mantle shelf. We had had no fireplaces nor mantles in Beaumont. What an exciting time. What would Santa Claus bring? The world had not yet become so sophisticated as to have lost faith in Santa Claus. He did come. We examined the chimney carefully, and to this day I have never understood how he got down that chimney at all and especially without getting soot upon some or all of the nice things which he brought to us. I have met him many times since then, but he still refuses to disclose the secret.

How little it took to make us happy in those days compared with present day standards. The gifts were simple and inexpensive, but oh how marvelous they were to our eyes. Those happy scenes reappear out of the shadows and I seem to live again those delectable hours. Your children, after you, will be guilty of more pretense each day of their lives than is involved in the belief in Santa Claus.

We learned to entertain ourselves. We, of course, had no theaters, picture shows, radios, phonographs, telephones, circuses or parades. We played all of the old games that had been played by our ancestors and brought over from England, Scotland and Ireland. We sang the songs our fathers and mothers had sung in their youth; Lorena, Ben Bolt, The Bridge, similar ballads together with all the Negro melodies of pre-war days. We sang hymns and the songs of the Sunday School. Mama learned to play the organ to the extent that she could play hymns and songs that were not too difficult, and Gussie became quite proficient as a performer on the organ. After much labor and many lessons, I got to the point where I could play the music to There is a Fountain Filled With Blood.

The Midway School was so named because it was located midway between Fayetteville and Cotton Hill. It was built of logs and furnished with hand made benches of native poplar lumber. The structure served as a school house and the preaching place for the Southern Methodist Circuit Rider as well as for other community meetings. Light was by oil lamps set on brackets nailed to the wall. The school was located in the woods over a mountain about two miles from our home. Public school terms were of only four months duration. This situation brought squarely before my father and mother the matter of providing for the education of their children. We were all rather small to undertake the walk each day across the mountain, especially in winter, when the school was in session. The temporary solution arrived at was that our mother would teach us that winter. Although she was raised on a farm, I have never ceased to wonder how she was so perfectly able to adjust herself to country life after having lived in town so long. I know that nothing short of supreme self-control and indomitable fortitude could have enabled her to stand up under the changed conditions.

The home school was perfectly organized. The hours of study and recitation were as regular and invariable as in a educational institution. None but a strong character could have so controlled her household.

There was churning and cooking, washing and ironing, housework and sewing all to be done. Gussie was twelve, I was ten and Eunice and Paul were still younger. Mother had the happy faculty of being able to use her children as helpers without their duties seeming burdensome. Breakfast and the chores, such as the milking, the bringing in water, wood and coal sufficient for the days needs, were all dispensed of before daylight came.

The Youths Companion and The Methodist Advocate along with other periodicals and magazines came regularly to our home and we had time to read them. I report it as a simple fact that our home was the only one in the whole country-side that was anything like adequately supplied with good books. Dickens and Thackery were read by us before we were fifteen years of age. Books of history, philosophy, poetry and religion were not only supplied, but we read them.

It might be noted, also, that ours was the only country home in all that region which embraced within its furnishings a reed organ or any other musical instrument of like dignity. That Esty Organ was something of which we had full right to be proud, and we were. Back of these unusual conditions were a father ambitious to properly provide for his children and a mother loyally and lovingly doing her part in every way.

I think it was the next year that our father first employed a governess for us. She was Miss Annie Bryn of Charleston, a lovely and capable woman. She was a music teacher as well and Mama and Gussie and I took music lessons. I was vaccinated therefrom, but it did not take. The next year our governess was a young woman from Virginia, I have forgotten her name, but suffice it to say that she was deficient in mind, manners and morals and did not remain long. The teaching then fell back on my mother's shoulders. If my memory is correct, neither Gussie nor Eunice ever attended the public school at the Midway School House, but I did attend it the fourth winter, and Paul and I attended it the fifth winter.

The Sabbath was respected and honored in our household. The activities of the day usually included attendance at Sunday School at Midway and remaining for preaching service on the once a month visitation of the Circuit Rider. The afternoons were usually spent in the study of the Sunday School lesson for next Sunday, followed by the memorizing of passages or chapters of scripture and devoting the remainder of the afternoon to general reading or social intercourse. If there were preaching services at early Candle Liting at either Midway or Cotton Hill, most of the members of the family would usually attend such services. Travel to and from such places was ordinarily by horseback, or when snow was on the ground we all piled into a sled with straw piled in the bottom of the bed, and drawn by two horses. The women rode side-saddle and wore an overskirt or riding skirt made of black cambric and long enough to hang down well below their feet. My mother was an expert horse-woman, having learned to ride in the west, while she was young. It may be truthfully recorded that Sabbath days were not always looked forward to as times of great rejoicing and pleasure, for, after all, we were just normal children with plenty of the Old Adam in us; but as I now look back over those years, I am better able to evaluate the true cultural and character- building worth of those quite, well ordered Sabbaths. Surrounded as I am now with a world of men and women gone mad in their lust for questionable pleasures and worse entertainments every day and night of the week, I am prone to seek again the holy quietness and refreshing restfulness of those afternoons.

