Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The French Chickasaw War of 1720

When I graduated from high school we took a family vacation through the southern states, and in Mississippi my mother stopped and showed me the site of the early Chickasaw town of Akia where an important battle had been fought. Years later in 1971, a history professor at the University of Oklahoma, Arrell Gibson, wrote a book about the Chickasaws, and I got a copy. From it I learned that the battle of Akia was the decisive battle in the French Chickasaw War, along with a lot of other fascinating things about our tribe and about our family. That was when I started to share my mother's passion for Chickasaw history. 

The French Chickasaw War is another example which supports the Chickasaw  motto, "Unconquered and Unconquerable." If you know anything about Indian history, this is a surprising claim for any Indian tribe. The story of Native Americans was typically that of one defeat after another, by arrogant, ruthless Europeans. The Indians, naively trusting the promises of foreign representatives, outgunned by superior weapons, and eventually outnumbered by settlers, were not just defeated. They were exiled to remote unwanted areas of the country, where many still live in poverty, clinging to their proud traditions and self respect. 

The history of the Chickasaws is different. The Chickasaws managed to adapt to changing times and often as not came out ahead in their encounters with white culture, both in times of war and in times of peace.

I've already described how Hernando de Soto learned to respect the Chickasaws in 1541, the hard way. It was almost 150 years before the Chickasaws were confronted by the white man again. By 1700 there were English settlements all along the Eastern seaboard, and French settlements to the north in Illinois and Quebec, and to the south in Mobile. The Indian tribes in the Mississippi valley were almost all allied with the French, but not the Chickasaws.

The Chickasaws were different for several reasons. Firstly they had traded with both the French and the British, and had decided that the British goods were better and cheaper. Also they were further inland than most of the tribes so their domain was not yet threatened by settlers. The Chickasaws were acquainted with British traders though, and several traders had even married into the tribe, bringing with them not only an understanding of the English language, but also some savvy in negotiating with Europeans. It was one of these intermarried traders, James Adair, who wrote the most authoritative description of Chickasaw culture during the late 1700's.

The Chickasaws took advantage of their relationship with the British traders, and by 1700 they were well equipped with metal knives, hatchets and rifles. Not only that, they understood the value of the horse. The Chickasaws now raised their own horses and had become expert horsemen. Chickasaw women had replaced their clay pots with metal ones; they used metal hoes for tilling their gardens, and they often dressed in woven fabric instead of animal skins.

The French governor of the Louisianna Province at the time, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, wanted to establish control of the Mississippi River for transporting goods from northern French settlements. Surveying the situation, Iberville came to the conclusion that the only obstacle in his way were the Chickasaws. From their vantage point at the Chickasaw Bluffs near Memphis, Tennessee, the Chickasaws could control traffic down the Mississippi River, and they seemed to have formed an alliance with the British.

In 1702 Iberville invited a Chickasaw delegation to his headquarters in Mobile, where he promised to protect them from attacks by their sister tribe the Choctaws if they would sever their ties with the British. On the other hand Iberville threatened to support the Choctaws and to turn the other tribes in the region against them if they refused. The Chickasaws thanked the French for their protection and returned to their homes.

One of Iberville's tactics for securing control of the various Indian tribes was to send missionaries to live among them. The missionaries could then report back on the tribe's activities. So after the Mobile council, Iberville sent a missionary to the Chickasaws, a young man named St. Michel. When St. Michel didn't report back as planned, the Choctaws, trying to stir up trouble, told the French that the Chickasaws had killed him. The Chickasaws responded by returning St Michel safe and sound, thereby foiling the French plans to spy on them.   

The Chickasaws did continue to trade with the French, but at the same time they increased their trade with the British, because they preferred their goods. Besides that, trade with the French became more and more difficult. In order to reach Mobile, the Chickasaws had to cross the Choctaw domain risking attack by their enemies, or travel a long circuitous route. They tested the French promise to protect them from the Choctaws by asking for an escort for one of their trading parties, but the Choctaws attacked the party anyway and several Chickasaws were killed.

During the next 18 years tensions grew between the Chickasaws and the French. The French were frustrated that their threats had not disrupted the Chickasaws' relationship with the British, and the harrassment of Chickasaw traders by the Choctaws continued. The Chickasaws began to suspect that the attacks were inspired by the French. In 1720 the Chickasaws discovered a Frenchman they believed to be spying on them and put him to death. They then proceeded to shut down French traffic on the Mississippi River at the Chickasaw Bluffs, and to make raids on French settlements further south.

The French didn't feel they had enough troops to engage in an all out war with the Chickasaws, so they hired Choctaw mercenaries to do their fighting for them. The Choctaw attacks not only failed militarily, the Chickasaws started using diplomacy, telling the Choctaws they should trade with the British also. So in 1720, after four years of a failed war and isolation from their northern settlements, alarmed that they might soon lose the support of the Choctaws, the French suspended their war against the Chickasaws. Trade was resumed between the French and the Chickasaws, and the Mississippi River was reopened to French traffic.

The Louisianna Council of War decided that the Chickasaws had been "sufficiently punished" and the "honor of France" sustained, but Jean Baptiste Le Moyne d'Bienville, who had replaced Iberville as governor before the war, decided that the Chickasaws, because of their obstinacy, would remain a problem. Bienville started making plans to build up French forces for an attack on the Chickasaws that would wipe them off the map.   

To be continued.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Loose Ends #4

I've been writing a little summary after every few posts to try introduce a little continuity, so here goes again. I started this project with the idea of just telling stories randomly. Wenonah's stories are really good, and could stand alone, but they do fit into an overall history, and that is important too, so I have tried to devote part of my posts to telling the story of our family beginning in Scotland with William Paul and his notorious brother John. I also want to spend some time writing about the Chickasaws, because after about 1820 or 30, depending on whom you believe, we became a Chickasaw family. Unfortunately I have neglected the history part because I get side tracked.

For instance, at the beginning of this series of entries, I happened to be writing a chapter in my book about Grandmother, and it made me want to tell the story of her return visit to Palmer Station, Arkansas, her childhood home: We Cried and Kissed Little Forderberry Goodby. I thought that the story told a lot about Grandmother, or Mamma, as Jim called her: her love for her family, for history, and for nature. That letter she wrote to Aunt Oteka when she returned home from the trip was priceless. She was so excited about seeing the places she remembered from her childhood: the cemetery where Sister Eula was buried, and the site of Sister Cora's home. My favorite part of the letter though was the part she wrote about adopting the little stray dog, Forkerberry, and how she and her sisters loved him.

The next story was kind of a gift. I was getting ready to drive down to Oklahoma and knew I wouldn't be able to write anything for a while. I think Jim's Narrow Escape is one of Jim's best stories, and it was easy to copy out of my previous writings. By the way, I took a picture of Rush Creek while I was in Pauls Valley and included it in the description of my trip entitled Roots. Rush Creek is not the raging torrent it was when Jim was little, but it still looks formidable.    

I started the next post, Grieving in the Mountains, before I left for Oklahoma. I spent a day in the mountains and all I thought about the whole day was how I would describe my trip to Jim. I wasn't going to talk about myself in these stories, but it's hard to avoid. So many things remind me of her, and there are so many times I miss talking to her. I was telling a friend about it, and he said that he still gets an urge to call his mother and she died years ago.

The next post, Roots, is just a description of my visit to Pauls Valley. It was really a thrill for me to have time to go through the documents and pictures in the museum and the library and also Smith Paul's house.

Finally on my last entry, Smith Paul Joins the Chickasaws, I went back to the story of Smith Paul. What I wrote was similar to the Post entitled Back to New Bern, but there are so many different versions of Smith Paul's story I wanted to clarify what is really known and what is conjecture or just plain fiction.

I've been in a quandary about what to write about next, but I think I'll try to give some more backgfround about the Chickasaws, just so you'll know what a remarkable people they are.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Smith Paul Joins the Chickasaws

There's some question about how old my great great grandfather Smith Paul was when he left home to join the Chickasaws. The story that Uncle Haskell told was that shortly after Smith's mother Tamsey died in about 1820, Smith left his home in Beard's Creek, N.C., and went to live with the Chickasaw Indians in Mississippi. The reason Haskell gave for his great grandfather's decision was that his father had remarried and he didn't like his stepmother. Smith would have been eleven years old at the time.