Before we moved from the farm the old Midway School House had been replaced by a modern frame church building. Morris Harvey was the principal contributor to the building fund. He was a man of considerable wealth and had married one of the Dickerson girls, as did my great-uncle, George Tyree, and my uncle, Joe Tyree, also. This new church was a source of great pride and comfort to us. The building was completed in the early fall, and the opening of the church was celebrated with what we called a Harvest Home Festival. Each person brought some product of the farm and field or from the pantry or garden: sweet potatoes, pumpkins, beets, turnips, parsnips, cabbages, apples, meat, lard, flour, fruits and vegetables, canned and dried, corn, oats and wheat and so on, until the altar section of the new church was, in truth, piled full and heaped high with such offerings. A program of speech making, songs and recitations was rendered by the local talent. Bob Stennet, a boy about my age, who lived with the Morris Harvey family and attended to the chores recited,

Heap high the wintry hoard,
Heap high the golden corn,
So rich a gift has autumn poured
From out her lavish horn.

Bob had tusks and buck teeth and did not enunciate very distinctly. He spoke rapidly and it appeared to me that he said,

Hepi the wintry hoard,
Hepi the golden corn,

I knew of no such word as Hepi and did not know what he should have said until years later, when I chanced upon the above poem, in a volume I was then reading. The forgotten scene came back to me, even as it does tonight, and I live again that stirring hour surrounded in memory by those dear friends and loved ones most of whom now rejoice in the Harvest Home of the skies. It fell to my lot, also to make my first public appearance as an orator, and under the coaching of my mother, I offered the following:

A husbandman, who many years,
Had plowed his land and sown in tears,
Grew weary with his doubts and fears.

I toil in vain, these rocks and sands
Will yield no harvest to my hands,
The best seeds rot in barren lands.

While thus he spake, a breeze had stirred
His drooping vine like wing of bird,
And from the leaves a voice he heard.

Seed time and harvest shall not fail,
And though the gates of hell assail,
My truth and promise shall prevail.

At any rate a good time was had by all, and at the conclusion of the celebration, the provisions were loaded in wagons, and the next day they were hauled to the residence of the pastor, who resided several miles from Midway, and were donated to him and his family. My! My! We talked for weeks about what a good time we had, who we saw, what was done and what was left undone. Such events were few and far between and meant a great deal in our lives, by contrast to the otherwise even tenor of our ways. I have long since learned that a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. People can be happy with so few things.

If happiness hath not her seat
And center in the breast,
We may be wise, or rich or great,
But never can be blest.

I have wandered away from the subject, let me return.

Among the slaves owned by Colonel Tyree was one named Tom. After the war and with assistance from his former owner, Tom acquired a farm in Nicholas County, which adjoined Fayette County. There with his faithful wife he lived and accumulated property and became a substantial and respected citizen. He became blind toward the end of his life and was blind at the time we moved to West Virginia. When he learned that my father, who had grown up with him on the old homestead, had returned from his wanderings in the far west, he could not rest until he had managed to complete a pilgrimage to our home, on a visit to my father. The pathos and tenderness of that meeting will never be forgotten. Each with his arms around the other, and tears of joy streaming down their cheeks, they gave expression to their joy in meeting again. Tom ate at the table with the white folks and occupied the spare room, the only person of his race who was ever accorded that honor in my fathers home. Tom continued to make periodical visits to see us until his health failed and he was no longer able to travel. You may say that my father's attitude toward and treatment of Tom was an exhibition of weakness, but from my point of view the opposite is true. If such be weakness, God give us more weak men.

I think it was in our third year of residence in West Virginia that my mother's mother came on from Illinois to make her home with us. She was a firm character, who had carried a heavy load in life. Her maiden name was Brown. She was a descendent of the Browns of Abbs Valley, Virginia, who were of the first settlers in that Valley. The Indians raided the Valley, killing many of the settlers and carrying some of them into captivity. These raids gave the background for the book, The Captives of Abbs Valley. We once had a copy of the book, but it has long since disappeared. If any of you, who read this, ever have an opportunity to do so, you should secure a copy. It is out of print. She first married Elihu F. Carter on the 8th day of August, 1839. By him she had one son named Thomas Brown Carter. Her first husband died and on the 14th day of March 1844, she married John Quincy Adams Houston, who was a Campbellite minister, and the father of my Mother. Her maiden name was Rachel Ann Brown. She was old when she came to us and the next year she sickened and after several months of illness, she died at our home. During her illness, her other sons and daughters visited her at our home, which was the first and only time I have ever seen them. My mother took her remains back to Illinois, where she was laid to rest beside her husband, John Q. A. Houston.