I assume that Haskell got this story from his uncle Buck who was Smith Paul's grandson and might have heard the story from Smith himself, but there's a problem with the story. Uncle Haskell found out through some North Carolina relatives that Rhesa Paul, Smith's father, didn't remarry until 1827, so if Smith left home because of his stepmother, he would have left seven years later, when he was 18. Of course Smith might have left when his mother died for other reasons. Perhaps he didn't want to be a burden on his father, or maybe the woman who caused him to leave wasn't the woman his father eventually married.

I'm not sure there's a way to resolve the issue, but I prefer to believe that Smith Paul was adopted by the Chickasaws at the age of eleven and raised with other Indian boys his age, learning to track game in the forest, to use a bow and arrow, and to play stick ball, the traditional Indian game that inspired the modern game of Lacrosse. I have always imagined him doing these things, and also sitting around the fire in the evenings with the other children, listening to Indian legends.

Whichever story you believe, Smith Paul did spend at least ten years with the Chickasaws in Mississippi before their removal to Indian Territory, and he would have become intimately acquainted with their culture and their traditions.

Smith Paul's journey from Beard's Creek, on the North Carolina Coast, to the Chickasaw homeland near Tupelo, Mississippi, was a long one, about 400 miles as the crow flies. To induce him to travel so far, Smith Paul must have met a party of Chickasaws along the way who allowed him to accompany them home. Uncle Haskell theorized that Smith Paul may have travelled along the "pigeon trial," an old Indian trail that followed the Pigeon River through Mississippi. The Pigeon River got its name from huge flocks of passenger pigeons that followed the river on their migration west in order to feast on nuts from the beech trees that lined the river's banks.

Passenger pigeons were once the most numerous species of bird in North America. One flock was reported to be as large as a mile wide and 300 miles long! My grandmother told of seeing flocks of passenger pigeons when she was a girl. She said they would darken the sky from horizon to horizon. As remarkable as it may seem, the passenger pigeon was hunted to extinction, the last bird dying in 1914.

Whichever route Smith Paul took, he eventually arrived at the Chickasaw homeland, a huge area extending east from the Mississippi River across northern Mississippi and Alabama, and western Tennessee. The Chickasaws he found there were prosperous, civilized farmers, with a well organized local and national government, a written code of laws, a police force and a court system. Many of the Chickasaws were educated, either in missionary schools inside the nation or in white schools in the east. The Chickasaws were sociable and hospitable. Some dressed like their white neighbors, but many still wore their traditional costumes: the men with feathers and silver ornaments in their hair and ears, colorful calico shirts, deerskin leggings and moccasins, the women with colorful dresses and ornaments in their hair.

One of the reasons for the Chickasaws' prosperity and their adoption of some features of white civilization was the Natchez Trace. The Natchez Trace was the most heavily travelled road in the west, and it went right through the middle of the Chickasaw Nation. The Trace extended for over 400 miles between Natchez, Mississippi, on the Mississippi River, and Nashville, Tennessee, on the Cumberland River. In negotiations to grant the rights for passage across their territory, the Chickasaws had shrewdly included a provision that prohibited white men from operating businesses within their domain, so all lodging, supplies, transportation, ferries, entertainment, even postal services along the road were provided by the Indians. This gave the Chickasaws considerable income, but it also introduced a large white influence into the Chickasaw society, not necessarily for the good.

At any rate, Smith Paul came to love and respect his Chickasaw hosts, and he decided to stay with them. He eventually went to work for a Presbyterian missionary named McClure who had lived with the Chickasaws for years. McClure had married a Chickasaw woman, Ela Teecha, and they had two children together, Tecumseh and Catherine.

PS: For more background on Smith Paul see Posts: It all started with John Paul Jones, and Back to North Carolina.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Pauls Valley Depot Museum

Last week I drove down to Oklahoma to collect the proceeds from my mother's estate sale and to make plans to sell her house. The sale was a great success according to my agents, but I still felt a little like Judas, selling Jim's priceless memories for a few dollars.

Jim's house is empty now. I did save a few things, but most of her possessions, the accumulation of almost 100 years, is gone. As I looked at the bare walls I kept thinking of things I wish I had saved. She had a huge picture of a group of horses with their trainers hanging in front of her entranceway. She said a copy of the painting hung at the head of the stairs in Mamma's house when she was little. I didn't keep it because I thought it was too big to hang in our house. I also wish I had saved a large statue of a horse that Jim had antiqued, and the pictures she brought back from Mexico, the figurines from China, and the porcelain birds.