In our mountain home we lived a simple and happy life. Neighbors visited each other more than they seem to do these days and rendered every possible assistance in times of illness, disaster or death. Log rollings and house raisings were not uncommon, and farmers swapped labor with each other at threshing time. Fire in the woods called for the cooperation of all the men and boys in the neighborhood. Neighbors sat up with sick neighbors and almost every woman developed into a practical nurse. When a mother became ill, it was not uncommon for the neighboring women to divide the housework between them, and keep some one of their number on hand at all times in the home of illness until recovery of the sick person. "Apple peelings", bean stringings, and pumpkin peelings were still in vogue. Our community, however, was not a dancing or drinking community. When death came into a home, if a man had died, neighbor men came in attendance until the deceased had been removed to the cemetery. This vigil continued day and night. The coffin or casket would be constructed out of native lumber, by some one of the neighbors, and would be covered with black cloth and lined with white cloth. The top or cover was usually without glass. The religious congregations were served by Circuit Riders who had not more frequent than monthly appointments in the locality. It therefore frequently happened that the services of the pastor would not be secured at the time of death or burial. This gave rise to the not uncommon practice of preaching the funeral sermon long after the death and internment. I have known many months to elapse before such a sermon was delivered. When it was finally preached, it would be done at the regular place of worship, and something of the same formality as to the seating of the relatives of the deceased would be observed as would be if the body of the deceased were present. I might say here that I was called upon to preach the funeral of the wife of Randall McCoy, the leader and head of the McCoy faction in the great Hatfield and McCoy feud that once roared its way throughout Eastern Kentucky and Western West Virginia. She had been dead many years at the time I preached the sermon. I may tell you something more about that when and if I ever write the story of my own life.

Our church life was simple in ritual and ceremony. Few congregations owned hymnbooks, in fact few individuals owned them. For this reason, hymns were lined. In lining a hymn, the minister would read the first couplet of the first stanza of the hymn to be sung, after he had announced its meter and perhaps the syllables governing its construction as long meter, common meter, sixes and sevens, as the case might be. The song leader, whose duty it was to heist the tune, might strike his tuning fork against the boot of his shoe sole or the bench, run the scale in a monotone, then pitch the tune and lead off the singing. At the conclusion of the singing of the first couplet and before the last note had fairly died away, the minister would then read the next couplet, which, with the last word, would then be taken up by the singers, and so on for the end of the hymn. By use of this method each member of the congregation could know the words of the hymns, and memorizing most of them would be a good thing for the people of this day.

Some consecrated woman of the congregation was appointed by the pastor or the stewards to have charge of the preparation of the elements of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It was her duty to provide and keep clean the table cloths, and to furnish the wine and make the unleavened bread, also to provide a pitcher for the wine and a couple of glasses or cups, as well as to see that these things were at the meeting place on the days set apart for communion service. This sacred duty was performed by my mother for years. It was also the custom of the pastor to announce a fast for the Friday preceding Communion Sunday. My mother always observed this fast. I might go on indefinitely concerning such practices but I will close this section by observing that the Christian Church of all denominations grew strong and swept toward the conquest of the world so reliance on God, that characterized the faith of our fathers and mothers, remained in the churches. There has been an alarming slowing down in this regard within the last fifty years. The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God.

Ah me! They are nearly all gone now; those single-minded, purehearted worshipers who gathered there in the old log schoolhouse so long ago. Aunt Angie and Walker Dickerson, Walker with his great drooping mustache and heavy watch chain who was also an old bachelor and deeply in love with Gussie. Fannie Stennett, the little orphan Annie of the old Grandma Dickerson place and her brother, Bob, of Hepi the wintry hoard. Uncle Morris Harvey, flipping a crumb of tobacco from his lip by the crook of his index finger as was his habit. Aunt Rosy, his wife, bedecked in her Henrietta cloth dress and gold necklace. Emily Bland, who played the dulcimer and John Bland, her meek husband, Madge Jones, my first fleeting infatuation, and the Jones Family. The Wilson family from the head of the Creek. Mama and occasionally Papa, Gussie, Eunice, and Paul together with other neighbors, friends and visitors. Most of them now compose a part of that great throng beyond the boundaries of time in the great harvest house of the skies. Friends and loved ones of the past, I salute you!


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