With nothing to keep me in Oklahoma City, I decided to drive down to Pauls Valley, where Jim was born and where Mamma and Uncle Haskell lived their lives. I've wanted to go down there again for some time, to visit the museum and the library, and to go through their collection of pictures and documents about our family. During the last several years I visited Jim fairly often, but my time was limited, and I didn't want to take away from my time with her to make side trips.

So on the second day of my trip, after I had spoken with the builder and the estate sale agent, I took off for Pauls Valley. It only takes about an hour to get there on the interstate. Pauls Valley is a beautiful little town. Its streets are lined with big oak, maple and pecan trees, and its gardens are filled with flowers. Few people go through town nowadays because it's about a mile off the freeway, so there aren't very many cars on the streets. The pace of life there is slow and the people are friendly, even before they find out you're a Paul.

I went to the museum first. It's located in the old railroad depot. That's really appropriate because the railroad created Pauls Valley. Back in 1887 when the M. K. and T. ran their tracks through Indian Territory, White Bead was the main town in the area, but Sam Paul, my great grandfather, had the foresight to offer some of his land for the depot and townsite, and Pauls Valley soon eclipsed White Bead, which now consists of only a few houses.

When I walked into the museum I found Adrienne Grimmett manning the desk. Adrienne has been the main force behind the Pauls Valley Historical Society ever since my uncle Haskell passed away. Adrienne generously spent most of the afternoon with me, explaining the exhibits and showing me her files about the Paul family. The walls of the museum are covered with pictures of my ancestors, many of them donated by my mother. My grandparents and great grandparents are there, along with many great aunts, uncles and cousins. The museum has a portrait of my great grandmother that I had never seen before. As I looked at photographs of the old pioneers I recognized many of the names from stories my mother has told me. Also on display is a remarkable piece of needlework done by my grandmother.

Old Smith Paul Home now owned by Jonathan Grimmett

Origianal hand hewn log beams

Adrienne was kind enough to show me through the old Smith Paul home, now owned by her son Jonathan. Smith Paul, my great great grandfather, originally built the house in 1872, and he lived there until 1875 when he moved to California. Smith Paul's son Sam, my great grandfather, lived in the house until his death in 1891. Since Sam was prominent in Chickasaw politics, his home was visited by many of the leaders of the time. On one occasion a meeting of the Five Civilized Tribes was held at the Paul home with Sam serving as translator.

After Sam Paul's death the house suffered a severe fire which destroyed the second floor but the fortress like rock walls remained standing. The house was rebuilt afterward and remodelled several times by several owners. Adrienne's parents, Mr. and Mrs. M. J. Ewart, bought the house in the early 40's, and her family has owned it ever since. Previous owners added indoor plumbing, but when the Ewarts first moved in, the only stairway to the second floor was outdoors. Adrienne said that until a stairway could be built, her brother had to go outside to get to his bedroom.

The house as it appears now is a majestic structure, sitting on Jackson Hill overlooking the valley. The original house was even larger than it is now. The walls are a double layer of rock, two feet thick. When the Ewarts decided to add a room, they had to use dynamite to break down the original stone wall! In the basement you can see the original log beams that support the house, and the hand forged nails that hold them together. The beams still have some bark on their sides, and the top and bottom surfaces still show the cut marks of the adze used to flatten them. Some vestiges of the past were found between the beams in the late 50's when the Ewarts replaced the flooring: a knife, a clay pipe, an old doll. There are legends that Smith Paul buried gold under his house, but as of yet no treasure has been found.

On the second day that I visited Pauls Valley I spent several hours in the library looking through their document file and going through several years of newspaper microfilm. The highlight of my trip to the library though was finding the transcript of a long interview with my uncle Haskell. Haskell spent hours talking with our older family members and looking up records. He was a storehouse of information but he hardly wrote anything down. Before this I only had a few pages of information that was transcribed from his notebook. This interview will add a lot to my knowledge.

Rush Creek

Between sessions of looking at documents and pictures I drove around town. It seems to me that the downtown area has run down a little since I was a child. Some of the buildings are vacant and their walls are crumbling in places. A vacant lot is all that remains of the big stone building that had my grandfather's name, W. H. Paul, embossed across its concrete cornice. Adrienne said that it was torn down after it sustained serious fire damage. The old Royal Theater where my mother and her brother Bob used to watch silent movies is still in operation. My uncle Haskell's house looks pretty much the same, but a Sonic drive in occupies the former site of my grandmother's home. I went over to Rush Creek, the scene of my mother's "Narrow Escape" - see post for 9/1/10. It had been raining for two days and there was a lot of water flowing down stream, but the banks have been built up since Jim's childhood and the water level was still a long way below the bridge.

I went out to Mt. Olivet, the cemetery where most of the family was laid to rest. There my grandmother and grandfather lay peacefully side by side, after years of conflict and tragedy, surrounded by their children and other family members.

My only disappointment was when I tried to visit the museum at Wynnewood. Wynnewood is just seven miles south of Pauls Valley, near the site of old Cherokee Town, where my mother's other grandfather, J. T. Rosser, settled after migrating from Georgia after the Civil War. Jim set up a Victoria Paul room there in honor of her mother. I've never seen the exhibit in person, only in photographs. It has a sample of Grandmother's painting and one of her charcoals. I know her brass bed is there and also her wedding gown, and some of her hand made lace. the museum was closed for some reason. I'll have to go back another time.

Finally, on the evening of my second day in Pauls Valley, I went by to visit my cousin, Christeen Paul Swinney, who lives in Elmore City, about 25 miles west of Pauls Valley. She was really close to my grandmother, and her husband Vic was my uncle Tom's best friend. We talked long into the night, exchanging stories and reminiscing about the past. The story of my visit with her will have to wait for another time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Grieving in the Mountains

View from La Plata Trail

Last Sunday I took a hike, literally. I wanted to get in one more good hike this summer, and if I waited until after my trip to Oklahoma this week, chances were the mountain tops would be snowed in. So I got up at 5AM and drove over to the trail head for La Plata Peak, a 14000 foot plus mountain in the Sawatch range, near Buena Vista. It was my second attempt to climb La Plata. The last time I got lost, wasting 4 hours, and had to turn around before I got to the top in order to get down before dark. This time I got started about 8 AM, which I figured would give me enough time for the grueling 4000 foot climb.

Shortly after starting up the trail, I started to notice mushrooms. The vegetation is never the same in the mountains, so there’s always something new to see. These mushrooms were golden in color and I wondered if they were the same golden mushrooms I had heard were good to eat. Jim would be interested in that, I thought.

It wasn’t long before I started noticing photo opportunities. The trail through the forest offered a lot of variety. The tall pines can create such a dense enclosure it’s almost like being indoors. In contrast are the Aspen groves. The sunlight shines through the Aspens’ tiny leaves and that, combined with the trees’ white bark, gives Aspen forests a bright open appearance. I took some camera shots of the trail through the pines and then aimed one up at the sky through the Aspens. I wished I could send prints to Jim. She always appreciated the beauty of the forest.

As the climb became steeper the trail followed a mountain stream. It’s hard to get the feel of rushing water from a photograph but I still can’t resist trying. I like to get right in the middle of the stream and watch as it rushes past me. It’s like being in the center of a waterfall. The streams erode the soil away from the tree roots to make interesting patterns, and I love the way the moss and other vegetation grows along the banks. Getting just the right angle can be challenging though. I didn’t fall into the water this time, but I did drop my GPS and lost a couple of batteries. Jim would have enjoyed that story, and then she would have scolded me for taking risks.

This hike was a little late in the season for wild flowers, but there were a lot of berries. There were many different kinds. The only ones I recognized for sure were the wild strawberries. They’re smaller than regular strawberries but they taste just as sweet. The bears are eating berries this time of year to fatten themselves up for hibernation.

I didn’t see any bears but they were on my mind. I don’t carry any weapons, only pepper spray. I figure that I make enough noise the bears will probably stay out of my way. I met a hiker on the trail who told me a story about a mountain lion who attacked his aunt, but was so weakened by starvation he died in the attempt. What a woman!

Jim would have rolled her eyes at this story I'll bet, but she did love animal stories, and I told her any that I heard. I remember rushing to tell her about the fox that chased a squirrel onto our roof, and the bear that tripped the automatic door opener at our local hospital’s ER. Luckily he didn’t go inside.

I hardly ever see a big animal on my hikes, only squirrels and chipmunks, who don’t usually sit still long enough for a portrait. The same goes for birds, although last winter I got a really good picture of a Stellar Jay for Jim. They are a brilliant blue color.

Once I got up above the tree line I started hearing the picas chirping. The pica is a little mouse that lives among the rocks at high altitudes. Their ears are perfectly rounded reminding you of Mickey Mouse. I got a good picture of one for Jim a couple of years ago.

Another critter you see a lot above the tree line is the yellow bellied marmot. Marmots are about the size of a big cat, with thick fur. They hibernate like the bears during the winter. I saw a really fat one on this trip. They’re a little shy and I was never able to get a good picture of one for Jim before she died.

When you climb above the tree line you can literally see for hundreds of miles. I took lots of pictures for Jim of the majestic views from mountain tops, but you can’t really capture it in a photograph. I tried to tell her though. I didn’t want to scare her so I didn’t tell her about the chill that goes up your spine when you’re walking along a ledge over a thousand foot drop off, of about how easy it is to lose your footing on the rocks.

Jim had a fear of heights, and she would cringe to hear my stories even though I tried to tone them down. She told me about visiting Seven Falls near Colorado Springs one summer after dropping me off at a summer music camp. She said, “I got so frightened Don (my dad) had to practically carry me down the trail.” Jim was puzzled by the experience. She said, "I was never afraid of heights as a child. Bob and I used to climb up high in the big trees in Mamma's yard, and we also played on the roof of our house. I was never afraid then."

As I walked back down the trail, I realized that I had been thinking about Jim all day long, taking pictures to show her, planning how I would describe my experiences to her. Thinking back, that’s how it had always been during my hikes.

I began to wonder if it's time for me to give up hiking now that Jim is no longer here. After all it's pretty strenuous exercise at my age and I don't have anyone to go along with me who shares my interest. Sarah, my wife, is uneasy about my mountain treks, and would rather I stay home.
But looking back, I really did enjoy spending the day with my mother, so I guess I'll continue hiking, as long as my body holds up, and as long as I still can take Jim along, if only in my imagination.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Author back in Oklahoma

Just a brief not to say that I'll be out of town next week. The estate sale to sell all of Jim's keepsakes was this weekend. So I'm going home to assess the damage. The estate sale ladies say they'll get rid of the rest and leave me with an empty house. Sarah and I were thinking about moving back to Oklahoma - the house overlooks a lake and Jim's neighbors are really great - but we decided to stay in Colorado. I won't be able to go hiking in the mountains much longer but it's still beautiful country. And my best friend from childhood said. "If you want to live in Oklahoma okay, but don't live in your mother's house!" That's probably good advice. I have a cousin who actually bought a house to keep our grandmother's stuff in. That actually sounds like a good idea to me. I could go over there and sit, and remember, but some how that seems pathological. I'm bad enough as it is, so I intend to talk to a contractor about fixing up the house so it's more appealing to the eye, and then go ahead and sell it. It's not going to be easy.
I'm going out this afternoon to buy an air mattress so I can sleep on the floor.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jim's Narrow Escape

Right after Jim's kindergarten year, Mamma and Pappa moved the family to San Antonio, Texas. Pappa was going into business with one of his cousins selling real estate down in Tampico, Mexico, on the Gulf coast.

Jim loved San Antonio. She loved the lush vegetation and the daily afternoon rains, the zoo at Breckinridge Park, the old Buckhorn Saloon downtown with its fascinating collection of mounted horns and all kinds of stuffed animals, from huge bears and moose, to deer, armadillos and rattle snakes. She loved to sit on the balcony of their Spanish style house and watch the people walking down the street. She loved the smell of fresh tamales when the tamale man rolled his cart down the street every afternoon, and she loved the taste of the figs that grew on a tree in their yard. She loved to play with her brother Bob in their back yard. They would catch horny toads and tie strings to their little horns. Jim loved to imagine that she was a fairy and could have adventures riding on the backs of the tiny reptiles.

Pappa's business didn't take off though. 1919 wasn't a good year for real estate. What with Pancho Villa raiding the countryside and American troops stationed in San Antonio ready to protect the border, it was hard to get people interested in buying property down in Mexico.

So the family moved back to Pauls Valley. Since their house in town had been sold, they moved into the old house at the farm, the same house that Pappa had been born in back in 1876. The old house was run down, and Mamma went right to work cleaning out trash and plugging holes in the walls to cut out the draft. Luckily it was springtime.

She school year was about over, and Jim had missed so much school she was put back a year. It was humiliating, being in class with children younger than her, and seeing her friends from kindergarten advance to the second grade.

It wasn't long before the spring rains came. The land that Jim's grandfather Sam Paul had given to the Santa Fe Railroad back in 1887 for a depot, and for the town of Pauls Valley, was right in the fork between Rush Creek and the Washita River. The area was relatively low, so the town flooded every spring. The flood of 1921 wasn't the worst in history, but it was certainly memorable for the Paul family.

The afternoon it started to rain Mamma began to get worried. The children were still in school in Pauls Valley, and they would have to cross Rush Creek to get back out to the farm. Rush Creek was aptly named. Although usually placid, a downpour could quickly transform it into a raging torrent. I witnessed Rush Creek's behavior during my childhood. The churning brown water would dig into its soft mud banks, undermining bridge supports and even the road.

The Trimmer family's house was next to the road from town to the Rush Creek Bridge, so Mamma called Mrs Trimmer and asked her to intercept the children on their way home from school. Jim and Bob were walking home with their older brother Haskell that day. Mrs Trimmer met the children as they walked by her house, brought them inside and dried them off. The Trimmers had built a play room for their children in the barn. The room was warm and cozy so Mrs Trimmer decided to fix palates for the children there for the night.

While the Trimmers were getting organized to host their little visitors, there was a knock at the front door. It was Jim's oldest brother Willie. Mamma had sent him with the wagon to see if it was safe to cross the bridge. Willie reported that he had come across it without any trouble on the way there, so he thought it would be okay to take the children home.

So Jim, Bob, and Haskell gathered up their school books and piled into the wagon. Jim had some pretty new shoes and she was especially careful not to scuff them as she climbed in. Willie stopped along the way to pick up Fred Snyder, a neighbor boy who also needed to cross Rush Creek to get home. Then he hurried to get back to the bridge before the water rose higher.

When the little party got to the Rush Creek Bridge, the park on the town side of the bridge was flooded, and the bridge itself, which had no railings, had disappeared under the water. Men were standing on either side of the creek to mark the location of the bridge for those wanting to cross.

Willie stopped near the bridge and talked to the men standing next to the bank. They assured him that he would be fine. The bridge was only a couple of inches under water. So Willie urged the horses, Mack and Maggie, out onto the invisible bridge. The horses slowly advanced, and as the wheels sunk deeper and deeper into the water Willie began to realize that the men had misjudged the depth of the water, but it was too late. Then wagon started to slip sideways. There was no turning back. Jim remembered the men yelling: "Keep to the right! Keep to the right!" Willie was standing now, yelling at the horses, urging them on and pulling on the reins with all his strength to steer them to the right.

The wagon had been made for hauling dirt, Jim said, and the boards in its bed were loose so they could be released to dump loads of dirt. As the water rose, the boards just floated away. Suddenly Jim found herself in the water. The experience was surreal. At first she was more fascinated than frightened. She saw her six year old brother Bob clinging to Fred Snyder as he tried to swim to the bank. It was a comical sight. Bob had his arms wrapped around Fred's head, covering his eyes so that he couldn't see. Jim looked back towards Willie, but all she could see above the water was the horses' ears. Then her head went under.

The next thing Jim knew, a hand reached out and pulled her head out of the water. It was her brother Haskell. She panicked and tried to fight him, but he was stronger than she was, and he finally managed to get her to the bank. Jim finally calmed down when she was able to get her feet under her and stand. As she followed Haskell up the bank, their feet sinking deep into the mud, one of her new shoes came off. She tried to go back for it but Haskell wouldn't let her.

After everyone was safely out of the water, Willie took the children, the horses and what was left of the wagon over to the Bradley house on the far side of the creek. Mrs Bradley cleaned the children up, put them in dry clothes, and then her husband drove everyone home to Mamma.

Jim's narrow escape was probably the most frightening experience of her life, and it left her forever afraid of the water, but what bothered her most at the time, she told me later, was losing her pretty new shoe.